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February 14, 2005

A Valentine for Your Unknown Soldier


by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

I am sending this to someone who's stationed in one of the most dangerous regions of Iraq. If a special soldier needs your love, this can be your greeting, too. Send it today, or any time you sense that your loved one – unknown to the men who started this war, but so very important to you – needs encouragement and a reminder to be careful so that one day you'll be together again.

This is dedicated to the one I love. I am sending it to you on the wings of a dove, through the magic of the Internet.

I won't reveal your name, but you know who you are.

I didn't want you to go to Iraq, but there you are. Every day, I check the news to see which soldier has died in and around the town where you're stationed. Every day, I say a prayer for your safe return. Every day, I try not to think about you.

But, my dear Unknown Soldier, it is not because I don't love you. It is because I do.

The world looks so much the same that it is hard to believe that you are in danger at every moment. Yesterday, the malls were packed, and though maybe people were worried, nobody seemed very worried about our troops. This morning, the talking heads will scream at one another on TV, each trying to outdo the other in proving that they "support our troops," but they don't even know your name.

I would like to go to church, but I might not because whenever I hear those sad old hymns, or hear the preacher talk about supporting our troops, I cry because I can't. If I really supported my troop, I'd have already found a way to bring you home and save your life, your body, your mind.

I've tried, but so far I've failed. Nobody will listen. The people who support our wars assure me that it will all be worth it in the end, even if some of our troops have to die. They say I just don't understand that the Arab world needs democracy.

What they don't understand is that I just need you.

My Unknown Soldier, you're struggling to do your best in a war that you didn't start. You try to believe your commanders when they tell you that those "insurgents" deserve to die. You've always respected your elders, so I know you're torn between the way you were and the way they want you to be.

Your M-16 still feels unnatural in your hands, and I hope it always will. You notice that the Iraqi fighters are as young as or younger than you are. It's hard not to see the look in their eyes that echoes your own thoughts: "There is someone I love, and I want to stay alive for her… Will I?"

When I think of your brave face the last time I saw you… I can't bear to think of it.

Please stay safe, and be careful, very careful. You're supposed to obey your leaders' orders, I realize that. But don't let them make you reckless. Don't let them make you mean. Don't let them change the sweet, kind, moral person you've always been.

Sometimes my heart is breaking. Nothing that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld want is worth your life, yet those men get whatever they want. They get plenty of money for their wars, but most of all they get people – people like you, with your whole life ahead of you. And they get me, and people like me, whose lives will be shattered if something happens to the soldiers we're trying so desperately to support.

What more can I say to you from so far away? If I could, I would swoop down and rescue you, the way Princess Leia did when Luke called out for her at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Sometimes I hear your need for help the way she did, but unlike the princess, I have no spaceship. I cannot reach you and whisk you away to safety. This is what makes me cry.

But I want to be strong for you. Never think that I have abandoned you, for I have not. I will not.

Whenever your feel your strength begin to falter, whenever you think you can't go on living with the terrible things you've seen, hear my voice. Know that I am thinking of you, however much I try not to. In my heart I keep precious memories of you – memories of the good times, the bad times, and the laughter we've shared … the goodness in you.

I do not want a national tomb for you, nor military medals and presidential honors. All I want is the end of these wars so that you can come home to me.

With love, to my Unknown Soldier.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You'll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.

"The other night dear, as I lay sleeping,
I dreamt I held you in my arms.
When I awoke dear, I was mistaken,
So I hung my head down and cried."

- "You Are My Sunshine" (1940)


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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting(2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One." Visit her website.

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