Dear Mom, and Dad,
You can forget about the pistol because it’s gone with the wind. I was trying to think up some way of telling you about it but the facts are about the simplest way.
When we went to reinforce CAP 1 the night they were wiped out we were the first help to arrive. We just dropped our gear and started to carry wounded to the choppers as they came in. I took off my shirt so that it wouldn’t get bloody and dropped it on my gear.
When I finally got back to my gear about three hours later someone had stolen about six dollars from my billfold, and your pistol.
I talked to the lieutenant about making a search. He said that if the gun was found in a search he would have to confiscate it. He did say that if I found out who stole it myself, I could take it back, and beat hell out of the thief with his approval.
Unfortunately, of the 40 or 50 Marines who could have taken it; only eleven were available to be questioned. The people from other CAP’s had gone back to their areas which were out of bounds to me.
(Now I think it’s much more likely the pistol was stolen by one of the RFs or a Vietnamese interpreter.)
I admit that it was my fault for having you send the gun and for losing it. I’m sorry.
I’m glad you managed to sell the house, and that that worry is out of the way.
I haven’t been able to work up much enthusiasm for writing lately. It’s been so hot that it’s an effort just to lay there and breathe. We don’t even eat any more. We trade our C-rations for black market cokes and drink lots of water.
Another reason I don’t write is that anything I say is repetitious. All I can tell you about is: so many were killed, so many were wounded, so many VC were killed. You might as well be reading a newspaper.
Barb Fields, who has been writing to me for the last four months is going to be working in the physical therapy section at the State Hosp. this summer. If you see her, please say hi for me.
Our CAP leader, Mike Kubina was wounded two days ago. He got shrapnel in his right lung, arm, and leg. He’s lucky because he’ll recover and he’s going home. He’ll be at a Naval hospital less than 100 miles from his home.
I want to get washed up so I’ll have to quit for now.
I mailed some more negatives today. Please send me another mailer. The last one you sent was ruined by the rain. I have a roll of film ready to send home.
CAP 2’s RF corpsman was assassinated today. He couldn’t get to sleep in the day haven site so he went to a house about 300m away to sleep. He didn’t take his rifle. The VC came in as he was sleeping and shot him four times before he was fully awake, twice in the chest, twice in the arm.
The VC got clean away. I’m in favor of blowing up the house where he was killed but the actual is afraid of being caught. Since I’m at CAP 4 now anyway, I haven’t got much to say about it.
I was transferred to CAP 4 three days ago. The guys here are friendly but their area of operation is made for the advantage of the VC. Things are bound to get hairy. CAP 4 had three killed and six wounded by a booby trap last week. One of the wounded was Mike Kubina, a good friend and ex-actual (CAP leader) at CAP 2.
My address will now read CAP 2-7-4.
Dear Dad, Thanks for the information on VA benefits. The stuff available is pretty much as I expected. I’ll have to admit that gov’t help in going to school was one of about a hundred of my reasons for enlisting.
The only thing that kept me alive in that ambush was pure, blind, incredible, luck. That and the fact that whoever was shooting at me was a lousy shot. From shell casings we found, it was evident that there were about 30 or 40 shots fired at me from about 30 yards away.
I think that the VC had buck fever. If Marines had set that ambush there would definitely have been kills.
I didn’t think of showing that letter of mine to Mrs. Cope. That’s definitely a good idea.
The VC girl will probably never be seen again. If she is seen she’ll be killed on sight. She has most likely joined one of the hard-core VC battalions floating around Quang Nam.
I have been keeping a journal since May 4. I just put down our ambush sites and day haven sites. If anything unusual happens like an ambush, etc. I put it down. I’m having the same trouble there, as with my letter writing. I can’t seem to put down anything worth the effort. It seems like, lately, I’ve just been keeping a record of people I know who are killed or wounded.
There’s nothing new to report here. I’ve already told you that I’m in CAP 4 now. I really like most of the guys here but the area of operation is a nightmare. It’s tailor made for the advantages of the VC.
Three guys were killed and six wounded by a booby-trap at CAP 9 today. I didn’t know any of them personally. My company is losing more people than it’s gaining nowadays.
Please send me Joel’s address when you get it.
I’m back at CAP 2 so I guess my old address is good again.
Those negatives I sent have pictures of everybody except me on them, including Monkey and Dum-Dum. I hope they do turn out. I’ve sent some more negatives since.
Dum-Dum is crazy about the baseball hat you sent. He wears it continually. Yin thanked me formally in Vietnamese for the rain jacket. He’s paying to have it tailored to his size so no sweat there. These Vietnamese seamstresses can make good clothing out of just about anything.
