Iraqi postcard gives local widow hope

Tucked in the small prayer book that Sarah Cowherd received in the mail was a handwritten letter from her husband, Army 2nd Lt. Leonard M. Cowherd III.

"He wrote about three soldiers that had died that day," Sarah said as tears she refused to let fall welled up. "He talked about how he prayed all of the soldiers in his platoon would remain safe."

At first, Sarah said, she wondered why he never sent it.

"He loved writing letters," Sarah said in her York County home where she's living with her parents. "He wrote me hundreds. He said writing letters was a lost art."

But when she read down to the last word, she realized that the letter wasn't finished. He never got a chance to. Leonard died the next day, May 16. The Cowherds hadn't even been married a year.

The 22-year-old West Point graduate from Culpeper was shot down by a sniper in Karbala, Iraq.

"We always told him that if he stayed in his tank he would be OK," Sarah said. "Well, he got out of his tank."

Leonard, who shipped off to the desert in January with the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, was a platoon commander in charge of 16 men and four tanks.

It's been more than a month now since the two soldiers from Fort Eustis brought Sarah the dreaded news.

"I'm just taking it day by day," Sarah said. "Sometimes, I have setbacks, but I'm hanging in there."

A few of those setbacks have been caused by the flurry of surprises that she's received in the mail recently.

Just this week, four medium-sized boxes arrived, dusted slightly with the powder-like sand prominent in Iraq's deserts.

"At first I had no idea what they were," Sarah said. "Once I opened them I realized it was all of the stuff Leonard had in Iraq."

His clothes no longer held the smell she remembered. They had since been washed.

Everything was coated in a film of sand. Something her retired Army father said was to be expected.

And his bedside clock was still set to Iraqi time with the alarm set for 1 a.m. -- the time Sarah thinks he had to get up for his last mission.

Sarah was still sifting through the boxes Friday, but had already uncovered many things that made her laugh, even jokingly angry.

"A while back Leonard was feeling a little sick," Sarah said, smiling. "So I sent him some vitamin C. He promised me he was taking it. But the package was unopened."

Then there was the DVD player, what seemed like hundreds of little sample bottles of lotion that Sarah likened to his own drug store, the Game Boy Leonard loved to play and some of the books he'd taken to help pass the time.

"He was quite the academic," Sarah said. "I always called him my little nerd."

But other effects were harder to handle, harder to look at.

There were magazine cutouts Sarah sent Leonard, to keep him as up to date as she could, of the furniture she wanted to buy once he returned from the war. Aerial photographs of an Iraqi city and mission orders were still organized neatly in a folder along with a touristy postcard with "Greetings from Iraq" written boldly across the front.

"I really wondered why he hadn't sent the postcard to me," Sarah said, looking at it once again. "But when I turned it over I realized it wasn't a post card for me."

The card was made out to Lt. Cowherd from an Iraqi.

"The man can be known sometime from what you see or reading the eye," it said in broken English.

"And in first introduction I knew I saw a good man and I'm happy to have a good officer in the Army here and more delighted in he consider me as friend. May your duty be easy and safe and joyful."

That note, Sarah said, is helping her deal with her husband's death.

Partly it helped her get over some of her anger.

"The guy that killed Leonard was fighting for the same thing Leonard was," Sarah said. "He was fighting for his country."

And partly it made Sarah realize how important it was to make sure she told everyone she could that there is a lot of good going on in Iraq.

"Most of the Iraqi people appreciate us being over there," Sarah said. "And people need to know that. Leonard really believed in what he was doing. That post card was something positive. It made me feel better. It made me want to tell everyone that if they do nothing else, support the troops."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad