Professor using letters sent home from soldiers to educate students

Posted at 12:01 PM, Dec 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-03 12:01:39-05

(WGHP) Greensboro, NC – Sharon Raynor was just rooting around in her parents’ dresser, looking for a little loose change. She found something much more valuable.

Her father, Louis Raynor, was just 18 when he was drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight, in 1967. He called it, “The saddest day of my life,” when he turned back to see the family members he loved so much and was leaving behind, at the Raleigh-Durham airport.

Louis started keeping a diary on the day he arrived in Vietnam – a countdown, of sorts – listing the first day there as Day 365, since his tour was to last a year.

When Sharon was 13, she found the diary, much to her Dad’s surprise. But he didn’t take it away from her, nor did he discourage her from reading it.

“I was just fascinated by the fact that we really didn’t know that my Dad was in Vietnam,” said Raynor. “We knew he was a soldier, but didn’t know anything about Vietnam. And he would not talk to me about it, at all. He was completely silent.”

So his diary did the talking for him.  Not too much gore – Sharon still doesn’t know if her father ever had to kill someone.

“I’ve always assumed, ‘Yes,’” she said. “But I’ve never asked him that question and I never will ask him that question.”

She is asking questions of her students at Wake Forest University, where she is a visiting professor for the year (her main job is at Johnson C. Smith University, in Charlotte). She is using a series of letters sent home from soldiers to help educate today’s college generation – one that is not required to experience war, as previous generations were – to what the challenges and sacrifices were like, and what it did to the men and women who served.

That’s the focus of this edition of the Buckley Report. Professor Raynor was so moved by her father’s diary that she began an oral history project, focusing on soldiers from rural North Carolina, as her dad was. Here is a link to that site: