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Pen pal wants to reconnect with soldiers

Danielle Vachon displays some of the letters she received from U.S. soldiers
Danielle Vachon displays some of the letters she received from U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. She’s now trying to track down her pen pals or their relatives.

A Southern California woman is on a mission to find dozens of soldiers she corresponded with at the height of the Vietnam War.

Danielle Vachon began exchanging letters with service members in 1966 after she attended a concert featuring Martha Raye, who told the audience how the American soldiers she met during a USO tour in Vietnam were lonely and desperate to hear from people back home.

Vachon, then named Lauri Meno, quickly listed her Los Angeles address with military newspapers — and soon the letters began pouring in.

“The letter carrier must have felt like Santa Claus,” said Vachon, who now lives in Camarillo, part of Ventura County.

One Marine, Harold Magness, penned a note inside an empty food ration box sealed with surgical tape. Another soldier, Bob Owens, wondered if Vachon was being inundated with letters.

“I bet your mailman is beginning to hate you,” he wrote.

One of the most moving notes came from a solider who wrote to Vachon from a hospital, where he was being treated for malaria.

“He was miserable, but didn’t want to tell his family. He said it felt good to tell someone,” she said.

Vachon eventually stopped hearing from most of the soldiers, but she saved their letters in a metal box. After a recent visit to a Vietnam War memorial, she set out to reconnect with her pen pals or share the old mailpieces with their families.

The Thousand Oaks Acorn news site published a story last month on Vachon’s efforts and listed the soldiers whose letters are in her collection. She’s hopeful the news coverage will help spread the word.

“They’re in their 70s like I am,” she said. “If they aren’t alive, maybe they had kids or sisters. I’m sure it would mean something to them.”

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