Pen pals, ever after

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 14, 2013

It’s is story made for a movie – a handsome soldier and a wonderful woman become pen pals during the Iraqi war. He returns stateside for a visit. The two meet face-to-face, fall in love, marry and complete their family with two lovely children.


For Heather and Army Staff Sgt. William Derek Grimes, a couple who recently returned to Andalusia to start their lives as “civilians,” that is no fairytale. It’s their real-life love story.

“We became pen pals during his first deployment to Iraq after we were introduced through a mutual friend as they were serving their first combat tour together in 2003 and 2004,” she said. “Derek is from Andalusia, but I am from Oregon. During his R&R, he returned home to Andalusia and flew me down here to meet me.”

Heather said she remembers being apprehensive during the flight, but all those fears were put aside when she stepped off the plane and into his arms.

“It truly was love at first sight,” she said. “He asked how I would know him, and I said I would be wearing red. I wore a red cowboy hat coming off the plane in Montgomery. He was in his uniform and had told me he would kiss me when he saw me. I remember thinking that was awfully bold and not a high probability.

“Sure enough, that handsome cavalry scout in camouflage gave me a really sweet and gentleman-like kiss as I came off that plane,” she said. “He was so handsome. I remember thinking that I was going to marry this boy and also thinking how crazy that is.”

But that’s exactly what happened – despite the distance from her Oregon home to Iraq and then to Ft. Lewis, Washington, she said.

The couple spent the next four days meeting his family and had serious conversations about continuing their long-distance relationship.

“When he said good-bye to me at the airport, I walked away to check in for my flight and as he watched me, a very old and darling little lady stood next to him and said, ‘You should marry that girl.’ He told me he just nodded toward her and waved one last goodbye to me.

“He said when he turned back to look for the lady she was nowhere in sight, and we say, to this day, that she was an angel,” she said.

Heather said Derek finished the remaining six months of his deployment and returned stateside to Washington.

For 18 months, the couple took turns and made the four-hour, one-way trip between with homes every weekend until marrying in March 2006.

She said Derek would go on to serve two additional combat tours in Iraq and receive multiple medals and accommodations. Last week, Derek wrapped up a 12 ½ year career in the Army and the couple moved from Ft. Benning, Ga., to Andalusia. He plans to attend college in the fall in Mobile and pursue an engineering degree.

“Tens of thousands of miles of calls and video chats, watching our baby’s first steps on Skype, love letters and prayers have kept us going,” she said. “We are truly blessed and thankful for every second we have together.”