The Sniper and the [sort-of] “Dear John” Letter
In September 2009 , I found the 1966 Vietnam letters I wrote home that my mother had saved. Sitting on the floor sorting them, I noticed that my dad had written a lot while I was overseas. My dad was a man of few words, and the number of letters told me how much he cared.
My dad has been dead for twenty years and my mother for ten. These letters had been in a box for more than forty years. They showed that people now dead cared when I was in harm’s way as our troops are in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sitting on the floor with those letters scattered around me, I started to cry. After the tears dried, I read some more.
One of the letters was from Linda Grey, my dad’s best friend’s oldest daughter. By the way, when I was a kid, my family and friends called me Skip.
How are you doing over there, Skip? Your mother is teaching me how to cook for you, so when you get back I will cook a dinner for you, okay. That Tim just loves to tease me all the time. And it makes me mad! I hope you like the candy I made. We all miss you very much, and that is why we call Tim, Skip.
I’m sorry I haven’t been writing to you, but I have been working a lot this summer. Skip, have you met any beautiful girls over there? Skip, for my summer vacation I went to Yosemite National Park with my grandmother, my cousin, my sister and I went horseback riding for four hours. When we got through going horseback riding, we went bicycle riding for one hour. Skip, could you find out how much does a culture pearl cost? Well, I will say good-by for now.
Miss Linda Grey.
Sitting on top of that bunker in Vietnam in 1966, I stared at the word “Love,” and wondered what she met and was afraid of my own imagination.
What if those thoughts were wrong?
It was a sunny, clear day with a deep-blue sky. That’s when the sniper fired. I felt and heard the round as it snapped by my ear brushing the skin but not breaking it. One more inch to the left, and I would have been dead.
Instantly, I rolled off the back of the bunker, grabbed my M-14 on the way down, hit the ground, flipped off the safety, rolled to the right into the open and searched for a target. There was no one beyond the concertina wire at the base of the hill. The rice paddies were empty—the trees a smudge in the distance.
A few weeks later, another letter arrived from my mother and she told me to write Linda and tell her that that I was too old for her. Linda was a teenager then—about four or five years younger than me. I turned twenty-one soon after arriving in Vietnam.
For the next month, my depression was deep. As a child growing up, I’d known Linda for years, and she was a great kid to have as a friend. She also grew up to be a real beauty. I know now—decades later—that after she graduated from high school, she married the wrong guy, who abused her horribly, and her life was a mess for some time before she divorced him and eventually found love again.
After that narrow escape from death in Vietnam—one of several while I was there—I didn’t read letters on top of bunkers again. I also never forget the letters that the adolescent Miss Linda Grey wrote that ended with the word “Love“.
Are there any special letters or e-mails that you remember—ones that will still be in your thoughts decades later?
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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