November 8, 2019

Touching letters of mutual thanks connect the young and old as Veterans Day nears

Standing near a World War II memorial in downtown Indianapolis, Sophia Egold knows the difference that veterans have made in her life and the life of the United States. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Standing near a World War II memorial in downtown Indianapolis, Sophia Egold knows the difference that veterans have made in her life and the life of the United States. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

At the age of 20, Sophia Egold is part of a generation that communicates almost exclusively by text, Instagram, Facebook and other forms of social media, yet she has learned that none of them compares to the power of an old‑fashioned, rapidly fading alternative.

“There is nothing like getting a letter,” she says. “Getting a letter is so much more powerful than a text because it takes more time writing it down and putting it in a mailbox.”

With that belief in her heart, Sophia shares the powerful, personal impact of several letters that have touched her life in ways she never expected.

The first letter is the one she wrote six years ago when she was an eighth-grade student at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis—a letter of thanks that she penned to a World War II hero for his service to his country.

Another letter is one she recently received in the mail, part of a package that she was stunned to get.

With two other letters, they combine for a touching Veterans Day story.

‘God bless you for your sacrifice’

In November of 2013, Sophia was part of a schoolwide, letter-writing project at St. Barnabas School to recognize the World War II veterans of the 95th Bomb Group. Sophia drew the name of Frank Barbour, a Boston native who joined the Army Air Corps at the beginning of the war and became a decorated B-17 pilot by its end.

Here is the essence of Sophia’s letter:

“Dear Mr. Barbour,

“I’ve researched a little about you, and I’ve come to find out that you were a co-pilot and have traveled to many places like Germany, France, Poland, Hungary, and I’m sure other places. I wanted to tell you that I find that very interesting, even though I’m sure it was a tough period of time in your life.

“I live with my mom and dad, and my two little brothers named Jacob and James. I don’t know what I would do without them. I’m sure that when you were away, fighting for our country, it was a hard experience to be away from your friends, family and home. It is hard to imagine, but I can respect the sacrifices you made to protect our country.

“I wanted to take a little time to thank you for the sacrifices you made all those years ago to give me the freedoms that I have today. I know that I take those freedoms for granted a lot, but as I’m sitting here writing to you, I realized that I really am grateful.

“Thank you so much for risking your life for me, even though you don’t even know me. Thank you for risking your life so that the people today can have freedoms. Your generation is truthfully one of the most respected generations because of your work in the 95th Bomb Group. God bless you for your sacrifice.

“Sincerely,

“Sophia”

‘A really great surprise’

In response to her letter, Sophia received a note from Barbour at the time.

“The gist of it was thanking me for my letter,” she says. “He said it meant a lot to him.”

Still, she didn’t know just how much it meant to him until she received a letter from Barbour’s wife, Janice, in early September of this year—six years after Sophia wrote to Barbour. Janice sent it to St. Barnabas School, hoping someone there could get the letter to Sophia.

“When I got a call from St. Barnabas in September, they said they had a package for me,” says Sophia, who is now a sophomore at the University of Dayton in Ohio. “It was a really great surprise.”

It was also bittersweet.

Janice Barbour shared the news that her husband “passed away on July 4 of 2019, just a few days before he would have celebrated his 97th birthday. He was so alert and intelligent. Everyone enjoyed talking to him about his life and the things he accomplished in the wars he fought.

“My husband fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and received many medals for his courage and bravery. He was considered a hero.”

Her thoughts also focused on Sophia and the letter that she wrote six years ago, complimenting Sophia as “an amazing young girl to write a letter so full of thought and meaningfulness.

“It meant a lot to my husband when he received this letter. Of all the letters he received, he kept this one.”

‘I think I really showed that I care’

Janice Barbour then added that she chose to have Sophia’s letter read aloud at her husband’s memorial service on Aug. 3.

“Everyone was so impressed by this sweet letter,” Janice noted.

Sophia had a similar reaction when she read the letter from Barbour’s widow. She recently responded with a letter to Mrs. Barbour.

“Dear Mrs. Barbour,

“I wanted to start off by thanking you for reaching out to me after all of these years, and by saying that I am deeply sorry for your loss. It is a great honor to know that my letter was read at his Memorial Service, and that I had any type of impact in his life.

“When I wrote that letter, I was an eighth grader. Right now, I am a sophomore at the University of Dayton studying middle childhood and intervention specialist education. It really is amazing how much time has passed since I wrote that letter, but I have not forgotten. It honestly made an impact in my own life because Mr. Barbour wrote back to me. I felt a connection to someone that I did not know.

“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Barbour and his service that he did in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I would have loved to be able to meet Mr. Barbour and thank him for his heroic acts in not just one war, but three.

“I wanted to thank you for reaching out to me because with all the craziness going on in our everyday lives, this was a great reminder that I would not be where I am today without the men like Mr. Barbour giving me and everyone else in my life our freedoms. I do not get that kind of reminder every day, so this was an amazing refresher to not take life for granted.

“God Bless,

Sophia Egold”

The connection between Frank Barbour and Sophia continues as another Veterans Day nears.

“I don’t really have a lot of veterans in my life,” Sophia says. “Now that I have him, he’s still someone I can look up to. It makes me think of the great impact that veterans have on our country. They have made great sacrifices for us.” †

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