You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

August 3, 1968.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Hi Honey,

Well, we moved today, and these barracks are worse than I had really expected.  They’re the old wooden type with coal furnaces.  That means coal dust to fight and breathe, and someone to keep them going.  Don’t have to worry about heat yet, but to get hot water it’s the same deal.  It really pisses me off.

The only thing good about the whole deal is that our unit is finally getting organized a little.  We have a few more NCOs now, and even a couple officers.  We have five of our Hueys now, and three more on the way.  I hope we’ll be able to get to work on them before long.  I also spoke to one of our sergeants about going to Texas to pick up the next batch, and he said he’d keep me in mind, so…

I went to Lejeune and picked up Bob this last weekend, and Saturday we went to Carolina Beach.  It rained.  So we had to stick to indoor games, like hitting every bar in town.  We met a couple more Marines, a special forces guy from Bragg, and a couple of civilian dudes, and ended up having a pretty good time.  Bob got us chased out of a bar by the cops, but we managed to keep him out of any real trouble.

I’ve only got one letter from you since I’ve got here.  Since we had the long holiday with no mail calls, I was figuring I’d get one today.  But because we moved our mail will have to be sent clear across post, which could take days.  That’s if they can figure out where we are now.  For the time being you can still send them to the address you already have, but add D-1 Unit after 82nd Avn, okay?  Then maybe I’ll get them.

This is Wednesday now.  Sorry I’m so slow with this, but in addition to not getting mail we don’t have a place to send it from either.  It’s a hell of a deal.  I want to hear from you so bad I’m about ready to put a boot in someone’s rear end if they don’t get some kind of a deal set up for us.

Today we drew web gear, and tomorrow and Friday were supposed to go out to the range and qualify with our M-16 rifle.  That’ll be kind of fun for a change, but I don’t like the idea of playing grunt again.

Oh yeah, I haven’t told you about our mascots yet.  The day we got here we found three pups under the barracks.  The mother had died while giving birth, as well as three of her six pups.  The other three were in bad shape, but the vet said he could save them with blood transfusions.  So we all chipped in to collect the $30 it cost, and now we’ll have some pets.  The CO even said we could take them to Vietnam with us.

Speaking of pups — how’s Dutchess?  And have you been taking care of her like you said you would?  You’d better, or your dad is liable to give her away.  I’ll bet she’s big enough now that she’s eating you out of house and home.  You’re going to have to send me another picture of her, but you’d better be in it too.

You know, so far since I’ve been out here I haven’t really minded it too much, partly because of the newness and partly because I see Bob every weekend.  But now it’s starting to get old and Bob will only be out here a few more weeks.  It isn’t going to be too much longer before this place starts driving me buggy.  I’ll bet almost any place would if it’s away from you.  Seems like you’re all that really means anything to me anymore.  Or maybe it’s just that you mean so much that nothing else seems important.  At any rate, I love you Rita, more than you’ll ever know.

I tried calling you last Sunday night, and again Monday morning, or rather noon, but no answer.  I kind of figured you had taken off for the weekend, but I sure would have liked to talk to you, and Bob wanted to say hi too.

Well we just had a mail call, and nothing.  I’m getting pissed off.  I don’t think my mail is getting sent down from 82nd, and I don’t have any way to get there to check on it.  Maybe tomorrow.

I’d best finish this up now and try to find somewhere to mail it.  I’m enclosing $20 you can put on the rings.  If you need any money you can keep five, but I have to give them fifteen a month now so it can’t be more than that, okay?  At the end of the month I’ll send any money I have left to you as well as at least another 20, and you can hold the rest until I need it to get home on.  That may be a while, but at least I’ll have it.  I don’t want to borrow again if I can help it.

Remember Hon, I love you, very very much.  I just wish you were here with me.  That would make everything perfect.  But all I do now is wait and think about when it will be that way.  I love you Rita.

Always,

Jeff


The tapes are done!  Thanks to the help of everyone reading ,  I’ve managed to get every last reel-to-reel tape  transferred to digital.  I have them all on CD and on my laptop so I can start editing them.  I just wanted to make sure you were all aware that this couldn’t have possibly been accomplished without your help.  So thanks.  They’re all from Vietnam, so while we may not be hearing them on the site for a couple of months, that will give me the time needed to sift through the many hours of audio.

There is however, a little money left over and I wanted to let you know what I intend to do with it.  All of it will go into the site so don’t think I’m going to end up with a new gold chain or something.  I’ll be using it for two things: to keep this domain (lettersfromvietnam.com) up and running for the foreseeable future.  It doesn’t cost a lot but it must be renewed (paid for) yearly, so you all have helped me to keep the URL active for a while.  Thanks.

The other item is a piece of equipment.  As you may know I use speech-to-text software to translate these letters from his handwriting to the blog.  The microphone I use is the same one that came with the software, is kinda cheap and kinda busted… so I’m going to get new one that will hopefully last the remainder of this project, which is scheduled for about 2 years from now.

If you have any objections or would like a porportional refund, I can certainly do that too, but your contributions have made the digital transfer of his voice possible and will continue ot help me deliver his letters until we’re all done with this thing.  Feel free to send me an email at the address in the left column of the page.

