WASHINGTON — Cpl. Kevin M. Wolfe summed up the good news in just 14 words, everything his family in Clinton, Iowa, needed to know:
"The war is over. I am alive and well. I'll write for real tomorrow."
It was one of millions of letters sent during the relatively brief Operation Desert Storm, but it symbolized correspondence from soldiers throughout American history.
The U.S. Postal Service has compiled "Letters from the Sand," a collection of mail from conflicts dating back to the Civil War. Soldiers, family members and descendants contributed to the book, which will be sold at post offices at $24.95.
"When we started this project, we wanted to share the sentiments and emotions of troops in the desert and those waiting at home. Soon we saw a common thread of hope, of pride of country and love of family," said Postmaster General Anthony Frank.
Lt. Mark Berger described the end of Desert Storm in a letter to his parents in Minnesota:
"I woke up this morning to screaming that the Iraqis had surrendered. . . . Thank God it's over."
But the joy of those who survived is tempered with the heartbreak of families whose sons and daughters died.
"Mom, I love you and B more than anything in the world," Pfc. Wesley Hutto wrote his mother, Lil Lambert, in Andalusia, Ala. "I am fighting because I willingly joined the army to defend democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. Hussein is an enemy of democracy. I must die for his sins."
Hutto was the first soldier from Alabama to be killed in the desert conflict.
"Dear Mom, I know this isn't much but in case I'm not around: Happy Mother's Day. I think you are the perfect mom," Lance Cpl. Gary D. Haisman wrote Pam Haisman of Ft. Myers, Fla.
He died in a shooting accident May 3.
The letters cover a multitude of topics.
* The enemy:
"I had to guard some guys that surrendered today. . . . (One) turned to me and said something in Arabic. I have never seen such fear in a man's eyes," wrote Spec. Shane Sorensen of Great Falls, Mont. The interpreter said "he was asking if I was going to kill him. He thought I was leading him to an execution. I just wished I spoke Arabic so I could tell him what was going on."
* Anti-war demonstrations:
"Please let any anti-war protestors back home know that there is nothing more demoralizing to a 19-year-old Marine who is about to lay his life on the line for his friends and country than to listen to a bunch of whining, ignorant people complain of him being here and what he's doing," Lt. Mike Ragoza wrote his mother, Lenore Smith, in Princeton, N.J.
"My men and I will enjoy your gifts for a long time. . . . Thank you personally for the Bible. I have never been very religious, but lately I've wanted to understand the word," Capt. Rich Filippi wrote Donna Douglas of Addison, Tex.
"All is well here and I am doing guard duty later tonight. Maybe I will see Santa and his sleigh! I hope our air defense doesn't shoot him down," Spec. James P. Raynoha wrote his parents in Babylon, N.Y.
* Good wishes:
"Dear Uncle Danny, I hope you'r not going to die. Even if you do die Heaven is a better place then earth. I went bolling on Saturday. Love," Danielle Guitierrez of Del Valle, Tex., wrote Aviation Storekeeper 1st Class Daniel Feliciano.
* Clean teeth:
"The only thing I don't like is the damn wind," Sgt. Clay Abajian wrote his mother, Georgia Abajian, in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It very rarely stops and when you're out there and you open your mouth you're chewing sand for the rest of the day. It sure is easy to brush your teeth though. All we do is face into the wind and smile and off comes the socks and the enamel if you stand there too long."