The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Once I was able to get a typewriter, my letters from Vietnam were sent to the family using carbon-copies, so everyone would be up to date. I tried not to send all-carbons to any one address, so different members would have to wade through the 4th carbon fuzziness from time to time. This means that the surviving letters (which Dad kept) are a mix of different “layers”. OCR software works on the originals well; on the second carbons less well, on the third carbons poorly, and on the 4th carbons not at all!

The first letter in this group survived as a fourth carbon, so it had to be keyed in. Due to some annoying problems with my computer, I ended up losing some files, and wound up keying in this letter no less than four times!

Oh, well: being retired, I have the time to deal with these annoyances. So, on with it!



Sunday, 23 June 1968

Dear Everyone~

It has been a week and a half since I wrote last, but so little has happened that there was no reason to waste paper! Life continues pretty much as it has right along. The curfews are back to 2100 to 0600 in most areas of Saigon, which allows somewhat more movement. But the VC continue to shell the city from time to time. Presumably, Cho Lon and Gia Dinh are now cleaned out, partly because of the big defection of around a hundred and a half of VC who were surrounded there. You all know as much as I do about the Paris “peace” talks, and for that matter, as much as I do about the election campaign at home. I may be the only “hawk” that votes for McCarthy in November (assuming he’s nominated!)—but nothing any of the other candidates has said impresses me at all. The June Playboy interview with Galbraith I find very enlightening: with men like him in the background of politics, it’s hard to see how we’ve managed to get into this mess.

There is nothing new at the job. I was informed last Saturday by the great white papa-san (Dan Smythe) that I am not in the FY1969 manning table: this really doesn’t mean a great deal, except that there is a good likelihood I might be declared surplus (which would be MOST astute of the personnel dept). Rumors continue that Dan is going for at least a leave July 1: HE says he will be back—CMO says he won’t. We’ll see, but I’d bet on Dan anytime against CMO, which is about as totally disorganized an organization as you could ever hope (or have the misfortune) to find.

I spent the better part of today fussing with my Honda—it had begun rather abruptly to run quite badly. It seemed to be a carburetor problem, so I cleaned that thoroughly: no improvement. Then I go indications the battery was weak, so I replaced that: no improvement. Went back to the carburetor, and suddenly found that an extra spring had been added to the throttle arrangement—for reasons unknown—that interfered with proper operation: threw out the spring, and voila! Runs like a Honda ought. Friend and I tried to visit the Botanical Gardens/Zoo in the afternoon, but couldn’t get near the place. It is closed, and under heavy guard, as it offers a nice infiltration route (from across the Saigon River, which it borders). Xin Loi—another time, perhaps!

Some hip-nik burned his draft card in the park in front of the Assembly Bldg a couple of days ago. He was speedily arrested by a heavily armed Sgn Police detail. He was shortly thereafter released. The news papers report that the american Vice Consul had determined that his residence visa was about to expire, and “would not be renewed”.

There is nothing the Vietnamese fear more than a withdrawal of US forces: in the long run, there is probably nothing that would do them more good, however, since it would then be up to them to preserve the country—if enough of them decide it is worth it. The Thieu government is all too ready to “let George (the US) do it”—until we do something they don’t like. Our exclusion of the Sgn government in Paris is seen as a heavy-handed slap in the face, and recent talks about recognizing the NLF is almost more than Thieu can bear. If we keep it up, he may ask us to LEAVE!!!

That does it for the week: Love to all, of course~


The situation in Iraq is redolent with the flavor of that last paragraph, written from Vietnam 40 years ago!

Temple at the Saigon Zoo

I did eventually get into the Saigon Zoo. This temple was part of it, but closed.

Monkey at the Saigon Zoo, 1968

Monkey at the Saigon Zoo, 1968

This might have been a VC monkey! We’ll never know!

Sunday, 7 July 68

Dear Everyone~

Two uneventful weeks have passed since I last wrote. There have been no further rocket attacks on Saigon since 11 June: thank goodness those who suggested this represents a “de-escalation” by the North have been silenced. It is no such thing! It represents intensive efforts by all concerned to sweep the 6-8 mile perimeter of Saigon to destroy all rocket launching sites and caches of rockets. Am impressive number of them were turned up—over thirty in one cache alone, found July 3, all with fuses inserted. It was assumed these were to have been fired as a fourth of July “celebration”. . .

