Members of church become pen pals with military in Arabian Sea

December 27, 2001

Members of church become pen pals with military in Arabian Sea


The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States affected members of St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Hagerstown even though none had a direct link to anyone who died in the terrorist attacks, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Betty Dunlop.

Looking for a way to connect with some of the men and women serving their country, Dunlop and parishioners Johnette "Inky" Eckstine and Nancy Wallech have become pen pals with soldiers stationed on the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.

The women write of their lives in Washington County, their families, plans for the holidays and religious messages, said Eckstine, of Boonsboro.

"Companies are sending gifts to the soldiers but we are giving of ourselves and our religion," Eckstine said.

The soldiers have shared their plans for retirement, described life as one of more than 5,000 crew members on the aircraft carrier and their lives away from military service.


The women found their pen pals through Dunlop's son, Preston, who was stationed on the USS Enterprise, Dunlop said.

Since October, Eckstine and Dunlop have corresponded with Gibby Sorrell and Wallech has become pen pals with Nayone Richard.

Eckstine likes to share religious passages, many of which relate to changing attitudes in the wake of Sept. 11, she said.

"People look at their problems differently now," she said.

When Wallech started writing to 19-year-old Richard, she said she was impressed with her drive and dedication.

"When I wrote to her I told her I was old enough to be her grandmother, so now they call me 'Grandma Nancy,'" said Wallech, of Hagerstown.

Wallech, who tends to write three-page letters, said she warned her pen pals "that once I get started writing I get carried away."

"They told me letters are never too long," she said.

In addition to the letters, which are sent through the U.S. Postal Service and e-mail, Wallech and Eckstine have sent homemade candy, cookies and gifts to their pen pals.

"They told us they'd kill to have homemade cookies," Eckstine said.

The letters and care packages are their way of boosting the soldiers' morale, Eckstine said.

"We let them know they're not lost out there. There is somebody here thinking about them," she said.

Dunlop said she plans to encourage other parishioners to correspond with soldiers. Contact information will be listed on the church bulletin board, she said.

"We're going to get this snowball rolling," Eckstine said.

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