For a Little Girl and Country - A True Memorial Day Story

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My sister Chris (upper left) with our family around two years before Walter died.
My sister Chris (upper left) with our family around two years before Walter died. | Source

Unlikely pen pals

She was in sixth grade that year when she was assigned to a pen pal - SSGT. Walter H. Bucka Jr., a Special Forces medic who was serving in Viet Nam. The whole class got names of soldiers and sent out their first letters. But my sister, Chris, and two other kids, were the only ones that received a return letter.

Walter wrote to her as often as he could. Chris was smitten with Walter, dreaming one day they would marry. And he often told her that when he received her letters, the guys would ask him, "How's your little girlfriend?" Chris' letters were simple. She might write something like, "Dear Walter, how are you? I am fine. I hope you are fine. Do you have any brothers and sisters? I got a B in math and a new bike for Christmas. Love Christy."

She also received a photo of him smiling broadly, as if all was fun and right in the exotic land he served in. There was no mention of napalm, grenades, tanks, the thwunk, thwunk, sound of helicopters, gore and death on the battle field, nor his many attempts to save lives on the front lines. While he was trying to save a comrade whose gut was blown wide open, Christy was at home, riding her new bicycle, dreaming of the wedding she would someday have with Walter.

What did a little girl know about war? She knew in theory that soldiers in war shot guns, but her only point of reference really was Hogan's heroes, and perhaps old WW II films where a war scenes were much more sanitary than today. But she was not really into that genre of entertainment, so her knowledge of war was next to nil.

Mutual delight

Walter embraced my sister, from that far away land, despite the horrors of war. He wrote tender letters, telling her about his family and life before entering the military, and explaining the culture of Viet Nam, complete with gifts. Most notable was a royal blue bonnet with flowers embroidered across the brim. If you twisted the brim, it changed the shape of the hat. It was probably a cheap, touristy item for all we knew -perhaps not - but to Chris, myself, and our little sister, Jamey, it looked like it was designed for the rich or for royalty. So exotic. He also sent her Vietnamese money. We'd stare at it and marvel at how strange it was. Chris cherished those gifts and guarded them well, as she did his letters. Today, thirty-four years later, she still has them, wrapped with care and snuggled safely in her hope chest.

For three years, Walter took time on leave or at camp when the bullets were silent for a few hours, to write to an ordinary little girl who had a crush on him back in the states. His letters showed his delight to have her in his life. He showed interest in what interested her. I believe that my sister's letters, and his moments writing to her, were like reprieve on an oasis in the middle of that horrific war. In those moments, I imagine he took joy in knowing home and normalcy, and love of friends and family (and little Christy) were waiting when he would one day return. However, so dedicated was Walter to his duty as a soldier and the cause of freedom, that he re-upped for another tour of duty.

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Ultimate sacrifice for "little girlfriend"

One day a letter came for Chris. She wasn't sure who it was from, but she opened it and learned that on February 6, 1970, Walter had been killed in action. I watched tears stream down her face. We all felt like we'd been kicked in the gut. Chris' dream of meeting and marrying her hero and friend (however realistically not likely) were dashed. How could this happen? This was too hard. It seemed surreal.

We never talked much about Walter after that. It was too painful. But deep inside I think we all appreciated the time and care he invested in being Chris' pen pal and friend. Today we appreciate that he appreciated her role in his life, and what lengths he went to reciprocate. It's interesting, but a little sorrowful, to imagine what it would have been like had he come back and they'd be able to meet. It would've been so sweet. It's interesting to note that Chris' husband was born on the same date (except the year) that Walter died.

Presenting the flag to the widow of a WWII veteran.
Presenting the flag to the widow of a WWII veteran. | Source

Today it is memorial day. It is not a memorial day to everyone who has died, like Grandma Harriett who died of a stroke, or the little boy, Todd, who died of a heart defect. Although they deserve to be remembered and valued, memorial day is specifically a day to honor those who have died as military casualties. It is not a time to grieve so much as to honor and be thankful to our fallen soldiers. SSGT Walter H. Bucka sacrificed his life so his "little girlfriend" pen pal could live in a free land. His devotion to her as a friend was enough, in and of itself, but he took it a step further by giving up his life. This memorial day we honor him and the millions of men and women, from the revolutionary war to Iraq and Afghanistan, who sacrificed their lives for this country - for little girls and boys, and men and women who enjoy living in a free nation.

Graves of fallen soldiers

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Memorial Day poem

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,

Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,

Dream of baffled fields no more.

Days of danger, nights of waking.

~ Sir Walter Scott

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. ~ John. F. Kennedy

© 2014 Lori Colbo

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6 comments

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

Lori, my eyes are moist over the loss of such a wonderful friendship between your sister and the soldier. I was falling in love with him myself. Your sister was privileged to experience the friendship while it lasted. A beautiful story of love and concern between two caring hearts. Thank you.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I have family members who are fallen heroes, so Memorial Day has importance to me on a personal level. Beautiful story here my friend.


lambservant profile image

lambservant 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest Author

Ms. Dora, the story moves me to tears too. Whenever I think about him I am full of gratitude but feel the loss, even though he wasn't my penpal. We were read all his letters and marveled at his gifts and thus I flet like he was my friend too.


lifegate profile image

lifegate 2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

Well Lori,

Better late than never. This missing my notifications thing is getting old. i have to go through manually and see what I've missed - and I've been missing some good stuff, including this.

I thought it was interesting that only two soldiers responded. Interesting, but sad. How they might have enriched other lives as did Walter. And they no doubt missed something as Chris gave of herself in return. "To everything there is a season . . ." Thanks for the article and glad I caught it.


Lambservant 2 years ago

Yes, LG, I found it odd that only two or three soldiers responded. It was actually a soldier friend of her teacher's who asked if he could ask his students to be pen pals to keep up the spirits of his soldier friends. Thanks for stopping by.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I love your truth here on how the holiday is a time to honor and not to grieve. I have family members who now serve and have served to fight for our freedom and rights. Thank you for bringing this to light here. Loved your poem.

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