The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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August 9, 2009

By the time the next letter was written, I had managed to go out and procure a typewriter. This is facilitating transcribing my letters now, using OCR software. Most of the copies Dad kept were carbon-copies, though, so the images aren’t all that sharp; OCR is not perfect anyway, so some fairly heavy editing still is required. But it IS faster than key-entry.

The borrowed typewriter with its Vietnamese keyboard was difficult to use because the letters had been rearranged in accordance with their frequency of use, so frequently-used english letters were in the wrong place. There were also a number of letters which occur in Vietnamese, but not in english. (The Vietnamese language is akin to chinese, and for the most part is incomprehensible to westerners: the typical characters were replaced with a romanized alphabet  by Missionaries a long time ago).

Saturday, 9 Mar 68

Dear Everyone,

As you will have guessed by the time you begin to read this, I have now gotten a typewriter! This one has a standard keyboard! After trying out the hazards of a Vietnamese typewriter,  I couldn’t hack it, and decided to get one of my own. As you can see, I’m not altogether used to it. It’s an Ollivetti “Dora”, a small light portable, with an assortment of features, including halfline spacing, along with an arrangement coupled with the spacebar that allows one to type in an extra letter in case of an error; i. e., god and good here occupy the same space.

Having run nearly out of money, this morning I went out to CMO and arranged an advance on my salary of $250.00. That much, at least is safe from the Infernal Revenooers. Of this, I spent $75.00 on the typewriter, and $50.00 on a very nice all-band portable radio. In both cases, the prices are about half US., and I think very reasonable. I bought both on the “local economy”—our PX purchases are limited to $10.00 items max.

So you can all heave a small sigh of relief: the folks won’t have to Xerox my letters and remail them and Rob & Todd won’t be several days behind on my letters.

There’s really not too much to report. I haven’t had any letters for several days—heaven knows this is not unusual—so don’t have any answers to send along. Life is settling down into something of a routine, involving a very early (for me) arising around 6 AM and a quick cup of coffee, sometimes, and taking a cyclo at 7 over Phan-than-Gian St. to Hai-ba-trung Street, where I wait for the bus which goes to Long Binh. The trip out Hiway 1 usually turns out to be the most interesting thing all day! Then, at 5, we leave LB and reverse the process. When I get here, I must first, of course, take a bath (shower) to remove the layers of LB dust and grime. Then it’s dinner (usually here, because of the curfew), and usually a bull-session with someone, or a relaxing interlude alone on the verandah. Then, to bed fairly early, ready for the next day. It all goes quite quickly.

I just discovered that I goofed and didn’t put a sheet of paper between two carbons on this sheet, so somebody will have to get a Xerox of the first page, at least! Toi rat tiek (I’m very sorry).

You may not believe this—knowing my finickiness about eating—but I’ve actually had a number of Vietnamese meals since I got here, and have enjoyed them immensely. One of the local specialties is a sort of meat roll, made up of a very thin rice-flour tortilla, with heaven-knows-what inside. I’m told it is is best not to ask what the filling is, so I haven’t done so! There’s also a very good chinese soup that is made here, lots of noodles and things, with some meat and a few shrimps added for good measure. And last night, several of us ordered chicken curry, which turned out to be very good (quite mild on the curry) and very filling, what with both potatoes and rice included! Alas, I have not lost so much as a kilo, and won’t, If I keep eating like that!

We understand, unofficially, that the curfew is going to be lowered to 9 PM next Monday, which will enable us to get out a bit more in the evening and get some other meals. I don’t remember whether or not I mentioned that the hotel has lowered its prices materially or not—I’m now paying 500$ [dong] for a single room, per day, rather than the 600$ for a double paid previously. This is a shade over $4.20 per day ($130 per month), which is hard to beat in Saigon, considering the fact that it includes maid service, and considering the fact that the facilities are so good. Hence, I’m staying put for a while, as I mentioned before.

There are indications of some action at Long Binh. 24 hour power is presently being installed (it has been in the works for quite a long time and is just now being accomplished, despite the fact that 24 hr hi-tension lines go right past our compound). I have submitted the listings of the equipment items I must have, and there are indications they might actually be obtained. Meanwhile, not much is doing, and I double up with the operations department from time to time when they are short-staffed (which is always). I have in mind a good training program for the Vietnamese, to be implemented as soon as the lab is functioning. This is a big thing with the Govt and the army now, and so it will win a lot of points if I can bring it off. But it’s a long ways off, unless I miss my guess about how fast the army can move on a project such as mine.

The electricity here tonight is currently (you’ll pardon the pun) going through a series of gyrations, so I think I’ll go play with the radio a while, and finish this up tomorrow.

Sunday AM

How curious! Most of the programs on the radio are in foreign languages. However, Radio Hanoi spews forth a constant stream of messages to “American Service Men fighting the unholy war in Vietnam”, and Radio Peking spews forth a constant barage of quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung. In both cases, the female voices used almost exclusively have a familiar ring and resemble closely the voice of Radio Moscow.

