A Soldier’s Last Letter from South Vietnam

26 Jan 68

“Dear Dad,

I am no longer on alert. I’m in the northern part of South Vietnam and my two teams have set up an important Tropo [mobile troposhperic scatter microwave radio communications terminal, or "Troposcatter"] site. All is well, but I have been finally convinced that the Signal Corp does not always find itself in ‘a safe and beautiful’ location. I have been eating “C” rations for the last 10 days and have not take a shower in 7 days. I’m in Khe Sanh supporting the Marines with Communications. I wrote a letter to [my wife] last Saturday night but I don’t think she’ll receive it since the post office got hit during the mortar and rocket attack Sunday. If she does not receive it she will not know where I am, which is good. I will mail her a letter tomorrow telling her that I am somewhere north of Nha Trang. If all goes well my team will have done a great job in contributing to the turning point in this war. I have 5 men with me, 1 SPC 5 and 4 SPC 4′s. We will be here until we accomplish or mission or until there is no possibility of completing it. Please don’t tell [my wife] where I am if she doesn’t know yet. She will only worry. Eight more months and I’ll tell you what the Signal Branch is really like, especially in Vietnam.
Things are OK with me. I thought I should tell someone where I am.

Love, Rod”

2 Feb 1968

“…I’m on the other side of he base discussing avenues of [Communist North Vietnamese enemy] approach from my area. Two rockets chug over us like freight trains. I crouch with the assistant S-3 as they hit [the main Army bunker]…
‘Goddamn it, Skipper. Goddamn it, he shouldn’t have died.’ His words seem so out of place. ‘I’m going to write to his wife.’ He looks to me for reassurance and approval.
‘What are you going to tell her, Lieutenant? That her husband is a hamburger sandwich?”
‘But he was a great guy. A first-class guy.’ He is almost choking.

‘Leave it be. Let her have her own dreams of him the way she wanted it to be.’

That doggie was just doing his job, like the rest of us. The world’s loss.”

-”Welcome to Vietnam, Macho Man – Reflections of a Khe Sanh Vet“, Ernest Spencer, U.S. Marine Corps, Corps Press; 2nd edition (July 1987), ISBN-13: 978-0961852900, pgs. 107-110

10 Feb 1968

“The memory of his service will be treasured by a grateful Nation because he has joined the long line of American soldiers who in times of national peril have given their lives for freedom and for peace. In Vietnam today, as on other fields in earlier days, we are defending the right of men to live in dignity and freedom.”
- Harold K. Johnson, General, United States Army Chief of Staff

15 Feb 1968

“Please accept my deepest sympathy on the death of your husband…
…The locale as well as the mission [he] was involved in is still classified, and I cannot give details as to either. I can say that [he] was fully aware of the danger involved in the assignment and accepted the assignment as his personal responsibility and privilege…he insisted on going to and remaining with the forward terminal to personally assure the correct organization and deployment of the team. This not only speaks of his devotion to duty, but of his personal convictions and strength of character.”
- William R. Crawford, Major, U.S. Army Signal Corps, Commanding

28 Feb 1968

“Mrs. Saltonstall and I lost our own son in World War II. We were proud of him, but felt his death keenly. So I can well understand your feelings now. But your husband’s action is helping, we hope, to create a more peaceful world in which our children and grandchildren may live in the days to come.”
- Leverett Saltonstall, 55th Governor of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

1 August 1968

“Rod was on a mission to provide long-line communications to the Marines in Khe Sanh… The Marines in Khe Sanh, who also received many casualties, received the Presidential Unit Citation from the President of the United States for gallantry against a hostile force in Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam. [Rod and his] Tropo Team who supported the Marines are included in this award.”
- Owen J. Driver, Jr., LTC, SigC, Commanding

12 Dec 1968

“I have the honor to inform you that Rod has been awarded posthumously the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart… Prior to his death, Rod was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon and Sharpshooter Bade with Rifle Bar.”
- Kenneth G. Wickham, Major General, USA, The Adjutant General

[unknown date] 1969

“The U.S. Command said abandonment of the [Khe Sanh] base in the northwest corner of South Vietnam where U.S. Marines suffered more than 2300 casualties in a 77-day siege last Winter ‘is part of a new concept of mobile warfare being put into operation,’ below the Demilitarized Zone…

Because of the importance U.S. officers publicly put on Khe Sanh while it was under siege for 77 days last Winter, its abandonment is a propaganda setback for the U.S. But veteran observers of the war don’t think the American military position is reduced significantly.”

- “Khe Sanh’s Day Done – War Becomes Mobile, Base Being Abandoned“, Associated Press, Saigon [unknown date]

Summer, 2001

“Dear Ernie:

Read your most sobering book on Khe Sanh. All of the men who served there, both alive and dead, are truly American heroes. I cannot thank you enough for your honest description of Rod’s character in your book…

His wife remarried an Air Force Pilot a year after his death…”

Rod’s Dad, who served in World War II in the Pacific

As we celebrate Memorial Day with family and friends at parades, baseball games, and backyard barbeques, let’s not forget to give thanks and remembrance to all the military men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion in service to their country – and to all the service people and their families who sacrifice every day to keep our Nation – and countless millions around the world – free.

Thanks for reading!

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