My Darling Louisa,
I am in Saigon in a hospital, and there is a bloody war going on right up the street. Now to begin at the beginning—if I am intelligible.
I was ordered back to Saigon because word got out that yours truly was taking horrible risks, and there were concerns that Kon Tum was about to be overrun. Overall, our security was in question when one of our IVS team was shot and killed by the Viet Cong—or ARVN?10 Our efforts to be neutral as a team can make us unpopular with everyone.
So, about a week ago, I drove my trusty Scout onto the back of army transport plane (a Caribou flown by Australians fearlessly crazy) from Kon Tum and flew with it to Tan Son Nhut in Saigon. And then I drove the Scout to IVS headquarters. Fastest time ever between those two destinations! Sometime in the next couple of days…I remember feeling quite unwell. I remember looking down as I urinated, noticing the pain and being quite concerned when my urine was iridescent green. Not good.
I remember being taken to a French hospital accompanied by IVS friends and staff to be admitted. I remember feeling very, very unwell. I lost track of time. I remember standing naked in a toilet closet off main hall…no door…fluids coming out of all orifices at once…including eyes and ears. I cannot remember the misery I felt. I was in isolation. Probable diagnosis: typhoid fever. Turns out that wise old French doctor, having seen it a lot, got it right enough and saved my life. But it was late to treat, so the disease advanced…to suffer.
I remember being told that evening, on what turned out to be the eve of Tet ‘68, that I might not make it to morning and to say my prayers. No priest. Sometime in the night, I remember a loud and sustained popping noise in background…I did not understand what was happening (Tet is celebrated with millions of firecrackers). Whether fever, dream, or reality, I do not know…in the middle of the night, I saw a soldier with a gun in darkened doorway, pointing it at me. I could see his toothy mouth in the dim light as he turned away. Perhaps seeing my skeleton so near to death, he decided not to waste a bullet on me. God’s mercy!
I was awakened at dawn by those all too familiar sounds of war: mortar and machine gun not far away. A lot. Seemed both friendly and hostile. I was aware immediately that I was going to live…my fever broke. I turned a corner in the night. Those of us deeply sick know that feeling of a corner turned. Still half-asleep, half-drugged, and believing I was in Kon Tum, I look out my window. In the empty street below, a single NVA soldier was walking down the street. I thought that odd. I can still see the helmet, tan shorts, and tall boots and gun. I startled awake to run and awoke Joan. I ran into the edge of half-opened door and got some sense.
I have heard a lot of rumors about what’s going on, but I know no reliable source here—you may know more than me.
I am in bad shape.
Naturally, I haven’t gotten mail from you in ages, so I hope you are well. I do recall in one card, something about a card “to immortalize me.” Time to rest again.
* * *
Same letter, February 2, at a hotel in downtown Saigon:
Hi again, by now you well know the seriousness of the situation here. I am in the middle of it all.
On the morning of the first, I was discharged from the French hospital. The place was full of people seriously injured by the war. I grabbed a three-wheel taxi to the IVS house only to find it abandoned and with unmistakable evidence of battle zone damage. So, my driver, dodging roadblocks, snipers, and battle zones, brought me to the temporary IVS headquarters, a large hotel downtown.
As I begin to feel better, I become more conscious of what’s going on. Kon Tum has been overrun, which comes as little surprise, except that I now wish I knew who is dead and alive.
No mail is going out these days, so you probably figured out that I have been in Kon Tum and know it was overrun and wondering my fate. I don’t know how many days I will be here. It’s amazing to see the streets of Saigon vacant during the day. There still is a lot of bombing, and Radio America tells we are winning the war. That’s good, but we are still locked up in this bloody hotel and we are running out of food.
God, I would be glad to hear from you.
I love you,
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