Hanoi repeats endlessly all the UPI and other descriptions of the draft-dodgers, burners, etc all over the world. Some of it is undoubtedly true, some of it embellished, and some false. The same thing happens here: at one point last night, I had Hanoi on the radio, while a plane was flying by overhead sending propaganda messages down via sound-powered microphone! And, when Hanoi broadcasts messages (allegedly in the voices of) from the group of US boys who recently defected in Japan, one has to realise that Radio Sgn is simultaneously broadcasting statements by captured or defected VC. One only wishes that the entire war could be waged thus, through words, instead of the way it is: the outcome is likely to be the same, either way.

Today’s Saigon paper carries an excellent (if heavily censored) article criticizing the American way of making war in this country. There’s a lot of truth in what is said. In essence, it points out how unprepared for fighting a defensive war our machine is. The other article enclosed is for information—although you may find it a bit alarming, it is not sent with that in mind. This only Premiere Ky’s view, and may not be correct. In any event, our security (as americans) is not any less than before, and most of us with sense enuf to stay out of trouble have quite successfully avoided it.

I’m going to set out now for the PX: there are a few items I want to pick up, and the concierge wants a few rolls of film. I will continue (finish) this letter later.


That was a waste of time! I wanted some chewing-gum and a fly-swatter, and they had neither. Despite scads of color film, they had no B&W that Sao wanted. The place was swamped, and the air-conditioning was off, so it was sweltering as well. I stayed long enuf to get a spare set of batteries for the radio, then came right back, after stopping at the snack-bar for what (for want of an appropriate name) was called a milkshake. In a few minutes I shall go up and have a sandwich of some sort. Sometime this afternoon an aquaintance here is supposed to take me along on a short visit with a VN family with whom he’s been acquainted for some years. One of the daughters teaches for VAA., so I should get some information about that, and of course it will be a chance to meet some nice people.

So, for the moment I will close. Please supply the missing page 1 for Todd, and send this on to him: full copies went to Folks and Rob directly.

Love to all

Street stall in Saigon, 1968

Clowning around at a street stall: I’m offering the photographer a pair of dark glasses.Most of what’s on the table came more-or-less directly from the PX: much of it is Military Issue. Directly behind me is a cyclo, probably the one I rode in to reach this spot, and it is likely the photograph was taken by the driver. I’m sorry the photo is light-struck—thems the breaks! I was most likely actually shopping for temporary replacements for glasses I had dropped and broken: see below.

14 March 1968

Dear Everyone~

I’m going to start this letter tonight, and probably finish it tomorrow. I got a long letter from Todd a couple of days ago, and Dad’s letter of 5-6 March at the same time.

Before I forget (which I have in several previous letters), I recall your mentioning your foster-child’s name in one early letter: apparently, that one got lost in the shuffle between hotels, because I have reread everything I have and can’t locate the reference. Please repeat, with all available information. Have you had any word from him since the Tet offensive? There might be something I could do. . .

The radio has turned out to be a very wise investment. I’m still locating stations and the times they broadcast useful info (that rules out most of Peking’s programs!), and more particularly, music. Oddly, some of the best music is coming from what appears to be either India or Pakistan—and the reception is pretty good in the evening. V 0 A and A F R T S, sharing the Manilla transmitter, get out much more comprehensive world news than does heavily censored AFVN.

The curfews have been extended from the former hours of 0700 to 1900, to 0600 to 2000 hrs. This enables us to put in an actual 8½ hour day. Leaving the hotel at 6:30 and returning about 18:00 makes it a long day, though. The other two hours are consumed, of course, by the bus-ride. These still are the most interesting parts of the day. The bus route I now take, which picks me up and drops me just a block away from the door, goes all over robinhood’s barn in the process (specifically, through the sections of town known as Go Vap, Gia Dinh, and Bay Hien, if you have gotten a map…), so there is always a lot to see.

Traffic on Hiway 1 is pretty much back to normal—it staggers the mind. The average is 21 dead each week in accidents. It is the sort of traffic that would bring an average US freeway to a stand-still, yet somehow it moves at breakneck speeds in spite of all but the worst pileups. There aren’t many bicycles (because of the distance and a few long hills), but POV (power operated vehicles) of every other description are found by the thousands, and it all ranges on up to the largest US Army equipment. Yesterday there were five more-or-less wrecked vehicles noticed on the way in; today, one accident involving two people on a motorbike that was a bit grisly (though they weren’t killed).

No word yet, of course, from the IRS. I’ve followed up my original letter with three other reminders of my desire for action on their part, and threatening a couple of other moves I’ve been told of if they don’t get off the pot: we’ll see if anything comes of it. Actually, if they don’t move right away, I intend to drop the matter, and let the sum they have earn 6% for ME until such time as I feel like coming back in person to claim it. That will in a small way offset the loss all that money I had to pay them represents. Once I get a paycheck here and get my bank-account back in operation, having over 300 bucks “on deposit” with IRS won’t make any real difference.

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my dark glasses and broke the right lens into two pieces. I immediately ordered a new one from SF, and epoxyed the broken one back together as a stop-gap. The new lens came today. But YESTERDAY, I dropped them again and shattered both lenses. So now, I’m short the left one! I’ve ordered that one, and when it comes, I will begin carrying the case. . .

