DALLAS – The handwritten pages of the book are decorated with carefully drawn flags and little traced hands. They contain prayerful wishes and innocent questions.
"How do you take a bath?" a child writes in one letter to a soldier. Another letter informs a service member: "I like apple pie. My mom has got me to likeing it." One child simply says, "I don't want you to die."
There are several smile-producing and sometimes moving children's letters in the book, "Dear Soldier, If You Get Hurt Call My Mama," a small collection of letters from Mississippi schoolchildren to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
First published as a fundraiser for American Legion Post No. 16 in Pontotoc, Miss., excerpts from the book are included in an exhibit to be unveiled on Veterans Day at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Norfolk. The exhibit is called "Care Packages: Letters from Iraq and Afghanistan."
The letters, copied from originals, contain uncorrected grammar and spelling and carefully printed words. Some pages are adorned with large U.S. flags or drawings of tiny uniformed soldiers saluting or praying.
"Kids don't have any agenda, and they speak directly from the heart," said Barbara Warfield Baldwin, of Pontotoc, who self-published the book with her two daughters. "There's no preconceived ideas, and they weren't prompted. They're just fresh and pure and honest."
The women are collecting letters from across the nation in hopes of attracting a major publisher.
"These kids just ache for the soldiers," said Amber Baldwin D'Amico of Dallas, one of Baldwin's daughters and a former Veterans Affairs public information officer.
"We know you're going to do a great job," reads one letter, which contains a heavily traced outstretched hand and the words "Let's Pray" written inside.
Baldwin began reading the letters while packing care packages for overseas troops, which include her son in Afghanistan.
"They were great, some were really serious and some were so funny that I'd stop and read them aloud," she said. "About halfway through I stopped and realized these are precious. They're treasures, they tell about the war, and when people look back at them, they're recorded history."
The women compiled the book for the American Legion fundraiser. Then, D'Amico said, they reached a partnership with the Disabled Veterans Life Memorial Foundation.
The foundation distributed 85,000 copies of the book in a direct-mail campaign to donors this year, said Larry Rivers, a past commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and chief operating officer of the disabled veterans memorial foundation, which is trying to raise $65 million to build a monument honoring disabled vets.