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42-Love Letters from Vietnam: "I'll Be Home for Christmas..."
Read Tim's Letters to Kate from the beginning of Basic Training at Fort Campbell, Ky in May 1969 to get a sense of the evolution of their relationship!
1 December, 1969 (Monday)
Hello my Love. How are you? - happy and in love with the world I hope. You know, I never thought it could happen, but since we met, I've come to enjoy the sphere we live on. Unfortunately however, a small part of it is occupied by an institution called the Army. Speaking of the Army (I hope that smooth transition was duly noted), I had an interview with the colonel today concerning my OCS (Officer Candidate School) appointment. I was nervous, apprehensive, and maybe a little bitter, but things seemed to have gone alright. The colonel said I might make a good officer and recommended me for the appointment. You know what? He seems to be a good guy. I haven't gotten the appointment yet, but I'm a step closer. And a compliment like 'I might make a good officer' has given me a renewed sense of confidence.
Hey, wealth has been flowing in ffrom all over. I received the cookies your mother sent (and the three dollars she put inside) and the beneficent Coca-Cola company sent me two dollars. You said the cookies were two weeks old, but they weren't bad at all. Thank your mother for me.
Well, I guess I'd better close now. Take care Kate. God bless you.
Background and Commentary
It's amazing how everything can change in a month! No one, not even Kate or Tim, could have predicted on this FIRST day of December what would happen by the END of December.
If you remember, this solidly indoctrinated young Catholic couple who are in love, are faced a serious dilemma. They had been told from the time they started Catholic school in the 50s to the time of these letters, that sex before marriage was a MORTAL sin!
A MORTAL sin meant that besides the assurance committing it would send you straight to hell if you died before confessing it, a mortal sin was thought to be a grievous offense against God, and these two people were not ones to take that admonition lightly. They were serious, conscientious, and idealistic young college people. (Over forty years later, than goodness, views of the young and of the church change!)
But given those times and the situation, Tim's upcoming visit was posing a special dilemma for Katy, i.e. me !
I was totally confused as to what to do.Everyone I sought out for advice thought I was being too strict on myself, but that was who I was at the time. My own mother told me I was being foolish to worry about sex before marriage! My friends who were also raised in the Catholic tradition didn't seem to struggle with this issue as I had.
As of the date of these particular letters, I believe, I had talked to a priest who had actually suggested that "marry ourselves" over the Christmas break and wait for marriage ceremony until afterwards. One would think that having a priest give the "go-ahead" would have convinced me it was all ok. I'm here to tell you that it was not, and what I remember is that at this point, I was so conflicted that I thought it might even be best for everyone, if I just secretly went up North before Tim came home and avoid the whole question! It wasn't that I didn't want to make love to this person I was so intensely in love with. There was guilt and also the one practical reason that in spite of the invention of the pill by this time - the fear of pregnancy outside of marriage. There simply wasn't enough time to be certain that the pill would be effective by the time of Tim's homecoming - a practical, but real consideration of that time in history.
Over forty years later, do I wish I had made a different decision than the decision I ended up making? Probably. And as the years go on, I feel more and more certain that I should have been brave enough to break away from the indoctrination that made no sense. Perhaps my whole life would has turned on that decision. I'll never know.
The only present day observation I can make, is actually in regard to indoctrination in and of itself whether it relates to terrorism or to our fight against terrorism or indoctrination of any kind in 21st Century.
It's obvious that young people, at the most ideological most vulnerable time of life, can be persuaded by those in power, whether its an Imam or a Pastor to do or to sacrifice, in the name of religion or patriotism or any other -ism what will make little sense to them years later. No one knows the answer to handling atrocities against us. No one knows the best way to live a life. But one thing is certain. When we isolate ourselves from the cultures of the world or even in our own neighborhoods, when we stay cloistered in our language and in our ventures, there is little chance for understanding.
The lesson to be learned can only be that those in power have to examine their own selfish motives for continuing to indoctrinate young people with their beliefs, no matter how firmly they hold these beliefs. Older men, especially, have to examine in the 21st century their reasons for hatred in the world. Is fear of losing power, the fear of change, the desire for revenge, so strong that they should be willing sacrifice their sons and daughters to keep the status quo? And young people have to be courageous to examine what they have been told holds truth. They need to be ambitious, not apathetic in seeking from where their beliefs are originating and why. They have to look to new solutions to old problems. That is the challenge of this time in history when change is happening exponentially. We cannot be dinosaurs in our thinking or follow those whose beliefs are from bias or hatred or from short-sighted self-interest. The Gen-Xers and Millennials are the Vietnam era's children and they hold all the promise.
