Story of Response to 'Dear Abby' and 200,000 Letters Leads to Gi - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Story of Response to 'Dear Abby' and 200,000 Letters Leads to Gift for Del. Archive

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - A gift to soldiers has become a gift to the Delaware Public Archive. Documents and photos from an odd but interesting chapter of the Vietnam War now have a new home at the archive.

It was an incident that started innocently enough and ended up leading to a major policy change at the Pentagon and postal service.

A Christmas request got the ball rolling. Prior to Christmas 1967, the nationally-syndicated advice column "Dear Abby" asked what GI's wanted for Christmas. A Delaware man wrote Abby with what he wanted.

"Dear Abby" printed eight responses to the "what do GI's want" question. The response from PFC. William David Rice was final one. State Archivist Stephen Marz says Rice wanted to see smiles on his buddy's faces.

"They don't get any mail," Marz said. "If any of your readers have a five-cent stamp and time on their hands, please have them write to 'any lonely soldier,' care of me. And I'll see that he gets it."

Even Abby didn't anticipate the size of the response to that request.

"He got almost 200,000 pieces of mail and almost 20,000 packages," Marz said. "There was a regulation that mail could only be received if it had someone's name on it. It couldn't be anonymous mail. They would all go to the 'dead letter box,' or they would be sent back if there was a return address."

Rice and this incident were instrumental in changing that policy.

"He kept all the background correspondence in that regard, which is important when you talk about an archive. How do you document something that has happened in history?" Marz explained.

Marz says Rice donated his scrapbook to the archive. It includes letters from congressmen, from Abby herself, even a couple of the letters to "any lonely soldier." and photos show just how much mail arrived in southeast Asia.

"And it is available if people would like to come into the archives and have a look at it," said Marz.

When the book isn't in use or on display, it is kept in one of the archive's four document storage facilities The vaults are both temperature and relative humidity controlled.

That protects the archive's resources. Marz says it's important to keep safe items like the ones provided by Rice.

"He made a difference in people's lives, and we thanked him when he came to the archives."

Rice officially gifted the book and documents to the archive at a ceremony the day before Veterans Day.

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