Unexpectedly, we had an inspection by a US Army Team today. I gave them the whole ugly story of what the lab amounts to, and what my problems are. However, in the exit report, nothing whatever was said about it. Apparently Dandy Dan Smythe talked them into dropping it until the next inspection, on the premise that something will have happened by then. I think it’s unlikely that anything will, but in fairness to him, I have to admit that I had only yesterday turned in my “program” to him, and there has been no time for him to act upon it. The ball is in his hands now. It seems likely he will be leaving around 22 April: in that case, Long Binh will see a celebration that ought to make Tet look puny. But the liklihood is that Smythe will leave the lab as a thorn for his successor to grapple with. Meanwihile, I may volunteer to operate a water point or some such thing, as we are desperately short at the moment in that department, and it should at least give me something more to do than I can accomplish under the present setup. The wheels of the US Army grind exceeding slow!

0530 arrives early tomorrow—so it’s beddy-byes now until tomorrow, when perhaps I shall have heard from someone, and can add answers to anything I receive.

15 March 1968

No letters today, but lots of action at Long Binh: Dandy Dan went on a rampage of personnel “actions” (i. e., position shifts) as a result of the inspection yesterday. Looks like I’ll have a new boss, for the second time in less than a month! It really makes no difference to me—nothing is happening anyhow. He may have a near mutiny on his hands tomorrow, since no one thinks for a moment that his actions have improved anything. God—what a stupendous mess he has made of things!

The weather has grown steadily warmer since my arrival, and now ranges from 35 to 40 C, depending on whether or not one has any shade. It is surprisingly dry, but this will change when the monsoons hit in mid-May.

The news today is all about [Senator Joseph] McCarthy’s performance in New Hamp, and the probability of Bobby throwing his hat in at last. This, I fear, could possibly throw a lot of weight to Nixon which would be pretty bad. It is amazing, how much control Moscow has over the next US election: they could assure Johnson’s win by getting Ho Chi Minh to the bargaining table (which they could assure by a simple withdrawal of support), or they might well assure Johnson’s defeat by a reverse process. One has to give Moscow a lot of credit for playing it cool: they’ve created chaos all over the world without ever having fielded a man.

There is a lot of talk in the news also about the gold problem. Whenever I hear of this, I think of HMT’s [Henry Moore Teller, first Senator from Colorado] predictions, way back in 1896: it looks as if he may yet prove to have been a true prophet. And while Johnson talks out of one side of his mouth about the dollar drain, and its impact on the “chronic unemployment problem”, out of the other he continues a policy of pouring millions down endless ratholes here. There are, for instance, about 5000 “third country nationals” here, nearly all Korean and Phillipinos. Their base pay hovers around 500 US dollars, plus living allowance of $175. With the kind of overtime nearly all of them show (whether actually worked or not), few of them send home (their home) less than $1000 each month. Virtually all that money goes out of the US. Its purchasing power in Korea is such as to make equivalent millionaires out of most of these people.

Now, the rationale for their existance here (besides the nonsense about being part of the Free World Forces), is that they are performing essential services that the Vietnamese can’t do. Vietnamese are not allowed to operate any water points, nor any generators on military bases, because no one can be sure they aren’t VC, and won’t either a) sabatoge their installation at a critical moment or b) disappear if they come under attack by VC.

If one accepts these criteria (and a whole lot of sensible arguments could be lodged against doing so), the question is, why not replace those 5000 people with American “hardcore unemployed”, thereby keeping most of their pay in the US, and employing them, and teaching them a trade as well? A policy like this could reduce the dollar outflow by at least $100 Million each month (taking into account PX privileges and other benefits extended to TCNS). At any rate, I am in complete agreement with—is it [Senator] Mills?—whoever it is that is kaboshing Johnson’s continuous pleas for a tax hike, and insisting on cuts in spending instead. A time has come—long past, in fact,—when our policies of backing the dollar with production and lavish giveaways have got to be drastically cut back: the shakiness of gold on the world market attests, I think, to worldwide doubts that we will take anything more than a cursory look at the policies that have nearly ruined us before we plunge on towards what seems to be our ultimate goal—WWIII—which will be the only way we can create enough demand for our excess output.

Bedtime has rolled around once again, so on that cheery note I will close and get these into the mail tomorrow: with luck you’ll get them (your) Monday next.

Love to all~

How about that last line: “. . . our ultimate goal—WWIII—which will be the only way we can create enough demand for our excess output.” Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to see that prediction go down the drain, but it has meant that our “excess production” has been shipped off to China, our production capacity along with it. When WWIII does come we could well end up having to buy our warships from China, in order to have ships with which to fight—China!  Oh, my!

Anyway, by this time we were able to get around well enough that some documents were issued: most of these were delayed by the Offensive and curfews. Here is my SOOM card:


This got me into any open Officers’ Mess in the country. The food in most of the BOQs was quite good: food in the messes on LB Post varied greatly from terrific to gawd-awful!

Here’s my Identity card:

My Identity Card

Except for the few items typed in, I have NO idea what most of it says!
More in the days ahead: stay tuned!



Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam

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