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GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

WRITING LETTERS |

October 27, 2006

WRITING LETTERS
Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 10/27/06
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url:
http://wordsmithatword.blog-city.com
Email: wordsmith16@excite.com

Yesterday was a good day. I had a lot of work to do, the minutes sped past me unnoticed, and I was able to do something to strengthen both mind and body, which means I did some writing and hit the gym when I went off shift. No one in my unit was hurt or killed yesterday, no mortars or rockets hit the FOB, and I fell asleep with a satisfying sense of fatigue and a firm optimism about the days to come. Before bed I sat at my desk -– an ugly thing made of plywood and two by fours –- in the light of a small lamp and composed some letters. My eyes welled up because it’s difficult to write letters that you only want to be read if you die.

I started with one to my Dad, sounding formal, even though we never talk like that:

Dear Dad,
I know you raised me well, and I appreciate that. As a parent, I know it's not always easy...

To my dear wife,
If I don’t make it from sunrise to sunset today, please know how much I always loved you...

To my beautiful daughter,
Chloe, you have been such a light in my life, and I hope that you continue to shine as you grow into an adult. Know that I will be by your side always, and...

My son,
Why this day was my last we’ll never know. Why I decided to write this letter is yet another enigma. But I believe there is a reason for it all, and I wanted you to know that I love you so much, buddy...

I have been wondering why I haven’t written this type of letter before. We all know mortality can strike us at any time. We can be the unwitting target of a drunk driver, our hearts can simply stop beating, or we can be diagnosed with cancer. I could have written them back home, in the long hours of the morning, when the sun vaults from the horizon and suburban America rouses itself with percolating coffeemakers and the dew-covered newspapers cover the lawns like dead animals. Each minute can be our last, no matter who or where we are -- it’s the human condition.

In the Sunni Triangle, even though statistically fewer people get killed in combat here than die daily on America’s highways, you feel like death is closer, breathing down your neck, taunting you. And you laugh at him. You live and laugh right in his dark foreboding shadow, because what else are you going to do, cry about it? You just focus on the mission, and contribute the best you can. I don't think about death all the time, but I do find myself getting philosophical about it more often than ever before.

All these years I could have been composing a letter each day, once a week, or every month to my loved ones. But I didn’t write those letters. I never have, until last night. I am over three-quarters done with this deployment and I feel confident that I will return home and chase my dreams as I never have before. I know in my heart that I will wrap my arms around my two wonderful children. Still, these letters will be sealed, and on the envelopes I will write:

To:     ____________________
From: ____________________
OPEN ONLY IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH

I'm thinking those who read this will find it saddening. But it's not. It's a very good thing. I have been thinking about mortality a lot lately, and I am the kind of person that wants to leave words to certain people, not only memories. This is important to me. Leaving my writings, my blog, and my journals and notebooks is simply not enough. I want them to know I composed a letter directly to them, in my own handwriting. I like thinking that if something catastrophic should happen to me out here, and I never make it home, the people I care about the most will know exactly how I felt about them before I died.

They can sit down and look at the envelope in their hands, run the letter opener along the edge, listen to the soft rip of the paper. One likes to think that our actions in life demonstrate our appreciation for those we hold dear, but this is unfortunately not always the case. My loved ones will have no doubts as to how much they mean to me and how proud I am of them. I will make it very clear. Will I write more letters, now that I’ve opened myself to this line of thinking? I don’t know. But after these were done, I felt better. I let it all out. Got it off my chest.

When I return from this war, I’ll take care of these letters. I won’t even read them again. I’ll have a nice glass of red wine, or a dark beer with lemon in a frosty mug, and then I’ll burn them in my own little post-deployment ritual. I’ll smile at the flames as they eat away the now-muted possibility of my death in a combat zone.

For I will be home.

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in a manner so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice." -- Native American proverb

Comments

Lee, you are a very special guy, hope your family knows that. and I will hope with all my heart that you come home and have that little bonfire. I have wondered if my husband, who is in the litterbox too, has written them. I just can't find the courage to ask him.

Good luck, keep your ass down, your helmet on and be careful!

LAW

Wow man... Probably the best-written note I've read yet. This is something that can really make you think... Thanks for sharing, and here's to burning your letters.

