Of the men listed on the Kerr County War Memorial, I personally knew only one, and while every soldier listed on that monument left a painful gap in our community when they died, torn away from their families and friends, it’s that young man I think of first on this holiday.
Robert Glen Chenault was a young Marine from Kerrville who died in Vietnam. My family called him Glen. Our two families attended First Baptist Church in Kerrville.
Glen joined the Marines on June 28, 1967, in San Antonio, went through training at Camp Pendleton in California, and arrived in Vietnam on Dec. 16, 1967. On the night of Jan. 31, 1968, while on patrol in defense of the Da Nang Military Complex C, near Quảng Nam, Glen’s squad came under fierce enemy fire, and Glen was among several American soldiers in his squad killed.
He had been in Vietnam about a month and a half — 47 days, if you count the day he arrived. He was only 21 years old when he died.
Recently, I found a letter Glen wrote to my family on Christmas Day, 1967; it was written on his 10th day in Vietnam. It’s a single sheet of paper, written on both sides, and folded in the middle. While the handwriting is not neat, it is clear and readable.
“Things here are pretty good,” Glen wrote, “kind of busy, though. That’s the reason for the delay in writing. I want a lot of letters from you all this next year. If I can, I’ll answer them all.
“Like I said, things are okay with me. They could be better, but they could also be a lot worse. My company is located about 2 miles north and about 10 miles west of Da Nang. It is just like you would imagine Viet Nam to be; rice paddies, grass huts, and all that other good stuff.
“How are things in Kerrville? Oh yes, this is Christmas Day here, Christmas Eve in Texas. What a change. I will really appreciate next Christmas [when I am home].”
Glen asked how I’m doing in school (I was a first-grader at Starkey at the time), commented about my younger sister, asked about his parents.
“I think our squad is off tonight. If so, I can take a bath and all that good stuff. Paddy water is wet, but I don’t believe I want to bathe in it.” Later, in a postscript, he writes “We are off this evening, thank goodness. I just took a great hot shower and shampoo. I think I can make it now.”
Glen worked at my parents’ print shop, and spent a lot of time with my late father. They spent hours working together, talking, and after Glen decided to sign up with the Marines, talking about the military.
When Glen’s body was shipped home for burial at Kerrville’s Garden of Memories cemetery, Glen’s parents asked my father and the late Raul Arreola to identify the body for them. The two men did so to spare Glen’s parents that last memory of their son.
Glen’s letter to my family is yellowed now. Somehow it survived the fire that destroyed our print shop building in 1995, although it stills smells like smoke from that evening, and there is some water damage on parts of the letter. The letter was in a file cabinet in a section of the shop building hardest hit by the flames. How my father found the letter in the charred debris, I do not know.
“Well, I’ve just about run down,” Glen wrote to close his letter. “Tell everyone hello. So long for now, see you next Christmas. Your friend always, Glen.”
At the end of the very next month, PFC Robert Glen Chenault died for his country. I’ve looked through our files, and this is the only letter from Glen I’ve found.
Glen’s parents, Doris and Tommy, passed away years ago and are buried next to their son. I remember them all, and how Glen’s death changed them.
As we observe Memorial Day this year, remember the brave soldiers who sacrificed so much for our country. And please remember, too, the ones they left behind.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers the Chenault home on Wheless Avenue, and the fun we had there.