There were no smiles at the airport. In fact, there were few words. Everyone was too depressed. My parents had ordered trays of cold cuts and salads for a lunch buffet at their house in Connecticut for all of us after Charley left. It never happened.
Charley said he hardly moved from his seat for six hours to the west coast. He couldn't focus to read. During the second leg of the trip to Vietnam, meals arrived every four hours. Noticing that Charley was refusing all his meals, the master sergeant next to him asked, "Your first tour over there, Lieutenant?"
"Yeah," Charley said.
"This is my second." The stripes up and down his sleeve and colorful bars on his chest confirmed he'd seen combat. "You going to eat your meal?"
"Probably not, Sergeant."
"Mind if I have it?"
Thereafter, every meal Charley passed up the sergeant gobbled down.
We communicated by writing letters every day, which were sent without postage to an APO number overseas. In addition, we recorded cassette tapes, since we each had a recorder. I sent my tapes to our pilot friends, who carried them on their planes, along with care packages, to Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
A third method of communication was by satellite phone. We'd designate a date and time for the phone call, allowing for the fact Charley was eleven hours ahead of East Coast Daylight Saving time. It was usually around midnight for me when the call came through. He would stand in line at the USO for the phone, since there was no method to communicate like Skype (no personal computers) or cell phones. When the call went through, the conversation was bounced off satellites by ham operators. It went something like this:
"Hi, honey, how are you? Over."
"I'm great and it's wonderful to hear your voice! How are you? Over."
"I'm OK. It's the end of rainy season here, so the monsoons are less frequent. Still 100 degrees, though. Over."
"We've got a chill in the air and the leaves are starting to turn. Grad school is keeping me busy. Over."
It was real personal!???! If the conversation went beyond five minutes, those waiting behind Charley would get all over him. "Enough, Lieutenant! How 'bout us?" A bouncer actually monitored the length of the calls. Eventually we gave up on them altogether.
Aside from a serviceman's date of return, the most anticipated day of the year was when a week's R&R (rest and recuperation) began outside Vietnam. Six months into his tour, I met Charley in Oahu, Hawaii.
I made my plane reservations and booked a room at the Ilikai Hotel (famous from the opening shots of "Hawaii Five-0"). Charley's plane was supposed to arrive in the morning, so I arrived the evening before. I put my hair in curlers and smeared a mud mask over my face so it would be clean and smooth the next morning. Then I went to bed.
Around 4:00 a.m., there was a knock on the door. "Who is it?" I said.
"It's me, honey! Open up!"
I pulled a few curlers from my head but the mud mask remained, cracking during the kissing. So much for beauty treatments! While I washed my face, Charley told me, "I saw the sunrise twice - once in Saigon and once over the Pacific. I actually got here in negative hours by crossing the international date line.
|Honolulu, April '67|
The rest of the week was pure heaven.