Lee: please be sure to post once you have burned those letters! I will rejoice when I read those words!!!

God Bless You and thank you for your service!
~Tina

IT'S UNFORTUNATE FOR THE MAJORITY OF MEN IN THIS WORLD THAT THE VERY WORDS THAT YOU INTEND TO BURN UP WHEN YOU GET BACK, ARE THE VERY WORDS YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO SAY, IN PERSON, TO THOSE YOU LOVE.

SO MUCH FOR THE "MACHO" ASPECT TO MANHOOD IN THIS WORLD.

BY THE WAY, YOU'RE OVER THERE BECAUSE GEORGE W. BUSH IS A PSYCHOPATHIC WAR CRIMINAL AND A LIAR.

WHEN YOU GET BACK, USE YOUR EMOTIONS CONSTRUCTIVELY FOR THE PURPOSE OF HAVING HIM AND HIS COHORTS INDICTED AND SENT TO PRISON FOR LIFE.

Lee, keep the letters and put them in a safe place. As you write other letters, put them in the same location in chronological order. In time, you will have created an individual memoir for each loved one. Each letter retains its unique value because it's you at a different time and place under different circumstances!

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Dude, if you're thinking thinking America is using percolating coffee-makers, you've been over there longer than you think you have. They mostly use these (aptly-named) drip coffee-makers nowdays. You be careful, now.

that was a beautiful quote man and a beautiful piece. I feel the exact same way with leaving behind writing and will do the same when i am deployed.

It is a sad comment on life to have to write your goodbyes just in case you don't come home. It is better for you to keep your letters when you do go home. Read them again when; your wife and you get into arguments about how she raised your kids while you were away; when you son smart asses you because you weren't there to help him into his teen years; when your daughter marries a skinhead or homeless person; when you wonder if it was all worth it? Keep the letters to reread to keep your priorities straight in your head when all reason fails you. You will need them. God Bless and I hope you return safe and none of the above occurs. Bring our soldiers home safe!

While the burning ceremony sounds nice ... has a wring of closure to it ... I suggest keeping the letters. Leave them as part of your legacy to the ones you leave behind, god willing, many, many, many years from now.

It is a little piece of your history at this time to those you love at this time also. As a parent whose children have grown up, I know they don't see me as ever having been young and in the same world they find themselves in. I was ... and had I have had the forsight to document it, I think it would of meant a lot to them to see and understand a little bit about me from back then.

Head down and positive ... you will see them soon!

This entry really touched me and made me realize that any day could be your last. Thank you for risking your life to protect our country. I hope your family knows how special of a person you are.

Maybe when you get back in one piece you should give those letters to the intended recipients anyway. We never know when we're going to go. I'm not a soldier, but I might write a few of those letters myself, now that you've brought it up. I think it's a good idea. Regrets suck, and usually they're avoidable...good luck to you.

Lee, I'm hoping that I can rescue those letters from the flame. Your thoughts and sentiments should be made known, either when you return or at the close of what I hope will be a long, fulfilling and productive life. And, if it's yet too difficult to say these kinds of things aloud as opposed to putting them on paper, just keep writing letters and trying to screw up the courage to make a stab at telling someone how you feel about them. You don't have to make a speech - you can start with one sentence...
Godspeed.

I've often wondered if my husband has written a letter for me. I sort of doubt it, he's not the type, and that's ok - I'll still know. But despite all his saying that my life is just as fragile as his, I never really thought about doing something similar myself. That's an inspiring thought.

I concur, burning those letters would be a shame - those may turn out to be your family's most cherished possession from you someday, and I don't think that will change with age. Bring home a bill with Sadam's face on it and burn that instead.

Until then, stay safe.

This is not strange, I wrote several such letters in my years of service in uniform. I was careful at time to bring along, only that which can be destroyed, nothing that was "important" like a fading photo of me as a child with my now deceased grandparents...

Odds are, you will be home soon and these letters you told us about, would, like mine, be burned upon return "home."

Prayers for you and your family, for ALL of you and ALL your families.

Lee,

Keep those images of home alive and constant. They will lead you there.

I pray that you complete your vision quest soon.

JC

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