Red Clay Newsletter of the Veterans who served at Khe Sanh Combat Base, Hill 950, Hill 881, Hill 861, Hill 861-A, Hill 558 Khe Sanh Village, Lang-Vei and Surrounding Area

 

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LETTERS

By Craig W. Tourte

I like most of you while in Vietnam, wrote letters home to family and friends. Of particular concern to me at the time of the Siege at Khe Sanh was trying to stay alive, a daily and I must say, hourly endeavor. I must have written about lots of things including my fears, events, incoming and the death and injury to many comrades. I’m sure I must have mentioned the battle of Lang Vei. That event was significant to me as I stood looking out over the wire into the fog clearly hearing the echoes of motors and the raging all night battle occurring just a few miles away.

A few years ago, a man I have known since childhood tried to talk to me about my experience in Vietnam and Khe Sanh, but I’m afraid I just was not ready to share my experience with someone who had not been there, friend or otherwise. He told me that he and his mother, who I wrote to often, had saved the letters I had written from Vietnam. My friend wanted to know if I would be interested in reading them. I declined, but thanked him for thinking that my letters had meaning to him and his family.

I attended a family event last evening; I lived with my aunt and uncle before and after I went into the Marines so my cousins are more like siblings. About half way through this event, one of my cousins, who is now in his late 50’s, came over to my table and sat down; he had been consuming a few adult beverages and was friendlier than normal. Although I only see him every five years or so, to this day I appreciate his family taking me in when I had nowhere else to live.

Anyway, he says something along the lines of, “I remember the letters you wrote home from Vietnam, when you talked about Lang Vei and the tanks, and your concern that they might run the wire of the combat base.” My cousin had been in high school when I was in Vietnam and later went into the National Guard but did not serve overseas. He closed with the usual; “Gee, I wish I would have served in Vietnam.” I overlook that last statement because I have heard it so many times before from the now old partiers who used to laugh at us while they searched desperately for a way to get out of going into the service. I knew there was no hidden meaning in my cousin’s statement and that he was just feeling the effects of the liquid depressant.

I was a little stunned at his statement about Lang Vei and it took me a few seconds to recover. I asked myself how a kid in high school would remember anything I wrote in a letter to his family 39 years ago because I certainly didn’t remember myself. Then he said, “My sister still has your letters.” I then blurt out, “I don’t want to read them.” Again, I kind of shocked myself with my volunteer statement of not wanting to read those letters. I truthfully thought I had gotten over all of that.

After the event I went home and I thought about me not wanting to read those old letters I had written to family and friends and asked myself why. Was it because I was too embarrassed to read what I know are mostly ramblings of misspelled words, illegible handwriting and illiterate composition or was there something else I wasn’t admitting to myself, perhaps something deep down that I have not as yet identified. It may be a little of both, but I am not even curious, not even just a little bit and for some reason the thought of seeing those letters sends a chill down my spine.


Last year I handled my parent’s estate. In doing so I came across all my old letters. With a nice glass of wine, or was it more, I sat and read them. Now at six decades of age, I saw a very scared young man. Full of bravado and sharing only stuff that would not upset the folks. I'm sure my parents saw through all of it. Looking back is not a bad thing. It tells us where we have been and gives us a bench mark. As I tell my wife, who wonders why I keep going to this site, it gives me balance. No matter how pissed I get over little stuff now, when I look back it isn’t nothing. So go on and read the letters and reflect back to the worst of times. Then you will truly see how good it is now.

Chuck Teasley
C 1/26


As usual, I love reading your posts. You are truly a man who speaks from the heart and have the ability to articulate your feelings. You do have a gift.

I would encourage you to check those letters out. I spent 30+ years blocking out the past, but found I was unable to do so. A few years ago I got on the internet and it has changed my life forever. I no longer try to block out the past but readily embrace it. I know I served honorably and in "the moment" did what I felt needed to be done. If I have learned anything in my 61 years on this earth is that the past can not be changed one iota. It is forever cast and can not be altered no matter how much we wish it to be different.

As I have searched and shared those events of so long ago I have found each of us seem to have 3 or 4 events that seem to stand out from other lesser events. In my research I have found some of the players involved with one of those "haunting" events. I was shocked to find that others involved had a different slant on things. Some of the main elements were the same but some of the pieces I had put so much stock in were not as important as I had perceived them to be. In fact, some of my recollect was missing some very important facts. Through the years my memory had twisted things into a form which was quite different from the actual facts. I know this to be true, because one of those involved could verify the events factually because he had an old letter he had written 2 days after the mission I was so troubled about. The fresh, factual events of that day were enlightening. It did not change the outcome but offered a clear picture of the events and things came into a much better focus.

