I just read in a newspaper about the trial of a Marine accused of murdering sixteen civilians. His attorney claims that he was not responsible for his actions because he had been “in the field,” for 60 days. They say he had “combat fatigue.”
Today is my 178th day “in the field” and I feel like murdering a few civilians myself.
At home, when I was tired, I got very irritable. Lately, I’ve been getting about five hours sleep our of every 24. Instead of getting just irritable I get murderous. After nineteen or twenty hours without sleep somebody who tells me to do something is as likely to get a look down the barrel of my rifle as not. (I was just venting here. We were often exhausted, and tempers were sometimes short, but I don’t remember things ever getting violent.)
I’ve lost the feeling of having complete control of myself both physically and mentally. My memory has large gaps in it and sometimes my mind races along in circles like an engine out of gear.
I’ve developed a twitch in my right eye and another in my right forearm during times of tension. (I remember having those involuntary twitches, but it seems to me now they happened more often during “off” times.) It sounds corny, but when I try to hold my hands steady they usually shake. Sometimes I feel like I’m starting to overcorrect my balance. (Hmmm. Sounds like plain old fatigue to me.)
I used to wonder why the guys with a lot of time in Viet Nam acted so irrationally sometimes, and now I know.(Stress and fatigue, I guess)
Doc was wounded last night. He was standing watch at the radio about 15′ from where I was sleeping. The VC threw a grenade about 10′ from him. He heard the spoon fly so he hit the dirt. He was partially protected by a bank of dirt but he got some shrapnel in the left arm, not bad. He’s going to let me use his camera until he gets back.
This has to be fast because I’m about to hit the rack. I’m so tired I’m about to croak.
Luckily, I’m at headquarters tonight for a 24hr rest. I can sleep in peace if I can find enough space to lie down on.
I had shots today for cholera, plague, and smallpox. Ouch!
Good luck in football and Happy Birthday.
Doc is a Navy Corpsman, which is like a medic in the Army. He treats minor wounds and sickness out here in the field and decides when someone should go to the hospital. His major job is to keep us alive if we’re wounded long enough to get us to a hospital.
His real name is Rick Doggett but every Navy Corpsman is called “Doc” when he is attached to the Marines.
I had ordinary steel wool in mind but since you sent both kinds, I guess that both will work. I’ve been thinking about painting some of the metal parts of my rifle so that they’ll never rust but I haven’t decided yet.
The paint would probably flake off the first time we had a decent fight because our barrels and other parts get really hot from firing.
The sox you sent were fine and just what I needed. Our supply system is improving in the area of clothing, though, so unless things get bad again you won’t have to send anymore sox. I don’t need any plastic bags right now but things may change when the monsoon gets started. I’ll let you know.
I’ve learned a little about Will’s family life; why he never gets any mail. His mother died of a heart attack when he was fourteen. Since then he has lived with his grandmother. I’ve never heard him say anything about his father.
Steve wrote that he was going back to school and I’m glad of that too. I would hate to see him spend his life doing the kind of job that people with no college get, although many of them seem satisfied. I doubt if Steve would be. This way he has a choice.
You’ll be in Philly the same time I’m in Hong Kong. I’ve always wanted to see the really big and famous cities back east and maybe I will when I get home.
Yep, I ate Dum-Dum’s animal crackers and his little gum. Sometimes he doesn’t come around for days and I didn’t feel like carrying the stuff around.
I’ve had stomach cramps, dizzy spells, diarrhea, nausea, etc for about 4 days now. Doc gave me some pills that stopped the diarrhea but that’s all. Sometimes I can hardly walk for the stomach cramps.
I’ll talk you some pidgin English when I make the tape. I hope the tape isn’t too long, I don’t know how long I can talk.
It seems like all I write about in my letters now is what I want you to send me in the next package. Actually I could live without any packages at all. They just relieve the boredom and make a change from C-rations.
Speaking of packages, naturally, the cheese you sent always came through well.
I’ll be sending a couple of rolls of film for processing soon. There should be some good flics because I took two of the rolls with Doc’s camera.
I used to enjoy destroying dud grenades, shells, etc., but lately it’s been a chore. I only do it because I know how, and somebody with less experience would blow themselves up. I’ve gotten a lot more cautious too, giving myself longer fuses, etc.
Please send me a lot of pictures of the whole family. My memory needs refreshing. Be sure to include some flics of Joel.
I’m so sick of being in Viet Nam, sometimes I get real mad about it.
Dad warned me I’d have a lousy time if I enlisted in the USMC for two years but I didn’t listen. Still, I’d rather serve two years now than three, or even two after I finish school. If I’m ever faced with military service again I’ll sign up in the goddamned COAST GUARD! Keep writing. I’d rather get a letter than a package any day.
We just finished a two day operation today. It was run by the ARVNs and, as usual, it was all screwed up. We just moved about 1000 meters, laid around a house for a few hours and then walked back. We didn’t even search the area. These Regional Force Vietnamese have got to be the slimiest people alive. All they do is steal, eat, and sleep.
It’s still hotter than hell around here. I’ve been sick for about a week now. Doc gave me pills to cure my diarrhea, then he gave me pills for my stomach cramps, now if I can get some pills for my headache I’ll be all right. I hope I’m recovered by the time for my R+R. It would be bad news to spend my R+R sick.
