Book by Lynch will help preserve memories of our Vietnam veterans

By Lynn R. Parks

For 20 years, nearly 900 letters that Nancy E. Lynch received from soldiers and Marines in Vietnam sat in cardboard boxes in her Bethel barn. With them were clippings from the (Wilmington) Morning News of columns that Lynch, a cub reporter fresh out of the University of Delaware, wrote about those letters and the men who sent them. Now, nearly 40 years after the debut of Nancys Vietnam Mailbag, Lynch, 62, is writing a book, Vietnam Mailbag, Voices From the War: 1968 - 1972. The book is scheduled for release next May, in time for Memorial Day. "Why didnt those letters and columns disintegrate during all those years in the barn?" Lynch wondered. "I guess maybe this book was just meant to be." James Rawlins, a 1955 graduate of Seaford High School and an Army dentist who served in Vietnam from December 1969 to December 1970, is among the soldiers who wrote to Lynch and who are featured in her book. He sent to Nancys Mailbag a copy of a letter he had sent to his daughter, Monica, who had asked him why he went to Vietnam. "Just like those serving in Iraq today, I felt I was doing something my country thought was important," said Rawlins, 70, who practices dentistry at his Dental World in Orlando, Fla. "When we read Nancys Mailbag, something that was just for us and that showed support for what we were doing, it was wonderful." Lynchs column debuted May 20, 1968, as a weekly feature. "The editor came to me and asked if I was interested in writing a column of correspondence between myself and the 600 to 800 Delawareans who were serving in Vietnam," Lynch said. "I said, Sure! Who wouldnt want to correspond with hundreds of guys?" Because the newspaper was sent to all Delawareans serving in Vietnam, Lynch had at her fingertips their addresses. "I sent them all a letter of introduction to myself and encouraged them to send back to the readers at large their war experiences, their gripes, their funny stories," she said. "I told them to just tell it like it is. And the letters started coming in." Within six weeks, she was receiving so many letters from men stationed in Vietnam that the column was expanded to twice weekly. A year later, it went to three times a week. "They sent me their pictures," Lynch said. "I got letters with the mud of Vietnam on them. Letters from guys writing from foxholes and guys writing from air conditioned offices. Men from all walks of life and in all branches of service were so anxious to tell their stories." In addition to publishing the letters, Lynch answered any questions the servicemen had, both in the column and in personal letters that she sent to them. "I cared for their welfare," she said. "The columns were about their lives, more than about politics. I did whatever I could do to show them support." Rawlins said that the unpopularity back home for the war "tore at the hearts" of the men fighting in Vietnam. "They felt that they were unappreciated," he said. "When they began to receive their own personal copy of the Morning News and found that it had a special section for them, they were encouraged. They felt that they were not forgotten by their friends and neighbors back home." Through the column, the servicemen were able to connect with other Delawareans in Vietnam. "It became a kind of a bulletin board for them," Lynch said. "They started communicating with each other." "The mailbag was ours so it meant a lot," said Lance Hall, a Lewes native and Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. "It also let us know we were not alone and that a lot of other folks from Delaware were there too." Hall, who lives in Germany and whose sister, Lynn Ware, lives in Seaford, said that families back home enjoyed the columns as much as did the servicemen. In fact, he said, his mother saved all the Nancys Mailbag columns and he was looking through then just a couple days before Lynch called him about the book. "Fate?" he wondered.

Book will have national audience
Lynchs book will be in two parts. Part one will focus on the letters and the mailbag columns. For part two, Lynch plans to interview a dozen or so of the letter writers, veterans she selected because they "demonstrated the very highest interest in letting people back home know what was going on," she said. "I want to know how the Vietnam War influenced their lives, and how they are doing now." As a companion to her book, Lynch has a Web site, www.vietnammailbag.com, on which she has an index of Vietnam vets from Delaware. "My hope is that every Delawarean who served in Vietnam will be on the index," she said. Despite its local focus, Lynch believes Vietnam Mailbag will have a national audience. "These guys speak for America," Lynch said. "The book will be of interest to Vietnam vets and their families as well as to veterans of all wars and to the greater public. This is a slice of apple pie, America and Mom." Rawlins agrees that the book will be well received. "Stories about a soldier in Vietnam will always have relevance," he said. "We all owe our comfortable lives and abundance of food, pleasures, luxury items and freedom to enjoy them to those soldiers who sacrificed themselves to protect us and our country." Lynch sees the book as her "thanks to the Delawareans who put their lives on the line for us," she said. "It was untenable the way we treated the returning Vietnam vets who had put their lives on the line every day." And of course, there were the men who wrote to the Mailbag and who did not return from Vietnam. Men like Capt. Michael Momcilovich Jr., Wilmington, who was a West Point grad and Cobra helicopter pilot who, just one day before he was shot down and killed, wrote that the United States was doing the right thing in Vietnam. "That may have been the last letter he wrote," Lynch said. And like Cpl. Ron Bleacher, 19, of Marshallton, who wrote a two-page letter to the Mailbag to say that he was so happy to be getting out of Vietnam. "He was glad that he had just 45 days left," Lynch said. "Three weeks later, on Sept. 29, 1968, he was shot and killed." Lynch said that it was "uncanny" how the process of rereading all her letters, a process she started more than a year ago, "put my back in the zone of that time." "There were so many sad times," she added. "Reading these letters put me right back in that place. It was almost like I could hear choppers in my head."

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