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05-Love Letters from Vietnam: Basic Training, Bayonets, and Reality

Updated on November 22, 2015

Kate's Note

(There are three letters in this Hub episode. You have to scroll down to see all three. There is also a Poll lower down that might be fun to respond to! I'd love to hear your opinion of the relationship.)
A review of previous episodes and the content of my profile will provide a little clearer picture of the back-drop of this story told in letters. As mentioned before, these first episodes will be heavily weighted with the letters I wrote to Tim. Because he was in Basic Training, he was not able to write as much. There were weekend phone calls, however, as referenced in the letters. After Basic, the only letters retrieved and "saved in the shoe box" were Tim's letters to me along with an occasional letter of mine that was returned to sender. The bulk of my letters to Tim never made it back from Vietnam. As the episodes progress, the letters will be almost exclusively be from Tim.

3 June, 1969

Link to Complete Index of Letters

Dear Tim,

It was so good to get your letter yesterday. Guess by the time you receive this letter, the hardest two weeks of basic will be over, right? right! (Gee, i wonder how you can write that word to sound like the cool way Jane and Rick say it. Riiiiiiiiiiight!

How is the brick wall-walking coming along? I'm glad to hear you're eating well and by the way, how's your friend and mine, the old ulcer, coming along?

I was surprised to hear the army is so mixed up. I thought 3:00 am is time to go to bed, not to get up! Well, you told me before you left they're pretty unorganized.

Do you really think you'll get a pass this weekend? I bet that will be wonderful. I do hope you can call, Tim. I'm so anxious to hear your voice. It will mean a great deal to me.

My mom and dad are going up North for a couple of days. (My dad's on vacation this week.) Mom doesn't really want to go and you know how stubborn she can be. But I gave her the old pep talk and she's coming around.

My dad took some picture of me tonight so I can send you one if they turn out. Otherwise, will one from 8th grade do? Not too swiftly, huh? Do you think you'd be able to send me a picture of you, Tim? Please try.

There are so many question I have to ask about the army and basic. What kind of daily routine do you have besides your mile run? Are they shedding any light on why we're really in Viet Nam? How do the other fellas you're with feel about Viet Nam? Are most of them enlisted? Danny (my cousin's husband) told me what RA means. He only got US involuntary service on his mailing address). How many men are in your barracks? Do you like them a lot? And DO YOU NEED ANYTHING? You have the next seven weeks to answer all of the above. Any unanswered questions will be part of the final exam given upon your return.

Hey, I bet your dad must be pretty lonesome. Have you heard from him or Matt or Rick and Jame. Gee, I'm full of questions tonight aren't I?

If they all mist you 1/4 of the way I miss you, Milwaukee will be the "miss-ing-est" city in the world.

Well, it's getting late and you'll never guess what I haven't done yet? Did you guess? Yes, lesson planning, lesson planning, lesson planning. Oh, by the way, the faculty is playing the kids tomorrow at noon (baseball). You know who my kids said they'd root for? the children and not the teachers (the traitors!) Boy, will they get some black marks on their report cards this time.

Well, good-night, Tim. Thank you for your prayers. You know that I pray for you and your happiness everyday. Stay well and happy and at peace.


PS (This following paragraph must be referring to a logic problem my former college roommate, Ellen told us about.)

I almost forgot about that problem. You put 3 bearings on each side of the scale and leave 3 off. If the 2 sides are equal, you know the unequal bearing is in the other group. You take the first two groups off the scale and put 1 from the group that was left off on each side of the scale. If those two are equal, you know the unequal one is the one left out. If they are not equal (OH NO) you'd have to know if the unequal one is the heaviest of the group or the lightest wouldn't you? Oh, I'm sorry Tim. I'll have to check with Ellen again. Well, anyway, you get the idea. I know it's in 3's.
Do you want to read something beautiful? This was in one of those Christopher Notes I get. It's certainly meaningful to me, and I'd like to share it with you, Tim.
"Life has not taught expect nothing, but she has taught me to expect success to be the inevitable result of my endeavors. She has taught me to seek sustenance from the endeavor itself, but to leave the result to God."
Alan Paton


As mentioned in previous episodes, Kate and Tim's relationship, as all relationships during times of war, is being influenced by intense outside forces. Especially strong at play is the fact that Kate, after graduation from the U, was starting to read and study the Vietnam question on her own. (Her life from 1964-1968 had been consumed with the Psycho-Social Aspects of Deafness, Applied Phonetics, the Anatomy of Speech and Hearing -rigorous coursework - all. )

Ironically, the weekend before she had met Tim, she had been to a party with the likes of seminarians and serious-minded young college students discussing all aspects of the war while singing along with guitars playing, "Blowin' In the Wind" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". So Tim's decision to enlist a few months after he had been talking about marriage was jarring to Kate, especially since he had done it without her knowledge. Wrapped up in Tim's decision were Kate's questions as to their world view outlook and a nagging tiny feeling that perhaps the relationship was becoming too intense for Tim and his enlisting might have been an escape. Added to all of those issues is Kate's uncertainty of her competence as a teacher.

As you read between the lines, you'll find hints at these deeper concerns and attempts by Tim of reassuring Kate of her insecurities and attempts by Kate to discover what it meant that the person she loved was going off to a war that caused everyone to look at their own sense of morality. 

There is a commercial running on TV right now that says something to the effect that "Almost everyone wants to do what's right. They often just don't know what that is." The question of whether Vietnam was right or wrong, whether it was braver to go or to not go, is the embodiment of that statement and it affected everyone who was caught up in a relationship during that time in history.  

