THE SPRINGFIELD 50 PROJECT
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Lovett:
You don't know me and I don't know you. I did, however, know your son Bernie, and that's why I'm writing this letter. After these many years, I thought it might be of some comfort to you that there are people you don't even know who still remember your son.
This letter is being written on the eve of Veterans Day and it is more than coincidence. At the very least, I am reminded every Veterans Day how fortunate I am to even be alive and how Bernie missed everything I've enjoyed over the last twenty-two years. It is with a deep sense of guilt that I write this letter.
I met Bernie in OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia. During the last half of OCS, Bernie and I roomed together. I was married and my wife had moved to Columbus, Georgia, while I was in OCS. We had an apartment in Town and when we were able to, Bernie was invited to dinner. Between rooming together and feeding Bernie on the weekends, my wife and I got to know him very well. He had a dry sense of humor much like my own. When he realized that it annoyed me to be called "Jack," that's what he called me.
...After OCS, I was stationed at Fort Benning as a training officer and Bernie went to Fort Lewis, Washington. The next time I saw him was in Vietnam in July 1970. We were both assigned as advisors to MAT teams and sent to a training facility outside Saigon. We were there for three or four weeks trying to learn Vietnamese. We wound up playing a lot of basketball and pounding down beers. We were all scared and didn't know what was going to happen next. I was scared the day I arrived in Vietnam and I stayed scared until I arrived back in the United States. Bernie was the same way. You were scared but you still had to function. So we just kind of laughed it off.
MAT stood for Mobile Advisory Team and was one of many ill-fated programs instituted by the Army. When we completed our training, we were given our orders along with a map of Vietnam showing where we were going. Bernie was assigned to III Corps...I was sent to II Corps, or the area near Cambodia and Laos. Bernie and I looked at our maps and agreed that he got the better, safer assignment, being near Saigon. From the looks of it, my assignment didn't appear as promising and while Bernie didn't say anything, we both knew it didn't look good.
After we got to our respective assignments, Bernie and I continued to write to each other and compare experiences. I wound up on a hill overlooking the Laotian-Cambodian border. The North Vietnamese Army was all around us and I was working with Montagnards. Bernie was apparently in an area with a lot more Viet Cong. I wrote Bernie in Nov. and didn't get a reply. Sometime in December 1970, I got my letter back with a terse note stating Bernie had been killed on Oct. 16, 1970 during an ambush.
Over the last 22 years I've thought about Bernie a lot. I knew several guys who were killed in Vietnam, but clearly, Bernie's life and mine paralleled each other's most closely. Both College OCS. Both sent to Vietnam and assigned to MAT teams. I was just very lucky and Bernie wasn't. I have no idea why. I don't think I ever will. So I just say a prayer.
I've been to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington twice now. The last time was this spring. I saw Bernie's name. Panel 6 west, Line 4. I saw him shooting baskets at the base outside Saigon. What a great guy. What a shame. I know nothing can ease the pain of losing a son. All I can offer you is that Bernie is not forgotten.
May God Bless You,
John W. France
(page last revised 07/03/2004 06:56 AM -0400)
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