3 December, 1969
Hello my Love. I hope at this moment you are happy and at peace with yourself. O my Life, how I wish I could be with you every minute of every day protecting your gentle heart from harm.
Well, Kate, I flunked the test today. It's ironic, Kate, I have the highest average in the class. I think the course is a farce, and yet, I'm the only person who flunked it. I had a lot riding on the test, my Love - OCS and a better life for us. I guess the pressure got to me. They may let me retest, but even at that, my chances for the OCS appointment have been reduced. I'm so sorry, Kate. I love you more than my life, Kate, but my life is all I have to offer. Now Kate, promise me, promise me you won't blame yourself. The fault is mine. Can you love my faults? They may retest or phase me back for four weeks. By Sunday I should know which. But no matter what, I'll be home for Christmas. Let's see, by the time you get this letter, it will be 13 days.* O Kate, I know you'll stay by my side. I don't know why; thank you, thank you for your love. Your love is the only thing that sustains me.
Take care, Kate. God bless you. Give my love to our family.
*Tim must have figured that I'd be getting this on December 5th. His scheduled date for homecoming was December 18th.
4 December, 1969
Hello my Love. How are you? - well, I pray. I hope, Kate that when you are troubled, the love we share comforts you. As for me, my Joy, our love is the only happiness I know. You are my happiness.
I guess they're going to retest me tomorrow. If I pass it this time, the damage done will be slight. I don't know what happened last time, my Love. My mind went blank. I knew the radio well; then, in an instant, I knew nothing. Can you spend the rest of your life with a clod like me, Kate? The first sergent's not making it any easier for me. I find myself on guard duty - little sleep tonight and an important test tomorrow. Say a little prayer for me, my Love. Can you make it a little bigger than the one you said last time?
Have a good weekend, my Love. I'm always, always thinking about you. Thank you for the wonderful memories, my Life. Take care, and God bless you.
6 December, 1969
My Love and my Life,
It's another Saturday night, my Joy, an exceptionally peaceful one, for I'm alone with my thoughts of you. O'Brien's on guard duty, the Tilko is in town with his recently married wife, Windle Wires is in the poolroom hustling, the Konaca (the Hawaiian) is probably seducing some "WAC, Clark and Garcia are down the hall engaged in some ritual which inevitably involves smoking grass, and Jim...? Well, if he's not sleeping or eating, he must be watching TV in the day room. So now, you've met my roommates - quite an assortment of people, which makes me gratful for moments like this. Me? well, I'm doing what I most like to do - to write and think about you. I love you, Kate, and my thoughts of you give me much happiness, but when we're apart, the loss and emptiness I feel saddens me.
Only one more lonely Saturday, Kate, until we're together. Let's see, by the time you get this letter, it will be 9 days.* Only nine days until I can hold you and whisper over and over, "I love you." Nine days until your goodness and love fills the void within me. I need you, my Life.
How have things been going with you, Kate? I was glad to hear that you are enjoying your CCD classes. (editor's note: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine - evening religious education classes Kate was teaching). Have you come up with any new ways of improving their abstracting abilities? I wish you luck.
Hey you, don't worry about your diet. I love Katherine Ann McCormick, just the way she is. I thank God for you. Besides, I'm the one that should worry. I weigh about 180 lbs. now, and still climbing.
How was the seminar at St. John's School for the Deaf? Learn anything that you can apply to your class?
I guess I'll close now and get to bed in an effort to rush tomorrow into coming when I can call and talk to you.
*Tim assumes I receive this letter on the 9th of December
A Group Not Unlike Tim's and Mine
The video above gives a true flavor, not only of the style and mood of the late 60s, but of the seriousness of the times. I see it reflected in the young people's faces. This was a group, that was not unlike our group of friends (except for the pot smoking depicted here occasionally). Judging by their clothes and the cars and housing, they seem to be of a higher socio-economic class than we were, but they do seem to be serious minded, yet fun-loving, innocent young people just trying to figure it all out in a time of war and the draft. I'm grateful it was posted! It's feels like an historical treasure.