LETTERS HOME-VIETNAM 1968-1969

I recently was made aware that Don Bishop has written a book about his tour in Vietnam.  Letters Home-Vietnam 1968-1969 is a collection of letters Don wrote while in Vietnam. The book is available from Amazon.com.  Don has made an excerpt available for me to publish on this site.  I have read the excerpt and am now waiting to receive my copy.  Don, thank you for making this valuable piece of the Vietnam puzzle available to us.  I am including Don’s excerpt.  Enjoy Don’s work and purchase it at: www.amazon.com Letters+Home-Vietnam+1968-1969. It is available in book for or for the Kindle.

 JULY 30, 1969

LZ BECKY THE QUIETDAYS

 I’m sorry to report that since I came in to work as a 6-5, I can’t give you any chilling reports, eyewitness type, of anything that goes on out in the field. I imagine you really don’t mind too much, as I don’t, but my letters will probably be a little drabber from now on. (I wish!)

 I’m fairly amazed, but since I’ve been here the time has really gone fast. I was sure it’d drag, but not so. You also asked me before exactly where I was working. Well, you might call it the “rear”, because it’s not exactly the boonies, but then again it is, because all our organic supplies are airlifted in. They call it the “Forward LZ”, because our base at Quan Loi is really only an oversized LZ, although it’s been built into a base area. So LZ Becky is my home, & it’s hard to tell whether you’re safe here or not, because there’s always the possibility of an NVA ground attack.

 Well, enough of war talk. I got you CARE package on the 28th, and once again it was a welcome sight. Now that I’m not in the field, you can make a few alterations. I really don’t need the sugar or the lemonade any more, because we have our own mess hall on the LZ, and they always have a good supply of Kool-Aid or Iced Tea available. Also, if you could find some, I’d like you to send me some of that pudding in a can. I think Betty Crocker or somebody makes it, although I’m not really sure.

 I also got Aunt May’s package today, so there’s another thank you note on the list. I still haven’t had a chance to drop Aunt May a quickie, but tell her to hang on, for sometime I’ll make time to write.

 I’ve got another request. If you could, would it be possible to send me a carton of cigarettes, maybe every week or so. We don’t get them as often in Headquarters Company, so as a consequence I end up smoking Pall Malls or Kents, neither of which appeal to anyone. You don’t have to break your necks or your wallets trying to get them to me, but just if you think of it. Okay?

 We just got word today that in all probability we will be going to Phouc Vinh, probably the 1st or 2nd of August. I know how things go around here, so it may never come off, but as of now they’re pretty sure we’re going. I’m giving you advance warning, so if it’s a little longer between letters, you’ll understand that I’m not ailing, just awfully busy.

 Drat, time for work now. Yesterday was a real hassle. Two contacts& all sorts of air moves to keep track of. Alpha Company was in contact, but no one was hurt, thank God. Love to all, & Peace to Vietnam.

 As I’m writing(copying) this, I realize that I really never told Mom & Dad about a lot of the grisly stuff that went on, so as not to worry them. The first few days we were on Becky, we were hit with mortars and rockets almost every night. I remember lying in my modest little hooch as a mortar round fell out in the middle of the LZ. The head Commo Sergeant was hit and it took one of his legs and genitals away. He never cried out, or made a sound other than a moan ofpain. God, how have I come this far without something like that happening to me?But if I think about it, it surely will, so Idon’t.

 AUGUST 1, 1969

MR. POSTMAN, ISTHERE A LETTER FOR ME?

 Well, once again I’m afraid there’s still not a heck of a lot going on around. I just go from day to day trying not to think of how slow the time’s going, pulling my 6 hours of duty & trying to pass the rest of the time writing letters or something like that.

 They’ve really changed the operation of our Battalion since I’ve been on R&R, & it’s mainly because we’ve got a new Commander, whom nobody likes for the most part. He has all of the Companies split up working in Platoon sized elements, about 500 m apart, which is definitely a hassle, because when you get current locations from units in the field, you now have to get about 10 or 11 different ones, instead of 3 or 4. Wow!

