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April 2, 1969.  Camp Evans, Vietnam.

So, after digging through hours of audio, I found that this tape was actually made April 2nd, the day before the last letter was posted.  No biggie, just so you know.

Ethan

17min 2sec

March 31, 1969. Camp Evans, Vietnam.

A couple of things before you hit play:

First, listen for mom’s 19-year-old voice (and giggle) right at the very begining. They reused tapes many times and these overlaps were common.

Second, don’t turn the volume up too far, about 35 seconds in dad figures out he’s holding the microphone upside down and it gets much louder. God help you if you’re wearing earphones and don’t read this warning first.

Ethan

9min 31sec

March 25, 1969.  Camp Evens, Vietnam.


Dear Rita,

This is the first chance I’ve had to write, and would you believe it’s by cigarette lighter light?  It’s the only light I’ve got, except during the day when we’re too busy.

We got to Nam Sunday night around 11:00.  Spent that night sleeping on the cement apron by the runways.  We get hit by rockets and mortars about 5:30 the next morning.  I found out I can wake up and find a bunker real fast like though.

We got to Evans Monday afternoon.  I wish I could send some pictures.  It’s a fair sized place, but looks like hell.  Nothing but red dirt and sand bags.  Last night (this is Wednesday now) I got a shower for the first time since I left.  Felt dirty again right away though.  It’s not really so hot here, just real muggy.  Summers coming though and I can imagine what that will be like.

This is Wednesday noon now.  We were making bunkers and filling sandbags all morning again and will this afternoon too.  I’m sick of it.  Have to start again now so I’ll try finish this tonight.

Back again, but not for long.  Looks like I’ll be going to Da Nang for a couple of days starting today.  So I’m just going to send it like it is.  At least you’ll know I made it.  I’ll write again as soon as I can, and tell the folks the same, will you?  I love you Rita, and wish we could be together again.  I’ve had enough of Nam, I just want my wife now.

All my love,

Jeff


Quick synopsis as to what happened between the wedding and now:

1. Honeymoon

2. Mom went to Fort Eustis for 7 weeks with dad.

3. Dad went to Vietnam and mom went back to South Dakota

Also, check out the Evans link.  Interesting look from someone else who was stationed there.

-Ethan

I have all this audio that I’ve been trying to timeline, but unfortunately dad never gave the date on his tapes so I’m having to search all of his words for hidden chronological meaning.

Over the weekend while prepping today’s post I found that he had sent some tapes BEFORE he went to Vietnam, and, not wanting to deliver a bunch of stuff out of order (again), I’m pushing back another post.

Bummer.

Ethan

Finals are tonight and I’m working like crazy for school…

Plus I’m sick.

And my wife is sick.

And she has morning sickness too.

Monday we start in Vietnam proper-like.

How are you?


Ethan

January 12, 1969.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


Dear Rita –

Well, we finally got a day off and I’ll get a letter off to you.  I spent most of the day in bed trying to get rid of a bad cold.  I think the worst of it’s over now.  Hope it’s completely gone before I get home.  I need to give it to you.  It’s a beaut.

One weekend I’m home!  I’m leaving here Friday and I should be home Saturday afternoon.  So make plans to be there, as you are the first place I’ll stop, you can count on that!

I’m already packed to go.  As much as possible anyway.  There’s so much junk I have to leave here – and that causes a problem.  When I get back our battery area will be closed down and everyone will be on leave.  I don’t know where I’ll have to report in or where I’ll be staying.  The stuff I’m leaving here will have to be left with some guys from another unit.  It will be a mess, but I don’t care.  As long as I get to go home.

For a while it didn’t look like I was going home.  The first sergeant disapproved my leave request.  I had to go in and talk to him again.  He isn’t too happy about it but I got it finally.

In case you’re expecting any answers to your last couple letters, forget it.  I haven’t got them yet.  Due to the stupidity and laziness of our mail clerk I haven’t got a letter all week.  Best don’t write anymore after you get this or I’ll be gone.  But I’m going to call you tonight and tell you all this, but I figured I’d write anyway.  I was thinking about you as usual.