Advertisements

July 21, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.

Hi Beautiful!

It Sunday morning at 11 o’clock and everybody’s still in bed, including me, so you’ll have to excuse the handwriting.  I just can’t find enough energy to get up.  I’ve just been lying here thinking about you and looking at your pictures and missing you.  I just wish I knew when I will be able to get home.  It could be this week or next month.  The worst part is not knowing.

We’ve had a typical weekend around here so far.  Four guys went into Hampton to a dance.  After the dance they were talking to some guys outside, real friendly like, and all of a sudden those guys started beating the daylights out of our guys.  They came back with some beautiful black eyes and swollen lips.

Another guy was at Buckroe beach and got jumped by a couple of colored guys.  They beat the tar out of him, toss them in the street, then jumped in the car and tried to run over him.  He rolled out of the way, but they ran over his ankle.  It’s all black and blue and swollen, but it could’ve been worse.

There are several others out on pass yet, and I imagine there will be a few more incidents like that we’ll hear about tonight.

Friday night we had a little incident in our barracks which is actually quite humorous.  Since we’ve been going today classes, and class 84 next door is still going to night classes, they’ve been coming over at 2:00 in the morning when they get back and waking us up by  screaming and hollering and slamming doors, etc..  Then the next morning we do the same thing to them when they could sleep till 10:00 and we have to get up at 6:00.  But Friday night when they got back a couple of guys were still awake and heard them.  They grabbed fire extinguishers and planned to spray anyone who tried slamming doors.  But class 84 decided to run through our barracks this time.  About six guys got through the door when they opened up with the fire extinguishers.  All the noise woke several of us up and we grabbed four of them and worked them over pretty good.  The other two ran back out the door, but some guys from upstairs were ready and dumped a big bucket of water on them as they went out.  Since then we haven’t had any problem.

This is Monday evening now.  We got to go flying today and it was out of sight!  I was sitting in the crew chief’s seat behind a machine gun, and it was just like watching a movie.  It was completely different than a plane.  I never cared for planes, but this was outstanding.  The door gunner and myself didn’t wear seatbelts, just a harness affair on a strap, so we could move around and even hang clear out the chopper.  Now more than ever I want to make crew chief while I’m in Nam.  After today I’d go nuts if I had to stay on the ground.

Tonight I’m going to start getting my stuff ready for packing.  I just hope and pray I’ll be hauling it home and not just to another post.  I love you Rita, and I want to see you so bad!  If the Army will let me I’ll be home sometime this weekend, even if I have to walk.  Until then, or until I write you from Bragg, remember my love for you.

Love,

Jeff

As pointed out in the comments on today’s post (below), today would have been thier 40th.

July 18, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia

Dearest Rita,

Do you realize that tomorrow I’ll have been in the Army six months?  Really doesn’t seem that long in a lot of ways, yet seems like years in others.  But now I have only 2 1/2 years left.  Doesn’t really sound much shorter, does it?

Well, I’m getting Spec 4 for sure.  Just about got the shaft on that though.  Our class N.C.O. (the guy from Hot Springs) grabbed me this morning and told me I couldn’t get Spec 4 because I had a D.R. (delinquency report), but I never got one.  So we went and cleared that up and the list went in and I was approved this afternoon.  So in about one week it will no longer be Pvt., and that’s okay with me.  It means another $60 a month too.  So I’ll be able to send more home, and we can start putting some in the bank as well as on the ring.  How does that sound?  On what I can start sending next month and all the extra I’ll get when I get to Nam, we’ll have quite a bit saved by the time we get married.  That would always be okay.

Speaking of getting married, I got an announcement of Lee and Anne’s marriage.  If you see them, tell them I may be able to be there.  The way things look now I’ll go straight from here to Bragg, but our class N.C.O. told me we’d probably get a leave right after we get there.  Of course we can’t really count on that until we get there.

Now it’s Friday evening.  I heard today from one of the cadre that we should get 14 days leave out of here.  But I’ve quit believing anything I hear.  If I get one, fine.  If not, I’ll put in for one as soon as we hit Bragg.  I’ll let you know one way or another.  Why don’t you plan on being home Thursday the 26th, and I’ll give you a call that evening.  Let me know if you have to work though, okay?  But, you’d best send any letter no later than Monday or I may not get it in time.  Honey, you asked if I’d mind you writing to Dale.  This is up to you.  But you know that I think it’s silly for two people to ignore each other when they break up.  I’ll admit it bugs me just a little — a touch of jealousy I guess — but I feel you should if you want to.

I’m glad you’re getting your college stuff taken care of.  I just wish we were both going to school there this year.  You don’t know how I’d like to be running around that campus again.  I just hope you will realize how great it is.  I never did until too late.  Remember, if you have any questions or problems, let dad know, okay?

Already, with the weekend just starting, I’m thinking of you too hard.  Then it’ll get so I don’t feel like doing anything except think about you, and then I get moody.  I’ve got my favorite pictures of you taped on the door of my locker so I can look at them while I’m writing.  People keep coming over and admiring them.  They think you’re great, but they don’t know how wonderful you really are.  I love you honey, and I want to get home to see you so bad!  Do you realize I could be home by this time next week?  I just hope and pray I’ll be able to.  I want to hold you and kiss you and just be with you more than anything in the world.  I love you Reet, very very much.