This military crap is getting to be a pain in the ass; I’m going to get out of the Marines just as soon as I can swing it. I guess I’m just a born civilian.
Gotta get some sleep.
Dear Mom + Dad,
Don’t bother to send any tapes. The guy with the tape player is dead, and the RFs stole his tape player before his body got cold. One other guy is dead and five others are in bad shape, all Marines except for our Vietnamese Scout.
An anti-tank rocket with a bad detonator went off as we were getting ready to move out for the night.
My team was on the other side of a house so none of us was hurt.
This makes me the only one left of the five guys who came to 7th Co. back in March, together.
A Catholic chaplain came out today to say mass and talk to us. I had some hard questions for him but he had the honesty to admit he didn’t know the answers.
(Written on Red Cross stationary)
I’m writing this from a hospital ship, the “U.S.S. Sanctuary.” I went to 1st Med Bn hospital yesterday to get checked for dysentery and the first thing they did was send me here. So far as I know, I won’t be here more than a week or so, I’m not too sure.
The “Sanctuary” was in Da Nang harbor yesterday but a couple of hours after I came on board, she sailed. Now we’re somewhere to the north of Da Nang, along the coast.
I’m in a ward with about 70 other guys mostly Marines but a few Army. The beds are stacked so that my nose is about a foot from the rack above me. It’s really pretty comfortable but it’s a hassle getting in and out of the rack. The ward is entirely air conditioned, the walls and ceiling are covered with pipe and ventilator shafts. At first glance it looks like we’re packed in like sardines but I’m used to the crowding now.
Since I came aboard in just my clothes, the Red Cross supplied me with a razor, blades, shaving cream, soap, comb, and toothpaste. They also gave me this stationary.
My health isn’t really that bad. I’ve just got incurable diarrhea. They can stop the diarrhea but they are trying to diagnose the cause first so they can cure the cause. I’ve been going to the head about 8 or 10 times a day. My ass is really sore.
The ship itself is rolling a lot now so walking, etc. feels a little funny. I haven’t gotten seasick at all. I’m enjoying my first ride on a real ship. The sea is beautiful, especially last night with a moon out, etc. The scenery, sunlight, and pleasant surroundings should have a good theraputic (sp?) effect.
I didn’t sleep too well last night. Strange surroundings, soft bed, and unusual motion I guess.
The guys who have been here a long time or will be here a long time have guitars, tape players, etc. I’m really enjoying all the leisure and luxury. I just hope that my stay here doesn’t overlap with my R+R which is only ten days away.
I won’t be getting any mail here since the forwarding process is really tedious. I don’t think I’ll be here long enough to get a letter sent to me here.
I don’t know if you got my last letter about the explosion at CAP 2 on September 10 so I’ll tell it again.
We were getting ready to move out of our day site at about ten until seven. My team has already moved around the corner of the house where we were staying. The other team was still putting on their gear when an anti-tank rocket one of the guys was carrying exploded. There was no reason for it to explode so we think that it was made with a bad detonator.
Dan Gallagher was blown to bits, J.J. Arteaga got shrapnel in the brain and died a few hours later. “Erp” is in the Intensive Care Unit at 1st Med Bn in bad shape but he’ll make it, Frank has already been flown to Japan for treatment. “Mot” and “Chubby” are still at 1st Med Bn hospital and our Vietnamese Scout is at 95th Evacuation Hospital.
Altogether we had two killed, two seriously wounded and three with bad, but not serious wounds. Nobody in my team was hurt.
I ran the medevac by myself because everyone else was patching people up. The chopper came in so close to me that it took off 5′ of the top of my radio antenna.
The main reason I went to the hospital to be checked was because I didn’t want to be sick during my R+R.
There are women nurses on board here but most of them that I’ve seen appear to be the efficient, motherly type but they are a change anyway.
Will quit for now.
I haven’t felt much like writing lately, my mail hasn’t caught up with me yet so I don’t have any letters to answer.
I was released from the “Sanctuary” three days ago only to find out that my R+R had been canceled. Now I’m back in CAP 2 continuing my decline into insanity.
I got a package from you when I was on the “Sanctuary” and one when I returned here. The gun spray has already been valuable since we’ve had quite a bit of rain in the last three days. It may be that the monsoon is finally getting started.
I applied for R+R again, still in Hong Kong. I may get it in November. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever get any R+R. It’s getting so bad that I would really enjoy wiring up this whole village and blowing it to hell.
Thanks for the book and cookies and pudding. You can stop sending lemonade mix; that’s starting to get kind of old but I still like instant tea. The book was very good, send more if you can.
I got some slides developed and I mailed them to you. I’d appreciate it if you’d send me some prints of the ones I marked with an X.
I think that my photography is getting pretty good. I used Doc’s camera and tried to concentrate on pictures of people. Doc’s camera jammed on one picture, though. It was a close-up of Erp, who got wounded; I think it would have been a good one.
One of the slides I took shows Erp and Nelson standing in a field of tall sang. (“Sang” was a tall, leafy plant with starchy, edible roots)