Veteran’s War Letter Leaves Lasting Impression on 8th Grader Who Reunites with Pen Pal via Internet as Adult

Nashville, Tenn. – When Phil Munden reached into a pile of letters his military troop had received while serving in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq some 14 years ago, he never imagined that the letter he wrote to his pen pal would leave a lasting impression on the life of an 8th grader.

It was 1991 when Karin Caraway, an 8th grade student in Peoria, Arizona was given a class assignment, along with her other classmates, to write letters to those military men and woman serving in Operation Desert Storm.

Operation Desert Storm was during a period when an evil civil war was going on in Kuwait. For the first time, the brutality and torture of the Kuwaiti people by the Iraqi leader Sadam Husain and his military force were revealed to the world. Kuwait pleaded for help, and the international world responded by sending over 600,000 military men and women to defend Kuwait’s right to be free.

At Karin’s school, the class assignment was given to four classes and Karin was one of only three out of 114 letters sent by students who received a reply letter. “I was amazed that I was one of them,” she replied. “I just wrote an ordinary letter. I felt special at that moment when I opened it.”

The letter was from CW3 Phil Munden, a pilot-in-command (PIC) of the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter. Phil, a 19-year veteran at the time, was an army officer assigned to the 2-1 Aviation Regiment in Ansbach, Germany. His unit had been deployed to the Gulf in support of “Operation Desert Storm.”

“During my time in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and later Iraq, I found myself reading letters from the United States addressed to “Any Soldier,” recounted Phil. “Many of the letters were words of encouragement from fellow Americans back in the states. There was one letter in particular from a young girl that really touched me. Her words were that of an impressionable child confused about what was going on here in the Middle East. I felt it was important that I take the time to explain to her, and maybe her classmates, why I felt it was important for American soldiers, and the people of the United States, to get involved. To be honest, I don’t remember my exact words, but I do remember wanting her to hear it from me why I was glad I was there.”

Karin’s perceptions of the war as an 8th grader were changed after receiving Phil’s letter, she said. “I wasn’t really interested in the war when I first wrote him. I hated war. I didn’t understand it at all,” said Karin. “Shortly after receiving his letter, my views changed. I realized there was a personal side to war.”

Phil answered many of my questions, “said Karin.” His letter made me feel important. He was sharing a little bit of his life with me, and taking an interest in mine.”

She wrote a poem for her new pen pal and all of the soldiers in Iraq. It was published in her school newspaper, but her reply letter never made it back to Phil.

“I tried to write back in 1991, but both times my letters were returned,” said Karin. “One returned letter said his unit had moved.”

For some reason, Karin kept the letter she received from Phil. And it wasn’t until she grew older that she began to understand the significance of that 8th grade school assignment in 1991.

“I learned a deeper appreciation for soldiers, and now view them as heroes,” said Karin. “My grandfather was in World War II, but I never gave much thought as to what he gave up to serve his country. Or, how lonely it must have been, or how they truly believed in what they were doing.”

Karin is 29-years-old now. Over the last few years, she has had a desire to locate her pen pal Phil. “Phil’s letter affected my life so much,” she said. “I just wanted the opportunity to thank him for serving in the war, and for taking an interest in my letter by writing me back.”

Karin has been trying to find Phil for a couple of years now on and off using Internet searches. Finally, one Internet search made a connection that looked promising.

Karin found a news release on Crye-Leike, Realtors’ Web site about one of their sales associates, Philip G. Munden, who was honored for serving in the armed forces during the Iraq invasion in 2003. It was wishful thinking, she said, but she decided to contact the company’s public relations director by e-mail.

She wrote: “I’m looking for a Philip G. Munden who was in Desert Storm in 1991. I found a news release [on your company’s Web site where you had honored a Philip G. Munden for being in Desert Storm and who is the husband of Cathy Munden and both employees of yours. The Philip I am looking for answered a letter that I had written as a school project, when I was in 8th grade in 1991. I am now 22 years old and still have the letter. I would like to thank him and share the letter with his family. Could you please forward this letter to his wife in hopes that this might be the same Philip?”

Joyce Friedman, Crye-Leike’s public relations director, receives many e-mails daily, but learned as she read further that this was not the usual business e-mail message.

“When I read Karin’s e-mail, I knew immediately that she had found the right person,” said Friedman, a Williamson County resident. “This was a special reunion that only could have happened through the Internet. It was a story that needed to be told.”

When Karin and Phil were connected by e-mail, she was finally able to convey the message she had been waiting to say to him for the past 14 years.

