War, Loss, and Remembrance

Carol - Brownfield, Maine
Entered on April 5, 2005

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: war
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

It is a Saturday January 1970… I am 11 years old.

The mail is delivered through our slot in the afternoon. I push my dog aside to get to the pile, searching for one of my horse magazines, and see a letter trimmed in red, white, and blue, addressed to me. My mother takes it out of my hand, and opens it to protect me from the unknown sender. The letter is from a soldier named George stationed at the Army Training Center in Fort Dix, New Jersey. It starts out:

“Hi Carol, well you don’t know who I am but I found an envelope in my locker with your address on it, so I thought I would drop you a line.” He goes on to say that the letter was left by another soldier who previously had his locker. That soldier was my brother’s best friend Jacky. George thought I was Jacky’s girlfriend, and was just looking for a girl to write to…someone who might think of him when she watched the news, or while she was hanging out with her friends. Someone George might imagine was pining for him, waiting for him to come home to her.

But instead it was me, a chubby eleven-year-old with braces, who loved sports and horses. My mother told me to write back to him and explain—that he might still like to have a penpal from home. So I did, and that was the beginning of our unusual relationship. I wrote to Jacky and George that whole year, telling them about each Boston team’s triumphs and trades. There was nothing else to talk about, but I was eleven; I didn’t understand.

In the early days of the war, they would politely reply each month, voicing their outrage at the Sox’s Jim Lomborg being traded, or how many fights were in the latest Bruin’s game. But soon after they arrived in Vietnam, the letters started to change. The peace sign, and the words scribbled, “pray for peace,” started appearing on the backs of the envelopes. They talked about “Charlie,” and rats, and rockets, and skies on fire. Again, I was eleven; I didn’t understand.

My mother started monitoring the letters closely, in fear they might forget they were writing to a child. But now, as I study these letters, it is easy to read between the lines and feel the sadness, despair, and even horror that none of us could understand, unless we were there.

Jacky came home for that Christmas, but we suddenly stopped hearing from George. In November we had sent him a care package with a big Santa sticker pasted on the side of the box. Inside I put one of my horse magazines, a Sports Illustrated, the Red Sox yearbook, a poster of John Havlicheck, my Dad’s bottle of Old Spice, and a picture of me in my Bruin’s jacket. My mother put in the Boston Sunday Globe, and a tin of toll house cookies. It was uncharacteristic for George not to reply, and my mother assumed the worst. To spare me, she told me that he probably had a girlfriend by now, and that he just didn’t have time for our friendship anymore. I believed her, and was even a bit mad at George. The older I got the more I thought about that scenario, and how it probably wasn’t true, that if I went to the Vietnam memorial wall, I would probably see his name. I guess I never wanted to know. I guess a lot of us never wanted to know.

It is Saturday January 2004. It is 11:00.

My husband Jeff and I are sitting at our kitchen table with our friend Billy, who has stopped by with coffee. Billy was a chopper pilot in Vietnam, and we are discussing the war in Iraq. It is a bitter subject for him, so Jeff starts to talk about a recording project I had been working on to take the conversation somewhere else. I began to talk about the album’s theme, and ultimately the subject really didn’t change. I told him I wanted to do a collection of songs to remind us of what war really is—that when somebody’s darling puts on a uniform, that he or she may never be coming home.

When I told Billy the theme, he began to recite the famous Veteran’s poem, In Flander’s Field. Visibly emotional, he said “you should put that to music, out of respect.” It was clear to me then, what my album would really be about.

Our country has always been divided about war, but ironically it is the casualties of those wars that unite us. No matter what side you are on, what time in history, or what ocean borders you, the loss is still the same. In 1970, I trivialized the war by writing to George and Jacky like they were simply big brothers away at college. But in 2004, it is easy to write a song as I watch the news and see a soldier’s high school picture, while his mother cries into a microphone. At least now I can begin to understand the tragedy. The problem with that is, until we walk in that mother’s shoes, or put on that soldier’s boots, we still don’t really get it. Until we “read between the lines” we don’t have the right to get it.

We can start by facing the walls, looking up at the names, and then praying for peace.

My album will be dedicated to my father, Jeff’s father, Kevin’s father, Mary’s brother, Noreen’s husband, Katy’s uncle, Michael’s best friend, Dawne’s cousin, Brian’s sister, Emma’s grandfather, Henry’s son, Carol’s penpal………Somebody’s Darling.