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thedrifter
01-01-06, 10:54 AM
Ore. Marines letter to White House in new book
04:48 PM PST on Saturday, December 31, 2005
By LISA BRITTON, The (Baker) City Herald

BAKER CITY, Ore. -- Eric Colton might have spent a bit more time on his letter to President George H. W. Bush if he'd known it would receive so much attention.

"I did a terrible job of writing," Colton says with a laugh.

He didn't even think the president would see the letter he hastily wrote in 1991 while stationed in Saudi Arabia with the U.S. Marine Corps, as U.S. troops prepared for the first war against Iraq.

"A buddy of mine was writing to the president, and he talked me into writing," Colton said. "It was just a letter of support from us. It took me five minutes, then I went on patrol and forgot about it."

His words, though, would not stay forgotten. The letter that Colton quickly jotted down on Feb. 12, 1991, is on permanent display at Bush's presidential library in College Station, Texas, and appears in a recently released National Geographic book titled "Dear Mr. President: Letters to the Oval Office" from the files of the National Archives.

His letter is one of 87 -- a mere sampling of the correspondence received at the White House since 1789 that has been preserved in the National Archives and National Archives presidential libraries.

To understand the volume of letters received at the White House, the book's introduction reports that the current president receives between 40,000 and 100,000 letters each week.

"Dear Mr. President" features letters from presidents to presidents, letters from children, and letters from notable people, including Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Fidel Castro (he was 12 when he wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt), Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Queen Elizabeth II (she sent a scone recipe to Dwight D. Eisenhower).

Colton's letter is one of the last in the book, which features the letters in chronological order. And it took five minutes to write, Colton said.

"I remember the day I did it, and the night, but I never thought anything would come of it."

That was Feb. 12, 1991. He'd been stationed overseas for seven months.

"At that point, the only way we knew we were going to go home was to go to war," Colton says.

He wrote: "Mr. President, Howdy! My name is Eric Colton. I am a 20 year old Marine serving in Saudi Arabia. I grew up on a cattle operation in the mountains of Oregon. I am stationed out of 29 Palms, California. The reason I am writing to you is to tell you that me and my comrades feel you are doing an outstanding job concerning the Gulf War ... We will not let the American people down. As a United States Marine, Mr. President I promise you and the rest of the country we will win this one. Semper Fidelis, Eric Colton, LCpl USMC."

The ground war began Feb. 23, 1991, and Colton was home in Baker City on March 5, 1991 -- 10 days after the war was over.

"They promised us -- we were the first to get there, so we were the first to go home," he said. Two weeks after he got home Colton received a letter from President Bush, thanking the young Marine for his support.

"He actually signed off on that letter," Colton said.

Again, he didn't give another thought to the note he wrote in Saudi Arabia. Then his cousin saw his letter on display at George Bush's library in College Station, Texas.

"They have one (letter) from every branch of the military," he said.

This new book is the second time his letter has gone public. The letter made it on national television several years ago when Colton and his family were featured in a CBS morning show segment called "Everybody has a story."

Then, last spring, a representative from National Geographic called to get his permission to include the letter in "Dear Mr. President."

"I had to sign a big old long contract, and they asked me how much money I wanted. I said all I wanted was a book," he said. "I didn't want any money I just thought it was an honor to be in there. The odds of being in something like that are pretty slim."

Ellie