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War Stories

Alone Again - 1967-68

by Ginnie Fleming (Tom's wife)

A Centuar wife tells us what it was like back in the States with husband at war

Ginnie The impact of my husband’s first tour in Vietnam began on our ship to Germany July of 1965. We left Brooklyn Army Terminal.

On 6 July, on 5 July President Johnson announced he was sending the 1st Cavalry Division to Vietnam. We knew that all available Army Aviators would be diverted to Vietnam.

There was one other Army Aviator on the ship and we were both expecting to be pulled off and have our orders changed. We sailed with the ship.

When we arrived at our new duty station on Friday our sponsor told us that all but five of the thirty assigned aviators were alerted on Thursday to leave on Tuesday with orders to Vietnam. In the ensuing months of 1965 one by one of the officers in the squadron left.

USAUR announced their policy that aviators would leave in the order that they arrived, last in last out. The two of us on the good ship USNS Darby were the last two aviators arrive. In April of 1966 our squadron commander went to Department of the Army and talked to Armor Branch about the dire personnel strength of the 3rd Squadron, 12th Cav and struck a deal to leave Tom in command of D Troop (Air) for six months. This gave us some certainty. Tom's orders came through for us to leave on 8 December with 60 days leave in route to be assigned to the 25th Infantry Division.

Our next big hurdle was to find a place for me and the two boys to live. Tom was in Korea 1961-62 and I stayed with my parents in our home town, Leonia, NJ. This time I had two young boys and a dog and I knew it wasn't going to work out living with them. Both Tom and I grew up in the little one square mile 6000 person town and so it was desirable to find a place in Leonia. We spent most of our leave searching for a place. We got one with 10 days to spare which just happened to be a half mile walk to both parents’ houses.

Tom left on February 7 and no sooner than he left for than it started to snow. It hadn’t snowed in Leonia all winter to date, but now it snowed for over 30 days almost every day. The house we rented had a 100 foot driveway and I did most of the shoveling. My brother helped once.

Our oldest son had started 1st grade in Germany. We enrolled him in the elementary school that Tom went to as a young boy and wouldn't you know it he ended up with the same teacher. Sounds good, but she was an antiwar activist and blamed the war and the fact that my husband was a professional soldier on everything that he did wrong.

Our youngest son enrolled in a nursery school at Tom's church and this worked out well. I was blessed with both parents living nearby and willing to help when called on. Having grown up in town I had high school friend with whom I could socialize with, except they all had husbands and young families which made the absence of my husband more difficult.

Our beagle was not fond of young children other than ours and he nipped one of the neighbor kids who was taunting him. I did all of the apologies and kind of forgot about it. A few days later an official car pulled up to the house and a guy in uniform got out. The arrival of an official car and a uniformed officer frightened me for irrationally all I could think of was this was the dreaded notice. It was just the animal control officer coming to inform me that my dog had bit the child next door and was now under quarantine.

My next problem came when I got a notice from our bank, The Fort Knox National Bank informing me that I couldn't write any more checks because our direct deposit had stopped and we had insufficient funds. I called the bank and they said they would cover my checks until I got the matter resolved. I called finance and they told me that my husband was no longer in the Army. I contacted Tom in Vietnam and he ultimately did get it straightened out. Our local bank that Tom and his family had done business with all of their lives would not cash a check for me. To get cash I had to write a check to my mother and get cash from her. This was all before the days of credit cards.

Occasionally Tom was able to get through the MARS system and talk to all of us. We all got proficient in saying "I love you over". We both wrote back and forth every day. Tom had a few periods when every day correspondence was impossible.

Tom bought two tape recorders and sent one to me. We were able to send tapes back and forth which helped a lot especially for the growing young boys to hear their dad’s voice. (see Audio Tapes Home).

The house we lived in had just been renovated, but was still an old house. Dirt floor basement with no 220v electricity, so no dryer. When we all got the flu I had to have my mother come and take all the pukey wash to her house and wash and dry it.

We were trying to save as much as we could because our future was uncertain. I did my food shopping at the Governor's Island Commissary until I got a ticket coming off the ferry for going 15 miles an hour in a 10 mile a hour zone down the ramp. I was suspended from driving on Fort Jay for 30 days. After that incident I found it more convenient to go to West Point for my shopping and medical (remember this was before Tricare). West Point was about 45 miles a way.

Tom's DEROS was 8 February. On the 30th of January I got a MARS call from Tom telling me he was ok, not to worry about the news from Vietnam.

The whole year I did not watch the news. We only had one TV and I didn't think the boys needed to be seeing what was going on in the war. About the 12th of February and no husband at my door I started to get nervous. My mother and father took me to dinner because they knew I was a mess. My mother in law was visiting me on the next day when an OD car pulled up and a uniformed man came to the door. My heart almost stopped it was a Western Union Telegraph man. He handed me the telegram and I opened it and read “ I am in the Philippines everything is fine except my morals". The telegram clerk misspelled moral. I still have the telegram in my "Trash and Treasures".

It was a long lonely year.