The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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August 12, 2009

Letters are coming about once a week now.

Sat. 7 April 1968

Dear Everybody~

Pardon my using up this ti ti paper—I seem to have run out of the larger stuff I had around.

The week began well enough, with receipt of a letter from the IRS acknowledging their error and promising to refund all my money plus interest. Indeed, I have received one check already. It only took them two months, along with five letters from me to get it straightened out!

Early in the week I busied myself with more refrigerator work and similar stuff. Midweek, however, I was called to see the Inst. Mgr. (Dan Smythe), and it seems that when the Army inspected us on March 14, they didn’t find the Lab situation too pleasing, and so rapped (or “gigged”, as the Army puts it) him pretty hard. Naturally, he produced reams of “CYA” material (CYA = Cover Your A–) through which he laid all the blame on CMO, and after we’d gone over that thoroughly, he laid the monkey squarely in my lap—just what I’ve been waiting for. He hasn’t yet any idea of the pandora’s box he’s opened, but since he is soon to be relieved as near as anyone can tell, it won’t really matter. Today I finally got to see the right people at USARV, and received a most sympathetic and even enthusiastic response there. All sorts of possibilities are opening up, though the implementation will take boocoo time, no doubt. Eventually, there’s even the possibility I may go to Japan to buy equipment (I’d have to think that over very carefully!); the presently projected staff to comply with Dan’s ideas is about 14, and to comply with what the Army seems to have in mind will be even more! Naturally, I’ve elevated my self to Chief of Water Lab (actually, Dan so addresses me)! Among other things that I hope will become involved here is transfer of the Lab to new quarters as near as possible to Tan Son Nhut (to facilitate transportation of samples and field support teams), and to get away from that infernal dust at LB. It’s all at a very nebulous stage now, and will stay that way for awhile through the technical discussion period. The plan is to start tunneling from two ends—USARV and CMO—and hope we meet somewhere along the line.

The news from home this week has certainly been fast breaking—and heart breaking. I was only mildly surprised at Johnson’s decision not to run, because several commentators had suggested the possibility, and because Johnson is, above all else, a politician: politically, he has taken the surest road to coming out of it all smelling like a rose no matter what happens. If he allows himself to be drafted, and loses, he can always say, “Well, I wanted out back in April”; if he wins, no one will even bring the matter up. And of course, if he actually refuses a draft, he will have served notice far enough in advance. Above it all is his “lofty purpose”, to which he can always pridefully point: to be President uninterrupted right through his full term. And BEHIND it all, is the fact that his “new” policy on VN may becalm the Kennedy and McCarthy sloops. This sudden and dramatic about-face on VN may well take a lot of wind out of all his opponents’ sails, and if he actually gets any concrete response from Hanoi, he’s assured, I think, of a popular-acclaim draft for another term (in spite of the fact I still don’t think he deserves it).

The saddest aspect of it that I can see is what I interpret as pretty solid evidence that his TIMING in the matter was almost solely timed for political expediency, rather than for the good of the country. And as subsequent events have shown, he has sold America down the river as a result. His lukewarm response to his own commission’s riot report (which as I write this is probably being reappraised by him and will be the major topic in his address to Congress Monday) certainly did not help matters a bit.

As to the prospects for his halt-the-bombing step resulting in any real progress, the feeling here runs from a high of exceedingly cautious optimism down to total rejection. I would place my own feelings in the former group. I think the most significant thing in Johnson’s speech may have been his pointed omission of anything related to what he may do if Hanoi does not respond positively, or if Hanoi takes the opportunity (as most everyone here expects they will) to re-trench.

The news of Dr. King’s assassination was received here with considerable unofficial jubilation. Racism is more rampant here among the americans than at home—if that be possible. The ignorance revealed by most peoples’ notion that Dr. King’s demise will calm things down in america is, of course, made apparent by reports of renewed violence, which is bound to become worse before any relief is gained. America seems bound for a revolution at last, and perhaps the only thing that can be said for it is that the sooner it runs its course the sooner some sort of normalcy—hopefully with some important improvements—can be resumed. That revolution has been in the works for some time, and that it probably could not have been prevented by anyone seems evident to me: but I believe wiser leadership by the President might have made it a less destructive and more constructive sort of revolution. It remains to be seen, of course, but I have the feeling that little constructive progress in the field of human relations is going to appear in the US for some years. I have no reason to think that Kennedy or Nixon—should either get elected, will (or can) do much about this, and I fear that McCarthy lacks the drive to back up  his determination.

