It is perhaps the greatest, true love story never told – until now.
U.S. Marine Bill Young, of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, was a 20-year-old machine gunner in the thick of things in Vietnam, not sure if he would live to see the next sunset.
Nancy Market, of Newburgh, Indiana, was a recent high-school graduate headed for nursing school, enjoying her last idyllic teenage Southern Indiana summer.
At first, they were virtual strangers, patriotic pen-pals, sending scores of letters to each other. Soon, without Bill and Nancy ever meeting in person or even hearing each other’s voices on the phone, the letters became love letters. In 2021, Bill and Nancy celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary.
“Vietnam War Love Story: The Love Letters of Bill and Nancy Young,” co-edited by Scott Saalman and his daughter, Delaney Saalman, tells the Youngs’ uniquely intimate story of war and love, a true story told through the very letters they wrote in 1967.
Scott Saalman first learned about the Youngs’ love story when interviewing them for a newspaper column in the Dubois County Herald for Valentine’s Day in 2016. After the interview, he was surprised to learn that Bill and Nancy had saved every letter they wrote to each other.
“It was a writer’s dream come true. I couldn’t believe my luck” recalls Saalman. “I took a few bags home with me, reading them for the first time under a bed lamp’s glow and was struck by the dichotomy of that time period captured by two future lovers. The letters were well written and heartfelt, even poetic at times. One batch detailed the dreamy summer of an 18-year-old girl in small-town Indiana: Fourth of July fireworks, slumber parties, peaceful times spent along the river, a girl’s dream of becoming a nurse. The other batch detailed the horrors of the dense jungle, monsoons, a personal kill record, a soldier’s dismay upon hearing about civil unrest in the very country he was fighting for, and the deepest inner thoughts of a man unsure if he’d see tomorrow. Their letters were also a pop culture time capsule of 1967, what with many references to the music and movies of that time.”
Reading the scores of letters also caused Saalman to reflect upon the long-lost art of letter writing.
“Remember, these were actual handwritten letters, signed, sealed and delivered to the other side of the world, still smelling of Nancy’s perfume, one containing a locket of hair, from Newburgh to Nam, from Nam to Newburgh,” says Saalman. “It could be several days before those letters reached their target audience. Somehow Nancy’s letters found Bill wherever he was in the jungle. When Nancy’s mailbox remained empty for an abnormal period of time, she would assume the worst, but eventually Bill’s letters arrived (though that wasn’t a foolproof convincer that he was alive the day she read his letters). Compare that to today, how our emails and tweets, if not immediately replied to, cause great consternation and frustration — the need for speed, the lack thereof, breeding impatience and doubt, possibly jeopardizing the bloom of love. We need to write more love letters by hand; true love endures within the simmer, not the boil.”
The book was published in May of 2022.