Labor Of Love Lets Those Who Know Best Tell Of Gulf War

June 30, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

If Kimberly Franklin were writing her own letter, it might start something like this:

"Dear America, The pride is back. We're a new country."

Those thoughts of American pride were the Bel Air resident's reaction to reading -- and crying over -- more than 500 letters she received from soldiers and Red Cross representatives recounting their experiences in the Persian Gulf war.

Franklin has published 30 of the most memorable letters she received in a book, "Dear America: LettersFrom the Gulf," released in time for the Fourth of July, her favorite holiday.

"I wanted this book to be a keepsake, to be something to keep the feeling of patriotism and enthusiasm alive forever," said Franklin, a 30-year-old sales manager for WXCY-FM in Havre de Grace, who took on a weekend job to help pay for the project.

"These are the thoughts and feelings of the military and Red Cross personnel unedited by the media. The media hits on highlights, but this is straight from them to America."

About $3.50 of the book's $9.95 selling price will be donated by Franklin's company, Amerigo Ltd., to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund.

The idea for the book, published by Baltimore-based Borderlands Press, came to Franklin the last week of January -- about two weeks after the Persian Gulf conflict flared."My normal life was just going on. I wasn't affected by the war at all," said Franklin, pacing around her apartment. "I just wanted to domy part."

Minutes later she had a plan: She decided to ask military personnel to write down their experiences in the form of letters to their fellow Americans. Franklin decided to collect and edit the letters and publish the best, using her own money.

But she needed help to reach the military personnel.

"Kimberly came to us in the height of the fighting with an idea -- a mission, really," said David Crozier, senior development associate with the American Red Cross' national headquarters in Washington. "We alerted our people in the Persian Gulf and helped introduce her to a few people in the Pentagon. We're really talking about someone who is personally committed to makinga difference. "

Once she signed a contract with the Red Cross, Franklin mailed 10,000 letters to random service members and chaplains,and waited, and waited, and waited for replies. For a while, it looked as if the venture would flop.

"When I got that first letter, I was the happiest woman in the world," said Franklin, who drew a better response from an ad she later took out in Stars & Stripes. "These are not the General Norman Schwarzkopfs. These are sergeants, commanders, chaplains. You get a genuine sense of what was on the minds of service members."

To keep up with the eventual flood of mail, and her own correspondence, Franklin, who started out with an electric typewriter, had to purchase a facsimile machine, add two telephone lines and buy a laptop computer. She even formed her own company, Amerigo Ltd., named after Amerigo Vespucci, for whom America was named.

Franklin personally recruited one letter-writer after the war. When she met Dr. William Bernhard, director of anesthesiology at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and an Army National Guard colonel and flight surgeon, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, she asked him to join the others in contributing a letter about war experiences.

"I was most impressed with the superb job our young men and women did to win the war quickly . . . and with the welcome we received on our return to the U.S.A.! I also remember well the Saudi children waving 'V' for victory as we drove through Hafar-al-Betin on our way to Kuwait," Bernhard, 60, wrote.

Bernhard said Franklin's project "isfrom America back to us" because money from the project will go to the crisis fund and will be used to help sick children, refugees and others affected by the war.

"This shows what a person can do with agood idea and a lot of energy as part of the war effort," he said. "I think it's time someone gave her the credit."

But Franklin refuses to accept that.

"Sure, I'm an entrepreneur," she said. "It tookmoney and energy to put this together, but they're the heroes."

To order the book: Call (800) 542-GULF for C.O.D. delivery, or send $9.95, plus $2 shipping and handling, to P.O. Box 662, Havre de Grace, 21078.


Dear America:

It is hard to expresswhat I am feeling because the emotions are many. What can I say to help you understand exactly what I and many others feel? Hopefully, this letter will shed some light.

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