October 18, 1971
I am writing this letter to you to let you know how much your daddy misses you. You are only three years old, but you seem so much wiser than your age demands you to be. Mommy, Jennifer, and I are relying on you, our "little man," to help us get through this year in which we are apart. It is very difficult, I know, to be away from those you love, but I am very thankful that you are with mommy, because by being the beautiful, sensitive person that you are, you are able to stem some of the gnawing loneliness which mommy feels.
Jennifer is very lucky, she is too young to know the sadness which the three of us "older folks" feel. But one of the aspects of growing up is the unfortunate need to lose the things which we love the most. If we are very lucky, we find a greater love than we have ever known before when what we have lost is finally returned. Some people say, "Live for today, for tomorrow may never come." We, a family, are in a situation where "To live for today" can lead only to despair. We must seek that elusive "Tomorrow," for our "Tomorrow" is the only hope that we as a family have. And when our "Tomorrow" comes, we will look back and realize that we have gone through a lot of lonely "Todays." My only hope is that "Todays" such as these never befall us again. If we are lucky, we will look back on all of this year's "Todays" as one whole family, realizing that the oneness that we feel is partly a result of the separation which we have been forced to endure.
When you grow older, you will find that our separation grows dimmer in your memory. When this happens, you will again be able to start living all of the "Todays" of your life. Look on this period of our lives as a valuable lesson. Remember how you felt when you realized that daddy wasn't coming home for a long time. Remember, and do everything in your power to keep from doing the same thing to your children, and your wife, or to anyone that you love.
Sometimes, we are forced to do things which cause so much pain in other people. I was forced to come to Vietnam, thereby hurting you. But remember this - many times we are "forced" of our own choosing. Nineteen days ago, I would have been out of the Army, but I chose to reenlist. I knew when I signed those papers a year ago that I would be coming to Vietnam. A year ago, we were all together. Jennifer was only a dream in our hearts, and the future was bright. We were all very practical then. We thought of traveling together and seeing the world. We planned on how we would build our "dream house" together. We could think these thoughts for one reason - because we were together.
I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that living for today has its time and its place. But it is up to you to make sure that you can live life to the fullest every day of your life. Love cannot be rationalized. You can't look at your Vietnams as a necessary evil. You have the power to keep a Vietnam from ever entering your life. And I hope that after you've taken care of your life, that you will have enough love and enough desire to try to keep these Vietnams out of the lives of all of the people in the world. The future of the world is in your hands, and in the hands of all of the beautiful people like you.
Just remember this - nothing is worth the loneliness that we feel today. Sure, there are benefits to be derived from this time of separation. The biggest gift is that I have the chance to sit back and look at my life as a whole. If it wasn't for Vietnam, I would probably never write a letter like this to you. Someday, when you are older, I hope that you read these words and are able to understand how I feel now - without being forced to feel it yourself.
Your life is your own, Jeff, to do with as you see fit. Control your own destiny, and let no one stop you from doing what you believe is right. Let your heart - not just your mind - do your thinking for you. And if you follow these thoughts, you may be able to love someone as much as I love you.
Take heed to what mommy tells you, Jeff. Listen to her philosophy of love, because she is right. The world has lived a philosophy of hate for too long. It is time for a change.
Mommy has given me three reasons to have hope for the future - you, Jennifer and her self. If you can live life as your mother hopes that you will, and as I do too, this old world will have another chance. I only hope that you have someone in your life who means as much to you as mommy does to me. If you ever find this someone, and you are sure that she is the real truth in your existence, the only all-encompassing thought in your life, you will be ready to lead the greatest life that any man has ever lived. And, as the song goes, "once you have found her, never let her go."
To let her go means to feel as I do now - one letter from your mother in the past eight days, one letter to give me some tangible contact with home. If I wasn't here, I wouldn't need a letter. I would have my life around me all the time. But now, I feel worried, I feel lost, but most importantly, I feel so very, very alone, and loneliness is something which only you can prevent. My life, at this time, is built around two parts of the day called "mail call." May you never know what it is like to wait for one, only to find that there is nothing there for you. It's up to you Jeff.
So now I will close this letter to you. Remember that I love you all more that these few words can say. I only hope that someday, this love will be in your heart too. If it is, your life will have been a benefit to at least your own small part of a planet called earth, and your life will generate the greatest life you can give to another - a life of love.