the lost american letter to stevenson

Editor's Note:

The following letter was written by Fred Cuny to his high school friend, Don Stevenson, in July 1994, following Fred's visit to Washington and the Vietnam Memorial. In the letter he refers to the time he spent with Veronica Long. She is the daughter of Carl Long, Fred's closest friend in high school and college, who was killed in Vietnam in December 1969. Carl's death always stayed with Fred. He rarely spoke about it, but it is clear from this letter that Fred's failure to join the Marine Corps and to serve in Vietnam along side of his high school buddies was a life-long source of guilt for him.

Through a fellow A&M student, Fred was able to establish contact with Veronica Long and exchanged a series of letters with her while he was in Bosnia. They only met once, in Washington, but Fred was looking forward to seeing her again, along with Carl's widow, in California in April 1995. Instead he was captured and killed in Chechnya.

Dear Don:

I thought I'd drop a line and tell you about my wonderful meeting in Washington with Veronica Long. I was invited to be a guest of the Commandant of the Marine Corps at a reception honoring the Secretary of the Navy and some of the Marines who were working on the Sarajevo operation. I took the opportunity--to invite Veronica to join me since a couple of the guys who knew Carl were going to be there. I sent her a ticket and she arrived a few hours before the festivities.

She is a beautiful, tall, statuesque blond with the curly hair her mother has. She looks just like Carl, the same nose and profile, has the same determination and self confidence he had, and loves to manage people (she's a department manager at a big store in San Diego). Her interests tend to the California girl thing--she loves the beach, has tried her hand at surfing, and loves the crowd.

We attended the reception at the Commandant's house, the oldest public building in Washington, and then an evening parade at the Marine barracks. It was a great evening, full of pomp and pageantry as only the Marines can put on, and the Commandant and several of his officers really made a fuss over Veronica.

We walked back to the capital and sat on the steps and talked about Carl for about two hours. The night was incredibly hot and muggy but the moon came out of the clouds and it was a perfect setting for our talks. She knew surprisingly little about him though she did have a picture of all of us taken at Don Pierce's house on New Year's eve in 1967. We were dressed in Kimonos and playing poker. I told her stories of Camp Dallas, of his marksmanship, of his lost love for Laura Slade, about handcuffing my date in the trunk of his car...and I only got started!

The next day we toured around Washington, visited museums and worked our way toward the Wall. All the while we talked about Carl and the gang.

Finally, late in the afternoon, we went to the memorial and found his name. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and one of the best. She really handled it well (much better than I). We both just hugged and cried for about 10 minutes. Then she straightened up, asked me to take a couple of pictures with her reflection over Carl's name and then we went over to a bench and sat and talked about the war and why Carl had wanted to go back the second time. I think that being at 8th and Eye the night before had given her an inkling of what attracted Carl to the Marines and what it means to feel real patriotism--a patriotism that transcends the horrors of a place like Vietnam, but not having been there myself, it was hard to answer all her questions. Talking with her helped me come to grips with my own feelings about the war and my still present feelings of guilt for not being there with Carl and you guys. When she asked, was it worth it, I finally felt I could say yes--not because of the war itself but because of the American army that was rebuilt because of that experience. We may have lost the war but we built a force that America can be proud of and which truly represents the values that our country stands for.

I don't know how we made it though the rest of the day but we did. I introduced her to some of my friends in the State Department and we had drinks with Ambassador Abramowitz and his wife, then dinner with the head of the Foreign Service. After dinner we drove through the city and walked around the floodlit monuments and talked about her and her family, her life in California, and her dreams for the future. She's really lovely, and fun to be with.

The next day, she caught an early flight back to San Diego. I was really sad to see her go afterward thought of so many more things that I should have told her about Carl. I guess they'll just have to wait until the next time. I told her about you, Steve (and gave her the hug you sent) and Warren so now she's anxious to meet all the guys. I thought that I might try to bring her to Dallas sometime early next year if we can get all the guys together.

Well, it's back to work. The Serbs just rejected the latest peace plan and so I've got to get my guys ready for another round of fighting and human misery. It seems that this will never end. At least I'm not in Rwanda (yet)!

Warm regards to the family--and many thanks for bringing Andy by, she's a sweetheart.


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