Re-reading copies of letters I wrote back in 1967 I hardly recognized that starry-eyed, flag-waving girl I was back then when 'she' was on a mission to write to as many guys stationed in Vietnam as she could. Troops over there, that year, increased to a total of 475,000 and peace rallies turned into war protests erupted around the world, becoming more and more intense and frequent. I was clearly on the side of Uncle Sam and by the end of the year the country and many of us in it had lost our innocence---me in more ways than one.
1967 was also the year when Twiggy was a fashion sensation that started women on a path of viewing our bodies in an unhealthy and unrealistic way and we are still dealing with her legacy all these years later. It was also the year when 7,000 National Guards were sent to Detroit to put down the race rioting and looting in the streets and those scenes were repeated across the nation, including right in my own back yard where one of my co-workers couldn’t go home for nearly a week because her whole neighborhood was blocked off by the police.
In 1967 the Beatles came out with their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band album and I have two hats in my closet, bought in the ‘60s that I affectionately call my Sgt. Pepper hats. One hat is white fur and the other is red velvet and the latter one is what I wore when I got my picture taken so I’d have photos to send the servicemen I was penpals with. By the second or third letter I received from a G.I. a picture was usually requested. Also requested was the name of the perfume I sprayed on my envelopes. It was Avon’s Unforgettable and I could probably write an entire essay just quoting the various comments I received about that perfume. One guy said at Mail Call the guys would pass my letters around before he could even open them. Another guy said any girl who "smells like that and has such beautiful handwriting has to be pretty." Several guys said they carried my letters around in their helmets so they could smell the perfume---in one case, when the smell of jungle rot got too much and in another case, the guy wanted to “remember what girls smell like.” One guy said he was charging ten cents for a quick sniff---probably a joke since the guys don't use cash in the military.
Yes, I’ve been staying up way too late reading the letters I’ve decided to send off to the Center for American War Letters. The servicemen’s letters are in good condition, but unfortunately my letters will all have to be redone because they are carbon copies on cheap paper that did not fare well over time. But since the curator of the legacy project said they will welcome the back and forth of pen pals, and since they do accept copies, that’s what they’ll get from my side of the exchanges---if my fingers hold up with all the typing I’ll be doing over winter.
After I read a complete set of letters between me and a particular guy, I look him up on the index of names listed on the Vietnam War Memorial. What a heart-pounding task that’s turning out to be! With one guy out of the thirty I've read so far, I took it a step farther and found him on the internet living about fifty miles away. We had a brother/sister like exchange of eight to ten page letters about every subject on earth including Twiggy. He had a girlfriend back here in the States who was planning their wedding and he had his whole life plotted out. Near the end of our letter exchanges, he was giving me dating advice. (I wasn't give guys a fair chance. Who knew.) Re-reading his letters brought on an urge to send him a note with no return address on the envelope. I’m not sending it until Christmas---IF I do it at all, a full circle kind of thing since our penpalling started at Christmas 1966. I can’t decide if a note could cause trouble for the guy, or not. What do you think? I’ve never been the jealous type so it’s hard for me to predict how a wife would react. If I do it, this is what I'll say:
"If you’re not the ______ _______ who was stationed at Da Dang in 1967 please disregard this note. If you are, you may (or may not) remember a brother/sister type penpal friendship we had back then. Either way, recently I went to a lecture about war letters and it reminded me of our exchange and that I’ve owed you a letter for the past fifty years. That war was a defining era for so many people. I hope the plans you had for your post-military life came to pass. As for me, I found my soulmate a few years later and as they say, we lived “happily ever after.” I hope you find the intended humor and sentimentality in me sending this note all these years later. Sincerely, Jean _______ (the floral designer)" ©
My Sgt. Pepper Hat, 1967