Opinion: Care package, and message, received
Stars and Stripes December 23, 2006
Somewhere about a month out from my departure, I started collecting small promises. All of my friends, all of my family, places I would frequent, soldiers I recruited into the Army — all of them would offer these small promises to me. “When you leave, I swear I will send you stuff.” “Write me with your address, and I will make sure I write you back.” “If you need anything, all you have to do is ask.”
Maybe they felt obligated to say these things. I can only guess. They may have even believed they were being sincere at the time. It’s amazing how quickly people forget about you when you are gone. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not just a saying. It’s the truth.
My wife writes me. She is very consistent. Once a week I get something from her. It really is uplifting. In between letters, I wonder what happened to everyone else.
I am not afraid of dying here. Death doesn’t scare me a bit. Being forgotten scares me. If I die, will anyone remember me? So many people have passed through my live and have touched me in some way. Will they cast a thought in my direction?
I was a recruiter for more than four years before I came to Iraq. At the end of my recruiting time, I was tasked with escorting generals from the Pentagon to attend funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. I attended too many of them — hell, one is too many.
I attended the funeral of a Marine I tried to recruit into the Army. His joining the Marines really was a loss to the Army. I hope the Marines know what they got, and what they lost. He was remembered well by hundreds of people. His funeral was a national event. It was tragic. So much potential lost.
I attended the funeral of another soldier, a specialist. Besides the general and I, there were only five other people at the funeral. It was a beautiful, although small, ceremony. When all was said and done, his mother returned to Ohio. His friend, who was also injured in the explosion and was receiving treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, returned to the hospital.
At the funeral, there were no fond remembrances. There was no testament to the life this man lived. It was so sad. It angered me in some way. It hurt me way down deep that politicians and top generals would show up for the funeral of Marine Cpl. Bihn Le (who came to the United States from Vietnam, died in Iraq in 2004 and deserved as much recognition as anyone can give him), but almost no one came to mark the passing of this anonymous specialist.
I consider that specialist sometimes. Will that be how I end my time here on Earth? Will anyone remember me? Does anyone care?
Books For Soldiers cares. The soccer moms, Nascar dads, the students, the yuppies, the retired, the churchgoers, the liberals, the conservatives, etc. All care enough to remind soldiers that someone out there cares for the sacrifices they are making. I hold on to the belief that at some point during that anonymous specialist’s tour here, someone from BFS or from Soldier Angels, or any other like organization, touched that soldier’s life. BFS has touched mine.
Last night I received two packages from BFS members. One was the book “The Action Hero’s Handbook.” The other was filled with snacks and horror movies — just in time for Halloween. I don’t receive much here, so when I was told I had packages (plural), my heart did somersaults in my chest. I tore open the box right away and I handed out the Halloween candy like I was Santa Claus on Christmas. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were a hit! I saved just short of half of the candy for the night shift, and it was a good thing too, because by the time I dropped off my laundry and came back, all of the candy I left was gone. I kept some Tootsie Rolls for myself and let the rest of the soldiers devour the last of the candy when I came back into work for the night shift. Now I can enjoy some Tootsie Rolls while I learn to be a proper action hero.
It helps. Everything BFS sends helps. The letters, the postcards — someone sent me a huge box of foot powder — all of it helps. The packages and letters help me to not feel so isolated and removed from the world while I am here.
I thank BFS for fulfilling the small, well-meaning promises of those people who for one reason or another could not fulfill them. BFS contributors are the best friends I never met. Everyone in my office appreciates what they do. Especially my captain, who, as it turns out, hoarded a bunch of the fun-sized packages of Whoppers.
Sgt. 1st Class Ronald M. Eckert first posted these comments to Books For Soldiers’ message board (www.booksforsoldiers.com/). His posting has been adapted and published here with his permission.