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Pen pals during Vietnam conflict come face-to-face decades later

In the mid-1960s, while the United States had half a million troops overseas, a young Marine stationed in Vietnam and a high school world history class of girls at St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend began correspondence.

The Marine and one of those students would finally meet face-to-face 47 years later.

A few weeks ago I went to cover a story about some Vietnam veterans having lunch together, and I met David Guzicki, who is the treasurer of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter No. 1027 in St. Joseph County. We started talking after the meeting.

After the interview, we sat down to have lunch. After I told them where I went to school, he asked me if I went by the name of Mary Lee Johnson.

I said “yes,” and we found out his sister and I were in the same class and we wrote to him while he was serving in Vietnam.

In case you are wondering why I went by Mary Lee, it is because when I was confirmed there was no Saint May so the nuns gave me the name Mary, but after I graduated my mother and I changed it back to May Lee.

I was one of the girls in Sister Marie Jeanne’s sixth- hour world history class.

David “Dave” Guzicki’s sister was in that class with us and our class became pen pals with him by sending him letters and a Valentine’s Day card with words of encouragement.

It’s funny because Gretchen would often walk behind me and some friends while we walked to St. Joe from the west side of town. She was a very nice person and we both had brothers serving in Vietnam. We both had something in common, so we were cool.

David served in Vietnam and Okinawa during the Vietnam War era. When he returned to South Bend, he went to work for the post office.

Here is a note I wrote to him: Dear Dave, I know you must have a hard job of fighting to save this country. I have a brother in Vietnam and everyone in our family misses him very much. I know your family misses you too. I hope everything is all right and you will return home soon. So take care and God bless you, Sincerely, Mary Lee Johnson. — April 1968.

Our world history class had 30 girls at the time, and we all wrote to him. We received a letter from Dave on May 17, 1968:

Dear Sixth Hour World History Class,

“I wanna say that in all my three and a half years in the Marine Corps, I never received a letter such as the one all of you helped compose that meant or moved me so much nor made me feel so good. It really made me proud to say I am a Marine. Dave

On March 7, 2014, a friendship was renewed that started between two people who shared their lives on paper decades ago.

“I asked my sister (Gretchen) about some of the girls who wrote me back when I was in Vietnam when I got home. One note stood out to me: ... It was written in green pen’’ by Mary Lee Johnson, David said.

“My sister told me she knew Mary Lee but not much else except she was a black girl. I didn’t think much about it, but I’m flabbergasted to meet Mary Lee Johnson right here today. It’s been amazing.”

Dave and I hope our story will bless others and encourage them to listen for God’s voice and maybe do something for someone serving in the military.

You might want to write a serviceman or send a box or even just say a prayer for them because who would have thought that I would meet someone I wrote to in Vietnam when I was a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Joseph’s High School.

Anything is possible.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

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