Kimberly Franklin found the letters she received from U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf area so touching she would often cry as she read them alone in her car.
To her, the servicemen and women were baring their hearts, sharing deeply felt emotions about their country, the sacrifice they had been called on to make, their recollections of the war and what it all meant to them.
Tomorrow , Ms. Franklin will realize a cherished dream, when the book "Dear America: Letters from the Gulf," compiled and edited by her, is published. Selling for $9.95, the glossy paperback contains about 30 letters from the 500 or so she received in response to solicited comments. She has dedicated all profits, about $3.50 per book, to the American Red Cross for its Persian Gulf crisis fund.
"I'm the happiest woman in the world because I've given our troops the opportunity to express themselves to America," says Ms. Franklin, 30, who is sales manager for WXCY-FM radio, a modern country station in Havre de Grace. "The letters are in the troops' own words, speaking to America from the heart. I want our soldiers to be able to pass on this book to their children and to their children's children. In a hundred years, someone will dig one up and be thrilled just like we would be if we found Civil War letters."
Calling it a "nifty book," David Crozier, senior development associate at Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, says, "It's an exciting project with a terrific theme, dealing both with the troops and our Red Cross workers. It's wonderfully special in that it's purely nonprofit, with 100 percent of the net proceeds going to the Red Cross. We're hopeful it will get off the ground and become a significant fund-raiser."
Pausing in her suburban Bel Air home, the Baltimore native still can't quite believe the long hours and months of effort have finally paid off in a book she can actually see and touch. The project was entirely her own from start to finish, forcing her to learn the intricacies of publishing along the way and to draw heavily on her savings. It all began with a desire to do her part during the recent Persian Gulf turmoil.
"I was driving to work every day and feeling a little guilty," she recalls. "I was so lucky. My only concern was trivial things. My life hadn't changed much except I was reading the newspaper more and watching CNN. But our troops were putting their lives on the line, ready to sacrifice everything. I was overwhelmed by a sense of compassion for them, and I wanted to do something to help."
She approached the American Red Cross and the Department of Defense with the idea of a book of letters late last year. It wasn't easy for a young woman to get a hearing at the Pentagon in the midst of war, but the Red Cross helped. Ms. Franklin persisted, mounting a hard sell. Three weeks later she got the nod.
As a first step, she had to get word out to the troops. She mailed 10,000 copies of an explanatory letter, along with entry form and self-addressed envelope, directed to chaplains and to "any soldier." Then she waited.
Nothing much happened. Fighting by then had stopped and troops were being shifted around, missing their mail. Hundreds of pieces were being returned.
When the first letter finally arrived, workers at the Havre de Grace post office let out a cheer as Ms. Franklin walked in the door. That was the start of a small trickle, but for a time, it looked as if the project might fail.
"When I was most discouraged I'd get a little note with 'Please use my letter in 'Dear America,' " says Ms. Franklin. "That meant the world to me."
Realizing more had to be done quickly, she flew to California to meet with officials of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network, persuading them to air news of the project over the radio in Saudi Arabia.
Closer to home, she drove to Dover Air Force Base, Del., to talk with returning military personnel. Perhaps most effective was a full-page advertisement in the Stars & Stripes, the Armed Forces newspaper. The ad cost $1,400, paid with Ms. Franklin's income tax refund.
Letters, some with photos and original verse, began streaming in from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Germany. They came from officers and enlisted personnel alike. Ms. Franklin was so eager to read them, she opened them in her car even before arriving home. The next task was to pick a good sample.
"That was very difficult," she says. "The letters were often so personal I felt I was friends with the writers. To me every letter was precious. I didn't select one over another based on grammar or style of writing, but on individuality and uniqueness."
To create variety, Ms. Franklin included in the book proverbs and statements on war by great leaders. That took additional time, searching through literature.
She did all this while holding down a demanding, full-time job at the station and working weekends at the Corner Crab House, her father's restaurant in Baltimore. For three months, she had virtually no social life and not much sleep either, often working on the book late into the night. Support from her family and from her boss, Bob Bloom, WXCY station manager, helped sustain her.
"There were days when I was totally stressed to the point of exhaustion," she says, looking back. "But I'm single and have no children, so I can do many things because I don't have to be home at 5 to fix dinner. It wasn't easy, but it worked out.
"I'm very patriotic. I believe the only limitations we have living in America are the limitations we put on ourselves. We can all be dream builders."
Excerpt: Soldier appreciates children's efforts
"I have been awed by the encouragement of so many people, but I was truly humbled by the support of the children. . . .
"I want them to have sunsets to cry for and homemade ice cream to die for. They deserve white Christmases, fireworks on the Fourth of July, thunderstorms in the mountains and springtime in the desert. Most of all I'd like them to understand how sacrifice is sometimes necessary to safeguard our freedom and ensure world peace.
"I was only doing my job, but I want the children all over this country to know they made it easier."
SFC Laurie C. Hornal,
U.S. Army, Headland, Ala.
Books for sale
"Dear America"is available at B.Dalton and other bookstores,or by mail.Send a check or money order for $11.95 (includes $2 postage and handling)to Amerigo Ltd.,P.O.Box 662,Havre de Grace,Md.21078.