Sunday, December 03, 2006

Casting Bread

I received an email from a lady who didn't understand why she hasn't received a reply for the numerous packages she's sent to G.I.'s overseas. As far as I know, she is not referring to anyone in particular and she was questioning me, because she knows I am strong on Veterans issues and follow the war in Iraq closely.

This is what I told her and if anyone reading this has wondered the same thing, maybe this will help you understand the unique predicament of our troops in combat areas. Please keep in mind that the war on terrorism is completely different than WW2, or even Vietnam. In this war, there are few boundaries and all military members are potentially a prime target for violence.

Concerning the soldier’s apparent apathy and non-existent replies, I offer this:

One day, while talking to my son on the phone, I explained how important it was to reply and thank people who took their precious time and money to send an email, letter or package. His response surprised and educated me, when he became very passionate and upset.

He told me they were “fighting a war, in danger constantly and under terrific stress for days on end”. He said “if folks just have to have a response after they send something, then don't send anything at all”. He said it wasn't a game over there. One soldier put it this way “We are in the worst place on Earth”.

He said of course, he’s thankful. He just couldn't keep up with replying. Not when they were constantly on the move. Their life was so overwhelmed that many times, it would be days after receiving a package before they had access to the Internet and then it was in the foggy past.

It’s important to note that if a Soldier/Marine/Sailor/Airman is wounded or killed within 25 miles of their area; all Internet communication is shut down, until the military can contact next of kin. As anyone can plainly see by watching the news, this happens quite often.

The Bible says: “Cast your bread upon the waters, and you shall find it after many days”.

When we support our folks overseas, this is the way we should do it and if by chance, a thank you comes floating back right away, we should consider it a blessing. A kind word, a short encouragement, or even an old fashioned “snail-mail” can do wonders to boost the morale of a G.I. far from home.

I spent 654 days in central Thailand during the Vietnam War, working 12 to 16 hours a day in the sweltering heat and monsoon rains. Every day was like living a National Geographic Special, with smells, views, language, people, insects and reptiles so foreign, it didn’t matter which way you turned a camera, you had a memorable picture. As often as I could, I would go to the Base Post Office and check for a letter. If by chance I had one, here is what I (and everyone else I knew) would do.

Immediately, I would feel a sense of rescue and excitement. People who have never been cut-off from all you know as normal and placed in a foreign country, think they would rip open the letter and read it right then. This is almost never the case. What actually happens, is you leave with the letter secured in a pocket, or maybe clenched in your hand. The letter can only be read when everything is just right. It’s that special. It’s extremely important everything is “just right” before you read the letter.

I would usually go back to my hootch, take a shower, get a cold brewski from the machine (which in peacetime would be Cokes), adjust my rotating fan so it was blowing the heat of the tropics off me…and then, and only then, carefully open the envelope. It didn’t matter whom the letter was from, I would read it, then re-read it and then I would read it again. Before the day was over, I would read it a couple more times. If time permitted, I would immediately write a reply. I had the luxury of sleeping in the same place every night. One of my younger brothers told me he still has my old letters.

I guess what I am telling this well meaning lady is, don’t think for one second, that your letter or package is taken lightly on the other end of its journey. The recipient might someday be an old, fat, balding guy fondly remembering the “bread upon the waters” that got them through the hard times and the guardian angel that cast them.

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