Ex-soldier visits to thank grade-school pen pals Children's letters offset homesickness

April 16, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Whenever Army Spc. David Sherwood felt a bout of homesickness coming on, he turned to his secret weapon half a world away -- the boys and girls in a classroom at Old Mill Middle School South in Anne Arundel County.

Armed with pencils and paper, the seventh-graders chased away his blues with stories about family or a fresh sprinkling of snow.

Nine years later, the Mechanicsburg, Pa., resident made a trip to Old Mill to thank teacher Lois Porter and some of her former students and encourage a new generation of writers to adopt service men and women.

"If you have a chance, write to some soldiers," Mr. Sherwood told about 30 students yesterday in Mrs. Porter's second-period class. "It'll help them out."

From April 1987 to April 1988, Mr. Sherwood was part of a unit that unloaded supplies in Pusan, South Korea.

"I could wake up and tell you how many days I had left," Mr. Sherwood recalled. "It was tough."

One day in December 1987, the 21-year-old specialist received a letter from two students in Mrs. Porter's language arts classes.

The students had read about Operation Dear Abby, a letter-writing campaign for soldiers serving abroad, and had written to six American posts.

Mr. Sherwood wrote back -- the only serviceman to respond.

The first shipment of letters from Old Mill arrived about Christmas. Less than a month later, the mailbag was stuffed with a 20-foot birthday card and a 5-pound bag of Gummi Bears.

"It was very uplifting," said Mr. Sherwood, who is now 30. "It was a boost for my morale. It's always good to be reminded of home."

Mrs. Porter said Mr. Sherwood wasn't the only one getting something out of the relationship. As pen pals, her students were sharpening their skills, she said.

"Since part of the curriculum is teaching letter writing, this became an effective way to motivate writing," Mrs. Porter said. "They learned how to correctly compose a greeting, a heading, a body and a conclusion."

Yesterday was a day of hugs and memories and souvenirs.

"It's so good to see him," said Mrs. Porter, who took dozens of photographs as Mr. Sherwood talked to her students. "I feel like he's my own son."

Angela Roberts, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, hugged her former pen pal. As a 12-year-old seventh-grader, she wanted to send Mr. Sherwood some snow after he said he missed it.

"It was nice seeing him," said Ms. Roberts. "Everything rushed back."

Mr. Sherwood showed Mrs. Porter's current crop of pupils some of his Army medals and a movie poster written in Korean.

He also urged the children to maintain their 5-month-old correspondence with two soldiers in Bosnia. The students have been writing since December to Robert S. Loup of New Orleans and Leslie D. Patterson of Andrews, Texas, both sergeants in the Army.

Joshua McDowell, 11, said he writes to the soldiers to "sort of make them feel at home, so that they don't feel lonely."

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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