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.

Published in Diary

"We're All the Same Right Now":

 

A Letter from a 9/11 Survivor

 

 

 

 

On September 11, 2001, twenty-two-year-old Anna Miller was attending a business seminar in New York City when she and her co-workers  became eyewitnesses to—and almost victims of—one of the most catastrophic attacks in United States history. She wrote a ten-page handwritten letter to her family and friends after returning home to North Carolina.

 

An excerpt of this letter is read aloud in Episode 4 of the Freedom Writers Podcast. See below to read more of Miller's letter.

 

First, let me say that I would not be making it through this trauma without all of the incredible support and love I have felt poured onto me. I realize this letter is arriving to you all almost a month late, but it has taken me time — time to express my thoughts — and sometimes I would start to write and just get too emotional. So I apologize — but here it is…

 

My hotel room was on the 30th floor, and therefore, waiting on the elevator seemed like an eternity. I walked to the window and looked at this beautiful building next door that was having all of this construction and renovations done to it.

 

We started our meeting just after 8:30 a.m. My co-worker Paige and I were sitting in the back of the room and she was telling me how we had to go eat at the Windows on the World restaurant. At this point, I heard a really loud crashing sound. I remember thinking to myself  “Oh gosh — some of the construction from the building next door has fallen.” Bob, my other co-worker who was instructing the class at the time, said the same thing, and we continued on with business.

 

Because we were on the 3rd floor we couldn’t see what had really happened. There was a gap in the curtains, and I couldn’t help but peering out. I saw people beginning to gather on the street corner and noticed that they were all looking and pointing up. Bob was having to raise his voice because all you could hear were sirens.

 

I tried to motion to Bob that something was definitely going on out there, and a man in our class said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can we stop for a second and see what’s going on?” Just as I got to the window, someone screamed, and I looked up to see a commercial airliner swerving around a building in front of us — and disappear. Then another BOOM! and our building shook.

As I was looking outside, I turned to Brian and said “I really think that’s blood and flesh — in the street.” An emergency intercom system came on and said that the New York Police Department was evacuating the building.

 

We got to a back exit and a Marriott worker, who obviously had not heard the NYPD announcement said: “You musn’t go out there — it’s terrible, you don’t want to see what’s in the streets.” Someone yelled that we had been told to evacuate, and he commanded that we all keep our heads up, and “Don’t look at what’s in the streets and just run.” We held hands and ran with the screaming masses of panicked people. I noticed though that everyone kept turning around and looking up — we all did — and that’s when I saw both World Trade Center buildings above me in flames — and somebody jump.

 

I didn’t look back again until we got to the point where we couldn’t run any further. It was so petrifying to be in the middle of it and people were screaming: “America’s under attack” and “We’ve gone to war.”

 

No one could get a cell phone to work. But I was bound and determined to get through to someone. I was shaking so badly I could barely dial the numbers. Finally I was able to get through to my Dad and the sound of his voice, while it was exactly what I wanted to hear, made me all the more afraid. Afraid it was the last time.

 

Just as I hung up the phone, I watched the first building fall. There was so much commotion, screams, noise, confusion. The air around us was getting darker and massive herds of people starting from this black wall that was quickly approaching — and I remember thinking “This is it. This will kill us all.”

 

Five of us got down and put our faces to the ground and the men covered us with their jackets and shirts. We stayed in that huddle for I don’t know how long — what seems like forever, until finally we realized that people had begun to move around. I looked at all of us with gray hair, bloodied clothes, masks on our faces — and I just recall thinking: Everyone looks the same, and we’re all going through the same thing — Each of us — we’re all the same right now.

 

I think we all just felt the preciousness of life, the importance of expressing of love, and to be with those who we care about.

 

It’s weird now the way that, every time I hear a plane fly overhead, I stop and feel a quick jolt of fear. Or every time I hear a siren, it triggers a flashback for me. But I realize now that it will take time. I appreciate so very much the constant outreaching of support I have felt. 

 

My Love to each of you — Anna

 

- From BEHIND THE LINES: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters -- and One Man's Search to Find Them (Scribner), edited by Andrew Carroll. Reprinted with permission.

 

 

Published in Diary
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Published in Diary