The following is from a 13-page letter written by 20-year-old Pvt. John Testa to his girlfriend, Elaine Feola, from an Army hospital in Long Bien, Vietnam, where he was recuperating from wounds suffered during a Vietcong ambush in 1968. They had met two years before and John was Elaine’s date at her prom at St. Marie Goretti High School in Philadelphia in 1967.
That letter is the basis of a piece written by Michael Carestio, which he called “Anatomy of an Ambush,” and is quoted here.
“We start out on our night ambush patrol about 7:30 pm. We’re crossing an open field with a very dense tree line to our front, left and right. I was pulling point, walking first in line. We had gone about 25 meters with another 100 meters to go till we reach the cover of the tree line when someone starts shooting at us from our right flank. We immediately hit the ground and all hell breaks loose. They’re hitting us from all sides. We start firing back. We’re about ten minutes in the firefight when something hits me in the head. I didn’t have time to think about being hit, I was too busy firing.
“I saw drops of blood dripping down my arm. Where was it coming from? I reached for my forehead and felt the wound. When you’re hit, you’re supposed to tell someone about it, so I yelled to my guys who were hiding behind a clump of grass about three meters away. They yelled for the Medic who was already busy with a guy who got shot in the arm. I didn’t think I was hit too bad so I hollered for the Doc to stay where he was, which was behind a hill around 25 meters from where I was across the open field. I knew Doc would try anyway, so I kept screaming to him to stay where he was. I didn’t want him to get hit trying to help me.
“I was still in that open field 25 meters from the safety of the hill. The field was all mud, about a foot deep with big clumps of grass. Crawling on my belly was my only way out. The mud made it easier and the grass hid my movements. I made it over the hill. The guys stayed in the open field, firing like crazy to give me cover. One by one they crawl back to the hill.
“We had to make a run for it back to the base camp, about a hundred meters. Since I led us out there, I knew the way back. I didn’t think we could run that far that fast with all that equipment, but I’ll bet if someone had put a stopwatch on us, we would’ve set a world record for a 100-meter run.”
In the letter, John told Elaine how much he loved her and asked her not to tell his parents he was wounded so that they wouldn’t worry. He ended the letter with “Love & Kisses.”
That letter, along with his Purple Heart and Bronze Star, was recently found by his family among the belongings of John Testa, who died in 2015. Elaine Feola was 18-years-old and just out of high school when she received that letter. John and Elaine were married in 1970 after John served the rest of his tour of duty and was honorably discharged. They had three children and, according to their family, you couldn’t imagine John without Elaine or vice versa. Elaine passed away six months after John.
Although Michael Carestio entitled his piece “Anatomy of an Ambush,” he also called it “A Love Letter.” There was not enough space to reprint all 13 pages of that letter, but it was by all accounts “a love letter” and reflected the life together of John and Elaine Testa.