"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Promises Made, Promises Kept: A Tribute

My Friend, Judy Preshaw

by Michael Lansford

This is a tribute to a true friend I knew before leaving for Vietnam and my whole time there. Her name was Judy Preshaw.

Judy was a very good friend.  She was dating a classmate of mine and he left for Vietnam four months before I did.

We all used to hang out together, 'making the drag' as we called, it in a bigger town not far from home. We spent a lot of time there just to get away, have fun, and not have to think about the war we were about to be sent to.

Judy was the clean cut, all-American girl, always wearing a beautiful smile -- I don't think she ever met a stranger. She was one of those people you were glad to have in your life. She found no fault in anyone or anything.  She even went to airport with my family to see me get on that plane. She was that kind of person.

Her favorite song was "Judy in Disguise with Glasses".  It was by the Beatles, I think.  That song was her through and through. We always joked that the Beatles wrote that song about her. Even now, every time I hear it, I am filled with so much emotion.

Judy Preshaw had everything going for her. We knew her life would turn out like we all hoped ours would, after we returned home from Vietnam. 

While I was in country, Judy made it a point to write me nearly every day.  She used to send me the paper wrappers from every burger place we hung out at from those days we all spent together. She always asked how I was and how my friend was, as he was stationed at our main base. He was a Helicopter Mechanic.  I didn't see him much, because I was always out in the jungle. Judy was worried sick about him and me, because we were such close friends. 

I looked forward to her letters any time we got mail. Mainly, because it was a letter from home, but always it was full of the things we remembered and enjoyed.  I remember, she always put perfume on her letters and it made that jungle smell almost like home.

Most of my mail which I said in an earlier post I didn't get until I was home. To this day, I still have the last letter Judy wrote to me, knowing I was soon on my way home and everyone we knew in the big city was waiting for my return. She said she had all kinds of things planned to make me feel like I truly belonged again. Even to this day, her last letter to me has the smell of her perfume on it.

My Mom sent care packages every month, even though sometimes they didn't arrive as planned. Inside each box was a note from Judy simply saying hi and that she was looking forward to my coming home. Naturally I couldn't write anything about what we did in the Nam to her. It would have broken her heart to know how we were living, as well as my Mom's. Some things just weren't said.

I wrote her when I started getting close to coming home about all the fun we would all have again, how we would pick up right where we left off, so to speak. She was so excited and counting the days til I came back as my friend had already made it home. Each letter always had how many days left til I was back with my friend, friends just like the old days.

My last letter to her I promised that as soon as I got in I would come to visit and thank her. My return date was December 13, 1969. Well that day finally arrived.

A day later, on December 14th, I told my Mother I had a promise to keep and I would be back later that afternoon. This is the final part of how timing is everything in life.

I remember nervously walking up to Judy's front door and hesitating.  Finally I got the nerve to knock on the door. Her Mom came out and hugged me and she was crying. I thought she was just glad to see me home safe.

I asked to see Judy. Suddenly it got very, very quiet.  Then her dad came out and told me Judy was gone. Stupid me, I thought maybe she was just out somewhere running an errand.  I said that was okay.  I would wait for her to come home.

"No," her Dad said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Judy won't be back. She was horseback riding a couple of days ago and her horse jumped out in front of a car. She was killed instantly.  That was December 12."

In that one instant, reality set. I would never see my friend who stopped her life while I was gone to help make mine a little brighter -- in ways even she didn't know.  My whole world turned upside down. I was and still am in shock over that reply.

This was not possible. This perfect girl couldn't be gone. We had so much to catch up on. We promised each other and that was forever. Judy was everything a good person should be. There was no hate in her, never a cross word, and she always saw the good in everything and everyone. You name it, she was all that and then some.

It took me over a year to open the last letter she sent me before I came home. How strange to have a letter from a close friend that got to you after you came home, only to find she was gone just one day before you got home.

Her letter talked about how she prayed for us all, and hoped the letter made me smile and found me safe. She wished war had never existed, because it took us all away from friends and family. She told me how my friend that she was dating seemed so different after he got home and wondered whatever happened to change him.  She hoped I hadn't changed from the person she remembered.

She talked about wanting to see my new car when I got home, because it would be the first car I ever owned and she wanted to be the first to ride in it. She wished me well and was counting the days until I was back home with my friends and family.

The letter was dated one week before I came home. I was so hurt that I drove around in my car going nowhere, living on the beach, and trying to figure it all out. I put a lot of miles on that car in a month just circling and thinking. Sometimes I think I am still circling ...

Like everything else, I always wondered how her life might have been, had she lived. She was such a great person and it just didn't seem fair. I have also thought about that letter many times over. If only I had received it before I came home. What irony, what timing. What a loss to our world. She was everything that was right about home and suddenly she was gone. Judy's letters helped keep me alive.

I kept all those burger bags she sent.  They came home with me. I was going to give them all back to her when I came home just to say thanks. Simple hamburger bags that had no meaning to anyone except me, but they helped get me home. Still another debt I can never repay.

Like I've said before, my life has been all about timing, both good and bad. Just one more road to walk. I never went to the cemetery.  Like The Wall, I just couldn't.  (I'm sorry, Judy, please forgive me for being weak, but I wanted to remember you like you were when I left).

I wanted to thank her so much my heart hurt and it still does. I still read her last letter every year on my return date.  Judy's  friendship was very important to me. It just doesn't seem right, to lose someone like that.

The only thing I did right was to keep my promise to go see her when I got home. Little did I know I would be crying for lost memories that I couldn't get back. Makes me cry even now thinking about what a wonderful friend she was.

So this little tribute is in remembrance of you, Judy Preshaw, you were my friend.  I will remember you always. God speed.

Other Articles by Michael Lansford:

Pilots and POW's
The Last Firebase
Sayings and Poems
A Couple of Stories
The Last Road: A Vietnam Vet's Perspective
Holidays in The Nam
Dear Civilians
FNG Initiation and Humor
Life Prepared Me for Vietnam
Leavings at The Wall
Coming Home
Honoring The Wall
Life in the Jungle
In My Own Words: Part 1
In My Own Words: Part 2
Part 3: The KIA
Hill 937: Part 4

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Do you have an opinion, or a comment, you would like to share about this post? Click on the comment button.


  1. Sad ! Good girl friend said what was it like .reply[ nottin but A thing ] She died 1 wk later in auto accident ,only the good die young , guess i'll stay bad & old ? HA!

    Later Dee PS Not A lover just Afriend since gramer school

    1. Same here Dee. Just a great friend who cared about our lives & did everything to help make our world feel a little like home. Never a cross word, always had a smile. Friends you only meet once in a lifetime. Thanks my friend for reading. Most appreciated.


Feel free to comment.