Over a span of thousands of miles and several generations, Marjorie P. Lee (MPL) Care Center residents and U.S. soldiers have been brought together this past year by the old-fashioned pursuit of letter writing.
In an age of IM, Twitter and Facebook, they achieved meaningful connections with the written word — and an 8x10 photograph.
 
About 20 residents of Lee Gardens, the nursing care community at MPL, have participated in the ongoing project, which was launched in early 2008 with the help of care center program specialist Mary Pat Burke.
 
“I have a son (Spc. Benjamin Burke) who was in active Army until last December,” she explains.
 
“He’s been in Iraq twice, and will be going again May 1 with the National Guard out of Lebanon, Ohio.” He provided her with the names of several different young men, and she shared their stories with the residents.
 
They’ve corresponded several times, around holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Christmas, writing to a different set of two soldiers each time, Burke says. The most recent project included a young private who has just finished basic training and is stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, waiting to be deployed, and a sergeant currently serving in Iraq.
 
“Even if they didn’t know the soldiers, it was a good letter-writing experience,” says Burke, who has been employed at MPL for eight years. “We do a lot of creative things — we don’t want our care center residents to lose those basic skills.” The project is just one of many ways that the program staff helps the residents stay connected to the world outside, Burke adds.
 
When it came to writing the letters, she told them to “Draw upon your own experience.” For many of the participants, a meaningful personal connection was their memories of World War II, and of their family members who served in it. “A lot of them were able to tell us about brothers, husbands and uncles (in WWII). Brothers, especially, were a big deal.”
 
For those who had difficulty getting started, the program specialists provided a list of phrases or sentences, such as “Thank you for protecting our homes and freedom,” Burke explains. If the actual writing was a challenge, “some of them dictated their letters to my co-worker.”
 
Often, the story would end here. “Sometimes, you’re just writing these letters and you’ll never hear from them again,” Burke notes. Not this time.
 
“Sgt. Philip Harvey sent back a picture of his security detail taken at the Crossed Sabers, a familiar landmark in Baghdad, along with a really nice letter,” she recalls of the West Chester resident.
 
“It’s a wonderful photo, labeled ‘Multi-National Division Baghdad Command Sergeant Major’s Security Detail.’”
 
For the residents, “It was pretty exciting to see a picture,” Burke adds.
 
“We have a letter from Pvt. Joseph Eckels (the Springfield soldier awaiting deployment from Texas), too,” Burke observes. It was so touching, “I actually started crying.”
 
With such inspirations, it’s easy to continue the program. “With my son being deployed, there will be a whole new set of names to write to now,” Burke concludes.