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6 June, 1969

Dear Tim,

Gee, I hope that by the time you get this letter, we will have talked to each other. You know what, Tim? I haven't remembered what waiting for Christmas to come feels like. I know and remember now! I know you want me to share my thoughts, and I can't help worrying in anticipation of your call. You've been through so much these past weeks and have been exposed to so many new ways of thinking and feeling that perhaps you've changed in your thinking and feeling about us. Forgive me Tim, and please don't be angry with me, but those thoughts do come. I guess that's why I've written about seven different times the past week and have thrown them all away. I didn't want to tell you of my worries. I know you have a lot of things to think about now, but not telling you how I feel makes me feel like a hypocrite. So there, it's out now. Please try to understand, Tim. I think you will.

Well, onward. You'll have trouble believing this, but when my dad took some pictures of me to send, We took this one as a joke (because of your always teasing me). Out of some 8 pictures, this is the only one in which my eyes weren't big pink blobs. The other pictures had been in my blue dress!!! Well, it's the best I could do.

How are all your sergeant friends? Do you have them under control yet? How many men are at that country club anyway? Hope you get to see some of that Kentucky blue grass on your leave, or passes, or whatever they are.

Well, the lilac stationery has dwindled. (This is the last piece.) That means you've been gone a long t ime -(as if I needed stationery as a measure.)

School is soon coming to a close. The children are ecstatic (to say nothing of the teachers!) I do wish I could have my class again, but...

Think I'll stay at Newberry now. I know Mrs. Angelo (my first year teaching mentor) will hlep.

I haven't been able to contact Matt. (Tim's buddy). He hasn't called. Have you heard from him? I wonder how everyone's doing.

Well, my school records await. I'm so anxious for your call. I hope you will be able to.

This isn't a very nice letter, Tim. Know that I love you though and you're in my thoughts and prayers.



7 June, 1969

Dear Kate,

I'm sorry I haven't written you this week, but they have kept us pretty busy. We spent every day this week at the rifle range. We would leave at 5:00 am in the morning and get back at 8:00 pm. By the time I clean my weapon; polish my boots and brass and take a shower, it's lights out. You said you wanted to know about by daily routine. Well, there are two types of days - range days and physical training (PT) days. On PT days, we get up at 3:00 am run a mile before breakfast and work out on the horizontal bars. After chow, we have two hours of formal PT (all types of exercises). After PT we usually have two hours of drill and ceremonies (We're taught how to march!)

After D and C we have two hours of bayonet training. You know Kate, maybe I shouldn't say this, but bayonet drill disturbs me. It's during bayonet drill that the whole idea behind basic training becomes most obvious. It's hard to explain Kate, I know the purpose of basic is to teach us how to kill, but during bayonet drill you somehow realize that one day you might have to use what you've been taught and the whole idea of war and killing becomes a personal thing. Forgive me for crying. I guess I'm not as tough as I thought.

After lunch we have more PT, classes on military subjects, and hand-to-hand combat. After supper we have more classes and start to get ready for the next day. Lights are out at 8:00. On range days, we spend the whole day shooting the M14. Range days wouldn't be bad if we didn't have to walk 10 miles in the hot Kentucky sun, carrying a 35 pound pack on our backs and an 8 pound rifle. The above is going to be the story of my life for the next 7, no 6 weeks. By the time I get to bed, I'm exhausted and 3:00 comes around fast.

Another thing, I'm always hungry. The guys in the third platoon thought your peanut butter cookies were great. They wanted me to thank you. As a matter of fact, I only had four cookies. They were great, thank you. If you want to make basic a little brighter for me, send food for my spirit (letters) and food for my stomach.

My opinion of the army has not changed. It is the most disorganized and - I just had to help carry a guy to the CQ office. He tried to kill himself. A trainee who bunks next to me drank a can of brass cleaner which is marked "fatal if swallowed." I think we got him to the hospital in time. The army's back, but it's not that bad. I don't understand what would prompt him to try a thing like that. It's getting so, I don't try to understand anymore. I hope he's all right.

Just as I suspected, they cancelled our weekend passes and confined us to the company area. Why? I don't know. Perhaps they never intended that we leave. I so much wanted to hear your voice Kate. You can't imagain how much I hate the army at this moment. Maybe next weekend.

No, Kate, I'm not a major yet, but remember I told you about all those tests the army gives all inductees. I did well enough on those tests to makethe army think I might be officer material. So they gave me the officer qualification test. I found out yesterday that I passed it. All it means is that I'm qualified to go to Officer Candidate School (OCS). The school lasts 24 weeks and if you make it through, you're commissioned as a second lieutenant. At first glance it looks impressive, but there are a lot of obligations and uncertainties connected with it. I haven't decided if I want to go or not. I don't think I have enough respect for the army to be willing to accept any responsibility for it.

Well, enough of my problems. How have you been, Kate? Have youdecided what you're going to do next Fall? I love you, Kate, and I want what you want so don't let me interfere with any of your plans. It sounds like the school has given you quite a responsibility assigning you to the exceptionally handicapped children. They must think you can do it and so do I. It sounds like you have decided to stay in teaching though, which is fortunate for a lot of children. You have so much to give. I'm glad the second baseball game turned out better than the first. I'm sorry I was not able to be there. This separation only makes me realize how much I love you, Kate. I hope when we see each other again, it won't be as strangers. It's only been 3 weeks, but it seems so much longer. But in 6 more weeks it will seem like a lifetime.

The only thing that keeps me going is the thought of seeing you again. You're the only happiness in my life. Be happy, Kate.


PS Say "hello" to your parents for me


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