Phoenix, Arizona, US
United States Army
SGT, 10th Mountain Division
Fort Drum, US, 03/11/2003
Background information and commentary by Andrew Carroll: In honor of Veterans Day (November 11) I wanted to feature a letter that reveals the profound sense of honor that is manifested in so many letters—and now e-mails—written from the front lines, regardless of the conflict. The following letter is by Josh Harapko, a twenty-three-year-old sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division, and it was published for the first time in its entirety in BEHIND THE LINES. What attracted me to the letter was not just the sentiments that Josh expressed, but the story behind the letter. Josh’s mother, Pat Moran, told me that her son hated writing letters home and rarely revealed his emotions. And, she emphasized, Josh was a bit of a troublemaker before he joined the U.S. Army. But Josh matured during his service and went on to become a first-rate soldier. Before advancing into “Operation Anaconda,”one of the worst firefights of the Afghanistan campaign, Josh neatly handwrote the following letter to his mother. (Peg, mentioned in the letter, was a very close family friend who had died of cancer; Sean is his brother and Heidi is his sister. She, too, is in the military and would go off to serve in Iraq two years after this letter was written in early March 2002.)
I’m writing this letter before I leave. I couldn’t say what I wanted to over the phone. First I want to say I love you so much. You were always there for me even though I would never talk about my problems…. No matter what you always believed in me, no matter how much of a punk I was to you. We are leaving for Bahgram to flush out 600 Taliban soldiers from the mountains. This is the biggest battle of the war on terrorism. We already sustained 30 casualties and one KIA. I never thought war was fun. It’s hard to see all the guys who were shot or wounded and to know your going right back in there. I thought you should know where I am.
I don’t want you to worry about me. (I know you will cause I’m your son). Mom I’m not afraid to die for something that is right. I’m more scared of being wounded like most of these guys and not being able to walk again. I just hope that I made you proud, and if I don’t come home for any reason I just want you to know I’ll always be with you. Really you shouldn’t worry though. My guardian angel (Peg) is with me. I didn’t get ahold of Sean, but please tell him I love him. I remember when I used to tell him to stop acting like my Dad. Well tell him I really respect him for that. I wish I could have told him myself. I wish we could have hung out together more and I regret not being able to.
….I haven’t been able to contact Heidi so please tell her I love her so much. I’m so proud of her. I want her to know that. I wish I wasn’t such a brat when she was around. These are just some things I needed to justify before we move out….
Well Mom I have to go now, all that I have said here are words from my heart and I mean every last one of them. Tell Aunt Joyce I said hi and I love her. I hope to see you soon but if that doesn’t work out I just needed you to know how I felt. I Love you and Miss you. Take care your always in my thoughts.
Your Loving Son Josh.
Harapko survived “Operation Anaconda” and returned to the States alive and well. In a terrible irony, however, he and ten other soldiers died one year later (March 11, 2003) when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter they were flying in during a training mission crashed outside of Fort Drum, New York.