The weather here has grown steadily hotter, though by no means unbearable as far as I am concerned. We logged 108° F a few days ago, but had an hour of rain at LB one night (though none in Saigon!).

Schools reopened in Saigon April lst, and in the AM & PM both, the streets are awash with youngsters, for the most part dolled up in blue pants or shorts and white shirt (boys) and black pajamas with white ao dai’s (girls). Where all these kids have been keeping themselves the past weeks I don’t know, but with all of them out on the streets now, traffic is hampered considerably. All schools are on double session—8-12 and 2-6. They run the full year ’round, with a break only at Tet and numerous one-day holidays throughout the year. The week is six days long.

I had letters on Wednesday from all branches of the family. For everybody’s information, a water point is simply a well, creek, etc. where water is produced for consumption, either potable for drinking purposes or non potable for industrial use. Over here, it is usually a well-pump-generator set up, with a chlorinator. Nothing to it really, and I haven’t yet had to run one.

Guess that’s 30. Oh: I continue to enjoy the radio, and we’ve been having some power outages here lately that drop out all the fluorescent-light static, and reception is very good! I suspect I may have my tapes shipped over, though: machines are very cheap,here, and I miss a lot of my music.

Love to all

At this point in my narrative, I had been in Vietnam for about 9 weeks. Suddenly, I became “legal”—my USARV “pass” was issued. I wore this on a chain, along with several other items, but usually tucked them all into my shirt pocket.

Saigon USARV Pass

Saigon USARV Pass

I don’t recall any occasion when someone actually asked to see it, but there must have been a few times when it got me into some place I might not otherwise have been allowed.

I also got to carry the document shown below: I no longer recall what is was supposed to be for, as it is all in Vietnamese. Perhaps it was a local drivers license?

Saigon Document

Saigon Document

Virtually all documents we were required to carry got encapsulated in plastic one way or another: otherwise, humidity and mildew were likely to cause them to disintegrate quite rapidly.

Here is another letter, written a week later: note at ten weeks, the first mention of leaving Vietnam!

Easter Sunday,14 April (here)

Dear Everyone~

Just a week ago I sat here writing of the fairly eventful week that preceded last Sunday. The week I now write about has been less eventful here, but (predictably) fairly eventful at home. Until Teusday night, AFVN suspended normal programming in deference to Dr. King’s demise, and all flags (including the Vietnamese ones) flew at half-mast. The news from all corners of the world was of the intense and bloody reaction that followed the assassination. Though I never heard San Francisco specifically mentioned, word from friends there indicates that there was some disorderliness there, which, of course, I would have found surprising had none occurred. All this is only a presage of things to come; revolutions generally follow pretty predictable courses, so there is bound to be much more activity, much more bloodshed, and much more hard feeling.

Throughout the week, these events at home came up in conversation often. The general concensus was always to the general effect that “we” were going to have to kill off a whole lot more of “those n—–s”, in order to straighten out this thing. Quite predictably, when I suggested the simple alternative of just treating the black people like people, which they are, instead of like animals, which they are not, these conversations came to a quick halt (precisely what I desired). Actually, moving into these circles here is like stepping backwards in time about twenty years. Where, in the US, one can usually count on generating a little sympathy for the black mans’ cause in just about any group, here, among the professional expatriates who make up the bulk of the american population, one is considered wildly radical if he departs from the hard-line racism in the slightest degree. Hence, I am considered a dangerous liberal: if most of my acquaintances here (I consider none of them friends!) were to know just how far my liberalism goes, I would probably be totally ostracised. Fortunately, I was not unprepared to be trapped in this mire of ignorance: my internal idealism and seemingly perpetual optimism are both bearing up well. My faith in the fortuitous process of dieing-out of the current generation with the slow but inexorable consequence of change in attitudes is not diminished; this, coupled with the determination of many people of many colors to erase the color line will, I am sure, combine to bring about a better time for everyone: the tragedy lies in the fact that what should be so simple a task turns out to be so difficult.

