Now that I went all nostalgic I can’t seem to stop. This week I am thinking about my brother. I have two brothers who had to hold their own in a family which also encompassed six girls. They were more than capable of meeting the challenge. My brother Hugh is one year younger than me. Recently I typed the letters he wrote home when he was in the Air Force into my computer and published a copy of all of these letters for the family to have. Aren’t computers transformative? Years ago what would have been pasted in an album and physically passed from hand to hand, possibly being lost or maimed in the process, can now be compiled in a PDF document and preserved for prosperity.
I picture my slim, blond brother, the friend of Pete (the brother of our next door neighbor), the instigator of our neighborhood adventures and games, the hunter, the fisherman, the lover of fast cars and long-haired girls; I picture my brother in his ochre colored Air Force casual dress uniform (we grew up in an Air Force town; it was inevitable). He is sent off to Texas for basic training and all round “male-ifying”. When the Air Force tests him, it turns out he is quite intelligent, which we already knew. They tell him he would make a good interpreter and that they would like to send him home to attend the well-known and expensive university in our small city to study languages. I’m sure my brother was excited at the prospect of attending a college which our family could never have afforded to send him to; he was excited that he might be sent home where he had his family and his rather serious new girlfriend. They kept him there at that Texas Air Force Base after his basic training group left waiting to send him off for language studies. It never happened however. Didn’t the very acronym SNAFU (meaning situation normal all f***ed up) come from the military? Instead he got sent to Virginia and assigned to the motor pool (I’m sure due to all the hours spent with Dad under the hoods of various junker cars, and under a series of hot cars my brother tried to put on the road using sweat equity before he left for the service). He never moaned or whined about this turn of affairs, not then and not later, at least not that I ever overheard, even though this changed his life forever, and even though he was probably devastated.
While on the air base in Virginia he married his hometown sweetheart and they eventually set up housekeeping in Virginia. Barbara (AKA Gertie) found out she was pregnant just before my brother was sent to Vietnam. Because of his skills with combustion engines and his love for all things with tires, he was, fortunately, assigned to the motor pool once again, instead of combat. There are only a few letters from Vietnam in that collection of service letters my Mom saved all these years. My brother was called home on a hardship discharge when his twin boys were born very early, weighing one pound something and two pounds something. The boys were in the hospital for a long, long time and one twin almost died, but today they are over six feet tall and both fathers of very nice families.
So here are the two letters my brother wrote home from Vietnam. They are not very enlightening about national or world events, or about the Vietnam War, but they are probably familiar to anyone who has spent any time in a barracks in a war zone, and especially in Vietnam, because the bits about music are probably a reflection of those days in the 60’s and 70’s when music suddenly got so exciting and creative. I don’t think my brother appreciated that music much, but reading his letter will explain why. We are a very lucky family. We got my brother home in one piece, six sisters gained another great sister and two very precarious babies got to grow into smart, productive fathers and to grace our family with their wives and their offspring and their successes.
Have been receiving your wonderful letter, cards, etc. but I haven’t had very much time to myself lately. This is my first day off in nine. Today I decided to just relax and catch up on a little mail.
Please try to keep an ear open for any news about Dave. I’m worried sick not knowing how he is. And please folks keep an eagle eye on my Gertie. Please don’t let anything happen to her. One pleasant fellow over here told me how a friend of his was having a baby while over here, or his wife was rather, and she died during a miscarriage. Well this poor sap didn’t find out for seven days after it happened and in the mean time he started receiving sympathy cards and so on. Needless to say, he’s presently residing in the Booby hatch.
Thank you for the picture mother I had none.
Boy, barracks life over here is beautiful. Let me try to describe it a little.
These guys in this particular barracks work about six different shifts or in other words there are always some going and some coming from work, therefore you are constantly having the stompingof boots and the clanging of locker doors. Next you have the guy that never seems to have to go to work, either that or he’s scheduling his work hours to match yours so that he’ll be sure to be in the barracks when you are. This beauty rears back his head and bellowing like a bull moose shouts “SHORT” so that it echoes and reechoes several times. Then he proceeds to walk around shouting at each of the ten bull sessions going on, “Hey you guys want a beer?” The first group that says “Yeh, man” has signified that he is welcome to join for the price of a beer. Then things settle down to a steady roar with each group trying to drown out the other with their shouts, obscenities, and music. That’s right, I forgot to mention the music. There is always music going on in the barracks (this may well be one of the advantages you think) well, it probably would be if there weren’t at least ten different selections going on simultaneously and each at peak volume. Everything from “Tighten Up” to “Last Night I went to sleep in Detroit City”. I could mention a hundred more like the barracks builder. This character might decide at 10 o’clock he doesn’t like his room and proceed to remodel it. With skill saw screaming and hammer swinging he descends. But the very best bunch are the “have drunk up all the booze crews.” They come staggeringin at all times and when they do it seems like the other aforementioned noises were sweet soft music. Fortunately these Dudes usually don’t last too long although there are exceptions to every rule.
Well, so far we have stomping, clanging, bellowing like a bull moose, echoes and reechoes, shouting, obscenities, music (ten different selections), barracks building, and staggering and with that note I’ll close.
Well it’s Sunday and my day off and I’ve been trying to get a letter out to you for several days now. I don’t really have all that much to tell you. It’s been a pretty dull week all in all.
We did have a little bit of excitement Thursday night. Four V.C. were caught sneaking on Base. It was nothing really but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention it to Barb. Because you know how she worries.
It’s raining pretty hard today, and most of the guys are just staying in bed. Usually on Sundays they are off getting drunk and buying prostitutes on the strip. I guess I had better explain the strip to you. It is just a bunch of little ruined shacks that serve as bars and flophouses just outside the gate. Every base in every foreign country has its strip but here it is just a little dirtier, just a little smellier, got to be just a little worse than any place else in the world.
How’s Barb really doing folks? I know she’d never tell me the truth for fear I’d worry. Well I worry anyway. I guess I’m just like you mother.
The ladies guild from church sent me cookies. I thought that was very nice.
Well, I guess I’ll close for now so I can get a few other letters out but keep the news coming.
This is the last letter in mom’s stash.