That picture with the bodies was taken in a ville about 3 miles north of here. The guy in the archway is Will, who is now CAP leader here at CAP 2. It was taken at “The Alamo” which is another old house that we sometimes stay at. I can’t remember if I was in any of the slides or not. Don’t forget to send me a couple of mailers. I now have two rolls of film that will need to be developed.
Becky Jarvis, Carole Keller, Barb Fields, and Kathy Boyd sent me a birthday package (late) of cookies, film, and some love beads. Nice, huh?
Our old CAP leader, Mike Kubina, was wounded and is now in Guam en-route to the states. He’s got a chunk of shrapnel in his right lung. Four people died and five others were wounded by the booby trap that got Mike.
In reference to the Army pacification team you saw eating with the Vietnamese on TV:
(1) It may have been staged.
(2) Some people are more resistant to Vietnamese foods than others.
(3) It may have been in a Catholic village where they food is on par with any restaurant in the states health-wise.
(4) We eat with the people too, those of us who are resistant to dysentery.
I did get the plastic bags but I have little need for them now that the spring rains are over. When the monsoon gets here in late August I’ll need them again.
So far I’ve gotten all of the packages that you have sent. The Kool-aid and lemonade you sent really hit the spot. I wish you could send some Q-Tips in the next package, my ears and my rifle both need a good cleaning.
Speaking of con-artistry I traded $20 Military Payment Certificates for $34 in Piastres. The official rate of exchange is $24 for $20; I got $34 for $20. In other words I just made a tidy profit on the black market.
If you ever did any damage to Joel or I in any extreme of anger; you more than made up for it in other ways. Whenever I take time to think about it, I thank my luck for the parents I got. I wouldn’t trade parents with anyone if I could do my life over again. I think that you and Dad are pretty balanced in your personalities. One complements the other. I canunderstand how Dad can bug you by being untouched by any of the barbs shot at him (he bugs me sometimes).
I read “Stranger in a Strange Land” and really liked it. Robert Heinlein is one of my favorite writers. All of the other readers in CAP 2 read it, and enjoyed also.
My concern for Yin is based on the fact that he is intelligent, handsome, affectionate, eager to learn, brave, determined, competitive, and fairly mature for fourteen. Also, he’s been fighting this war for about two years now and has had a price on his head for nearly that long. I can’t help brooding on the fact that when I was fourteen my main worry was whether or not I would do well in the next football game and other trivia.
He’s a boy doing a man’s job and doing it well and his chances of living until he’s 21 are about zilch.
In a year I will return to a life of ease and comfort in the United States while Yin will spend the rest of his life (if he lives) in Viet Nam and never know that there is anything else.
Tell Mary Beth that John is often in as much danger as I am and that bullets don’t care if the person they hit has just come from a hot shower and a decent meal, or not. John is in the same boat I’m in except that he’s in first class and I’m going tourist.
Dum-Dum has been inseperable from his baseball hat for two days now. I don’t think he’ll lose it. We’ve taught him how to say please and thank you.
Give my regards to the Duncans, I really like them.
Dear Mom + Dad,
Eddie Lawrence’s dog tag was attached to his boot when his boot (and foot) were blown off of his leg, May 10. The last I saw of his was when we put him on a medevac chopper. He’s the one who kept screaming for us to find his foot so he could take it to the hospital with him. We found his boot about ten feet from his and later we found his foot about 30 yds. away.
The dog tag is just another one of my souvenirs of beautiful southeast asia.
I have a dog tag on my right boot but I lost the one that goes around my neck. I’m going to have to get some more.
Guess what? One of the guys I know in CAP 2-7-4 is from Gunnison, Colorado! We even know some of the same people at Crested Butte. I guess he does a lot of skiing. He’s going to go to Western State College in Gunnison when he gets discharged.
The little round button I sent is the badge of an ARVN artillery brigade. Just another souvenir.
So far I’ve gotten all of the packages you’ve mentioned in your letters. I usually don’t mention them in my letters because I usually get a letter from you on the day before I get the package you send with the letter. I answer the letter when I get it and then mail the letter before the package comes, so it doesn’t get mentioned.
Q-Tips, Lemonade and Kool-Ade mix, paperback books, magazines, pudding, polish sausage, are all popular stocking stuffers. That book, “M.A.S.H.” was great, the whole CAP read it. The peanut butter and jelly was a good idea but both were gone before we could steal some bread for peanut butter + jelly sandwiches.
I can only reacall one picture in that first bunch with me as the subject. I’m sitting at a table in the courtyard of a house putting a letter into an envelope. I think I was wearing a green T-shirt, camouflage trousers, and a go-to-hell hat.
