Hundreds and hundreds of letters have been left at the wall. This one carries a date that almost certainly is the day the event that haunts the writer took place.
17 September 1973
The things that I am going to say in this letter are about twenty years and a whole lifetime late, but maybe that won’t matter once they’ve been said.
I’ve taken the entire responsibility for your death on myself for this whole time. Even now, I intellectually know that there were many mistakes that led to your dying, some of them yours, too. I just have a hard time feeling like it’s not my fault.
We trusted each other, implicitly. We depended on each other. We supported each other. We shared a whole lot in the time that we knew each other: pain, hunger, sickness, triumph, laughter, and more than a little excitement. We even shared a lover, Death. Both of us wooed the bitch, but you won her.
What a deal for you. You know, I’ve never forgiven you for leaving me alone. I’ve been alone and lonely ever since.
Actually, it’s probably better that you won. The way things have been back here in the world . . . you’d have had a hard time. Hell, I’ve had a hard time and I was always the stable one. You’d have wound up dead or jailed.
I never thanked you for the times that you saved my life. Any more than you thanked me for the times that I saved yours. I kind of thought that it was understood, and didn’t matter. I mean, even if one of us had said thanks, the answer would have been “F— it. It don’t mean nothin’.” It does seem to mean something now. It’s important. Thanks.
It’s just that you’ve got to know that what happened was done for the best for all of us. We couldn’t help you; not without risking us all. We sure as hell weren’t going to leave you. It fell to me ‘cause I was your partner, I guess. After all, a man shoots his own dog, right? God help me. I can still smell your blood and that damned Wyler’s lemonade all over me.
I’ve been looking for forgiveness for twenty years, now. You can’t forgive me, now, even if you thought there was a need to. So, lately, I’ve been trying to forgive myself. You know, I feel like I got punished for doing what we all knew was the right thing. Nobody would talk about it (not like I would have wanted to); when I got back from R&R they gave me an FNG partner. I felt like it was a death sentence. Even that poor bastard paid for your death by way of my treatment of him.
I want you to know that I avenged your death many times over, that day. The bread that those dinks cast upon the waters was returned to them tenfold. That sounds kind of silly, but I know the vindictive kind of person you were and it would have been important to you. I guess it must have been important to me, but I think that I was trying to die, too. The incompetent bastards just couldn’t do me.
A lot of the guys who were there say they feel like they lost something in country. I know what I lost. I’ve always said that when you died, it was like killing the other half of myself. Maybe that’s not necessarily true. What I did lose was youth . . . all of the idealism, trust, self-confidence, and personal power that we had, either inside or drilled into us. I’m scared, now, most of the time, and I hurt a lot.
What happened to us has cost me a life as much as it cost you yours. I’ve never been able to get close to anyone since you died. My wife, my step-daughter, my son. I live in the past, ‘cause today hurts too much. I want out of the past. The war is over. I need my war to be over, too.
I never got to say goodbye. So I’ve come to this monument to have a little memorial service and to say goodbye and to let you go. I’ll never forget you, don’t worry about that. Hell, I’m a living testimony that you were good at what we did.
Goodbye, John. If there is a caring, Christian God, I hope that he has forgiven both of us and taken you with all of our brother warriors to a peaceful final reward.
Your partner, J.C.