LETTERS FROM AFAR
So many service men and women have died in wars. It’s easy to think of them generically as “soldiers,” but the book “Letters from Vietnam by Jackie” offers a glimpse into the heart and mind of a U.S. soldier who died in action in the Vietnam War.
The book was compiled by Belen resident Eileen Beaty, who was a young secretary working in the bustling city of Chicago when she answered an ad in a small Chicago newspaper.
“It said, ‘Write a serviceman, we need to tell our boys we care for them,’” Beaty said. “I am extremely patriotic, and so I wrote a letter.”
She decided to use a pseudonym, “Jackie,” after her idol, Jacqueline Kennedy.
Little did she know she would be swept up into the daily realities of war by a Marine who had left a seminary to serve his country.
She changed the name of the soldier for the book, and calls him Dave Conrad, in respect to any surviving family members. But almost every letter is reprinted word-for-word, she said.
The letters reveal a young man of high ideals, unsure of what he wants to do with his life.
According to his first letter, dated Dec. 8, 1965, he had been studying the social sciences at Marion University, but in his third year, “My high ideals fell … and I became dissatisfied with my progress, hence the Marine Corps.”
He wrote that he believed he knew what he wanted from life, but something was missing.
He was on a “quest” for something he couldn’t explain, and seems influenced by the zeitgeist of the times.
“I’ve been searching for that unknown for some time, and it may be some time before I discover it,” he writes Beaty. “This probably all seems crazy to you, Jackie. It just seems to me there should be more in life than a box of conformity, war and a thousand people who want a thousand things.”
Apparently he had more than a few years in the seminary because he talks about a friend, Gene, who was “three years behind me in the goal of becoming a priest at Mount St. Mary’s.”
In another letter, he shares an experience he had on a fishing trip in Minnesota in a pre-dawn boating excursion on Lake Big Sandy.
“Everything was quiet and still and the lake was placid, very placid,” he wrote. “It was at that moment, just prior to sunrise, that I had this very strange feeling. I felt as though God, nature and I were one.”
Pursuing a career in politics was also alluring to him because, “I can’t be content with other peoples’ decisions in politics.”
Letter-by-letter, the 26-year old confides his feelings about the war, and his experiences in the villages around the air strip in Phu-Bai.
He is torn by the humanity he feels for the Vietnamese people, and the threat that any one of them could be an infiltrated Viet Cong soldier.
He wrote Beaty about an orphanage he visited regularly, and some of the children he encountered in the villages, such as a little boy, Timmy, who was shunned for being the son of a Viet Cong.
Conrad rarely made requests to Beaty, but on this occasion, he asked her if she would send some clothes for the boy.
In the book, there is a picture of Timmy wearing an American T-shirt.
“If you look real close at that T-shirt, you’ll see it says, ‘Chicago Cubs,’” she said.
Conrad said he had a hard time getting the boy to take off the T-shirt to wash it.
The letters also read like a romance novel, because Conrad develops a deeper attachment to Beaty as their correspondence continues.
“Every woman I give my book to, they love it,” Beaty said. “Men don’t like it that much, but women do.”
She was dating her future husband when she got the final letter, dated Jan. 5, 1967, telling her Conrad had been killed in action.
Beaty dedicated the book to all U.S. Service men and women.
Beaty is a long-time resident of Belen. She and her husband, James Beaty, came to New Mexico 40 years ago because of her asthma.
“What we did was we took a trip out to Albuquerque, and we got a realtor to show us a house in Belen,” she said. “I didn’t want to live in Albuquerque, because I had horses.”
They sold their 88-acre farm and Hereford cattle for the move.
They have lived in Belen for most of the 40 years, but lived in Veguita for a few years.
The idea to reprint the letters evolved when Beaty’s mother mailed the letters to her.
She had forgotten all about them, Beaty said.
“I started going through them and reading them,” she said. “I had a lady from Albuquerque at my house, and she started reading the letters, and she said, ‘Boy, he’s interesting.’ And then another lady friend of mine that lived in Veguita came by, and I showed her the letters.
“She said the same thing the first lady said, ‘Wow, this guy is interesting.’ So I decided to type them out.”
At this time, Beaty lived in Veguita. During her quiet days in the tranquil, little community, she began to type the letters. Two incidents occurred that made her commit to typing them.
“As I’m typing these letters, I hear a push (thump) against the trailer, but no one was there,” Beaty said. “The next day, when I started typing, a picture fell off the wall, and I said, ‘OK, what’s he trying to tell me?’ Because again, nobody was there.”
She kept typing, and from then on “the little things stopped,” she said.
When she had them completed, she began looking for a publisher.
The little volume of letters is published by Trafford Publishing.
Beaty will hold a book signing event at the Los Lunas Hastings, 2341 N. Main Street, from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, June 7.
Books can also be purchased from the publisher by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Letters from Vietnam by Jackie,” is also available at www.Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The book is also available at The Branch Books, Gifts and Expresso, 2357 Main St. in Los Lunas.
Beaty is currently looking into selling her book at local galleries and vendors.
She will be at the Veteran’s Hospital gift shop in Albuquerque to promote the book this summer.
For more information, call Eileen Beaty at 514-9567.
-- Email the author at email@example.com.