Forever,

Jeff

July 17,  1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.

Dearest Rita,

Today I received the most beautiful letter I’ve ever got from you.  When you talked about our future and our dreams they all seemed so real and so close.  Sometimes they seem so far away, so when I feel that way from now on, I’ll just read that letter.  Thank you, honey.

And now it’s Tuesday morning, and I got another letter today!  Boy, I must rate or something.  Keep them coming.

The best part of this last one was about the announcement of our engagement.  You’d better get a clipping off to me pretty quick or else… I imagine my folks will be sending me one too, but that’s okay.  I’ll keep one and carry the other one around in my wallet.  I just wish I could be there with you now.

Yes, I am jealous, jealous because Bob’s there with you and I’m not.  But I’m glad he gives you something to do.  You’d better tell that little rat to write me though.  Tell him I’m getting very pissed off, okay?

So what exactly happened between him and Ruth.  Hope it wasn’t a “Dear John” while he was out in California.  He never said anything about it to me.  But it’s been quite a while since I’ve heard from him.  Keep riding him about that, okay?

Honey, you can tell Beth for me that a puppy would be the greatest wedding gift she could possibly give us.  I just wish we didn’t have to wait so long to collect it.  Even if we can’t have any children right away we’ll have something to raise, right?

Say, how does Bob look with short hair?  I really can’t imagine that.  Why don’t you try to get a picture of him to send to me?  With all that extra weight and short hair, I want to be able to recognize him if we can ever get together.  I still don’t know just where he’s going to be stationed though.  Why don’t you try to find out and tell me, since he may never get around to it.

How does Bob like our ring?  Say, don’t you two have a bet he’ll collect on?  Hope you don’t mind losing that one.  I’ll always be thankful to him for what we’ve got now.  You know something?  He knew long before we did that things would work out this way.

Rita, thinking about you and our ring and the announcement has really made me homesick.  It would be just great to be back there with you and Bob, just goofing around like we used to.  Isn’t it funny how the good times of the past are so hard to bring back?  Yet there’s always the future, which looks great to me.  Honey, our love is the biggest thing the future holds, as far as I’m concerned.  I love you so much that I just couldn’t see any future at all without you in it, Rita.  I love you honey, very very much.

I got to knock off now and get some things done here.  Don’t forget to send the announcement and pictures of the rings and your short hair (grrr) and Bob if you can, okay?

All my love!

Jeff

PS.  Tell Bob to say hi to Dayle at Muggs.  He was out of town when I was home.


First, I think it’s hilarious that just after I post about Bob saying they were “always in communication,” dad lays into him for not writing.

Second, we’re looking everywhere for the announcement so when he finally says “Hey, I got the announcement and it looks great!” we can post a scan of it for you.  Unfortunately it’s been difficult to locate and could be hidden in a couple different states.

I hope mom took her time sending it.

And finally, I only have two tapes left before I’m done transferring everything I have from tape reels to digital.  With luck, this Saturday I’ll finish them and we will bring an end to the saga… at which I have to start editing it all.  Most everything is from Vietnam, so it might be a bit before we get the actual tapes posted.  In addition to dad’s we have one tape from my uncle Alan, one from dad’s ROTC hearing (where they decide to kick him out), and one from some of dad’s buddies in Vietnam who sent it to him after he was discharged.

There is also one special one.  Some years later, after Alana and I were born, dad must have pulled out the old reel-to-reel and tried it out again, because you hear him turn it on, speak into it for a second, then set it down and leave it recording.  Alana and I (and one of Alana’s friends) are playing hide and go seek, messing with the recorder, and generally goofing around.  Alana must be about 6 and I about 3.  We even try his patience for a minute or two.

If I see an appropriate time to put that up, I will, but I have many many hours of audio to wade through, and since dad seldom decided to mention the date, I’m having to infer as to when most of them were made by picking out clues: mentioning how long until he gets out, how long he’s been in, how long until R&R, etc…  should be fun.

Ethan

July 15, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.


Hi Beautiful!

I got a letter from you today and boy! you did do enough bitching for a year.  I just wonder what I’ve gotten myself into!?  No, seriously, I don’t mind and everything you said is true.  You’ll be glad to know I did write my folks finally, in fact I think they got it Saturday.  And about my smoking — yes, I have cut down considerably, mainly because I can’t afford it.  But I won’t promise this to quit, not right now anyway.  In the Army the only time you get to relax is on a smoke break, and just think what would happen if everyone would quit smoking!  Then we wouldn’t even get that (some logic, huh?).

Rita, you said something about writing my grandma.  Well, I finished a letter to her just before I started this one.  It was one of the hardest letters I’ve ever written.  You don’t know how many times I tore it up and started over.  I just didn’t know how to express the way I feel, yet I know I should have written it a long time ago.  Even now I’m not satisfied with it, but I’m going to send it anyway.  It seems so inadequate, but it’s the best I can do for now, anyway.

