24 January 02

Dear America -

Please forgive the impersonal nature of this letter.  I truly wish that I could respond to everyone personally, but there is no chance of me returning the thousands of letters and cards that we received.

A few weeks ago, I casually asked some relatives and friends to see if they could drum up any interest among their fellow citizens for sending packages and letters to the Marines aboard the USS Whidbey Island.  The response was both overwhelming and humbling.  A conservative estimate of what we received in just a few weeks is:  50+ packages, over 400 pounds of food and snacks, and 3000+ letters and cards.  Additionally, we received items such as:  Chap stick, beef jerky, DVDs, CDs, video tapes, cassette tapes, thermal socks, compasses, chewing gum, homemade and store bought cookies, hard candy, chocolate, pictures of families, watch bands, batteries, Ziploc and garbage bags for waterproofing, T-shirts, pre-paid phone cards, and innumerable other odds and ends.

Unfortunately, we were not able to receive these packages as they arrived because all the Marines from this ship were ashore in Pakistan and Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Thus, when we returned to the ship after 45-60 days in country, we were absolutely engulfed by the mail awaiting us.

Last night, we began our “letter-returning campaign” in earnest, but some correspondence will inevitably be unreturned.  I apologize for this, but it is the unfortunate reality.  As much as possible, we are trying to write back to every letter or card that has a return address.  We certainly want every child who wrote to us to get a return letter from a Marine or sailor.  If you know someone who was kind enough to support us in any way, but they received nothing in return, please share this letter with them.

When we left on this deployment over four months ago, people lined the streets with American flags and waved a fond farewell to us.  Possibly you can imagine just how heartwarming that was.  Some of us wondered if America’s patriotism would fade or if it would stay strong.  We now have our answer.

The reports I hear from my family back home tell me that all of America is united in their support of the men and women who are serving their country.  None of us are heroes, we are patriots - the same as you.  Just like the postal worker who continued to deliver mail during the anthrax scare, the deli owner in New York who freely fed rescue workers, the airline pilot who continued to fly passengers across America, or the fire fighter who worked until exhaustion trying to save a human life at “ground zero” - we all serve our country in one way or another.  We all refuse to let the senseless acts of terrorists bring our lives to a screeching halt.

I cannot thank you all enough for your support, prayers, and encouragement.  The one gift that you can give to us - and to all of America - is that you never let your patriotism fade:  never again take for granted the freedoms we enjoy in our nation; continue to fly your flags, not just on the 4th of July, but every day; remember that Memorial Day is much more than just a day off from work; say “Thank you” to a veteran on November 11th; always stand silently and proudly when you hear the National Anthem at a baseball or football game; teach children the importance of saying the Pledge of Allegiance at school; accept the phone call from a military recruiter not as a nuisance, but as an opportunity; and never forget that the worst place in America is truly better than the best place anywhere else in the world.

I wish there was some way that we could adequately repay all the kindness you have shown us over the past few weeks.  Our words will never quite express our sincere gratitude.  Rest assured that we Marines will continue to serve our nation and our Corps for as long as America wants us.

In mid-September, President Bush told the military to be ready.  He told us the time was coming when we would act, and he said that we would make America proud.  I hope that we have done so. America has certainly made us proud to serve.  We will always give the United States the gift of our service, for it is our civic duty; please continue to give us the gift of your undying support.

Semper Fidelis,

Erik V. Orient
1st Lt  USMC
Headquarters Platoon Commander
Kilo Battery, Battalion Landing Team 3/6
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)