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
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
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
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 stomping
of 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 staggering
in 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
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.
is the last letter in mom’s stash.