"I HAVE TO KEEP REMINDING MYSELF that this is an actual war," wrote Second Lieutenant Jonathan Rozier, a recent graduate of Texas A&M's Corps of Cadets, to his wife in March from Kuwait, four months before he died. "This is history in the making. Like Lt. Williams said the other day. You know on the History Channel, those war documentaries, those arrows showing the history of the battle on the map? I will be that arrow. Those films of war footage? I will be in them."
More than a dozen soldiers' families shared their letters with us, letters written by Texans who never returned home. They lamented the 130-degree heat, ached for their loved ones, prayed for their units' safety, and felt homesick for lives left behind. ("I checked my GPS the other day and currently I am 6,953 miles from the house," Master Sergeant Kelly Hornbeck wrote to his parents in Fort Worth.) Mostly, they planned for the future. "Just think, next Christmas we will have a little one to buy presents for!" wrote Abilene's First Lieutenant Doyle Hufstedler III to his wife, who was expecting their first child. And over and over again, they reassured those back home that they were out of harm's way. Only occasionally, when rattled by a close call, did they make the admission that Iraq could be a frightening place. "I couldn't even count how many times we took fire," Lance Corporal Aaron Austin, of Sunray, wrote to his fiancée. "Yesterday one [soldier was] killed and several wounded. Please keep all these Marines in your prayers."
From the scores of letters lent to us, we selected seven to photograph. (More appear at texasmonthly.com/soldierletters.) Each provides a glimpse into a particular moment in a soldier's life, a soldier we previously knew little about. As the editors of Life observed in 1969, when the magazine's cover featured the smiling photos of every soldier who had been killed in Vietnam that week, "More than we must know how many, we must know who."
22 Apr 03
Hi Pee-Wee how are? I am doing fine. Im holding-up pretty good its very dangerous here. Like I told Renee in her letter its ugly here (dead is in the Air). As a matter a facted. I was listening to a Creed CD the other day, its been a while since I heard any music. So you have that part down? Kool practice makes perfect.
Tell your friend Mitchell I said hi. Kami I will come back I have to hear my Mark jam to "human clay" HA. Hope you are doing fine.
Alicia I love Marla too, very much.
Jessy thanx for that we to love all of our children be good and safe oh and keep studying.
As for Brad Hey I want a Do-ttins (Dog Kitten) HAAA.
Keep studying and keep a sense of humor.
Marla keep up your studies and please dont fail. Im glad and proud of you. Keep praying and yes Marla I do love Mom. I love you and miss you. As a Matter of fact Big Pun is almost next to me. He's not Big Pun anymore he's losing weight HA HA but Ill tell him Hi. I will write again ASAP. You write back. OOYY Ben HA HA. J
Miss and Love You
P.S I don't need nothing just help mom
PSSS Tell Millisa I said HI. And Im doing fine.
Staff Sergeant Hector Perez, 40, Corpus Christi
To his fourteen-year-old daughter, Marla. The other children Perez addresses are Marla's best friends, who had previously written him a letter. Perez was killed on July 24, 2003, when his military convoy came under enemy fire north of Hawd.
April 11th, 2003
Hey you! How's married life treating you? How was the honeymoon? (No details please.) I got to see your wedding from my dad's video recording. I almost cried! If I would've been there I would've. You looked so pretty and nervous! I still wish I could have been there. Well I left on Saturday, April 5th; almost a week ago. I am currently in Kuwait. It took a 20 hour flight trip for us to get here. I'm in the middle of nowhere. I haven't seen a tree since a few days ago. There's nothing but sand and more sand. I will be staying at Camp Pensylvania until the middle of next week. There are plans for us to go into Iraq sometime in the future. So far it hasn't been too bad. I shower daily and I've had the chance to call home twice. The food sucks though!
I still don't know how long I will be staying on this side of the world. I hope my stay only lasts about six months. Well you know that my significant other is also roaming these sandy parts. Since we got off the plane I have only seen him a few times. I had the chance to talk to him yesterday for like half an hour! Anyways, I'm doing o.k. and hopefully I won't be here longer than six months. Take care.
P.S. Pray for Jose and me. Don't forget about him. I love him so much and I don't want anything bad to happen to him.
Private, First Class, Analaura Esparza Gutierrez, 21, Houston
To her best friend, Sharon Garcia. Jose, a fellow soldier, proposed to her a month after she wrote this letter. She was killed on October 1, 2003, when her convoy was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and an improvised explosive device in Tikrit.
Dear Mom & Dad,
Im sorry for not writing sooner. The mail situation here is sketchy at best. I have received one letter from Caroline. I just wanted you to know that I am fine, in good health and spirits. I'm actually kind of proud to be doing my part. I wish I could tell you more about that