During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, service members have been more likely to transmit their messages home as emails. But there are exceptions. In early March 2002, coalition forces began to gear up for Operation Anaconda, a major assault on Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds in the mountains of Afghanistan. Before advancing into what would become one of the worst firefights of the Afghan campaign, 23-year-old Sgt. Josh Harapko, with the 10th Mountain Division, neatly handwrote the following letter to his mother.
I’m writing this letter before I leave. I couldn’t say what I wanted to over the phone. First I want to say I love you so much. You were always there for me even though I would never talk about my problems. Second you gave me the options to be a man giving me slack in the rope to try to make the right decisions. No matter what you always believed in me, no matter how much of a punk I was to you. We are leaving for Bahgram to flush out 600 Taliban soldiers from the mountains. This is the biggest battle of the war on terrorism. We already sustained 30 casualties and one KIA. …
I don’t want you to worry about me. (I know you will cause I’m your son). Mom I’m not afraid to die for something that is right … I just hope that I made you proud, and if I don’t come home for any reason I just want you to know I’ll always be with you. … I want you to know you raised the cream of the crop. … Well Mom I have to go now, all that I have said here are words from my heart and I mean every last one of them. Tell Aunt Joyce I said hi and I love her. I hope to see you soon but if that doesn’t work out I just needed you to know how I felt. I Love you and Miss you. Take care your always in my thoughts.
Your Loving Son Josh
Harapko survived combat in Afghanistan but died almost exactly one year later, on March 11, 2003, when the Black Hawk helicopter he was flying in crashed during a training mission at Fort Drum, N.Y. Shortly before he died, he decided to give his mother the letter he had written in the uncertain hours before Operation Anaconda. She cherishes it as his last letter home.
Play Video: Heidi Harapko, sister of Sgt. Joshua Harapko
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Andrew Carroll, editor of the New York Times bestsellers War Letters and Behind the Lines, was inspired to seek out and preserve wartime correspondences after a fire destroyed all of his family’s possessions. He recently donated his entire collection of 100,000 war letters to Chapman University in Orange, Calif.
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