I received this story, attributed to a Marine gunnery sergeant now in Iraq, from a trusted source. It took me only a few minutes to verify it, thanks to Google. The story originally appeared as a letter to the editor in The Milpitas Post, a California newspaper, on or about December 30, 2004.
Letter from Iraq
Editor's note: The following letter was sent by a Marine in Iraq, Gunnery Sgt. Mark J. Francis, to his wife, Colleen Francis. It was reprinted at the request of Milpitan Ben Ford, a retired military man.
Just wanted to write to you and tell you another story about an experience we had over here.
As you know, I asked for toys for the Iraqi children over here and several people (Americans that support us) sent them over by the box. On each patrol we take through the city, we take as many toys as will fit in our pockets and hand them out as we can. The kids take the toys and run to show them off as if they were worth a million bucks. We are as friendly as we can be to everyone we see, but especially so with the kids. Most of them don't have any idea what is going on and are completely innocent in all of this.
On one such patrol, our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street. This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following began to inquire over the radio. The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge. The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.
As the vehicles went around her, I soon saw her sitting there and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that we had handed her a few patrols back. Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, I radioed that we were going to stop. The rest of the convoy stopped and I got out to make sure she was OK. The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road.
Immediately, a cordon was set as the Marine convoy assumed a defensive posture around the site. The mine was destroyed in place.
It was the heart of an American that sent that toy. It was the heart of an American that gave that toy to that little girl. It was the heart of an American that protected that convoy from that mine. Sure, she was a little Iraqi girl and she had no knowledge of purple mountain's majesty or fruited plains. It was a heart of acceptance, of tolerance, of peace and grace, even through the inconveniences of conflict that saved that convoy from hitting that mine. Those attributes are what keep Americans' hearts beating. She may have no affiliation at all with the United States, but she knows what it is to be brave and if we can continue to support her and her new government, she will know what it is to be free. Isn't that what Americans are, the free and the brave?
If you sent over a toy or a Marine (U.S. service member) you took part in this. You are a reason that Iraq has to believe in a better future. Thank you so much for supporting us and for supporting our cause over here. Semper Fi.
Mark J. Francis
Gunnery sergeant, USMC