Do you realize that two weeks from today we’ll be man and wife?  It’s still hard to realize that we won’t be waiting a year or more, but two short weeks.  I love you Rita, and I know you’re going to make me the happiest guy in the world.  Hell, you already have!  I love you!!

Yesterday they had some finance people here. I wasn’t able to set up an allotment for you, of course, until I get back.  But I did make arrangements to have one hundred dollars a month put in the bank while I’m in Nam.  I won’t even see that – it goes straight to the bank.  I was going to increase my bonds too but decided against that.  I can do it later if I want to.

Say, I just remembered I didn’t send you any money for the rings this month.  Well, I’ll take care of it when I get home.  And we’ll also get that other ring on your finger too.

You know something?  I’m nervous.  No, that’s not a good word.  Restless is more like it.  I can’t wait to get out of here and head home to you.  I can hardly sit still long enough to write this letter.  And I’ve been smoking like a fiend today.  About the only thing I’m not doing is chewing my fingernails, and I’m about ready to start that.  It’s never bothered me like this before, but I’m so close to having you in my arms I can’t help it.  I love you, Rita!

I’ve got to write Bob yet and let him know when I’ll be there, so I’ll have to close this up now.  But I’ll be thinking of you Reet, until I can tell you myself how much I love you!

Forever,

Jeff


So I completely blew it.  I had planned on posting all the Fort Bragg letters, the audio, the pics, then start up on  his letters from Vietnam, but in my haste (and excitement) to get the audio posted I somehow overlooked his very last letter from bootcamp.  So instead of the first post that actually lives up to this blog’s name, you get his last letter from before the wedding.

Ethan

January 8, 1969.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


Hi Honey –

This will probably be short and sweet since I’m writing it during our supper break.  We have to work nights and weekends now, and it’s next to impossible to find time to write.  I hope we get caught up so it’s not like this next week too.  Eat, sleep, and work all the time gets kind of tiresome.

Not too long now, Reet.  Ten days and I’ll be home with you!  The days seem to go slower and slower though.  And when I do get there I know they’ll go too fast.  That’s always the way.

It’s a good thing I talked to the CO about my leave, because now is when the work really begins.  The first sergeant said no leaves until February, and our platoon sergeant is trying to stop mine.  But if anything happens I’ll talk to the major again and he’s the one with the final say – and he already said yes.

This is Thursday now.  I had meant to finish this last night, but was too damn tired when I got off work and went straight to bed.  Maybe I can get it done today.

We got a new sergeant in Monday.  He is one we had at Eustace and already everyone hates his guts.  Last night he woke up his platoon at midnight and made them do two hours of PT.  He was so drunk he couldn’t walk straight.  Those guys are going to get the inspector general and get him hung if they can.  He’s been here a whole three days.

I’m going to mail this like it is so you’ll get at least one letter from me this week.  As soon as I have time I’ll write a real long one, okay?

I love you,

Jeff


These are the last words dad will write from boot camp.  In the coming weeks Jeff & Rita will be married and next time you read a letter from him it will be written from Vietnam.  Before that though I’ll be putting up some different posts about the wedding, some audio, some pictures, and some personal notes.

Vietnam here we come.

January 4, 1969.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


Dearest Rita,

Would you believe I’ve got three of your letters to answer?  Three in three days is pretty darn good, four this week.  Keep them coming girl, I never get enough.

Do you realize that just three weeks from tomorrow we’re going to be married!  And two weeks from today I’ll be home with you!  It seems like forever, but not bad at all when you think of how long it’s been.  And that first night… Say, where you want to spend that night?  We could go to Sioux Falls or Sioux City, but everybody does that.  If we’re headed out to the hills we could stay at Huron or Pierre.  Only I don’t know what hotels are good there to get reservations at.  Or we could play it by ear.  Let me know what you think.