Honey, about what you said about being careful when I’m home — you’d better believe I will be!  The last thing I want is for you to become pregnant now (while I’m home, that is).  Remember the guy told you about who went home over the forth to get married?  Now his child will be born after he’s in Nam, and will be nearly 9 months old before he ever sees it.  And then there’s the possibility he never will.  I don’t want anything like that with us hon.  To me it would be worth waiting forever, rather than have that happen.  And we’re not going to have one of the safest jobs in the world either, once we get over there.

Well, enough of that.  Now about looking over your last couple of letters — I did, and I couldn’t find any unanswered questions.  You must have been dreaming, maybe?  But from now on I’ll make it a point to answer everything in your letters, although I’ve been doing so all along, I thought.

Now, about my leave.  I still know very little, but I do know my next duty station is Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and I do know I’ll be leaving here at the 26th.  When my reporting date is, I don’t know.  I may have to go straight to Bragg or I may still get a couple of weeks.  So this still doesn’t tell you much, does it?  I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for a leave before you start school this fall.  I’ll be very pissed off if I don’t get one before then.

One good thing about all this — going to Bragg means a build up unit before Nam.  According to several of our instructors, I’d have a good chance of making Spec 5 in that unit before shipping over.  That’s assuming I make Spec 4 out of here that is, and I’ll know that in a couple of weeks.  As a Spec 4 I’ll be making $190 on month plus all the extras while in Nam, and a Spec 5 must make at least $250 plus.  That’s talking big money when you’re in the service.  And just about everyone makes a stripe in Nam, so it would be possible, if everything went well, to be Spec 6 when I get back.  And that’s what I’m shooting for Rita, because we could live pretty well on what I’d be making then.  But it’s got to start by coming out of here as Spec 4.  I sure do hope I get it — I’ve worked hard enough for it.

The only real disadvantages of a build up unit is that it will take longer to get over there, and when we do leave, we’ll probably go by boat.  I don’t like that idea at all!  It takes about 23 days that way.  I’ve got a feeling I’ll be seasick the whole way.

Okay, let’s get off that subject and talk about something else — you!  But what can I say that I haven’t said a million times already?  I love you Rita, that’s all there is to it.  Or rather, there’s a lot more to it but no way to express it.  I love you.

Oh yeah, I remember something I meant to ask you a long time ago.  What did Steve and Gail have to say about your ring?  I hope Steve approved, after all he is going to be my brother-in-law.  I’ll bet he just gave you a lot of friction about it, right?

I’m going to have to close now and get my stuff ready for tomorrow.  I love you honey, and think about you all the time.  And if sometimes you don’t hear from me for a couple of days, remember, a guy has to do just a little bit more than required to get a promotion, and that’s what I’m working for.  It’ll make things a lot easier for us later.

All my love!

Jeff

July 10, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.


Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket

July 12, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.


Dearest Rita,

I’m sorry I didn’t get a card to you in time for your birthday, but I’m sure you’ll understand.  I skipped formation to get it, then I had it two days before I had a chance to write in it.  Then I didn’t get it sent right away.  But it’s the thought that counts, and believe me, I’m thinking of you constantly.  Happy birthday honey, with all my love.

Honey, I don’t want you to get all excited about what I’m going to say now, but we’ve been talking to a lot of people trying to find out where we’re going from here.  Nothing is definite until  we get our orders, but there’s a good chance that most of us will be going to Ft. Bragg, N.C. from here for a build up unit to Vietnam.  If that’s the case, I may not get leave until I get there.  That would mean a couple more weeks at least.  I hope and pray this isn’t the case, but it could be, so I thought you’d like to know.

Honey, you don’t know how much I miss you!  It’s worse now that we’re nearing the end of this course and I keep wondering how long it will be before I’ll get home to you.  The moon was full this week, but luckily it was cloudy here all week.  If it hadn’t been I would have gone nuts.  I hope the next full moon finds me in your arms and nowhere else.  Then I’ll be happy.

Today we started day classes, and right of the bat we got the shaft.  We should be used to it by now.  We were supposed to go flying today, but the three choppers they use were all in for maintenance.  So we didn’t.  We’ll get to go next week, but we’re still getting screwed out of this week’s time.

Honey, what can I write when all I can do is think about you?  I can tell you how much I love you, but a letter willed with that isn’t much of a letter.  I want to talk to you so bad!  There’s a million things I want to tell you that don’t mean anything on paper.  Nothing special, nothing big, just thinks I’d tell you if we were just talking.  And you’d tell me about little things that happened to you.  Honey, if we can always talk to each other that way we’ll have it made.  And I know we always will.

Hey, in the last letter I got from you Sue added a little.  She said something about you getting your ears pierced.  Are you planning on it?  You never said.  If you do, don’t let Sue do it though, please?  Go to a doctor – it doesn’t cost more than a couple bucks, and it’s a hell of a lot safer.  Okay?

Last night I had to go see our class sergeant about our schedule for today.  We shot the bull for a while, then he showed me a newspaper clipping with a poem in it that his brother wrote before he was killed in Vietnam.  It was real good and expressed some good thoughts.  I’ll see if I can copy it and send it to you.  You might like it, or at least understand how a lot of guys, myself included, feel.

