Jon Dixon found an unlikely ally more than two decades ago, when he was stuck in a war-torn country halfway across the globe from his hometown.
He became close with an 8-year-old boy from Florida he had never met.
Dixon, a 48-year-old Shepherd Terrace resident and Army veteran, completed three tours in Bosnia during his 20s. During his first visit there he received a Christmas card from a kid named Patrick, who sent a dozen more during the next year-and-a-half.
Dixon responded with about 10 letters of his own, saying the pen pals developed an “uncle-nephew” relationship. He still has Patrick’s letters, along with others he received from caring kids in Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada and New York.
“Besides make you cry in the dark, that made you feel good. It made you feel that you weren’t alone,” Dixon said. “It’s weird to be alone in a crowded room, but being overseas, sometimes that’s what it is. A lot of things around you, a lot of people around you, but you feel alone because you’re not with family or loved ones.”
Dixon and nine other veterans shared similar stories last week with a group of 25 fifth-grade students from St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, who walked to American Legion Post 560 to deliver a box of Valentine’s Day cards and express their gratitude. The men and women on the receiving end served in all four branches of the United States military and in places such as Iran, Iraq, Korea and Vietnam.
Some of the kids, along with students from New Heights Christian Academy as well as Hamilton and Pershing middle schools, could soon develop their own friendships with active soldiers they’ve never met but already admire. Catherine Mondy-Boyce, the chairperson of the post’s “Operation Valentines” program, said 500 kid-crafted cards will be sent to members of the Texas Army National Guard stationed in the Persian Gulf.
Aidan, one of the fifth-graders from St. Rose of Lima, has visited the Garden Oaks post and participated in the program every year since it started in 2017.
“Even though I miss some work and I miss some classes, I don’t care because it’s worth it to come here,” he said. “And I love coming here.”
Two of his classmates, Mason and Olivia, said they enjoyed learning about military life and hearing the veterans talk about the importance of receiving thanks and encouragement while overseas. The students later served the men and women cookies and punch and lined up to greet them individually before returning to campus.
The kids’ eyes often lit up while hearing G-rated stories about combat, and their presence brightened the mood inside the dimly lit American Legion building.
“We all just delight in having youngsters around like that,” said Tommy Wade, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Ella Lee Forest. “You don’t call it a disturbance when they run through the house giggling and screaming when they’re still not out of diapers. It’s music.”
Dixon related to the students by talking about how deployed soldiers utilize technology to communicate with loves ones. Video chats are popular, but they’re not always feasible in certain parts of the world.
And because the images and sound dissipate at the end of a conversation, they don’t have as much of a lasting impact as a hand-written letter or card like the students delivered last week.
“That’s something that that person can hold onto,” Dixon said. “And they know that you took the time out, because you cared and you love them. That’s what means a lot.”