I’m damn glad you’re on the pills, but what’s this bit with the sore breasts?  Do the doctors say anything about that happening?  If they don’t stop I want you to go see him again.  We don’t want them hurting when I get at them, right?

I’ve already told you how I feel about you’re coming out here.  I’m all for it if we can figure out a way to get you back.  So start figuring gal!

But, if you don’t, I wouldn’t mind a bit living at your place or my place or anywhere else as long as it’s with you.  I had thought about our basement – it has a lot of advantages.  It’s more private, it’s big enough that we could divide it into a couple of rooms.  But it’s also cold!  A couple of electric heaters might solve that problem, but I’m not sure.  But my double bed could be moved down their real easy.  I would rather be away from both our families and have a place of our own, but… We’ll worry about that when I get there, okay?

Say, did you get that loan for your dress?  You never said any more about it.  And about those bills of yours – how many is “not as many” as before?  Rather, how much?  No, I won’t kill you over them.  I figure we’ll have a lot bigger bills during our life together.  But let’s not get carried away on new clothes, okay?  You know I’ll just take them off anyway.

Yes, you have my approval on the songs, as long as “He” is one of them. That’s probably the only one I’ll hear through my stage fright.

Honey, you know damn good and well I’m not angry about you calling me.  I love you, and any chance I have to talk to you is welcome, even at four in the morning.  I sure hope I didn’t sound mad.  Sorry if I did.

Say, I don’t know if I like the idea of another guy spending the night at your place.  You’re sure he slept downstairs on the couch now?  He’d better have!   You realize I could very easily get jealous, don’t you?

It’s chow time so I guess I’d better close now.  But I’ll be thinking of you and loving you all the same.  I love you, hon.  And in a short two weeks I’ll be telling you that myself.

I love you!

Forever,

Jeff

PS.  Recognize this paper?  It won’t last long at this rate!


So 1968 is over.  Just a  little reminder of all the stuff that happened in 1968:

Green Bay wins Super Bowl II (that’s Super Bowl TWO).

Tet offensive begins

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announces he will not seek re-election.

The film version of 2001: A Space Odyssey premieres

Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot dead at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The musical Hair officially opens on Broadway.

U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Mattel’s Hot Wheels toy cars are introduced.

The United States Department of Defense announces that the United States Army and United States Marines will send about 24,000 troops back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours.

U.S. presidential election, 1968: Republican challenger Richard M. Nixon defeats Vice President Hubert Humphrey and American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace.

Yale University announces it is going to admit women.

The Beatles release their White Album.

Now that’s a lot of big stuff there, and yet none of it is mentioned in his letters.  For a while I wondered why, and then I remembered what I was like when I was young and in love.  It’s not that none of this was important, it’s that it just wasn’t on his mind when he was writing to his sweetheart.  Fair enough.


Ethan

December 24, 1968.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina


Hi Beautiful!

Merry Christmas, honey!  Sure wish I was there with you.  It doesn’t seem like Christmas without you.  But at least I’ll talk to you tonight.  I figure on calling about seven or so, and hope I can get through.  One guy had trouble a little earlier this afternoon because of heavy Christmas calling.

I got your present today.  It’s under the tree right now.  I’ll open it later tonight.

I’ve got guard duty today too.  Ain’t that a heck of a way to spend Christmas Eve?  I won’t get off until noon tomorrow, so I’ll be sleeping all afternoon.  I have to go on my first shift in a few minutes, so I’ll have to close now and finish later.  Merry Christmas, Reet! I love you!

Back again Rita, and it’s Christmas day now.  I never did get through to you last night.  I tried about seven o’clock your time, but all four payphones in our area are out of order. They never get around to fixing them.  So I had to wait until after eight your time before I could use the phone in the orderly room (we’re not supposed to use it at all), but then all lines were tied up.  So I figured I’d call at midnight (11:00 your time) when I got off my guard shift.  But my relief was nearly an hour and a half late, so it would have been after 12:30 before you got the call.  So I decided to wait until tonight.  I’m going to the show and call after that.

