Nancy Lynch

Delaware author revives voices from Vietnam
By Andrea Miller
Staff Reporter
Volume 24, No. 46 • November 13, 2007

From the early 1960s through 1973, hundreds of thousands of American men and women served in
Vietnam in an undeclared and highly controversial war. During its height, Nancy Lynch, then a young
reporter, corresponded with Delaware soldiers stationed in the war zone for a local newspaper column
that aimed bring hope and a human face to the war.

Today, to honor those who served, Lynch is writing a book entitled Vietnam Mailbag: Voices from the
War, 1968-1972, featuring the original letters as well as contemporary interviews with soldiers who wrote
her decades ago.

When she opened the old cardboard computer box and began sifting through 900 letters from Vietnam for
a book she was finally ready to write after nearly four decades, the magnitude of the treasure she had
began to dawn on Nancy Lynch. It was a priceless time capsule and it was saying, “write me and write
me now,” Lynch recalls.

The collection contained the views, hopes, fears and observations of hundreds of Delaware soldiers who
corresponded with Lynch from the Vietnam war zone for a column she wrote for the Wilmington
Morning News (now The News Journal) during the height of the war, from 1968 to 1972.

The column wasn’t quite an editorial, it wasn’t quite a feature, and it wasn’t anything any other
newspaper seemed to be doing at the time.

As the column grew from once a week to three times a week, Lynch’s editors let her shape it the way she
wanted to. The young reporter, just 21 when the project began, decided to make it a real exchange, a
correspondence, responding to every note, asking questions and encouraging the soldiers to tell it like it
was, printing what seemed most human, and quietly passing along requests for Delaware flags or more
copies of the paper so each could be filled by other staff members to encourage those writing.

“There was no roadmap for this,” Lynch, now 61, recalls, “and it turned out to be far more personal than
the dry war reports that appeared on the 6 p.m. news.”

Today, experts say the letters may be the largest in tact primary source for a social history of the era, but
even back then, she knew she had something special. The experience – to be a part of something that
helped ease the pain of soldiers and family back home as the nation was torn apart by conflict over the
controversial war – had been deeply gratifying.

Someday, she hoped to write about it.

Lynch worked for the paper another five years after the war and project ended, and eventually left to
become a freelance writer and raise a family with her husband Lawrence B. Steele III in rural Bethel.

By the mid 1980s, the country was finally giving the Vietnam veterans a thanks for their service. But for
Lynch, immersed in parenting two young boys, there was little time for writing books. She gathered the
letters from drawers, nooks and filing cabinets into a Radio Shack cardboard box and relegated them to
the loft of a falling down old barn behind her 1850s farm house for safe keeping.

There the box sat for more than 20 years, until 2006, sons grown and a name as a freelance writer well
established, Lynch went looking for it. She found a mouse nested among the letters, but amazingly,
nearly all, still in their original envelopes, were in tact, along with the columns she had written and
carefully clipped from the paper.

She hadn’t reread a single one since the column ended. Now, sifting through them, tracking down the
veterans again, reconnecting with them and starting to write, she discovered a deep feeling that this is
what she was always meant to do.

“All the years of writing, it’s all been preparation for this book,” she says.

Lynch envisions the book as a thanks to the men and women who risked their lives for their country
and often came home to scorn rather than honor.

For the book, Lynch plans to include the full text of many of the original letters, augmented by
photographs, memorabilia, and contemporary interviews with veterans. She hopes to feature two from
each of the five years the column ran.

So far, she has completed three, and it’s been a wonderful reunion, she says. A few have made a vocation
of educating this generation about the Vietnam War. But for others, the interviews have taken them on
an emotional journey to a place they have not talked about in a very long time. The veterans’ interests
and views run the gamut, just as the letters did back then, she says, but their support for the book has
been unanimously supportive.

Vietnam Mailbag: Voices from the War, 1968-1972 was released by Portfolio Books in 2008.

Lynch has co-authored six Delaware-themed coffee table books with award-winning photographer Kevin
Fleming, who owns Portfolio Books. Fleming is the Mailbag project’s photo editor, and its senior editor is
Larry Nagengast, a former editor and reporter who served in the Navy during the Vietnam era.|
Delaware Military History