A couple separated by war vents fears, frustrations and intense longing in this sometimes banal, sometimes passionate correspondence.
Bill Clark, then a captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces, went off to Vietnam in 1970, leaving his four months-pregnant wife, Donna, behind in Florida. His letters home from his posting as an adviser to a South Vietnamese battalion are full of homesickness, sweltering discomfort and endless boredom punctuated by moments of trauma. (“Oh, well, at least it killed some time,” he remarks after American planes mistakenly bomb his unit.) Donna usually replies with meandering details of her daily life—“I stayed home and washed and set my hair, then went to Burdine’s with Mom to buy Debbie and Steve their birthday gifts and got them another bath towel set apiece!” —but reveals her own keen anxieties over Bill’s safety and her worsening finances as her allotment checks from his Army pay go undelivered. (Their frantic, confused messages about money—necessarily conveyed via erratic, weeks-delayed postal deliveries—make for an inarguable case for the benefits of instant email and satellite communication.) The tension that separation imposes on the newlyweds runs through their exchanges: Bill chides Donna for staying out until four in the morning and mentions a comrade who is divorcing an untrustworthy wife; Donna pointedly passes along warnings about venereal disease among Vietnamese prostitutes. Although the letters focus on personal life, Vietnam-era social turmoil—drug use in the military, race riots, reports of hippies stoning President Nixon—seeps in around the edges. The selection could have profited from editing and, for this chapter that covers the first five months of Bill’s tour, the excision of less urgent missives (“Well, Honey, another dull day”). Still the Clarks’ personalities, typical of the continuing concerns faced by military families, come through vividly. The couple’s strong love and commitment are expressed in lavish pet names (“Dear Dunky Doo-Doo”), in Donna’s frank declarations of desire and in Bill’s constant romantic protestations: “This letter is to inform you that your husband is very much in love with you.”
Despite an abundance of eye-glazing minutiae, a revealing epistolary portrait emerges of life on the battlefield and at home.