The stories that stick with us: 'Last Letters Home' revealed permanent link to fallen troops' souls

  • Eric Peterson vividly remembers a father overcome by emotion while reading a letter from his son, who was killed in wartime.

    Eric Peterson vividly remembers a father overcome by emotion while reading a letter from his son, who was killed in wartime.

  • Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson

 
 
Updated 10/4/2021 8:22 AM

A story that's stuck with me for 13 years is "Last Letters Home," written for Memorial Day in 2008.

It told the stories of the families of four local servicemen who had been killed in the Middle East and the power their letters still held for their loved ones.

 

Not only did it show the impact of their losses years after our initial stories about their deaths, but it allowed the personalities of these brave troops themselves to shine through in a way they hadn't in the earlier articles.

When I reflect on what I experienced of their thoughtfulness, anxieties and humor all these years later, it's with some surprise that I recall I never actually met them. That's very different from my recollections of doing initial stories about those killed in action, when the painful void they left within their families was inevitably the strongest impression.

Because of that, the story became a testament to the power of the written word.

The strongest evidence I saw of that was when a father was driven to tears as he read his son's last letter during our interview, while a grainy video he'd put on of his son's last Christmas at home was being virtually ignored in the background.

The video preserved the image and voice of the young man, but the laminated letter his father held in his shaking hands was a direct link to his mind and his soul.

That's probably among the reasons this story has stayed with me: It showed the effectiveness of writing -- also the medium used by newspapers -- in communicating thoughts directly from one mind to another. Examples like those powerfully moving letters can make written language seem superior at times to newer human technologies.

• Staff Writer Eric Peterson has worked for the Daily Herald since 2000.

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