This is Saturday night now, and I miss you more than ever Rita.  Didn’t have anything to do tonight, so I borrowed a whole stack of 45rpm records from our class sergeant.  Now I wish I hadn’t.  Some of the songs make me so home sick it hurts.  Whenever I play a Righteous Brothers song I remember the concert we went to with Jim and Vicki.  Right now “She Cried” is on, and now Gene Pitney.  Boy, what I wouldn’t do to be with you right now.  I love you honey, very much.

You know, all week long we look forward to the weekends, but when they come and a guy has the time to think, everyone starts moping around thinking about home and his girl.  It almost makes me wish it were over, yet I hate the thought of starting another week too.  But when that week is over I’ll be that much close to being home with you, and that’s all that counts.

Honey, I’m going to knock off now and get this in the mail.  I’m sitting here doing more thinking than writing, and it’s all about you.  I love you Rita, and I always will.  I can’t think of the future without thinking of you, and all I remember when I think of home is you and things we’ve don’t and places we’ve been.  I cherish these memories honey, because every minute I’m with you is a moment to be cherished.  I love you Rita, with all my heart.

All my love,

Forever!

Jeff

I am seriously close to putting the “Gushing Young Love” subtitle back up.

Ethan

Okay, my turn.

To me Bob was slightly larger than life.  You generally didn’t come into contact with him without getting a smile and a handshake, and you generally felt better about yourself by the time you parted company.  That said, he had zero tolerance for bullshit and didn’t suffer fools, so if you managed to stay out of these two categories with him, chances are you’d just made a reliable friend.

Of course, Bob has been in my life since forever.  We would visit his home during summer vacations from Arizona and I’d play with his kids, Dan mostly, as he was a little bit older than me and the only one who shared the powerful Star Wars/Comic Book/Weird Al/Laser Tag gene that seemed to be recessive in the rest of our families.  I owe more than a little of my geeky disposition to Dan.

After finishing high school and I headed back to South Dakota like a homing pigeon, and to be honest it didn’t occur to me to go anywhere else.  I attended and graduated from SDSU, just like Bob and just like my father.   When I arrived, having Bob there helped make it feel more like I was returning home than moving half way across the country.  He never made an attempt to replace dad, but he certainly filled some fatherly gaps by offering me sound advice and always making sure that I knew I “was welcome at any time, day or night.”  I remember after about three weeks of living in Brookings he told me to stop knocking before I came into their house and just come in already.

“You’re family,” he’d say.

When I was looking for work he gave me a part-time job in his store, working whatever hours worked for me; when I was short on money for rent or car insurance he would lend me the little I needed to get me through the month (with an understanding on when it would be paid back); when I needed someplace to stash the money for my wife’s ring, he kept it in his safe; when I needed someplace to stash the ring, he kept it in his sweater drawer.

When Bob began to lose his final bout with cancer, I suddenly realized I might not just be losing a good friend but also one of the single best sources of information on dad.  So one evening I turned on a small tape recorder and we started talking.  By this time he was on medication so the conversations are quiet and rambling with long pauses, but he was fierce in his love for my father.  He told me the key to their being friends for as long as they were was communication: there was never a time that they weren’t in constant contact via either mail or phone.  He also talked briefly about their decision to volunteer for Vietnam.

“Our country was in a war.  And when your country is in a war goddammit you go.”  Simple as that.

We only completed two tapes before he died and they’re of terrible quality, but you can hear his distinctive voice, his anger and sadness, and his trademark “no bullshit” style of conversation.  Ultimately I made the same mistake with Bob that I did with dad: I waited too long to really sit down and talk about the important stuff.

To say that when he died it was like losing a father would be a lie.  It wasn’t.  Only his children can say that.  But I lost my dad at 13, at a time when I had no idea of how to relate to him as a man, how important he would really be to me, and what a void his absence would create.  In a way I understood Bob’s death much better than I did my father’s.  At 23 I knew exactly who I was losing and how it was happening and what his place was in my life.  I’m not searching for Bob.  Bob isn’t a mystery to me.  I know who he was.  I love him and miss him, but his passing was much easier for me to synthesize mentally and emotionally.

This whole experiment is me trying, at long last, to fill in the gaps that remain in my knowledge of my father.  I want to use that information to build an image of him for myself to relate to, and since I can’t know him, I’m having to settle with being able to study his history like an archeologist.  Which I guess is what I’m ultimately doing here: studying my father.  Trying to learn as much as I can about him so I can develop an opinion, a feeling, or perhaps even an emotional connection with his memory.  A connection which I certainly don’t have now.

For reasons that I’ll have to articulate later, I don’t have any truly strong feelings about him. I feel I should, but I don’t. All I feel is the hole that he would have occupied in my life.  A hole that Bob’s presence helped me realize I had.  Bob was a huge piece of the puzzle that is my father.

Now I’m sure that some people who are reading this remember him differently than I did, and that’s to be expected.  I was his best friend’s son and that pretty much puts a rose-colored tint on everything Bob.  It’s also fair to say I put him on a bit of a pedestal, so I can’t possibly pretend to be objective here.  He wasn’t my father but he supplied me with a healthy number of fatherly moments.

Anyway, while these three posts are here to provide a little context to Bob, they are also meant to serve as a small tribute to a man who was, to many of us, kind of a big deal.

