Not Even a Sandstorm

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Neither sandstorms, nor night shifts, nor an Iraqi invasion could keep Tina Fonde and Jack Shockey from corresponding. Tina, who was stationed in Iraq for one year, received her first letter from Mr. Shockey shortly after crossing the Iraqi border in April 2003. Because of long shifts and horrible storms, she did not get a chance to respond until August 2003. That response was the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

“It is very difficult for soldiers to find the time to write long letters,” admits Tina. But she took the time to write to Jack because his first letter was “so detailed and personal.” Jack related the details of his family life and wrote about his military service during WWII. Tina says, “His letter made me realize that we had a lot in common. It was also nice to hear about the experiences he had while in the military.”

Jack, a resident of Attleboro Retirement Village, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Langhorne, PA, was excited about the opportunity when fellow resident Grace Sullivan collected the addresses of soldiers and proposed that they write letters.

When he sat down to write his first letter, Jack simply wanted to offer encouragement. He never thought that the resulting relationship would become an inspiration to everyone at Attleboro. In fact, after nearly six months, he really did not expect a response. When Tina’s letter came, it was filled with personal stories and sincere thanks.

Jack explains, “I was in the service, so I knew a little about the life of a soldier, but things are so different now.” He continues, “What Tina taught me was that what we were seeing on TV wasn’t necessarily all that was happening in Iraq. We saw the fighting and the killing, but what Tina was proud of was the fact that they were helping to establish schools and power plants-rebuilding and really helping people.”

Getting to know Mr. Shockey through his letters and emails helped keep Tina motivated. For her, it was nice to know that there was someone outside of her family-“an average American”- who was thinking about her. “It helped me realize that people back home really cared about us and that we were making a difference,” she says.

Sharing his life experiences and the sense of community he feels at Attleboro with Tina was rewarding for Jack as well. Jack and his wife made the decision to move to Attleboro four years ago because they did not want to become a burden to their children. They had only been living in the community for a year when Mrs. Shockey was diagnosed with cancer. After a long battle, she passed away last year. While the grieving period was difficult, Mr. Shockey was thankful for the support he received from his fellow residents. He recalls, “Everyone helped me out however they could. We really are like one big family here, and I can’t imagine having gone through that alone.”

Despite the difficulties of the past year, Mr. Shockey has remained active and involved. He is always ready to return the favor of the residents at Attleboro by offering support to others-in the community or across the globe.

Since returning to the states, Tina has made it a point to keep in touch with Mr. Shockey. Jack has also formed a friendship with Tina’s father, and Tina and her parents have visited him at Attleboro several times. Mr. Shockey now plans to write to Tina’s brother, a Marine who recently began his second tour in Baghdad.

Hopefully, Jack’s letters will let him know-as they did Tina-that our troops are never far from our minds. With a tattered letter in her pocket, Tina Fonde weathered countless storms-knowing that there was someone back home who cared enough to share his thoughts, his life, and, most importantly, his support.

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