When I was 19, and going to a school in Kansas City, Mo. my friend and I would get candy out of the candy machine and send it to Co A, 5th Bn, 7th Cav, 1st Air Cav. Div. who were fighting in Vietnam. The pictures from those men along with the cards and letters are still precious to me. We sent letters to over 187 service members who were fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. After many years and the beginning of the Gulf war, I got our hotel to "adopt" a marine unit. We would send them boxes once a month. When they came home, there was a big party for them put on by the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa. To be in the same huge ballroom with these marines in their uniforms along with the Vietnam vets was a night I will never forget.
A Marine Lt. Col. stood and called his men to attention. They all turned and saluted the vets. it brought the wounded warriors to tears. Then it got quiet as the Marines took their seats. All of a sudden someone from the back of the ballroom at a table called out "ATTENTION.". You saw Vietnam vets stand, some with only one leg, one on his cart, as he had no legs, some missing arms. They all stood or at least tried. They turned to the Marines and saluted them back. The room became silent as the Lt. Col. turned and with misty eyes saluted a man at the table across the room. Then the two men walked to each other and threw their arms around each other.
As it turns out, they served together in Vietnam and neither knew what happened to the other until that night. They spent the rest of the evening with their wives catching up and "swapping stories."
During the evening I was to give a speech, which I hate. But when it came time, I instead gave a toast to Pvt. Doyle Travis Anderson who during Vietnam would write me letters and told me that when he came home they would have a big parade for him, just like in the movies for John Wayne. He knew he was a hero for what he was doing. It's just too bad the rest of America didn't know it.
Doyle Travis Anderson was the driver of the truck for deliveries and U.S.O. tours coming in. He had a pet monkey. He never got that parade as he hit a land mine and was killed in June 29, 1968. So I said "This is to you Pvt. Doyle Travis Anderson. Welcome home, Pvt."
My other mentor was a young trooper name Wayne Hedemann from Kealakekua HI
Doyle was from a very small town in Washington. And from a big, very poor family. He was drafted out of high school and was sent to Vietnam. I got his name off of a list that was published in the newspaper(in those days all troops addresses were put into the paper for
Them to receive mail from the states)
I began to write to him and his letters were often and filled with the scenes and sounds of Vietnam. His story of the monkey he found and it became his pet. And how he had an easy job of driving the "Donut Dollys" and USO workers back and forth to the Base he was at.
His letters were very humble, and kind. And then all of sudden the letters stopped.
One day I was at the store where my mother worked and in front of me was a woman who my mother was checking out and her check had her name ,and my mother told her "my daughter writes to an Anderson from Arlington. Are you related"
The woman began to cry and said ,"yes, that was my son ,he was killed last week,but he never wrote much so I dont have much of my son"
I went home took all the letters tied them with a ribbon .and took them to my mother .
My mother told me that when Mrs Anderson came in again. She just gave the letters to the mother, Mrs Anderson. Just looked at my mom
And began to cry and told my mother to tell me thank you.
I have visited Doyles grave in Arlington,Washington. And in the country,open on a hill and all alone. But I dont think Doyle is alone any longer.
Wayne was a Attack Helicopter Pilot
On May 13th 1970 (Cambodia)
Larry Pucci and Wayne Hedeman had been flying a holding pattern near by calling in the shoot-down on the radio and trying to locate enemy anti-aircraft guns to take them out. Steve got on the radio and directed Larry to the gun position. Larry started a rocket and gun run on the enemy position and halfway through the run Wayne took an anti-aircraft round through the neck. 19-year old Larry Pucci broke away from the enemy and desperately flew as fast as he could to the Tay Ninh hospital but it was too far and Wayne bled to death at 25 years old on the way. I met Waynes mother at the Hyatt hotel when I was working there. And she told me about her son. And he became my "mentor" and many,many times I have talked to Wayne. Its something I have done for over 25 years. And his picture sits on my desk.
See May 13th is my birthday
In 2003, my son was called up to go to the middle East. "It now hits closer to home for me." When I went to Fort Riley, Kansas to say goodbye to my son, I met a young man who didn't have any family there to say goodbye to him. I asked if I could "adopt" him and another who was there with his wife and son and going back for his second time. That is how it started. With 2 troopers then 4, then 10, then 20, and then 150. It has now grown to over 90,000 troops that have asked to receive boxes for themselves and others in their units. With each new Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine, and Coast Guardsman that comes in, we have doubled the numbers of those who want to be "Adopted."
With the call on Nov. 11 from my son in Iraq, saying "now, mom dont worry", "I am alright" a mother's fear comes true
My son was wounded by an IED on Nov.10th 2006 And so with this knowledge my Quest has become very personal
Dennis was diagnosed with TBI and now MS. But I have my son. And I am grateful.