Ethan

From Rita:

Bob has always been there. I worked with Bob at the College Theatre in Brookings, he was the one who tore the tickets (head usher) and I was the one who sold the popcorn and candy. Bob and I had to work the weekend of the SD High School State Wrestling Tournament to be held in Huron. Bob planned to go after work on Saturday with his best friend, Jeff and asked me to fill the car with my friends, so we could all go together. I sat between Jeff and Bob in the front seat and had a great time ignoring Jeff. By the end of the evening, I found him rather charming. For the next nine nights in a row, he came to pick Bob up after work (never done before) and they offered me a ride home. After that, he finally asked me out and you are reading the rest of the story.

We lived near each other in Brookings, where they both graduated from college and our first babies were born. They were living in Pierre when we moved there but had moved back to Brookings before we moved to AZ. Besides all the hunting trips and visits at their (Bob and Dee’s) home; we would meet them in Vegas each February. They would both come for a week long convention and we would be there for the final day, gambling, eating and laughing.

When Jeff was sick with cancer, Bob brought Jeff’s brother, Dexter to Kingman for a visit. It was the last time Jeff was able to be “out” for a day traveling through the mountains around Kingman. Jeff knew that Bob would be back in February as usual, I’m convinced that Jeff was able to hold on until he saw Bob one more time. He hadn’t spoken in several days and hadn’t acknowledged anyone for 24 hours, until when Bob came into the room; Jeff tried to sit up and said HI. He laid back down and never spoke again; he waited until after Bob said good-bye late that evening before he chose to go home (heaven).

Bob called me every month after Jeff died; slowing only after several years past.

It’s funny too, that the Clay that Jeff talks about in his letters, was a lot like Bob. Clay and Jeff were best friends all during the service. Clay flew in to see Jeff a month before he died and I couldn’t believe how much Clay looked like Bob; they even sounded alike.

So the last letter got me thinking about Bob. For a while now I’ve wanted to have a post dedicated to him because I felt it was important to make clear how big an impact he had in the lives of our family, not just on my father forty years ago. As most of you reading this are either family members or close friends, most of you already know something about him.

Today there will be no letter, but instead a short post I asked my sister to write.  She had a very close relationship with Bob and his family.

I should also mention that Bob passed away from cancer a few years back (after beating it down two or three times first).

First of all, he and dad knew each other for as long as I can remember stories being told- they used to go pheasant hunting in fields that are now housing developments. They got into a lot of trouble together and had a heck of a time along the way! Bob’s oldest child, Dan, and I (also the oldest) are only a couple of months apart in age and Dan’s middle name is Jeffrey (after my dad).

They moved to Pierre around the same time and lived not to far from each other while their families were young. Even after my dad moved our family to Arizona they stayed close- talking on the phone and going on hunts together. Every time our family would come back to SD to visit, Bob would be one of our first stops. Best friends if I ever saw it.

My dad passed away in February 1992 and Bob was there. He had flown in to spend some time with dad and they had spent that whole day together. Bob had gone back to his hotel that evening and I think he had just settled in when I had to call him to tell him dad had passed- he was the rock, the fill in for dad that night and many, many years after. I was very thankful he was there for our mom.

The year after I graduated I was trying to find my way in life, not really knowing what to do next. I decided to move back to Brookings, living with my aunt and uncle but spending most of my time at Bobs. I was their 3rd child- always eating with them and spending many long evenings sitting next to Bob listening to advice and great stories of my father! Bob really filled that void that my dad’s death had left. He got me my wonderful job at the bank, which led to me meeting my husband and having 3 beautiful girls- I really owe it all to Bob. I feel very lucky to have known him and to have had the opportunity to spend so much quality time with him. Sadly he also lost his battle to cancer years ago but he will always be in our hearts!

Jeff’s oldest child and only daughter, Alana

July 8, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia


Hi Beautiful!

I made it to DC this weekend and saw both Bob and Gene.  I had to stick around here Saturday morning because of a battalion muster which never came off, but made it to DC about 3:00.  I found Bob’s room but he wasn’t in, so I went looking for him in the nearest bars.  Came back to the hotel about an hour later and was waiting for an elevator when he came up behind me and clobbered me a good one.  He had spent the afternoon in the hotel bar, which I hadn’t noticed.  But I was on the right track.

That afternoon and evening we spent looking around mostly.  We hit a couple bars in the evening but they’re so damn expensive we didn’t waste much time on them.  We got approached by a pimp but told him to flake off — they make me sick!  About midnight we went back to the hotel, figuring we’d get up early Sunday.

Just as we were both getting ready to drop off the phone rang.  It was Gene, so he came up.  He had been in DC all evening, but hadn’t found us before since we were out.  He had been planning on heading back but he figured he’d try once more before he left.  So the three of us shared Bob’s single room.  Sunday we looked around all morning and ended up flopped out in the shadow of the Washington Monument.  We just shot the bull mainly.  Bob had to catch a bus at 2:00 so we went back about 12:00 so he could clean up and eat, and saw him off.  It sure was good to see him, and we had a hell of a good time even if we didn’t really do much.

