A story originally written to amuse our folks in uniform, published here in honor of my anniversary.
“Would you write to my son?”
It seemed an innocent enough request, I thought. I wrote to men in the military all the time. There was the sailor in Norfolk, the dolphin in Pearl, the paratrooper in Fort Bragg. Why not a Devil Dog from Kaneohe Bay? At the least, I figured, I could learn how to pronounce the name of the base.
I had only met the man once. And only barely, even then. I knew what his jaw looked like, and that was about it, since half his face was concealed by kitchen cabinetry. No, I’m not making that up. It was the most awkward moment of my life, but even so, when his mother asked me to write, I agreed.
It was my patriotic duty!
So I sent confetti-filled cards to Pearl Harbor and long, introductory letters to Kaneohe Bay. In return, I got a phone call from Pearl Harbor from an amused-but-flabbergasted young man who had confetti all over his room. And the following day was Field Day (in the since-learned parlance of the USMC, which is all I know). Oops!
From the Marine, I got letters. I had never had much to do with Marines, since my father was an Airborne Ranger (rah!) and he had tried to pass on an institutional aversion to Marines. So this was a new experience for me.
And then…then, my Marine pen-pal took off to Saudi Arabia at the end of 1990, in Operation Desert Shield and he stayed for Operation Desert Storm.
The letters took on a really amazing character. Especially for someone who had only heard glossed-over accounts of the Korean War to get an image of what it was like to be “over there.”
I heard about the cold nights, the perpetual rain, the discomfort of wearing the same clothes, skin on out, day after day. I heard about the tension a young man could be under even while being so bored at times that Rummy 10,000 was the game of choice, though they played until the sand had scrubbed away most of the color from a deck of cards.
But what charmed me most was the humor that “my” Marine found in the day-to-day life in the front lines. What I didn’t know at the time was that G.I. Joe (my fifth-grade class’s name for my pen-pal) was in the front of what would be the forerunning force into Kuwait. I never would have guessed, since he shared some of the funniest accounts of Life in the Field.
There was the time when it had been raining all night, and all the men were in and around The Gun, their foxholes dug strategically Just In Case. The air raid siren sounded shortly after midnight, and the men leapt – dressed in all their gear! – into their foxholes. Problem: these foxholes were filled with icy rainwater.
And the siren had been sounded by mistake!
I saw pictures of him shaving in that foxhole – once it had dried out. I saw pictures of him and his gun crew, all in their desert cami’s. I heard about the new Marine Motto of Desert Storm: Semper Gumby. This meant Always Flexible.
I loved it.
By May of 1991, my pen-pal was able to come home on a three-week leave. We had been writing for eight months. To my great good pleasure, G.I. Joe had remained a consistent correspondent throughout. The next time I saw him, I made sure to see his whole face.
He and I dated for two of those three weeks, because his mother had picked me to be her daughter-in-law and my mother thought it was a good idea. When he left, he went back to Kaneohe Bay and continued to write. His marriage proposal, as a matter of fact, was written on comical Marine stationery!
I was unable to keep in touch with my other military pen-pals, but I do pray for them when they cross my mind. The sailor and his stylin’ black convertible are still in the East as far as I know. The dolphin is in California. The paratrooper and his family are in the South.
And the Devil Dog is with me, in Arizona, with our two kids. We don’t write much any more, but I still have the boxes of letters from our long correspondence, as well as the pictures he sent, and...a washed-out deck of cards.