As far as work goes, I can’t report much progress, but at least I have managed to generate some sympathy for my predicament both in fairly high eschelons of the Army and at CMO. Taking Dan Smythe’s mandate as a starting point, and interpreting both it and our contract with the Army as broadly as possibly, I am developing a program of magnitude that will, I am sure, set Dan back on his heels! Briefly, the essence of it includes three basic concepts: 1) that responsibility for the laboratory be returned to the Installations Department of CMO; 2) an entirely new laboratory be constructed from the ground up; and 3) supplies and equipment for at least a year’s operation be procured under my direction through direct US purchase and flown over by the AF; meanwhile going through the normal Fed Stock System in the hopes that future re-supply can be so obtained.

A program of this magnitude is about equivalent to setting up a central water laboratory facility for the state of California, and will involve in its first year the expenditure of about half a million dollars. The staff will grow rapidly to some twenty persons; the lab will occupy about 10,000 sq ft (as compared with about 1000 in the present structure). New applicable Army Regulations deal heavily with “CBR” agents (Chemical, Biological, and Radiological), which require vast quantities of expensive equipment and very sophisticated personnel to run it.

Assuming the program is adopted and implemented (and several people at USARV are most enthusiastic), there is a distinct possibility I might have to go TDY to the states to supervise the initial procurement. When this will be is impossible to foretell now. Almost certainly, one or more trips to Japan would also be required, since that is the logical place to procure the more bulky lab furnishings, as well as some items of instrumentation. I contemplate definitely getting an AA unit like we had at [previous employer].

All the vagueries of this entire situation here, however, combine to make all this very tenuous at best, and quite possibly no action at all will be taken towards implementing this program. In that event, I won’t stay here in Vietnam past June 30th, when the company must perforce give everyone a “completed contract” in order to close out its FY contract with the Army. At such time there is always a shake-up in personnel for all sorts of reasons. If I see no future in my position by then, I shall, in local parlance, di di mau—though not to the states you can be sure—most probably my next stop would be Indonesia, where a number of more or less international oil firms are quite busy, and where I think I might have a good possibility of getting on. Time will tell!

The weather is beginning to change subtly. It remains hot, of course, which, as I have repeatedly mentioned, is a delight for me. The humidity is beginning to rise above its usual 80%, or so, which results is surprisingly little discomfort if one can dress properly for it. Already it has rained occasionally, twice in Saigon and three times in LB so far. So far it has been light by tropical standards. These are the first rains since 10 December, and it will continue sporadically now, becoming more frequent through May and June, with almost daily showers through July and August, and almost continuous rains through September.

I haven’t yet found an issue of the Geographic with the Saigon article. Todd is correct when he says that one goes out Le Van Duyet to get to Hiway 1; I have been incorrect in referring to the Hiway I ride daily to Long Binh as Hiway 1: 1 think it is 1A, but the local name is simply Xa Lo Bien Hoa (X VN = S Eng) or Bien Hoa Hiway. (Bien Hoa is pronounced “been wah”). Hence, one goes North-East on Phan-thanh-Gian, which becomes the hiway to Bien Hoa, which is adjacent to Long Binh. I’ll draw a little map to enclose which may make all this a little clearer.

That about does it, except for whatever personal notes I may add to individual letters. I expect there will be letters awaiting me at LB tomorrow AM, as there have been none this week: as Todd says, we’ve been crossing in the mails, aided by the fact it takes longer for letters to get from there to here than from here to there. Cest la Post!

Love to all~

Here is the map I drew:

My Hand Drawn Map

My Hand Drawn Map

The map is deceiving, because there’s no scale. Where it says “much of Saigon not shown” is an understatement. From that point to Long Binh was about 20 miles or so.

More letters in a few days!



Written by Bruce

December 13th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam