The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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For some years, my parents had been sponsoring a young boy in Vietnam through FFP (Foster Parents Plan), known only as Tai and a number. It seemed natural that I should try to get in touch with him while there.

My letters were also referring to my “Number one friend”. This was the masseur I had met in the parlor on Phan-Than-Gian Street: he stayed with me, used the motorcycle, and kept me well pounded with his massage skills. We had sex occasionally, but mostly that was taken care of by the boy I’d met first at the Loc Building who helped me move to my apartment, and who visited regularly.

Monday, 13 May 1968

Dear Everyone~

First, belated Happy Mothers Day to those to whom it applies: somehow in the week’s chaos I forgot about it—there aren’t all the advertising reminders down here (since the Holiday is unknown to the VN).

The accompanying article tells a number of tales. The bunker complex referred to was discovered about 2-1/2 miles (line of sight) from me, and it is that area which I’ve watched US planes work over several times. Last night, E-4 Jets struck it four different times (apparently the VC were trying to move back into it) with B-40 rocket-bombs. These are big ones, and at 2-1/2 mile range they sound as though they were next door, and shake the building pretty hard, yet there is little to see unless one is atop the Rex, and even then the haze usually prevents seeing much.

Yesterday, and possibly again last night, the VC managed at last to hit and cause damage to the NewPort bridge, so that this AMs news broadcast said traffic on the Xa Lo Bien Hoa was limited to essential Mil only. My bus came at its appointed time, but I was discussing a block away the liklihood of its getting through, which seemed small, so I didn’t go. I expect it will just get tied up in a monumental traffic jam and eventually return to town. I’ll try tomorrow, unless I hear otherwise, to go to work, though of course the only real reason I bother is to get mail.

Yesterday, Hung and I went out to the Cho Lon PX as planned. It was open, swamped with people, of course. There was a good deal of shooting not far away, and when some jerk cleared his rifle near the entrance, you should have seen everybody (including yours truly) dive for cover! At that moment I was waiting for Hung to come back from the Va Ep (garage) where he was getting the left-turn signal lights on the Honda fixed. When he got back, we di di mau’d!

On the way out there, we stopped to see my “family”. Their place is not bad by Saigon standards, but they sleep in a bunker every night, and are getting ready to move to what they hope will be a safer area—for which I can’t blame them, but where they will go I’m not sure. There is an uncle on the scene, related somehow to the Papasan who isn’t around, and he works for PA&E! He’s a photographer, but has not been able to get to Tan Son Nhut to work all week. He’s Phillipino, speaks good English, and is very pleasant. Apologetic, of course, about the house situation, but of course under the circumstances…

Having boo coo time, I think I’ll try later today to get in touch with Miss Green at FPP and see what I can learn of Tai. I hope, of course to be able to get good news, but there is always the possibility it will be otherwise.

On the way to Cho Lon yesterday we passed a large refugee camp put up on the site of what was to have been a large new school: I’d been by it when it was just a couple of acres of cleared land awaiting construction. Now, it is a forest of semipermanent tents (wood bottom, fabric top). I do not think it was designed by an Architecture Professor at Cambridge! It was, at least, orderly, if crowded, and the Red Cross was much in evidence, so it is quite likely that many of the occupants are better off than in the hovels they inhabited before!

I just went out and bought 4 Saigon maps to send with this—I’ll mark them with useful info to help keep you up to date. The accuracy of these is poor, and there’s no scale of distance, however. . .

Later, Monday, 4 PM

I have just returned from visiting Foster Parents Plan. This morning I took the Honda and went seeking the place, but somewhere along the way the number 160 Yen Do had got fixed in my mind, and I was not able to find that: of course I had the letter with me, but dinky-dau me, I didn’t have sense enough to look at it until I got back to the apartment, where, of course, I found the number was 105 Yen Do. This afternoon after lunch I tried telephoning, but Miss Green was out until 2 PM; hence about 2:30 I got a taxi and headed out again, this time to find that it is at the corner of Yen Do and Cong Ly, so I’ve passed it many times on the way out to CM0.

