An American soldier entered the small flower shop in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia, to find something for his sweetheart back home. That same day, a bouquet arrived on her doorstep, 6,000 miles away.
The flowers came with a card. It read:
"To my beautiful wife carrying our precious child. I love you."
The bouquet was one of hundreds that have been sent to loved ones by U.S. military personnel in the Persian Gulf.
In December, American servicemen and women ordered more than 500 long-distance arrangements through FTD (Florists' Transworld Delivery), and requests increased to nearly 60 a day before war erupted last week.
Much of the overseas service is handled by Cottage Florists in the town of Alkhobar. There, store owner Issam Ksaybati greets soldiers at his shop on 28th Street, accepts their orders by credit card and faxes the requests directly to FTD headquarters in Southfield, Michigan.
The flowers are delivered within hours to grateful families in towns from Aberdeen, Md., to Montezuma, Ga.
If the bouquets themselves don't provoke tears, the cards that accompany them surely will.
"Merry Christmas from your loving but far-away son," read one.
"I love you and always have you on my mind. God bless the day I found you," read another.
A U.S. Marine wrote this note: "I'll be home with you soon. Please, please wait for me."
"Some of the messages are heart-breakers," says Richard Flasher, director of FTD's International Division in Michigan. "Our people here cry when they read them."
Since hostilities began in the Middle East, FTD has delivered soldiers' bouquets to all 50 states, including some pretty obscure places. One order was for Wiley, N.C., a hamlet so small that it doesn't appear on the map.
"We had to really hunt around for a florist near there," says Mr. Flasher.
Occasionally a serviceman's account comes up short of money, due to the fluctuating cost of flowers around the country. Nonetheless, FTD delivers the flowers.
"If he orders a dozen roses for his girlfriend, and there is only enough money for 10, we'll absorb the difference," says Mr. Flasher. "Ours can be a very compassionate business.
"One florist in North Carolina had to drive 40 miles to a rural area to deliver an arrangement for a serviceman. She did this two days before Christmas, and she was pleased to do it.
"Florists become very involved in something like this," Mr. Flasher says.
Most of the soldiers' floral requests are painfully simple. Typically, servicemen order a dozen red roses, or just "flowers."
"They show an inexperience in buying flowers," says Mr. Flasher. "There is nothing to suggest that they have ever ordered them before.
"Also, most of the men are sending flowers to their girlfriends, which indicates it's a pretty young crowd over there."
Most women in the military send bouquets to other family members, he says.
Although there are 22 florists located in Saudi Arabia, it is impossible for families to reciprocate and send flowers to military personnel there, says Mr. Flasher.
"Those florists aren't allowed to get within 100 miles of a base," he says. "Besides, there is no way to deliver flowers to the desert. There are no fixed addresses."
Merlin Olsen could not deliver them, even aboard a camel.
Rarely do the flowers sent by servicemen contain lighthearted messages.
"Overall, we've seen very little humor," says Mr. Flasher. "It's either an expression of love or loneliness."
Sometimes, the notes pinned to the flowers suggest hope. One serviceman's gift of roses contained this carefully worded message:
"Happy anniversary. This is our first -- there will be many more."