MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 27, 2014

Pen pals of Vietnam era find each other

NORMAN — A lesson in letter-writing as an eighth-grade English assignment early in the Vietnam War provided a link between an Army lieutenant colonel and Pam McPherson Stanlick, a friendship that was rekindled recently when she found the now-retired officer.

The assignment in her West Junior High classroom was to write a letter to somebody in the military serving in Vietnam. The letters were mailed to anonymous recipients.

Imagine her delight to get a response.

They began a correspondence that lasted only two or three years, but she still remembers the thrill of the letters arriving at her home.

The writer’s name was distinctive, memorable for the young girl — Lt. Col. Franz Cone. And although the letters waned, she remembers the messages.

“He talked about why we were there in Vietnam, to protect people from Communism. He wrote about us (the U.S.) having made a promise to help the smaller country, and our duty in order to remain a world power,” she said.

She recalls the  class anxiously waiting for any responses to the letters. When the first one arrived, “I was so thrilled.”

Cone wrote about the Vietnamese people and about the weather there. She recalls that he wrote “about how the people lived and that we don’t realize how good we have it here.” She still remembers feeling a little pride in her project.

“And I thought it was cool that I heard from a lieutenant colonel,” she said.

But time wore on, “and I suppose I got interested in other things as a teenager” and the letters stopped.

They made several moves with her over the years but are now lost. Yet the memory remains.

While doing genealogy research online, she searched for his name and found him through a link on the website of Military Officers Association of America. They have since corresponded through email and phone calls. He remembers her letters.

Cone, who lives inWinston-Salem, N.C., said in a phone interview that he remembers the letters he received from Stanlick while he was in an advisory unit to the South Vietnam army.

Hers was not his only letter from students, but she was the only one who continued the correspondence.

“I thought it was important that people understood what we were doing there, even though we didn’t succeed in doing it,” Cone said.

Doris Wedge writes for the Norman Transcript.

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