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GI still recalls supermodel’s letter

In Vietnam in 1965/66, our lifeline to the “World” (What we, in my unit, called the United States) was a slender connection maintained by snail mail.

In an era before cellphones and computers, mail was all there was. Some had tape recorders, but you still had to mail the tape.

My best buddy in country was Mike. Mike was a Polish American Jew from L.A. I was a German American Lutheran from Medford, population a bit over 20,000 back then.

Vietnam was times of terror and times of intense boredom. In between were times of crazy. The following is a story driven by boredom.

Mike and I obtained a copy of an American magazine with pictures of Jean Shrimpton. Jean was one of the top models, maybe the top model, in the world. She was in her early 20s and was voted as having the world’s most beautiful face. She was gorgeous.

Mike and I decided to write her in care of the magazine. We were like 13-year-old boys, giddy at the prospect of sending Jean a heartfelt letter. We wrote things like: We dubbed her the woman we would most like to share a bunker with, and we would love to walk the Ho Chi Minh Trail with her.

What we said in the letter is not important. What was important to us was that in our minds we left our crazy world for a short time. We addressed the letter and wrote “Free” where the stamps go. All mail sent from the war zone was free. You still had to write free where the stamps went.

If you think about it for a moment; there was no post office, and even if there was, we could not carry stamps with us. So, a perk from being shot at and counting days left until we could leave that cesspool was being able to send free mail.

We mailed the letter and promptly put it out of our minds. The letter had furnished us with a small sliver of diversion; a moment of sanity in our world of insanity.

A few weeks later we got a large manila envelope addressed to Mike and me. We were clueless as to its contents. Inside was a letter from Jean Shrimpton and some of the most stunning photos of her that one could dream of.

In her letter she told us how honored she was to be the woman we most wanted to share a bunker with and other playfully flirting comments. We could not believe our good fortune.

I have had some people try and throw cold water on this tale by telling me that Ms. Shrimpton never saw our letter and had no hand in the return package to us. They say it was all handled by an assistant. To that I say … maybe. But it did not matter then and it matters less today. The power of a small bit of kindness still moves me over a half-century later.

Larry Slessler lives in Medford.

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