Marines Read of Friends, Love, Home
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Striding from truck to Humvee, Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy Johnson handed out armfuls of mail to jubilant Marines on Thursday, bringing many of them something they had coveted since the Iraq war started: word from home.
Others ran up to the 7th Marine mail clerk. ``What about me?″ they asked.
``He’s the one who brings all the happiness to Marines,″ said Cpl. Gary Gillis, 29, of Corona, Calif. The radio operator received 20 letters after two Humvees rolled into Baghdad on Wednesday brimming with bulging orange mailbags.
``For a moment, you can stop thinking about what’s going on here. You’re transported back to your normal social life,″ he said, tearing open envelopes in the back of his Humvee.
As Marines pushed through the desert, going more than three weeks without showers, fresh food or booze, what many missed the most was news of loved ones.
Troops advanced so quickly that Marine support services battled to keep supplies coming to them _ especially when almost all aircraft were grounded during a two-day sandstorm early in the offensive.
``It’s been so long since I got mail (that) I’m writing to him,″ said Cpl. Barry O’Dell, 24, from Columbus, Ohio, motioning to his fellow radio operator as they shared prepackaged MRE rations atop their Humvee.
Until this week, all available truck space was taken up by food, water and ammunition, said Lt. Colleen Cauley of Combat Services Support Company 117. But now that Marines have converged on Baghdad, their mail is catching up with them.
Cauley, of Pottsville, Pa., received three cards herself Thursday _ just in time for her 25th birthday.
``We haven’t had mail in so long,″ she said, beaming.
On a Baghdad field next to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, Johnson sorted through the letters in the back of a Humvee, dividing them into piles, then smaller piles, then handing them out. The envelopes from America came in all different colors, shapes, sizes. One Marine even got a letter from his dog _ sealed with a paw print.
It was a soothing antidote to a busy day. Marines had gone through the entire ministry building, room by room, then turned jittery after a nearby munitions dump, aflame, began to explode and loudly shoot off ammunition.
So as jubilant Iraqis honked their horns and reveled in the fall of Baghdad, Marines held their own celebrations. They sat in groups next to their tanks, perched on furniture commandeered from nearby office buildings. Together they swapped pictures and news clippings sent by loved ones and read parts of their letters aloud.
When Derek Bedell of the 1st Combat Engineers didn’t hear from his fiancee, he began to fear the worst. But on Thursday, he received four letters from her, all saying how much she missed him.
``I was getting all upset ... worrying about if my girl was being faithful to me,″ said the 19-year-old from Baytown, Texas. ``So to finally get some letters was awesome.″
So far, only letters have gotten through, leaving many Marines still awaiting care packages filled with precious goodies from home.
``It’s going to be like Christmas when we get those,″ said Gunnery Sgt. John Scott, 33, of Carson, Calif., a 7th Marine logistics chief.