in the 1980’s i moved from my home state of maryland to virginia beach. just before I left, a friend advised me, “don’t get involved with a military man.” i had not even realized that it was a town populated by navy and marines. my wish was simply to live near the ocean, and enjoy the beach. at any rate, her words were wasted.
at thanksgiving, i was invited to a gathering of folks with no family in the area. that day we became a family of sorts and i met a man who i eventually lived with for five years. he was, of course, a navy man, stationed at an airfield in norfolk. after a time he was reassigned to the uss america, an aircraft carrier. the ship would leave port for two- to four-week cruises, which meant he was home more than he was gone.
until december of 1991, when the ship headed to the gulf war. desert storm raged for 100 days, during which my eyes were glued to television coverage and my heart bled with fear. there are no words to describe the impact of receiving a letter explaining what he wanted me to tell his family in case he did not return.
my own family was supportive; my dad came to visit and stayed with me through the initial few weeks. dad literally pulled me away from the tv at one point, made me take a benedryl and go to bed. it is difficult to imagine what it is like for families who go through the fear and concern for years at a time. those 100 days were some of the most stressful i have ever experienced.
letters were regularly mailed back and forth. though, at one point, when none had arrived in nearly 10 days, i think our mail carrier began to worry that i might do him harm. like all the other military spouses and partners, i lived for those missives of love, reassurance, and private thoughts that only someone in a war would have.
sometime in february 1992, i put together a care package i hoped would cheer up my faraway partner. into a box went homemade cookies, a couple of books, lollipops, fudge leftover from the holidays. it took a little longer to decide what to add that would simply be for fun. after some creative thinking, i crafted a large peace symbol from clay and hung it on a chain, tie-dyed a t-shirt, made long bead necklaces, found an old bandana to which i affixed buttons with sayings like “make love, not war”, “save the whales”, “wage peace” and mailed the package off to the america.
amid the tension and concerns of making war, my gift became a great excuse to have some fun aboard ship. one morning my partner donned the tie-dyed shirt, slipped the beads and peace sign on, tied the bandana around his head, and headed for the tower. along the way, sailors laughed and yelled out, “you damned hippie!” and “hey, we’re at war here; take that stuff off!”. my guy laughed, shouting back, “i’m into peace!”, declaring that, “i will wear these clothes until the war ends!”.
the next day, the war in the gulf was over. naturally, he attributed this to the “peace package” I had sent.