01-Love Letters from Vietnam: Basic Training, Fort Campbell
PLEASE NOTE: "Previous" and "Next" links are on the bottom of this blog so you can follow the letters in sequenced order. To view the entire menu, go to the Index link listed below.
16 May, 1969
Tim Arrives at Ft. Campbell in KY for Basic Training
note: This is the first letter I received as Tim went off to Basic Training in Fort Campbell, KY. It seems that he needed to be at the Induction Center very early in the morning and would stay there all day for "processing". The day was overcast (I remember that distinctly) and "Leaving On a Jet Plane" ,ironically, was playing on the radio. We said good-bye from the car because they allowed no one in the Induction Center. I drove off - back to school to my classroom of 4th grade deaf students, hoping my eyes would un-redden before I got there.
Well I made it to Kentucky. It took three planes and all night to do it, but I’m here. I left Milwaukee at 7:30 pm and arrived in Kentucky at 2:00 am. I was greeted by more paper work at Fort Campbell and did not get to bed until 4:00. The day started at 5:00 and consisted of what the army calls processing. I filled out forms, took physical and mental exams, was inoculated or more exactly perforated (guys were passing out all around me) and – well you know that curl of mine you liked so well? I’ll mail it to you.
I haven’t started basic yet. I’m in sort of a military limbo called preliminary processing. I don’t have a mailing address yet but as soon as I do, I’ll mail it to you. The word is, we start boot camp Wednesday; that’s when the fun begins. Right now, they’re not too hard on us. From the contact I have had with sergeants, I’ve concluded it’s easy to be one, just make every other word obscene and every word loud.
I hope you made it home from school Thursday without falling asleep behind the wheel of your car. I hope you’re happy Kate, one of us has to be. For the next 9 weeks you’re going to have to be happy for both of us. I’m beginning to realize just how much I’m going to miss you, Kate, and it hurts.
P.S. I love you
"Hello, Young Lovers whoever you are. I hope your troubles are few. All my good wishes go with you tonight. I've had a love like you*." ...and I have love letters, a whole box full of them, from that glorious, sometimes angst-filled time of being in love that I want share with you.
*(lyrics from The King and I)
I am the recipient of the "Tim" letters and the writer of the "Kate" letters, all written in 1969-70 during the last part of the Vietnam war. The letters were originally published in a series of hubs entitled: "Tim and Kate Plus Fate" and now are called "Love Letters from Vietnam". Each hub has a different episode number and title and is listed in the Hub: Index to Vietnam letters. It is my hope that reading the letters will be like watching the evolution of young love unfolding in on a film set during the Vietnam era.
These are not letters written by or to a soldier in the trenches, but they nevertheless reflect the angst and uncertainty of two young, naïve’, inexperienced young people in love during a time of war and societal changes. There is no Browning-esque or Shakespearean imagery in these letters. The language is simple and plain, useful only in it's reflection of the spoken word at the time and of the story the language tells. In retrospect, it seems as if the letters were woven like chainmaille as protective words of armor for a soldier who faced being sent to Vietnam. Whether or not the letters, the love of the two young people, or fate itself served the purpose of protecting Tim from harm in South Vietnam will be revealed at the end of the episodes where the letters end.
Whether Kate and Tim fell deeper in love because of the war, because of being apart, because of the letters they wrote, or a combination of all three factors is yours to decide. Whether any relationship is enhanced by love letters or whether those letters give a false sense of how a couple might relate in person is also a question we should explore in an age where people meet on the internet and often establish intense relationships before meeting each other.
The letters start as Tim starts Basic Training. Tim and my relationship had been barely beginning. We had met only six months before in November 1968 (the year both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated and the war in Vietnam raged on).
I had graduated from college in Deaf Education, and was in my first year of teaching that Fall. Tim was only a sophomore at the U, studying Electrical Engineering. We met at a party at a mutual friend's house. The memory of walking down the steps to the basement to Joyce's family's "rec" room is still vivid in my mind. Half-way down, I saw Tim standing alone, behind the knotty pine bar Joyce's dad had probably built. Every one else at the party was dancing. He was tall and thin, and dark and looked up as I walked down the steps. When I think about it now, it was as if the universe plucked him him out of the crowd and placed him in that exact spot behind the family room bar so only he would be in my line of vision. I thought, at the time, that he might be a grad student and wondered what he was doing at the party of my younger friend.
We dated through the winter and by Valentine's Day, Tim said (in a Sheldon-on-Big-Bang-Theory-sort of way), "If we continue seeing each other, I think we should do so to determine if we would make good marriage partners." I understood Tim's left-brain approach to the world (I had always dated and been attracted to the science guys and they, for some unfathomable reason had been attracted to me.) So I was elated with his comment in February of '69. But by March, when Tim asked, one evening,"What would you say if I enlisted?" the relationship to me felt more tenuous. At the same time, we were becoming closer and closer - not wanting a day pass without seeing each other or hearing from one another. So the first letters I received that May from Tim in Basic Training and the letters I sent to him had meaning beyond themselves. A day without a letter provoked not only the ache of longing to with Tim, but the fear of what being separated from him might mean to our relationship.
The letters saved were ones Tim had written to me from Basic Training, AIT, and Vietnam and ones I had written to him before Vietnam. The letters that have been lost were the ones I had sent to Vietnam.
The language of these letters reflects at once the naiveté of those times and the angst of wrestling with questions of the highest morality. Was it more moral to go off to war or more moral to refuse participation in it? It is a characteristic of the 60's that is often overlooked and much misunderstood. My wish is that the letters will give insights about being in love, a feeling for history of the times, and a deeper understanding about the impact of going off to war and waiting back home. I hope you'll feel free to analyze and comment on the letters and the essays as they unfold and ultimately find some truths about your own relationships and a bit of an understanding about those who went to war, those who protested, and those who were one in the same.
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