War Then, War Now
It’s been 40 years since author Nancy Lynch and photographer Doug Elliott dealt firsthand with war. We may now be fighting in Iraq instead of Vietnam, but a lot more has also changed.
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It’s safe to say that the faces of war never change, simply the context in which those faces appear.
They typically belong to young men. The uniforms might change, from the “steel pots” of Vietnam to the digitally camouflaged Kevlar headgear of Iraq and Afghanistan. The vehicles improve and the weapons increase in their deadly effectiveness. But as battles rage, the faces, regardless of their generation, become steeled to the realities of death and destruction.
This month 40 years ago, United States involvement in Vietnam reached a peak of 543,400 troops, with 33,641 Americans killed. For young newspaper reporter Nancy Lynch of Bethel, who wrote the Wilmington Morning News column “Vietnam Mailbag” from 1968 to 1972, bringing that reality home to stateside readers in the form of letters from soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines was her five-year mission.
Lynch recently paged through those letters, compiling, organizing and illuminating them. Then she got back in touch with 12 of the former servicemen who wrote her most often during those years for her book “Vietnam Mailbag: Voices from the War, 1968-1972,” published last fall.
Included with the letters are photographs of correspondents, as well as pictures illustrating the daily lives of soldiers. Those photos were provided by Doug Elliott of Lewes, a tank crewman and combat photographer with the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1969.
For Lynch, writing the book was a way to bring the experiences and reflections on Vietnam full circle, allowing many of her wartime correspondents the opportunity to offer thoughts on the wars fought today.
“My one ground rule with the column way back when was tell it like it is, and they minced no words. And that’s what they did today,” she says. “And what I found was that their opinions didn’t waver in what they said today from what they were saying about Vietnam 35 or 40 years ago.”
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