I hope this letter finds you well. It seems fitting that I am writing 20 years after our first correspondence took place. You probably do not remember me. That’s okay. I remember you.
See, twenty years ago my 8th grade United States History teacher gave us an assignment to write two letters addressed to “Any Soldier.” The first Gulf War was in full swing, and I think she really wanted us to connect that with the living, breathing soldiers serving halfway around the world. It worked.
I wrote my letters and put them in the mail, fully expecting that I would hear nothing back. I mean, what soldier wants to write a letter back to an anonymous 13 year old girl that still dots her “i” with a heart? Seriously. Our teacher warned us that the letters weren’t really about getting a response, it was about showing support.
I forgot about the letters.
And then I got the first response. I don’t remember his name. It was a thank you response, one time kind of letter. But I was so excited to hear back from anyone! A few days later a second letter! This one was from you.
In your letter you thanked me for writing. You talked about being a Marine. You shared a bit about yourself and you explained the meaning of Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful. See? I never forgot. You asked me to keep writing. So I did.
We exchanged 2 or three letters. You, always commenting on what I had most recently written. Always encouraging. And finally, letting me know that you would be moving and weren’t sure you would be able to write again. But you encouraged me to keep writing and to please send your favorite comics.
I dutifully cut out the best of your favorites and mailed them for awhile. But, as teenage girls are wont to do I moved on. School started and I entered High School and eventually graduated. I went on to college, got married, had kids. I grew up.
But I never forgot you. I remember you every Memorial Day. And occasionally as I read the newspaper comics.
Thank you Sergeant Ybarra. Thank you for serving our country. Thank you for writing back. Thank you for explaining the meaning of Semper Fi. Thank you for encouraging me and assuring me that everything would be okay, even as you sat in the midst of a war zone. Thank you for reaching out across the miles to someone you didn’t know and would never meet and being kind.
And since I know you wouldn’t mind, I am going to also say thank you to all of our soldiers. Thank you for doing what you do. For walking into the unknown and standing in the gap. For protecting freedom. And for doing all of that without complaint, without a second thought. Thank you for being “Always Faithful.”
On this Memorial Day, I remember you, Sergeant Ybarra.