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.

Hi 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?


Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

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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3 thoughts on “The Sniper and the [sort-of] “Dear John” Letter

  1. Reality TV is a Mental Illness « The Soulful Veteran's Blog

  2. Wow. Beautiful post. Garry found, after his mom died, packets of love letters between his mother and father, written while his dad was in the service (WW II). He learned a lot about his parents he never even suspected. We’ve lost something in email, I think. There was something special about real letters on real paper. Maybe it’s the tactile nature of paper … or maybe it’s being able to tie them up with ribbons and save them.

    • Talking about letters from World War II. You may enjoy this book by Gail Lindenberg.

      “Thin and fragile envelopes line up as though in regimented files within the brown box, awaiting inspection. Each pale soldier, a sentinel of time past, stands at attention still.” This book tells the story of a soldier who left his bride to enlist in WWII and bring his brother home from prison camp in Germany. He promised her that he would write every day. She saved every letter, and stored them carefully away. Sixty-six years later, she unearthed the box and gave it to her daughter to preserve. The book uses excerpts of the letters, conversations with the young bride, now ninety years old, and a fictional narrative based on research of the history of the time. The story honors their loyalty to their nation at war and their love of each other. Jim’s letters are glimpses of a soldier’s walk through the snow in Europe where he earned a Silver Star for gallantry, but maintains that “he would, at the time, have gladly traded that medal for a dry pair of socks.” Primary witness of events from history books, the letters document a common man’s experience in war. They also reveal a very special love for duty, honor, family, and above all–his wife, Irene.”

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