What parent hasn’t cringed and turned red at something their child has said? I know there have been times when my wife and I have given each other that look, the one that says, “I cannot believe what YOUR child just said!” The old saying “Kids say the darnedest things” certainly applies in our house.
But there are also those times, though perhaps fewer in number, when exactly the opposite occurs, and our daughter will say something so touching and sweet that my wife and I exchange glances and smiles and shrugs of momentary surprise, as if to say, “I don’t know where it comes from, but it sure is beautiful.”
I get letters full of my daughter’s sweet and innocent thoughts from time to time. In an e-mail and text message and telephone driven world, there isn’t much use for regular “snail mail” anymore. But to read little notes written in unpracticed penmanship and adorned with crayon and colored-pencil drawings makes letters sent through the regular mail system nearly priceless. I simply can’t get enough letters filled with misspellings and simple drawings. What they lack in technical perfection they make up for in feeling and innocence.
I was reminded of this again recently in the unlikeliest of places.
Because of weather concerns and visibility issues during a recent mission, our helicopters had not been able to land at our destination, and in need of a place to get out of the sky, we found ourselves off-loaded in Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad.
We were put on standby until the weather cleared so we went into the passenger terminal waiting area, took off our body armor and helmets, and waited.
A few hours into our wait, I stood to stretch and noticed the paneled walls of the little air-conditioned trailer we were waiting in were decorated with papers of various sizes and colors. They were letters, painstakingly decorated and written by elementary school children, addressed “Dear Soldier.” There were American flags drawn in crayon, and tanks and airplanes and portraits of soldiers all imitated with child-like expertise. I couldn’t help but read.
“I hope you win the war,” wrote one child, the letter decorated in red, white and blue.
“I wanted to join the Army but my mom said it was dangerous so I can’t join the Army,” said another boy. On his letter he had drawn a green tank and a smiling, helmeted soldier.
“You are my hero,” wrote one little girl.
“Do you miss your family? Thank you for making us safe.”
What caught my attention in every letter on that wall was the honesty and innocence that shadowed every word and every drawing. Those kids, and the thousands of others who have written letters to soldiers since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, poured out their tiny and pure and na’ve hearts in the hopes that a soldier somewhere would read what they had to say. I don’t think the children will ever fully know the impact of their letters.
I have letters from my first two deployments from children across America who I will never meet. I don’t know how the notes came into my possession and I will probably keep them forever. There are certain things a person never throws away, and these letters fall into that category.
Every soldier with a son or a daughter, a little brother or sister, or nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors, sees the drawings and painstaking notes of their own little loved ones in each anonymous letter hanging on walls in faraway places, like a pax terminal in Iraq.
In Taji that day, I read those letters and could picture my own daughter seated at the kitchen table, putting the final touches on a colored-pencil rendering of our little family. I couldn’t help but long to one day regain a piece of her innocence and that of children everywhere, the very innocence that causes us to shrug our shoulders in surprise and say, “I don’t know where it comes from, but it sure is beautiful.”
Brock is a UVU student currently serving in the Utah National Guard in Iraq.