The old man shuffled out to the mailbox in his worn jeans and old blue torn and tattered work shirt. He carefully slowly placed a letter addressed to his grandson in the mailbox just after he took out a stamp from his shirt pocket and reverently placed it on the upper right corner of the envelope. He stood by the mailbox until the mail carrier picked up his letter and handed him his only mail an advertisement for baby furniture. He gazed at the back of the mail carrier's car as he drove back on the road on his way to his next delivery and then slowly shuffled sadly back up the driveway painfully maneuvered up three stairs to the top of his porch. He rested for a few minutes and then with all of his remaining strength he opened up the front screen door and went in to his house. It was the last time he walked in to his house.
Twenty-two years later I was helping a friend clean out an old house that he had just bought near a college that I got one of my degrees from. We had pretty much finished cleaning out the house except for a final sweep when I saw something white sticking out of a small space beside an old oven. I reached down and picked up what turned out to be an envelope. Inside the envelope was this letter;
I hardly know how to begin this letter but I have to begin it somehow. First your old Pa Pa is very proud of you. You are in the first 3 weeks of boot camp at the same camp that I did my basic training in. If your boot is anything like mine was when you look back on it you will think as I did that the first weeks are the toughest. You have made it this far I know that you will do yourself and me proud. From the moment you entered boot camp you and I became more than we were before we stopped being just blood related and became brothers in arms.
I will never forget your phone call telling me that you had just joined the army, You told me that joining the army was your way of thanking all those who gave their lives for our freedoms. I wish that the reason that I had joined the army was as selfless as yours is. Sadly my reason was more personal. I worked hard to get through high school. I was big and tall not like I am now. I liked hard physical work and did good work with my hands but sitting inside doing school learning was hard for me, mostly because I had to sit still long enough for learning to happen. Anyway with a lot of sweat and coffee I was able to graduate.
I was the first boy in my family to graduate. My daddy was so proud of me that he bought me a new suit. It was the finest suit I ever wore except of course for the same uniform that you are wearing now. The suit was so perfect that I didn't want to take it off. After graduation my best friend borrowed his Daddy's car so we could have some fun. We picked up a couple of girls we knew who were a year behind us in school. One of the girls didn't want to go with us at first. She said that she had a feeling that something bad would happen if she did but I just kept talking until she gave in, to shut me up I think and she got in to the car.
My Uncle worked at a brewery and always had a lot of beer around the house. We stopped at his house and filled the trunk with as many beer bottles as it would hold. My friend drank a lot more than the rest of us. I never really liked the taste of beer so only drank one bottle. The girls drank enough to get drunk. After several beers my friend began to drive fast and crazy. I yelled at him to slow down a second before he missed a curve and hit the tree. At the point of impact I saw the tree and then nothing. I woke up in the hospital with all kinds of people around me. I don't know why but I was the only one who survived the accident.
It took me some weeks to recover from the accident but I don't think I ever got over it, not really. Every night after the accident when I tried to sleep I saw the girl and heard her say she had a feeling that something bad would happen over and over again.
More and more my thoughts went to having to do something to make up for the girl's death. Our country was at war and needed soldiers. Until the accident the last thing I wanted to do was to join the military. After the accident I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was a farm boy and had been around guns as long as I could remember. I shot more animals with the least amount of ammo than any man or boy in the county so joining the infantry seemed like a good idea.
The thing is you joined the army for the right reasons I joined for the wrong reasons. When I had my swearing in ceremony at the recruiters I wore the suit my daddy bought me. It was the first time that I had worn it since the night of the car wreck. My once proud suit already had some tears and was starting to look tattered around the edges.
I got through Boot Camp OK. Every old man who ever went through boot will tell you that their boot was tougher than any of the boot camps since they finished boot but I got an idea that Boot is tough on everyone who goes through it. I was good with a gun when I went in to Boot Camp but I became a crack shot by the time I finished. I didn't even have to wonder where I would be sent to for duty. I knew I would be sent where I was needed, the front lines. I was right. After a too short leave I found myself in a camp just 8 miles from the battle field
To be continued