45-Love Letters from Vietnam - A Christmas Wedding Proposal, 1969
14, December, 1969
Well, my Love, we've just talked. Now that you have had time to think, does the prospect of being Mrs.Tim Moreno* still appeal to you? I hope so, Kate. For the more I think of it, and that's all I can think about, the more confident i am that it will be for the best. Mine is an uncertain, insecure future, but Kate, it seems you wish to share it with me. How fortunate I am to have your love. I thank God for it daily. Kate, I'll try with all the strength of my mind, heart, body, and talents to be worthy of your love. I think you know this.
Considering my nebulous future, waiting feels pointless. Waiting for what? Waiting for my commission which may never come. If we waited for the most opportune time to marry, the waiting may go on indefinitely.
But then again, my Love, to a detached observer, the reasons I gave for not waiting may seem selfish. Our marriage now will require sacrifices on the part of both of us. I have faith in our love, the faith to know that sacrifices will only serve to strengthen it. Our marriage now, Kate, will be harder on you than on me, my Love. I'll be gone for long periods of time; you'll have to work. In short, all I have to offer materially is my name, and for a teacher of the deaf, that is definitely not an asset.
If knowing all this, you still want to marry me, Kate, then lets. As far as my plans for the future, Kate, through our separation, I've become intensely aware of the fact that you are my future. It will take years and tears to build a life for ourselves; let's start now. We're going to need all the time we can get.
I've just been called to the phone Kate; we've just talked of our marriage plans again.* As the realization of our marriage draws near, I'm filled with excitement, joy, happiness, all of them in one inseparable emotion. How, my Love, the days will really slow down. My heart's pounding faster in an effort to speed it up again. Soon, so soon, you'll be my wife. It seems almost unbelievable.
I wish I could be there to participate in the planning. It seems though, that you've been getting plenty of help from Matt and Anne. I can't wait for the day I see you in that new dress of yours!
*The first part of this letter is after Tim's first call saying, "let's go ahead," and the second part after I called Tim in the state of euphoria and disbelief over having found a wedding dress before closing time at Mayfair!
**All names used in this series are fictitious
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Tim always called on Sundays. A soldier in Basic or AIT is off on Sundays as I remember - no training, no school, and only occasionally KP and Guard Duty.
And so I would wait on Sundays, my heart fluttering, my emotions raw, and my head nervous for the phone call I knew would come some time during that day.
The nervousness in the first months while Tim was in Basic was caused from my insecurity about the relationship. Would he find someone else while we were apart? (There were plenty of women soldiers on the base even in those days before women were allowed in combat. And, of course, I imagined they all were fit (as in skinnier than I was) and gorgeous! And I had seen plenty of old World War II movies depicting soldiers going into town on the weekends and being charmed by some local blonde with an accent they thought adorable if only because of its difference to theirs. But by now, the thought of Tim falling in love with someone else was becoming less and less of even a slight consideration. I was assured after all these months of passionate letters that our love for each other was deep and unshakable.
I remember being nervous before a Sunday phone call for news I might hear - not news of deployment to Vietnam - we didn't let ourselves fear that. I imagine we reasoned that if we didn't think it was a possibility, we wouldn't manifest it in our lives. (And this was even before The Secret was written!). Besides, a friend of Tim who joined the army a few years before Tim was now stationed in Germany, and I could envision Tim being stationed in Europe instead of Vietnam. For some naive, uninformed, stereotypical image from World War II movies, I felt comfortable that Tim's MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was electronics. I let myself assume that, of course, radios and radar were only incidental to the guerrilla warfare going on in Vietnam, and that Tim would never be sent to the place from which the body bags emanated.
The news I worried about hearing, but only slightly, was based on my growing knowledge of Tim's rebel side, a side I actually greatly admired. I remember being nervous that he might call to tell me he had an Article 15 (disciplinary measure) or that he somehow landed in the brig. Tim was all about the sham of authority. He was a kind of skeptic who always felt the "king wore no clothes". So there was that fear in me that the Army could possibly crush a soul like Tim's and find some way to affect the rest of his/our life.
But of all the reasons to be nervous waiting for Tim's call, the reason looming most on this particular Sunday (December 14, 1969) was the realization that Tim would be home in only four days and I didn't know what to do nor whether to tell him or not of my doubts about our decision to make love without being married.
