Bernard Edelman, ed., Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, NY, 1988. (Also an HBO documentary presentation).
Hello my dear sister.
Boy. I sure feel close to you. Since your last letter, I almost feel as if you are my sister. Its good to have someone to tell your troubles to. I cant tell them to my parents or Darlene because they worry too much, but I tell you truthfully I doubt if Ill come out of this alive.
In my original squad Im the only one left unharmed. In my platoon theres only 13 of us. It seems every day another young guy 18 or 19 years old like myself is killed in action. Please help me, Mad. I dont know if I should stop writing my parents and Darlene or what.
Im going on an operation next month where there is nothing but VC and VC sympathizers. The area is also very heavily mined. All of us are scared cause we know a lot of us sont make it. I would like to hear what you have to say about it, Madeline, before I make any decision.
Oh, and one more favor. Id like the truth now. Has Darlene been faithful to me? I know shes been dating guys, but does she still love me best? Thanks for understanding. See ya if its Gods will. I have to make it out of Vietnam thought, cause Im lucky. I hope. Ha ha.
PFC Raymond C. Griffiths went to Vietnam just after Christmas in 1965 and was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. He wrote this letter to Madeline Velasco, a friend from high school in San Francisco, California, in June 1966. He was killed a few weeks later, on the Fourth of July, He was 19 years old.
Dear Mom and Dad, doting father-to-be, Peach and Fuzzy:
As I suppose you can see by my new stationery, this is not my normal letter, While walking down the road one day, in the merry, merry month of September, my squad got into a heluva fray, and lost (momentarily) one member.
I am all right, I am all right, I am all right, etc.
A carbine round hit me where it would do the most good, right in the butt, the left buttock to be exact exiting from the upper thigh. It hit no bones, blood vessels, nerves, or anything else of importance except my pride. It was, however, a little bit closer to my pecker than was comfortable. But that is as good as ever, although it is now going through a years hibernation.
I am writing this letter in the hospital less than one hour after I got hit, so please dont worry the time you get this letter and can answer it, I will probably be back on my hill.
Please, now I am all right, The only thing that bothers me is the "indignity" of it, as Jose would say and Dad would feel, and disappointment that the wound aint serious enough to warrant taking me out on the Repose where it is air-conditioned and there are nurses.
P.S. I am all right!!
2Lt. Marion Lee Kempner, platoon leader, Co. M, 3rd Bn., 7th Reg., 1st Mar. Div., recovered from these wounds. Two months later, he was killed by shrapnel from a mine explosion new Tien Phu.
Hi! How are you? I hope all is well at home. Everything is OK here. It is now about 4:30 p.m. and it is as hot as hell outside. I am sitting in the squad bunker that we just put the finishing touches on this afternoon. It is nice and cool inside.
We arrived at Qui Nhon the morning of the 19th and took a truck convoy up to Duc Pho the following morning. It was a 4 ½ -hour ride. Snipers shot at us all the way up .
Last night was my first in this bunker on the perimeter. There arent much VC in the area besides a few snipers which fire at us every night. They never hit anybody lousy shots. They shot the hell out of a bunker last night with a machine gun. Nobody got hurt, though.
As I look out from my bunker there is about 250 feet of bush and tall grass. It slopes down, as we are on a hill. Then there is a river only about 80 feet wide, and after that rice paddies for a mile. After that you can see the Central Highlands, which is booming all the time. Its safe in the daytime. We stand out in the open or work on the bunker. We can run up and down the hill with no worries. But at night we got to stay in the bunkers as snipers sneak in. They usually shoot from the other side of the river. Last night, while [it was] my turn on watch, I saw one duck behind a bush on this side of the river. I shot once at him and he disappeared. He mustve gone back to his tunnel on the other side. The first squad found the tunnel this afternoon. All the VC do around here is try to deep us from getting too much sleep. I sleep soundly when Im not on watch anyway. I thought this crap would bother, me, but it doesnt. He could shoot at this bunker all night for all I care.
My whole squad is in this bunker, and they are all a bunch of screwballs. Eddie is running around now with an insect bomb, cursing the bugs. The mosquitoes that come out at night are man-eaters, but the inset repellent keeps them off. I got a head bet too .
