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-- From OPERATION HOMECOMING: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families(Random House), edited by Andrew Carroll. Reprinted with permission. -- From OPERATION HOMECOMING: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families(Random House), edited by Andrew Carroll. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, 23 April 2018 02:35

One More Chance for Snowmen: A Heartfelt Letter from a Soldier to His Daughters Featured

One More Chance for Snowmen:

A Heartfelt Letter from a Soldier to His Daughters

 

One month before leaving his home in New York to serve with a special operations unit in Iraq, thirty-seven-year-old Captain Zoltan Krompecher wrote the following letter to his two little girls, Leah, age four, and Annie, age two. Krompecher wrote the letter to his daughters in the event that he did not return home alive, expressing his regret that he did not spend more time with them before he left.

 

An excerpt of this letter is read aloud in Episode 4 of the Freedom Writers Podcast. See below to view photos of Krompecher and his family, and to read the full text of the letter.

 

Dear Leah and Annie,

 

My precious little girls. I write this letter to you because soon I will leave for Iraq. Your mommy and I just tucked you both into bed, read your books, and said our prayers together. I’ve been watching the news and am worried that there could be the off-chance that I might never get to watch you board the school bus for the first time, place a Band Aid on a scraped knee, or walk you down the aisle of your wedding. So if you are reading this years from now, I want you to know how very much your daddy loved you and that I am also watching over you and protecting you. You are my everything, and now I must say goodbye to you. I cannot express adequately how much you mean to me, but I will try.

 

While I was your father, I was not always a good daddy. I failed in balancing the life of a soldier with the awesome responsibility of being a daddy. Even now I talk about, almost brag, to my fellow soldiers about going over— many of them are not deploying—but I suppose I do this to convince myself that I’ll be fine and to hide my fear and worry about what could happen. I am a soldier, and going to war is something few American soldiers, at least those I know, want to miss. Fighting our nation’s war is what we train, sweat, and prepare for our whole careers.

 

Still, I am worried. When I was a young, single Green Beret, I was so full of bravado that little would faze me. But now, I have you two, my little princesses, and your brother and mother to think of. I don’t want this to be our last goodbye, but I realize thousands of others have left their families to go to the sound of the guns: I am going too, and I am proud of the men (fine men who give much of themselves) I’ll be serving with over there, but I am scared about not coming home alive. I worry that the next time you see me will be when you stand in front of my coffin wearing your Sunday best to say goodbye to a daddy you hardly knew. I’m scared, but I’m a soldier.... I can’t make sense of it either.

 

Leah, when you were two, we went sledding for the first time, just the two of us—daddy and daughter—out enjoying the snow. After each ride down the hill, I would tow you back up while you sat on the sled. During one of our treks up, I overheard you crying and looked back to see that one of your snow boots had fallen off at the bottom of the hill. I picked you up, placed your foot in my jacket and headed down the hill to retrieve the missing boot. Little did I know that you would forever remember that incident as a pleasurable one because it was a moment in which we bonded. Now, any mention of snow and you respond happily with, “Daddy, remember when we went sledding and my boot ‘felled’ off?” quickly following with, “Daddy, when can we go sledding again?” That was two years ago, and you still remember it as if it were yesterday.

 

One night during this past December, I read you girls The Snowy Day before bedtime. The next morning revealed three inches of fresh powder. That morning you greeted me with the plea, “Daddy, can we go outside and play like Peter did in his book?” Sadly, I replied that I had to get to work but maybe we could build a snowman after I returned home. Unfortunately, it was so dark by the time I returned from work that there was no time for snowmen, or anything else.

 

Every morning, I walked outside to kick the icicles hanging off my jeep before driving to work through the slush-covered roads. In January, it snowed again, and you (Leah) came running up to me with your pull-on boots on the wrong feet, wearing an unzipped jacket and mittens. At the same time you, Annie, pointed excitedly at the blanket of snow that covered our backyard. Both of you smiled eagerly in hopes of playing outside. Sadly, I felt that I had no time to play games in the snow. I had received orders for Iraq and was preparing for war. Eventually, you both stopped asking me to play in the snow and would instead sit quietly in your reading chairs while I made important phone calls and dealt with other business.

 

During one of the unseasonably warm days we had just weeks ago, I pulled up in our driveway and looked out the car window just in time to witness you (Leah) attempting to play kickball with the neighborhood children while Annie looked on from your picnic table in our front yard. In the middle of the field was another father from across the street. He moved towards you (Leah) and gently rolled the ball as you stood uncertainly at home plate. You responded with a kick and laughed hysterically while running the bases. Annie clapped and cheered you on.

 

Then “it” hit me. Sitting in my car wearing my uniform, the thought of how I had wasted enjoying so many precious moments with my little darlings slammed into me. I realized then that that should be me out on that plate. That should be me guiding my daughter to first base and then deliberately miss tagging her out as you rounded third for a homerun. That should be me enjoying a tea party with my daughter on her plastic picnic table. I suddenly understood how I should have taken you both sledding to see if perhaps we could make it down a hill without a boot falling off. Later that week, I saw you (Leah) ride your bike by yourself for the very first time. I asked mommy who had fastened your bicycle helmet and helped you move the bike to the front of the house. Mommy responded that you had found your helmet, dragged your bike to the front of the house, and proceeded to ride (with no one walking at your side). I knew then that you were both growing up and would not always need me.

 

When I was stationed in Georgia, my friend SFC (Ret) James Smith sent me an e-mail that ended with the quotation, “To the world I am an individual. To an individual, I am the world.” Unfortunately, I never understood that line until recently receiving orders for this deployment.

 

Last night, as I was putting you both to bed, Leah looked up at me and said, “Daddy, I have tears in my eyes because you will be leaving.” Annie, you must have realized something was wrong because you started crying, too. With that statement, I resolved to take SFC Smith’s advice to heart and decided to “be the world” to you all. Years from now, I do not want to be the guy who sits alone sifting through a box of pictures trying to recapture fading memories because he left his children clinging to unfulfilled promises.

 

April has arrived, and there is little evidence of the long winter. I have put the sled away until next year. Winter is over, and I leave for Iraq next month. You are growing. All I can hope for is that it will snow just one more time.

 

Love,

Your Daddy

 

Ten days after he wrote this letter, it snowed again, and Zoltan Krompecher and his daughters spent the afternoon sledding and drinking hot chocolate. Krompecher went off to serve in Iraq, and fortunately, he came back alive and well to his wife, Tina, and their children.

 

-- From OPERATION HOMECOMING: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families(Random House), edited by Andrew Carroll. Reprinted with permission.

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