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13-Love Letters from Vietnam - Seeds of Protest

Updated on December 12, 2016
Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly in "High Noon"
Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly in "High Noon"

Today's Note:

Not all of the letters from Tim in Basic made it into the shoebox; there are only one or two from Tim's final weeks of basic. The relationship, as you may have sensed from the previous episodes, is becoming more intense, however. (In Episode 12, Tim states his "presumptuous dream" of making Kate his wife). So I know there were letters. But forty years is a long time for a box to keep safe all of its contents.

In addition to the missing letters during this period, it also seems as if I might have mis-dated a letter or two I wrote describing our little "revolution" at Camp Will-O-Brooke during this period. I'll simply post all references referring to the "anarchy" at the summer camp in this "Episode." Whether in sequence or not, the letters written by me during this month, document our little protest to bring about change to Camp Wil-O-Brook. Actually, the word "anarchy" is attached to my memory of the time. It felt in a small way, that we at camp were all part of the greater Civil Rights, Vietnam protest movement to overthrow the status quo and make the world a better place. I remember feeling a little scared attending the meeting where we drafted the letters to the parents. (My father was a milder version of Archie Bunker and I grew up with the concept that one just doesn't question authority.) But I know I felt brave and proud that I was part of the staff at camp who drafted the letter. It surprises and disappoints me a little in the second letter that after our staff was reprimanded in person by the county officers who made a special visit to the camp, I seemed to have doubts about the action we undertook. But I do mention the bonding that took place after the reprimand as well. On a small scale it is similar to recent events in Iran. As the authorities squelch the protests, the citizens stop, perhaps questioning their own actions. However, the repression of the demonstrators only serves to make the protestors more united and more commited than ever to their cause.

Of course I mentioned the rebellion going on at work to Tim because it was newsy. But on a deeper, perhaps subconscious level, I know that behind the telling of our micro-revolution was an intent on my part to influence Tim to consider his role in the army. How? I'm sure I had no idea. Tim and I had yet to learn at the point of these letters in July whether or not he would go to Vietnam, but I think I was still hoping to influence his feelings. It's hard to explain the deep and sincere question of morality that was agonizing all of our souls in the 60's. I understood, however, that like the surgeon of a delicate operation, the scalpel of my skepticism about the war could slip and cause my patient to die. In a way, it was High Noon all over again. I was the Quaker Amy who wanted my Will to believe violence only begets violence. She wanted Will to flee from the outlaw, and Will couldn't. But Vietnam wasn't a game or a movie. It was real - real people were being killed and were killing, and the truth of it all and the responsibility of it all was stranger and much harder than fiction.

First Letter that Mentions "Revolt" at Camp

Link to Complete Index of Letters

July 2 ? 1969

Dear Tim,

I can't begin - even begin - to describe the events that have transpired within the last two days. Perhaps as I try to explain this unbelievable, frustrating, confusing, disappointing, disgusting mess, you'll forgive me for not having written and for not getting to bake your peanut butter cookies (and for not getting time to busy some stationery). [Interjection: I miss you and I love you and need you].

Well.........., I'll try to explain in the clearest manner I can seeing that it's 12:00 am and considering the day we've spent. I'm not sure it will end up being too clear. As you probably have guessed, this all has to do with the happenings out at camp. I'm sending the letter than started all this so you can get a little idea of what's happening.

Remember, Tim, I told you that Sue, our director at Camp Wil-O-Brooke, and the staff sent a letter to the parents? The intent was to bring about a more efficient method of running camp and doing the best for the children by getting parental action to speed up the County. We sped them up all right ! ! ! Sue has been suspended and is presently awaiting to be served papers from the County Sheriff, listing the charges which will be brought against her in a hearing not more than two days from Monday. (Sue was called in and told she could choose to resign or she could be fired. She chose the latter.)

This happened Monday evening. Tuesday the staff was told of the situation and after being reprimanded for our past "impertinence," we were told that there was nothing we could do, and asked to keep things as close to normal as possible for the sake of the children. Well, Tuesday night we all met at Sue's place to discuss the whole thing with her attorney (a roommate of one of the counselors at camp). She told Sue to report to work today as she was not officially discharge. I won't even begin to describe today, but the children came and camp was run as close to normal while they were there. We all met at Sue's place again tonight. This time we called in the Sentinel and explained the whole story. It should be in the front page tomorrow. Sue is also reporting to work again tomorrow on the advise of her attorney. This time the officials will have to tell her to leave in the presence of Journal and Sentinel reporters. Hopefully, the reporters will go to the pool the children have been using and see how unsafe it is.

