More than two years ago, Stephen Bradshaw was cleaning his basement when memories of a war 20 years past returned to him through the contents in a plain box. In the box were letters he had written to his wife, Diane, since the inception of Operation Desert Shield in August of 1990 and, subsequently, the start of Operation Desert Storm in January of 1991.
Bradshaw was unaware that his wife saved every letter he had written to her on a nearly daily basis. To publicly honor her for preserving the mementos of this pivotal point in his life, he decided to publish his letters in a book titled, "Dear Diane: Letters from the First Gulf War."
Due to be published July 31, the episodic autobiography presents each letter Bradshaw wrote to his wife in chronological order, with the author's expanded comments given throughout.
"What I hope comes through strongest in my letters is this," Bradshaw writes in the book's introduction, "how lucky I was to have a wonderful wife to write to at home. I was able to stay (relatively) sane for the simple fact that I knew Diane was there for me."
"Dear Diane" is being published at the tail end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and in the midst of Operation Enduring Freedom, and Bradshaw believes the American public still struggles to comprehend the daily reported figures of lives lost as a potential neighbor or relative. However, for the military family member, "those figures mean so much more," says Bradshaw.
He hopes that this book will be a reminder to him and the American public to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by both the military member and his family. "I am grateful for your service. I am grateful for your sacrifice."
For the military spouse who has communicated with his or her spouse via modern technology throughout OIF and OEF, "Dear Diane" will serve as an interesting look into the not-so-distant past when letter writing was the main method of communication between deployed family members. With the prevalence of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones and many real-time technological communication options available, it is a humbling reminder that only 20 years ago a military family member had to wait a week or longer before hearing from the deployed military service member.
However, Bradshaw does not view this slow communication method as all negative. He notes that modern communication via technology encourages the shortening of messages and eliminates the thoughtful choosing of words that letter writing necessitates. Bradshaw calls letter writing a "lost art" and believes that when one reads a letter written in the unique handwriting of a loved one, it conveys more meaning than a uniform e-mail or text message.
Although this book is published to honor his military spouse and others, the book can easily appeal to other audiences. War historians who are interested in reading firsthand perspectives from a warzone would find the details in Bradshaw's letters informative, as he provides details of his troop's movement that would otherwise be censored nowadays due to operational security prohibitions.
Other readers who enjoy reading Web blogs and watching reality TV shows in order to peek into the personal lives of others may enjoy the opportunity to sift through Bradshaw's personal letters, which he claims were minimally changed and censored.
"Of course there was some apprehension (in publishing my personal letters) for both (Diane and myself)," says Bradshaw. "We had to discuss it to achieve a comfort level before going forward. We were able to do that and we are totally in sync. At the end of the day the personal is what makes it real. The personal is what makes it resonate. Long deployments induce stress. That stress is shared by the deployed service person and the family that is left behind. And that stress is manifested in everything from financial strain to the raising of children essentially alone to the loss of physical intimacy between spouses. Anyone who has ever lived through it would be able to identify with those realities. To go back all these years later and sanitize those emotions would strike me as disingenuous. Outside of those who actually live through it, it is an overlooked story. I'd like for that to change."
Another audience which might enjoy reading "Dear Diane" is the average reader curious about the lifestyle of a military service member or spouse enduring wartime and long periods of separation. Bradshaw provides footnotes to define acronyms and Army jargon for the nonmilitary reader.
"If this book serves to underscore that sacrifice for a wider audience, or provide some small measure of comfort to even one military family, it will have been well worth it," he said.
The book will be available for purchase directly through Bradshaw's dedicated Web site, deardianebook.com.