From Noel, MO to Sterling, IL: 581 miles, 10 1/4 hours total driving... I know, I know - la-di-bloody-da. That was my day, and, though it was long, it turned out pretty productive. It gave me time to listen to more of my current audiobook, some music, and time to ruminate on the distant past (which was sparked by something I saw on Twitter last week).
A mutual follow (I follow them and vice versa) posted this:
That really got me to thinking: 20 YEARS, MAN!!! (if you didn't catch it, that is a reference to a line spoken by Jeremy Piven to John Cusak in Grosse Pointe Blank - except Jeremy uses the number 10, instead of 20). Yeah... it was actually 20 years ago. I reflected on many things during that time: temperatures in excess of 120°, living in the desert, and, of course, the daily battles we all had to face - continual attacks from entire brigades of... flies! While we attempted to "enjoy" a meal in the field, we were always swarmed by flies. Fellow Marines waving their hands over the food, even when it's on the fork enroute from the plates (or MRE package) to our mouths. And for the record... reading the book Dune by Frank Herbert while deployed in the Arabian Desert - NOT a good idea (unless you like the mind trips associated with it). I'll get into more detail on that another time.
One thing we all enjoyed was the influx of mail we got, most of which came from people we had never met, and in most cases, would never meet. This does not include the letters already coming in from friends & family. Many Marines received letters from single ladies. One guy in my platoon carried an exchange with a young lady, and their correspondence with one another was so sordid, it may well have been THE precursor for what is now referred to as "cyber sex." I myself had a few young ladies writing to me, but once the cease fire was called and we returned home, they, as well as I, lost interest. But of all the letters I received during that time, there was only one who's letters I looked forward to the most, and even our correspondence was completely by chance.
One day at mail call, I was handed a letter addressed "To Any Marine" - from somebody in Nebraska. Not only was I NOT from Nebraska, I didn't even KNOW anybody from there... but since that was the only letter I had - why not! The sender was an 11 year old girl named Kelli. She was in a school that got involved in this letter writing campaign that rapidly swept across the nation. What I liked most about Kelli's letters were her perspective of the world. She lived in a small town, which to her, that was "the world." I remember her once telling me, if memory serves correctly, of the hot air balloon festival in her town. She said, "it's a small town, so not a lot goes on here." I found her letters to be so precious, full of innocence... a viewpoint that hasn't been jaded by society, in the way we all succumb to as adults. Her letters, for me, served as an ideal escape into a rural community, away from the harsh reality I was presently sitting in. We wrote each other for months, even after I returned home... but unfortunately, we too lost touch, which is something I regretted for years.
Then over a year ago I get a friend request on facebook from a Kelli [I'm withholding her last name]. I do remember saying to myself, "self" (well, what would YOU say?). Seriously, though... I said, "I don't know any Kelli ****." There was also a message in my inbox from the same person... the body reading, "is this the same Doug Dowen that had a pen pal from Nebraska during Desert Storm?"
My heart didn't just skip a beat... it stopped!
This was THE SAME Kelli that, unbeknownst to her, saved my life, with just her letters... my "little sister."
Over time, we've been able to catch up a little. She is now married and had two sons. Kelli, to this day, probably has no idea what her letters did for me back then. At a low point in my life then, I actually didn't care if I came home - I had nobody to come home to. Her letters were what I needed to carry on. They gave me hope. When I came back and met Michelle (my wife), Michelle is the one that gave me a new beginning (my homage to her will be on March 23, which will also explain why I chose that date). But without Kelli's letters, that may not have happened. Kelli also probably doesn't realize she will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart. To me, she is like my baby sister, though we have yet to meet face-to-face. We spoke on the phone, briefly, about a week ago. She called me her "most favorite Marine in the world."
Then again, perhaps she DOES know...
Operation Desert Shield - 1990
(that's me kneeling in the center)
(that's me kneeling in the center)