77 Letters by Susan P. Hunter

Susan Hunter’s 77 Letters: Operation Moral Booster: Vietnam (Dakota Publishing, 286 pp. $14.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle) stems from a mission the author’s mother, Joan Hunter, embarked on during the Vietnam War: to write letters to as many troops in Vietnam as she could. She began simply, by writing to a few commanding officers in the First Cavalry Division, enclosing letters that she asked to be distributed to men who weren’t getting any. Her letters, composed on a 1964 IBM electric typewriter, were filled with positive news about her home life with an adoring husband and three toddlers. They brought lots of replies.

As Susan Hunter writes, her mother enlisted Scout troops, students at her children’s school, and teenagers taught by her husband at a Boston high school to participate in her letter-writing campaign based at her home in Scituate, Mass.

A reply from career Army Sgt. Robert Johnson caught Joan Hunter’s eye. Soon, they were corresponding regularly, the beginning of a connection that would continue for many years. Their “conversations” dealt with child-rearing, combat injuries—Bob Johnson received four Purple Hearts during his four tours of duty—interracial marriage, poetry, the visual arts, and good-natured maternal counseling. Johnson visited the Hunters during one of his stateside leaves.

The book came about after Susan Hunter found a box in the corner of the attic filled with the 77 letters that her mother and Bob Johnson wrote, along with photos, drawings, and newspaper clippings. When she began reading the letters to her mother, who was suffering from dementia, they proved to be therapeutic.

The letters trace Joan Hunter and Bob Johnson’s relationship through ups and downs in the lives of both. After they finished sharing the letters, Susan Hunter began an Internet search for Johnson. She made contact with his daughter, which opened a new chapter in the story.

77 Letters is a nice read from a first-time author.

The author’s website is susanhunterbooks.com

Tom Werzyn

Calm Frenzy by Loring M. Bailey, Jr.

 

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Deploring the deep-seated dependency of Vietnamese on American aid, Loring M. Bailey Jr. wrote: “I’m enough of a youthful socialist to admit that not everybody can pull themselves up two hundred years by the bootstraps, but there’s such a thing as burdensome assistance. Enough. As the oriental sun sets gently over the snipers and touches its last golden rays to the olive Claymore mines, we bid adieu to Vietnam, land of mystery and mangled civilians.”

A booby trap killed Bailey on March 15, 1970, five months after he arrived in Vietnam at LZ Liz, near Chu Lai, and joined the Americal Division. Spec 4 Bailey had been a radio-telephone operator for both his platoon leader and company commander during what was to be an eight-month tour to finish his enlistment. Under the battalion’s policy, companies spent three weeks in the field and then one week at Liz.

Loring “Ring” Bailey died at the age of twenty-four, but his spirit lives on in Calm Frenzy: One Man’s Vietnam War (Red Barn Books, 175 pp., $15.95, paper). The book is a collection of letters that Bailey wrote to his wife, parents, and three best friends. Chip Lamb adapted the letters into a stage play before they became the basis for this book.

Bailey was a literary magician—a man who plucked the right words from thin air at exactly the right moment, often as a grunt in mud and rain. His sense of humor was enviable. For example:

“Just a dreary way to spend a hot, moist night, sitting, listening to your rifle rust.”

“I have a new fantasy—I pretend that I’m a Belgian mercenary and this isn’t my war, I just work here.”

After he adopted a duckling: “When he made his pitiful little squeaks, I agreed with him.”

To his wife, Maris: “You’re  nice to love and hard to be away from, better than Dinky Toys and bigger. You must be real.”

Through Bailey’s eyes, we see a Vietnam War in which the American quest was futile, yet he persevered. He found a close parallel between the Americans in Vietnam and the British in the Revolutionary War. To wit: “We’re really having asses made of ourselves and paying well to have it done.”

Bailey’s reflections on his activities contained a philosophical tone mixed with touches of poetry and surrealism. His crisply written, sometimes convoluted, scenarios challenge a reader’s imagination and lead to unexpected conclusions.

He seldom spoke directly of combat. His greatest concern was for civilian casualties, particularly women and children. Yet Bailey foreshadowed his own death by noting: “Three of our third platoon people were killed by a booby trap while setting up for an ambush; one lived nearly a whole, precious, peaceful day, afterwards.” And soon thereafter: “More booby traps and such in evidence now.”

The book provides no account of Bailey’s death.

When I turned the final page, I grew teary eyed. I believe Ring Bailey would agree that he qualified as a poster boy for “The Waste of War.” He died just when he was beginning to live—like all the other young KIAs of Nam.

The author’s website is www.calmfrenzy.com/book.html

—Henry Zeybel