The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Continuing with Vietnam and the Tet Offensive, still not quite over.

Monday, 19 February- 1968

Dear Everyone –

Went to work as usual this AM. The first news I got was that yesterday (Sunday) my immediate spvsr (Chief of Operations) had decided to transfer. Since the Post Installation Mgr & he didn’t get along well anyhow, this was OK with the former. It was also OK with me, since Mr. [redacted] was not a very dynamic sort of person & it was obvious to me that he and I were going to clash before long. A new CO was on hand by noon—the fastest work I’ve seen accomplished here yet!—and I think he will be a much more successful person. The Post Installation Mgr? Well, he made a big thing of telling me, when I first met him, that he had been a PIM longer than anyone in VN—which I took immediately to mean either a) he was such a fine PIM that he couldn’t be replaced or b) he was such a bad one that he’d never managed to get himself promoted. The latter assessment of the situation begins to show itself as the more likely one, now. He’s handled his personnel in this crisis very poorly, we feel. He’d better show some real management ability to me soon, or we are going to clash!!

Enclosed copy of today’s Sgn DN [Daily News] is interesting both for its content and its omissions, which are due to government censorship. You can see what we’re up against in the way of news!!

Enclosed also is a very poor little map, showing more or less, central Saigon. I’ve appended my location and a very few details. I’ve seen so little of it, really, that I can’t mark very many places.

Map of Saigon, 1968

Map of Downtown Saigon, 1968

Your worries about my food are needless. I thought I’d lost some weight during “the siege”, but—alas—I haven’t lost a single kilo!

The “siege”—third stage—continues, though with less intensity locally. There was an incident yesterday morning on the Long Binh – Bien Hoa hiway, which closed it temporarily. I didn’t go to work anyway, so wasn’t involved, and it was all cleaned up by morning. Tonight as we drove in about 5:30 helicopter gunships were working over another portion of Go-vap, an outlying section of Sgn which, like Cho-lon, has seen some pretty intense fighting. Tan Son Nhut is being mortared pretty regularly, and I’m not sure what this has done for the tenuous commercial flights recently reinstated.

As you can see, the direct route from Saigon Port to Long Binh & Bien Hoa is directly up the main street of Sgn! New Port, more directly accessible to LB-BH, was severely damaged by VC raids, hence a lot of freight, vehicles and so forth are being moved each day right through down-town Saigon. Needless to say, the sight is appalling, and traffic is snarled up maddeningly as a result. Tu Do Street is hardly 3 US-car-widths wide, and there is always a double line of small cars parked at the curb on each side. 7 days a week, tons of cargo move right up the main street, around the cathedral, and on to Bien Hoa or Long Binh. Quite a sight, as I said!

One of the more delightful things about which I’ve said very little so far is the gekkos—small lizards that live everywhere and—happily—eat bugs by the millions. They’re everywhere, though they hide out during the heat of the day. But at night they come out and gather around the lights.The silly rascals can crawl—run, actually—along any surface, straight up, or upside-down on the ceiling, with perfect ease. They have about 270 deg of vision, and any bug that lands anywhere near them is doomed to be a a gekko’s dinner. They look something like Chameleons, but are a uniform color. Occasionally they make a sort of chirping sound amazingly like that silly noise I [used to] make, but usually are silent—and very diligent in their duty.

Bugs aren’t much of a problem here. Mosquitos are the worst offenders, but if one keeps a sufficient stiff breeze in the room by means of a fan (usually a ceiling fan) they aren’t very bothersome. I got badly bitten one night when the electricity was off, but the bites were only unsightly, not painful. Roaches are to be found occasionally—frequently in dumpy places like the Tourist Hotel, and more frequently still in shanties, I’m sure—and they are usually real big ones. Despite their harmless nature, they are still ugly and one of the few beasts to whom I take a real dislike! But I’ve only seen a couple so far, which is good, and I understand it’s pretty easy to keep them out of one’s quarters if a determined effort is made.

Love to all—


Statue of a Soldier, Saigon 1968

Statue of a Soldier, Saigon 1968

This hideous statue of a VN soldier stood in the middle of Le Loi Boulevard between Nguyen Hue and Tu Do Streets. His gun was aimed directly at the National Assembly building, at the photographer’s back. The Rex BOQ (formerly Hotel) is to the right.

2 February 1968

Dear Everyone~

Today is Washington’s Birthday (here), and although I guess I could have gone to Long Binh as usual and sat on my hands at double-time, I elected to stay home & look for an apartment. Spent most of the day at it, without finding anything. So I’ve decided to take a single room here at the Loc Building, 318 Phan-thanh-Gian. (In Vietnamese that comes out approximately “fantanyan”). It’s a comfortable place, clean, well kept, and secure. About a 20 minute walk to downtown, or a 20p – 10 min cab ride. I’ll take most of my meals out, though there is a restaurant here, of sorts.

I found out why I’ve been having GI [gastrointestinal] trouble— found three daphnia (a small water-flea typical of polluted water) in a bottle of Bireley’s orange drink here the other day! Although it is supposedly “pasteurized”, it’s probably done in bulk, before going into the bottles. At any rate, I’m off Bireley’s. Cokes are bottled at the same plant—so I guess they’re out, too. I’m beginning to see why “33″ is so popular—nothing could possibly live in that “pickling bath”—but I’ll drink water only before I’d take that stuff again!

