Think Outside the Camera – Letters from Boot Camp

Are there special moments in your life that are missing from your family photo album because they were not captured with a camera?  Often when this happens, I add a snapshot of the person(s) associated with that moment, even though it is not a picture of the moment itself, and journal about the memory.

Recently, I experienced one of these moments.  This moment, however, was a collection of many spanning several weeks that I desperately wanted to preserve for my son.  I had to think outside the box, outside the “camera,” if you will.  I had an idea that I ran by one or two people that said, “Nah.  That would be really hard.”  But hard never stopped me before!

The “moment?”  My son, William, joined the United States Navy and left home for boot camp.  During the next eight weeks, we were only allowed two very short phone calls … one of them less than a minute long.  Most of our communication was through written letters.  A lost art-form in my opinion!  My son is such an amazing writer, telling detailed stories and painting a picture through his words.  When his letters started arriving in our mailbox, the time that my husband I sat together in our now empty-nest as I read William’s letters from boot camp aloud became treasured moments, much anticipated treasured moments.

In addition to the stories of boot camp, he began sharing about letters he had received from family and friends and how they lifted his spirits, giving him renewed energy for the next day.  My mom, his granny, called me one day in tears sharing that she had received her first letter from William and was so excited to read it!

Somehow, someway, I wanted to preserve all these memories for my son.  I wanted to preserve not only the stories sent home from boot camp, but the stories sent to boot camp as well.

I started texting all those that were writing to him.  Grandparents, sisters, aunts, mentors, and friends.  Asking them if they would mind scanning the letters they received from William and sending them to me for this project.  THEY ALL SAID YES!  I was so excited to preserve the letters in a way that would be special to William.

In the few hours we had with our son after his Navy Pass-In-Review (boot camp graduation), he handed me a mesh bag filled with the many cards and letters he had received during the two months in Great Lakes, IL.  He had saved them all!  I was so excited.  My plan was coming together!

I got busy scanning and adding the pictures of the letters in chronological order onto the pages of the photo album.  Both those sent and those received.  I was privileged to read the wisdom offered to William by mentors and friends, and the stories he shared with his friends.  I laughed at so many things, cried at others, and was incredibly blessed by every word!  Ninety-nine pages later, with very few pictures included, “Letters from Boot Camp” was complete.

When the album arrived in the mail, I cried.  I cried again as my son opened the album Christmas morning and a tear rolled down his cheek.  Ninety-nine pages.  Minimal decorations.  Treasured stories.  The pictures?  Simply scanned letters.

I encourage you to think outside the “camera.”  What memories and moments are missing from your family albums?

Carol B. Smith




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52 Responses to Guest Blog: Letters From Boot Camp by Carol Smith

  1. Gail Woodward says:

    Love this post! Such a special book that will be treasured for many generations. Sparked ideas for other too!

  2. Iva Butler says:

    What a treasure! I agree that letter writing has become a lost art. It’s wonderful that you preserved this experience for your son.

    • Carol Smith says:

      It was so amazing to read what teenagers had to say to one another. It surprised me, honestly! Our son is wise beyond his years and has great advice to share … but these teens actually shared their inner-most thoughts and feelings …. it was FAR beyond a coded text message! Truly a blessing to each writer, and of course our son!

  3. says:

    What a great idea a timeless treasure for generations to come.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you Tina for kind comments! I truly hope our son his children and grandchildren will enjoy reading over his thoughts and feelings during this time of his life!

  4. Dawn Brozovich says:

    What a wonderful gift! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Cindy Rold says:

    Carol, thanks so much for sharing your story. What a wonderful gift for your son. Cindy

  6. Donna Pullan says:

    TERRIFIC idea and job.Thanks for sharing.

  7. Teala says:

    What a beautiful gift! Yes, letters can be reread, enjoyed by the receiver and others many times over. What a treasure – and the history it contains for him and his future generations will be so valuable.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you Teala! I know he will enjoy looking back and reading the thoughts and feelings he was having during boot camp. Our perspectives change so rapidly with the years and experiences we face. It is fun to think of him sharing it someday with his children!

