Letter to a soldier hits home 15 years later

Ozaukee Sheriff Jim Johnson was doing some spring cleaning when he found an old note he received from a fourth-grader while he was serving in Iraq. In a story that has gone viral, it turns out the letter-writer is now one of his deputies.

OZAUKEE COUNTY SHERIFF Jim Johnson (left) held a letter sent to him 15 years ago by deputy Chris Uselding (right) when Uselding was a fourth-grader. Johnson, who was serving in Iraq at the time, recently found the note and had it framed. Photo by Sam Arendt Buy photos at http://ozaukeepress.zenfolio.com/p111501695
Ozaukee Press staff

When Chris Uselding was a fourth-grader in 2003, he and his classmates at Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementary School wrote letters to servicemen and women fighting in Iraq.

“Dear soldiers, Thank you for what you all are doing for our country. Best wishes and have a Merry Christmas from Chris Uselding, a 4th Grader at Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementry (sic) School in Wisconsin,” he wrote, embellishing the note with a hand-drawn holiday wreath.

Uselding forgot about the letter, as did the soldier who received it — until recently.

When he walked into the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office roll call room last Monday, he saw the letter, framed, on the wall.

“All the sudden, one of my co-workers went over and asked, ‘Is that you?’” said Uselding, who is now 24 and a deputy sheriff working in the jail. “My face got kind of red and we laughed about it.

“I just kept thinking, why is it here?”

That’s when Sheriff Jim Johnson came in and asked him about the letter, he said.

“I asked, ‘Did I send it here?’” Uselding said.

“No,” said Johnson. “You sent it to a soldier in Baghdad, Iraq. Do you know who that soldier was?”

And Uselding answered, “No.”

“That soldier was me,” Johnson said.

Uselding, who said he was shocked at the news, said the two fist-bumped and “we kind of shared a moment.”

Then, the Sheriff’s Office posted the moment on its Facebook page and the story of a letter written by a fourth-grader who was later hired by the soldier who received it went viral. The two have been interviewed by numerous news outlets, even appearing on ABC’s World News Tonight over the weekend.

“It’s been nonstop,” Uselding said. “It’s crazy. I never would have thought it would blow up the way it has.”

Johnson agreed.

“I didn’t expect this,” Johnson said, adding he hung the letter in the roll call room “just to mess with him.”

“It’s kind of neat.”

Johnson said he found the letter when he was “spring cleaning” on Easter weekend, going through items he had stored away in his house.

“I saw a name I thought I recognized,” he said. But since he wasn’t sure it was the same Chris Uselding, Johnson said he sent a copy of the note to Capt. Jeff Sauer, Uselding’s boss in the jail.

“He said it was pretty cool,” Johnson recalled, so he decided to bring the note in.

Johnson said he received the letter while serving as a staff sergeant with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. A sergeant in the Ozaukee County jail who had been activated in March 2003, he was stationed in Iraq when he received the letter that December.

It was special, he said, to receive letters at the time, especially from children.

“It was nice to know people supported us,” Johnson, who was in Iraq for 14 months, said.  

Johnson hired Uselding in 2015, but said he had no idea the young man had once sent him a letter of cheer.

“It was really cool to see he kept the letter,” Uselding said. “It’s kind of a crazy coincidence that he got it. And it’s cool that the letter reached him and touched him and that he kept it.

“I would never have thought something I did in fourth grade would have such an impact.”

Uselding said he vaguely remembers writing the letter as a the class project while in Sherry Schwabenlender’s class, adding he’s sent his former teacher a copy of the Facebook posting.

He noted the letter is still in good condition.

“I must have written it in pencil first and then copied it in red ink,” he said. “The eraser marks are still there. And I misspelled elementary, which we all noticed.”

He’s most embarrassed by the handwriting, Uselding said — but that’s outweighed by the reception the letter has received recently.

“It’s really a cool thing,” he said. “It’s been a nice, positive thing for us.”

Buy photos at http://ozaukeepress.zenfolio.com/p111501695



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login