WEST PITTSTON — Long gone are Jasper Kirkland’s Navy uniforms, dog tags and any items he acquired during his time in the military.
The only remaining memorabilia he has is a photo.
It’s a black-and-white photograph of a young girl and her dog. On the back, a name and an address: Karen Peterson, 172 Hearst Ave. N.E., Roanoke, Va.
Kirkland keeps the photo in a drawer in his dining room.
“I’ve had this picture for 50 years,” he said.
The 72-year-old veteran received the photo while serving in Vietnam. He said his correspondence with the girl started when he and other service members received letters from students in the United States around Christmas in 1967. Kirkland ended up with the letter from Peterson, and she had included her home address on the letter.
“I was lucky when I got this card from this little girl,” he said.
Since she included her address in the letter, Kirkland said he was able to write back to her.
“I wrote her a thank you card,” he said.
His thank you card started a correspondence between the two.
Kirkland said Peterson wrote about three of four letters during the year he was stationed in Vietnam.
“She was good enough to write me back, send me a picture,” Kirkland said through tears. “It’s on (my) mind, probably until the day I die.”
Peterson wrote about her schooling, friends and her pet, a small dog.
“It makes a big difference,” he said. “Especially in that time when everyone was spitting on you when you came home.
“This made you appreciate what you were doing.”
When Kirkland came back from Vietnam, he tried off-and-on to write to Peterson again and see how she was doing.
“I’d just like to know how she turned out,” Kirkland said. “And let her know how much it meant to me.”
He said he wrote a letter to the Roanoke address years after he was home, but it was returned, since no one with that name lived at the address anymore.
Kirkland then sent a postcard to explain that he was looking for Peterson, and chose a postcard since the people living at the address could read his message without opening an envelope.
“The people who lived there sent it back saying they understand what we were trying to do, but they didn’t know this family,” he said. “And that was the end of it.”
A few weeks ago, Kirkland said he saw an article in the Times Leader about school children sending letters to service members, and it inspired him again to look for Peterson.
He took to social media and Facebook to see if he could find Peterson, but couldn’t locate her.
Kirkland said the letters and correspondence coming from school children means a lot, and leaves an impact on service members.
“It makes a big difference on people,” he said.
While Kirkland would like to find Peterson, he also wants to thank the teachers and students who still send letters overseas this time of year.
“I thank all the school kids who still do it, because it doesn’t matter what branch of service you’re in, anybody who opens up a card from a kid will appreciate it very much.”
Reach Brigid Edmunds at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds