The sun sets behind the mountain range, inviting two cowboys on horses to take it easy for a moment and enjoy the beauty of nature. But only one of them accepts the invitation, as his eyes are mesmerized by the pastel colors of the New Mexico sky. The other cowboy turns to look at the person whose captured this moment, his stare challenging the onlooker to not take another step into the open field where his horse is grazing. The onlooker is Dennis Hoy, and the image he’s staring at is one of his many paintings capturing the spirit of the American Southwest.
“I have never been scared of trying new things,” Hoy said. “That’s why now, in my retirement, I’m a painter. But I’ve also been a professional fisherman and a coach for the girls’ basketball team at the local high school, just to name a couple of my titles.”
Recently, Hoy added the title of award-winning author to his long list of achievements. His memoir, “Letters from Vietnam,” was published last year by Xlibris, placed first in the military non-fiction category in the Firebird Book Award, received the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in the military category, and earned a runner-up prize in the memoir category at the 2022 San Francisco Book Festival.
“This is not a story told 50 years after it happened,” Hoy said of his memoir. “It’s a collection of letters I wrote home to my parents and wife, Beth, while I served in the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968.”
After being drafted, Hoy was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division and deployed to Vietnam. He documented his war experience in detail through the many letters he mailed back to his family, which eventually a family friend recommended putting in chronological order and publishing them in book form.
“I sat down in front of a camera and went through the letters, explaining details that I had shared and elaborating on the context,” Hoy said. “That’s how ‘Letters from Vietnam’ came to be.”
It is perhaps this technique that makes reading his memoir feel like an informal chat with the author, as he discusses the ups and downs he lived through while in country, his love for the mountains, and a big battle he found himself in less than a month after his arrival.
“I wrote a letter to my father, a World War II veteran, detailing the big battle,” Hoy said. “I told him that if he thought Beth could handle reading about the battle, he had my permission to share the letter with her. Little did I know that my dad had a nervous breakdown after reading my letter, and Beth later wrote to me saying that from that moment on, I should just write to her first and she’d be the one to judge if my father could handle it.”
Almost as tangible as his letters from Vietnam is the love Hoy and his wife have for one another, as it is detailed throughout the memoir. Having been married for just a few months before Hoy went to Vietnam, their love not only passed the test of war, but also of time, as they have been married for over five decades.
“If I didn’t have her waiting for me,” Hoy said of his wife, “my tour in Vietnam might have gone very differently.”
Their love is also what helped Hoy focus on the lighter side of a soldier’s life, which ultimately made “Letters from Vietnam” an even more interesting read because of the unexpectedly fun stories sprinkled throughout that lighten the mood of his experience in the war.
“My hope is that, like coaching and painting, this book will leave people with a positive response,” Hoy said.
Proud of his Potawatomi Indian heritage, Hoy adds, “I also hope that ‘Letters from Vietnam’ may further help bring recognition that Native Americans have served in the military at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group.”
Hoy, recognized for his military service by the Potawatomi Nation in Shawnee, Oklahoma, hopes to soon have a ceremony where a Potawatomi sponsor will assign him his Indian name.