18-Love Letters from Vietnam: Basic Training Was Never Like This
- The Soldiers' Story
Click on title above to view passages from the book, "The Soldier's Story," written by the NBC bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Ron Steiman. Scroll down the side of the book's cover,and you'll see extensive exerpts of soldiers' stories
10 August, 1969
Oh, the Army is a hard life, Katy. I'm sitting in the music room of the Post Library listening to Tchaikovsky, relaxing, and doing a little light reading. Basic was never like this! Don't get me wrong, I still hate the Army, but at times it is tolerable.
Classes aren't too bad either; the difficulty is in staying awake - not because it's boring, but because I can't get enough sleep at night. That's not the Army's fault, but that of the jokers I room with. There are eight of us in the bay, and four of them are real swingers. They've got their cars on Post so every day after formation, they run into Augusta, get drunk, come back about 10:00 and keep the rest of us up to about 1:00. The flour of us who like to sleep nights created an alliance, though. We realized they had to sleep some time and that time is on the weekends. So we made sure the enemy didn't sleep late either today or yesterday. I think perhaps we'll get some sleep tonight. If not, the war continues.
I looked at the roosters for KP and guard duty, and I'm free for at least two weeks. That's comforting to know. How's your rooster look for the next two weeks? Anymore KP at Wil-o-Brooke, Wil-O-Brooke, Wil-O-Brooke? (I'm sorry but I only know the first three words to your camp song.)
How are things with you Kate? How are your parents? Are you still tutoring at the lowest rates in town. Well, I guess I'd better go now, my reading awaits.
Statistics Vs. Stories
To read the all the letters in the "Tim and Kate" series starting with May of '69, click here. Link to Complete Index of Letters"
Reading many of these letters for the first time after forty years has provided me with that kind of insight that is gleaned only from time.
Again, because Tim and I had known each other only six months before he enlisted, each letter from him provided me with more pieces of information about the young man with whom I was passionately in love. I was logical enough, however, to want to figure out if my passion was tempered with reason. I remember reading this particular letter with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was pleased that Tim was so seriously minded and didn't party with the rest of the guys in his bay. On the other hand, I wondered if Tim was more introverted than was a good match for me.
There was one factor, however, that I never considered until I read this letter after all these years and having learned in hindsight the elements of the period we were living through. Tim, at 21, going on 22, was one of the oldest men in his platoon. He was in his junior year of college and had a goal and dream in mind. Those who had gone through Basic with him and now who were in AIT were 18 and 19 years old. One would think that there isn't much difference between an 18 year-old and a 21 year-old, but there is. Perhaps much of Tim's disconnect and discontent with his fellow soldiers was because of age. Some of the letters that follow, I believe, will give a greater insight to age as a factor in Vietnam.
If you search on the Internet to find the average age of enlisted soldiers in Vietnam, you'll find sites that would want us to believe that there are misconceptions about the age of the soldiers that have been perpetuated through the years. They suggest that soldiers weren't as young as the media would have had you believe. But statistics seem to belie Tim's experience and the narrative of soldier's in the book, The Soldiers' Story. The link to the right gives a comprehensive overview of some of the stories in that book. I found the narrative of Jack Smith of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Calvary, 1st Air Calvary Division to be especially poignant in explaining the disposition and experiences of some of the eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-year olds who went to Vietnam.