07/06/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
Two months after her eldest shipped out to Iraq in 2006, Mary Conboy of Philadelphia got a call. "Mom, the bunks stink. Can you send sheets and pillows?" asked Marine Lance Cpl. Adam Conboy, 21. Oh, he added, please ship 40 sets—enough for everyone in his unit. Mary had started to do just that when news arrived that Adam had been killed—shot by a fellow Marine, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Raw with grief, Mary started Operation Bedding (www.adamconboymemorialfund.org); soliciting donations from the community, she's shipped some 10,000 packages to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I loved the pillows—I felt like I was at home," says Sgt. Regina Calder, 38, of Somerset, Ky. The comfort flows both ways. "Doing this, I feel Adam's right next to me," says Mary, 48. "He's saying, 'You go, Mom.'" Know a hero? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org?