Germany. It is January 17, 1991 and the time is approximately 0900 hours as the soldiers of the 12th Engineer Battalion prepared to depart for war.
A nine-year old girl holding a pink piece of construction paper, along with her third grade class from Dexheim Elementary School, is walking through a sea of camouflage in search of her father. These children had prepared cards to give to the soldiers, their fathers, as they were preparing to go to war.
But there were nearly a thousand soldiers each dressed like the other, from the Kevlar on their heads to the boots on their feet. Unable to find her daddy she stops in front of a soldier and hands him the folded piece of pink construction paper.
Did the soldier read it? Did he say, “Thanks for the card”? Did he pat her gently on the head? Did he ever look at the card again? We know he kept the piece of paper because unknown to himself or anyone else it was intended that he carry this card to someone far away. The soldier probably read it before he folded it and put it into his pocket, but only God knows.
When she finally found her father, she expressed that she was trying to give him her note but couldn’t find him. Her father assured her that he didn’t need a note from her, just her love. Shortly after that the soldiers boarded buses bound for the airport with Saudi Arabia as their destination.
The next fifteen days were pretty uneventful, except for the preparation for movement north across the Saudi Arabia border into Iraq. Hand to hand combat training, letter writing, ammunition uploads, mail call, weapons checks, radio checks, equipment checks – I think you get the picture. The sixteenth day is the day that will stand out forever in the mind of SSG Richard K. Nesbitt, Jr.
It was February 2, 1991 and the 12th Engineer Battalion (part of the 8th Infantry Division) was breaking camp. The time had come for them to move to the Line of Departure, their own Line in the Sand. There was much to do before they could move out, and everyone was working.
Sergeant Nesbitt had just picked up a trash bag to toss it up on a truck, when he looked down at where it had been laying. Folded up neatly, and firmly pressed into the sand was a four inch square piece of pink construction paper. To this day he doesn’t know why he would take notice of a paper in the desert – except to pick it up and throw it away.
But this soldier, prepared for war, took a moment and sat down on a pile of sandbags. He picked up the piece of trash and unfolded it once. Printed across the top of the pink paper, above two apple trees obviously drawn with crayons, were two words: “Dear Soldier.” “Um,” he thought, “This must be from one of those elementary kids back in Germany.” Unfolding it a second time SSG Nesbitt read these words: “I wish you good (actually spelled “goob”) luck. Be careful down there. Hurry up and come back!” Up to this point the card was rather impersonal. It was the final word that made him cry. What could personalize a piece of trash left on the desert floor? The card was signed, “Love, Kira.”
With tears in his eyes SSG Nesbitt folded up the piece of paper, slipped it into a zip lock bag and put it in his shirt pocket next to his heart, and set his mind on carrying it home to Kira, his little girl. His mind went back to that 17th day of January. He pictured his daughter searching for her father because she wanted to give him her special note. But unable to find her father she had simply given it to a soldier.
The identity of the soldier in Germany still remains a mystery, but the letter, along with a picture of a third grade girl and her father, has been framed and continues to hang in very prominent place above her father’s desk.
Since retirement in 1995, this letter and its story has been part of a Veterans Day celebration at the Heritage Elementary School in Glendale, Arizona. Every year Ms. Margaret Ohmes asks SSG Nesbitt to share the story. Kira, now married, has come to a few of these events and each year, with a new batch of 8th graders and their teacher, Ms. Ohmes, the story of the “Pink Letter in the Sand” is told. Word has it that Ms. Ohmes cried the first time she heard it and every year since. But then, SSG Nesbitt admitted that he does too.
I sometimes wonder if our children are looking for parents to be engaged in where they are going, but in the busyness of life can’t find their attention. We parents are busy preparing for important things. But so is everyone else so everybody understands, including our children. But a child does not know what is best. They have treasures in their hands and hearts that are intended for us. When they can’t find us or get our attention they reach out to the nearest person. Sometimes it takes a desert experience for us to find what is most important. That is the true story of the pink letter in the sand.
There are times when God makes a point in the midst of the circumstances of life. We should listen and learn, then tell the story.
“One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty works…” Ps. 145:4-7