As regular readers of my blog know, my father, Hank Allison, died very suddenly in 2008. He was only 64 years old.
In the mid-sixties, before he met and married my mother in 1966, a very young Hank served a combat tour in Vietnam as a draftee. During his time in Vietnam, my father wrote dozens and dozens of letters both to his mother, and also to his only sibling, his older sister Judy and her husband Bert, all back home in Southern California. Most of these letters were saved, and I’m going to be sharing them one at a time here on my blog. Each one was typed out on his classic Underwood typewriter, and then signed by hand.
Some are the letters are extremely mundane, like this first one, while others are quite profound. I am going to publish all of them, one at a time, although they aren’t necessarily in order (for example, this first one is dated near the end of his Vietnam service, while others I’ll publish are actually dated earlier.)
My father left for Vietnam a working class boy attending community college while trying to figure out what to do with his life. While in Vietnam, he somehow talked his way into the Army’s internal journalism corp, turning himself into a real reporter during his time there by sheer force of talent and determination, creating a career for himself that would lead to meeting my mother, and that would define the rest of his life.
I could tell you much more about my father, his history, and the complicated feelings he struggled with for the rest of his life about his Vietnam experiences, but instead, I am going to let his letters tell the story.
Hank Allison in Vietnam, 1965
January 1, 1965
And so begins the new year. I can hardly believe that all I have left to serve is the amount of time I looked at on my calendar many months ago and said, “Man, when I get that short, I’m not even going to worry.”
Today I went out and dug up three features and called them into the office in An Khe. In case you haven’t been reading Mother’s letters, I am in Pleiku. I guess that I’m supposed to answer questions in letters, but I haven’t seen any mail now in about five days. It’s supposed to come tomorrow with some guy coming here.
I’m also supposed to get some new clothes. The ones I am wearing are beginning to develop an aroma.
I ran into two guys from my basic training company up here and learned that two more are warrant officers flying choppers at Camp Holloway with the 52nd Aviation Battalion.
I have a colossal case of chapped lips and am going to have to get something from the dispensary tomorrow. They have chapstick in the PX.
I fully expected some trouble last night, but there wasn’t any. That surprised me very much. Ken told me on the phone today that a couple of guys from our company in An Khe got very drunk last night on New Year’s Eve and shot the place up.
Those people shouldn’t even have access to rifles. They should keep them in a central location with a guard and the men could get them fast enough if they needed them. Those people do nothing but sit in their compant (sic) with their typewriters and once in a while go to An Khe. I don’t think most of them even know there’s a war going on. I’d like to see them on patrol or operation. But then again, I wouldn’t.
Mom said you sent a letter I wrote you to the LA Times. I wish you would ask me before you do that, and I hope it wasn’t that letter from Berkely because according to the Army, that wasn’t supposed to be shown to anyone.
Our 3rd Brigade came up here today and will probably launch another operation in the la Drang area in the next few days. Nothing could suit me better. No one bothers me and I can do my work.
Tomorrow I’m going to see my buddy in the 9th Cav and see if I can go on recon with their helicopters over the area they are sizing up for attack. I think it would make a good story to just write what they do. They are a real bunch of hot rods and fly at ground level. One AP correspondent who flew with them called it an “exercise in sustained terror.”
Well, that be about it. I’ll drop another line in a few days and let you know what’s new and also answer your letters if they get to me.
See you in 135 days.
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