Miss Green turned out to be precisely the charming older lady that I’d expected, with a copy of “Suffer Little Children” on the bookshelf. The outfit seems to be the best organised of any I’ve found here yet: they’d received a copy of the letter from New York, and although she scolded that office for forgetting the “V number” (Tai’s ID) they had dug out his card and were actually more or less expecting me.

The faily lives in a portion of Cho Lon into which Americans are not presently allowed: she was not more specific, probably fearing I’d try to go there. They have positive news that the family did not suffer in the Tet offensive, but do not have information on the current drive.

All of the familys receiving assistance within a 60 mile radius of SGN come to the Yen Do office to pick up their moneys and visit the caseworker: someone from Tai’s family, if not Tai himself, is expected in on Wednesday 22 May, and I am to go there on that day and meet with whoever shows up: the caseworker will act as interpreter. I’ll take that day off (if indeed I am working again by that time); there isn’t time to get a letter back from you with any specific questions you want asked, so I’ll have to sort of play it by ear.

Miss Green was highly doubtful that the letter you say was written in January actually was, since she says they are generally running farther behind than that. She was also interested in my own “family” and what little I had done for them. Alas, she is not at all optimistic about the future, feeling that much more hardship and war will hit Saigon before it is over. That of course remains to be seen.

So there you have all the news I can get at this moment; I’ll write the evening of 22 May (be prepared for the possibility that no one will appear: what with curfews and limited movements in many parts of Cho Lon it is quite possible they won’t be able to keep the apointment, but much depends on what happens in the next few days), which will mean you should get some info around 29 May.

Saigon HAS been quiet all day so far: not a sound I’ve heard even in the distance, which seems a little odd considering how noisy it’s been for the last week. I spoke to some chaps at noon who said the remaining lane of the Newport bridge was successfully tested at 60 tons this morning, so traffic should begin to move some, but it will be congested. There is an alternate route to LB through the “boonies”, but military escort is required to traverse it because of the dense jungle that surrounds it and the known presence of snipers. I’ll not try it, I think!

More tomorrow:

Letters arrived from home, and one was from my brother Rob, who worked for an aircraft company and was being sent to VN for some purpose he could not divulge. He mentioned having to get a lot of inoculations, just as I had done.

Long Binh Tuesday AM, 14th May 1968

Made it through to LB OK this morning; structural damage to the New Port bridge is not great and the section that dropped into the water can be replaced without too much difficulty.

Yesterday  remained quiet, all through the night as well; same parts of the curfewed areas are being opened up slightly. It would appear that the offensive is over for the time being.

Received letters from everybody this AM. Todd’s with his latest set of notepapers which are indeed lovely and ought to sell well; Dad’s with the welcome pictures of the family taken at Easter; and Rob’s letter telling among other things about his proposed trip to VietNam.

Todd’s letter included photocopies of the downtown area of SGN from the Nat’l Geographic article. I still haven’t gotten hold of a copy of that issue—it would have been faster if someone had bought one and mailed it over! The particular photo he sent does not show any part of where I have lived, and my present location is just off the picture at bottom right, as is the Rex BOQ. The area that I lived in before moving is in about the opposite direction from the view in the picture, as you all may be able to figure out from the enclosed maps.

Rob: How to contact me if you reach Saigon is a problem. I have seen a number of [Company] people around the Rex, and I’ll contact them and find out where the office is. I can put you up OK, though not in the most luxurious surroundings: if you’re on an expense account, the Caravelle is only a block away, but expensive. Numerous other less dear hotels in the area, though. You will, if you come into Saigon, arrive at Tan Son Nhut AB, and transportation into downtown is not difficult to arrange—if you go by taxi it costs 100 piasters (less than $1.00), and your destination would either be the [Company] office or my place. If the latter, tell the driver “Rex” or Nguyen-Hue / Le-Loi (Nyoon Way / Lay Loy) and he will drop you at the circle. The map below will direct you to my place. If I know the exact day you arrive, I’ll have Number 1 friend on hand to let you in, otherwise I might be at work unless you come Saturday afternoon or Sunday. On the other hand, if you let me know exact day, I can take a day off to be on hand, perhaps even meet you at TSN. I can be reached—with patience and luck—by telephone on any Military class A telephone, the number Long Binh 2268, but don’t rely on it! Cam Ranh Bay, is of course, a number of miles North, and with sufficient notice I might get travel orders to enable me to accompany you there for a few days, but it would take time. As for HK or elsewhere, I really don’t know, but I’II see what I can find out. Anyhow, sure would be swell if we can get together however briefly while you’re in country. As for the sore arm, well, toi rat tiek: now you know what I went through!