Take care and enjoy the holidays, Ill probably be knocking out some beer on Christmas. A pleasure gravely earned.
P.S. Send some-Kool-Aid. Water here tastes like hell.
Cpl. Dennis W. Lane, from Brooklyn, New York, landed in Vietnam on December 19, 1967 with Company A, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, 11th Light Infantry Brigade. His unit, a component of the Americal Division, operated along the coast in I Corps. He was killed by fragments from a mine explosion on May 21, 1968. He was 21 years old. This letter was written to his brother.
Dear Uncle and Aunt,
Some people wonder why Americans are in Vietnam. The way I see the situation, I would rather fight to stop communism in South Vietnam than in Kincaid, Humbolt Blue Mound or Kansas City, and that is just about what it would end up being. Except for the fact that by that time I would be old and gray and my children would be fighting the war. The price for victory is high when life cannot be replaced, but I think it is far better to fight and die for freedom that to live under oppression and fear.
Living in a country where communism thrives on illiterate people, I look to the may teachers I have for relatives and I know in the long run that the victory will truly be theirs for communism cannot thrive in a society of people who know the whole truth. This war is not going to be won in a day or even a year. This war and others like it will only be won when the children when the children of the nation are educated and can grow in freedom to rule themselves. Last year alone 4,700 teachers and priests in South Vietnam were killed. This we are trying to stop this is our objective.
Well, enough soothing my own conscience and quilt .
Jack S. Swender, a lance corporal form Kansas City, Kansas, was sent to Vietnam in July 1965. He was assigned to H & S Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, operating in I Corps. He was killed in action on December 18, 1965. He was 22 years old.
How are you treating life these days? Have you gotten a grip on those Merrimack students yet?
This place is sort of getting to me. Ive been seeing too many guys getting messed up, and I still cant understand it. Its not that I cant understand this war. Its just that I cant understand war period.
If you do not get to go to that big peace demonstration October 15th I hope you do protest against war or sing for peace I would. I just cant believe half of the shit Ive seen over here so far .
Do you know if theres anything wrong at home? I havent heard from anyone in about two weeks, and normally I get 10 letters a week. You mentioned in your last letters that you haven' heard from them for a while either. I couldnt take sitting over [in] this place if I thought there was anything wrong at home.
Well, brother, I hope you can get to your students and start them thinking about life. Have you tried any marijuana lectures lately? I know they dig that current stuff.
I gotta go now. Stay loose, Paul, sing an simple song of freedom and Ill be seeing you come summer.
The beat goes on,
Joseph Morrissey, a staff sergeant with Company C, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), served in III Corps from July 1969 to May 1970. He wrote this letter to his brother Paul, a Roman Catholic priest in the diocese of Brooklyn. He now works as a carpenter in Parkesburgh, Pennsylvania.
Dear Folks (car, bird, houses, etc.),
New jungle fatigues, boots, cooling fans, typewriters trickle into supply and are dispersed as needed. Also, napkins, silverware, grass seed!? Jeeze.
As a draftsman, I do little odd jobs like painting captain "bars" on helmets.
We are working four to five hours extra in the supply room trying to straighten out the foul-up in our records.
Ya know this is an "in" war, one of the hippest things in this crazy world. Ive read where officers were quoted as saying: "This is the only war weve got. Dont knock it."
Sp/4 Richard Loffler, 36th Sig. Bn., 2nd Sig. Gp., Long Binh, Bear Cat, 1966-1967
Dear Mrs. Perko,
Im sorry for not writing sooner, I received your letter when I was discharged from the hospital 29 April, then went straight to Saigon for a week or so.
What can I say to fill the void? I know flowers and letters are appropriate but its hardly enough. Im Johnny Boy, and Im sick both physically and mentally. I smoke too much, am constantly coughing, never eat, always sit around in a daze. All of us are in this general condition. We all are afraid to die and all we can do is count the days till we go home.
Were all in desperate need of love. When we go to Saigon, we spend all our money on women and beer. Some nights I dont sleep. I cant stand being alone at night. The guns dont bother me I cant hear them anymore. I want to hold my head between my hands and run screaming away from here. I cry too, not much, just when I touch the sore spots.
