We buried my brother Mike last Wednesday. He was a Vietnam Veteran. I posted his eulogy here. Today while cleaning out my Dad’s file cabinet I came across two letters that Mike had written from Vietnam. The second letter had me in tears. This is what war is really like. It is not a gung-ho Hollywood John Wayne movie. There is no director to yell “cut” and everyone is safe and sound. This is what our brave men and women face in combat. This is war.
9 November 1966
Dear Mom & Dad & Family,
Another quick note. Arrived at Tay Minh safe & sound. Drove 50 miles to get here. A lot of fun, though. The towns were hectic – dodging kids, dogs, bicycles, water buffalo.
Got two artillery units around us. We’ve been building a bunker, & every body is digging sandbags, including the chaplain.
We can see the famous “Black Virgin” mountain. That’s where they’re doing a lot of the fighting.
Saturday or Friday we’re moving to Sai Dai (I guess that’s how you spell it.) They’ve seen a lot of action. Our Colonel is really itching for his star.
Got the books, Dad. No chance to read them, though. Been on the move.
Will write more later. Writing by candlelight as is. Still safe, so don’t worry.
God love you.
The next letter was dated three days later.
12 November 1966
What I am going to say will be most unpleasant, but we just spent a hell of a night up here at Tai Ninh. Here’s what happened.
At 9:00, the Viet Cong hit our position with heavy mortar, recoilless rifle, and rifle grenade fire. We hit the bunker and stayed until 10:15 when the attack was over. A flare ship started illuminating the sky, but one was a dud. It hit the aviation section tent, but it hit a man who had been in Vietnam less than a month. The force practically scalped him, and the flare ignited. The man was killed instantly. I ran over there, just after the attack with a jug of water to help put out the fire caused by the flare. Quite a bit of damage was done to the inside of the tent. Men with fire extinguishers and me with my water jug (which had just been filled) tried to put out the flare (which is next to impossible.) The flare started exploding, so we hit the ground. After that, somebody said that a man was hurt badly. I went over to see if he needed some water, but he was dead when I got there. The sight was unnerving.
We finally hit the sack after midnight. Then at two o’clock in the morning, they really mortared us. We lost twelve men, WIA, two seriously (Both should live.) A mortar round landed three feet from our communications tent and RTT van. The attack lasted until three-thirty. After the attack, I was detailed to wash the blood from the inside of the RTT van. I won’t go into any gory details of either event.
I came out without a scratch. I did not panic nor was there any extreme fear on my part. One never knows how he will react to an emergency.
Our battery suffered 25% casualties during the attack. I am all right, and they moved heavy artillery in this morning, 155mm SP howitzers, to protect against another attack tonight. We should get some sleep tonight. I hope that I never have to write another letter like this again. The danger has passed, so be thankful that I pulled through OK, and go to Aunt Beth & Hazel’s house for Thanksgiving. You have a lot to be thankful for.
Mike was a Chaplain’s Assistant in Vietnam. Later in the war he won the Bronze Star. His unit came under attack and he ran out and picked up two wounded comrades and threw them over his shoulder and carried them to safety. Later that evening when he was taking a shower he realized that he had been hit in the leg. He refused the Purple Heart but was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. Mike never talked about Vietnam. Much of it he suppressed in his mind. The only thing he ever said was that he would like to go back and see Vietnam because he loved the people. Rest in peace Mike. I will miss you big brother.