Settling in with the loss of both parents and recently retired, I have found time to do things I’ve been putting off. Today, I started digging through a box of letters that my Mother had saved. I remember the first time I saw it. It was the spring my Father died and Mom moved into assisted living. I knew it was precious or they would not have included it in their household shipment to Texas. It was in the hall closet, along with photo albums, video and audio recordings. Into a box they all went, and there they stayed, in my closet, for 4 years.
Digging into the box of letters with a cup of coffee, I realize they are all from my Father to my Mother during the Vietnam War. Coincidentally, the letters began the first week of December – 51 years ago. Like so many others, my Father was deployed to serve during the Vietnam War. His tour began in November, 1966. My Mother, Brother and I lived in a little house in San Diego, near the home port for the USS Ticonderoga CVA-14. There, we would be able to see my Father during the few times he was in port for the next two years. I remember Mom giving us frequent updates from Dad and occasionally hearing his voice on tape recordings. We never got phone calls and we never saw the letters. Reading the first 4 weeks of letters, I now understand why. They were routine reminders to have the oil in the Volkswagen changed and who to call to fix the washing machine. They were also intimate documentation of my parents’ romance and the sadness of war. Our Father’s mission was to design a sense of normalcy for us in his absence. It was our Mother’s mission to execute it. It will take me a while to get through them all. However, while this is fresh on my mind, I am compelled to write and share those first 4 weeks:
12/8/66 “Time melts into nothing. I know it is Friday because we had sea food for dinner. I know it is Wednesday when the ship’s cook makes Baked Alaska for the crew.”
12/9/66 “Twenty ninth day at sea, 27th day on the line. Weather still lousy. Was to have been a big strike but was called off. We have models of the Tico in the ship’s store and I bought one for David.”
12/14/66 “We lost two planes yesterday, but both pilots safely on board.”
12/14/66 (second letter) “We lost a F8 and pilot about an hour ago. He just didn’t get out of the plane. Our first combat casualty.”
12/24/66 “I’m thinking of you three this day before Christmas – wishing we were together. I love you all more and miss you more than I call tell you.”
12/25/66 ” I borrowed a tape recorder and got your tape to work. What a joy to hear your voices (with your note to play it alone, I thought I had a real hot wire!)”
Being a supply officer, my Father was able to get off the air craft carrier from time to time for provisioning purposes, or to attend meetings at Pacific Fleet Naval Air Stations. His letters describe trips to Hong Kong, Sasebo, Danang and Subic Bay in those first 4 weeks. His letters covered details of old friends and colleagues seen, what he had mailed us for Christmas, and how he spent down time on the ship making copies of music tapes to play on the new tape recorder he ordered from Japan. Dad loved music. I can only imagine the content of my Mother’s letters, because they were nowhere to be found. Continuing with the letters, I’m in awe of the following which was included in a letter about insurance renewal and approval of our adoption of a pound puppy:
1/6/67 “Lost a good friend over the beach yesterday morning. He got out of the plane OK, but is now a POW. Another friend over the beach about an hour ago. A helo went in after him but the helo was hit too, so don’t know whether we can get him out or not.”
Those two aviators ended up being POWs for 6 years. I missed my Father a lot that Christmas, and the one after that, but he came home when his assignment was completed. I’m grateful that we got to spend many holidays together afterward. I’m also glad to know those two aviators, now famous, were able to eventually return home as well.