 I’m sort of in a depressed mood lately, because I can’t get used to not getting 4 or 5 letters every time at mail call. We get mail just about every day on the LZ, but we haven’t been getting it for the last three days, which I know isn’t your fault, but today 3 bags came in & I didn’t get anything. Again, I know this isn’t your fault, because the stupid APO (Army Post Office) is probably real slow, but just the same I feel pretty down without any “sugar reports” for awhile.

 (It’s hard to explain how getting mail, or not getting it, rather, can ruin your day. It’s the only link I have to sanity and reality. What I’m doing ISN’T real. Right now I’m just walking through the day keeping my head and other parts of my body down, talking meaningless gibberish on the radio, eating and sleeping.

 I know that my faithful letter writers haven’t abandoned me, but yet there’s always the feeling that maybe something has happened to someone…I’m thinking the worst! I imagine Laura has found her “new love” by this time. I’m not sure when that happened, and never asked, because it didn’t matter, and no one ever really volunteered the information either. I’m glad I didn’t find out about it til I got home, or I probably would have done something irrational or stupid, and it would have made my remaining days pure hell.)

 We’ve got a dog that’s been hanging around our area for about 4days, & nobody knows who it belongs to. I guess it’s sort of adopted the6-5’s. We call her “Becky”, a somewhat original name, I guess.

 Well, once again they’re trying to postpone our move to Phouc Vinh for about 2 weeks, because, from all reports, the Battalion CO WANTS us to have a ground attack before we leave (geesh,“WANTS” to?) You couldn’t even find that kind of logical reasoning in aninsane asylum, I’m afraid.

 It looks as though 2 things are forcing me to bring this letter toa screeching halt. First, it’s starting to rain, & second, it’s almost food time. So, as they say on the news, from “somewhere in Vietnam”, this is you SM6-5 sending love to all & peace to Vietnam.

  AUGUST 7, 1969

GEORGEGOBEL

 Well, here I am again on the good old 12-8AM shift, which I thought would be good for a change, but it isn’t turning out that way. Right now I’m dead tired, because I didn’t think about getting any sleep prior to going on duty until 10PM.

 Life goes on as usual on LZ Becky, which means everything’s all messed up. Our move has been delayed, scheduled, and delayed again so many times in the past few days that hardly anyone knows whether we’re going now or not.

 One of the latest words I heard is that we’re on a 6hour alert to move to An Loc, which is about 10 miles from Quan Loi. I don’t know why they picked An Loc or anything, if it was just out of the blue, or if they’re having trouble up there and need reinforcement. So, the exciting tale of Stone Mountain’s move, or non move, whatever the case may be, continues to bore everyone to death.

I wanted to ask you something about 2 weeks ago, but not being too swift, I’ve forgotten about it. When I came back from R&R, I had most of my clothes sent home to you via the mails, & I was wondering if you had ever received them. There were 2 packages, one with a suit coat &pants, & the other had the vest to the suit, a sweater, 3 shirts, a pair of pants, 2 ties & some cufflinks, I believe. I really would like to know if you ever got them, because if you didn’t, I still have the receipt & will write to the store to find out what the delay is. They were insured, so I really see no reason why they shouldn’t have gotten there by now.

 It continues to rain almost every day at one time or another here, & will continue to doso until about October, so they tell me. Everything is a big, black, muddy mess on the LZ, which can’t be too healthy for everyone concerned.

 Here’s something you won’t believe, & I find it quite hard myself to imagine that it happened. I was on duty about 10:30, & some helicopter pilot called &said that he couldn’t land on our VIP pad because there was another bird there already. I told him I’d find out who’s it was & check on the possibility of having it moved. I asked one of the Operations Officers if they had any idea who it was, & he casually remarked that it was George Gobel. Okay, I figured that might be somebody’s call sign, because they really have some weird call signs floating around (how does “Finger Oven” sound. Yep. We’ve got a unit, ARVN type (South Vietnamese Army) working with us now with that call sign.

Anyway, I was surprised when who walked into the TOC but George Gobel, on tour for the USO. He talked to just about everyone, & was talking to me & the other guy on duty with me, asking us what we did & where we were from, when one of our Companies called in &told us, hey, we’re in contact. Boy, what a hassle. He seemed quite involved with the whole thing, & listened in until we got the word that noone was hurt, & they had the situation in hand. Well, so much for my day today.

