Stationed in Saudi Arabia for six months, Spc. 4 Maynard "Charlie" Hinkle had an idea: If people home could write to "any serviceman," why couldn't a soldier send a letter to "any civilian"?
His friends in the 507th Medical Company laughed when he mailed a letter Feb. 13 to Any Civilian, Any address, Anytown, USA.
"No one thought it would go anywhere," said the 20 year-old soldier, who is stationed at San Antonio, Texas. "My friends said, 'It's probably not going to make it out of the country.' "
But "Anytown,"turned out to be his hometown of Pasadena. Someone at a post office had written on the letter in red ink, 21122 -- Pasadena's ZIP code.
Last Sunday, Hinkle met his pen pal, Carlene Heilman of Riveria Beach, at a welcome home party thrown by his parents, Bob and Jo Ann Connell at their Lake Shore home.
"I told my fiance (Katie) when I returned to Maryland that I would visit her (Heilman) when I got back,"said Hinkle, a 1988 Chesapeake High School graduate. Hinkle returnedto Kelley Air Force Base in San Antonio from the gulf on May 4 and is on leave through June 10.
Hinkle called Heilman at George Fox Middle School, where she is PTA president, and left a message for her.
"I thought it was some fund-raising thing or some parent from the school," said Heilman.
"When I called back, his mother answered. She said, 'This is sup
posed to be a surprise. But you wrote to my son,' " said Heilman. "I said 'Yeah, this is who it is.' Then I was running around the school like a crazy lady telling everyone."
The Heilmans had made plans to go see the Blue Angels, but when the call came from Hinkle, they took a vote to meet him.
With flowers, balloons and a flag in hand, they went to see Heilman's pen pal.
"She looked real nervous when
she came to the party. It was real strange -- I didn't know what to expect," said Hinkle, who worked as a helicopter repairman during the Persian Gulf war.
"That's because we were going to cry, I was so glad to see this boy's home," chimed in Heilman, who took her husband, Albert, and sons Sam and Joseph to the family gathering.
"He is such a nice and warm person," said Heilmanof Hinkle. "It was as if we really knew each other. We didn't shake hands. We hugged. I hugged him and he hugged my son. What started outto be a couple of minutes visiting turned into three hours."
While at the gathering, the world got even smaller. The Heilmans discovered they had a mutual friend, Joanna Marks, who dates Hinkle's uncle.
The letter that brought the pen pals together arrived in early
March and was delivered to George Fox Middle School. Heilman started a program called "Caring and Sharing," in which students at the school wrote to servicemen and women in Saudi Arabia. When the letter arrived, Bonnie Sommers, a secretary at the school, placed it in Heilman's box.
Heilman wrote back to Hinkle, who had taken the time to write
about life in Dharan, Saudi Arabia. He wrote: "Imagine being inthe middle of an ocean and having water turn to sand. You see the same view whether you look north, south, east or west." He told her about his love of motorcycle and car racing and about sand storms whipping across the desert, cold nights and insects that plagued them.
Heilman wrote back to Hinkle about her family and PTA projects at George Fox. Her 5-year-old son Joseph included a Nintendo sticker on the letter as his contribution.
"I was really surprised when it came back from my hometown," said Hinkle. "At first I looked at it and said, 'This is nice'. Then I read it again and I said, 'This is right down the street.' My friends couldn't believe it." After Heilman wrote to her serviceman, she said she ran to the mailbox every day to see ifHinkle responded -- he never did.
"I wasn't much of a writer overthere, so I decided to visit her when I got back," he said.
"There were times when we moved and we would start moving again to a new location. It was like double moving all the time," said Hinkle.
"Wewere worried that something had happened to him," said Heilman.
Heilman and Hinkle said they don't want the other servicemen and womenstill stationed in the gulf to be forgotten.
"The guys over therereally do appreciate anything anyone does," said Hinkle. "There was an 18-year-old private who didn't get any mail. A lot of us got together and wrote him in-country. It really does help them. It let's themknow someone cares about them and is thinking of them."
"Don't let them be forgotten," added Heilman.
Hinkle and Heilman plan on keeping their new found friendship. "Most certainly, we'll stay in touch," Hinkle said.
"I hope that we do remain friends. I'd like to take him to dinner," said Heilman.