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Letters Home from Vietnam, Chapter 3 – Incoming

Four guys were killed when a rocket hit the chow hall. I don’t remember how many were wounded, that didn’t seem to matter. I can’t write home about the guys getting killed, that would be too upsetting. I need to say something humorous in my letters. Humor here seems to fill the gaps between absolute boredom and shear panic. Our humor is difficult to share with anyone back in the World. It can be mean in nature and other times it just sounds dumb.

February 25, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

I woke up this morning to the sound of bombs going off. It’s the Navy running bombing missions in the mountains about 5 miles away. The concussion of the bombs makes the barracks shake.  I’ll make Sgt. in April. Aprils Fools Day, that’s a laugh isn’t it?

War Torn Hillside

We were stopped short of making our way back to the barracks after attending the mosquito flick. The VC had made it on base from the beach and we were unarmed. We had to rely on those that did have arms for our safety. We took cover behind some sand bags and waited until it was all clear. I remember hoping that the VC wouldn’t overrun our guys.

 The military always had their official names for missions but we had other names for what we did. Mission names like “Search and Clear” became known as “Search and Destroy”. I trusted the military to know what they were doing but later learned that it was pretty much hit and miss.

March 2, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’ve been here six weeks now and the gun fire seemed to be a bit closer last night. The tracer rounds are flying through the night sky about 100 yards away. They have a new system in the war now. It’s called “search and clear”. They’ve found all kinds of VC camps and storage places. So now with the “search and clear” the VC don’t have much of a chance to organize.

 

Welcome to the jungle. Living in a barracks was a lot better than being in a tent but even the barracks didn’t stop the rain seeping in. I watched the steam rise off the jungle hills in the morning. How do you describe the smell of jungle heat?

March 5-6, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s raining again today. There is a sheet of plywood attached to the underside of the tin roof above my bed but the rain still comes through. Everything smells like wet wool. Have you ever heard of sweating while it’s raining? We will be getting our orders soon to go to Danang. We are expected to find our own passage to get there and can only take 64lbs. They gave us five days for processing and travel.

The Barracks

I just worked 12 hours, loading planes with rockets, ammo, napalm and bombs, yet we are still getting hit. Maybe our pilots need to drop their weapons a little closer to the base. When President Johnson was here in ‘67 he said this was the safest base in Vietnam.

 March 8, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

We got hit Saturday morning at 3:00 and then again at 6:00. About 15 rounds hit us at 3:00 and then another 10 or so at 6:00. We start shelling in the direction of where the rockets were launched but my understanding is that the VC is long gone.

 

OK, if the VC don’t get you the chow hall will.

March 11, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dan,

Everyone on our crew got sick to our stomachs yesterday. Lots of other guys got sick too. Don’t know what it was. Must be the chow but we still don’t know.

 

The event that would change my attitude about the war wasn’t going to happen until May of 1970.  Until then I just couldn’t understand the attitude of the students back home. Who do they think they are? We are over here fighting to keep them safe from Communism and all they can do is complain about the war in Vietnam. Just wait until I get home and let them know how I feel about their petty protests.

March 13, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad

I’m not sure what the kids back home are protesting about. I want to go back to college when I get home but don’t want my classes to be shut down by a bunch of protesters. Kids back home have gotten too spoiled. They ought to see how the Vietnamese have to live in dirt and they would respect what they have back home.

 

We don’t have a word for it yet. In WWI or WWII they called it shell shock. In 1980 we finally named it, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD for short. It doesn’t just happen to the guys on the line it also happens here on base. The nightly attacks and handling explosives during the day keeps everyone on edge.

 

With the Night Comes . . . .

March 17, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

The guy you heard about getting killed was a psychiatrist. One of our own shot him. I guess he told the guy who shot him something he didn’t want to hear.

I’ve been here for a couple of months now and the military doesn’t seem to care much about my needs. I filled my commitment by volunteering but why does this seem like a one way deal? I’m starting to feel a little different about this venture and it makes me start thinking about home again.   

March 19, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

I don’t know what the weather is like in Danang but heard there are a lot more mosquitoes there. I took my shirts to a tailor and got my Sgt. stripes sewn on. I’ve been here for awhile now and still haven’t gotten my full pay yet. I did finally get my combat pay for full month though. I sure miss American girls and drag racing.

I’m getting ready to head off to Danang. The rumor is that whatever you load on the planes, you get to see dropped on the surrounding hills and in the valleys. Part of that sounds exciting and the other part sounds too close for comfort. I can’t write home about this either.

March 23, 1970 Cam Ranh Bay, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m getting packed to go the Danang. I heard they were going to have watermelon at the Airman’s Club tonight. We get one of the girls cigarettes and she gets us watermelon. For one of every item there is here on base there are two of the same on the black market in town.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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