Hidden stories from the past uniquely find their way into the present, leaving an indelible imprint. This is one of those stories. 1970 was a challenging year for America. The United States sent an additional 334,600 active military troops overseas to Vietnam to continue the U.S. war efforts against the spread of communism.
Meanwhile, at an elementary school in Racine, Wis., a third grade class was writing letters to those brave, unknown soldiers who were fighting a battle across the globe––not really knowing what war was. Somehow, a 23-year-old man already knew what it was like: the soldier who received my letter. His name was Mike Conrad, serving in the 101st Airborne. I can recall the sheer happiness and excitement upon receiving a response back in an airmail envelope personally addressed to me. And, I bet Mike was equally thrilled to receive my letter.
American soldiers were drafted to fight for freedom and ideology in Vietnam, and in a way, we all are now drafted into a different kind of war. Back then it was serving on the battlefield and keeping a clean locker. Now it’s staying home and wearing masks when we go out. During the shelter-in-place, I decide to do some deep cleaning. Tucked away in the back of our closet was a cardboard box of memories nearly forgotten with time.
I opened the box which contained my childhood keepsakes: artwork, report cards, photos and Mike’s letter. I picked up the neatly-folded letter and re-read it. I held a snapshot of history in my hands -“Your friend, Mike Conrad.” His name kept ringing throughout my head and truly moved me into action. I wondered where he was now, and if he would even remember the little girl who wrote to him 50 years ago.
I did some online research to try and connect with him. Sure enough, I found a Mike Conrad in Gastonia, N.C. It had to be him! As I dug a bit deeper, I sadly learned that he passed away in January 2019. I was now, more than ever, determined to get a copy of Mike’s letter to his family. “Such a touching surprise,” were her words in an email back to me, “joyful and bittersweet at the same time.” Becky emailed me a photo of Mike during his service in Vietnam, and as an unexpected surprise, a copy of my letter that I had written back to Mike, dated February 3, 1970.
Even though Mike is not here with us today, 50 years later he managed to help unite two families—all with a simple stroke of a pen, "Your Friend, Mike."