Im hollow, Mrs. Perko. Im a shell, and when Im scared I rattle. Im no one to tell you about your son. I cant. Im sorry.
Cpl. John Houghton "Johnny Boy" was the friend of Terry J. Perko, a lance corporal from Maple Heights, Ohio, who was killed on February 21, 1967, five months after arriving in Vietnam. They were serving with the 1st Anglico Detachment, 1st Marine Division, operating out of Chu Lai. Terrys twin Jerry, also served in Vietnam at the same time. John Houghton, in Vietnam from October 1966 to October 1967, now lives in Camden, New Jersey, and works as a deckhand on a tugboat.
My Dearest Bev,
For the last week we have been waiting for an attack, and last night it came in full force. Honey, I was never so scared in my life. We got hit by 12 mortars and rockets, and some even hit our ammo dumps, which really hurt the battery. A mortar landed about 30 feet from me and I was lucky enough to have my head down, but the sergeant next to me didnt, and we think he lost an eye. We got three men seriously hurt and four others shaken up by the blast. This was my first real look at war, and it sure was an ugly sight. I helped carry some of the wounded away, and boy, I sure hope I dont have to do that again. It was an experience you can never explain in a million words.
The noise from shooting is enough to drive a person crazy. Even after the attack last night, we had to stay up and wait for a ground attack which, lucky for us, never came. We expect to catch a lot of hell through May because it seems that the VC are really putting a big push on.
Bev, I was so surprised last night to see that the men here were willing to risk their own lives to save a buddys. It really makes you have faith in people again, but I hope I dont have to go through what we did last night in a long time (like never!)
I take your picture out quite often and just look at it, because its such a relief from this pitiful place to see such a beautiful being. I am thinking of you always.
All my love,
Allen Paul was a sergeant with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). His unit operated in Both I and III Corps during his tour, April 1968 to April 1969. He is now information coordinator for Indiana Technical College, Richmond, Indiana.
I got all the Xmas packages at least I think I did. The tree was a huge success. I brought it with me to a small fire base where I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas. We rigged up the lights with dry-cell batteries, and it was the only "formal" tree in the small camp.
Christmas out there was really something. I can hardly tell everything since there was a certain emotion that belies words. At midnight on Xmas Eve, the mortars and tracks and tanks and all the 1st Cavalry artillery sent up an absolutely thunderous barrage of high-altitude flares all red and green star clusters. Since we were in a valley ringed by 1st Cav positions, it was quite a show. The Cavalry gunners topped it off with a crown of white phosphorous shells fired at an extreme altitude. I believe few people have seen fireworks like these.
Then, when all had quieted and the flares had gone out, the whole area calmed and hushed and we could just hear one of the fire bases start singing "Silent Night." Then it was picked up by the other positions around us and by everyone. It echoed through the valley for a long time and died out slowly. I, p[positive it has seldom been sung with more gut feeling and pure homesick emotion a strange and beautiful thing in this terribly death-ridden land. It is something I will always remember .
Sp/5 Peter Elliott was assigned Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 20th Engineer Brigade, attached to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), based at Bien Hoa. He served in Vietnam from January 1970 through February 1971. He now owns a construction company in Dallas, Texas.
Dear Civilians, Friends, Draft Dodgers, etc.:
In the very near future, the undersigned will once more be in your midst, dehydrated and demoralized, to take his place again as a human being with the well-known forms of freedom and justice for all; engage in life, liberty and the somewhat delayed pursuit of happiness. In making your joyous preparations to welcome him back into organized society you might take certain steps to make allowances for the past twelve months. In other words, he might be a little Asiatic from Vietnamesitis and Overseasitis, and should be handled with care. Dont be alarmed if he is infected with all forms of rare tropical diseases. A little time in the "Land of the Big PX" will cure this malady.
