A Colonel's Toughest Duty: the Condolence Letter

US commanders continue 18th-century custom
By Wesley Oliver,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2008 4:43 PM CST
Lt. Col. Fenzel, the 40-year-old son of a suburban Chicago car dealer, has already notched tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. On previous deployments, he was the No. 2 in his unit. This time he's in command....   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – American warfare has changed over hundreds of years, but one tradition that remains is a commander’s condolence letter to the family of a fallen soldier. The Wall Street Journal spends time with a lieutenant colonel in Iraq who writes his letters by hand whenever one of his men dies. "I wait to find the words," he says, "and they will come." 

An Army manual provides antiseptic guidelines, but they do little to ease the wrenching task. "Jesus, this is hard," said Lt. Col. Michael Fenzel as he made a first draft. For the families, the effort matters. “They’re in a war,” said one mother whose son was killed, “and he takes the time to write a hand-written letter to us.”