01-Love Letters from Vietnam: Basic Training, Fort Campbell

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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.

Hi Kate,

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.

Love,
Tim

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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Comments 8 comments

KatyWhoWaited profile image

KatyWhoWaited 3 years ago Author

Easy, I HAVE to get back to posting these. I've neglected them. They get a little redundant with the mushy stuff and I'm thinking of incorporating them in bits and pieces in a memoir. I think I will finish here though and then decide. You might want to think about putting the letters from your grandfather into an ebook. I think a collection of "Letter to My Grand Daughter" would be a very delightful book. Ebooks are extremely easy to do. You can get them in the Amazon store for Kindle and Barnes and Noble for the nook, etc. I used Bookbaby for an ebook of mine. Cheers, "Katy"


Easy Exercise profile image

Easy Exercise 3 years ago from United States

Katy, What a wonderful tribute and very unusual. I have letters from long ago that you have inspired me to re-read. My grandfather wrote me quite often when I was in college and those letters mean the world to me. I look forward to learning more about you. Thank you for sharing.


KatyWhoWaited profile image

KatyWhoWaited 4 years ago Author

re: giving the letters back to your brothers - I'm sure they appreciated them. People's reactions are different to painful memories, but I think they give insight no matter what. I only wish "Tim" had been able to bring mine home. He left them in a box with instructions to be sent and they never arrived. I don't know whether or not it's good to churn all these emotions up, but for me, it makes me realize that I had a love with more intensity than I could have imagined and it makes me feel, at this age, that I was blessed to have had it. I'm debating whether or not the story that follows that should be told or not. I'm leaning toward the telling. I'd love to know what other hubbers think about that, but I have to figure out a way to ask. Thank you so much for sharing. My warm wishes to you.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Katy,

As you now know, both of my brothers were in Vietnam. I had kept all of the letters that they sent to me when we corresponded, but sadly, a number of years ago and many years after they had returned home, I thought that they might like to re-read them and gave them back to each of them. Now both of my brothers are gone as are the letters. You have a treasure in those letters...and like you indicated, a bit of history during those turbulent times. Glad that I found and read your #1 letter. Voted up, interesting and will share with my followers who just might wish to start following you.


KatyWhoWaited profile image

KatyWhoWaited 5 years ago Author

Dear Tony,

I so much appreciate your comments. The total paradox for me during this time was that I too considered myself a "peacenik". The week before I met Tim, my friend had a party with a group of Catholic seminarians. They brought their guitars and this party of us who were in college or had just graduated spent the evening with guitars singing anti-war songs and discussing our obligations of protesting and facts we were gleaning about the politics of that war. The next week I met and fell in love with Tim who was in college struggling with thermo-dynamics and statics in the engineering department. We both felt the same way about the war, but his grades started slipping because he was seeing so much of me. When he came over one night in March and asked what I would say if he enlisted, I said, "Tim, you know how I feel about the war." "Well, he replied, "My grades are slipping, so I talked to my prof and asked if there was anything to do because I would certainly be drafted. The professor just said, 'Sorry,' so I enlisted so I would at least have a choice of NOT going to Vietnam." So there I was, flung into being part a war, so to speak. It was a terrible decision to have to make. The April letters which I need to publish next will reveal my crazy plan that grew out of anger at Nixon's extension of the war into Cambodia. My only hope in publishing these letters is to add some dimension to the profundity of decision making that people must consider when deciding if they want to participate in war, especially when they know nothing about the politics.

In a strange way, the revolution in Egypt yesterday gives me hope that perhaps wars in the future will be lessened because when people have power they choose peace. If the internet would have existed during Vietnam, everything might have been different!

Peace and love to you, and again, thank you for your comment. I'm sorry for the loss of your wonderful love that year and like you, deeply admire RFK and MLK. May the people's movements throughout the middle east help to bring us together in greater respect and understanding.

"Katy"


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

Wow Kate, I'm very empressed. I will take time to go through all of these - as a non-US "peacenik" it will give me a very different take on that war, which I watched with growing unease as I struggled also with apartheid and all it meant in South Africa. It was a weird time in both countries (I mean South Africa and the US).

1968 was an incredible year for me too - the assassinations of two men I almost revered (RFK and MLK), the May events in Europe, and the loss of a wonderful love. It was a roller-coaster year for me. I was grieving over the lost love and grieving for so much in the world too. We were naive back then, weren't we?

Thanks for sharing your incredible journey. I look forward to the next letters.

Love and peace

Tony


KatyWhoWaited profile image

KatyWhoWaited 7 years ago Author

Dear BK,

Thank you so much for your meaningful comment. These letters were meant to be "a peek into our history" as you stated. I so appreciate you saying that; it spurs me on.

Cheers, "Katy"


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

This just runs the gamut of emotions as in beautiful, touching, sad, thought-provoking, memorable (I am of the era) - above all your letters offer a peek into our history - that some would like to forget! It makes me think of my favorite book 'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker, written entirely in the form of letters. Amazing. Yet it angered many people - she only told the truth.

Letters were everything at one time - and I love them!

Imagine trying to be happy for yourself and someone else under the worst of circumstances.

Above all - we can't let this happen again.

What an interesting collection of hubs - I am a fan now!

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