Will close this now and get it off to you all.

Love, as always~


SAT 18 MAY 1968

Dear everyone~

Since I last wrote, and I can’t remember exactly when that was, things have quieted down quite a bit. Midweek there were some more rockets landing in Cho Lon at night, but otherwise little action around Saigon. Curfews are being relaxed somewhat, although it looks as though the 2100 to 0700 one will be with us for some time.

Emergency repairs are started already for the New Port Bridge. The major effect of that damage has only been to slow traffic to a crawl: most of the week it has taken nearly two hours to go out in the AM, but somewhat less coming back at night: but today, coming in at one PM, it took more than two hours!

Dad’s letter of 12 May, packed with clippings, arrived this week. Among other things, he mentions being puzzled still by the fact that the French Beaucoup comes out in Vietnamese as “Boo Coo”. Well, now, it doesn’t AWAYS sound like that—sometimes one hears it nearer to the French pronunciation. But transliterations usually get somewhat garbled in the process anyhow.

The Vietnamese alphabet is composed of 12 Vowels, 17 Consonants, and 9 Double Consonants; there are about 30-odd diphthongs, however, each having (to a Vietnamese!) distinct sounds: as if this were not enough to master, there are 5 diacritical marks which further alter the pitch (for the most part) of a spoken sound! Through this latter expedient, a single word can—and usually does—have an assortment of meanings depending on the accents. A simple word like Ba, for instance, has at least five distinctly different meanings (among others, it means three, old woman, and father)—not to mention contextual shades of meaning that also may appear!

We understand that on the eve of Senator Ribicoff’s investigation (recommended) of USAID, PA&E and RMK-BRJ, PA&E has been sold to some outfit I’ve never heard of called Gulf & Western Industries: they’re listed on NY Stock exchange at 50 or so, but I suspect that when the word gets out they bought PA&E it will drop to ten or so! They’ve bought themselves a peck of troubles, if it is true. What effect this will have on the employees, or on myself in particular, is hard to guess at this point, probably little: but it is increasingly clear that my tenure with the firm will never reach the anticipated 18 months, for I am completely useless to the organization—and trapped by Smythe in such a way I can’t transfer to some duty-post where I could at least do a day’s work for a day’s pay. Just where I’ll go, or when, or how remains to be seen, but one of these days. . .

In anticipation of a possible visit from Rob, I got my passport back from the Company and was surprised to find that in three month’s time they succeeded in getting my “Brown-Book” receipt, which means I am now legally in the country! A lot of people don’t ever get them, and I probably will never see the brown book itself, which is a work-permit and residence visa combined. But with what I have, I can get exit and re-entry visas with little difficulty, as long as I do it myself and don’t rely on PA&E to do it for me.

That about brings you up to date: the frequency of my letters varies inversely as the VC activity apparently, so when you don’t hear much you can assume things are status quo. I will write Wednesday nite after my meeting (if any) at Foster Parents Plan.

Love to all~

As the letter above makes clear, I was pretty sure the lab was never going to be approved. There had been talk almost from the day I arrived at Long Binh that Dan Smythe would be transferred, but either no one could accept him, or (more likely) he was one of those who “knew where the bones were buried”, and was invulnerable to attack or transfer, no matter how much his staff hated him. I began formulating plans to escape this place, not because I did not enjoy it, but because I was a useless appendage to the US effort. With rockets landing frequently, Saigon at this time was a dangerous place to be, so if I was going to remain useless, I was going to go elsewhere!

Nevertheless, the possible visit from my brother was something to look forward to!

More letters to come!



Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam

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