A Three Letter Day

Arizona
Looking South – “Arizona Territory”

January 22, 1968

The daily routine of the Vietnam War was a mental adjustment from the normal five or six day work week. There were no days off; the cooks worked about 15 hours a day with a 2-hour break (usually I took a nap) in the afternoon. Sleep was almost always interrupted by fire missions or sporadic incoming mortar fire. There were moments when it felt like I was in a fight for my sanity. After ten days I was exhausted so I decided to pace myself and work smarter.

The area south of the river was referred to as “Arizona Territory.” The name was from Operation Arizona fought during May-June 1967. It was designated as a “Free Fire Zone” (meaning everyone in Arizona was supposed to be a Viet Cong or NVA), but that didn’t explain the women and kids living in the villages or the farmers in the rice paddies.

Below us, adjacent to the hill, were newly-planted rice fields flooded from the monsoon season which was ending. The families lived in thatched huts with hard-packed dirt floors and slept on woven rice mats. Cooking was done in earth ovens. Meals were wrapped in broad thick banana leaves, covered with hot rocks and steamed. There was a lot of vegetation in these small hamlets, usually a mixture of banana and breadfruit trees with mangos and plots of maize. Water came from wells (drilled by the French), and they were lined with concrete culverts.

“Mail Call” and my name was called three times (three letter day). I was elated with the two letters from Jenny and one from my family. Reading the letters from home was like meditation, relaxing the tension and lowering the stress level. After checking dates on all the letters, it was clear that a letter took five days each way to correspond.

Next Edition: Stewart Rotates to CONUS

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