Everyone I talked to seemed to give me permission to go ahead and express our love in the physical way that we both had been yearning for. It's difficult in the 21st century to even contemplate that sex before marriage was felt to be wrong. I remember my mother being gentle and sweet and philosophical. She was never raised Catholic nor had ever attended a Catholic school like the one she sent me to. Besides, my mother, from all I could tell, was a bit of a pistol during her twenties in the 30's. "Kate, just go ahead," she told me. "You love Tim, Tim loves you. Just go ahead. Daddy thinks so too." (Of course, I could never had talked to my dad about this. He'd be too embarrassed. This wasn't the era of "Modern Family."
And then there was there was the priest who had expressed the same idea as my mother and implied it was more moral to go ahead and express our love during this time than not to!! And my friends? I remember them being noncommittal. (I think most of them had long ago decided that the abstinence concept that we all had been drilled with was totally non-sensical within the confines of a committed relationship.
But perhaps that's the reason why I wasn't sure. Like Tim, maybe I was a bit of a rebel in the opposite way that everyone else was. A part of me thought that if everyone else thinks this way is right, it might be wrong!
And so on that Sunday in 1969, I lay on the floor of tiny bedroom in my parent's tiny apartment on the south side of Milwaukee with the phone on the floor - waiting to hear Tim's voice. But how I anticipated the way in which the phone call might go, was not what actually transpired.
I think I anticipated that Tim might persuade me in this phone call that we were doing the right thing to make love for the first time during his Christmas leave. I was hoping there was some reason he could give that he could assure me. On the other hand, I was hoping he would tell me he was as committed as I was to waiting. Those were the two outcomes I could have predicted. I didn't predict the third.
I remember the phone call as being relatively short - and direct. I remember words that went something like: "Kate, I love you so much. I know how intensely you feel about not making love before we're married and about walking down the aisle in a white dress that truly represents a white dress. I've been wrestling with this over and over. I've been talking to O'Brien, and he's really a smart guy. He asked me why I would want to wait. I love you, you love me. There's no point in waiting. So..."
By now I know all emotions hurried into my heart and filled it to a capacity I hadn't known was possible.
"So," he continued, "let's go ahead and get married when I come home on leave."
What happened afterward is unclear in my mind. I know I must have asked several times, "Are you sure, Tim? Am I being unfair? Is this what you really want?"
I remember Tim being decisive. "Yes, Kate, this is what I want. I know you won't be able to live with yourself if we don't do it this way." As his letter states, somewhat unromantically, "I think will be for the best." But remember, this is a Spock type character, a pragmatic engineer making a life-changing decision for himself (or at least that's probably what I might have told myself if I had any disappointment about Tim's approach). To be honest, I can't remember any disappointment on that day in history!
I can't remember whom I called first, my friend, Ellen, from college who was now teaching in Oshkosh, or my friend Anne who was dating Tim's best friend Matt. (See sociogram of friends) But I remember the responses.
Ellen was excited and accommodating. And when I asked if she'd be my maid of honor, she was excited. "If you want, Kate, I could even wear that long-sleeved, long green velvet from a wedding I stood up for last year. Would that do?" Of course it would do - everything would do!
The other call was to Anne. Matt was there. Excitement ensued.
"We're going shopping for your dress," Anne told me. I assumed next week. "No TODAY!, Kate. We'll be right over."
I was swept up - in a state of shock. It was 3:00 and Matt and Anne would be there to take me to Mayfair Mall way over on the other side of town. (It must have been the only mall that had a wedding shop that was open on Sundays.)
I remember thinking as we raced through the Mall in our winter jackets and boots that being here just before closing looking for a wedding dress was a bit nutty. But we were all so excited - and I was getting married!
Anne and I quickly went to the sale rack.
"Here's one. It's a size 10!" (what now to me seems to be called a 4)
I didn't see one thing wrong with this dress - an attitude a bit apart from the perfect-wedding-dress concept! But this was the 60's, and we were rejecting all of society's impositions. (One of our friend's fiance walked barefoot down the aisle while Matt's brother played his guitar and sang, "...The first time ever I lay with you". All of us were waiting for the bride's Catholic father to go apoplectic at any moment!
Not only did I see nothing wrong with the dress, but it was $20! (I didn't mistype... The dress was marked, $20!) So with all size and price stars in alignment, I tried on the simple white dress with the humble daisy embroidered flowers. Anne loved it. I loved it.
In the background, we heard the clerk calling from her check-out register that the store was closing in five minutes. Anne whisked the dress to the counter as I finished dressing. The clerk, somewhat in shock, started ringing it up the purchase of one white, size 10 wedding dress. I wrote a check for $20.00; Anne and Matt and I walked out of that Mall, giddy, almost dizzy, from the craziness of it all.