The government asserts that all persons made homeless during the Tet Offensive now have been re-located. So have many—but not all—of the May 5 campaign’s victims.

Dan Smythe ACTUALLY left the country on July 3—but he will be back in two weeks. I spent a Saturday a week ago at CMO trying to locate the bottleneck in the lab program—and uncovered so many that there is really no reason to hope for anything. The entire company seems almost paralyzed right now—everyone is in fear that he might get surplused, and so much time is spent pulling strings and doing all sorts of finagling to avoid getting dumped that no other work gets done at all.

For reasons beyond comprehension, the Qui Nhon Area portion of PA&E’s contract with the [US] government was split off this year and made an entirely separate affair. Because it was put out for bid, the company bid very “tight” in order to keep the contract: but this meant reducing salaries, which they did (illegally)—and promptly lost nearly one third of their people. As usual, the people with any brains at all “pulled the pin” (i.e., quit), while the dead-beats who didn’t realize what was happening stayed on. . .

Now, PA&E’s R&U contract in the remaining areas of VN is a “negotiated” contract: these are the best kind, because they’re not put out for bid, but are simply renewed (with some changes) from year to year as long as performance meets some sort of (usually low) standards. So the contract under which I was hired apparently has been renewed, but the changes are mainly in the manning table (from which my job has been deleted). It still remains to be seen what effect this will have, as the CMO is still snowed under with processing out the QN people. It may well be another month or two before I learn anything. Rumors are legion, of course, but most of them aren’t to be believed. To help keep busy I’ve been helping Personnel out with some of the mounds of paperwork that changing contracts entails. Technically, everyone is terminated and re-hired, which requires the preparation of a supporting document. We have somewhere between 1400 and 1500 Vietnamese employees at LB—and that’s about as close a count as one can ever get from the paper, because there’s a constant turnover.

There’s really not enuf more news to justify another sheet of paper—and it’s late, so I’ll close this and prepare for beddy-byes—and for another dull day. Cheers to all, wherever you are.



Sunday PM, 14 July 1968

Dear all~

A nice cool rain has just stopped falling outside as I begin this letter. This has been (I’m told) a very dry year—usually by this time we should be having rain nearly all day and night. But thus far it has been only one or two short storms each day, and the real drenchers are yet to come, I guess.

The situation in Saigon is tense. There seems to be a good deal of intelligence to support the theory that another attack on Saigon is imminent. There was a short bit of gunplay near here last night, but it turned out to be a group of inebriated Philipino soldiers settling an argument, and had nothing to do with the VC. Similarly, a large fire last night in a powerplant apparently was unrelated to the war. Several days ago, however, an american was killed by “sappers” in Cho Lon, so it is confirmed that there are still terrorists in the city: how many or how well armed is anybody’s guess.

There have been a couple of worthwhile articles in recent magazines that (if you haven’t read them) I recommend. In order of appearance, the Galbraith interview in June Playboy was, I thought, excellent: I marvel that with people of his erudition lurking in the background of politics, we nonetheless manage to get into messes like this one here. Then there is the article (I believe it was in Sat Eve Pest, maybe Look) by Wm. Lederer—the title was something like “The other war in Vietnam”, but I’ve forgotten it exactly. And then there appeared the Fullbright interview—no, article—in the July Playboy. There is a lot of meat in what he says—and the hopeful sign to me is that he is saying it!

The Lederer article is unnerving. Every bit of it—and a whole lot more  is true. Without trying, even someone as ingenuous as I has managed to stumble across many examples of the “smaller potatoes” sort of hanky-panky that goes on over here. But the un-real part of it is that, as Lederer points out several times, the official reason given for condoning corruption here is that “we are guests here, and do not want to ‘offend’ the Vietnamese”. Now, as a policy I think this is admirable enough—if it were actually applied. But instead, it has resulted in our not “offending” only the crooks and profiteers, who constitute a tiny segment of the population, while DEEPLY offending the larger part of the populace who, in the end, suffer inflation and other ills as a direct result of it all. Our policy has resulted in protection for an undesirable element in VN that we OUGHT to be trying to eradicate. Of course, who are we to cast any stones at VN racketeers when most of the training has come from us?

