“OK men, listen up! I want each of you to sit down this evening and write a letter home. I know that each of you will be telling your family how much you love the United States Army. Is that fully understood?” Said Sergeant O’Rouke, the leader of our squad.
“YES SIR!” Screamed the entire platoon of men.
“DISMISSED!” He screamed out loud.
There were soldiers running in every direction heading back to their individual barracks.
I was fifteen years old and this was my third week of basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I generally stayed in the barracks when “mail call” was announced. Why would I go running like a maniac when the mail arrived? I mean, I didn’t have a family and I was very sure that the orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida, was not going to be sending me any good will wishes.
I would sit on my bunk and shine my boots trying not to notice the commotion when the other men would receive handfuls of mail and packages from home. I do have to admit that it bothered me a little bit when I would see them eating cookies which their parents had sent them. But, there was nothing that I could do, so I just tried not to think about it much.
After showering I dressed and headed over to the PX Store. I purchased a coke and a package of cheese crackers and I sat down at one of the small tables. As I finished my Coca-Cola, I started to get up from the table when Sergeant O’Rouke came walking into the PX.
“What are you doing in here soldier?” Screamed the Sergeant.
“I was drinking a Coke,” I told him.
“Hit the deck and give me twenty-five!” He ordered.
I hit the floor and started counting out the push-ups, as I performed them.
“Why aren’t you in the barracks writing to your family as I instructed?” He yelled at me.
“I don’t have a family, Sir,” I said as I continued to do my push-ups.
“I don’t give a rats tail if you have a family or not. I told you to write home,” he said.
“But I don’t have a home, Sir,” I told him again.
“Then where the hell did you come here from, soldier?” He questioned.
“I came from the orphanage, Sir,” I said.
“You get your butt back over to the barracks, right now. You write me a letter and you bring it to me!” He screamed out at me.
“But who do I write it too?” I asked.
“I don’t give a darn if you write to Santa Claus. You write a letter and you have it to me by 1800 hours.”
“Yes Sir!” I said, as I got up off the floor.
I walked back to my barracks and I borrowed a tablet and a pencil from one of the men in my squad. I sat down on my bunk and I wrote the following letter:
Dear Santa Claus, I am now living at Fort Gordon. I am in the Army now. The Army is my new home. I am learning a lot about how to win a war. I can shoot and I can run real fast. I am making my very own money and I am going to be a real soldier someday.
Roger Dean Kiser
I took the letter and I placed it in an envelope and I sealed it. I walked over to the Orderly Room and I asked to see the Sergeant. I was told that he was not in the office and that I should place the letter on his desk. I placed the sealed envelope on the corner of his desk and I returned to my barracks.
At nine o’clock, the lights were turned out and everyone went to bed. I thought about how hard life was in the Army. I said a prayer asking God to help me keep up with all the other men as we trained.
Just as I was about to fall asleep the lights came on.
“Where is that little piece of crap?” Asked Sergeant O’Rouke, as he came walking between the bunks.
I sat up in my bed and I watched the Sergeant as he stomped down the aisle and stopped at the foot of my bunk. The other men also sat up but remained perfectly quiet.
“What is this crap?” Asked the Sergeant, as he shook the letter that I had written.
“It’s the letter that you told me to write.”
“Read this letter out loud,” he instructed, as he threw the letter on my bed.
Slowly, I picked up the letter and I began to read it.
The entire barracks began to laugh and whistle as loud as they could.
“SHUT UP!” Yelled Sergeant O’Rouke. The barracks became perfectly quiet. “You think I’m an idiot?” Asked the Sergeant.
“No Sir, Sergeant O’Rouke, Sir,” I told him. The large man reached down and he grabbed my foot-locker and he turned it upside down. The contents spilled all over the floor.
“But I only wrote what you told me to write,” I said to him.
“I told you to write home,” he said.
“No Sir, Sergeant. I told you that I didn’t have no family and you told me to write to Santa Claus. That’s why I don’t get no mail here ’cause I don’t got no home,” I said.
All the men in the barracks began to look at one another. One of the men sitting on the side of his bed began to laugh. “Santa Clause?” He said as he laughed out loud. Everyone began to stare at him and he stopped laughing.
“Clean up this mess and report to me in the morning!” The Sergeant yelled. As the Sergeant left the barracks he turned out the light leaving me to pack my foot-locker in the dark.
About a week later I was shocked to hear my name called out for mail call.
“KISER! KISER! KISER!” Yelled out the man, as he sat three packages aside.
Over the next three weeks, I received seven more packages of cookies, and hard candy in the mail.
I never knew who they came from. There was no return address on the packages. I could only guess that they came from some of the families of the men in my platoon. Maybe even from Sergeant O’Rouke himself.
That night, after sharing the cookies and candy with all the other men, I laid in my bunk bed and smiled. At that moment in time, all I knew for sure was that the world was a wonderful place.
Roger Dean Kiser [email protected]