MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — In sixth grade, Wyatt Smith wrote a letter thanking a soldier for his service-just like many students and children throughout the United States do-but he never imagined writing that letter would affect his life six years later.
“It was within our first two months being deployed here. We came into work like any other day to find three care packages with items and cards accumulated from around the country. It was our first package, so that was cool. We all opened them and started reading the letters,” said Tyler, a soldier in the United States Air Force who is currently deployed overseas. Due to potential security issues, The Journal is not including his full name in this story.
To Tyler’s amazement, never in a million years did he think what happened next would ever be possible. Tyler said he stuck his hand into the box full of letters and pulled one out.
“The first one I picked up was from a kid named Wyatt, in sixth grade writing from St. Joseph in Martinsburg. I was shocked to say the least,” Tyler said.
The letter thanked him for his service and even talked about how it was expected to snow. “We are supposed to get a lot of snow. I am happy about that. Do you like snow? If so, cross your fingers for us, so we get out of school,” said the letter.
Tyler, 21, and a 2012 graduate of Washington High School in Charles Town, couldn’t believe the odds of this occurring.
“Growing up in Charles Town, I still considered Martinsburg home. I never would have guessed a letter made it 8,000 miles to the middle of the desert from my hometown,” Tyler added.
Tyler immediately wanted to tell his mom what had happened.
“I got a random text, ‘Mom, you’re not going to believe this,” said Susan, Tyler’s mother.
“He said he had gotten care packages and it was just a big box of letters and cards and things that students had sent in and he dipped into it and pulled a letter out and the first letter he read was Wyatt’s… and of course he couldn’t believe that when he is so far away, he said he almost cried a little bit-which I told him that was okay,” Susan added.
Susan, a counselor for Berkeley County Schools, told her son that if he wanted to write Wyatt back, that he could mail it to her.
“I told him he could send it to me; I mean, I am right here in Martinsburg and I am always going between North and South Middle, (so) I told him, ‘I’ll deliver it,'” she said.
Susan never expected what happened next. She said she was already shocked enough that her son received a letter from a local student, but she thought that would be the end of the already crazy story.
“So in my mind, I thought this would be a real simple story. He was going to write back this little sixth-grader, Tyler sent a couple patches along with his letter, and I was going to deliver it, take a picture with him and story over,” Susan said.
“But, when I called St. Joseph’s, I said, ‘I am looking for a Wyatt, in sixth grade,’ and the lady was like, ‘we haven’t had Wyatt in awhile; we have had two Wyatts go through here and it’s been years since they have been here,'” she said.
Susan then asked if she could stop by and show them a picture of the letter that her son Tyler had sent to her after he received it. Susan thought that if the school saw the letterhead, they may have a better idea how old the letter was.
“When I went there, they said, ‘Oh yeah, he should be in high school or in college by now,'” Susan said.
Susan said she left her information with the school’s administration but didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks.
“I was a little disappointed because I wanted to get Tyler an answer. My focus was getting a response back to him because he had made this effort,” she said.
Susan said she never heard anything from the school, but last Wednesday she mentioned the story to a friend.
“Our 4-H club, The Busy Bees, is actually putting together care packages to ship over to soldiers and my club leader, Loretta Shade, I gave her a ride home and on the way I was telling her about this letter from Wyatt, but I was still at a loss. I still hadn’t gotten a response,” Susan said.
The following evening, Shade’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Stover, came over to help her grandmother help finish up organizing the packages and Shade told her the story about the letter.
Stover, a senior at Washington High, told her grandmother that she had a friend in her class that went to St. Joseph’s and that she would ask her if she remembered writing letters to soldiers in sixth grade.
“So Elizabeth texted her friend and got the response,’Yeah, we did that in sixth grade.’ She asked, ‘Do you know a Wyatt? and her friend said, ‘Yes, I do. He’s a senior at Hedgesville High School,” Susan said.
“So I texted the picture I had of the letter to Loretta, our club leader, who sent it to Elizabeth, her granddaughter, who sent it to her friend, and then it ended up in Wyatt’s hands,” she said.
Wyatt then saw a letter he had written six years ago, back in 2009. He said when he was first asked about it, he didn’t remember it, but as soon as he saw the picture, he recognized his handwriting and remembered the blizzard that happened that year.
Susan said Tyler would have been in high school when Smith first wrote the letter.
Last Friday, Susan headed over to Hedgesville High School to meet the “not-so-little” student that she originally thought she would be meeting. Wyatt had no idea she was coming.
“Loretta had sent me the screenshot of the realization that she had found him and so on Friday I just had to come out here and find Wyatt to deliver his letter,” Susan said.
Smith said when he got called up to the office and met Susan, he was in a state of shock.
“I was so surprised. I couldn’t believe after all these years … sixth grade, to me, that’s just such a long time ago, you know? I am just now getting ready to get out of high school and sixth grade, that’s the start of middle school; that’s just so long ago in my mind,” Smith said.
“Just seeing that it finally got to somebody after years and years and years, it’s just crazy to me,” Smith said.
No one really knows how or why the letter sat so long, but it is agreed that the odds of this happening are slim to none.
According to the United States Post Office, in 2013 alone, 8.5 million pounds of mail were delivered from the U.S. to military installations around the world. Within those installations, there are nearly 1,000 different delivery zip code destinations for the military.
“That’s the crazy part, though, that even if the letter was mailed to a military depot, it could have gone anywhere,” Susan said.
“That’s the thing that I don’t understand. It’s just like of all the people or all the places it could have gone, it went to somebody who picked it up that was from Charles Town,” Smith said. “I think it was perfect.”
“I really feel like timing is precise,” said Susan. “Things happen for a reason, and I think we still have to wait for that reason. Because this has been…” She paused. “It’s still hard to wrap my mind around.”
“So why? Why? And not, why did it sit so long, but why did it happen this way? That’s where I question what is the bigger purpose here. Does home always find you no matter where you end up?” she asked.
When Susan was finally able to tell her son the entire story, Tyler said it made the letter that much more special.
“The most amazing part was that I found out later it was in fact written six years ago and was just now being delivered to me,” Tyler said.
“I remember writing letters like that one when I was in school, too, but never got anything in return. I believed I was writing back to a kid in middle school and I thought it was something every kid would enjoy. It means even more now thinking about how far that letter came. It is a small world, and you just never know what could show up when you’re in the toughest times,” Tyler added.
Susan and Smith plan to stay in touch and hope that one day this story all makes sense.
Staff writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182, or at Twitter.com/KmarshallJN.