 There is one other thing I’d like to ask you, concerning packages proceeding from your location to mine (sorta military speak, there). Now thatI’m back in semi-civilization again, there are a few things I’d like you to scrounge up for me if you could. First of all, I’d like some shower shoes (the sandal type, ya know what I mean?). Also, if you could find some cheap towels, send a couple, as we don’t get issued them as often on the LZ. Also, a can of Right Guard or some kind of deodorant, & a bottle of after shave lotion would help out a lot too. Well, you wanted some suggestions on what to send me, so there it is. (Strange how things change. Deodorant and after shave were the last things on my mind in the field. Like I’m going on a date or something. HA!)

 It’s about time I did some work, although there really isn’t too much to do at night. There are still a few things to be put in the log book, so I guess I’ll do that & then get back to scratching out a few more letters, including that one to Aunt May you’ve been so subtly hinting about.

 So, for now, from my corner of the world, bye for now. Love to all, & peace to Vietnam.

 AUGUST 11, 1969

DREAMING HOME

 With good intentions, I start writing, but by the time I get halfway through, it’ll probably sound like some kind of babbling, or I’ll fall asleep altogether. I’m still on the night owl shift, & today, well, it’s yesterday now, and I didn’t get much sleep after I got off duty. This is mostly because a torrential downpour left me floating around my hooch on my air mattress.

 My feeble attempts to stay dry & get some sleep were too much for one brain to haggle with, so, as I’ve done numerous times before in the last 8 months, I decided to forsake the shuteye, &devise a plan to stay dry.

 I was already wet anyway, & by the time I had bailed myself out, it stopped raining. Curses! My efforts were in vain. By this time, the mail came, so I struggled out to get my one letter from Laura.

 The one big drawback to working on the LZ is that I only get, on the average, two letters a day, so it isn’t as exciting as when I was out in the field, getting 6 or 7 letters every log day. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig getting any sort of mail, so don’t think I’m not grateful.

 Don’t tell Spotty, but I have a kitten sleeping in my lap, a black cat at that. (Excuse the rhyme) He was picked up by one of the Companies out in the field after they had swept through a bunker complex, so I guess you could call him an NVA cat. The poor thing has no tail, & his right foot has either been cut or bitten off, but he’s still a “pretty cool cat” (WOW!)

I suppose everyone’s in a big uproar because of the rumor that there might be the possibility of a further withdrawal of 100,000 troops by the end of the year. Well, to dispel all rumors, you-know-what would have to freeze over before the 1st Cav would be pulled out. In fact, General Abrams was once heard to remark that it would, in fact, have to snow in Vietnam before the Cav would be pulled out. It won’t be long now, anyhow.

 There’s still now word yet on our proposed move, whether it be AnLoc, Phouc Vinh, or Hanoi. You’d think being in the middle of things, I’d be able to get the inside scoop on anything at Battalion level. However, I’m not even too sure that the Battalion Commander knows for sure what’s going on. So, I guess all there is to do is wait & see, & meanwhile get wet & muddy almost every day.

 Oh, by the way, I just came up with another smashing idea for a CARE package item. How’s a flashlight & about 6 “D” batteries sound? That’s just a suggestion now. Also, if possible, send the batteries out of the flashlight, & try to put them in some kind of protection, because they sometimes tend to get corroded in transit.

 It’s about time to do my hourly duty again, “bookwork-wise”. I’ll be leaving the net. Say “hi” to everyone, & tell them I’m okay. See you later.

 AUGUST 15, 1969

BECKY AND THE FLIGHT TO IKE

 It’s been a couple of days now since I’ve last written; a couple of days I’d just as soon forget altogether. One of the big reasons I haven’t written is because we’ve been moved from LZ Becky, finally, to LZ Ike, which is 10k farther south, &about 5k from LZ St. Barbara.

 Everyone said it was a tactical move, but I think they really know better. You see, we got hit by rockets & mortars 2nights in a row, on the 12th & 13th, and the reason we moved was because we got beat, & beat badly. So they decided to move us before we got completely overrun. The first night we had 5 killed & 15 wounded, while the bad guys only lost 3 dead. Next night we had 14 killed, & found 1 dead NVA and a POW. We also had 30 wounded.

