By DELANEY ABY SAALMAN
Editor’s note: Delaney just got his bachelor’s degree in English from Indiana University Southeast. This week, she replaces her father, Reporter columnist Scott Saalman.
One August afternoon, I discovered my father and his then-girlfriend (now my mother-in-law) hiding in the back conference room of a local restaurant. All around them, seemingly covering every surface, were meticulously preserved envelopes. Letters were scattered around the room and sorted into several piles. Upon further investigation, these piles were dated. Bright pink sticky notes marked them, careful not to damage their fragile exteriors. A stack was labeled May. Another one, July. Individual batteries for the remaining months as well: August through December.
The letters documented the summer of 1967.
I sorted through a few and felt I was touching pieces of history.
These letters, written by Bill and Nancy Young, documented their romance. A love story that spanned from Newburgh, Indiana, to Vietnam. In 1967, Bill was on active duty in Vietnam when a young graduate from Nancy Market decided to express her support for the brave men fighting for their country by joining a pen pal program. As fate would have it, she became related to Bill, a Pennsylvania native serving a three-year enlistment. What started as a young girl hoping to express some kind of patriotism ended not just in dozens of matches, but in a 50-plus-year marriage.
Bill and Nancy graciously presented their letters to my father. The language they used was powerful and the unique ideas they both offered about life and love still ring true today, inspiring my father to compile and transcribe these letters into book form. He hired me to co-edit and design the book, Vietnam War Love Story: The Love Letters of Bill and Nancy Young (1967)which is now available on Amazon.
Their story of falling in love across the globe without ever having met is certainly romantic. But what makes their story so special is in the very letters that bind them together. Their letters are beautiful. They are articulate, charmingly honest, and express a deep desire for connection.
In the months that I worked on this book, I was struck by the idea that I had never carefully recorded hundreds of text messages or e-mails like Bill and Nancy recorded their handwritten letters. – although technology facilitates this – nor do I communicate to others by electronic means, the way Bill and Nancy have spoken so eloquently to each other through their letters, which are filled with vibrant, earnest and descriptive writing :
- “Seven hours ago, I took the locket from your letter. Four hours ago, we fought our way out of a sniper ambush. It was hanging from my neck amongst my dog tags dripping amidst sweat on a bare chest, the next minute it was floating in the rice paddies, water and mud…I kid you not, as I fired 100 rounds and changed ammo, all I could think of your next letter and when I could feel a hand instead of paper… Those four big letters, that single word on the front, makes me wanna wear it to hell and to the back.
- “The only thing I have is love for you and a need that rivals that of flowers needing rain.”
- “The words and feelings you gave me…the love I fell into…have done more for me than anything in my life.”
- “With every letter I get, it seems like I only love you more. I’ve never been like this before. I don’t know what I did without you. You have to go home – that’s all I live for.
It is through this intense use of language that Bill and Nancy were able to fall so deeply in love with each other without even having met. Their use of letter writing as the only means of joining together created a mode of communication so powerful that it diminished all barriers between them until they knew they were meant to be one. the other.
Bill and Nancy’s love affair seems to be living proof of the power letter writing holds as a communication tool, as it joined two complete strangers from opposite sides of the world in a spanning marriage. over half a century.
During the time I spent editing this compiled book of cherished letters from decades ago, it became clear to me that there was something missing in the way we communicate. Something we began to lose the moment we began to neglect the art of letter writing in favor of our modern methods. I fear that the masterfully expressive use of language demonstrated by Bill and Nancy is something that is largely missing from the way we communicate with those around us today.
Although we can now text or call a loved one at any time, we should always find the time to write a letter that details what he means to us, a letter he will find in his mailbox as a affectionate surprise, reminding him of simpler things. times and the beauty of handwritten feeling. They will probably keep this letter for decades. I know I would. The Bill and Nancy of 1967 convinced me of that.
(Editor’s note: This is an abridged version of her graduation thesis. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Or better yet, write him a letter.)