A letter from Vietnam, Tuesday, 23 November 1971

I’ve been meaning to transcribe this letter for a couple of months and I’m finally making the time.  This letter was discovered quite by accident while we were digging around in an old folder and quite frankly I don’t even remember writing it or many details of my workaday world while I was stationed in Vietnam (Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon.)

John in Vietnam - standing in front of my locker

John in Vietnam - standing in front of my locker

While I was trained by the US Air Force to be a telephone technician (and other communications systems), my specialty was being performed by civilian contractors at Tan Son Nhut so I was assigned to the maintenance control center of our communications squadron.  In the letter I describe my job in more detail.  The Dr. and Mrs Nowlin to whom I addressed the letter were my future father and mother-in-law.  Dr. Nowlin was a general practitioner medical doctor in the small Texas panhandle town of Littlefield.  Sadly, both are now deceased.

Take a trip with me now back to Vietnam during the war…

Tuesday 23 November, 1971

Dear Dr. & Mrs. Nowlin,

I am sorry that I have not written sooner, but they keep me pretty busy here.  Thank you very much for the kindness you showed me and thanks for my room at the Cross Country! (they put me up in a motel room before I left for overseas)  That bed was mighty soft!

As I might have guessed, I’m not doing any telephone work here!  It seems that I am destined to do paper-work.  My job will be to monitor radio & weather & special circuits – not monitoring aurally, but going into action if one gets reported out.  Then I have to fill out a card on it and locate the proper person to fix it.  These circuits also include the Tacan, ILS, VOR, marker beacons, Rapcon, control tower, and two computers.  We handle navaids (aircraft navigational aids) for three bases in the area.  As soon as I get trained, they want me to be the day shift supervisor for about five or six people.

Jane might have told you that I don’t expect to be here until August – I have a chance to get discharged in March, but I’m not going to hold my breath.  At any rate, it looks like I should gone (sic) at least by June.  (I did get an early discharge in late February – about six months before my four year enlistment was up)

I bought a movie camera that uses Super 8 cartridges; I have taken 50 feet (1 cartridge)  and sent it to Kodak in Dallas for processing.  I put your address on the mailer – so I hope that it gets to you by Thanksgiving so Jane can see the film also. (Jane was a student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time) One thing I worried about: do they return it processed in the cartridge?  I have never seen a cartridge projector.  I wanted to buy a cartridge projector and send it to Jane; all they have here are the regular projectors.

Enclosed are a few pictures I took recently; the quality isn’t the greatest but I’m learning.  (I developed and printed my own black and white film in the base hobby photo lab and the pictures I sent them were pretty bad and uninteresting!)

Oh, I found out yesterday my schedule for December – it seems that I work Christmas day, New Year’s day & eve, and I forgot to see if I’m working on my birthday – probably so!  It looks like I don’t get many Sundays off, either.  I work three days on (7 am to 7 pm) and one day off.  I don’t feel too bad about that, it could be much worse.

I’d better close and get this in the mail.  Again, thanks for everything, you are like a second family to me!

Love John


Little did I realize the job the Air Force trained me for would be the career path that would follow me for all of my employed life.  In fact the job I performed in Vietnam was almost exactly like one job I had at the old Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in downtown Austin.

So I returned home from Vietnam, married Jane, and lived happily ever-after.  May God bless those who have served our country or are now serving in the armed forces.  Freedom has a cost.