“You never really realize how much you can impact someone’s life by just the smallest act of kindness,” she wrote. “A cheerful smile on a bad day can change a person’s world, and that is what your letter did for me. It was a small gesture during a hard time in my life that made me feel important and special.”

War, and combat for Phil Munden is something he knows and has participated in over the past 28 years of his career in the U.S. Army. Phil retired from active duty in 1997 as a CW4 Aviator at the ripe old age of 51. That same year, he, along with his wife, Cathy, became licensed real estate agents and became affiliated with Crye-Leike, Realtors in Clarksville, Tenn. at its St. Bethlehem branch office.

“Now, you would think that after 28 years in the military that I would settle down and start enjoying what life has to offer,” said Phil. “But sometimes, things happen that demand a little more effort and that was when 9-11,2001 happened.”

“9-11, 2001? Who could ever forget that day?” asked Phil.  “As Cathy and I sat in our living room that morning and watched in horror the events in New York, I like many Americans, felt I had to do something.

“I sent an e- mail to the Department of the Army telling them that I was an Apache Instructor Pilot and if my services were needed again I would gladly return to active duty.”

A few short months later, Phil received the first of several notifications that he would be returning to active duty. Once he knew his future, he sent this letter to his family and friends:

“Hi Folks:  Well, it would appear that tomorrow I’ll be off for another fully funded vacation to the Middle East. Ah Baghdad, Ally Baba, flying carpets, Genies. I suppose the future may provide me that opportunity to visit my fascination with Baghdad. Unfortunately, I fear my impression of that country will not fulfill my childhood dreams. I know you are asking yourselves why in the world would I give up my retirement and business and return to active duty. That’s a fair question, and deserves an answer. Our country, my home, and yes’ my neighbors have been attacked and killed by an organization that feels our way of life is not in their best interest. As a result of their beliefs, many Americans, and citizens of the United States are now buried in cemeteries across this great country of ours. This act cannot stand without the world understanding that Americans like me will not cower in the face of danger. I am an American. What happens in my country effects me personally and if I can do something that will help eradicate this infectious disease from our lands I’ll do it. In 1971 I joined the U.S. Army. After 26+ years of a full and exciting career I retired from active duty. But retiring from active duty didn’t change my belief of “Duty and Country.” My government now has a problem that needs our support. The U.S. Army has honored me with the opportunity to return to active duty and to possibly help in this great effort to eliminate those who have attacked us, killed us, and their planning to kill more of us. I won’t sit in the comfort of my living room and watch this happen; nor will I allow others to die on my behalf when I can do more. When I ship out I will be carrying my American flag. Along with this flag, I’d like to think that all Americans are behind me, and all the soldiers who will face this threat head on. Pray that we are successful, pray for me, and pray for America. God Bless America! Best to you always, Phil”

Before leaving for the Middle East, Phil was given a Titans Flag by Bud Adams, owner of the Tennessee Titans. Carl P. Mayfield, DJ for 103.3 WKDF, assisted in securing the flag, which Phil took to Iraq.

Phil returned from fighting in Iraq in September 2003. In November 2003, during halftime between the Dolphins and the Titans, a ceremony was conducted on the 50-yard line where spectators saw Phil return this flag to Bud Adams.

“This was a touching moment for me,” said Phil. “This was a flag that had seen action in five major war campaigns, was a little worn, but loaded with spirit and signed by all the members of my military unit.”

In November, Phil was asked to serve as the Grand Marshall of Nashville’ Veterans’ Day Parade.

Phil has called and spoken with Karin since returning home. It was the final link to this story. Karin now has her own family with two children. Phil is once again a civilian after adding two more years of service to his country. Phil and Cathy have recently celebrated their 29th year of marriage together.

Cathy says that while she has always supported her husband, the thought of Phil returning to active duty for the third time is very unlikely. “If drastic measures are necessary, so be it, but he’s not going again,” she said firmly.

But ask Phil, the 51-year-old war veteran if he gets the infamous call again, would he go?  “YOU BET!” he said with a look to his wife.

 

Poem by Karin Caraway when she was in 8th grade

Shortly after receiving Phil Munden’s letter, my views changed; I realized there was a personal side [to war]. I wrote a poem for Phil and all the U.S. soldiers in Iraq, it was published in my school newspaper.

 

Desert Storm by Karin Caraway (1991)

The sky is cold dark and blackened

A war has started a city flattened

A beam of light across the sky

Will there be yet more to die?

Is it worth all the tears?

All the lives and all the fears?

This is a war for all we believe in

A war for justice, peace, and freedom.