There is one picture of me in the second bunch and you should have no trouble recognizing that one. I’m sure that Yin is not in the first bunch of negatives at all. Dum-Dum and Monkey are. Dum-Dum is very small and he wears a blue shirt and striped pants. Monkey is dark skinned, and he wears camouflage clothing.
The two kids on the cow are just a couple of the village kids. All of our regular interpreters wear camouflage clothing.
There are two pictures of Yin in the second batch of negatives, three or four of Yankee, (wearing a white T-shirt), and one of our Kit Carson Scout, who is an older man with a stern expression.
A Kit Carson Scout is a VC or NVA soldier who has changed sides and now works for the American forces. Our KCS, Mr. Gia, was an NVA officer who changed sides two years ago. He brought with him papers and codes that helped us wipe out an NVA battalion. The U.S. and V.N. gov’t paid him $100,000 for his services into a Swiss bank account. In two years Mr. Gia will finish his enlistment as a KCS and he can retire a very wealthy man.
(The busines about a $100,000 payment to Mr. Gia now seems extremely far-fetched, but I obviously believed it at the time. It’s unlikely he would have been paid that amount, no matter what his services. It’s even more unlikely he would have stayed in the bush, risking his life every day, if he had access to $100,000. The “Swiss bank account” sounds like some kind of James Bond fantasy.)
He’s really a nice guy.
That’s about it for now.
I got your last letter, skimmed through it, and then lost it. I set it down and it wasn’t there when I went back. the VC could possibly have it, in which case you’ll probably get some nasty letters from the NLF, SDS, etc.
We’re set up in “The French House” today. It’s about 6:20 AM and I’m on the second floor balcony enjoying the usual spectacular sunrise.
We had about four inches of rain last night but, for once I was under cover. We had an ambush in the local rice mill. This morning everything is cool and fresh, and washed out. I think it’s going to be hellish hot today but now it’s nice. Luckily, “The French House” is fairly cool even on the hottest days.
I received a letter from Debbie Cope the other day and answered it. I’m always interested in what she has to say even though I’m wary of her political attitude. She’s one of the few people with whom I can use the full extent of my speaking vocabulary and not get any blank looks. (People my age, that is.)
I finally applied for my R+R, giving my choices of R+R site as, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Bangkok, in that order. It will probably be approved for Hong Kong.
I got your Marsgram yesterday. I understand that John (Dietrich, a family friend and Army chopper pilot) has been transferred and is piloting for a Major Putnam but nobody here knows what the rest of the message means; NHA, WMSQT, VIP, etc. I hope you can give me some enlightenment soon because I plan to ask the captain for a walking chit to go and visit John sometime next month.
If John has been moved to somewhere nearby it will greatly increase my chances of getting to see him. He has been stationed at (or near) Pleiku, which is 90 miles from here. It might as well be 900 miles because the road in between is often closed and there is no guarantee that I could catch a plane or chopper going there.
I have signed the pay roster for this month and I now have $605 in the ten-per-cent savings program and $235 on the books as of June. Since I’ll be saving for my R+R I won’t be depositing any more jing until September in the 10% program.
Two Marines were wounded at CAP 10 by a booby-trap, and CAP 3 had a big fire fight the same night, so that’s the extent of the action for 7th Company this week.
My buddy from staging battalion and CAP School, Mike Turner, just got out of the hospital. He had a two week vacation with dysentery.
We haven’t had a fire fight in so long that our ammo is all getting old and it will have to be cleaned, rotated, or replaced soon. We tried to fire all of our anti-tank rockets the other day and several of them were duds which I had to destroy with C-4.
“Bob” (some of the village kids have assumed American names) brought in a homemade tin can full of a greasy, orange substance with a grainy texture the other day. I put a blasting cap in it and it went off with a roar. It was either homemade C-4, or the usual type, with oil in it.
Mr. Aistrup (my high school history teacher, and manager of my hometown swimming pool) tells me that Nan is teaching at the pool in the A.M. How is she doing? Is the pool losing much business to the new lake? I imagine that it is.
I’m in good health, still, in spite of a few jungle sores here and there. I’m not losing any weight as you will be able to tell from the flics that I sent home. I have some kind of rash on my left ankle, “Doc” says it’s a heat rash.
Please send me some prints from the last two rolls of film I sent home. I haven’t seen any of the pictures. I just hope that I filled in the blank spaces on the mailers OK.
Well I’m about written-out for now so I’ll quit.
