YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsIraq

Martinsburg couple sends soldiers a little bit of home -- in a tin

December 21, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -Along with some "goodies," Lance and Pam Swartwood of Martinsburg have sent a small tin of dirt from their backyard to three GIs with Berkeley County ties who have done tours of duty in Iraq.

"My husband just thinks of things like that," Swartwood said after the couple were thanked Thursday morning by their most recent "adopted" soldier, U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Philip Gardner, who is the son-in-law of Berkeley County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins.

Introduced by Collins at the commission's regular meeting, Gardner presented the Swartwoods with an American flag in a wood and glass display case. The flag was flown at Al Taqaddum air base near Baghdad, where Gardner was stationed.

"The most interesting thing was the Altoids tin," Gardner recalled of the first care package he received from the Swartwoods, who never had met him.


The couple learned of the soldier's deployment through Pam Swartwood's administrative staff job with the Berkeley County Commission.

"They adopted me when I was over there," Gardner said.

The surprise presentation overwhelmed Pam Swartwood, who found herself wiping tears from her cheeks.

"... Oh, it's not your common, ordinary, run-of-the mill dirt," Lance Swartwood told Gardner in the letter, which was wrapped around the tin.

"You have enough of that over there. This is very special dirt, more precious than silver or gold. This is American soil. This is soil from my own backyard, and because young men like you walk in harms way on that foreign soil, old men like me get to walk on this soil in freedom and safety. And for that, I thank you far more than any words I could ever put down on this piece of paper. ... no matter what piece of ground he stands on anywhere in the world, he is home."

Gardner said he took Lance Swartwood's advice in the letter, and kept a pinch of the dirt in his pocket wherever he went in Iraq. He said it helped him endure the rigors of war.

The Herald-Mail Articles