The following story appeared in the August 12, 2000, edition of The Tampa Tribune. Written by Judy Hill, the "Joey" referred to in the article is our own Eddie Hancock.
Published by permission of David Hardin, Assistant Managing Editor, The Tampa Tribune.
Eddie today, and Eddie on LZ Ike (referred to in the story) in 1969
still relay horrors of Vietnam
The war's 30 years in his past.
But it lingers like bad food.
Unlike World War II or the Korean War, his conflict didn't earn any who fought it public acclaim.
No parades were held when they came home. Most rotated in and out of Vietnam alone and were unprepared for the dizzying journey that transported them from the battlefield to the mall in a matter of hours or days.
In fact, the antiwar atmosphere in America encouraged Vietnam vets to keep the war to themselves.
To keep silent.
To hide what to them should have been at least an honorable experience.
So the memories festered like long-buried splinters.
Joey, as we'll call him, is just one who served and suffered the consequences.
At least his year in Vietnam with an infantry division was not as traumatic as some, even though he was twice wounded by shrapnel.
He doesn't think the war ruined his life. But he does now understand that it left its marks on his body and spirit.
And only now can he talk about it.
Thanks to the letters.
During 12 months in Vietnam, from September 1969 until September 1970, Joey wrote 13 letters to his oldest and dearest childhood friend.
The letters welled with fear, longing, loneliness, isolation. They were threaded with talk of cars, girls, sex, money, booze, drugs and blood.
``Just as we started to move into the wood line, with me walking point, a big explosion went off about 45 meters in front of me. Boy, was I ... scared. I hit the ground ...
``You won't believe this. Here I am sitting here telling you all this stuff and a big explosion goes off across the clearing. All of a sudden everybody's firing and [the enemy] is all around ...''
He was a kid. Just 20. Not hard or tough as nails, though he tried to set a tone in the letters of youthful bravado.
That he has the letters at all is a testament to friendship.
His buddy saved them, bound them and presented ``Letters From Vietnam'' to Joey on Veterans Day last year with this preface:
``After 30 years (how can it be that long?) these letters still bring chills - and tears. Your year in Vietnam and your combat experience made crystal clear that death was very possible, even for young immortals like us ... I am proud of what you did, and that you are my friend. Thank God you came home - and - Thank you for your service to our country.''
Joey is still stunned by the impact of that immense but simple gift. Much of the anger melted away as he read his old letters. He was so touched that he contacted some of the vets he served with in Vietnam and put together a reunion of his company, held in Atlanta a few months ago.
After years of keeping his experiences bottled up, he was finally able to share them with others who understood completely.
``A battalion (approx. 300) ... tried to over-run the L.Z. They started at midnight and fought till dawn. We killed 51 of them and took 6 prisoners. We had one man killed and 27 wounded, no one real seriously, though. There were bullets flying all over and mud flying just like in the movies. I was scared to death. I know for sure I killed four.''
But being able to talk about the war doesn't mean he wants to.
The letters had to be squeezed out of him like pus from a wound.
He shares them, he says, only to help other vets and to enlighten the general public.
``I guess if I can help in any way, I probably should.''
Duty calls. Again.
Judy Hill can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 259-7812, by fax at (813) 259-7676 or by writing her c/o The Tampa Tribune, P.O. Box 191, Tampa FL 33601.
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Updated October 09, 2000