A few years ago I asked my mother if she had any of my old letters. She said no and did not want to be reminded of those awful things that happened back then. I was truly saddened by her comments and asked no further questions. I am still a bit hurt by her comments but will not approach her about it. I know she had no intention of hurting or offending me. I would love to read some of those old letters. I know they would help to add some clarity to some of the things that now seem foggy and distant.

You will have to make the ultimate decision about those letters. A suggestion here: Get the letters, check them out, and if so moved sit down and share them openly with those you wrote them too. My guess, those close to you will see you in a different light. When you share from the heart you connect to loved ones and family in a new way. I know you understand this because you and others who post here do it every day. They share from the heart and if you have been there, you understand at a deeper level. A burden share is a burden lessened.

Semper Fi,
Tom "TJ" Miller


Some may remember the small three inch reel of recording tapes good for an hour with their own mailing cases made by 3M corp. A while back I found a small stack of the boxes with tapes in each one in my memory box. One of the tapes was the one I sent my folks from Khe Sanh after being in the thick of it for a month. I felt strange as I listen to the tape because time blurs your memory of things you really do not want to remember.

Also it was funny to listen to my mother and father, plus my younger sisters making small talk. Both my brother and I sent tapes on a monthly back home in Boston. My folks would record on any tape that they had for about 15 minutes. The rest of the tape was my brother's voice. My only problem was that I had to go to the city library to find a machine to listen to the tapes.

Chuck Gerrior Ret
USAF Team 83-67, 1st Mobile Com Group



My Mom kept all off the letters she received from me (VMGR 152) Ronny V (G/2/26) and Jack Lambert(ASP#1) I still have some of them, and the envelopes. Ronny wrote about not being able to get mail in or out of Khe Sanh, I wrote one where the pen jumped off the page when a flare exploded right over my head, and Jack wrote about how lucky he felt to be at Khe Sanh in 68 as apposed to 67, when the weather was worse.. His letter was dated 3/15/68.

SF
Ron Main


Your post reminds me of my own plight with letters I sent home. My parents had saved every letter I sent. They even numbered them as they received them. For many years I did not care to read them either. Several years ago I did read the letters and found them to be mostly uninteresting and lacking any substance. I wrote mostly of how my moral was and benign things, such as digging bunkers and filling sandbags. I would talk of friends and how I missed home, milk and moms apple pie. There was never anything about the firefights, the shelling or the death of friends and how I felt about these things. I wish now that I had written about these things. So that I could have a better understanding of the person I was then. The gory details were left out to spare my folks additional worry.

One letter had a dark blotch on it that could have been mistaken for a dried blood. I circled it and wrote underneath, ”don’t worry mom this is not blood”. As I looked at the letter, checked the date and realized that it was the stain of red clay from Khe Sanh. Many letters were dirty and poorly written as often times I would write them at night with little light. I know that my lack of detail did little to lesson their fears as they had told me that Khe Sanh was on the news nightly. It was during this time that my Dad wrote his Khe Sanh symphony.

Still, the letters were good to read as they gave me a better perspective of time line. Each envelope was marked with my return address that included the platoon and company I was with at the time. They also helped me to remember certain things that I had completely forgotten. I could picture myself sitting in a bunker or fighting hole as I wrote those letters they helped me to remember the strife and hardships of those days and how I overcame them and somehow survived.

My first impression was how could I have written such dribble. I came to realize that the babbling miss spelled sloppy letters were from a scared teenager, who for the first time in his life was on his own. Far away from home and had no idea what the next day or hour would bring. Loved ones don’t care how you write, just that you write. Remember how important mail was for us, my guess is that they were just as important to our loved one. Read them, Craig, remember, and never forget. They are part of who you were and what you are now.

God Bless
Gene Weresow


Years ago when my parents passed and I was cleaning out my mother's "papers," I was hoping to find the letters I sent home. I do have newspaper clippings, Life and Newsweek magazines of the siege but no letters. My interest in the letters is to look back at the person I was then and to reflect on the scared kid I was and how that experience helped shape me into the person I came to be. I also wrote in general terms, such as "things are a little tough now, but I'm OK." We all know of guys who wrote the same thing and the casualty assistance officers arrived at their house before their letter did.

Knowing it is a personal thing for you, reading your old letters could bring on a whole series of emotions and memories, some better than others. Perhaps reading them would bring some type of "closure" to this thing. I just wish I had mine to read. Best wishes and Semper Fi.

Nick Romanetz


After my first wife passed away in 87 I was going through some boxes came upon letters that I had sent to her while I was in Vietnam. To my surprise she had kept every one of them and had them in order as to when I had sent them to her. It took me a couple of months to get up the courage to read them. But I am glad that I did. As I read them I could see a young boy being scared to death at first, but as the months went by I could see a young boy turning into a man much older than his time. It took me maybe 2 to 3 months to read all of them, but now as I look back, I am glad that I did. Some people don't want to do this and it is easy to understand. Just my 2 cents worth.

Russell Turner
A Co 1/26

 

   
             
 

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