The Unopened Letter

A Dose of Reality Changes a Young Man’s Life Forever

Non-Fiction - Memoir
300 Pages
Reviewed on 03/25/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer for Readers' Favorite

The Unopened Letter: A Dose of Reality Changes a Young Man’s Life Forever by R.W. Herman is a memoir set in the Vietnam War era and how his one decision changed the course of his life forever. The author recalled the days when he turned eighteen and became eligible to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Receiving “the letter” from the U.S. Selective Service System was the final blow to Richard’s dreams of staying far away from the war. However, he was not alone, and he was about to find out that he needed the support of other young men like him if he wanted to survive. Hearing about the war from afar was different, but becoming a part of the Navy was far more thrilling, scary and mindboggling than he ever imagined. Was this the end of the road for Richard? Would he ever be able to get his old life back?

I was blown away by the intensity of the story and how well it was managed by the author. The Unopened Letter was one of the most unique memoirs I had ever read and that made it the most entertaining as well. The narrative was magical. R.W. Herman transported me into his life when he was 18 and how the war shaped him as he grew up. I could feel the change in Richard; I could experience the confusion he went through and how he tried to make the best of what was handed to him. It provided a great first-hand look at the war era and how it affected the lives of these young men. He made relationships and friendships that turned him into a man he could be proud of. Richard was in for a rude awakening, but that shaped him to become a man who was confident in his abilities, understood his limits, and dared to face the worst. It was a brilliant and moving story that had me hooked until the end.

Asher Syed

The Unopened Letter: A Dose of Reality Changes a Young Man’s Life Forever by R.W. Herman is a memoir of the author's experiences during the Vietnam era, with generous input from the experiences of those who surrounded him added, particularly as it applied to the war. After a difficult home life that manifested in difficulties at school, Rich Herman receives a letter that he knew was coming following his dropping out of college. The Vietnam Draft Notice remained in its envelope and Herman made the decision to enlist in the Navy, allowing him the opportunity to serve in a manner he felt more suited to. This ultimately keeps him out of the war in Vietnam and provides him with the opportunity to find his way as his own unencumbered man.

R. W. Herman offers an interesting and different vantage point of the Vietnam era in The Unopened Letter. I was certain when I picked this book up that it would bring me back to the bloodshed and horrors of a war that claimed millions of lives. Instead, Herman shows us service branches that were still very important to securing and maintaining US interests in other regions. There's still a decent amount of trouble as the book describes instances of overt racism, a rescue, and a dark moment when Israel took brothers in arms down with friendly fire. The respect for the branches that are on the front lines is really amazing. Gone is the rivalry between branches as Herman's first deployment includes Marine Corp service members, many of which will never return home. I enjoyed the letters and perspective and was especially pleased to watch Herman's growth as he charters his own path with a clear objective when he returns to the States.

Vincent Dublado

The Unopened Letter: A Dose of Reality Changes a Young Man’s Life Forever by R.W. Herman is a story of one man’s chosen path from the different avenues of life. Although it reads like one-way epistolary fiction, this is the true-to-life autobiographical story of Commander R.W. Herman. His coming of age tale begins in the winter of December 1965 in Minneapolis. As the whole country witnesses the turmoil over the conflict in Southeast Asia, he receives a letter from the U. S. Selective Service System. He feels no need to open it, for he knows exactly that it runs in the vein of Uncle Sam needing the services of young men like him. Being the youngest of three children, he has the unusual situation of caring for his insulin-dependent older brother, who requires constant attention. Exhausted from the demands of his studies and caring for his brother, he had to move in with his uncle Sherm, and that unopened letter will help settle his future at least for a few years.

The Unopened Letter by R.W. Herman not only deserves a rightful place in the annals of epistolary fiction but in the archives of the Center for American War Letters. As one of the 27 million young men who chose to answer the call of duty, Herman’s epistolary account is an invaluable record of the service and dedication of a young American, who, at a crucial turning point in his life, has made a difference in his own humble way. Herman’s accomplishment is not about depicting the horrors of war, but to make the men of his generation and this present generation understand that the war that did not meet expectations is never lost in vain. It allowed young men like him to grow wiser from the experience. A precious insight into a wartime account, this book is a must-read for anyone who has served this free country.