The very first day their new grade school teacher told them they were going to be learning to write letters. That was the start of their school year there at the elementary school out in the desert of Southern California.
It was August and still summer. The sun is never, hardly ever, covered by clouds. So hot most of the year. That didn't bother the kids. But now there was no more vacation. No more playing out on the dry sandy land looking for horny toads and box tortoises hiding behind creosote bushes and sagebrush.
It was the start of school and they would be learning to 'correspond' as the teacher said. Each of them picked a name from a box that the teacher had up at the front of the classroom there on her desk. They all filed up and picked a piece of paper out, giggling as they wondered who they would get.
"Now, children, remember these are all men who are overseas, doing a job for their country. It's really hard work and some of them don't have many people writing letters to them. So, just be a good correspondent and write to them once a month from now on. We will use the first period on the first Monday of each month to do our letter writing.
"Look at the blackboard for the example I wrote and try to do it like that. But remember you are telling your new friend about what is happening to you. Every one of them wants to know about you and they will tell you about themselves when they answer your letters."
That was the beginning of their correspondence with the person they were lucky enough to get. And each one was proud to write to soldiers and sailors so far away across the oceans.
Each month they would get their answers at the same time. The teacher would call out, "Mail Call." That was how they did it overseas and the teacher said they would do it, too.
They would share the stories each of their new friends told them. And the teacher would help them when they couldn't think of something to write. It was hard sometimes being a good letter writer.
Every month they would write their letters. Some wrote only a few lines and others could fill up a page or two. But they all knew that the people getting their letters were ever so glad to get them. And it was such a treat when a letter would arrive at their school from their serviceman addressed to each student by name.
Until one month one student didn't get an answer. And then the letters they had sent started coming back. At last one final letter arrived. The teacher read it because it was addressed to the school and not the student. Then she had to tell the pupils what had happened. Not all of it, of course. The friend, over the ocean, was not going to be writing anymore.
The truth was not happy but it was one of the lessons they learned during that time. Friends who went overseas to work for their country would not always come back home. Not alive. Some of the children had to learn about dying for the first time. Some of them had learned about it before when a relative had passed away.
It was a hard lesson to learn.
But they all kept writing to their friends. And the student who lost their corresponding friend picked a new name.
The very next month they sent a new letter out to a new friend.