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With Love, Stan – the column

March 11th, 2008 at 8:15 am

Today’s Flyover People column:

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Stan Ross in the jungle, eating C-rations.

“WITH LOVE, STAN”

Stan Ross trudged through the jungles of Vietnam, a knife in one hand, rifle in the other, the enemy lying in wait.

It’s not a pretty story, war.

But I read the story anyway. I read about the rats, jungle darkness, homesickness, snipers, swamps, worrisome sounds in the night, and coming face-to-face with the enemy.

“With Love, Stan: a Soldier’s Letters from Vietnam to the World,” by Karen Ross Epp of Newton, includes about 100 letters that her brother sent to family and friends. Stan Ross was one of the more than 58,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

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Stan & Karen, circa 1959.

Karen Ross Epp is the eldest of four siblings who grew up on a farm in southeast Iowa near the small town of Mt. Pleasant. In 1968, Karen’s brother, Stan, enlisted in the Army.

Stan, 19, fought on the front lines and wrote home nearly every day, often scribbling lines from a foxhole, a rice paddy or a bunker.

Karen turned his letters into a complete story by adding family background information, photographs, and recollections from Stan’s army buddies. But much of the book is in Stan’s voice.

Karen had never read most of these letters until 2004 when she gathered them from Stan’s footlocker, kept by her parents.

“I don’t think I had ever truly grieved or mourned for my brother until I started typing his letters,” she wrote.

Apr. 23, 1969: “In this part of the country, booby traps are our worst enemy. I’m really going to watch my step.”

May 15, 1969: “We’ve been on the move every day. They bring us water and C-rations by helicopter. Talk about being in the middle of nowhere. This is it!”

June 8, 1969: “Well, I hardly know how to write what I want to tell you without scaring you. But I’ll try. Today we were out on a mission, and we spotted some VC (Viet Cong). Well, like always, we had to go after them. …”

Stan was wounded in that battle, shrapnel in the right arm, which earned him a Purple Heart.

He tried to protect his family by not fully disclosing the dangers he faced. And he’d usually sign off with “Don’t worry.”

July 10, 1969: “I guess I’m telling you too much, aren’t I, Mom? The way your last letter sounded, you’re going to end up making yourself sick, worrying too much. … But in the infantry, nothing happens that isn’t bad news, either someone gets killed or hurt. That’s all a person sees. Believe me, it’s hard to write a letter of good news.”

Karen told me in an e-mail, “As I gathered facts and talked to his buddies from the 199th, Charlie Co., all of them said, ‘Stan kept much of what happened from your parents. It was much worse!’”

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Stan Ross, front left, with his squad, 199th, Light Infantry Brigade, Charlie Company 2/3. Fire Base Cam Tam, Vietnam.

Stan’s letters are not necessarily grim or gory, but he occasionally mentions contact with the Viet Cong, and what it’s like to go for weeks without taking your boots off, to be out in the rain for days on end, to long for a bed with sheets.

“I could only type two or three letters a day,” Karen said, “It was just too emotional for me. One letter comes to mind, where he talks to my mom about being lonely. I think I cried the hardest that day.”

Aug. 23, 1969: “Believe me, I get so damned lonesome at times when I’m in the field sleeping in a wet foxhole, it’s beyond words! But all we can do is take it. … I don’t know of anything worse than being torn away from your family.”

While reading the book, I couldn’t help but think of the current war, and our military men and women, many of whom surely face emotions similar to Stan’s.

As I read his letters, I wished I could go back in time and change things; I wanted to save Stan from the misery, from the loneliness, from the bullet.

The story of Stan Ross is one I will not forget.

***

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Stanley D. Ross, PFC

In August 1969, he was promoted to Sergeant.

***

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“With Love, Stan” is available at Emporia’s Town Crier Bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Author House.

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Karen Ross Epp

For more information, check out Karen’s website: www.withlovestan.com.

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All photographs were used with permission of the author.

***

Cheryl Unruh writes Flyover People, a column about Kansas topics, published every Tuesday in The Emporia Gazette. Copyright 2008 Cheryl Unruh.

columns, other people's stuff

  1. mandafowler
    March 11th, 2008 at 06:00 | #1

    I cannot wait to read this book! I dated a soldier that graduated from basic training right before 9/11. While he was gone he would write, yes hand write, letters to me and me to him. I still have all of his letters. They are in a scrapbook that is stretched to it’s seams and slowly falling apart. Someday I will repair it, someday, if I have children, I will show it to them, I think it’s only right that they learn about what happened and what it’s like for our men and women over there. Someday, when my children are old enough, they will also read about Stan.

  2. March 11th, 2008 at 09:09 | #2

    A wonderful commentary Cheryl. I am sure Karen is very proud and grateful to you for this. And, again – the pictures make the commentary extra ordinarily special. You do every thing so well – more like fantastic!

  3. March 11th, 2008 at 18:03 | #3

    Thanks, Onnalee. And yes, Manda, you’ll have to read the book!

    A war book isn’t normally what I’d pick up and read, but this one seemed so “approachable.”

    The real story here is about Stan, the person.

    It’s not about war strategies or weapons or battles.

    It’s about one family who lost a son and brother. It’s about one man making his way, day by day, in desperate situations far from home.

    Last night as I was getting this entry ready, I thought, hmm, photos would be SO nice with this, so everyone else could see the faces. So I wrote to Karen and she sent me these great photos which really enhanced the post.

  4. heineken160
    March 11th, 2008 at 20:20 | #4

    Stan’s letters are his journal from Vietnam. His words live on, thanks to Karen’s book. The letters are more real and visceral than any blogger can post on the deliberate, safe internet. Karen honors her brother, his experience, his short life.

    Cheryl, you are right to think of our soldiers over there today. Stan’s words in Karen’s book capture the history of one while it focuses thought on the many today. The publication of this book, this year helps us as a nation because it puts a face on the war of others not there.