The Norman Transcript

May 19, 2014

Letter writer finds old pen pal

By Doris Wedge
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A lesson in letter-writing as an eighth grade English assignment early in the Vietnam War provided a link between a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Pam McPherson Stanlick, a friendship that was rekindled recently when she found the retired serviceman.

The assignment in her 1955-1967 West Junior High classroom was to write a letter to a serviceman serving in Vietnam. The letters written by her and her classmates were mailed to anonymous servicemen. Imagine her delight to get a response.

They began a correspondence that only lasted two or three years, she recalls, but she still remembers the thrill of the letters arriving at her home.

“Those red, white and blue envelopes. And the really thin paper that they used then for airmail,” she said.

The writer’s name was distinctive, memorable for the young girl — Lt. Col. Franz Cone. And though the letters waned to a stop, she remembers the messages.

“He talked about why we were there in Vietnam, to protect people from Communism. He wrote about us (the U.S.) having made a promise to help the smaller country, and our duty in order to remain a world power,” she said.

She recalls her classmates anxiously waiting to see if they would get a response to their letters. When the first one arrived she said, “I was so thrilled.”

Cone wrote to her about the Vietnamese people and about the weather there. She recalls that he wrote “about how the people lived and that we don’t realize how good we have it here.” She still remembers feeling a little pride in her successful class project.

“And I thought it was cool that I heard from a lieutenant colonel,” she said.

But time wore on, she said, “and I suppose I got interested in other things as a teenager” and the letters stopped.

They were bundled together and made several moves with her over the years but are now lost. Yet the memory remains and would come to mind often during the ensuing years.

While doing genealogy research online, she searched for his name and found him through a link on the website of Military Officers Association of America. They have since corresponded through email and phone calls and he remembers her letters.

Now residing in Winston Salem, N.C., LTC (Ret) Cone said in a phone interview that he remembers the letters he received from Stanlick while he was serving in an advisory unit to the South Vietnam.

Hers was not the only letter that he received from students but she was the only one who continued the back-and-forth correspondence over the next two or three years.

“I thought it was important that people understood what we were doing there, even though we didn’t succeed in doing it,” LTC Cone said.

And what about the teacher who made that letter-writing assignment? That was Molly Griffis, who Stanlick describes as “the one teacher that you never forget.”

Griffis taught at Central and then West and some of her former students were going to war.

“I wanted my students to know what was going on and to feel connected,” Griffis said.

Stanlick, whose father, Gene McPherson, owned the John Deere dealership in Norman for many years and served as mayor of Goldsby for 15 years, stayed in Norman through college. Then she moved around with a career in nursing home administration while raising a son and daughter. She returned to Oklahoma in 2009 and resides in Purcell.

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