Author and singer/songwriter Alex Woodard has put together a most unusual book: For the Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam (Hay House, 233 pp., $19.99, hardcover; full-length CD of songs included). Woodard has taken a batch of real love letters written from an airman in Vietnam to his wife back home, and combined them with heartfelt imaginary letters his daughter could have written to her deceased father. Then, Woodard wrote songs based on these letters.
The airman, Sgt. John Fuller, apparently succumbed to the effects of PTSD after the war. He drank too much, was unfaithful to his wife, and never was at peace with himself. In 1998, John Fuller was shot to death by a locksmith who was changing the locks on Fuller’s girlfriend’s house after a domestic altercation. When Fuller charged him armed with a weapon, the locksmith defended himself. No charges were filed against the locksmith.
John Fuller’s daughter Jennifer, born in 1970, was devastated by the loss of her father. She retreated into a shell of anger and depression for several years. One winter day while helping her mother move, she came across a box of letters with “Love Letters from Vietnam” written on the lid. Overwhelmed—and not sure how to cope with this treasure chest of letters from her father—she contacted Alex Woodard. He agreed to put the letters to music, with lyrics adapted from her father’s words.
He also composed responses to letters written by Jennifer to her father as if Woodard were John Fuller himself stationed in Vietnam. Only a special kind of writer could undertake such a challenging endeavor and make his imaginary written responses sound believable.
Alex Woodard is not a veteran of any branch of service. However, he is a staunch advocate for veterans. He describes in detail several encounters he has had in recent years with veterans of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He went surfing with one group who claimed it helped them cope with PTSD. He worked with another group learning to ride and care for horses as part of their recovery from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He describes encountering a man who rescues dogs from kill shelters and trains them to be service dogs for veterans.
Much of the book is about Woodard’s own life experiences, such as the near loss of his mountain home to a forest fire and the subsequent flooding and mudslide. It is disconcerting at times when he inserts a letter from Sgt. Fuller or Jennifer Fuller into the middle of his story on a totally different topic.
However, the CD included with the book that features Woodard as Sergeant Fuller and his friend Molly Jensen as Jennifer more than makes up for the occasional distraction.
Trusting Alex Woodard to read letters from her father and then to write letters as if they were written by her father to her turned out to be a truly healing experience for Jennifer Fuller. It helped her find peace and forgiveness and move on with her life.
The author’s website is www.alexwoodard.com