Therefore, show no alarm if he insists on carrying a weapon to the dinner table, looks around for his steel post when offered a chair, or wakes you up in the middle of the night for guard duty. Keep cool when he pours gravy on his dessert at dinner of mixed peaches with his Seagrams VO. Pretend not to notice if he acts dazed, eats with his fingers instead of silverware and prefers C-rations to steak. Take it with a smile when he insists on digging up the garden to fill sandbags for the bunker his is building. Be tolerant when he takes his blanket and sheet off the bed and puts them on the floor to sleep on.
Abstain from saying anything about powdered eggs, dehydrated potatoes, fried rice, fresh milk or ice cream. Do not be alarmed if he should jump up from the dinner table and rush to the garbage can to wash his dish with a toilet brush. After all, this has been his standard. Also, if it should start raining, pay no attention to him if he pulls off his clothes, grabs a bar of soap and a towel and runs outdoors for a shower.
When in his daily conversation he utters such things as "Xin loi" and "Choi oi" just be patient, and simply leave quickly and calmly if by some chance he utters "didi" with an irritated look on his face because it means no less than "Get the hell out of here." Do not let it shake you up if he picks up the phone and yells "Sky King forward, Sir" or says "Roger out": for good-by or simply shouts "Working."
Never ask why the Jones son held a higher rank than he did and by no means mention the word "extend." Pretend not to notice if at a restaurant he calls the waitress "Numbuh 1 girl" and uses his hat as an ashtray. He will probably keep listening for "Homeward Bound" to sound off over AFRS. If he does , comfort him, for he is still reminiscing. Be especially watchful when he is in the presence of women especially a beautiful woman.
Above all, keep in mind that beneath the tanned and rugged exterior there is a heart of gold (the only thing of value he has left). Treat him with kindness, tolerance, and an occasional fifth of good liquor and you will be able to rehabilitate that which was once (and now a hollow shell) the happy-go-lucky guy you once knew and loved.
Last, but not least, send no more mail to the APO, fill the ice box with beer, get the civvies out of mothballs, fill the car with gas, and get the women and children off the streets BECAUSE THE KID IS COMING HOME!!!!!
Versions of this letter circulated through various units in Vietnam. This was sent home by PFC David Bowman, Co. B, 1st Bn., 8th Cav., 1st Cav. Div., An Khe/Phong Dien, 1967-1968.
April 5, '68
Dear Dad -
I'm sick - very sick, bad stomach cramps, diarrhea and a fairly high temperature. I was evac'd from the field to recover. I've been listening to the Vietnam radio station. They just had a news report special on the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis. I realize how involved you are with the whole situation. I also realize how bad this makes Memphis look to the rest of the nation. I'm sorry that the people in Memphis had to see all of this. I heard President Johnson's speech but now I've a story to tell.
On Friday, March 29, in our AO just south of Hue near the ocean, we received small-arms fire from a village, Two platoons went into the village. Our platoon maneuvered to the right, attempting to set up a blocking force so when the NVA were pushed out of the village we could cut them off. My job was carrying the platoon radio. My platoon leader, Gar Scott, 2nd lieutenant, Infantry, was in command. Lt. Scott, a Negro from Rochester, New York, graduated recently from the University of Syracuse.
As the platoon moved toward the rear of the village, automatic-weapons fire suddenly came from a near woodline. Lt. Scott and one other man were killed, another seriously wounded. I was very close to Lt. Scott. I was his radio operator. He was a fine man, a good leader, yet he could not understand the whys of this conflict which called him 10,000 miles from his home, To a land of insects, poverty and hostility - this conflict which killed him. Why?
Fighting for a people who have no concern for the war, people he did not understand, who knew were the enemy were, where the booby traps were hidden yet have no support. People that he would give portions of his food to yet would try to sell him a Coke for $1.00. People who cared not who the winner was - yet they will say he died for his country, keeping it free. Negative. This country is no gain that I can see, Dad, We're fighting, dying , for a people who resent our being over here. The only firm reason I can find is paying with commie lives for U.S. lives, Dad.
Tonight the nation mourns the death of Martin Luther King. Not me, I mourn the deaths of the real leaders for peace, the people who give the real sacrifice, people like Lt. Scott. Tonight as the nation mourns Dr. King, they drink their cold beer, turn on their air conditioner and watch their TV. We who mourn the deaths over here will set up our ambushes, pull our guard and eat our C-rations.