After seeing Bob off, Gene and I went back along the Washington Monument area and flopped in some trees.  Later we walked up to the Lincoln Memorial.  We just sat at the top of the steps and watched the people come and go.  I get a kick out of people, and I wish I had a camera.  There were some of the cutest little kids playing around there you ever saw.

As we were leaving we saw some tables set up and people around there, so we went over to see what it was.  They were trying to get people to sign gun-control petitions.  I just stood and stared.  Then a guy asked if I wanted to sign.  I just about walked over and punched him in the nose.  Boy was I mad!  But I just gave him a dirty look and walked away.  I was so mad I was shaking though.  That’s something that really bugs me.

Saw Gene off on the bus at 9:00, then picked up the Sunday paper, went to my room, read it, and went to bed.  Got up at 4:00 this morning and the guy I rode to DC with picked me up at 5:00.  Got here at 8:00 and went back to bed.  Then at 10:00 the Army took over again — damn.  Really had a good weekend though.

I just got a letter from you today, and you’ll be glad to know you’ll probably beat me in a tan department.  I haven’t made Virginia Beach for three or four weeks now, and it doesn’t look like I’ll make it again.  I lost a lot of a tan I had, but it still isn’t too bad.  I’m just afraid of what a couple more weeks without sun will do to it.

Rita, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I get home for your birthday present.  I didn’t have time Saturday to find one, and now I’m broke.  So I’ll give it to you myself when I get home, okay?

I’ve heard our orders are in now, but we haven’t got them ourselves yet.  Should pretty quick.  I’ve also heard they’re all for Vietnam, which doesn’t surprise anyone.  All I really want to know is how long I’ll have to spend with you before I go.  You’re all I think of and all that really matters to me.  I love you Rita, with all my heart.  Forever!

Gotta go.

Love,

Jeff

July 4, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.


Hi Honey –

Boy, what a drag today has been.  You’d think on the Fourth of July there’d be something to do.  I slept till eleven this morning, ate lunch, then went bowling.  I really didn’t feel like it, but there was nothing else to do.  Bowled a lousy 93 the first game.  Then I got hot and pulled a 218 out of the second.  That’s my highest game ever.  After that we were going to go to a show, but the theater was filled before we got in, so that shot that.  So now I’m sitting around the barracks again, and I hate this place.  It really gets a guy feeling low sitting around here.

I think I told you we’re in the shops now working on the choppers, and it’s really interesting.  The instructors are some real cool guys, and after sitting in the classrooms or eight weeks this is great, but it sure wears a guy out.  By the time we get done I’m shot.  But three weeks from today we’ll be done.

This morning at 5:30 one of the guys I mentioned before, Mike, took off for California to get married.  His girlfriend’s pregnant so he got an emergency leave.  He was happy as hell when he left here, and I don’t blame him.  We got together and gave him a card and $30 Spears and I collected.  I think every guy here envies him.  I just wish I was coming back to marry you, but I’m glad it won’t have to be because you’re pregnant.

Now it’s Friday, and all hell broke loose last night.  I spent half the night at the MP station.  Five of us had been into Newport News at a drive-in, and we were on our way back when they stopped us.  No big deal at first, just a speeding ticket.  Then they started checking passes, and one guy didn’t have one.  That guy, Wood, had had his pass revoked by the Battalion Commander.  Then he tried to lie his way out of it by saying he hadn’t been off post.  But the driver, Peters, without thinking said we had all been with him in town.  Then they found that Peters’ license plates and post tag weren’t good and he had no title for the car, just a bill of sale.  So we sat down at the station until 3:00 this morning, and our first sergeant had to come down and get us out.  We all had extra detail today and had to see the first sergeant today at two.  He was pretty nice about it, just said he didn’t want to see us in trouble again.  Wood got off with seven days extra detail, when he could have gotten a summary court-martial for disobeying a direct order if Battalion had found out about it.  Peters is going to have to go through a lot of red tape to get his car back, but other than the vehicle charges he should come out okay too, I hope.

Another guy got picked up last night too, and started fighting a cop.  He got tossed into a paddy wagon when he started a fight with another guy getting hauled in, and ended up in the hospital.  He’s going to be sitting in jail for a while, and when he gets out the Army will probably put him right back in.

Tomorrow I’m going to DC to see Bob!  Only I just about got screwed out of that too.  I was afraid I’d get restricted for last night, but I lucked out.  Then I got posted for duty this weekend, but I got another guy to take that.  Then they told us we have a Battalion rollcall formation tomorrow, and I can’t get out of that.  So I’m stuck here until noon anyway.  I’m getting a ride to and from DC with our class commander, so it’ll be cheaper than flying but also a little slower.  I just hope Bob doesn’t give up on me before I get there.  I sure want to see him!

Also I hope to get to DC early enough to find a birthday present for you.  Nope, I didn’t forget.  I have an idea what I’d like to get you if I can find it.  It would be different but I know you’d like it.  On the other hand, it’s not what you’d usually give a girl for her birthday, but then you’re a very unusual girl.

Remember last year on your birthday when we went to the Town Club?  And then we went to the races.  What a dumb way to finish a night after a romantic dinner.  Too bad we couldn’t do the same this year.  No matter what kind of dumb things we used to do, they were always very special to me.

