Vietnam vet thanks women who sent card 46 years ago
BLOOMINGTON (AP) — Martha Hoover and Joyce Harding don’t even remember sending a Christmas card to a U.S. soldier in Vietnam 46 years ago.
But the soldier never forgot it.
In fact, the card so touched his heart that he still has it in his possession, safely tucked away in a shoebox on a shelf in his den.
The soldier’s name is Bob Wylie, now a 73-year-old retired family practice doctor living in Bloomington with his wife, Nancy.
In 1966, Wylie was 27 years old and stationed at an evacuation hospital about 12 miles outside Saigon.
When December arrived, he knew he would soon be spending Christmas apart from his wife of two years, who was living with her parents in Griffith.
“It was going to be my first Christmas away from family,” he told The Herald-Times. “I was lonely. We all were.”
Then, just a few days before Christmas, Wylie was handed a Christmas card signed by two women he didn’t know. Their hand-written message inside the card said they were members of the Walnut Street Christian Church in Bloomington and wanted to “express our appreciation for what you are doing for all of us. God bless you.”
Wylie was sitting at the bar in the officer’s club when he read the card, feeling profoundly comforted as he savored the simple words.
“I thought it was so nice of them to do that — to send a card of encouragement to someone they didn’t know 12,000 miles away,” he said. “I remember thinking that someday, after I got out of Vietnam, I might want to look them up and personally thank them.”
Years passed, and Wylie forgot about his resolve. But a month ago, while home recovering from hip surgery, he decided to open a shoebox containing dozens of love letters he and Nancy had exchanged during his two years in Vietnam. That’s when he came across the card, still well-preserved after all these years.
Donning his sleuth hat, Wylie called Sherwood Oaks Christian in Bloomington, where he and Nancy attend, and left a message asking Tom Ellsworth, the church’s pastor, to give him a call.
“When Tom called and I asked him if he knew anything about the Walnut Street Christian Church, he said Sherwood Oaks Church used to be that church,” Wylie said.
“I then asked him if he knew Martha Hoover and Joyce Harding and, if so, whether they were still alive. He said they were not only alive but charter members of the church and still very active in the congregation.”
Wylie asked Ellsworth if he would ask his secretary to call the two women, give them Wylie’s phone number, and ask them to call so he could thank them for the small card they’d sent him nearly a half century ago.
Hoover was the first to get the call from the church secretary.
“I cried,” she said. “What touched me was that something so little as a Christmas card meant so much to somebody. It reminded me that you never know the impact of the little things you do.”
Hoover then called Wylie and enjoyed a long conversation.
A few hours later, Harding called Wylie as well, and the two of them made a startling discovery.
“I told him his name sounded familiar,” Harding said. “As we talked we realized we both used to hang out at the Juke Box on Washington Street while we were in high school. That was the big teen hangout back then.”
Last Sunday, Wylie and Nancy met Harding and Hoover in the Sherwood Oaks Church lobby, where Wylie showed them the card that had long ago faded from their memories.
He also reminded them how they’d gotten his mailing address — showing them the Dec. 4, 1966, issue of the Sunday Herald-Times that contained the names and addresses of dozens of U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam, along with a request to send them Christmas cards.
“I’m so happy I found them,” Wylie said. “I thought they might have been old ladies when they sent me the card in 1966 and were dead by now. Thankfully I was wrong. They are very much alive.”