Letters From Iraq, But From Whom?

Iraq letters AP / CBS

What are the chances that different GIs serving in Iraq would sit down and individually write their hometown papers the very same letters, using the exact same words to talk about U.S. success in efforts to rebuild Iraq?

CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports at least ten such letters supposedly written by American soldiers serving in Iraq were sent to hometown papers in various parts of the United States.

One of the letters, signed by Adam Connell, a soldier on duty in Iraq, was published and featured prominently in The Boston Globe.

The letter lists the accomplishments of Connell's regiment: "building a new police force," "re-establishing Kirkuk's fire department," and "children have returned to school."

What it doesn't say is that Connell didn't actually write the letter.

Blackstone reports the words that read like one soldier's bid for hometown understanding - "I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well" - are actually a form letter sent to newspapers from West Virginia to California, attributed to soldiers from each newspaper's local area.

Pentagon sources say the commander of the battalion where the letter originated describes it as a group effort - written by several soldiers - which is an extension of what's called the "hometown news release program."

Connell's mother, Amy Connell, doesn't find it hard to believe that he might not have written the letter.

"It is not his type of writing, actually," Connell told CBS News. "He's 20 years old and I think he's a little bit busy right now to be writing a letter."

Writing style was also a tip-off for Timothy Deaconson, who thought the letter attributed to his son, Pfc. Nick Deaconson of Buckley, W. Va., was unusual but nonetheless telephoned him to congratulate him on getting his letter printed in the paper.

"When I told him he wrote such a good letter, he said: 'What letter?'" said Timothy Deaconson, in an interview with Gannett News Service.

Six soldiers whose names appear on letters published in different papers told Gannett that they knew of the letters and agreed with their substance, but hadn't written them.

An Army spokesman contacted by Gannett said he had been told the letter was written by a soldier, though he did not know the identity of the author.

"When he asked other soldiers in his unit to sign it, they did," said Sgt. Todd Oliver of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country."

Another purported letter writer contacted by Gannett, Sgt. Shawn Grueser of Poca, W.Va., said he spoken to a military public affairs officer about the situation in Iraq for what he believed was a press release to be sent to his local newspaper.

Grueser said that while he shared the viewpoint expressed in the letter, he was uncomfortable with the fact that the letter did not contain his own words.

"It makes it look like you cheated on a test, and everybody got the same grade," Grueser told Gannett.

The five-paragraph letter praises the U.S. effort in Iraq. For example, letters supposedly written by different soldiers showed up the Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register and the Boston Globe within two days of each other last month. Here's how the letters describe - in identical language - the situation in Kirkuk, Iraq:

"Kirkuk is a hot and dusty city of just over a million people. The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms. After nearly five months here, the people still come running from their homes, in the 110-degree heat, waving to us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city. Children smile and run up to shake hands, and in broken English, shout, 'Thank you, mister.'"

Kelli Marshall, whose son Jason Marshall's name is on a letter published in the Mountain View Telegraph in New Mexico, says what the letter says is more important than the signature.

"The letter is consistent with things my son has told me on the telephone that he has done," said Mrs. Marshall. "So I don't have any reason to believe he didn't have a hand in writing it."

No matter who wrote the letter, some family members waiting for loved ones on duty in Iraq say they are glad that the story of success it tells is being told.

  • Dan Collins

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