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Home > Christmas > Story

Christmas, Old Meets New: A Teenager Corresponds with a Soldier, 2nd in 4-part series

by Archie Wortham    --show me more like this

Christmas © choucashoot - Fotolia.com. All rights reserved.

"I appreciate more than you possibly can imagine your Christmas card and your warm letter of encouragement and support of the fine young men who are here ...fighting to preserve and uphold the honor and the security of their country," Colonel John McKinney, Commander of the United States 1st Signal Brigade, wrote to a high school senior. In this, the second of the 4-part holiday series, read the letter Colonel McKinney received:

Dear Sir:

It is indeed an honor, as well as a privilege to give you a few encouraging words as you fulfill your duty to your country. We are fortunate to live in a land in which people are in one accord. That our nation is not split, as the nation you are fighting to preserve.

I can't speak for everyone here in America, but I can speak for the loyal ones. No matter what the issue is in Vietnam, our fighting men need encouragement.

I too am a fighter, but in a different way; so I do know how you feel. I am a believer, and I believe that encouragement means as much to you, as it does to boys fighting more trivial battle in this world of grownups. We teenagers are fighting to gain attention and recognition as responsible young men. But without some encouragement, a gentle pat on the back to make us think we are doing a worthwhile task, our efforts are almost in vain. We don't have to be praised, but as I am sure you discovered as you were growing up, a nod of approval means a lot.

No matter what you men in Vietnam do, I'm behind you and for you.

I consider that even though you are away from home now, you are learning a great deal. For being separated from your family or friends makes you more appreciative to live in a land such as ours. You will learn as I have learned, being separated from my family for 12 years, that it takes time to get used to it, but at least you know that whenever you and your family are together, it is truly a blessing.

You are sacrificing a lot by not only putting your life on the line, but also by sacrificing the essence that makes life worthwhile, a home where you are loved and where you can love.

If people would only stop and think of the things you men in Vietnam are deprived of, then perhaps they wouldn't protest as much, instead give their full-hearted support. People may say what they will, but there will be wars and somebody has to fight. They should forget their selfish ways and ambitions and think about those who are fighting, not just for someone else, but for the Democracy of a nation and a world.

Good luck! Keep your chin up and Merry Christmas.

This letter appeared in the 3 December 1967 issue of the Memphis ‘Commercial Appeal' newspaper, as a result of a letter-writing project sponsored by the newspaper. Throughout the state, students were encouraged to select soldiers and write to them. This letter was one among many that attempted to make a soldier cherish the fact he was remembered.

The soldier's reply gave the high school senior a history lesson that student still remembers. After commenting on the young man's ability "to be so sensitive to the loneliness that a soldier feels when he is separated from his loved ones," Colonel McKinney talked about his service as a career soldier with 25 years of service with three wars behind him as a privilege.

Many times people forget the privileges they have here in this country and forget those who served, fought, and died to maintain that privilege. What better time than Christmas to remember sacrifice as a privilege? Christ did! What better way to show our appreciation than by finding ways to communicate with soldiers who are fighting miles and miles from here? Find a way, and then do something about it.

Me? I try to use this column that way. I'll admit I've grown a bit from that naive senior who wanted to make a difference, and make a soldier I didn't know feel better as I penned my letter thirty-four years ago. I had no idea as I reread my letter and Colonel McKinney's lengthy reply I'd be shocked at my own innocence, or how I still manifest the naiveté that I can make a difference. So here's the test. Before this month is over. Write a letter. Send an e-mail. Call someone who you feel needs the encouragement to continue to fight some battle, no matter how "trivial...in this world of grownups." It might give our young and old men the attention and recognition they deserve. Some things haven't changed much in thirty years.

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