*Post written by Peter Barringer, an English 601 student, at the University of Southern Indiana.
Everyone during a war, and rightfully so, thinks about the troops overseas. What have they been forced to see and do? Are they in danger of being wounded or killed? Have they lost their innocence? Will the same person return home, or will he be a stranger to those who knew and loved him?
Rick’s Vietnam War letters aroused great empathy within me. His unit was shattered by casualties in just a few days, and many numbered among the dead were his close buddies. Rick talked about Death as if it were as familiar to him as the buddies he lost. But while his tone carried hints of resignation, it also carried hope. After telling about a devastating RPG attack, Rick wrote, “but anyway I didn’t get hurt so that’s all that counts right.”
I began to think of Rick’s audience: his mother and father. I wondered if Rick infused hope into his letters for the sake of his family. I also wondered how his parents could write about their jobs, friends, and hobbies in response to Rick’s gritty descriptions of stifling weather, nonstop fighting, and death. I imagined Rick’s parents as they read of his patrols and ambushes, then sat down to respond. I imagined an ink blot forming on the paper around a pen that refused to write. Tears dripped onto the blank page as they recalled his post script, which simply said, “WRITE.”
Rick’s parents must have felt conflicted. Their son was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam at the same time they prepared for the ecstasy of another child bearing their first grandkid. We’re justified in focusing our attention on soldiers and their plights. But we rarely stop to consider those who await them back home. The aching helplessness, the paralysis. Loved ones back home fight a war, too.