One Wife's Year of the Vietnam War
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
I was twenty-three years old when my husband went to Vietnam in 1969. At the time, I considered myself a full-fledged adult who knew what she was doing and where she was going. I was, after all, as old as I had ever been and knew as much as I had ever known. Of course, anyone who has lived past that age knows exactly how much knowledge I had and what it ...
“Nothing’s going to happen to me,” Lee said with complete military authority. I held tight, wanting desperately to believe him as we stood beside the Greyhound bus, all but deafened by huge planes lifting into the skies behind us at San Francisco International Airport. He then braced me at arm’s length and added with a cocky, lopsided grin, “And if it does, ...
I found myself sitting in a chair near a boarding gate with an opened paperback in my hands, though I had no idea how I had gotten there or what the blurred pages said. As I looked up, a man’s face appeared in my green-tinged line of sight. I jumped ...
Connie embraced me briefly when I stepped into the terminal and guided me toward the baggage claim. I concentrated to catch her welcoming chatter, but I couldn’t seem to tune into her words. Some autopilot part of me must have been responding because she marched us through the corridors as if nothing were amiss. From another dimension, I looked at ...
The next morning, I awoke in my old bedroom groggy and spent. Even with little reason to get up, I crawled out of bed, wishing I had someone to talk to who understood. Lee would have been my first choice, but he was now the perpetrator of my misery rather than my consolation. In trying to imagine what he was doing at that moment, I tried to superimpose ...
The house was quiet when I awoke on the first day of May, 1969, but something was wrong. I rushed to the bathroom and stood gagging over the sink. Two days in a row. Do not think what you are thinking, I told myself. But I was shaking with a hope spreading like flames on dried kindling, racing ahead of my ability to contain...
Letters from Lee set my daily mood and carried over to my parents. On days when I got mail, the atmosphere was cheerful and the conversation light. That was Day One. Day Two was still pleasant because I did not expect another letter so soon. Day Three was more subdued but by no means glum. By Day Four, tension began to mount and a quiet pallor ...
My spirits soared when I thought about the baby and plunged when I let myself dwell on the dangers Lee faced. I was riding on an emotional rollercoaster propelled by hormones as well as an overactive imagination, both of which were raging out of control. At least I never had to worry about bad dreams. There was no need for my subconscious to work ...
When Lee and I returned to Fort Bragg for the last time after Ranger School, we found Tom Hargrove, a long-time friend from Fisher County with whom Lee had gone to Texas A&M, living on post with his wife, Susan. As couples, we spent many evenings together, sharing our experiences and adjusting to military life. Inevitably, we talked about the pend-...
We parked facing downward on the side of a steep hill packed with two- and three-story houses whose descending red tile rooftops looked like a staircase for giants. Neatly landscaped with miniature front yards and low trimmed hedges, the stucco houses exuded an air of understated elegance and cautious...
On Monday morning, I awoke to Daphne’s large eyes peering into my face with a mix of curiosity and impishness. Damned cat. I tried shooing her away, but she ignored me until I picked her up and put her on the floor. Then we both slipped quietly from the room to keep from waking...
Our first visitor other than Connie in our Collins Street flat was Susan’s brother Miles. Having played football lineman at a small Utah junior college the previous year, Miles was a husky twenty-year-old transferring to San Francisco State and half of the reason the Sheldons were leasing the apartment. It was to be his weekend getaway from school when he ...
The three of us women on Collins Street took turns making the trek downstairs to the garage mail slot, usually more than once a day because our postman was as unpredictable in his delivery time as was our mail supply. Susan and I awaited airmail envelopes from Vietnam; Mrs. Sheldon looked for hers from Tehran. Spotting the red and blue stripes in the ...
July 4, 1969, was a holiday I lived outside my body. Although I accompanied Mrs. Sheldon and Susan to a lovely home atop one of the Peninsula’s grand hills, I had no sense of physically being there. The party played out before my eyes like a snowy late-night TV movie—sound and action but...
