Describing his buddy Chip, Tim O’Brien wrote: “he wrote letters to my sister. I wrote letters to his sister…In the bush…nothing kept us part. “Black and White” we were called. In May of 1969, Chip was blown high into a hedge of bamboo. Many pieces. I loved the guy, he loved me. I’m alive. He’s dead. An old story, I guess.”
It was not unusual for half the men in a company to get killed or wounded. One soldier told the Washington Post, “A few months before leaving Vietnam I spent four hours of my life 50 feet from a North Vietnamese machine-gun emplacement…One fellow exposed himself to enemy gunners and drew their fire…Then came his screams…We knew we were watching the man who had given his life for us die.”
Describing a dead friend he found U.S. Senator John Kerry told Atlantic Monthly, “What was left was human and yet it wasn’t—a person that had been only a few moments earlier and that now was a horrible mass of torn flesh and broken bones; bent and bloody, limbs contorted and distorted as they could never be alive.”
Michael Herr wrote in Dispatches : “I met this kid from Miles City, Montana, who read the Stars and Stripes every day, checking the casualty lists to see if by some chance anybody form his home town had been killed. He didn’t even know if there was anyone else from Miles City in Vietnam, but he checked anyway because he knew for sure that if there was someone else and they got killed, he would be all right. “I mean, can you just see *two* guys from a raggedy-ass town like Miles City getting killed in Vietnam?” [Source: Michael Herr, “Dispatches”(1977)]
One captain hardened by years of combat told Tobias that he so many men die he couldn’t keep track. One 18-year-old was killed only after he arrived at the base. “What was I supposed to tell his parents?’ he said. “I hadn’t even met him…Tag’em and bag’em.”
Families of dead GIs received letters from the White House which said their son was “in the prayers of Mrs. Johnson and myself at this time of sadness” and Gen. Westmoreland who promised to “to do our utmost to bring eventual victory so that your son’s sacrifice was not in vain.” They also received check for money recovered from their son’s belonging even if it was less than a dollar.
The body usually showed up about 10 days later with a telegram: “HIS REMAINS WILL BE PREPARED, ENCASED AND SHIPPED AT NO EXPENSE TO YOU ACCOMPANIED BY AN ESCORT TO A FUNERAL HOME OR TO A NATIONAL CEMETERY SELECTED BY YOU. IN ADDITION YOU WILL BE REIMBURSED AN AMOUNT NOT TO EXCEED $300 TOWARD FUNERAL AND INTERNMENT EXPENSES IF INTERNMENT IS IN A PRIVATE CEMETERY.”