  8. says:

    A wonderful story captured and a great legacy.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. Legacy … WOW … that is a word, isn’t it? I can only imagine the legacy our son will leave behind … this is only the beginning!

  9. Billie J says:

    What a treasure! Thank you for sharing this idea an beautiful and touching pages.

  10. adakallen says:

    I love it!
    Great Idea!
    Precious Memories; for you and him!

  11. says:

    What a wonderful gift you gave each other! He knew you well to keep those cards and letters, didn’t he?
    I love journalling in albums almost more than the pictures! I always stressed it with my customers. Writ the story behind the picture or event.
    The book about my dear mummy’s last 7 months has many pages of just journalling with no pictures.
    Great job!
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Carol Smith says:

      You are right! My son knows me well! What was touching to me was the willingness of all his (teenage) friends to share their letters! We were so blessed to read what they wrote to him to cheer him up, and often moved to tears of pride reading the advice he was giving to his friends. He is truly wise beyond his years and it is so amazing to have been able to capture it on these page!

  12. S Engle says:

    A book this young man will treasure his whole life! A wonderful project!

  13. S Engle says:

    A book this young man will treasure his whole life! What a wonderful project!

  14. Pat says:

    This is such a beautiful story and a blessing that your son will have to remember this time. Thank you for sharing. Pages are amazing!

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you Pat! I was worried the pages would be “boring,” but I don’t think they are at all. It helps that the Forever designers put out amazing content too!

  15. Taylor Teresa says:

    What a beautiful story and a very special book. Thank you to your son, for his service to our country.

  16. Sandy Norman says:

    The Navy runs deep in my family. Both my dad and brother served. Dad was on submarines for most of his 20 years. My brother was on a couple ships, with his last tour of duty on the Missouri right before the Gulf War. Please send along my thanks to you son for his service.

  17. Sandy Norman says:

    This is a beautiful story Carol. Thank you so much for sharing it. And thank you to your son for his service. My dad and my brother served in the Navy. Dad was a little over 20 years, mostly on submarines. My brother was in for 17 years. His last tour of duty was on the Missouri. He was discharged right before the Gulf War.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Sandy, Thank you for your kind comments. My husband is a Navy Veteran, but having a son serving is something like no other experience I’ve had. I am proud beyond measure!

  18. Debbie says:

    Beautiful story! Thanking you for sharing. Now I’m off to find some tissues as my eyes are leaking.

  19. Mrsski33 says:

    I cried reading your post because this what it’s all about and it’s why we do what we do. Such a beautiful gift and a priceless reaction from your son. So very heartwarming!

  20. Veronica Wilson says:

    This is what scrapbooking is all about! What a wonderful way to preserve that once-in-a-lifetime event in his and your lives.

  21. lbisset says:

    Simply wonderful! I did something similar for my husband years ago that chronicles those little tidbits of memories he had of our daughter growing up. It was very well received by both of them. You did a good job, Mama.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you! I’ve often thought about a similar album with the little quotes and stores of our kids that don’t seem to make it into our annual album!

  22. Jan B says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Our family has all the love letters that our parents wrote each other from 1933 to 1936 when they got married. I have always wanted to do something with them. You have inspired me to get that done.

  23. says:

    My son surprisingly saved all his letters. I’m going to do the same for him. He actually got out of the marines in 2014, but I still have all the letters.

  24. Nancy Tosh says:

    Such a wonderful gift that I am sure he will treasure for many years to come.

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post! It is one of my most treasured albums! When an 18 year old sheds a tear over a gift like this, you know you did something right!

  25. Nathalie says:

    Wow, that is such an amazing story, such a precious project! You have captured the true essence of storytelling and memory keeping. All I can say is BRAVO!

    • Carol Smith says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post and your for your kind comments. I hope you are inspired to include some “extras” in your albums too!

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