With the holiday behind us, our lives on Collins Street fell into as normal a routine as we were likely to attain. Mrs. Sheldon continued working her way through chores she wanted to accomplish while in the States as well as squeezing in visits with friends. Miles exchanged his hard hat for party clothes at the end of each day or else he lay exhausted on the floor and ...
I tried to psych myself into a positive frame of mind for my first job interview. My best shot, it seemed to me, was applying at the same insurance company for which I had processed major medical claims in Houston two years earlier. I bypassed the personnel office and contacted the claims supervisor directly. Sounding pleased to hear from an experienced...
Impatient to see more pictures of Lee, I took my miniature viewer to the Presidio on the day the slides were due. After I waited eagerly in line, the clerk handed me an envelope with the price of $30 marked in red on it. I gasped at the amount. This near to the end of the month, my money was almost gone. As I felt the plastic case through the paper envelope, I...
Mrs. Sheldon scheduled her return to Tehran, concluding that life in the Collins Street flat would never be sufficiently normal to leave with an easy conscience. On her last Saturday in San Francisco, she and Susan dashed out to complete her shopping and staggered back at dusk, exhausted and...
When the Tate murders story first broke, Susan was again mesmerized by current events that were far removed from her personal involvement. From the initial headlines that announced the multiple deaths of the pregnant actress, her friend Abigail Folger, and their male companions, she tracked the story with a...
The three of us living in the apartment found our footing without Mrs. Sheldon’s steadying hand the best we could. Susan made friends with a lovely woman at her new company and began bringing Adrienne by after work. Adrienne’s visits were always brief because she was eager to get home to her young son, who spent his days with her mother. Occasion-...
While reading the newspapers for more information about the Tate murders, I could not miss the headlines that announced President Nixon was coming to San Francisco. I had never lived in a place accorded a presidential visit. I found it exciting that I could get a firsthand look at Lee’s commander-in-chief when I read that his first stop would be at the....
The impending arrival of the thirteen-year-old Arab boy had been wreaking havoc with our tension levels, making Susan especially nervous about the added responsibilities of supervising a teenager over whom she had no real authority. She was not happy when she learned that Khalifah would be with us for three weeks before his school term...
That was my state of mind when Daddy called to tell me that he and Mother were driving to Tucson to visit Brenda and Danny over the Labor Day weekend. “Why don’t you fly down and meet us?” he suggested. A surprising pang of homesickness hit me when I realized they would be together, but knowing I had to monitor every cent in case Lee got his...
At my mid-September visit, my arms looked like those of a heroin addict by the time the lab technician finally struck the mother lode, which siphoned off all the new blood I had generated since my last visit. When the lab technician applied the gauze pad, it turned red, so he gave me another. By the time he reached for the fourth one, we were both...
The euphoria of talking with Lee and setting into play the plans for R&R could last only so long, of course. This was, after all, war—a war against the VC, a war against the odds, and a war against time. The scorecards did not add up to peace of mind. In this area, Lee was part villain as well as part hero. Since I had visited Petrocelli, I had a new perspective of the real ...
Finally, finally, I could say that I would see Lee “this month” and then “next week.” I had my tickets to fly to Honolulu on Sunday the twelfth and return late in the afternoon a week later, allowing me to arrive a day before Lee and depart a few hours after he did. My objective was not to miss a single minute with...
I collapsed on the king-sized bed when I reached my room at the Colony Surf, thankful to have negotiated the arrival, baggage claim, and cab ride without incident other than perspiring profusely and swelling voluminously. The ride from the airport had taken less than half an hour, and the driver, wise to the whys and wherefores of passengers, had pegged ...
Before we could finish our greetings, we were ushered through the doors of a nearby building. My mind scrambled as I sought to absorb reality. Lee was actually here, actually beside me as we sat holding hands through yet another briefing. In an auditorium filled with reunited couples, I couldn’t believe anyone was paying attention to what the uniforms...
It was self-preservation. Lee’s leaving for Vietnam in April had encompassed certain drama, naïve heroism, and a larger-than-life sense of sacrifice. As horrible as it had been, it had possessed a dash of life. This time I knew exactly how many lonely nights six months held; I was all too familiar with precisely how long it took the minute hand of a clock to...