There was a class that graduated from another company last week who all had orders for Vietnam, and then got them all canceled.  They’re casual here now waiting for new orders.  I’m just afraid it might be the same with our class.  All that would mean is I’d be sent somewhere else, I’d probably be casual here for a while and wouldn’t get my leave right away, and it would be longer before I got to Nam and back.  I’ll be highly pissed if that happens.

I’ve got to go now hon, got to get up early.  I’ll write again soon — promise.  I love you Rita, with all my heart!

Forever,

Jeff

July 1, 1968.  Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia.


Hi Beautiful!

Boy, you wouldn’t believe this weekend!  Our class set all records for getting in trouble.  I’ll give you a quick rundown of what happened.

First of all, we had details Saturday because the company was unhappy with us.  Friday night what started out as a playful joke almost ended up a riot.  A guy named Brooks got tossed in the shower and then rolled around in the dirt outside.  This was fine, but his only good pair of boots got filled with water from one of the butt cans.  So he took a big pot of water and dumped all over the bunks of the guys that did it, and poured a bottle of vinegar in their boots and on the bunks.  Needless to say they got pissed and were about ready to kill Brooks when the battalion CQ came in and started taking names.  It was after 4:30 when things finally quieted down.

Saturday we had to get up at eight for detail.  Right away Clay (I think I mentioned him before) missed his, so got marked AWOL.  Finally at 3:00 we got released, and several guys went down and bought some beer and brought it back (I took off for the show).  Then a second looey walked in and caught them with over four cases.  So our captain and the first sergeant were called, and all the beer was taken and the guys restricted.

Then, two guys who went to Buckroe beach got drunk and were hauled in.  They were turned over to the MPs and the first sergeant had to go get them out of the brig.  That same night another guy was in the process of getting arrested but he decked the cop and walked off.  Never did get caught.

Another guy went AWOL right after class Friday night and got caught, then this morning three guys who went to DC this weekend never showed up.  They’re back now, but four hours late.  The first sergeant congratulated us this morning for setting a record for trouble in one weekend.

Now for my weekend — not much.  I hung around here Saturday night.  Couldn’t see much sense in going into town so late.  I got restless as all get out.  I was going to borrow a guy’s car and go to town, but it wasn’t running.  So couple of us spent the latter part of the afternoon jerking the starter and solenoid with only a pair of pliers and a screwdriver to work with.  Finally got it running about 8:30, using a big battery a guy stole out of a crane.  So we cleaned up and went to a drive-in in Newport News.  We sat outside the car like everyone else and really enjoyed ourselves just watching the show.

When we came back to the fort, we passed a chapel on the way to our barracks.  It was all lit up inside and really looked nice.  So when we stopped I left the others and walked back there.  It was a catholic chapel and the front was just beautiful.  I didn’t figure it would be open at two in the morning, but it was so I went in.  I sat in there for nearly an hour just praying and thinking.  It was really great.  I felt wonderful afterwards.

Then I went back and polished boots and shined brass until 4:00 this morning, and got up at 8:30 for a change of command ceremony.  Sounds like a great weekend, doesn’t it?

Today I got a letter from you — correction, two letters.  But the one I really liked was the one with the poem.  It is really beautiful honey.  I skipped over it at first to read your letter, but when I went back to it I read it through several times, and got more out of it each time.  Thanks honey.

Rita, I’m afraid I can’t send much money at all this month.  Three bucks is all.  That leaves me a big $35 to last the rest of the month, and I’ve got to get into DC to see Bob this weekend.  If you can put in a couple bucks for a gift for Jim and Vicki I’ll pay you back when I get home.  Since you have to do the buying I’ll do the paying.  Wish I could send more but I’m afraid that’s impossible.  It’s ridiculous to be broke right after payday, but I am.

This is Tuesday now, and only 23 days until we’re done.  Three weeks.  With any luck we’ll be together again within a month.  I’m just hoping and praying I’ll get a 30 day leave — 2 weeks just go too fast.  Thirty days would go too fast for that matter.  I keep thinking of all the things to do there in the summer.  And we’re going to do them all.  Rita, I love you and I want to be with you so bad!  And I want to see my ring on your finger, and hold you in my arms.  I love you!

I’m going to have to close now, got lots to do.  I’m sorry my letters haven’t been coming as often, but I write whenever I can.  The folks haven’t gotten a letter in two weeks I’ll bet.  Oh well, one of these days —

So long honey.  I love you and always will, forever.  Take it easy, hon.

Love,

Jeff

When I saw the phrase “butt cans” I was sure he was talking about the latrine.  Turns out butt cans were red-painted 1 gallon cans with an inch of water in the bottom for cigarette butts.  Still pretty nasty.

Jeff and Rita on her 17th Birthday

Photobucket

How it all works

We publish every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
For a quick rundown of the family, start by reading this post
Make sure you read the comments. People who are mentioned in the letters will sometimes expand on whatever is being discussed in the posts.

Contact

If you spot an error, broken link, or have a suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment.

Bookmarks

You can always get back to this blog, no matter where it's parked, by heading to lettersfromvietnam.com.
January 2009
S M T W T F S
« Dec   Feb »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031