Letters from PA Soldiers

In this lesson, students will read letters written by two Vietnam soldiers from Pennsylvania. PFC Edward Woods Jr. was a Marine from Upper Darby and Louis Piatetsky was Navy Medic.  These letters give an honest portrayal of a soldier's life in Vietnam and contain some graphic details.

The views represented in these letters do not represent the views of HSP. After reading these letters, students will better understand what it was like to serve in the Vietnam War and empathize with these soldiers who were fighting far away from their families. 

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Better understand some of the hardships and frustrations soldiers faced during the Vietnam War through reading solder’s letters.
  • Build upon their knowledge of the politics and complexities of the Vietnam war through the soldier’s descriptions.
  • Understand the value of historical letters by gathering both personal and historical information from letters.
  • Synthesize what they have learned by writing a letter from the point-of-view of a soldier serving in Vietnam. 

Other Materials

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Split students into four groups, each getting one letter. Have them either read it out loud together or read silently together. 
  2. Hand out worksheet and have students fill in information contained in the letter about the War in one column and information about the writer’s personal life in the other column. When they finish filling out the worksheet, have a discussion about historical letters.  Ask if both personal information and historical information in letters are important and if one is one more important than the other. Would we care about this letter if it did not include historical information? What would the letter be like if there was no personal information?
  3. Have each group share with the larger group the information they learned from the letters. Write on the board all the information about the War gathered from the letters. Ask students how this information connects with what students have already learned about the War. Does it support it or contradict it?
  4. Have students analyze the writer’s point of view about the War and where that opinion might have come from. Also talk about the letter’s audience: Do you think the writer left out information? This can be done as a class, in the original letter groups,  or split the class in half by the author of their letter (half will be Woods, half will be Piatetsky).
  5. For homework, have students write a fictional letter from someone serving in the Vietnam War based on what they have learned about the War.You can assign each student a persona (army nurse, young soldier, lieutenant, etc.), or have them choose their own. 
  6. Extension: Have students watch the documentary  Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam and see if the letters in the documentary are similar or different than the letters from the lesson. What new information about Vietnam was learned from the documentary? (Warning: The documentary contains some explicit language, nudity, and graphic images). 

Vocabulary

Foxhole: A hole dug for a soldier to sit or lie in for protection from the enemy. (Merriam-Webster)
Mortar:  A muzzle-loading cannon having a tube short in relation to its caliber that is used to throw projectiles at high angles. (Merriam-Webster)
P.X.: Stands for Post Exchange, a store on military bases where soldiers can buy supplies and other items.
R & R: Stands for rest and recuperation, refers to the free time given to a soldier.
Sniper: To shoot at someone from a hiding place, especially accurately and at long range. (Oxford Dictionary)
Viet Cong: The Communist-led guerilla force and revolutionary army of South Vietnam; the armed forces of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. (World English dictionary)

Related Resources for Students

The documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam features letters from Vietnam soldiers read by celebrities and combined with raw footage from Vietnam. 

Included with Piatetsky's letters is a letter he wrote introducing himself and his letters. Students may want to read it at the end of the lessson.