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The days were extremely hot and the nights were cold enough that I had to wear my Army Gore-Tex parka and gloves to keep warm. The sounds of war echoed in the distance and loneliness for home, family, and friends often overwhelmed me during the periods of quiet.

I spent five months in the far and distant lands of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait. My purpose, to perform as a Corps Rear Battle Operations Officer for the Seventh (VII) Corps during Operation Desert Storm, better known as the Gulf War.Letters from homeTen years later, I opened up a camouflaged briefcase I purchased at a local store in Saudi Arabia and found myself re-reading the many letters that were sent to me during the war. I had not looked at any of these items since my departure from the war. The letters were from family, friends, acquaintances, and those addressed to “Any Service Member.” Each letter was a cherished gift which helped my mind slip into “at ease” from the stresses of the work at hand. They provided me with a refuge to go hide my mind and for fleeting moments, brought me back home.

I loved getting letters from my wife and children. My wife, Karen, wrote almost every day keeping me up on what was happening in the U.S. and the things the kids were doing. She would include little cards from the kids, who were 3 years old and 10 months old when I left for the desert.

She would carefully write the words as if the kids were writing me. They were always signed, “your big girl Brittni” and “low crawl Brandon.” They were so delightful to receive and I often had tears rolling down my cheeks as I read them. I would quickly wipe the tears so the other men in our tent wouldn’t see a grown man cry (it’s a guy thing).

But down deep, I knew the other men were receiving the same kind of letters and those “beads of sweat” strolling down their faces were more likely tears of joy or loneliness.

Mail call in a war zone is one of the most exciting and rewarding events that take place in a soldier’s day. The days I didn’t receive personal mail, I would grab mail addressed to “Any Service Member or Any Soldier.” Those letters ranged from kindergarten classes to World War II veterans and spouses’ writings.

Some of these letters included photos, comic strips, local newspaper articles, and war stories from veterans of earlier wars. Some letters told about what was happening to the spirit of America. But almost every letter told the same theme: the tremendous patriotism the USA was feeling back home and how supportive U.S. citizens were of our efforts. They also always included the warming assurance we would be OK and would be coming home soon.

I found these letters from total strangers very reassuring, and I even took the time to write back to let them know how things were on the front lines.

There was one letter I found intriguing and I remember it as a huge boost to my morale.Supportive citizensThe daughter of a WWII veteran wrote it. I would like to share this letter because it demonstrates the tremendous love, support, and patriotism that one family has for their fellow countrymen. It was hand-written in perfect penmanship and showed there was much thought in each written word.

It has been 10 short years since that war. American pride and patriotism were at an all time high. I still choke up with emotion every time I think about how supportive my fellow countryman were during that time.

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My only wish is that patriotism not be something of the past, but something that keeps burning in our hearts. Our military service members need to know they are needed and need a “letter to Any Service Member” reminder every now and then.

Why we wait until a catastrophe to unite as a country is a natural event, I suppose. But, let us unite daily. Let us tell our children in school that being patriotic to this great nation we live in is important. Serving our country and preserving our freedoms is an honor.

Tell a service-member the next time you see one, thanks for all you do. Who knows, you might touch a heart that is lonely and needing a word of encouragement.Col. Boyd Collins, a 1969 graduate of Billings Senior High and a graduate of the University of Montana, recently has been assigned to duty in Helena. He is transferring to Salt Lake City.

Dearest Friend,

With all my heart, and many prayers, I hope this reaches you finding this terrible situation “de-fused” — and some peaceful solution activated — and your duty there nearing an end. I know that wish, that prayer, is being duplicated in every home in this country!

As bad as all this has been, is still, as of this date — one thing is a certainty: Our hearts are full of deep pride in you — in each of our men and women — serving this country in that windy desert! Pride in your ability, in your courage, in your perseverance under uncomfortable conditions, in a country whose ways are strange to you. Those words may sound “hokey” — but, believe me, they are very sincere and from my heart (and echoed by all your countrymen)!

No one wants a war; most of all, none of us here at home can bear to think of any of our people shedding one drop of blood — not loss of even one life! We all pray for some peaceful solution, some way to stop Hussein and get all of you home.

The Geneva talks were a real kick in the gut — and, I know it left you and your friends just as deflated (frightened?) as those of us here who stayed glued to the TV — with such hope that maybe — just maybe — Aziz and Hussein would believe that the U.S. and the U.N. meant business — and “no fool’n” — and would withdraw all troops from Kuwait.

How is the morale since those talks ended so dismally? Maybe you all didn’t attach as much hope to the Baker-Aziz meeting as many of us here at home. Then, too, you all have an inside track to knowing how things really look there and what the situation really is. Then again — maybe you get your info as much from television/newspaper reports as from your officers? Just like us!

I know it was a great letdown for us, and, oh, how many tears were shed — but tears don’t wash away the facts, do they? I was 5 years old in December 1941 — our last “World War.” I grew up in those times, with my father serving in the Navy on the USS Hornet and the USS Wasp — until shore-duty (due to his age) in Hawaii until the end of the war. I never expected to face another world war in my lifetime. Never expected the emotions that the idea of war would cause to surface. But, they are as real and grief-filled as when I saw my own father leave, lose his ship, suffer wounds, lose friends — and so many other war memories I thought were safely tucked away deep in my mind-history.

Seeing you young men and women line up and march aboard planes, leaving your loved ones — my heart aches for you — and your families.

Still — along with tears, there’s a deep feeling of PRIDE, too — pride in each of you, in the courage and abilities you each exhibit. And, the same for your families and their courage and sacrifice in going it alone.

We fly our flag proudly at our home and at our business and yellow ribbons are on our shop door and our home mailbox. We have two Marine reservists on our payroll who are “waiting” for call-up and we join them and their wives, their children, in their daily concerns. My husband is ex-AF — and 59, beyond the “call,” but still like an old fire horse — or, a benched quarterback — anxious, full of opinions, angers and fears too.

We don’t know your name, never seen your face, but we pray for you, and many like you, for strength, courage, faith in God (or your higher power) to sustain you and to bring you home soon! We are very proud of you, Friend! Take care of you — be safe keep the faith. God bless you.

— Love and a warm hug from your proud Tampa friends.

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