Thursday, December 30, 2004

Operation Dear Abby: A Personal Testimony

While reading something on Matt's blog recently, he commented about taking the time to send a letter to the troops. While I'm sure it was being done before my experience in 1986, I found myself at the other end of a big letter writing campaign. Here's my after action report: I’m not sure if this story is about the real beginnings of Operation Dear Abby, but I believe it is. The purpose of this post is to use some history to give you some first hand accounts of the impact of letters from all over America have on our troops, and, quite honestly, to help you make a decision (for you fence sitters) to take the time to get out pen and paper and to communicate with those at the “pointy end of the spear.” Sometime in mid to early 1985, an enterprising and forward looking sailor stationed aboard USS BIDDLE (CG-34), wrote a letter to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) and asked if she would ask her readers to write to “any sailor” while our Battle Group was on deployment to the North Arabian Sea from Oct, 1985 through Apri1, 1986. This certainly was before the days of extensive access to the internet in the US, so “the word” would have to he passed by more conventional means. From my understanding, Abby checked with the Pentagon to make sure this would be acceptable to publish and (the obivious) answer was “yes.” Fast forward about 9 months. We had left our east coast ports, sailed to Singapore, and then made an early return to the “Med,” in January, 1984, due to the belligerent stance taken by Col. Khaddafi. By April, we had conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations and had engaged Libyan surface slips in combat. Then the letters started to come. Sometime about early April, mountains, as compared to the normal flow of mail, I’m not exaggerating, began to be delivered to the USS CORAL SEA Battle Group, addressed to “Any Sailor.” My staff was embarked aboard BIDDLE at the time, and when the logistic runs by helicopter from the Carrier came each day, we would get 3-4 large orange mailbags of just this mail. The bags would be taken to an area near the front of the mess deck, and left for all to dig through as time permitted. Believe me, we made time for this. I’ll say this: It was better than Christmas, and all we were getting was letters from ”home.” It was special and mail, the hard copy kind, hand written stuff is/was always wonderful to receive from your real relatives, but this stuff was outstanding because all types of people from all over took a few moments of their lives to write to us; faceless, nameless service members floating about on haze grey vessels half a world away. I can't put into words the elation these pieces of paper provided to so many of us. We read them, passed around the ones we liked, and many sailors wrote back, I know at least a few sailors even met some of the writers. I recall letters from veterans, housewives, an airline pilot, school kids and even a few from some women inmates in the Florida Correctional system. The “thank yours” were numerous, but many included just plain old “slices of life” from the hearts and souls of American citizens, giving as a glimpse of their days. These letters were a special gift and lifted the spirits of many. If your ever wonder if just taking a moment to share a little of your life with someone in the service is worth the effort, the answer from someone on the other end, is a resounding “it sure is!” I know after we were released from the theatre, after a 3 week extension to bomb Libya in May, 1986, the continuous, massive amounts of mail were delivered to the Battle Groups left in the Med, and I suspect it got distributed widely about the Fleets in all oceans. For my part, thank you to those who may have written back then, but today, especially to anyone who has been doing the same sort of thing for our service members. You are making a difference, and, as then, I know your seemingly small efforts are tremendously appreciated by the men and women far from home.

1 comment:

Papa Ray said...


Great post about a subject near to my heart. In Nam a lot of the guys never got any mail, except for bills or someone wanting them to buy a new or used car from them.

Then one day the chopper dropped a HUGE bundle of mail. Everyone who was not on guard or out in the bush, wanted to know what the hell it was. Well, it was a bunch of letters from KIDS...all of them telling us how they hoped we were doing ok and that they loved us. Also included was a HUGE box of choclate chip cookies. Of course when we opened it, it was mostly crumbs, but they were outstandingly Great.

This was early in 68, by the time I left in late 69 (I did two tours), the only letters we got were from people telling us how awful we were to be killing children and old people. It even got worse, if you don't know, after I was back in the states. I got letters from buds that said that they recieved hate mail and other distasteful things in the mail from Americans and other countries.

With your unsaid permission, I would like to post this link here on your blog. I hope you will not mind.

This is a long read, but you owe it to your children and grandchildren to read it and try and understand it. Discuss it with your family, friends and with your government representives. It is that important.

Here is one paragraph:

"Know that the weakness and powerlessness of the enemy have been exposed. You have heard that they were forced to seek an emergency budget. Their adversities have increased. They have countless problems. Their economy is declining and their dollar is constantly becoming weaker. Their deficit has hit record numbers, and despite that, Bush has signed a bill for an $800 billion debt limit.

As for their inability to provide trained soldiers qualified to fight this fierce war, reports show that 50 percent of soldiers come from units unqualified to fight in this war, such as the US National Guard. This is in addition to their failure in providing alternative military units, which resulted in forfeiting soldiers' leave, thus leading to a rise in suicide rates and psychological illnesses. Iraq has become a cemetery for US mercenaries and the thugs who came with them. So, we express our gratitude and thanks to God".

Please read it and try to understand who and what the enemy is. This is not something like Vietnam, this is for all the marbles, this is for keeps.

This is my post

Papa Ray
West Texas