I was a young soldier in Vietnam in the mid 70s when President Nixon ordered the United States Military into Cambodia to engage the Viet Cong and disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main supply line for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong from North Vietnam into deep South Vietnam. This is not a debate on whether or not that incursion worked or even if we should have entered Cambodia, but what the results were and my letter from President Nixon.
Before this operation, our base camp at Tay Ninh was hit almost nightly with mortars and rockets by the Viet Cong. There were many nights I was on shift in the ATC radar van vectoring helicopters in and out of fire zones as they attacked those who were attacking us. There were many nights I spent in a bunker as the incoming sirens blared and jolted us from our bunks. Parts of some nights I spent on the floor of the hooch next to my bunk waiting until we felt it safe to dash to the bunker. Those were nights of terror for us as we had no way of defending ourselves, just laying on the floor trying to get to the relative safety of a 6 x 6 conex covered with layers of sandbags.
I had friends who died in that incursion in Cambodia; one in particular whom I went to Church with. But for us, the incursion’s effect was the virtual end of the war in Tay Ninh! The supply lines were broken and the mortars and rockets were not getting into the hands of the enemy, nor were they being fired at us in the base camp. No more were incoming sirens going off every night. No more were we crawling to the bunkers. In fact, some of the newbies in our unit never experienced incoming from the time they arrived until we closed that camp and moved to Chu Lai.
One evening I wrote a letter to President Nixon thanking him for his courage to send troops into harm’s way in Cambodia to hasten the end of the war. I don’t remember all that I wrote to him, but a few weeks later I got a letter --- the return address simply said “The White House”. President Nixon had taken time to write me a personal note thanking me for my service and for my understanding of the situation in Cambodia and Vietnam. I still have that note as it was very special to Specialist Pritchard to get a personal note from his Commander-in-Chief.
I was not privy to the letter my friend’s wife and parents received from President Nixon following his death in Cambodia. But my from my own personal experience, I don’t think they received a form letter. But that’s me and I was just thinking.