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Dear Marine: a tale of 28 care packages

I knew our mechanic’s wife was on to something when I heard about the buzz her mail generated. The candy was nice and the Cracker Barrel gift card was appreciated, but more than anything it was the thought that counted there in those Marine barracks, as cliché as that sounds. So while Son No. 3 spent his final weeks at Ft. Leonard Wood getting personally acquainted with 25-ton transport trucks and a harsh Missouri winter, we made plans to send some care packages of our own.

“Send homemade stuff,” we were instructed by PFC Ring Leader. “And they need letters. Lots of letters. Handwritten ones.”

The original goal grew from three (for the guys he knew best) to 10 (for the guys he thought needed them most). In the end, there were 28 full-to-the-brim, several-pounds-heavy care packages to pass around. That’s because when the word got out, patriotism got practical — as in Nancy James’ banana nut bread and Patti Alderman’s cinnamon rolls practical. And that young mom and her kids who baked oatmeal cookies and wrote “thank you for your service” on each package practical. Lemonade packets, trail mix, sugar cookies, peanut butter crackers, Funyuns and Laffy Taffy practical.

And it all started with the manager down at the Pig. After searching for (and finally finding) those culled Christmas bags that we eventually used to package the beef jerky and the Rolos and the personal sentiments of a dozen letter writers, he mentioned his own Marine son. Yeah, he just mentioned in passing that his son — the one who had shrapnel in his leg and a 60 percent hearing loss in his left ear after all that shooting — well, he might have liked a care package or two himself during his enlistment.

Then there were the random texts: “I’m at Sam’s. What do those boys need?”

But the best part of the whole care package thing (not counting hand delivering them to guys like Meza, who hasn’t seen his wife and child since October, and Sanchez, who’s going to Iraq in a few months — but don’t tell his mother) was getting to glimpse all the practical patriotism penned on paper. It came from kids like 10-year-old Vivi Claire (“I know it’s hard, but remember you are doing something to save our world”), and it came from a grandfather (“I thank you. You are willing to put yourself on the frontline in the conflict between good and evil — for me and my family, and for all whom I hold dear.”)

There were 23 cards from an American Heritage Girl group in Florence, and an assortment of letters from a homeschool co-op in Brookhaven. One even came with a joke, courtesy of John Clayton: “Hey, what do you call a seagull that flys over the bay? A bagel!”

In Terry, a mother with her hands full found time to write, “We try to teach our nine children the value of hard work, the importance of character, and how to serve by putting others first and sacrificing for the good of others. You are an example of this for my children, and I thank you for that. This is an honorable thing.”

There were lots of military connections expressed: “Hope you enjoy the cookies. My dad was a Marine, too.” (Sophia); “My dad and pawpaw were in the Air Force. My dad built bombs.” (Lexi); “My dad was in the Navy.” (Ana Claire); “My papa fought in the Marine Corps. If he was alive, I’d tell him how proud I am of him today.” (Zoi)

There were notes from a Women of Faith group, including this one from a fudge maker out at Fair River: “I hope you enjoy the candy, but I also wanted you to know that I will be praying for you every morning. God knows who you are.”

There were clever comments (the McMorris gang attached “Thank you for your commit‘mint’” to bags of mints) and sweet postscripts (imagine some Marine reading this one from Zachary: “P.S. I want to be just like you.”)

Then there was an artist-in-the-making who preferred to just outfit his card with lots of tanks and jets. (Nice job, Walker.)

Not long after those care packages hit their mark, Son No. 3 was able to stop by Brookhaven Elementary to thank Mrs. Duncan’s class of card-making fourth graders. They apparently liked his dress blues and his stories. Or maybe it was making those cards. Whatever the cause, my son overheard one little wiry fellow say he was changing his career plans.

“Forget the NBA,” he told the boy in line beside him. “I’m going to be a Marine.”

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.