October 16, 2012

Pen Pals: London Elementary students get surprise visit from soldier

By Carrie Dillard
Managing Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Letters are special to a soldier overseas.  

Although care packages are abundant, “letters don’t come very often” because of other technologies such as email and Skype, said Sgt. Major Gerald Sewell of the Kentucky National Guard.  That’s why when letters from two young, twin brothers from Lily arrived for Sewell in Kuwait last year, he took notice.

“I knew where Lily was,” the Lexington native said.  “I grew up at Levi Jackson.  We’d pack up our camper trailer and live down here during the whole summer.”

Sewell was deployed to northern Kuwait, about 10 miles from the Iraqi border, from October 2011 until August this year.  Having returned home to Georgetown, visiting his two young pen pals was among Sewell’s top priorities.

 “I knew I wanted to come down and meet these boys,” he said, so David and Joseph Robinson, both second graders, got a surprise visit from Sewell Friday at London Elementary.

After attending a Boy Scout meeting one day, David came home asking if he could get a pen pal.  Through a friend of a friend she worked with, Chasity Smith, the boys’ mother, found Sewell’s name and address.

“It started with a Christmas card,” Smith said.  “We didn’t know if it would continue.”

Smith said her son was diligent in writing to his pen pal, but not very patient about getting a return letter.

“He didn’t understand how the mail worked over there, that he wouldn’t get a letter back every day,” she said.

After time, Joseph, too, began writing Sgt. Sewell. What impressed Smith the most was how Sewell took the time to write each boy their own reply, addressing the letters separately so that each had their own keepsake.

“He’d write them separate letters,” she said.  “They’d run to the mailbox and check it every day.  We’d leave it (letter) in the mailbox so they could get it out themselves.”

In some of the first letters, David would draw pictures.  

“David likes snakes and bugs and anything gross,” Smith said, “so he’d draw pictures of them.”

Smith said the boys would ask what it was like over there, if Sewell had ever been to the Levi Jackson pool, and what his favorite animals were.

But Sewell best remembers this question from the boys:

“They asked me what color my bullets were,” he said with a chuckle.  “I got tickled because, being in the first and second grade, you have to read between the lines sometimes. I have two granddaughters the same age as these guys. (Writing back,) you can’t talk like adults talk, you have to be down on their level.”

Sewell shared his letters from the Robinson twins with other members of his battalion.  

“And I told my soldiers, if you get one of these, you need to write back,” he said.  

Smith said David would get very protective of any letter that came from Sewell, running to his room to read it privately and refusing to share the letter with his parents.

“He told me it was illegal to read his mail,” Smith said.

Despite them having sent a letter almost everyday, Sewell said he only actually received two letters from the Robinson twins.  

Sewell, first a Navy man and later joining the Kentucky National Guard, has dedicated 36 years of his life to public service.

Kuwait was his first deployment.

“We were the last aviation brigade in Iraq during the withdraw,” he said.  

During his visit to London Elementary Friday, Sewell talked to David and Joseph’s second-grade classrooms, displaying photos of his time in Kuwait on the smart board.

He also brought special gifts for the two boys. Each received a carved, wooden camel figurine from Kuwait and dog tags with their names on them.

Just as the letters are precious to him, David said he knew just where he would put the camel.

“I’m going to put it in my room, and when I look at it, I’ll always remember my best friend,” he said.

Sewell plans to continue writing the boys and encouraged them to do the same. Even before he left Kuwait in August, Sewell sent the two a final letter, including his home address and phone number so that they could always stay in touch.

 “There’s not many mentors that young people have to look up to nowadays,” Sewell said.   “My grandfather was in scouting.  I’m an Eagle Scout.  I try to live my life by the scout motto and oath. These things stick with you.”