This post is dedicated to all who have served on the front lines and the Home front.
I was going through some old boxes last night and found a letter I wrote to my friend Cathy’s husband, Paul.
When I was a new third grade teacher at Annandale Terrace Elementary School, Cathy was my role model. She was a dedicated teacher who spoke her mind clearly and respectfully, with a bit of a southern drawl. She loved her family, country, friends, and students and didn’t waste much time talking about anything else. Cathy was tough, but warm and funny. I loved her. I told her all the time that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She always reminded me that it was time, because in fact, I was grown up. I usually told her that I wasn’t quite ready yet, but I was taking careful notes.
Cathy moved away when her husband, Paul, was deployed to Baghdad for a year tour of duty. Paul was a Lieutenant Colonel with the 47th Forward Support Battalion. Cathy and Paul were smitten with each other. They had been married for something like 15 years, but they always acted like freshmen on their first date. When Paul came to meet us for happy hour, Cathy would sneak off to the bathroom to fix her hair and lipstick before he arrived. Her eyes would light up when Paul walked into the restaurant and he would always pat her on the bottom when he thought we weren’t watching. They’d often hold hands and flirt, teasing each other just so they could make up and kiss. They’d always leave early because they “missed their kids,” but I always suspected they were going to make out somewhere. They were magic to me. When Cathy told me that they were moving and Paul was being deployed, I told her that I was devastated for her and the kids, but really I was devastated for myself. Cathy didn’t complain. She said she was sad, but mostly proud of her husband and his soldiers. It was always clear that Paul was Cathy’s hero in more ways than one.
The Hurleys moved and the year dragged on. I lost touch with Cathy but thought of her family every night as I watched the news stories about the war. One evening I decided that my students and I would send care packages to Lieutenant Colonel Hurley’s troops, because that seemed like something Cathy would do. The Annandale Terrace student body is made up of recent immigrants, many of whom came from the Middle East. It is a school full of children who have seen much, and tend to be decades ahead of American children in terms of world wisdom. Most of my students understood war, and they understood what the soldiers were sacrificing. They wanted to say thank you, and I wanted to help them.
We ended up sending a huge package filled with phone cards, sweets, and magazines. Each of my students wrote a thank you letter to a soldier. The students from the Middle East wrote about the families they had left behind and thanked the soldiers for fighting for their grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers who couldn’t fight for themselves, The students’ letters were tear -your –heart- open beautiful. I cried as I read them one last time and placed them in the box to be mailed. Here’s the letter I wrote to accompany theirs.
Dear Lieutenant Colonel Hurley,
My name is Glennon Doyle Melton. I had the honor of teaching with your extraordinary wife, Cathy, at Annandale Terrace Elementary, and I got to know your beautiful family one afternoon when I helped with S…’s birthday party. Cathy has been a role model for me as a teacher, wife, and mother. Her strength, humor, and fierce loyalty to you and your children continue to be an inspiration to me. I also respect greatly her passion for you. It always seemed to me that you treated each other with the respect and affection of a couple falling in love. After you moved, I got married and had a little boy of my own, and I’m going to try my hardest to recreate what you two have with each other and with your children.
I am not sure how to begin to thank you and the incredible men and women with you for your bravery, honor, and sacrifices. Before September 11 and the war in Iraq, I and many other Americans believed that our lives, liberties, and happiness were God given, inalienable rights. We know better now. We know that these were never rights, but priceless gifts bestowed on us by you, our American soldiers. As we continue with our lives in the states, please know that we do so with a new awareness that we owe every peaceful moment to you. You are the reason that we are free to work and pray and hold our children. You are the reason that the families of my immigrant students came to America to find hope. You are the reason that Americans sleep in peace. Because you are there, we are here, safe and eternally grateful.
My students and I heard that you might need some phone cards to contact your families. When you call them, please thank them for us. We know that we are surrounded by warriors on the home front, and that their daily sacrifices make it possible for you to protect us. Your wives, husbands, and children are also our heroes.
I was told that you might also need some reading materials. The Maxims and FHMs were collected by my husband’s friends, not my students! I wasn’t going to send these racy magazines, but Craig demanded it. He insisted your guys would want them, and that soldiers in a strange land should be able to read whatever the hell they want. I agree.
We love you. We are proud of you. We will pray for your safety until you return in May.
Glennon Melton, Victoria Curtis, and the Annandale Terrace Third Graders
Here is Lieutenant Colonel Hurley’s response:
Dear Glennon,Victoria, and the Annandale Terrace third graders,
Thank you, very, very much for the great box of magazines, phone cards and letters! What a morale booster! As you can probably guess, this past year has taken a toll upon our great soldiers here in Baghdad, Iraq. Your kindness and generosity make a real difference and remind us that we are loved and that there is life after our tour in Iraq.
Just so you know the impact of your kindness, I want to explain what we’ve done with your gifts. Of course the magazines are always a big hit. The men especially want to thank your husband and his friends for their excellent taste in reading material! I had people knocking on my door begging for the magazines all night so I finally surrendered and put the boxes in the hallway. The letters from the third graders will be passed out to single soldiers who don’t have anyone to receive letters from. You would not believe what an incredible impact these letters have on someone who has nobody to care for them or to write to them – and we have many within the battalion. Lastly, we distributed the phone cards to those soldiers who we’ve identified as having family issues or separation issues to ensure that they are able to make it through the end of the deployment. Your kindness, quite literally, will help some of our married soldiers stay married by offering them a chance to tell their spouses they love them when they would otherwise not have the money to do so. It will help our single parents stay in touch with the children they had to leave with other families prior to deployment. It will help our young soldiers who are having a difficult time coping with the harsh realities of war, by offering them a chance to call home and talk with loved ones. In short, you may not have realized it, but you have touched many lives in a powerful way.
Please tell the other teachers at Annandale Terrace that all of you can be proud of our young American kids. Our American kids- our soldiers – have given the Iraqi people hope through their example. These young soldiers, many of whom are so young that they could have been your students a few years ago, display everything that is right about America. Their compassion, sense of fairness, and ethnic and religious tolerance are a model of what Iraq will someday be like. As the teachers who helped mold these Americans, you can and should be proud.
Lastly, on a personal note, I would like to thank all of you for thinking of us. Your letter was both an inspiration and a blessing, I have nightly meetings with all the key leaders of the battalion and I read excerpts of the letter to all of them. Two of the women who work for me started crying and then the men started misting up – which they promptly cursed the women for. Okay, so now you have the picture…a bunch of hardened veterans after a year in combat getting misty during a meeting over your letter. We were all a little shocked. Your words clearly had an impact on all of us and for that we will forever be thankful.
Thank you also for the kind words about Cathy. She is the real hero among us. From consoling the wives and children of soldiers who didn’t make it and will never return to their families, to crying with mothers who lost one of their children during our deployment, to caring for the spouses who broke under the stress of seeing their loved ones in combat, she has done it all. She is the bravest person I know and I fall in love with her again each day.
Thanks again for being there for us,
Monkees – There is a time for everything. There is a time to discuss the horrors of war and the hope for peace. Today is a time to halt the debate, quiet our opinions and simply say Thank You. Please take the time to thank a veteran today.
All my honor and gratitude and pride and grief,
Author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller LOVE WARRIOR — ORDER HERE
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