Tuesday, February 17, 2015


When Jim was sixteen, he decided to join the Navy, but the Navy said "no thanks, you're too young. Come back when you're eighteen." Jim said he went home in tears, only to be told by his mother that she wasn't surprised the Navy turned him down. They didn't take cry babies, she said.

Undaunted, Jim discovered that he could join at seventeen if he had parental permission, so we he turned that magic age, he and his parents went to the recruiting office and signed on the dotted line. A seven year hitch in the Navy. During the Korean War no less.

But Jim was happy and his folks were happy. Jim was stationed aboard the USS Whiteside, an attack cargo ship that traveled back and forth between Treasure Island near San Francisco and Sasebo and Yokusuka Japan, carrying supplies to be dispersed to the troops fighting in Korea--one of which was his only brother.

Jim always maintained that his folks weren't letter writers during his deployment and he hated not getting any mail, so he had a buddy take the attached picture and Jim sent it home. On the back, in big letters he wrote, "NO MAIL." He said it didn't get the desired results as his folks still didn't write. To the day he graduated to heaven, Jim maintained that everyone in the service should get mail. Lots of mail. So much mail that they never felt so alone and forgotten as he had during his four years active duty.

Since we had no one in the military to write to, Jim and I began adopting troops from Any and did so for three years, writing weekly and often mailing boxes to the men and women whose names we received. We kept it up until blacklisted us from receiving any more names and as much as we asked for a reason, they never responded.

During those years, due to Jim's determination to let our military know that someone cared about them, prayed for them daily, and considered them to be part of our family, we wrote to hundreds of troops, who shared their letters with others around them. I'll never know how many read our silly letters, dumb jokes, and crazy stories, but it doesn't matter. Every letter and email that came back from Iraq and Afghanistan brought life into Jim's eyes and a broad smile to his face. To this date I have three boot boxes filled to overflowing with just the letters we received back and each one still makes me smile, knowing that something as simple as mail from home made them happy. 

At least a dozen of those young men and women remain in touch with me. And I still remember every one of them. How can one forget adopted family who came to mean so much to us personally. It's been years since any of them have come for a visit, but it matters not. What we all remember is that Jim and I did our best to keep their mailboxes full. And in doing so we were the ones who gained a whole big family that is now spread across the nation and in several countries. 

One day, a couple of years before his passing, Jim looked at me and said he wished we'd had a lot more kids for he always liked a big family. I looked at him and smiled. "We have a huge family," I responded. He gave me a puzzled look. "Don't you recall those three huge cowboy boot boxes of letters from our adopted troops? You're the one who insisted we write them them as family members and treat them as such. They're sort of your kids."

All he did was grin.

As one young marine wrote as his deployment ended and he was headed home, "Just to think that if Jim had gotten mail, we never would have met. As much as I hate to say it, I'm glad that happened."

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