The formula for US Army iced tea is as follows: fill one bucket (preferably with lots of rust) with water. Add a tablespoon of Clorox to sterilize. Add ice to chill. Serve. One tea-bag may be added for color if desired.

There are so many marvelous little changes here that few people bother to observe, but which contribute to what little charm the place has left. For one thing, everything is scaled down in size to fit the population’s general smallness. (cf. previous letters) Elevators, for instance, are tiny. The one in the Rex [BOQ, formerly hotel] was rated by Otis [India] for 8 persons. 8 americans got in it one night, and it plunged all the way to the basement. (The Rex has no basement). So now it is posted for 4 persons (or, as some pfc, no doubt, added, “2 Officers”). Chairs and tables in restaurants tend to be miniscule, as do seats on busses. The long Binh bus (a Mercedes) seats 80 Vietnamese comfortably—about half that number of americans, UNcomfortably. I practically have to crawl in and out of it—a good case of “Flebus” would help immeasurably!

Oddly, the beds here in this hotel, though slightly narrower than US standard, are longer—and quite comfortable for me. The bathroom fixtures, on the other hand, are sort of “sports-car” equipment, and one has to assume some unaccustomed positions to use them. And since Vietnamese are almost totally devoid of body-hair, they put very fine screens in the floor-drains, which plug up immediately when I take a shower!

Under separate cover, I’m sending a bundle of newspapers that I gathered up, mostly, after others were through with them. You may be the only house in town with the Saigon Post in the stack with the New York Times! But since you are still plagued by the SF strike, I thought you could use some news!!

I’ve decided to get an 8 mm movie camera. Bell & Howell has a very nice one that’s virtually automatic and not too expensive. Hence, you should look around for one of those small 8 mm viewer contraptions. It will be month or so before I get it, but it will enable us to share a few experiences, visually at least.

You’ve probably figured out by now that when you get to Hawaii for  your long-awaited trip, you’ll be about 1/3rd of the way to Bangkok—why not plan to fly over for a week—with luck & plenty of advance notice, I could probably get there at the same time. On the other hand, you could doubtless get an entrance visa to Vietnam itself if you should feel compelled (!!) to view Saigon University. I pass it every day—it’s out of town a ways on Hiway 1—right smack-dab in the middle of Charlie territory. Several large buildings are completed, but idle . . .

I’d marginally planned (or hoped) to spend Christmas in Australia. On talking to an Aussie this morning, though, it seems that December & January are holiday months there, and prices skyrocket. So I’ll probably plan that for next February or so. Any leave I take before then will be to HK or BK, I suspect.

My new immediate spvsr at Long Binh is a much better man than his predecessor and think there is a much better chance, with his help, I can get a program started. It’s obvious that I’m going to have a brief personality-clash with the [Post] Installation Manager—but I think I can handle it in such a way that it won’t happen more than once. Among the milder remarks by others that I’ve heard about him are the following choice items:

“There is nothing like a good Post Installation Manager, and Mr. Smythe is nothing like a good  Post Installation Manager!”

“Mr.  Smythe suffers from delusions of adequacy”

“In a recent popularity poll, Mr. Smythe came in just slightly above Ho Chi Minh!”

The rest of the comments don’t bear repeating. All I can say from my own personal experience is that so far, he has yet to show me any indication of real management ability. We shall see!! He makes a big thing about the fact he’s been a PIM longer than anyone here (which he likes to intimate is because he’s such a good one). The fact is, he’s been demoted twice, and is so genuinely disliked by so many people that it’s all he can do to remain a PIM. He broadcasts his insecurity every time he opens his mouth. Cèst la viê!!

The chap I’ve been billeted with here was supposed to go to his assignment in Qui Nhon, today, but it’s a 50-50 chance that the transportation  actually works out and he gets there. I’ve been fortunate to learn a great deal from him, and he was always in good humor and pleasant, with  a great sense of camaraderie, and a long collection of amusing anecdotes.

Time to go to bed soon. There’s an unusually pretty sunset right now. One doesn’t see them too often. Morning half-light here lasts only about 15 minutes, and against the lightening sky the clouds (usually present) are a curious black color. The length of days doesn’t vary much here, and the sun rises and sets quickly. Sunsets are brief and usually not spectacular, twilight is short, and darkness overtakes the city almost suddenly. Against the present reddish clouds, there is already a flare aloft to light the way for some sort of action, or to allow surveillance against infiltration or strikes…

Last night around midnight there was a good deal of action due North. At least 3 Charlie emplacements were lobbing mortars and rockets in all directions, and despite heavy “FWF” attack, were still lobbing them out at a great rate when I crawled into bed at midnight. The action was, as best I could judge by timing the flashes & sounds, about 15 miles away.

On that delightful note, I’ll close. As Walter Cronkite would say, “that’s how it is…”

Love to all~


My narrative will continue as soon as I can find time to transcribe more letters.



Written by Bruce

December 13th, 2009 at 10:58 am

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam