The bullet hole that went through Bill Pollitt's helmet only grazed his scalp.
The sudden impact felt like someone threw a rock at him, but at the time, he paid it no mind. It was 1968 in Loc Ninh, near the Cambodian border, and the overgrown rubber plantation he and other 1st Infantry Division soldiers found themselves in was actually the middle of a North Vietnamese base camp.
"It was like being in a hornets' nest," Bill said.
He hid behind a small tree that was slowly whittled away by machine-gun fire when the bullet struck his helmet.
If it hadn't been for the stack of love letters stashed between the helmet and the liner, the shot would have been fatal.
His girlfriend, Patti McClary, was back home in Glen Burnie, Md., writing the letters that saved his life.
The importance of letters wasn't lost on Patti, a widow with two children who had already lost one man to war. Her first husband, a Navy man, died in an aircraft accident during an anti-submarine warfare squadron exercise in 1967. She was 22 years old and six weeks pregnant with her second child.
Bill Pollitt was the boy next door. He and Patti grew up just blocks from each other. She played paper dolls with his sister. They attended St. Mary's High School together in Annapolis, Md.
Bill was home on leave before heading for Vietnam in 1968. He had tickets to an Arthur Fiedler concert and decided to call Patti up.
They spent the whole month together after that.
When Bill was ready to ship out at Friendship International Airport in Baltimore, Patti tucked a simple note, "I love you," into his starched pants pocket.
"I had lost a husband," Patti said. "You say what you mean. I wasn't going to let him die over there without knowing that."
Overseas, Bill was stationed at Quan Loi and Lai Khe. He would go on search-and-destroy missions as an infantry platoon leader, setting up ambushes on trails or searching villages for weapons.
Despite his frequent missions, Bill's relationship with Patti continued to grow from afar. He still remembers Valentine's Day 1969 as the mail clerk made deliveries to the mess hall.
"He came in and dropped the bag in front of me, and it was full of valentines from Patti. She definitely had her own agenda and campaign going."
During his R&R to Hawaii, they decided to get married as soon as he returned in June 1969. After three more military assignments, raising four children and more than 42 years of marriage, the Pollitts still have the helmet with the bullet hole. The helmet is bronzed now, a lasting reminder of Bill's amazing war story.
"It's a constant reminder," Patti says, to "Make the most of every day."