Last Updated Mar 29, 2021 8:05 PM EDT
The Vietnam War was so costly, so divisive, so fruitless. It's a war many Americans would rather forget — but the soldiers left an indelible record in their letters home, which have been collected by Andrew Carroll and are now on display in a virtual exhibit.
"They humanize the men and women who serve," Carroll said. "They remind us that they're not statistics. These are individual spouses and parents, children and best friends."
"My dearest wife," wrote Lieutenant Dean Allen, "Maybe sometime I'll even try to tell you how scared I have been." Allen was 27 at the time, and his men were younger.
"They grow up fast or get killed," he said, adding that he tried not to get close to them because "I damn sure don't want to lose a friend." Four days after he wrote that, Allen stepped on a land mine and lost his own life.
The letters are now online in an entirely virtual museum.
Carroll said he started in part with Vietnam because Monday is National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
"I also felt like the Vietnam veterans haven't gotten their due, so we thought it would be very impactful to begin with that," Carroll said. "And I've been so touched by how much the Vietnam veterans are reaching out to the younger generations coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, so it's just one more reason we felt they deserved the attention."
The exhibit also features never before heard audio letters between Colonel George S. Patton, the son of the legendary World War II general, and his wife.
At the center of the exhibit is a marine from the cover of Life magazine. His name was lost to history until Carroll found a letter from him.
"That's pretty much the last letter he wrote to his mother and he was saying very poignantly, 'I don't know what I'll do when I get home, but I know I'll like it.'"
Five decades later, we finally know is name — Lance Corporal Arthur Bustamante. He left us a picture of the face of war that will never die, and his own words to go with it.