During my high school years (which shall remain undefined) US troops were off in some desert fighting a war I didn’t understand. An English teacher brought in a newspaper article that included a list of service men and women who lived in our state when they weren’t deployed in foreign lands. This teacher created an assignment to write a letter to one of them.
I won’t go into the how’s or why’s but I’d discovered this teacher had graded my letter before I’d finished it, so I never did complete what I started, let alone mail it. A couple of weeks later, feeling a little guilty for blowing off my potential pen pal, I sent a Shoebox greeting card to a Marine named Mike B–.
It was a typical Shoebox card – this one going on about how annoying the bells at Christmas could be. Incessant ringing. Ring, ring, ring. Everywhere, and all the time. On and on. Ring-a-ling.
I wrote a little note about reminding him what he wasn’t missing that holiday season, and sent it off in the mail. I didn’t think much about it after that. I figured if this Marine’s name was in the paper, in an article asking for pen pals, he probably got a lot of letters. A teenager with a homework assignment was probably the last person he’d have something in common with to inspire a reply.
Not only did Mike reply, but we wrote back and forth for the extent of his deployment, and then on and off afterwards. I’ve since lost track of him as he got embroiled in college, and I in learning to be an adult with an exhausting job and bills to pay and dreams to chase. I haven’t talked to Mike since before the turn of the century, but I still think of him when I see an American flag, fatigues, or a news story about US troops.
My favorite memory of Mike is the day he surprised me (and a friend who’d started to write to him as well) by showing up at the school. The principal called us to his office, and my friend and I met halfway wondering warily what we’d done to warrant the principal’s attention. As we approached the office door, a Marine in full dress uniform stepped out into the hallway.
He was a sight to see. I’m sure you all know that. And my friend and I were floored. I’ll never forget that day, not just because a handsome Marine visited us, but because those letters we’d shared were more than just a school project. For all of us.
For Mike B, and for every man and woman who has or is serving. Thank you.