In 1981, six years after the official end of the Vietnam War, Mayor Edward Koch of New York City appointed a task force of twenty-seven leading citizens of the city to develop a framework for a fitting memorial to Vietnam War veterans. The memorial was to be a glass-block structure etched with excerpts of letters sent to and from servicemen during the Vietnam War. Due to the overwhelming response to the commission's request for letters, Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam came to be. Consisting of 208 letters, poems, and journal entries written by 125 people, this book is a heart wrenching, first hand account of the personal experiences of soldiers both on and behind the front lines in Vietnam, and of loved ones waiting in anguish for their return back to the United States.
The author notes "with the possible exception of his rifle, nothing was more important to an American in Vietnam than his mail." By compiling so many letters into one work, structured in a sequence that corresponds to a year's tour in Vietnam, Dear America does more than simply tell about the Vietnam War-it allows the reader to experience it through the words of those directly involved. The first chapter, "Cherries" contains optimistic letters from boys freshly arrived in Vietnam, eager to receive their assignments and reach their camps, and itching to get into the action after much training and traveling. "We Gotta Get Outta This Place,"-letters from men who were near the end of their tour-is much more bleak and disturbing. "The so-called heroes over here are the guys trying to do their jobs and get home from this useless war" wrote one soldier, and another, "I pray that none of you will ever have to put on a uniform for hostile reasons." The author, himself a veteran of Vietnam, prefaces each chapter by describing facts of the war, and how many of the men may have felt at that stage of their tour, but it is the letters themselves that tell the true story of what actually happened...
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