Messages that bring a moment of order to a mostly chaotic existence
Letters from home
Country music dominates the airways in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. One song among the usual fare, clicked a memory as we traveled the scenic route to Gatlinburg last spring. The song “Letters from home” is a ballad telling the value to a young soldier of hearing news from home.
I remembered leaving home at age 17 to join the Navy. Having in my lifetime ventured no further from Batesville, Arkansas than Little Rock, I was, as some might say green. The thought of flying all the way to San Diego, California was exciting; I regarded it as a great adventure, at least temporarily.
The Korean conflict was over and Vietnam wasn’t in our vocabulary. Although it was peacetime, boot camp was a traumatic and life changing event. We were given GI haircuts and odd fitting clothes with our last name and service number stenciled on our shirts. For the next 16 weeks, each of us would be taken apart and rebuilt physically and mentally.
The days were filled with physical workouts, classes, marching, and inspections. The highlight of the day was mail call. The appointed Mail Petty Officer would arrive with a bag of mail and for ten or fifteen minutes call out the name on each envelope. Receiving no letter from home was an awful disappointment. I was lucky, Mom wrote to me almost every day and I often received letters from friends and other relatives.
One day a new friend who lived in another Arkansas town sat quietly beside me while I was reading Mom’s letter. He almost never received any mail. I finished the last page and glanced at him. For some unknown reason I handed my Mom’s letter to him. He took it immediately and read it slowly without saying a word. I was a little embarrassed; Mom’s letters were just about the simple things she did that day, the people she talked with and a little about what they had to say. Her spelling was often cryptic and her punctuation consisted only of a period at the end of each paragraph.
I mentioned my friend to Mom in my next letter and she began to ask about him in her letters. For the remainder of boot camp my friend and I shared my Mom’s letters.
One day he proudly handed me a letter from his little sister… she had asked about me. I later learned that his parents were killed in a car wreck and his brothers and sisters were living with their grandparents.
With technology like email and advances in long distance telephone service, I don’t know if mail call is as important to our service men and women serving in Iraq as it was to us. However, I believe that a simple personal message from home surely brings meaning to a dangerous and mostly chaotic existence. Sending a letter to someone you know who is serving there at Christmas time certainly couldn’t hurt. CP