DEAR READERS: Seven years ago, I told you about a new program called the Legacy Project that had been created to honor American veterans by preserving their wartime letters. I asked you to send a photocopy of a favorite war letter that you or a loved one had written.
The response was overwhelming. Since its inception in 1998, the Legacy Project has received an estimated 75,000 never-before-seen letters from every conflict in our nation's history -- including e-mails from Iraq and Afghanistan.
I thought you'd like to know that the Legacy Project has just announced that the entire collection will be donated to the prestigious Gilder Lehrman Institute in New York City, where the letters will be archived for posterity.
In honor of Veterans Day, I will share with you one of the letters from the collection. It was handwritten by a young soldier named Justin Merhoff, who currently serves in the U.S. Army and will soon be deployed to Afghanistan. It was addressed to his grandfather, Hugh Merhoff:
"Dear Gramps: I want to write you and let you know what I am doing these days. I found out that my unit was responsible for manning five of the 22 funeral honors teams that represent the 10th Mountain Division.
"Since I've never been to a funeral before, I did not know what to expect. There were times that I had to try not to cry after seeing the family go through the turmoil that death brings. These emotions were new to me and were hard to take at first. What really got me was that there were guys who were not U.S. citizens but were fighting for our country. I might never have met these soldiers, but they are all my brothers and sisters in arms. We will forever, even in death, be bound to each other by our service to our country.
"This whole experience has helped me better understand what happened during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and the sacrifices made by those who served honorably -- and by their families. I know that you say you do not consider yourself a veteran because you were drafted and did not see action. You used the time you served to your advantage and became a doctor. You saved countless lives. You are the reason I am in the Army today. You instilled in me the values that you learned during your service, and it has made me a better soldier. Most important, it has made me a better person. -- Love, Justin"
READERS: If you would like to read more letters like this one, and learn more about the Legacy Project, please visit its Web site at � HYPERLINK "http://www.WarLetters.com" ��www.WarLetters.com�.