Saturday, 22 June 2019

Christmas In Iraq

As a child, I remember my parents sending “care” packages to my brother, Mike, while he was in Vietnam. At that time, our only means of communication was by mail. We’d wait sometimes for weeks to get a response. Everyday checking the mail. It was a joyous event when that letter finally arrived. We’d take turns reading that letter over and over again. I had forgotten about those times tilla new set of letters entered my life... 

A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a gentleman wondering if I was any relation to the Harm family that lived in Closter, New Jersey and if I had a brother named Mike.  After a few e-mails I found out that Howard lived a couple a streets away from our home.  He played baseball with my brothers and they were in the Cub Scouts together.

Over time, I learned that Howard was a career military man who had also served his country in Vietnam.  Through our conversations he sent me some old clippings from our home town and a list of all who served in Vietnam from our community.  For me, it was a trip down memory lane and one that inspired me to write a poem about the Closter Vietnam Vet.  That Veteran’s Day, Howard read my poem at a ceremony dedicating a new Veteran’s Park, in Closter, NJ.

Howard and I still exchange occasional e-mails and share stories about our lives.  Recently, he sent me an exchange he had with his son, who at the time was serving in Iraq.

“Hi buddy, How are things going?  Have any of the packages I sent arrived yet?  I have mailed you three. What do you guys think about the Rumsfeld resignation? If you get a chance, send me an e-mail and tell me what they have been having you do.  Stay safe and take care.” - Love you bud,  Dad and Jan 

In the days of Vietnam, there wasn’t any Internet.  Waiting for an answer seemed like an eternity.  What use to take weeks, now only takes a matter of days or maybe even minutes.  But for a parent, I’m sure it still feels like an eternity. 
Yes, I received two boxes and a letter the day before yesterday.  I think it actually arrived earlier, but I was so busy I didn't have time to pick up mail until the day before yesterday.  I have been flying my tail off.  5 or 6 hours at a time.  I've already hit 15 hours Combat Flight time, and that's in 3 flights.  I flew today during the day and this place is crazy.  I flew two night missions before today, so I didn't actually see what this place looks like during the day.  I guess in Biblical terms this was where life began(Babylon), and some of it is beautiful, however, most of the landscape is scared by war, and the Iraqis burn everything, including sewage, so there is quite an odor in the air.  There are thousands of canals branching off the Euphraties and the Tigris Rivers, giving the enemy plenty of places to hide.  Anyway, I was really happy to receive mail from home.  The Virginia Peanuts are fantastic and my roommate Rich agrees.  Thanks for everything, I should be set for quite sometime.  The Christmas Tree is awesome and I have it set up in my room.  I
remember seeing a picture of you in Vietnam with your Xmas tree.  It's strange how we've kinda been down the same road in life.  I was going to wait until after Thanksgiving to set up the tree, but I said what the heck, I'm in Iraq.  We'll start celebrating Xmas early.  The music book and army bottle opener were a very nice touch.  Thanks for my American Legion Membership Card and especially the picture of Madelyn Grace, she is adorable.  It's amazing how much she resembles Steve.  What a cutie!  The Cashews are great and they really help out when I work through meals.  We're almost too busy to eat sometimes.  Rumsfeld, I don't think anyone here cares about him anymore.  A lot of guys were pretty happy.  I guess the Democrats are back.  We'll see how they handle this war.  Hopefully we can accomplish our mission and get home.  We would be done here if the Iraqis would get on board and fight for their country.  Well, its 1:45am my time and I'm exhausted, must go to sleep now.  Thanks again for the packages, you guys are great.  I love you guys and tell everyone I said hello.  Tell Scott I'm waiting for my email from him.  Ok, I'll talk to you guys soon.”
Your Son,
It is easy to feel the love between a father and his son in this letter.  I feel honored that Howard has shared this letter with me and given me permission to share it with you.  Ryan makes a comparison by remembering seeing a picture of his Dad next to a Christmas tree in Vietnam, now he has a Christmas tree in Iraq.  Not where either one of them wanted to be, but both realizing they were called to duty and a job had to be done.  Our soldiers for generations have given so much and have asked for so little.  They deserve our respect and our support.  This holiday season pray for our soldiers safety and pray that by this time next year everyone is back home.

More of these e-mail exchanges can be found here

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