“Hey Little Buddy, I’m Home.”
Being a Pen-Pal for a US Army Soldier during The Persian Gulf War
New Kid in a New School
When my family moved away from Salt Lake City to North Texas, we all were ready to meet new people not related to Joseph Smith or who treated us bad because we thought Mormonism was a cult for weak-minded people. Yeah, we weren’t exactly welcomed there. Down to Texas!
Immediately, I found a new sort of happiness in school. Lots of excitement, a loving, pudgy big lady teacher with a gift to keep 20 kids in check. Instead of being a weirdo for loving to draw, I suddenly got encouragement. Wow.
Transitions are tough on kids, depending on the kid and the change, and sometimes they can be liberating. I felt very liberated, finally fitting in with other kids who liked baseball cards and X-Men comics. I could dig it.
Desert Shield and “To A Soldier” Letter Writing
At the time I was about 9 years old — roughly the same age as “Pickle” who recently sent Donald Trump, current President, a barely-literate screed of praise that made national news — but with a lot on my mind. When the Elementary School had the kids write at least one “To A Soldier” letter to be delivered to a Service Member overseas, I don’t remember a single protest.
We kids understood letters back then, in that the mail is MAGIC. You can send something away, and forget about it, and then something shows up like a surprise, and it’s the best day ever. Collect box tops, send away, anticipate, forget, and then it finally arrives. A birthday is coming up, and then soon the cards in the mail start coming with well wishes and maybe even a present or some money from someplace far away!
Being at that age, many of us wrote a letter not expecting much in return. We learned fast. The letters started coming back in a big wave at first — there were many responses, and, being Texans, the polite thing to do was respond. As kids, that only went so far, and in fairness to the Service Members, they were busy with their own stuff too.
I can’t forget how often a letter would come in during those first few weeks and get read in front of the class. We learned about the people over there, who they were, why they cared about us, why we cared about them. It might sound heavy for kids, but in the United States, it’s an all volunteer Army as a general principle. They chose to fight for us.
Over time, the letters seemed to stop coming, probably because the kids stopped writing. Maybe it’s the haze of memory, but I know my story has a different ending. It’s one I cherish.
My Connection with [NAME REDACTED]
Like the other kids, I wrote my letter and probably didn’t expect much in return. Then I did get a response, from [NAME REDACTED], an Army Airborne Soldier. His penmanship hit me hard, a beautiful ALL CAPS script that reminded me of Comic Books and effort and art. He was nice.
From there, I wrote him back, and on and on and on.
Desert Shield eventually became Desert Storm, and we still were in touch. He began starting his letters with “Hey Little Buddy” and then letting me in on what his life was really like. He apologized for not writing sooner, because he was deployed behind enemy lines where the News said people like him weren’t there yet. But he was, and it was hard. He explained he wrote in all caps because he was a trained Architect.
He expressed empathy for the Iraqi Soldiers on the other side of the fight, he painted pictures in words that I’m sure were a form of letting go of those memories. He sanitized them for a little dude who was totally interested, but also as a warning not to romanticize what it really means to be in combat. Pulling the trigger is no Comic Book.
The Last Letter
While the Pen-Pal project surely had a great impact on the hearts and souls of many kids and Service Members, like anything, a bright light can burn out quick. Instead of just a couple letters back and forth, me and [NAME REDACTED] went up to about a dozen. It’s the last one that I love the most.
“Hey Little Buddy, I’m Home” was post-marked from Indiana, because he finally made it back. Alive. Well, enough to tell me that I didn’t need to worry anymore. He was home.
I’ve looked for [NAME REDACTED] and I can’t find him. Maybe he went into the clandestine service, but he’s certainly never been a working Architect under his own name. He isn’t dead either from what I can find, because when I set out to find somebody, I find them.
Not being able to find him has been one of those tough-to-choke-down mysteries where I just have to be grateful for the time I had, the experience, and the love I shared with another person.
Right now in Texas it’s too hot to go up into the attic over the garage and sift through my bins of memories to find those actual letter copies, and it stings really bad. All I want to do is see them again, to know they’re real, to relive those moments of connection that are so precious in this world. But I found the strength to put this into words, and for now, I think this Little Buddy can sit back and feel peace wash over, it’s what he would’ve wanted for me.