Do you think, Tim, that the letter is actually any cause for putting an employee through all of this and charging her with insubordination? If they want the people employed in Civil Service to act like they're in the army, they should give us rules, regulations, and procedures to follow before we're ever employed. Sue had no inclination, as did any of us, that she was being insubordinate. The charges are all against her in spite of the fact that we all have admitted signing the letter and believing in its content. Tomorrow will no doubt be "exciting."

Several good, really good things have come of all of this, one of which is the commaraderie of the staff. We're all behind Sue and seem now even more united with each other because of our belief in and our fight for a cause. It has brought our close group even closer. Besides all that, we are getting action in these matters.

Tim, I promise that if this thing doesn't work out and Sue gets fired, I'll never ever make another statement like, "I can't believe that a person like the Dean wouldn't listen to a student. (2009 note: I must have question Tim when he told me he had gone to the Dean when his grades were slipping and appealed to him for leniency because it mean his military deferment would be cancelled.) Nor will I doubt that it's possible that there are engineers on the totem pole who do anything to get ahead and that it's a dog-eat-dog climb. I hope, though, that we do win and that we can again believe that all the glowing descriptions of democracy are true - that there are just causes that are fought for and won by just people - that there is someone - someone at the top who's not so busy worrying about staying at the top that he can help bring about that justice.

The whole thing has also been good in a personal way for me. I shouldn't be thinking of it, but I can't help it. It's at least making these interminable days until you're home seem a little shorter.

I'm sorry I've rambled on, Tim. It's so hard to explain events in a short manner.

I hope your week has been good and happy. I wish we could have shared this week together. Take good care of yourself, Tim and hurry home.



6 July, 1969

Dear Tim,

Hi. How's your day going so far? Good, I hope. It's 11:00 and Mom's running off to bed. You better watch out, Timothy. All day, thoughts of you kept sneaking into my mind and from an analysis of the situation, this letter is definitely headed in the direction of soupiness, but I'll do my best to abstain from overt emotion. I'm not promising anything though.

Today was certainly full of surprises. (Thank heaven for small favors - surprises make these darn old long days before you come home a smidgen shorter.) To start off the day, all of the top executives from the county recreation department came to talk to us this morning at camp - (well, three of them anyway.) The letter that Sue, our director, wrote to the parents concerning the department's lack of action in getting enough counselors and having a proper place for the older kids to swim, got in the hands of the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel. It's quite a long story and while I think the letter did do some good, I feel that maybe we were in the wrong for not going through the proper channels first before taking such a drastic action ongoing completely over the county's head. At least that's how it felt after the executives got through lecturing us. Well, anyway, it comes down to the fact that Sue might lose her job. If so, we're all going to quit because all of us signed the letter, we were in on it, and it wouldn't be fair for her to take all of the blame. I hope it won't come to that because then there would be no place for the kids to go this summer. Besides, you never solve problems by running away from them..
The second thing that happened of an unusual nature concerned one of our campers. The older kids were dancing on the patio and I was going up to the patio to find two stray little ones from my group when I saw one of the kids sitting on the cement crying. I knew her from last year and compared to the other campers who are mentally retarded (2009- mentally challenged) she's a bit of a complainer. So basically, I just asked what was wrong and LInda told me she couldn't get up. At first I thought she just wanted extra attention (sitting on the cement there!), but then I looked at her knee. Zowie!! Her whole knee socket was out of joint. Sam and I carried her to the office and the firemen came and took her to the hospital. Another day at Wil-O-Brooke! Lonnie, my favorite charge, has been has been getting out of hand lately. Today he reverted to eating some bark of the tree (his favorite delicacy this year - last year it was rocks - or as Lonnie says "wocks". Besides that, I couldn't make him come off of the trampoline for love or money. Child psychology, threats, and a mean mean voice didn't do the trick either. I've come to the conclusion that you have to be either a child or a genius to understand children.

The third surprise, and the nicest one, was a call I received this evening. Guess from whom? It was from Rick's Jane.* She wanted to know how you were and what your address is. We talked for quite a while. It really made me happy. But I'll really have to get on the ball now with pretty blondes writing to you and all. Oh well, at least I know that no one else could love you any more than I do - make you happier, maybe, but never love you so much. (They'd have to burst if they did.)

It's Tuesday morning now and I have to be heading for the salt mines. Today will be another day closer to the time you're home. Oh Tim, how I long for your gentle strength and your reassurance. I long to hear your voice and hear you laugh. And, forgive me if it's wrong, I long to be hidden in your arms and to touch your face again. In plain language, I love you so muchand I need you.

My thoughts will be with you today. Be happy, Tim.



*Rick - Tim's friend though Matt (Tim's high school friend). Jane - Rick's girlfriend. Rick and Jane and Tim all car pooled to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee together before Tim enlisted. I was pleased that Jane called because it meant I was being included in Tim's tight circle of friends, all of whom I admired and respected.

Frankie Lane singing "High Noon" and Slides


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