Saturday, March 12, 2011

a letter

The following is a letter and the story behind it, from Andrew
Carroll's War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars
(Kindle edition, 86% into the book):

"All letters and artifacts left at the [Vietnam War Memorial] Wall are
collected, catalogued, and preserved by the National Park Service,
National Capital Region. Duery Felton Jr., a park service curator (and
Vietnam veteran himself), was organizing a container of memorabilia
gathered at the Wall when a small photograph and letter left by
another Vietnam veteran caught his attention:

' Nov 18, 1989

Dear Sir,

For twenty two years I have carried your picture in my wallet. I was
only eighteen years old that day that we faced one another on that
trail in Chu Lai, Vietnam. Why you did not take my life I'll never
know. You stared at me for so long armed with your AK-47 and yet you
did not fire. Forgive me for taking your life, I was reacting just the
way I was trained, to kill V. C. or gooks, hell you weren't even
considered human, just gook/target, one in the same.

Since that day in 1967 I have grown a great deal and have a great deal
of respect for life and other peoples in the world.

So many times over the years I have stared at your picture and your
daughter, I suspect. Each time my heart and gut would burn with the
pain of guilt. I have two daughters myself now. One is twenty. The
other one is twenty two, and has blessed me with two granddaughters,
ages one and four.

Today I visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. I have wanted to
come here for several years now to say goodbye to many of my former

Somehow I hope and believe they will know I'm here, I truly loved many
of them as I am sure you loved many of your former comrades.

As of today we are no longer enemies. I perceive you as a brave
soldier defending his homeland. Above all else, I can now respect the
importance that life held for you. I suppose that is why I am able to
be here today.

As I leave here today I leave your picture and this letter. It is time
for me to continue the life process and release my pain and guilt.
Forgive me Sir, I shall try to live my life to the fullest, an
opportunity that you and many others were denied.

I'll sign off now Sir, so until we chance to meet again in another
time and place, rest in peace.

101st Airborne Div Richard A. Luttrell.'

Felton instantly knew he had to include the photography, as well as
several lines from the letter, in an upcoming publication the National
Park Service was assembling called Offerings at the Wall. In 1996 a
good friend of Luttrell's saw the book and shared it with Luttrell,
who had not seen the photograph and the letter since he had left them
at the Wall seven years earlier. Suddenly confronted with them again,
he broke down and cried. The pain of the memory was so great that
Luttrell realized it might never go away unless he tried to return the
photograph to the daughter of the slain Vietnamese soldier. Although
he realized that, without an address or even a name, the odds of
finding someone in a country of 80 million were astronomical, he was
determined to try. Luttrell contacted Felton, who flew to Illinois and
personally returned the items. And then, with assistance from the
Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, Luttrell was able to convince
newspapers in Hanoi with an accompanying article. Miraculously, a copy
of a paper made its way to a tiny farming village where the family of
the soldier recognized it. Several days later Luttrell received a
short, translated letter, forwarded from Vietnam by fax, written by a
woman identified only as Lan. The message read:

Dear Mr. Richard, the child that you have taken care of, or through
the picture, for over 30 years, she becomes adult now, and she has
spent so much sufferance in her childhood by the missing of her
father. I hope you will bring the joy and happiness to my family.

Luttrell immediately responded and asked Lan if he could visit her in
Vietnam. She said yes, and in March 2000 Richard Luttrell—the first
time he had been back in thirty-two years—found himself face-to-face
with Lan in her village. The moment she saw him, Lan burst into tears
and embraced Luttrell. 'I'm so sorry,' he said to her, also crying.
Lan forgave Luttrell, and the photograph of her and her father now
rests on a small altar in Lan's home."

Here is the photograph: