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15-Love Letters from Vietnam - Basic Training Completed
Onward to AIT, Ft. Gordon
5 August, 1969
After a couple days of processing at the Reception Center, I finally made it here to my school. The Reception Center was just a maze of old wooden barracks probably built during the last war. The best one word description of the place would be "depressing." But when we were finally shipped to the School Brigade, it was like a new world. Would you believe new, brick, air-conditioned barracks and school buildings? I know that I'm finding it hard to believe, but it's true. I can't really tell you much about the routine yet; this is my first day here, and I haven't started school yet. It's about 7:00 am now and we're supposed to start class today at 10:10am. From what I hear thought, the school is run like a normal working day. Of course, there's a lot of military spit and polish thrown in. Classes start at 7:00 am and run straight through until 3:00 pm, breaking only for lunch. A whole day in the classroom sounds a bit tedious to me. But after 3:00, your time is your own. There's one bad thing about it though, we get up at 4:00 am. Well, that's an hour later than basic anyway. The determining factor will be the military atmosphere and that depends on the CO and first sergeant. If they're not gung ho, things could be bearable at Fort Gordon. I'll soon find out. I don't have a private or semi-private room like you joked about, but instead of 40 men in a barracks, there are 8 men on a bay. As I always say "8 in a bay is better than 40 in a barracks."
No matter how good things were here, I couldn't be happy because you're not here. One of the most painfull moments of my life, Katy, was saying good-bye to you at the airport. I've come to know, Kate, that I can't be happy separated from you. I'll just exist each day know that it's one day less until I"m with you again. Please forgive the soup Katy, please forgive my imperfect love.
How are things at Will-O-Brooke? Write and tell me how you're doing, Kate. Let me share a little of your life.
Home on Leave
As mentioned before, these letters from Vietnam had been stored in a shoebox all these forty years. I may have re-read one or two of them since the 70's, but not more than that.
I brought these letters with me to all the towns and cities in which I lived. They have traveled to Tacoma,WA; Milwaukee, WI; Seattle, WA; Waseca, MN; Madison, WI; Fridley, MN; Columbia Hts, MN; Greenville, South Carolina; Pittsburgh, PA; Corona, CA; Louisville, KY; and Newport Beach, CA. Needless to say, they represent a part of my life that is very dear to me.
Of course, in all the travel, some of the letters were lost. It seems as if the letters from Tim and my letters to him written in July of 1969 are gone. One reason, of course, was the fact that Tim was home on leave from Basic Training in Fort Campbell, KY. There must have been more letters though from that time that have been lost.
The letters from this point on are almost exclusively Tim's. The letter accompanying this Hub is from Fort Gordon, GA where Tim went to AIT (Advanced Infantry Training). Later letters are writting while he is in OCS, (Officers' Candidate School). For all these months, we were still hopefull that he might be sent to Germany like his friend from High School or somewhere other than Vietnam.
In spite of the fact that the letters now are all Tim's and (let me add) very schmaltzy (the man was in love after all), you'll nevertheless be able to follow the events back in Milwaukee from Tim's references and from my additional comments.
During the time that Tim was on his first leave, I know I was working at Camp "Will-O-Brooke" for the summer, and I wouldn't have been able to take off work to be with him during the day. Tim, as I recall, spent time with his father who worked third shift in a factory in MIlwaukee and with his best friend Matt, a designer of exquisite jewelry who worked in his father's shop on the south side of Milwaukee. At night, he'd come over with his father's little red Fiat and we'd either go out with friends or stay in at my parent's apartment (yes, I still lived with them). I remember that we'd watch Johnny Carson (until my parents finally went to bed) and then have time alone together!
During Tim's leave from Basic, there was a pivotal moment that involved our friends Matt and Anne. I remember it clearly. Anne was my friend and co-worker at summer camp. She was majoring in Special Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She must have just broken up with a boyfriend, and all that June at camp, I had been singing the praises of Matt to her.
Matt had also just broken up with a girlfriend, and Tim and I naturally wondered if our two best friends might just be a perfect match. During the time Tim was home, our camp was having a picnic for staff. It would be perfect. Tim would bring Matt to the picnic, and Matt would be able to meet Anne. And were we right; it was perfect! Matt was so taken with Anne that he started doing cartwheels in the park as the four of us left the picnic grounds. Not wanting to have Anne think it was strange, I started doing cartwheels as well. It was just a cartwheel sort of day. From that day to this very day, Matt and Anne have been together - blissfully, I might add. They have two wonderful sons and adorable grandsons. They have just moved their equisite jewelry shop to an even more beautiful location and I was blessed to have been able to visit them last summer. They are two of my dearest friends.
During the time that Tim was on leave, we also must have watched the astronauts as they landed on the moon and completed their famous "giant leap". The moon landing, in spite of Tim's scientific bent, seems to have been eclipsed by the excitement of being in each other's arms. With the uncertainly of Tim's eventual assignment, we isolated ourselves emotionally and tried to appreciate every moment while we could. So what I remember of the moon landing was how amazed I was at the astronaut's amazement and how frightened I was that the astronauts might come home - perhaps a metaphor for what was happening in my own life.
But by far, the most pivital event that occurred on Tim's leave, was the deepening of our relationship. We both had been trepidatious about the effect the separation during Basic. We needn't have been. Our relationship during his leave intensified. I remember one romantic picnic in Whitnall Park in particular. We sat looking across the "ga-loon" (lagoon) and talking about each want a "stew story house". (We were so in love we were tongue-tied.) We laughed, we kissed, we fell deeper.
It might be difficult for young people to understand the intensity that war brings to a relationship. As we said in the 60's, "It's heavy, man." Even "heavier" is the effect that a Catholic school education in the 50's can have on two people in love in the 60's. In early posts in this series, I described Tim and my religious background. Even though I was twenty-four and Tim was twenty-two, neither of us, as strange as it might seem by today's standards, had had sex before. While my views now have turned 180 degrees from where they had been when I was in my twenties; nevertheless, in 1969, I was firm in my convictions. If I were every going to walk down the aisle in a white dress, it was really going to be the symbol of virginity I had come to know it to be.
So Tim and I were intense, and planning for the future - children, the two-story house, the whole starry-eyed dream. And it all made the thought of Tim's going to war bearable.