Dear John letters was one of the most dreaded things in vietnam. When a soldier received one, it meant that their girlfriend or wife was leaving them. When they got one, that meant usually their girlfriend decided to leave them for another man. Peer pressure was another big issue with it; A lot of people were against the war. The Dear John letters would break the hearts of the soldiers, sometimes causing the death of them. It was a tough situation for both sides.

Effects of "Dear John Letters"- Written by a woman involved with someone in the war

"I am a female. I’ve never been to war. I know only the stories told to be by those who were there and by the look in their eyes when they talk and when they don’t. My husband was a Marine. He had three tours in Vietnam. I have stories of other wars, both older and more current, but this one was my war, as they say. It was the war that lasted all through my youth. It was the war where I’d go to funerals and memorials for guys I’d been to school with. I wore POW and MIA bracelets for the ones I knew who never came home, and were never found. It was the war of nightly body counts and secrets and student marches. It was the war where the drafted who complied came home as villains, and were hurt even more.

Example Of A Vietnam Draft Letter

My husband came home a villain. Three tours and people told him, “You must love the killing.” He never answered them. They didn’t deserve any part of him.

They’d ask, “Why didn’t you run to Canada?”

How do you explain the complexities of “I love my country and wanted to be able to come home if I could,” to people who believe they have all the answers?

Memorial Day weekend was always hard for my husband. He had lost a lot of mates in Vietnam. He told me that by the end of his first tour, knowing he was going to be coming back, he and his buddies could pick the boys getting off the plane that they believed might not make it. The look of paralyzed fear was so evident on some. There were also the ones whose arrogance, bravado, and lack of ability to grasp what Vietnam was going to be like could get them killed. That’s if they all didn’t learn really quickly that this war was one for the books.

My husband commanded his team and all had become seasoned together. They were tight and they were standoffish, he said. They had been through a lot. He told me of wearing socks until the heat and their sweat, the dampness and the hiking, the walking, the streams, rivers, and rice paddies rotted them off their feet. He told me that they when they got resupplied, they threw out or gave away most of the food and loaded up on bandages and ammo and more ammo. They lived off the land. The ate what the locals ate until they smelled just like them, so that the wind wouldn’t carry the smell of a soldier downwind, just “nothing out of the ordinary.”

He told me they got their mail randomly. But on Memorial Day he’d remember a few pertinent letters that were sent to a couple of his men. Dear John’s. He told me he grew to hate letter day. He himself had not been involved with anyone before Vietnam and had refused involvement when he was on R & R. No ties. No attachments. But no letters. He told me it was lonely but at least it was expected.

One of his boys got a letter from his girlfriend whom he adored and wanted to marry. She had pressed for marriage before he left, but he had understood hers and his parents’ words of waiting until he got back. A year in Vietnam was a long year. So he’d dreamed of her, carried her picture inside his helmet wrapped in tin foil to protect it. He’d take it out whenever they stopped for a rest or to stay the night and look at her. He talked about her as if she were a goddess. My husband said she was a beautiful looking girl. Her Dear John letter six months into that tour destroyed him.


My husband knew what it was before the boy spoke. It was in his eyes, my husband said. “You can tell when a soldier is getting bad news. It’s in the eyes first.”

The boy talked to my husband who tried to tell him that it would be okay. She wasn’t the one for him. Everyone on the fire team rallied to carry this young man, to watch over him. Unfortunately they were sent back into the field that very night. It took him three days to figure out how to kill himself. There was no warning. There was no way to stop him. They were on a trail of sorts with enough room to spread out. My husband always kept his men spread a bit. He had his reasons. The boy saw it up ahead and never let on. They were stopped for a bit, listening, paying close attention to the sounds of the jungle. The boy slowly, methodically moved away from them. When the team was paying closer attention to my husband having to use the radio, the boy made his move. One of the team realized the boy had moved too off. They called to him to come back. They were to take a different direction. My husband rose to his feet and they looked at each other, directly in the eyes. My husband saw the girl’s letter crumpled up in his hand. Then he took a small step that set off the mine. Four men were thrown back by the concussion. When they scrambled to their feet, the boy was simply gone.

My husband had it written up as killed in combat. His parents received his medal and an essentially empty coffin. My husband wrote to the boy’s father and said simply, “Don’t let her go to the funeral. It would be a mockery.” He found out later that she had tried to go with her new boyfriend but her own parents had stepped up and denied her entrance to the church. They, too, thought it would be wrong.


Another man my husband thought about on Memorial Day was an older Marine. He’d been in for years. They were together for my husband’s third tour. At the age of twenty-one – twenty-two, my husband was fast becoming one of the “old men” in Vietnam. Two previous tours and now a third. He had the look. He told me he and this older Marine shared a lot of war stories, insights that he would never betray, even all these years later. My husband has died and I do not know these particular stories. I never challenged him on it. That kind of brotherhood is sacred.

This older Marine had joined up, not been drafted as most others had been. He’d joined after he’d found his wife had decided to “trade up.” She was pregnant with another man’s child and he made more money. Divorce and bleeding on the inside, he told my husband he may as well bleed on the outside. He didn’t have a death wish, but had truly found a home with the Marines. He was a good man and took care of his men. My husband’s team had joined theirs for a mission and a bond was made. When this man was killed in action, he died in my husband’s arms. Literally. My husband was hauling him back to the extraction point on his back. The older Marine was firing his weapon from atop my husband’s back. My husband was pivoting, firing his weapon. He told me it was hell on earth. They lost two boys that he did go back for, but at that moment, he needed to get the live ones out. They met up with the chopper and Marines spilled out providing cover, racing off into the jungle, as Marines will do. My husband carefully laid the older Marine on chopper floor. The medic immediately started to work, but it was too late. It was a chest wound and they didn’t have the MASH units or the ability to work on catastrophic injuries like they do now. The man died staring at my husband. This time there was no one to write to. They held hands as brothers and the light faded from one set of eyes forever while more of his youth faded from another’s.


The chopper carried off the dead and wounded with a promise of returning for my husband along with the hardened few who went back with him to get their brothers who had died back in the jungle.

Memorial Day is coming up. All weekend long. I plan on eating light and working on my husband quilt. I plan on saying a prayer and lighting a candle to all those men and women who gave up everything, and also to the ones who didn’t die, in a physical sense.

Everyone loses something in combat. We need to remember that. I learned from my Marine husband that Memorial Day is a day to remember all the kinds of death a soldier can experience. "

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