The Home Front, Part 5:
Mothers share letters from Iraq

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(Host) For the families of soldiers serving in Iraq, letters are a link to loved ones overseas.

Today in our “Homefront” series, VPR’s Lynne McCrea talks with two mothers who share their sons’ letters, which tell of the profound impact the war is having on their lives.

(McCrea) With an album full of photographs and letters, Lynn Reynolds of Williston settles into her warm, cozy den and looks out at the fading December light. Her son Eric is a communications specialist in the National Guard who’s been in Iraq since March.

(Reynolds) “Due home in less than 100 days and we’re counting down!”

(McCrea) For Lynn, Eric’s letters home have given her the constant reassurance she needs that he’s safe. They keep her connected with her son’s life. And they give her clues about his mood – whether it’s frustration about house repairs or concern about his wife, Lisa, and their young baby.

(Reynolds, reading from a letter) “He says, ‘I’m fine, just a little on edge. I’m trying hard to get things so Lisa will be better off each month. I just don’t want things to fall short for her and the baby.’ He’s trying to manage home, from over there.”

(Reynolds, reading from another letter) “‘Currently the weather isn’t bad, low 130’s today. When I get off work it’s a brisk 88 to 95. The way I look at it, we’re reaching the half-way mark to this tour and I’m ready to come home to everyone (Reynolds cries, continues reading) and get back to normal.”

(McCrea) When Lynn senses her son is down, she e-mails him to remind him that he’s not alone, that his family is with him every minute in spirit.

While Lynn Reynolds will be missing her son this Christmas, another mother is getting ready to welcome hers home. Maryann Waters keeps a shopping bag full of letters that chronicle her son’s first tour in Iraq. They tell of a war that became all too real.

(Waters) “My son Daniel Waters is a specialist in the U.S. Army, part of the Fourth Infantry Division based at Fort Hood Texas. He’s part of the armor division, so he’s in a tank.”

(McCrea) Daniel Waters grew up in Norwich, out in the country, where his mother says he loved to fish and hunt. In Iraq, he was a part of the early combat and his first letters home conveyed excitement.

(Waters) “The thing that struck us in his initial letters was the quality of life for Iraqi people – they had nothing, people lived in mud huts. He got a lot of thumbs up and it appeared from letters that Iraqi people were very glad to have U.S. troops there.”

(McCrea) But then in mid-October of 2003, while he was out on a convoy, Dan’s tank was hit by an IED, improvised explosive device. No one was injured, but Maryann says Dan realized how vulnerable he was. Then, two weeks later, the tank just behind his was hit and two soldiers were killed. One was Dan’s roommate from Fort Hood, the other was his best friend.

(Waters) “This letter is dated November 6. ‘No more deaths as of yet. But just knowing we underestimated them scares me. I’ve changed a lot. When we first got here I was all ‘hardcore’-wanted to go on every mission. Never did I think two friends would die. Never did I think tanks could be destroyed. I’m hoping to leave here without another firefight, without getting shot at, without any more death. A career in the military does not sound as good as it did before.'”

(McCrea) There were other difficult letters that would follow. Maryann Waters kept writing to Daniel, knowing that her letters were a lifeline to her son.

(Waters, reading) “‘Dear Mom, How’s everything going? Just thought I’d drop you a note and thank you for all the letters you’ve been writing. I’m not going to lie, this is very hard for me. When I get your letters it makes my day. The night we got hit with the IED, I and the others were very shaken up. I walked into my room and there on my sleeping bag was a letter from you. For 10 minutes I read it over and over. I did not think about the explosion. There are many nights I fall asleep thinking of the smell of your cooking (Waters cries, continues reading aloud) after a cold day of working outside. One of the best things about going to hunting camp was when we would come home and I would give you a big hug. I can’t wait to get into the easy chair and cover up with one of your quilts and the two of us watch ‘Antique Roadshow.'”

(McCrea) A year ago, at Christmas, was an especially difficult time for Maryann Waters. But when she heard from Dan that some soldiers were getting little or no mail, she organized a drive to send Christmas boxes.

(Waters) “And I got a letter dated December 31. ‘Dear Mom, We got all 20-something boxes and had a field day opening them! I myself only took Chex-Mix and pictures of Vermont. Everyone is so thankful for what you did…'”

(McCrea) Dan made it back from Iraq, to his unit’s base in Texas. This Christmas, he’ll be home on a two-week leave. But the family expects he’ll get orders soon after the New Year, for another tour in Iraq. Though Dan will once again be far away, he will be close to his family, through the time-honored ritual of letters home.

(Maryann Waters) “The letters are a link. The letters are a lifeline, for me. To be able to hold something in your hands that your child has touched… A letter that they can put under their pillow, or stick in a back pocket to have close to them. I think that’s really important.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea.

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