I will probably get a Bronze Star for the fire fight. Lt. Scott will get a Silver Star. That will help me get a job someday and it is supposed to suffice from Lt. Scott's life. I guess I'm bitter now, Dad, This war is all wrong, I will continue to fight, win my medals and fight the elements and hardships of this country. But that is because I'm a soldier and it's my job and there are other people depending on me. That's my excuse. That's all I have, theories and excuses - no solutions.
Your loving son,
Sgt. Philip Woodall, Company A, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, served in Vietnam from December 1967 through July 1969, operating in I Corps. He is now manager of an insurance company in Pineville, North Carolina.
17 Sept, 69
Thanks for the letter, but now you've made me self-conscious about my writing, You used some words that rather jolted me: Morbid, Chaplain, and a few others. They belong to another world about which I've forgotten an amazing amount as it's irrelevant to anything going on now. I've just about forgotten what college was all about, though there are a few memories that stick in the back of my mind.
Yesterday we took to the bush to recon a river crossing on one of Charlie's major supply routes coming in from Laos....It was an uneventful patrol, but I committed the mortal sin of small-unit patrolling: I broke contact with the man in front of me and split the patrol into two elements something that could easily prove fatal in the event of contact with the enemy. We'd just crossed the river at a ford to join the team reconning the other bank and were going through fairly green stuff when the man in front of me dropped his lighter. I bent to pick up and by the time I straightened up he was out of sight and hearing. Had we been hit then, It would have been a bad situation made worse by my stupidity. I've picked up most of the patrolling tricks - taping metal parts to prevent their making noise during movement, wearing bandoliers so the magazines are on your chest and stomach and form makeshift body armor, and other tricks that stretch the odds a little more in you favor and give you a little more of an edge in combat - but I'm still new and yesterday I really loused up....
The fact of the matter is that I was afraid - which I am most of the time over here - but I allowed my fear to interfere with the job at hand, and when that happens to someone, he ceases to be a good soldier. It's all right to be afraid, but you can't allow that fear to interfere with the job because other people are depending on you and you've got responsibility to them and for them. From now on I'll be keeping that in mind and I won't louse up so badly again. Had that happened under fire, people might have died unnecessarily due to me.
One other impression from the patrol is that anyone over here who walks more and 50 feet through elephant grass should automatically get a Purple Heart. Try to imagine grass 8 to 15 feet high so thick as to cut visibility to one yard, possessing razor-sharp edges. Then try to imagine walking through it while all around you are men possessing the latest automatic weapons who desperately want to kill you. You'd be amazed at how much a man can age on one patrol.
We're supposed to go on a very hard sortie soon which, unless it's canceled, virtually guarantees some hard fighting. I'm not trying to be mysterious or anything, but common sense precludes giving too many details before the operation. We're going to raid one of Charlie's POW camps and attempt to free some GIs, but that's about all I'll say till we pull it off, if we do.
I many have played up my unit here a bit too much, but I'm proud to be in it and might be inclined to brag. We're not supermen or anything like that, and we're not about to walk into bars, where music automatically stops at our entrance, and proceed to demolish anybody and everybody in the place. But as far as being soldiers, we're proud of our outfit and its history, and are definitely among the best troops over here....Men have gone on operations here with broken ankles in order not to let their buddies down. So you see, we take our business seriously.
I'm going out now for a fun in the sand to toughen my feet up. So I'll be signing out....
Sp/4 George Olsen, Co. G, 75th Inf. (Ranger), Americal Div., Chu Lai, 1969-1970, He was KIA 3 March 1970; he was 23 years old.
25 Nov 66
Hello dear folks:
It's going to be hard for me to write this, but maybe it will make me feel better.
Yesterday after our big dinner my company was hit out in the field while looking for VC. We got the word that one boy was killed and six wounded. So the doctor, medics and the captain I work for went over to the hospital to see the boys when they came in and see how they were.
