Letters to Soldiers
I send my four children a letter each month which includes a personal story from my days in the military. This is one of those stories.
When I was in the desert during the Persian Gulf War of 1990/1991, the citizens of the United States banded together and sent us soldiers millions of letters addressed to ‘Dear soldier’. The letters were divided up higher headquarters and sent out so that every unit got their fair share. There was way more letters than there were soldiers. In my aviation company of about 160 troops, we got boxes with thousands of letters. Our first sergeant just placed the boxes in the mess tent, so our pilots, mechanics, administrative personnel, and whoever could just take a few letters when they felt the urge.
Now I had a good support group at home who sent me a continuous supply of letters and boxes of goodies while I was in the desert. I swear, I have never had so many cans of cashews in my life (used to be one of my favorite snacks). Even so, I made it a point to grab a few of the letters to soldiers every two or three days and read them. I mean, heck, someone went to all the trouble to write them, I figured the least I could do was read as many as I could.
Quite a few of our soldiers didn’t have the same support group at home that I did. For some of them, the letters to soldiers written by school children, church groups, and patriotic Americans were the only letters those soldiers had to read. Like I said, even though I got lots of letters from friends and family, I still made it a point to read as many of the letters to soldiers as I could. I think most soldiers did. But even though hundreds of the letters to soldiers were read and appreciated, thousands went unread. There were just that many.
Every so often one of the letters to soldiers that I read touched my heart more than the others. In those cases, I tried to write the person back and let them know their letter had been read and to thank them for taking the time to write. I remember one letter I received was from a girl in the 6 th or 7 th grade. She wrote a chatty little letter and included a family picture of her sister, parents, and her. The picture reminded me that even though I was sitting in the desert waiting to see if we were going to fight a war, that life was continuing on back home. It also reminded me that the reason I was sitting in the desert was to protect the way of life the girl and her family had.
I wrote the child back and we traded two or three letters over the next few months. Once the war ended and our helicopters were cleaned and loaded onto ships for the long ocean voyage back home, I was put on a civilian airliner (a whole army story in itself) and sent back home.
About a year after I got back to the states I received a phone call from a woman who explained that she was the mother of the girl who had sent me that letter. The mother had tracked down my location and phone number somehow. (Hey, that was before the Internet when big, so it wasn’t all that easy to do at the time.) Anyway, she explained that her family was going to be passing through Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and her daughter wanted to meet the soldier she had written letters to during the war. By then I was retired from the military, but I was still in the Fort Campbell area finishing up my college degree, so after discussing with my wife I called the mother back, and we set up a meeting between our two families. We met at a local steakhouse known for its massive steaks and had a very good time together. I never saw the girl or her family again, but we shared a memory that night.
That was 26 years ago (my how time flies). I have long forgotten the little girl’s name, but I still keep the memory of someone caring enough to write. Her letter touched me. You see, I kept the picture the little girl sent me of her family in her first letter in my flight folder, and whenever I was preparing for a flight mission, I would glance at the picture and be reminded me of why I was sitting in the desert instead of being back home with my own family.
Although the letter was probably a little thing to the girl, it touched me and helped boost my morale in ways she could never understand. Even 26 years later, I still appreciate what she did. I also appreciate the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of letters that never got read. While unread, just seeing those letters in the boxes in our mess tent reminded all of us soldiers that we were not forgotten. I wish I could thank all of those unknown people who took the time to write.
Moral of the Story:
When we do random acts of kindness, we never know how the act will be received. Maybe it will mean nothing to the person, or maybe it will touch them in a way far beyond anything we will ever know or understand. In the Bible there is a story about sowing seeds. Some seeds fall on bad ground and never grow, but other seeds fall on fertile soil that has been prepared in ways the sower may not even know. The seeds that fall there may grow and flourish yielding a crop far beyond what we might expect.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the people writing those letters to the soldiers had no idea who would read them or even if they would be read. They had no idea how the letters might touch the soldier who read it. The little girl who wrote me that letter probably wanted to do something nice and she followed her heart. I read her letter and it helped me in ways she could never appreciate and in ways I could never explain to her or anyone else.
During our lives we have opportunities to do spontaneous, anonymous acts of kindness for people. In most cases we will never know how our gift was received, and that’s okay. We should just remember that sometimes the act of kindness will fall on fertile soil and bear fruit. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.