Seventy-five Texans have died since the fighting began in Iraq. These are some of their last words.
“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 but you know the deal. When I get home I’ll give a thorough debriefing. I’m actually living pretty large this time. 3 hots and a cot is about all you can ask for, right. We can’t use the phone either. So anyway here I am, the people here are friendly, clean, and competent, so I can’t complain about that either. I have no idea how long this thing might last for me but when it’s over I plan on visiting ya’ll. My guys are all doing well except for the captain. I think he’s sleeping in his Mopp suit (chemical protective garment). I’m not sure where mine is. I’m convinced that this is the safest place in Iraq. I got to see a little of Romania and Jordan on the way in. I don’t think I’ll invest in either of those places. I hope ya’ll are well and every thing is going o.k. I’ll try to hand this off to a cl-30 crew going to Saudi tonight. They have a reliable APO. Anyway Ill see you soon.
JSOTF-N (FOB 103)
APO AE 09338
Master Sergeant Kelly Hornbeck, 36, Fort Worth
To his parents, Jeff and Camille. Hornbeck served in the Army’s Special Forces. He died on January 18, 2004, of wounds that were sustained two days earlier, when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle south of Samarra.
13 Nov 2003
Hey Love Bug,
Tonight I would send some pictures and a few words. I’ll writ a bigger letter tomorrow from the ASP. These are from Day 2 of our weapons CHPSHA search where we found even more stuff! The boat I am in is comandired to search some islands in the Eufrates River. We used the boat for about two hours and then I gave the man a $5 bill and some MRE’s for his trouble. Every one got a kick out of it even the Hasi man in the boat with us. Don’t wory we had lots of security and it was really safe!
First Lieutenant Doyle Hufstedler III, 25, Abilene
To his wife, Leslie, who was expecting their first child. Hufstedler was killed on March 31, 2004, when an improvised explosive device hit his armored personnel carrier in Habbaniyah. Leslie gave birth to their daughter, Grace, in May.
16 Oct 03
How is my favorite “Ole lady” doing (lol) ? Well, me I doing okay I guess. You might of heard about me on T.V. I know you watch the news. You might have heard Bush talk about all the Iraqi soldiers that will be trained by the end of this year. Well, I’m one of the instructors of this training. I have a squad of non-English speak people (one is an ex-Iraqi general who speaks a little English). We have translators that help out but a times it gets crazy when they start asking questions all at the same time. I’ll take some pictures of us so you can see my 1st squad. It pretty cool but I feel bad for some of these people because for starters we have no real reason to be in their country. And now we are trying to make up for the things we did when we 1st got over here. They have to sign the wack contract saying that they will help us no matter what. Its sort of messed up for them. I can only pray that God forgives us for the way we treated some of these people. Well mom, I hope everything is going okay with you all. Tell Ralph & Travanna that I miss them and love them very much. I love you mom and miss you dearly.
Sergeant Keelan Moss, 23, Houston
To his mother, Velma Deawayne. Moss was killed on November 2, 2003, when a Chinook helicopter was shot down over Fallujah, killing him and five other soldiers. He was en route to Baghdad International Airport, having just been granted ten days’ leave.
June 28 2003
Hey Mama! How are you doing on this bless day? First I would like to say Happy Mothers Day, and that I love you. I’am doing ok, but I’am ready to come home. This place is not for me, and I’am tired of seeing these people suffer. We are in Bagdad, and we are living at one of Saddam’s airports. Mama this place is mess up, but we are cleaning it up, and people are still shooting at us. They even have dogs attacking us. When we drive on the streets, they make little kids run out in front of our vehicles. So that we will stop, and they will attack us. But anyway Mama I miss you, and can’t wait to get home to see you. Mama I want to ask you, will you help Becca and I renew our vows, and have a wedding soon. Mama tell everyone I said hi, and I will see them soon.
Specialist Joseph Suell, 24, Lufkin
To his mother, Rena Mathis. Suell died on June 16, 2003, in Todjie from a non-combat-related cause that is still under investigation. This was Suell’s last letter. A family member noted the date it was received at the tope of the page.
Well today was a real scare we had one of our machine gunners take one in the neck, but they said he is in stable condition right now. Thank gods healing hands. Four hour fire fight, they sure have a strong D set up. Nothing we cant handle though. I sure think about you all the time and pray that god brings me back to you, preferably sooner than later. So how are you and Kaylie doing? I hope really good. I carry a picture of the two of you in my cavalar (helmet), and another of you and I in my back pocket. So you are allways with me. Baby I sure hope you know I love you. You have allready changed me as a person, for the better by far. You have no idea how thankful I am for the way you are standing in my corner. One day you will have that rock on your hand that you deserve. I have a little plan for that it just might take a year or two. So have you talked to Jerrod? How is your family doing? How’s the gym, wish I could find one. I am really becomming a skinny punk. Well baby I love you with every thing I got. Keep your head high.
I LOVE YOU
Lance Corporal Aaron Austin, 21, Sunray
To his fiancee, Tiffany Frank. Austin proposed to Frank a month earlier, over the phone from Iraq. He was killed five days after writing this letter, on April 26, 2004, when he and his fellow Marines came under heavy enemy fire in Fallujah.