LAWRENCE —It all started when Alex Liazos began reading the letters Nicholas Conaxis sent to family members and friends from basic training and from Vietnam.
"Those letters made a permanent impression on me," Liazos said. " Some of them you read and it just breaks your heart."
The letters as well interviews with Conaxis' sister, brother, foster parents and friends, became "Twelve Days in Viet Nam: The Life and Death of Nicholas Conaxis."
Conaxis, who was born in Lawrence was killed in an ambush just 12 days after arriving in Vietnam. He was a private first class with Company A, 6th Batallion, 29th Artillery, 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army.
Liazos, 72, of Waltham, will speak on Conaxis and his biography tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Lawrence Public Library, 51 Lawrence St.
The Conaxis family lived at 903 Essex St. His father sold fruits and vegetables out of a van around Lawrence.
Through Conaxis' correspondences and Liazos' interview with about 50 friends and family, he learned of a young man upon whom life had dealt a hard blow.
He was 2 when his father died of tuberculosis and his mother had a mental breakdown, which left her hospitalized for years. Conaxis lived with a foster family in Rowley for 11 years before going to Longview Farm in Walpole where he lived from 1961 to 1965 with his brother.
Despite that, he was very caring.
During marching exercises at basic training in Ft. Jackson, S.C., a soldier with asthma fell behind and Conaxis told the commanding officer to let him alone. In a letter to his sister, he wrote about his concerns for the Vietnamese children.
"His initial letters showed how much he care for the kids in Vietnam and his opposition to the war," Liazos said. "The rest of them, he is writing about all kinds of things and exploring all kinds of ideas."