Christmas Epaulets Raise Funds for the Snowball Express, Other Charities

The holiday scholarship drive honors former Northwest Airlines captain and U.S. Army veteran John Knutson.

The colorful boards start showing up on pilot’s shoulders around Thanksgiving, just like other holiday decorations.

“Christmas epaulets,” they’re called, because they replace the regular colored-stripe epaulets worn by airline pilots with alternating red and green.

The holiday drive raises funds for the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Snowball Express program and the Chetek-Weyerhauser Scholarship Foundation and honors former Northwest Airlines captain and U.S. Army veteran John Knutson. 

Knutson was a graduate of Chetek-Weyerhauser High School in northwest Wisconsin. He died from stomach cancer in 1997 at the age of 56, and his widow, Mary, launched the idea of creating the festive epaulets in his memory. 

Though at first all of the proceeds from the sale of the epaulets went to the Chetek fund, it was determined a couple of years ago that in honor of Knutson’s military service, the proceeds would be split  50-50 with the Snowball Express program. 

The Snowball Express is dedicated to aiding the surviving spouse or guardian and children (ages 5 to 13) of deceased military veterans through its 501(c)3 organization. Though the name ties its charitable efforts to the winter holiday season, its programming now runs year-round. But each December the foundation hosts a special event for roughly 1,750 children and spouses/guardians at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. American Airlines sponsors the event as well, providing a lift to those who need to travel by air to make the five-day experience.

How to Buy

Pilots (or those who wish to gift them to pilots) can purchase the epaulets through the Christmas Epaulets website. They come in traditional and Velcro-style attachments and in three- or four-stripe versions. There is also a flight attendant/flight engineer version with two stripes.

The epaulets cost $20 a pair, plus $5.50 shipping and handling for one to four pairs, $7 for five to 12 pairs, and free shipping for orders over 12. To ship internationally costs $15.

All told, more than $130,000 have been donated to date through the program. To keep up with demand, Mary Knutson no longer does all of the crafting of the epaulets but is joined by local Chetek friends Lois and Bob Hartman and the extended Knutson family.

For more information, email Tim Knutson at: [email protected].


New to Flying?


Already have an account?