“I think we need to talk about this baby,” Susan announced one night during the first week of November as we walked into the living room after dinner. Her tone sounded ominous, and I prepared myself for concerns she would voice about an infant in the...
On Wednesday night Susan went to the airport to pick up Gayle. I drew a breath of apprehension when I heard the garage open and watched the petite blonde climb toward me with a sleeping baby cradled in her arms. I mimed a greeting and motioned for Gayle to follow so she could put David...
With a burst of energy, excited about having a baby and suddenly ready to prepare for it, I went to the PX to purchase the critical items—baby powder, oil, shampoo, diapers, pins, and other sundries Gayle had for David. I looked longingly at the sweet layette things I could not afford, but the sacrifice didn’t depress me. I could thank Gayle for my new...
I talked with Mother and Daddy, reassuring them that I was fine. We talked about their impending visit, scheduled around the baby’s birth. Daddy told me he was impatient, and Mother confirmed that he had been whistling for a week, a sure sign that he was happy about something. I promised them I would call when I headed for the...
Emotion rushed to my eyes. If only Lee could be here, I thought. Not that he would have cared about the flowers, but he, too, would have appreciated the sentiments. I knew, however, that had Lee been there, he would not have been the attentive husband hovering over me. He would have been pacing the floor with boredom, demanding to hold his kid. I...
Reveilee Ann Lanning was two weeks and one day old when I received the letter from Lee that told me he knew about her birth. The wait had been torturous, but when I opened the letter on December twentieth, the morning of our second wedding anniversary, I knew we had survived another phase of the war and the...
Lee was in trouble and I knew it. I scrutinized every letter even more carefully now for clues to his psychological well being. The standdown in mid-December seemed to have helped temporarily, because for the next couple of letters, he wrote more like himself. I was not na
For me, the war was over. When I received Lee’s letter at the end of the first week of February, I knew we had survived. The nine and a half months of combat and worry were behind us. Now all we faced was a simple separation— which, in my view, was nothing compared to what we had been...
I originally planned to go to San Francisco the second week of April, but with Lee’s optimistic predictions, I changed my reservations to the first of the month, which meant that suddenly, after so long, I had to hurry because I intended to be at Travis Air Force Base to meet Lee’s...
I was jumping out of bed every morning in March, ready to tackle my list of tasks for the day. More often than not, I accomplished my objectives with some degree of success and then found myself climbing back into bed that night still too charged up to fall asleep easily. I had so much to think about: Had I forgotten anything? What was Lee going to think of ...
As Mother and Daddy drove Reveilee and me to the Midland-Odessa airport, I was beside myself with excitement, talking incessantly and mentally rechecking my lists—tickets, money, bottles—as I rechecked the security of the port-a-crib that once more held the baby during the ride. Where Reveilee had occupied but a tiny space on the little mattress...
“As I said, you don’t know me, but I’m supposed to tell you that Lee bought me a beer in Long Binh yesterday—or was it today? Well, whatever day I got my Freedom Bird out. Anyway, Lee said to tell you that he’s at the outprocessing center and should be on a manifest in a couple of days...
We talked, but our topics jumped from the freezing weather in Alaska to his parents’ new house and from his orders to be a Ranger instructor to the ribbon that would be in Reveilee’s hair. It was a disjointed conversation, but at least it was in person...
In the movies, that’s where the story would have ended and the credits would begin to roll. But our story, from Lee’s send-off at San Francisco International Airport until his return at Travis Air Force Base, had never been like the movies, and its ending with a “they lived happily ever after” homecoming didn’t follow the...
Thus we began our post-Vietnam lives together, each with our own perspectives, needs, goals, and expectations that we melded into a four-decade marriage. In December, 2007, Lee and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary—a benchmark of life that the Linda of this book would hardly have believed possible at any point during the year’s...
Reveilee, who did learn to say and spell her name much more quickly than I had feared and who then came to love it because no one else shared it, graduated from Texas Tech University and then several years later earned her MBA at The American School of International Management (Thunderbird). Now living in Phoenix, she is the mother of our three fantastic ...
Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 8 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2009
OCLC Number: 680622552
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