Terry Perko's grave in West Richland Cemetery, Summit County, Ohio (via Find-a-grave)
This letter is taken from a chapter entitled "World of Hurt" in what now is an old book, "Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam," edited by Bernard Edelman and published during 1985 by W.W. Norton & Co. for the New York Veterans Memorial Association.
U.S. Marine Cpl. John Houghton, "Johnny Boy," who wrote the letter, was a friend of Lance Cpl. Terry J. Perko, of Maple Heights, Ohio, who was killed 21 February 1967, five months after arriving in Vietnam. Both were serving with the 1st Anglico Detachment, 1st Marine Division, operating out of Chu Lai. Perko's mother had written to Houghton, hoping to learn more about her son and the manner of his death. This was his response:
Dear Mrs. Perko,
I'm sorry for not writing sooner. I received your letter when I was discharged from the hospital 29 April, then went straight to Saigon for a week or so.
What can I say to fill the void? I know flowers and letters are appropriate but it's hardly enough. I'm Johnny Boy, and I'm sick both physically and mentally. I smoke too much, am constantly coughing, never eat, always sit around in a daze. All of us are in this general condition. We are all afraid to die and all we can do is count the days till we go home.
We're all in desperate need of love. When we go to Saigon, we spend all our money on women and beer. Some nights I don't sleep. I can't stand being alone at night. The guns don't bother me --- I can't hear them anymore. I want to hold my head between my hands and run screaming away from here. I cry too, not much, just when I touch the sore spots.
I'm hollow, Mrs. Perko. I'm a shell, and when I'm scared I rattle. I'm no one to tell you about your son. I can't. I'm sorry.