KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A survivor on the foreign soil of Vietnam and now on the familiar soil of home -- his skills as a soldier helped him come home from war.
It was a skill he didn't even know he had, but it helped him survive what awaited him on the home front. It helped his family survive, too.
Dinah and John Nash were high school sweethearts. He was a star athlete and she was a homecoming queen candidate. They became inseparable until John found himself drafted after dropping out of college. He opted for the Marines and was off to the Vietnam war where he became a sergeant.
It was lonely," Dinah Nash said. "I was very proud of him."
The letters helped by spelling out the highlights and the horrors of his years in Vietnam. The young athlete and charmer from Raymore saw violence and death. He also experienced loss thousands of miles from home and missed his sweetheart.
When he did get home, John showed Dinah his love by marrying her. They began building their left together. The couple went on to parent four children and face demons John thought he'd left behind.
"The friends he made in Vietnam were more like brothers," she said. "He saw a lot of them get killed, maimed and he felt responsible for them."
He had to kill, too. A chore of war his wife says conflicted with his faith. He watched children die -- Vietnamese kids he befriended with candy by day and booby trapped the Marine camps by night. The painful memories wouldn't go away. They erupted in nightmares and were soothed by drinking and lashing out.
"When I used to wake him up to go to work right after we got married, he would come up swinging, and it bothered me, but I didn't know who to talk to about it," she said.
The Nash family felt alone. Friends began to shun them and John grew distant from his kids and he and Dinah separated three times. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD took its toll. That was long before people knew what PTSD was. A VA counselor knew.
"The very first thing the counselor said was, not going to help you get rid of your nightmares," he said. "They are not going to go away, we're not even going to pretend they are going away. But I can help you deal with it."
He dealt with it by writing about all of it. He wrote about the good and bad times. He was aided by the hundreds of letters and pictures Dinah saved.
"After we had all gone to bed he would go in the living room and start reading the letters, and reread them," she said. "And he would start writing what he remembered. And that's when I would wake up and he wouldn't be in my bed, and I could look down the hallway and all I could see was the cherry of his cigarette. He was sitting on the floor in the dark. He was back on guard duty. Watching over us."
Over a span of 25 years, he wrote and re-wrote, flashed back, faced demons and began to emerge from the shadows. As he did, his high school sweetheart noticed something. It was a good story, a real good story. Nash published his book, "Whispers of Death: The Nightmare that Lasted a Lifetime," and has since learned it's helped others cope with the lasting effects of war.
Among those are children of other Vietnam vets who say that Nash's book has helped them understand their loved one's struggle. And there is help for PTSD sufferers.