Your Marsgram came like this:
John moved to NHA Transient, pilot for Maj. Gene Putnam. WMSQT/VIP Mom + Dad
In other words it was wildly different from what it should have been. I got your letter one day after I got the Marsgram anyway.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve applied for R+R in Hong Kong, Sept 10-17. I should have no trouble getting it approved.
Did you ever find out Jim Tadtman’s (a family friend and Army engineer) address? You never said anything about it.
I haven’t asked the Captain yet about going to see John. Now it’s complicated by the fact that nobody seems to know where Nha Trang is. All anyone knows is that it has a branch station of AFVN radio there. I could use a map of Viet Nam. Transportation is even more doubtful than ever.
I got the package w/Q-tips. You people are really taking good care of me in the package dept., I’m grateful. Maybe you could number the packages you send so we would be sure that all of them get here. I could write and say, “Package #10 arrived today.”
Yin can’t read English at all although he can recognize the names of everyone in the CAP and most written numbers. He is fully literate in Vietnamese, though.
I must have exaggerated Dum-Dum’s condition. His old man is not much worse than any widower back stateside. He has to work all day to support his kids. Dum-Dum’s sister (age 13) washes, cleans and cooks for all the kids. I think there are 4 kids in the family. Dum-Dum helps feed the family with all the C-rats we give him. He’s really fairly well off. Mac, (McIntyre) one of my buddies, gets a package of clothes for Dum-Dum about once a month.
Financially and physically, Yin is pretty well off too. We pay him about $60 per month (CAP 2). He gets more money than a sergeant in the ARVIN Army. I wouldn’t even try to adopt Yin. Aside from the risks he takes and his doubtful future he’s not only happy and content but rich.
I think it’s ridiculous to adopt a child from another country unless it is an infant. America is so different that the kid would never completely adjust.
Yin does have parents and a brother and sister. His sister goes to high school in Da Nang to avoid being forcibly “recruited” by the VC. Yin has to disguise himself whenever he goes home so that the VC won’t assassinate him.
I have heard (from a Captain) that 2nd CAG will not be leaving Viet Nam in the next twelve months. By October, 2nd CAG is supposed to be the only Marine unit (combat) left in Viet Nam.
If I ever start the “Arms of Krupp” I probably won’t finish it. My attention span is about 3 days long now (probably a gross overestimate!). I’ve even stopped writing in my daily journal.
All I seem to want to do anymore is sleep, eat, and I guess that’s about it.
Our ex-NVA adviser told me that the VC/NVA won’t do much fighting now that the rice is short and growing. He said that when the rice has reached full height, the paddies are drained, and the rice starts to ripen, that is when the fighting will pick up again in our area.
Until then I guess all we’ll do is sit around chewing our nails and wishing we had some fighting to do. Life is really boring here when we know that we don’t have to worry about being shot or attacked.
The number of booby-traps found per week has dropped from a high of 43 per week to less than 2 or 3. (That number sounds like a huge exaggeration, unless the number applies to all 7th Co. CAPs)
Action should get hot again in 5 or 6 weeks. August is supposed to be a wild month.
The monsoon season (Sept. to Jan.) is supposed to be very quiet too.
I have to quit for now.
Please add this letter to the rest of the stuff I’ve sent home. It was sent to me by Mike Kubina from Guam. Mike was my CAP leader until he was wounded and evacuated last month. On the back page he’s talking about a fire fight in which I was standing up and throwing “frags” (M-26, Hand Fragmentation Grenades) out as fast as they came in. That was probably my only outstanding performance, ever, in a fight.
(Following is the text of an undated letter Mike Kubina sent me from the Naval Hospital on Guam, where he was recuperating from wounds he suffered when CAP 2-7-4 was booby-trapped on June 1)
Thanks for sending me my CAP badge. I didn’t think I’d ever see it again. People can say what they want but I’m proud to say I spent my time in Nam with CAP and with you guys.
So you got a new guy that you have to teach the do’s and don’ts to. It’s a little different isn’t it. I know at times I used to get a little loud but I knew you had brains, I just wanted you to use a little common sense. You learned fast though + now you have to pass down what had been passed down to me from Sgt. Witmyer, Sgt. Byrd + others.
It doesn’t seem right does it? Just about when you learn just about everything that you should know to keep you alive it’s time to go home & somebody else has to learn all over again. It must be part of growing up.
I’m looking forward to starting College again. I wish now that I had kept my diary up for future reference. Keep yours up to date you’ll need it when you start College. You know every time I think of you I picture you with frags flying everywhere. You sure surprised me that night. Is that big ole clumsy Thornton? Just goes to show, you can’t judge a man by the way he looks or first impressions. It’s what’s inside that counts.