As I read the letters in this book I could see the men I served with in Vietnam fifteen years ago, their faces dirty and sweaty and plastered with big grins that hid the fear. And I could hear the true voices of Vietnam again-not filtered by the media, not smoothed out in recollection, but direct, raw, personal: the way it was. These letters made me sad, they made me laugh, they made me proud; many were hard to read without tears. Like the young Americans who wrote them, these letters are variously naive and wise, sentimental and bitter, frightened and boastful, noble and ordinary. I doubt if anyone who reads this remarkable book‐ who listens to the voices-will ever think the same way about the Vietnam War or its veterans again.
With the possible exception of his rifle, nothing was more important to an American in Vietnam than his mail. In 1969 I was a Marine lieutenant commanding a platoon in the mountains west of Da Nang. Twice a week a helicopter would bring out the red mail sack. The squad leaders would pass out the mail. to their men along with a running commentary: "Hey, Rinaldi, your girl changed her perfume—what's the matter, she don't love you no more?" Each package would be shaken, its contents the subject of often obscene conjecture; if it contained cookies or other edibles, etiquette required that it be immediately shared and given a rating. Men who received consistently low ratings were encouraged-not subtly-to instruct their correspondents to improve the quality of their mailings. Everyone knew who was getting mail and who wasn't, who was having trouble at home, whose girlfriend was trying to let him down gently. It was a special time, private but also communal.
Usually we wrote our letters late in the afternoon, after we had made our way to a new position and dug our foxholes, in that violet hour before