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The letter

Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.

Those who survived the Vietnam War are thankful to God for bringing them home and providing the necessary strength to conquer the fears that a man faces when he knows that the enemy has the means by which to destroy his life. However, there is more to war than what has been described here. War is filled with terror, tragedy, hate, and loneliness. This perhaps was first described Cpl. Walter J. Slatoff when he wrote this letter to his son during the Second World War.

My Son,

War is more terrible than all the words men can say, more terrible than man’s mind can comprehend. It is a corpse of a friend, one moment ago a living human being with thoughts and hopes and a future — just exactly like yourself— now nothing. It is the eye of men after battle, like muddy water, light less. It is cities — labor of generations lost — now dusty piles of broken stone and splintered wood, dead. It is a total pain of 100 million parted loved ones — some for always. It is the impossibility of planning a future, the uncertainty that mocks every dream. Remember, it is a reality of these things not the words.

It is the sound of an exploding shell. A moment of silence, then the searing scream “Medic” pasted urgently from throat to throat. It is the groans and the pain of the wounded and the expression on their faces. It is the sound of new soldiers crying before battle, the louder sound of their silence afterwards. It is the filth and itching and hunger, the endless body disco fort, the feeling like an animal, the fatigue so deep that to die would be good. It is the battle, which is confusion, fear, hate, death, misery, and much more. The reality — not the words. Remember!

It is the evil, sickening knowledge that, sooner or later, the law of averages will catch up with each soldier; the horrible hope that it will take the form of a wound not maiming or fatal. It is boys of 19, who might be in the schoolroom or flirting in the park, husbands who might be telling their wife of a raise — tender and happy eyed, fathers who might be teaching a son to throw a ball — bright with pride. It is these men, mouths dry and insides ugly, with fear and hate, driving a bayonet into other men’s bodies. It is “battle fatigue,” a nice name for having taken more than the brain or the heart can stand and taking refuge in the shadowy, unreal world.

It is the maimed coming home, dreading pity, dreading failure, dreading life. It is many million precious years of humans lives lost, and the watching of the loss, day by day, month by month, year by year, until hope is an ugly, sneering thing. Remember! Remember! And multiply these things by the largest number you know. Then repeat them over and over again until they are alive and burning in your mind. Remember! Remember! What we were talking about. Not words, not soldiers, but human beings just like yourself. And when it is in your mind so strongly you can never forget, then seek how you can best keep the peace.

Work it this hard with every tool of thought and love you have. Do not rest until you can say to every man who ever died for freedom “You did not die in vain.”

Love, Dad

The Vietnam War is history. The monument has not been built for the fallen. Those who survived and remember, this is your monument. We salute you. Comments email me at

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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,

1st Cav/9th Infantry


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