October 31, 1966
Dong Ha, South Viet Nam--Sometimes the things Marines think up to bedevil one another take on the complexities of a practical joke.
Very soon, wives or mothers and fathers of Marines returning from their tours of duty here are going to receive a very official looking letter, written by a few Marine pranksters, that momentarily, will throw them into a panic.
The letterhead looks very official--"U.S. Naval Medical Center, Da Nang, Republic of Viet Nam." But there is no Naval Medical Center at Da Nang.
The letter warns the unsuspecting Marine's family that he may (1) scorn civilian dress and walk around most of the time semi-nude and/or (2) insist on building a machine gun bunker in the front yard.
The letter also warns that the returning Marine may recruit all the young men in the neighborhood into a series of athletic events such as—foxhole digging, sand bag filling, night patrols, stealing strategic material from local businesses, practice loading bombs into the family car, and setting up perimeter patrols for the entire neighborhood.
The letter asks that the family and loved ones be patient with the Marine who wants to walk around all the time with his pistol and rifle, and to be tolerant if he tries to buy everything at less than half the asking price.
It also cautions the family not to get upset when the ex-Marine accuses the grocer of being a thief and refuses to enter any business place that doesn't have its windows protected by steel mesh. It will also be common for the ex-Marines to strain everything they drink to make sure they don't swallow broken glass.
Families are warned to be particularly careful when the returning Marine is in the company of young women. The only American girls he may have seen were the young children of servicemen or were married to personnel who outranked him. Family members are urged to take advantage of the ex-Marine's momentary shock and quickly move the young ladies out of his reach.
Other sights which may send the ex-Marine into shock are: people dancing, television, and the foamy head on a cold beer.
In a relatively short time, the letter advises the Marine's profanity will decrease enough to permit him to associate with mixed groups, and soon after, he will speak English as well as most Americans.
Two habits, however, may be hard to break, the letter warns--The returnee may complain about sleeping in a room and may refuse to go to sleep anywhere without his mosquito net.
The Marine authors of the prank letter list a number of definite don'ts for the serviceman's family to follow:
Don't mention anything about a picnic, going to the beach, or taking an overnight camping trip.
Don't serve canned foods, powdered milk, instant coffee, hot dogs, chili, rice, or any dehydrated potatoes or eggs. Doing so could trigger a wild rage.
The letter cautions the ex-Marine's family and friends to refrain from any mention of exotic Asia. (He's lived through too many monsoons, typhoons, and 135 degree temperatures to believe Asia is exotic.)
Though the Marines who drafted the letter did it for a joke, the letter contains sharp rings of truth. The battle hardened men who have served here will have to adjust to civilian life. The civilians won't adjust to them.
Though these men returning from battle may act a little different, they are still Americans. Americans who made an adjustment to war, death, and the loss of many close buddies...
They did not make the adjustment overnight to the misery and hardships of war, and we can't expect them to make immediate adjustments to civilian life.
It's going to take a lot of patience-ours and theirs.