Four hundred twenty-one letters —that’s the number that Ken Ford received while on active duty in Vietnam from November 1967 to November 1968. Each of the 421 were sent to him by his wife, Jeralee.
“Every single day she wrote at least one letter,” Ford said. “I received them all.”
My assignment yesterday was to attend and report on a wreath laying ceremony to honor veterans of Vietnam.
I arrived at Greenwood Cemetery a little before 1p.m. The sun was shining; the sky was blue; the wind was whipping through the air.
The brief ceremony was conducted, which included a few words, the laying of the wreath and a three-round volley. (I admittedly jumped each time the shots were fired. In a crowd of veterans, I was clearly a bit naive – as far as weaponry goes.)
To add depth to my story, I started conversing with some of the men involved in the ceremony. They shared stories with me from the years of service.
I did not fully grasp all of the terminology or understand the location changes they experienced, but one story transcended them all.
I was just about to retreat to my car, head back to the office and write up the story. One man that I had been talking to began one last story.
“You know,” he said, “One thing always stands out to me…”
He began to tell me of how during his time in Vietnam (a few days short of a year) his wife, who was at home in San Diego, wrote him at least one letter every day he was gone.
When he first departed, she was left to care for a 5-month son and a soon-to-be-born daughter.
She wrote him, diligently, day by day – some days even more than once. She numbered each one, as he did not always receive them in the correct order. Some days he said the mailman would deliver a stack of letters, all labeled with his name, all sent from his wife.
By the time he was to return home, he had in his possession 421 letters.
421. Letters. Sent to him while on active duty. Each from his wife.
If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. This was not a movie or a sappy Nicholas Spark’s novel.
This was real, tangible life.
I was amazed, honored and inspired to hear this man’s story.
I am learning the importance of listening, of really connecting with those I am interviewing, of allowing them to be open and share some details that don’t matter as much to make way for the ones that really do.