Sunday, February 05, 2006

War Pen-pals United ~ Walton Tribune Article

The Walton Tribune

By Robbie Schwartz
The Walton Tribune

Published February 05, 2006


WALNUT GROVE — Kathy Orr really can't explain why she does what she does.

Sitting in her house, some 600 Valentine's Day cards rest on her kitchen table. Another 200 are stashed in her living room, awaiting their final orders before being sent.

A total of 1,500 cards have been collected. Their final destination: U.S. troops stationed overseas in Iraq.

Orr, with the help of a friend, has also baked countless dozens of cookies that have already been shipped off with the first batch of cards. For Christmas, she provided the same effort to the tune of almost 2,500 cards.

For six years Orr has adopted soldiers and Marines, and in some instances their families as well, through several pen pal organizations such as Adopt-A-Platoon and Angels in Camouflage.

"Momma Kat" as she is known to the 10 soldiers that she writes to weekly, performs the meritorious service of adopting soldiers as though they were her own children. The experience in July of last year garnered her a visit and a special "thank-you" from one of the soldiers that she wrote to, Sgt. Chris Missick from California.

While she compared that experience to winning the lottery, she compared her trip earlier this year similarly — only tenfold.

"I had been writing to Roy [Byrd] in Iraq for 10 months of the year he was there," Orr said. "He has been back for a year now, and I just kept writing to him. He was having a tough time adjusting back, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and I felt like I would be abandoning my baby if I didn't stay in touch."

In fact, Orr had created a special bond with Byrd's entire family.

She describes Byrd as a man with a heart of gold who often asked her for advice.

Stationed overseas, he described life there as waking up sweating, waiting until he was told to go, saying a little prayer then suiting up and hoping that he returned to camp. Byrd was with the 443rd Transportation Company with the Army Reserves.

Orr's letters strengthened not only Byrd but those who he worked and lived beside. Byrd said that those letters, and to receive letters in general, were "very uplifting for morale."

Orr also became very close with her "adopted" son's mom Janet, of Independence, Mo., who she says is one of her closest friends.

Meeting two of her pen pals in one year was something Orr never thought would happen. But with the help of friends who bought half of her ticket, Orr found herself in Independence.

While she was overcome with emotion when Missick came to visit her, that paled in comparison to the emotional rollercoaster that was her trip to visit Byrd.

"I have been with this family though some tough times. The dad almost died last year," Orr said, adding that she also writes to the father weekly. "The mom had to have live-saving surgery.

"Roy had been home for a year to the day that I went and visited him. It was not until I saw him and cried my eyes out did I finally believe my baby was home."

The visit by Orr in January was a light in the absence of any for Byrd and his family.

Her efforts to touch other soldiers' lives overseas continues.

Orr is in the middle of her college career and working a full-time job, not to mention a husband and family on the home front. But she manages to find time to write to her adopted sons each week. On her list each week are two soldier's from the Georgia 48th, one of which is fallen Loganville soldier Michael Stokely's childhood friend. There is also Spc. ["Dear Hero"], whose family Orr recently met on a trip to [his hometown], five additional soldiers and one Vietnam vet who receive a letter each week from Orr.

"All I know is that this is what is in my heart to do and it is something I feel very, very strongly about. I want to bring to these soldiers a bit of cheer and let them know their nation stands behind them," Orr said about her duties.

And she has done that and more as the lives she touches are not only those that are around her or in here in the U.S., but those who need it most as they fight overseas defending the principles of which they believe in.

Copyright © 2006 The Walton Tribune


Georgia Blogger