Even worse, the policy of not offending the VNese, fails almost totally to filter down to the rank-and-file population—the average “Nguyens on the street”—who every day are victim to some of the most outrageous behaviour. Unfortunately, our deeply rooted racism, under so strong attacks at home, has been transported here intact. The results are frequently appalling. I suppose it is an impossible task to screen military and civilians over here to determine their suitability to being temporarily transported into an alien culture: there is also almost no attempt to assess the behavior of those who are here, and return those who don’t measure up to some sort of standard. There aren’t any standards, either—unless one considers the largely ignored UCMJ.

Item: a couple of weeks ago, as we were proceeding to Long Binh in our leased Vietnamese bus, some idiot american riding in the back of a jeep tried to force his way past our bus by, first, shouting obscenities at the occupants, and then brandishing his .38 at our driver, who (understandably) nearly dumped us all in the ditch when he ducked. This slob hadn’t reckoned on americans being on that bus, and I expect he was surprised later that day when the MPs picked him up (traced by his vehicle number) with no less than four signed “reports” on the incident. The only logical place for this sort is the front lines: but unless they send him home (which is doubtful)—and heaven knows another trigger-happy nut is just what is needed there—he’ll probably get a reprimand and maybe a pay cut.

Item: last week, one of our VN employees was returning to Saigon after work, riding his motorbike, when he was flipped off into the ditch by a GI driving a 2½T truck. Unlike most GI’s who do this, this one obligingly stopped his machine—and went back to the injured man, whom he threatened shoot, and then left the helpless man as he was and drove away. MPs subsequently got the poor fellow to a hospital (it will cost a small fortune of the US tax dollars to patch him up), but could not get the GI, as the man had not been able to see the vehicle number.

The above are strong examples, repeated daily. Then number of lesser inconsiderateness—simple impoliteness, rudeness, etc., etc.,—couldn’t be calculated, but one has to be blind to fail to see dozens of examples every day.

Rocky has just announced his “four points for peace”—but has not made clear how he intends to secure the cooperation of the NVN and VC in the enterprise. At this juncture, I am much inclined to feel that unless we are willing to make fundamental changes in our modus operandi here, a pullout would really be better: either way (that is, if we do leave, or if we stay under the present circumstances) the local population is going to suffer great hardship. The parallels between French imperialism and american imperialism are so clear that multitudes of people might welcome communism—if only in the feeble hope that it might be different.

Confucius is reputed to have made up the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words: many more than that could well caption the “joke” in July Playboy showing the baby crawling in front of the TV set.

It is curious that the last rocket attack on Saigon coincided exactly with Westmoreland’s departure. His parting words were that there was very little that could be done to stop it. Yet, under Abrahms it has been stopped (perhaps not permanently, though this remains to be seen). An intensive and expensive sweep of the 6-8 mile perimeter around Sgn has netted a prodigious quantity (in excess of 1700) rockets, mortars and similar weapons. Westy’s exit flourish (the rocketing is not militarily significant) was incredulously received here, because it was obvious to the Vietnamese (but apparently not to Westy) that the rocketing was not really a military operation anyhow; rather, it was intended to be a psychologically disruptive maneuver. As such, it was remarkably unsuccessful; there was little panic, no sudden capitulation, no collapse of government. Perhaps the VC gave up the rocketing because it was too expensive in light of the lack of results, along with the pressure imposed by capture of many of their weapons. At any rate, it appears that getting Westy out of the picture was a wise move, as he seemed to have become blinded to some pretty obvious facts.

My trip to and through Cambodia has not been entirely abandoned. I find there is no trouble at all in getting the necessary tourist visa, good for three weeks. A simple form (only ONE copy!), a photo, and a valid passport will get one in less than 24 hours. I am only waiting to see if PA&E won’t make it possible to make it a one-way trip. Intelligence seems to indicate that they will before long. It’s a waiting game, and I may not be able to wait it out, but only time will tell, I guess.

That wraps up the latest report from Vietnam.

Cheers to all~



I’m not getting much feed-back from this blog: perhaps readers are as bored with it as I was with my “job” in Vietnam! Comments are welcome at MYOB@brucebramson.com



Written by Bruce

December 13th, 2009 at 11:07 am

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam

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