I opened your present last night.  If I hadn’t already started this letter I sure would have made use of it.  Thanks, hon.  I can really make use of it.  Did there happen to be any hint involved there?  I notice there was a very broad hint in the card!

By the way, you never did say if Paul & Strat were going to do our singing.  And has everyone we wanted been asked?  You’ve never said anything about that, so I am curious.

Well, I tried calling three times and I couldn’t get through.  I’ll try again tomorrow.  But right now I’ve got to get to bed.  Alone.  But it won’t be that way one month from tomorrow.  I love you Rita!

All my love,

Jeff


Good news, the new system is working and I have about 7 letters in the can.  You are now assured of posts for a while without interruptions.  Thanks for your patience.

I’ve noticed in this letter, and in many others, that he makes small repeats in his writing.  Like saying he “would have made use of it,” then one sentence later “I can really make use of it.”  I notice that I do the same thing sometimes when I’m trying to communicate in a noisy place or when I’m writing a long post in sporadic 30-second bursts.  Conjunctions sometimes just drop out and tenses shift, so occasionally you’ll see me make a correction to his letters in brackets [like these] so that the passage makes sense and is readable (and also so you don’t think I’m the one making the errors).

I’m a product of technology and can’t imagine a time before spell check, so I’m certainly not going to pass judgment on his writing, just wanted you to know what you were seeing.

EDIT: I have no idea what the present was.  A pen? Stationary?  Not sure…

Ethan


So, once again I’ve failed you, but I have a good reason this time I swear: my wife is pregnant.

She’s been sick and I’ve been responsible for everything, which is completely eradicated any time I’ve had to do these letters.  I’m going to try to rearrange my schedule so that I’m able to do some during the workday which will (hopefully) bring this long drought to a close.

Ethan

I know this is getting out of control, but I plan on getting at least three weeks ahead by Monday.

So please, forgive me.

Ethan

December 15, 1968.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


Hi Beautiful!

Sorry I haven’t written for several days, but I’ve been running around trying to get my Christmas shopping done, and I finally did it.  Hope I can get them mailed tomorrow, and I hope they will get there in time.  It may get pretty close now.  I just hope yours gets there in time.

Clay had CQ the other night and he ransacked the Major’s desk.  He found copies of our sp5 orders, and it looks like I’m definitely going to get it.  They’ve gone up to division for final approval and we should get them before too long (I hope).  They’re supposedly backdated to December 1, which would mean more money before I came home which would be real nice.

I’m getting kind of worried about what our money situation will be while I’m home.  I haven’t been able to save much this month because of Christmas.  And just next months pay plus a partial pay I’m going to get will still leave us pretty tight.  The savings bonds I have at home will help, but a honeymoon and renting a room at the Sawnee will still cut it pretty close.  Why don’t you check and see what a room for two weeks will run?  That will give me some idea of what to expect.  Also, I’m checking into getting a ride with a guy who lives in Minneapolis.  It would take longer to get home but would save a lot of dough.

I’m glad my folks seem to have come around to our side.  I’m surprised Brian acted the way he did though.  I can’t believe he was being serious.  You must’ve caught him at a bad time or something.  That’s all I can figure.  He’s always thought you were the greatest, and I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you.

Honey, do you realize that in a little over a one month we will be man and wife forever?  That’s a long time, but I wish it were longer.  I hope you talked your mom out of that second reception because I don’t want us to be too pooped to enjoy our wedding night.  Won’t it be wonderful to be able to make love whenever we feel like it?  And then go to sleep with you in my arms every night.  And that’s not very far off.  I love you Reet.

All my love,

Jeff

PS.  Sorry this is so short but it’s my last sheet of paper.

