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Old letters


Old Guy
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For some years my family has been after me to produce a narrative history of my military service, with emphasis on Vietnam. One of the primary sources for that information was the letters I wrote to my wife while overseas. She kept and numbered each one, over 300 in all.

Now, when I went to Vietnam I had been married a mere nine months; about four months of which included time in Fort Benning while my wife was back in Enterprise, Alabama. Partial separation, if you will. We saw each other only on weekends when I didn't have duty.

So. Much of the content of my Vietnam letters is not for general knowledge. :)

Nevertheless, I sat down with the letters, my military records, a mess of photographs, a failing memory, and an intent to write some kind of history for my kids and grandkids. I just finished with the letters. The narrative already runs to about 40,000 words and I'm not done yet.

The letters contained a surprising amount of material. In most of them I provided a few paragraphs of information about what I was doing, what I thought of various things, and so on. The written material, along with copies of orders and pay records clarified some of my memories and allowed me to write an accurate account of my year in Vietnam.

Surprisingly, reading the letters resurrected a degree of emotional connection to the events of so long ago. In a mild way it was like reliving the months of mud, dust, boredom, terror, and all that goes with being in a combat zone, although from a perspective from behind the wire, which is what I call the thing. Behind the Wire.

Anyway, for my family I'm going to have the narrative printed in 6x9 format. The pictures will be printed in a photo album made up of montages of three to five images per page, with explanations. Some of the letters, orders, and other material will be copied as needed. Originals will be preserved and given to my eldest daughter.

If any of you clowns have been putting off doing something like this, I can tell you it is a lot of work, but so far I've been surprised at how much fun it was. Don't put it off as long as I did. Get your memories down on paper and leave a coherent record for your descendents. Some of them may actually care.

OG :D

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I had started doing that, on and off, for a couple of years. The catalyst was writing an article for a reunion I mentioned here.

I was expecting some of the emotional resurgence while writing it, but not the extent to which it happened.

Before I started and after I finished I read some of the guys and other friends stories and have spent more than a week's time since then getting to know more of the other guys.

The bonus was the encouraging reception of the story and stories from family and close friends. I did not expect that.

I didn't do much during the war. The reunion was both fun and emotional.

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I wish my grandfather had at least written a narrative of his service in WW II. Sadly, all have are a precious few stories he told, some photos, and some of his ribbons. After he returned to the states in 1946, he pitched out almost everything he had from his service and his records were destroyed in a fire.

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Those of you who have old letters or records you want to preserve should do an online search under "preserving documents" or "archiving letters" and see what the experts recommend. I was going to laminate a few of the letters and documents, after making copies as needed. Turns out lamination isn't a good idea. It can't be undone without destroying the document.

Fortunately, my records and letters are in good condition so I can copy them. Once that's done, I'll archive the originals in a file box made specifically for that purpose.

Another suggestion I found concerned emails received from military personnel. Instead of merely saving such correspondence in computer files, the experts say you should also print a copy on acid-free paper and archive the physical copies safely. That way the material can't be lost in a computer crash or by accident. This is very important for other material as well. Future historians are going to be looking at a lot of blank spots in our activities dating from the advent of email and electronic publishing. An amazing amount of material is simply not saved in physical format any more. Electronic files have a way of vanishing into the aether. Researchers are already having a hard time recovering important files that were published as little as a couple years ago.

OG

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Maybe your collection would be of interest to a Vietnam Vets Organization, too, OG? Or perhaps a Publisher might be interested in a paper back? I'd like to hear from Gunny, too, as to his Service life. Maybe he's nicer than we think? Well, that's stretching it a bit!

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