The Vietnam War is not a popular subject in the United States, especially considering the thousands of men who were drafted and had to go there and fight, and the families of those whose soldiers did not come back.
The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities. At least 58,220 U.S. service members died in the conflict, according to archives.gov. My husband and eight of my brothers-in-law are Vietnam veterans.
A few years ago, I found a brown plastic box that looks like a book with the title “War and Peace” on it among many other things in a large box I bought at an auction in Pembroke. In the box, I found a collection of letters from a soldier, Sp/4 Benjamin C. Henderson from Chicago, Illinois. Also in there was a certificate from St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago with his little handprint on it, name, date of birth and weight. He was born Aug. 8, 1939, and there also was a certificate on his brother, born the next year. I have tried in vain to contact this family and see if they would like this collection back. We found out that Benjamin died Oct. 29, 1972, at the young age of 33.
The letters were written by Henderson to his parents. The family was well-educated, and he loved his family and counted the days until his return home. Henderson wanted to continue his education and become a teacher, as he thought this was his calling. He continuously was advising his brothers to do well in college so they could make something of themselves. Henderson always was inquiring about the health of his grandparents and enjoyed getting letters from his grandma.
Benjamin enlisted in the Army on Feb. 18, 1963, at the age of 23, and was released Feb. 17, 1965.
Here are some of the highlights of his letters:
“19 Mar 64, Sadec, Vietnam: We are approaching the rainy season here. In a month or two we will be on the receiving end of four hours of rain a day. I can hardly wait. Oh, brother! I enjoy the yearbook you sent and the magazines. They offer some diversion from the everyday toil. McNamara just left after bolstering the Vietnamese morale and pledging unlimited support for the duration of the war. The whole world is watching! Time is slowing down to a dribble only because I’m so conscious of its passing. I can’t wait until my term is over. Freya Stark wrote: ‘There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we love.’ Did you get my $115 check?”
“24 Apr 64, Sadec, Vietnam: Our ray of sunshine, the USO show, ‘Springtime with the Girls,’ is here again. We laughed, clapped and laughed some more and felt fulfilled and also frustrated. The one-hour show was enough to give a hint of western civilization which everyone misses so terribly. The girls were pretty, professional and pleasant. My, my, my! I’m learning to drive here in Vietnam. It’s not coming as easy as I thought it would. They have standard shift jeeps, and the roads are so crowded near the compound that I am having a hard time. I was appointed radio chief, and there is a good chance I’ll get promoted to E-4 before I leave. The weather has been 98 degrees the last five days, and it is just beginning to warm up.”
“12 May 64, Sadec, Vietnam: It is 5:30 a.m., the guards are making their last rounds of the compound, the Vietnamese kitchen help has just arrived to prepare breakfast and the Mekong River, which runs adjacent to our compound, is coming to life with boats of all sizes carrying everything from wild geese to enemy rifles, and I sit here tired and haggard, having been on shift since 11 p.m. I guess Daddy is getting a little fatter around the middle, but I know he’ll soon be able to see the beautiful scenic campus of Central State in June when his son, in cap and gown, walks through the elevating sunken gardens. Did you receive my check? Mother, great good luck in your quest for a business master’s degree. There’s no doubt, you’ll succeed!”
“1 June 64, Bien Hoa: I have been transferred to another site 30 miles north of Saigon. It is much nicer here. There are two large, spacious rooms in each house with two men in each room. My bed is as big as Daddy’s. This has a porch with sofas on it and grass out front and an icebox to each house. We have housemaids, $5 per month, who wash, iron and clean everything. There are tennis and basketball courts here, and the people are helpful and friendly. I am still working as a RTT operator. They make extra money here for rations allowance, so I’ll be able to send more home. They put me on duty driver the second day I was here and I gave everyone a scare, but my driving is getting better! Praise a fool and he might improve!”
“6 July 64, Bien Hoa: Greetings from the Far East, where the Vietnamese (with superior U. S. Advisory Aid) are engaged in a vicious and nasty struggle to rid their land of Communist insurgents and return to peace and to practice the Democratic way of life. I guess that’s the story — I’m not altogether sure! We took up a collection for the Vietnamese workers here on the compounds, maids, kitchen help, etc. You never saw a happier group in your life. These people who work here at the compound work really hard and deserved it. Pray for me. Your loving son, Benji.”
There were many other letters, but space does not allow any more parts to be written. Benjamin did get back home, and I am sure he became the teacher he wanted to be. He also married Patsy. I would love to know how his short life ended. Thank you for serving our country, Sp/4 Benjamin C. Henderson and all other soldiers!
The lost lives from Long County during the Vietnam War whom I could find are: John Darvin Bell, Thomas Gale Gaines, Harry Lawrence McLamb, William Edward Sapp, Jimmy Tavy Smiley, Thomas Clinton Smith Jr. and Millard Leon Treadwell Jr.
The lost lives from Liberty County come from Robert Groover’s list in the book “Sweet Land of Liberty”: Ronald J. Ensley Jr., William R. Gregory, John Gibson, Floyd D. King Sr., Oscar B. Lyles, Jr., James Dan Ninkey and Franklin L. Smiley. There may be others, but I looked in all the sources I knew to look in.