Since last May, I’ve been exchanging letters with a man in prison. I first heard from him because a relative of his sent him a copy of one of my books. He, like me, had been in combat in Vietnam. He was a Navy corpsman, going into battle with Marines and treating their wounds. He was wounded and survived a helicopter crash. The grisly stuff he went through permanently damaged his soul. He, again like me, is subject to the rigors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, but he suffered traumata on the battlefield far beyond anything I faced. He is my brother in arms and a man I respect and admire.
He has now read three of my books and writes to me regularly. His letters are hand-written. He’s not allowed access to a typewriter or computer. So writing to me is a chore. That hasn’t stopped him.
Early on, I noticed the beauty of his writing. Then he sent me an article he had written about a patrol he had taken part in. With his permission, I edited the text and submitted it to the New York Times ’67 Vietnam series. The Times accepted it for publication.
John (not his real name) and I are still working together on articles for publication. He’s not trained in the craftsmanship side of writing, but he has what I call “the gift”—an innate understanding of how to put words together to create beauty. Of the hundred or so published writers I know, only four have the gift. John is one.
I don’t know why John is in prison or what his crime was. I don’t care. This is a man I revere. I’m honored that I can help him.