The first sergeant came in the tent and told me to go over to the hospital and tell the captain that six more KIAs were coming in. When I got there, they asked if anyone from A Company was there. I just happened to be there, so they told me that they needed someone to identify a boy they just brought in from my company. He was very bad, they said. So I went into the tent. There on the table was the boy. His face was all cut up and blood all over, it. His mouth was open, his eyes were both open. He was a mess. I couldn't really identify him.
So I went outside while they went through his stuff. They found his ID card and dog tags. I went in, and they told me his name - Rankin. I cried, "No, God, it can't be." But sure enough, after looking at his bloody face again I could see it was him. It really hit me hard because he was one of the nicest guys around. He was one of my good friends. No other KIA or WIA hit me like that. I knew most of them, but his was th4e first body I ever saw and, being my friend, it was too much. After I left the place, I sat down and cried. I couldn't stop it. I don't think I ever cried so much in my life. I can still see his face now. I will never forget it.
Today the heavens cried for him. It started raining at noon today and has now finally just stopped after 10 hours of the hardest rain I have ever seen.
Sp5 Richard Cantale, of Floral Park, New York, served with the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), based at An Khe, from August 1966 through August 1967. He is now a manager in a brokerage firm in New York City.
Today is February 13, 1984. I came to this black wall again to see and touch your name, and as I do I wonder if anyone ever stops to realize that next to your name, on this black wall, is your mothers heart. A heart broken 15 years ago today, when you lost your life in Vietnam.
And as I look at your name, William R. Stocks, I think of how many, many times I used to wonder how scared and homesick you must have been in that strange country called Vietnam. And if and how it might have changed you, for you were the most happy-go-lucky kid in the world, hardly ever sad or unhappy. And until the day I die, I will see you as you laughed at me, even when I was very mad at you, and the next thing I knew, we were laughing together.
But on this past New Years Day, I had my answer, I talked by phone to a friend of yours from Michigan, who spent your last Christmas and the last four months of your life with you. Jim told me how you died, for he was there and saw the helicopter crash. He told me how you had flown your quota and had not been scheduled to fly that day. How the regular pilot was unable to fly, and had been replaced by someone with less experience. How they did not know the exact cause of the crash. How it was either hit by enemy fire, or they hit a pole or something unknown. How the blades went through the chopper and hit you. How you lived about a half-hour, but were unconscious and therefore did not suffer.
He said how your jobs were like sitting ducks. They would send you men out to draw the enemy into the open and then they would send in the big guns and planes to take over. Meantime, death came to so may of you.
He told me how, after a while over there, instead of a yellow streak, the men got a mean streak down their backs. Each day the streak got bigger and the men became meaner. Everyone but you, Bill. He said how you stayed the same, happy-go-lucky guy that you were when you arrived in Vietnam. How your warmth and friendliness drew the guys to you. How your [lieutenant] gave you the nickname of "Spanky," and soon your group, Jim included, were all know as "Spankys gang." How when you died it made is so much harder on them for you were their moral support. And he said how you of all people should never have been the one to die.
Oh, God, how it hurts to write this. But I must face it and then put it to rest. I know that after Jim talked to me, he must have relived it all over again and suffered so. Before I hung up the phone I told Jim I loved him. Loved him for just being your close friend, and for sharing the last days of your life with you, and for being there with you when you died. How lucky you were to have him for a friend, and how lucky he was to have had you.
Later that same day I received a phone call from a mother in Billings, Montana. She had lost her daughter, her only child, a year ago. She needed someone to talk to for no one would let her talk about the tragedy. She said she had seen me on [television] on New Years Eve, after the Christmas letter I wrote to you and left at this memorial had drawn newspaper and television attention. She said she had been thinking about me all day, and just had to talk to me. She talked to me of her pain, and seemingly needed me to help her with it. I cried with this heartbroken mother, and after I hung up the phone, I laid my head down and cried as hard for her. Here was a mother calling me for help with her pain over the loss of her child, a grown daughter. And as I sobbed I thought, how can I help her with her pain when I have never completely been able to cope with my own?
They tell me the letters I write to you and leave here at this memorial are waking others up to the fact that there is still much pain left, after all these years, from the Vietnam War.
But this I know. I would rather to have had you for 21 years, and all the pain that goes with losing you, than never to have had you at all.
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