 From the information the POW gave, there were 750gooks waiting to attack us after the mortar & rocket barrage started, but our gunships & direct fire artillery killed or wounded all of the major assault Company, approximately 60 men, so they decided not to attack. They probably could’ve done us a job if they knew how badly they hurt us with their107’s, 122’s, & 82’s (107 & 122are rockets, and 82’s are mortars, in MM), but thank God their communications aren’t too good.

 Of course, I was on duty both nights,& in the interim got no sleep. By the end of the second round, I was practically delirious & ready to collapse. I found the way to my hooch at8AM, & collapsed, until 8:15 anyway, when somebody woke me up & told me to start packing, we were moving to LZ Ike. Okay, so pack I do, then help takedown all our antennas & pack all the commo equipment up, help load them on the helicopter, unload them at Ike, & put up some antennas to reestablish commo. Then I had to find a place to sleep, build a hooch with 2 layers of sandbags, & when all was done, go on duty again at midnight.

 To top it all off, there was no roof on the TOC here, & true to form it started raining, so, without any cover, I got soaked. Things still haven’t gotten back to normal, & won’t for awhile, I’m afraid, so it’ll be little sleep &lotsa work for a few more days. Phouc Vinh never looked so far away!

 You asked if your package arrived intact. Yep, it did, nothing was even dented. Another suggestion: how about some of that “Jiffy Pop”, where all you have to dois heat it up. Okay? Also, I’m still kinda worried about the two packages of clothes that I sent you from Australia. I asked you about them before, but Iguess that letter hasn’t reached me yet. So, I’ll ask again, because if you say you haven’t gotten them yet, I can write the store & find out what’s up (Incase you’re sitting on the edge of your seat wondering whether the clothes ever made it home, I don’t remember!!!).

 As far as my camera’s concerned, I really don’t know if it’s still operational or not. I did take some pictures on R&R, but I sent them to Hawaii to be processed, since I had one of those mailers, & I figured I might as well use it. I have taken half another roll,so when that’s complete, I’ll send it along & we’ll see if any of the shots come out at all. The roll is mostly pictures of the guys I work with in candid poses around LZ Becky, plus a few of Quan Loi, I believe.

 Well, I got the expected result to the letter I wrote to Laura about R&R. I though I tried to mellow it as much as possible, but she refused to comment, because she said she’d only get mad all over again. I also got your letter in answer to my plea for help, but as I prophesied, it was late, & “the damage” had already been done. What was I expected to do on R&R, brood over what a miserable time I was having in my first week away from Vietnam in 6 ½ months?

 Gotta go feed my face for awhile, and then try to write another consoling letter to Laura. My best to everyone, & let’s hope things get back almost to normal shortly. Almost under the 100 mark (days left).

 I did not realize or remember, like a bad dream cast off into oblivion, the severity of the attacks on Becky until August of last year (2004). Since my tour ended, I have never heard from, nor have I sought out, any of my fellow soldiers from any duty that I had while I was in the Army. Then, all of a sudden, for some reason, last August, I was drawn to an MSN chat group from the 2/8 Cav. I signed up reluctantly, thinking that all I’d see or hear was a bunch of tall tales from those who were in our unit. That wasn’t so far from the truth. But between August 9th and 14th, there was an increased activity on the site, like all of us were reaching out to grasp what had happened. I admit that I was not in the best of moods during that time, reluctantly dwelling on what had happened, and how absolutely horrific those two nights had been. Was I scared? I guess, but at the time, I was so wrapped up in my duties of maintaining and coordinating communications for helicopters, our units in the field, gun ships, air strikes and the like, I never thought about it. Our TOC was a very secure structure, with I don’t know how many layers of steel and sandbags, and an RPG fence about 30 feet high around it (to repel any rockets that were aimed at the building).

 The shelling was very intense, to the point where the fence was completely annihilated by rocket fire, and a rocket hit above my head, shattering a wooden support beam and sending it down on me and my thick head (helmet covered, of course). For this, I got an ARCOM with V device (Army Commendation Medal). I have long since tossed the citation that accompanied it, embarrassed to think that I was rewarded for bravery, when so many others had given their lives, limbs, or whatever.

