Saturday, January 14, 2006
Penpal kept soldier's spirits high
By Sarah Swedberg
Janet Byrd of Independence [Missouri] wanted to throw her son Roy a welcome home party a year ago, when he returned home from Iraq.
But family issues prevented the type of celebration she wanted for her son.
Until Thursday night.
"Have a seat," said Janet to her son after he arrived at his parents home, thinking he was having dinner with relatives visiting from Oklahoma. "I have a big surprise. Now don't peak, I can see you wiggle your eyes."
"What's going on here," Roy declared.
As Janet covered her son's eyes with her hands, Kathy Orr of Walnut Grove, Ga. known as "Momma Kat" to her eight soldier and marine babies as she calls her pen pals scurried from a bedroom where she had been hiding to the dining room where Roy sat.
Once Roy opened his eyes, he and Orr met each other with a hug, smiles and tears.
"Merry Christmas," Orr said. "How are you doing?"
"Awesome," Roy said.
"Are you surprised?" Orr said.
"It is a surprise," Roy said. "I don't know quite what to say."
Later on, he admitted, "I had a clue as to what was going on, but I wasn't for sure."
"This is exactly how I had pictured it," Orr replied. "I had been planning this for over year, and I had prayed that God would find a way for this to happen."
Orr began writing Roy almost two years ago, as he was stationed in Tikrit, Iraq. She adopted him from the AdoptaPlatoon Soldier Support Effort, a nationwide, non-profit organization supporting deployed United States Service members in all branches of the military, making sure they are not forgotten.
"For the longest time I wanted to do something for veterans," the 32-year-old said.
So over the past six years she has adopted not only soldiers and marines, but their families as well.
"They are all in heavy combat areas, and I specifically requested them because they need the extra TLC," Orr said.
Roy worked for the 443rd Transportation Company with the Army Reserves, driving more than 12-foot-tall trailer vehicles the biggest wheeled trailer vehicles the army has, he said as he transported military equipment.
A typical day in Iraq, the 23-year-old said, included "waking up sweating, waiting till they told you to go, then you said your little prayers, suited up and hoped you would get to the next camp."
But Orr's correspondence with him every other day strengthened not only him, but the guys he lived and worked beside.
"It's very, very important," he said, "receiving letters from her was very uplifting for morale."
Roy added, "you make a lot of guys' worlds better while they're over there."
Roy continues to adjust to civilian life even though he carries some of the war's destruction with him, hearing loss and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"It takes a good little while to where you don't think about it anymore," he said, "but having support from family and friends helps you."
As the Operation Iraqi Freedom continues and attention to the issue dwindles, Janet said she hopes people like Orr continue to support American troops.
"I'm hoping people like her stay motivated because it's not a hot (issue)," she said. "It was our darkest hour (when Roy was on tour), and I appreciate a patriot like her that would write to him everyday."
Currently, Orr is collecting cards, letters and e-mail to send to troops for Valentine's Day. Cards and letters can be sent to Kat Orr, Hearts for Heroes, 740 Thompson Lane, Loganville, GA 30052. E-mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.orgReach Sarah Swedberg at email@example.com