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Letter from Vietnam, 1968


Letter from Vietnam, 1968

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“Dear Mom,


I miss our house. I been gone more than a year now, and it feels like it’s been forever. I can’t remember what a bed feels like, or clean sheets, or paved roads or town cars. I can’t even remember how your pancakes taste. Everything we eat here tastes like dirt and metal. I can’t take any more canned food. Every day I get a can of food, biscuits, a pack of cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, toilet paper and packet of powdered juice. It ain’t much, but luckily there’s fruit on the trees here. I still carry a photo of you in my bag, the photo from Uncle Greg’s wedding, when little Mary could barely even walk yet. You’re wearing your big hat, and granddaddy’s in his gray suit. How is my little sister Mary? I hope she’s doing well. Tell her I’ll be home soon. Does she still like to drink Reese’s and Hershey’s cocoa before bed? Dear little Mary, with that innocent little smile of hers. It’s hard to think the same world that made an adorable little girl like her made this war too.


If there’s one thing Vietnam has plenty of, it’s rain. The rain hasn’t stopped for three weeks. My socks are always wet. When I take them off, there are threads stuck to my heels that I can’t get off. If you want to survive Vietnam you better take care of your feet, that’s what Sergeant Bankowki tells us. And always have ammo ready. We never know when we might be attacked. The Vietcong could be hiding anywhere, in covered pits or up in the branches of the trees. The sons of bitches come swarming out of their rat holes with machine guns and mow down anything that moves.


They’re sneaky little bastards, Mom. They plant bamboo spikes on the roads so we injure our feet. I stepped on one last week; it was so sharp the point went through the sole of my boot and right through my foot. It hurts like hell. I disinfected the wound with alcohol and bandaged my foot with a shirt, but the pain shoots all through my leg every time I walk. And we walk all the time. Hours and hours in the rain. And since my boot has a hole in it, my foot is always swimming in mud, and the wound got infected. Anyway, I guess you don’t need to know all the gory details, but it ain’t nice. I shouldn’t complain too much, it’s not like I walked on a mine. That’s what happened to my buddy Billy. The boys and me are all cut up about it. Billy was a good guy, brave and generous. When I think about the family he was always talking about it gives me a lump in my throat. He had a loving mother and a little sister, just like me, and he was engaged, supposed to be getting married when he got back. He showed us a picture of his fiancée every night. She sent him all these love letters. It made us all feel warm when he read them out to us. I thought Billy was the luckiest guy in the world until he stepped on that mine. Tonight we’re going to have a memorial service for him after our poker game.


Sergeant Bankowki’s a strict CO, but he’s religious too. For Billy’s funeral, he made us build a huge bamboo cross and a fire while we gathered around in silence. Then he made a speech, very moving and pious. He’s a good speaker, always has the right words. Me and the boys all had tears in our eyes. Joe sang a church song; he was in a gospel choir back in Connecticut. I bet Billy heard it, wherever he is. I'll go to see his family when I get back; I was his closest friend, and he made me promise I’d go. I have to bring back all the letters and photos his fiancée sent. It’s a big honor for me. I can’t wait to come home. I’ve seen terrible things in this war. I’ve seen gutters lined with bodies for miles and miles, bodies torn apart, blown up, burned, shot full of holes. And one night, Sergeant Bankowki told us to set fire to the huts in the nearby village to get back at the Vietcong, who’d killed two of our men that day. We poured gasoline all over the place. The villagers were asleep. And then we threw our lighters against the huts. The whole place was up in flames within minutes. Mom, there were women and children in that village. When I think about them, I can’t sleep. Luckily I can think about Mary’s smile and your pancakes, and it gives me the strength to keep going.


I love you,

Your son,

Jimmy.”


Alan Alfredo Geday


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