 In the scramble to leave Becky, and set up new HQ on LZ Ike, I never got to reflect on what a horrible time that was until last year when we all started to gravitate together to relive it. I remember now standing on LZ Ike and watching wave after wave of jet fighters bombing and dropping napalm on the former site of Becky.

 A party from my former Company was dispatched back there about 2 days later to do reconnaissance, and they reported that the NVA had hung a huge tarp over the former TOC with the words, “Yankee Go Home”. I felt as sick to my stomach as I ever had or probably have been since. How could a bunch of ill equipped forces that had probably walked all the way from North Vietnam to South Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh trail be so organized and effective? I really don’t know whether I should press on with this. I really feel unworthy to be sitting here typing this with both hands and all my limbs and faculties intact, when so many who were lost or maimed will never have the opportunity to do this.

 I guess I do it more in their memory than for my own, and for the family, loved ones and friends who no doubt suffered as much or more than I did during my absence. Imagine thinking that the letter just received may be the last one you ever get, or peering out the window at each car that drives down the street, watching to see if it has US Army written on it. Has it slowed down in front of the house? Is it stopping? Why? I’m sorry, Mom & Dad, Laura, and all of you, for being so selfish &self centered to never have thought til now of the anguish you were feeling.

 I’mSORRY!!

 Posted by Randall at 8/13/2010 8:33 PM

4 thoughts on “LETTERS HOME-VIETNAM 1968-1969”

  1. 8/17/2010 9:08 PM Don Bishop wrote:
    I suppose everyone who has ever had a life changing experience longs to write the Great American novel someday. Although I always counted myself among those, my simple intent here was basically to chronicle my letters home to my parents for my contemporaries, descendants, and friends. Realize that reading and recreating these letters is a joyful/painful experience. What happened some 40 years ago is still very fresh in my mind. I marvel at the fact that Mom (who passed away in 2000) kept every scrap of paper that I ever sent in perfect order and condition.
    Death was foreign to me until 1968. Oh, sure, relatives had died, but I had never experienced death firsthand, watching someone slip away, crossing over from a vibrant, living, breathing human being into a lifeless non-person. Between 1968 and 1969 I saw death first hand, and it impressed me as a definite transition to something else, somewhere else maybe. I would not really know it until 2000, when I spent two agonizing days watching Mom slip away, but there is a certain look of peace about those who are about to die. I saw it on the faces of many of my fellow soldiers, but didn’t realize what the whole thing meant until I spent the last hours of my mother’s life watching peace and tranquility come over her. She had struggled with a large aneurysm for two years, knowing that she was going to die. These men were taken suddenly, unexpectedly, and their initial feelings were shock and disbelief, fear of the unknown. But as they too slipped away, I saw that same look of peace and tranquility. Rest in peace, my friends. Most writings I have experienced about the Vietnam War to date are oriented towards the unfairness, the futility, and the hopelessness of what the United States was trying to accomplish in Southeast Asia. I, too, felt that many times during my 12 months there, but I always felt if I dwelled on the horrible situation I was in, I would probably never make it back home. It was my constant goal over those long twelve months to make it home, to continue my life, wherever it would lead me.
    It is my hope that by reading these narratives from a lonely boy far away from home, that my contemporaries, my children, my grandchildren, and future generations might get a small sense of what survival is, what the love of a family can accomplish in the most desolate, desperate, lonely times.

    1. 11/25/2010 9:59 PM George Brinton wrote:
      I was in Bravo Co. 2/8th and I remember walking on to LZ Becky a few days after we abandoned it. There were white sheets hung on the RPG fence surrounding the TOC with the written sign saying “Peace in Vietnam, Bring the GIs Home!” Now the spelling was not perfect but we agreed with the idea! GFB

  2. 6/14/2011 4:44 PM Keith G wrote:
    I think I know this guy Don Bishop would you give him my email address & tell him to email me?

  3. 3/7/2012 5:26 PM Frank Duggan wrote:
    I survived Becky. I had 3 weeks in country, 1 week in the field. What an introduction. It made for a very long year. I had a lot of friends who were at Woodstock, which happened at the exact same time. They had a more enjoyable week than I did. I’d like to from anyone else that experienced those nasty nights.

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