SAN CLEMENTE — Hello, Darling: Sorry my letter and last couple phone calls have sounded so negative. Just my frame of mind. You know how moody I get . . . . Jean, you are my life, and the Corps is my life. It sounds contradictory, I know, but it isn't. I'm a Marine and your husband. When you married me, you married the Corps. I know you realized that . . . .
The words Jeannie Baldwin's husband wrote almost three months ago while steaming toward the Persian Gulf aboard the Okinawa have never meant more than during this holiday season.
"I cried all the way home," Baldwin said, recalling the dark drive last week from her Anaheim office when she finally realized her new husband, Sgt. Walt Baldwin, wouldn't be home for Christmas or New Year's.
"For the last couple of years, I've always had him and his friends at my house," she said. "Last year, I had five or six Marines decorating my Christmas tree. Monday, it finally hit me that Walt wasn't going to be here this year, and his friends weren't going to be here, either."
This year, Jeannie didn't bother to set up the tree, and it angers her when she sees the colorful lights decorating downtown San Clemente and hears Christmas music in the stores.
"For us, there aren't a lot of lights," she said. "There's a whole lot of us who don't feel that way about Christmas."
Hello again. The date? Well, that's probably because I don't really know which day it is . . . . It's Saturday. I'll check later. Not that it really matters. The only important day is the day I come home . . . .
I love you, Jean. Your letters are the only things that keep me sane. Keep them coming, love. Sometimes at night, when I can't sleep, I wonder what you're doing. Are you at work? At home? How you look while you're sleeping. The way you felt in my arms. . . .
I miss you terribly, my love. I keep hoping for mail call so that I can hear from you. "
Walt and Jeannie, both 28, grew up together in Lafayette, Calif. "We were like brother and sister during those years," she said. When Walt moved to Southern California four years ago to continue his Marine Corps career, Jeannie followed.
Only married since March, their separation began in June when Walt left his duty station at Camp Pendleton for what was to be a six-month overseas tour and a pre-Christmas return.
That was the plan until Saddam Hussein's troops ran through Kuwait in early August and Walt's unit was tapped while on duty in Hong Kong.
Since then, letters have been pouring into Jeannie's San Clemente home and her office from her husband, his shipmates and other servicemen who long for any communication from home.
Jeannie and Walt won't be exchanging Christmas gifts this year. Instead, they will be continuing to flood the mails with letters. Their separation has been chronicled in dozens of dispatches Jeannie keeps neatly bound in two heavy notebooks.
I haven't really been getting much mail of late, so after I finished work tonight, me and a friend stopped at the post office tent and grabbed a couple of service-member letters.
My name is Kyle Webster. I am . . . in the Air Force. Unlike some of my contemporaries, I am at a base that billets us in tents . . . . We have been here at our classified location since Aug. 10. Nobody knows when we're going home. I tell people six months, meaning early February, but we all hope for X-mas.
Even though we aren't on the front lines, we still don't have too many facilities. Like I said, we live in tents, shower in tents, eat in tents . . . .
As for my job, I am a weapons load crew chief, and I am originally from Napa, Ca.
Again, thanks for the letter. It's great to know that people we don't know are supporting us.
Sincerely, Kyle Webster.
Other letters come from Walt's friends who have shared the Gatorade, fruit cups, beef jerky, cookies and potato chips Jeannie has sent.
One of the men, Marine Sgt. M. D. (Phil) Phillips, has become a steady pen pal and their friendship grows with each letter she receives.
"Most of the men are single guys," Jeannie said. "The married guys get a whole lot of attention. He (Walt) tells me when their birthdays are or when there is a promotion. Some of the guys I write I've known for years. Some I don't know at all.
How goes it? It goes well with me. It's 6:30 a.m., and I'm standing in line for breakfast. Got your card 2 days ago, great. This is my second letter since then. I'm sorry, sometimes I lose track . . . .
Wally told me about how you sometimes go to Mass. If you ever get a prayer out for 'ol Phil it's appreciate f d. I'm not the most religious guy you'll meet, but I do know that the man upstairs is controlling things. Well, I have to quit. It's my turn to eat. I'll continue later.
Your friend, Phil.
How goes it? It goes well with me . . . .