“Flat Stanley” is a well-known childhood project that kids across the United States take part in. In this case, Flat Stanley had a special time, being placed in a soldier’s wallet for his decade of service. Now, that soldier and Flat Stanley have returned home.
“People don’t write letters anymore,” according to third-grade teacher Luella Wood.
But 10 years ago, in the painstaking scrawl of an 8-year-old, Alan Orduna did.
The Huntsville, Ark., boy, along with other students in Wood’s class, penned a note to accompany a paper cut-out modeled after the title character in the popular children’s book “Flat Stanley.” After being smashed by a bulletin board in his sleep, the book’s protagonist makes the most of his new 2-D state by mailing himself to friends.
Wood asked her students to send their Stanley cut-outs to relatives or friends, who would then take them on a journey and detail the characters’ exploits in a letter back.
Alan didn’t have a friend in mind — or at least not one who would take Stanley on an adventure worthy of a third-grader’s imagination. So, Wood sent Alan’s packet off to an Army unit stationed in Baghdad and asked Alan to wait.
Alan did wait, patiently, through the rest of the school year.
He waited through the rest of elementary school.
He waited so long that he forgot he was waiting.
Then, shortly before Veterans Day last year,the 17-year-old high-school senior was called into the library with the rest of his class.
“There were a lot of people surrounding the library, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said. “They called me over and said, ‘Some soldier sent mail for you.’ ”
Stanley was home.
The journey begins
Brian Owens was young when the military bug bit him.
“My grandfather served in World War II. My father was a chaplain with the state Guard,” said the New Mexico native, now a Phoenix resident. “As a kid, I had grown up in camouflage and wore dog tags and had buzz cuts.”
Owens didn’t consider a career until college, though.
“I was struggling with my grades. I loved education and I loved learning, but I just couldn’t make heads or tails of what I wanted to do with myself,” he said. “I needed some direction.”
At 20, he enlisted in the Army.
He was 24, with two small sons of his own, when Stanley emerged from a box at mail call in the spring of 2004.
Owens was immediately on board, folding Stanley up and tucking him safely into his wallet.