“The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones,”  – Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene ii-

It’s a bummer that Brian only gets mentioned occasionally and then when he gets more than a single sentence it’s about when he was less than polite.  In the many years that I’ve known him the worst thing that he’s done that I can personally attest to is his indoctrination of all his nieces and nephews, brainwashing them so that they never refer to him as simply Brian, but always as their “favorite uncle Brian.”  And though it is very possible he would have earned the title  fair and square, he ambushed us when we were young and impressionable, swindling it out from under all of our other uncles, making certain that it would be forever applicable only to him

Diabolical.

The Sawnee was a hotel in downtown Brookings until the mid-70s.  Mom and dad stayed were thinking about staying there after the wedding as, naturally, they weren’t too keen on staying with one of their parents in town after the wedding.  The building is still standing today and houses a number of businesses.  Recently the Brookings Historic Preservation Commission had a meeting to discuss putting the hotel on the national register of historic places, and they recorded quite an extensive history of the building, which you can find here (pdf).

Ethan

Sawnee Hotel

Sawnee Hotel (click to embiggen)

December 10, 1968.  Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


Dear Mrs. [my last name]!

I should have known you’d put that on your return address one of these days.  I can’t wait until that is your real name.  I’m kind of partial to the idea.  I can’t see why you’d want to trade your name for a common one like [mine].  But I sure won’t argue!

I got two letters from you yesterday, which made my day.  I think one came today too (I peeked in the mail room and saw one in my slot) but I couldn’t catch the mail clerk to get out.  I’ll just have to wait until tomorrow.

I still haven’t got your Christmas present yet.  I just can’t find anything suitable.  The things I’d like to get for you cost so much you would kill me.  After this week is over I’ll have time to get into town and find the rest of my presents (I hope).

So our wedding date got set back a day, huh?  Well, with the rest of our lives ahead of us, I guess one day won’t make that much difference.  But Reet, talk your mother out of that second reception, okay?  One’s bad enough.  I don’t mind the pictures afterwards, but after that we’re cutting out.  I don’t mean run off 10 minutes after the ceremony, but I don’t want it to drag on and on either.  You know what I mean, don’t you, honey?

When are you ordering the announcements?  The reason I ask is that I don’t know when I’ll know whether or not I made SP5.  Not that it really makes that much difference, but if that’s what I’ll be when we’re married it would be nice to have it on the announcements too.  But right now I don’t know if the orders will come through even before Christmas.  I’d sure like to get it, but I’m not sure if I have enough time in grade yet.

Say, in all the preparations for the wedding, don’t forget to go see a doctor about some pills, and I don’t mean pain pills.  I mean those beautiful little things that take the worry out of being close, right?

You know something honey – I love you.  When I look at your pictures at the foot of my bunk I just want to reach out and hold you.  I can’t believe I could be so lucky.  But you know something else?  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt lonely.  You just seem too close for any loneliness.  But I’ve got a lot of memories and a lot of hope for the future – for our future.  And I’ve got a lot of love for you.

All my love,

Jeff

So classes are finally over… and yet I still have school work.  Not enough to keep me from doing letters though, so we’re back at it as of today.

Now, I have the same common last name as my father and my wife and I went through a similar discussion when we got married.  She had a pretty original last name that we both personally liked.  Being a hip and progressive 21st century people we had a discussion as to whether or not she would take my last name.  When she asked me my opinion I told her that I didn’t much care if she changed her name to Bob as long as she showed up at the church on time.

One of her more radical college friends was aghast that she would take a man’s name.  That was until my wife reminded her that she really only had the choice of taking her husband’s name or keeping her father’s.  At that point it didn’t seem like such a big deal, though sometimes I do still refer to her by her maiden name which, as I said before, was a pretty good name.

Ethan

My last class is next Tuesday, so let’s just assume there won’t be any updates until the 14th, shall we?

Ethan

As many of you know, I’m currently earning my Master’s degree in teaching.  And as all of you now know, it is the end of the semester and I’m am being assaulted by many deadlines that are monopolizing all of my free time.

No post today but I will endeavour to deliver come Monday.

Apologies,

Ethan

Jeff and Rita on her 17th Birthday

Photobucket

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