Each Day Then 

A Memorial Day keepsake from Saigon

My father, Captain John S. Seeley, was killed in Vietnam about six weeks after writing this letter to my aunt Cynthia. On June 27, 1966, the CH-47 he was co-piloting lost power on takeoff from a confined jungle pickup zone and crashed. He was 34 years old. Our family wanted to share this letter in remembrance of him and in honor of all those who have given their lives in service to our country.

—Mark Seeley,
Boise

 

 

note: A transcipt of the letter can be found below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 16, 1966
Saigon

My Dearest Sister

I am writing to you now because efforts to find a birthday car of late have proved fruitless. I do not want another end of may to pass by without sending you my devotion and love.

I am writing this from a hospital in Saigon. Nothing serious—my legs just gave out and I was exhausted and so I was admitted here for a complete examination. All tests thus far have been negative and so now I am the property of the "Bug Doctor." (----), what a thing to have on my records!

I feel guilty for even being in here—with so many men about me with honest and terribly real reasons for being here. Lying here, looking at the ceiling, I have time to search out many memories and dwell upon them with both fondness—and remorse. I am not in remorse for the life I have lived to date and have the blessed nod of good fortune in having acquired a good woman, better than I deserve—and from our union, two young sons that are the hopes and dreams of my existence.

I think about them often—and the memory of their seeking eyes and the feel of their arms about me is the yeast that sustains my will to survive this sad and brutal war.

I will not expound upon my own individual exploits or acts while under fire because they are, at best, shallow, if not transparent when held against those deeds of these shattered men lying alongside of me. Further, I do not wish my Alice to know of things as they really are with me over here. My letters to her consist in the most part, of discussions of household matters and while they deter her knowledge of my own collision with reality, they are also a tonic to me.

Yet in my observation and discussions here I have discovered a profound thrugh—and I would be remiss if I did not share this with you. This concerns our precious David and his boyhood. If I trespass into the sacred world of your own parental decisions, then please forgive me—but some of my blood runs in david’s being and with or without qualifications—I feel that I own some claim to this wonderful boy.

I recall mentioning to you that I allowed – so some extent, perhaps to excess, the use of war-like toys for my children—explaining it away as saturation, hoping that it was a phase that would eventually pass away. Millions are being made each year over the sale of such toys, something that you and I cannot prevent during our own children’s formative years. Years from now—beyond our horizon, perhaps, the world will have had its fill of torn flesh. But for now, we are bombarded with the manifestations of misery and it contaminates those innocent years of our children.

As a pilot, my sojourns aloft are still rewarding as I seek the cleansing world of elements somewhat in concert with my own chemistry. Yet my tasks over here often require the witnessing of men mangled beyond my will to describe—and the return to earth and its harsh realities has caused me to ponder if there is any sanctuary in this world, void of the hue of red.

These men—boys really, that occupy beds next to my own are all World War II babies and they grew up with mama it seems, so busy were their fathers trying to salvage a life and years robbed them during the war. Also, during their boyhood years, their fathers had their fill of war and toys of violence were not in style. Now, suddenly, they have been thrust into a war without redemption—a conflict that will continue somewhere on the globe for years to come. I discover that the great majority of these men did not play with those toys that you find objectionable and so now they ‘play’ with the real things. All too often, they die without purpose in their own minds. Those who live reveal this. They sacrifice—not for an obscure cause—but for each other. This seems their first chance at this ‘game’—and before they can adjust and place values in their proper perspective, they pay a price for participation.

These observations, Cynthia—are my own observations. I could be totally in error, yet I suspect not.

As for myself—by comparison, I had those toys and grew up playing at war—emulating the Saturday movie heroes—and in the process, placed honor and duty somewhere below my first instinct to survive in any situation. If these are the words of a person somewhat less than a man—then so be it. Color me yellow. My standards of conduct are not in question by my associates and comrades—so alike are our ages and flesh and blood commitments across the ocean. I hope all of the above serves as introduction to what—if I may be allowed, to suggest to you in regards [to] David.

Sis—let him play ‘Bang-bang-your-dead.’ Let him fall to the ground clutching his chest or head. Let him hide behind trees and bushes—and win or lose, do battle against good and evil. Let his own mind seek out those values denied these kids over here. From time to time, he will tire of it, but lessons will be learned, I am sure.

The love and warmth of his home will replace the winning and losing of the conflict of the day. Remember the lullaby that mother used to sing to me? “Little man you’re crying—you’ve had a busy day Jimmy stole your kiddie-car away … The enemy is out of sight Sunday school will teach him that there is a God—and good and evil. My own heart bursts with joy at what my boys discover each Sunday. Perhaps thru them, I can once again believe in a loving God. But for now, I have yet to discover Him in the ablum of my years. I do subscribe to Hell however—not in the hereafter, but right here on earth.

This letter was meant to be a birthday greeting to a woman who is still in my memory—a little blue-eyed, blonde sister—an obligation for me to harbor and protect. As we grew, I failed in that endeavor and can never forgive myself. But if you will accept from me, now, these thoughts over my concern for David and his transition into our tortured world, perhaps I can somehow redeem myself in your eyes.

Sis, look fondly at toys in the driveway and dirty elbows—and books and blocks scattered at random. To me, now, the sight of these things is priceless and are all too soon put away in the closet of our memories. Enjoy each other, each day then, and God Bless and protect all of you.

With love,
John

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