From the Archives: “Letters from a Dead GI”

Photo by Thom Lafferty.

In January 1969, as President Nixon took office and opposition to the Vietnam War continued to grow, Washingtonian featured a series of letters from Mike Ransom, a 23-year-old second lieutenant in the Army who had been killed the previous May. The letters, written to family and friends, included observations and requests ranging from the philosophical to the mundane: He was ready for the war to end, and for a copy of Newsweek to come in the mail.

“I urge every American to read the letters of this dead GI,” Senator George McGovern would say, in an address to the Senate a month after the story came out. “The loss of this young man so filled with the idealism and the hopes and eagerness of youth at its best underscores the unreasonable human cost contained in the statistics–30,000 dead Americans.”

In his first letter, Mike had written, “Yes, I am scared. But I think it’s more of the unknown than of bullets. I expect to learn a lot during the next year; I’m not sure what it’ll be, but I’ll learn a lot.” He was killed two months later, and would have turned 70 last fall.

Robert Ransom, Jr. was born on October 2, 1944, in Bronxville, New York, the first of six sons. Mike, as he came to be called, grew up handsome and lika­ble. He played on the Bronxville High soccer team, sang a leading role in Kiss Me Kate, was literary ed­itor of the yearbook, and president of the Reformed Church Youth Fellowship Group. He went to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and then joined the Army as a second lieutenant. On March 8, 1968, he arrived in Vietnam, worried about combat, concern­ed about his brothers’ plights in school, and about his bank balance. He died painfully on May 11, 1968, leaving family, friends, and a powerful, though an unintended document on war.

Greetings from Cam Ranh Bay. My big news is that I have been diverted from the 1st Cav. I am now headed for Chu Lai, H.Q. of the Americal Division about eighty miles south of the DMZ. I have no real emotion yet regarding the change, mainly because I know almost nothing about the Americal except that its patch is not as good-looking as the Cav’s. I do know that it is sort of a hybrid division made up of random, unassigned brigades. My only disappointment at my change is that from my group at Jungle School which traveled here intact I am the only one sent to the Americal. We were all originally scheduled for the 1st Cav., but all the rest were sent to the 25th Inf. in and around Saigon. I do not know why I was singled out because I have neither special quali­fications nor restrictions nor am I numerically or alphabeti­cally worthy of individual selection. So, who knows? I am particularly sad to be separated from Vince Santurbane who, you know, was one of my Tacoma roommates. I’m really sorry that we’re separating.

While still quite separate and secure, due to processing, from all the fighting here one still knows that there’s a war going on. From our billets we could hear machine gun and mortar fire from the perimeter two or three miles away. We could also see illuminating flares in the sky to light up the battlefield. Yes, I am scared. But I think it’s more of the unknown than of bullets. I expect to learn a lot during the next year; I’m not sure what it’ll be, but I’ll learn a lot.

I am now in flight to Chu Lai, which is about an hour by air from Cam Ranh. I am in a C-130 transport plane sitting on my duffel bag with about thirty others. All are low en­listed men except for a Signal Corps Major, a chaplain Lt. Col., and me. I hope we don’t crash somewhere out in the boonies because only two men here have weapons and, being Infantry, I’ll probably have to take charge and engineer the exfiltration. Not the best crew for one’s first command. Daydreaming!

So long for now.
All love to all, MIKE

16 March

Dear Mom and Dad,

A big hello from sunny Chu Lai and the Americal Division. I am now undergoing a week of final in-country training prior to being assigned to my unit.

Chu Lai is situated on the South China Sea about 200 miles south of DMZ with our camp being right on the beach. I am told that the monsoon season is in its final stages and that we’ll be moving into the hot dry season. This is good be­cause the rice paddies dry up and we won’t have to hump through endless swamps. But the temp reportedly rises as high as 130 degrees at its peak.

With regard to finances, I sent $400 to my checking ac­count and I set up an allotment of $250 per month which will become effective at the end of April. In addition, you will be receiving a $25 savings bond each month. I would appreciate it if you would open a savings account at FNCB in Mom’s and my name and deposit $150 a month in it out of the $250 that will be coming in to the checking account. I have been advised not to make deposits in the 10 percent savings program for Gl’s here, because it’s virtually impossible to get it out on short notice, such as R&R, etc.

I am, in the same mail, sending a letter to Robert Komer, the Hamiltons’ friend in charge of the pacification efforts here, in the hopes of getting a job on his staff. I am really getting quite scared about being a platoon leader and so this is a last-ditch effort to avoid it.

I will say so long for now. I can’t wait ’til I have a perma­nent address so I can start receiving mail. I miss you all very much and can’t wait ’til I’m settled enough to hear from you.

All love, MIKE

Dear Boob,

…the difference between here in Qui Nhon (pronounced Quinyon) and Chu Lai is incredible. In Chu Lai, I slept on a bare cot in a field tent in the sand dunes; here I’m in an old French villa in a bed with sheets. In Chu Lai, the latrines are just outhouses and you can get a cold water shower only every three days. Here there are private bath­rooms with hot showers. In Chu Lai, the officers’ club is a grass shack that serves warm beer. In Qui Nhon, I have a choice of three permanent clubs, can get anything I want to eat or drink, can see floor shows every night, etc. It’s a veritable paradise here, compared to Chu Lai. But don’t get me wrong, I’d still rather be in Seattle or New York or Bos­ton–it’s not that great! I also think I may be really spoiling myself for what is ahead in the next few months, but what the hell!

I can’t tell you how great those last three days in Seattle were for me. As I’ve said before, the Skubis have become a second family for me and I feel both honored and extremely grateful to be so accepted. I’ve unfortunately developed some nostalgic feelings for Laurelhurst, the U. District, and most of all Whidby Island with Fort Casey and Sunlight Beach, so much so that I yearn to return there as much as home. Having another place that I yearn for just adds a little more to the pain of leaving and being away. Besides, I miss you the higher the much.

All love, MIKE

P.S. I still really crave your mother, so give her a big Hi!

P.P.S. I got all my hair cut off the day I arrived in VN so I’ll send you some pictures. I’m sure you can’t wait to run off showing the great pix of your boyfriend in the Army.

27 March

Dear Mom and Dad,

Would you believe I am now officially assigned to a unit? It’s taken so long that it’s quite a relief.

After I left Qui Nhon last Friday, I went back up to Chu Lai to finish up my training, which ended Sunday. On Mon­day, I flew down to Duc Pho or LZ (landing zone) Bronco, the base camp of the 11th Brigade. From there I was assigned down to the 4th of the 3rd, “The Old Guard.” This battalion has its headquarters here at Duc Pho, but its AO (area of operations) is back about five miles south of Chu Lai. Therefore all logistics are handled out of Chu Lai.

I am told that our AO is quite a good one. There is almost no contact with Charlie and what little there is rarely turns into much of a fight because he runs away. The principal danger here is from mines and booby traps, which account for about 75 percent of all casualties. The enemy here is mostly VC guerrillas, with a few hardcore VC. To my knowledge, there has been no contact at all with the North Vietnamese. From the people I’ve talked to over here I’ve come up with some new ideas on the war here. For the most part, no­body is particularly wild with patriotic feeling for the war. There are of course those who just get a real charge out of killing people. One Lieutenant I talked to said what a kick it had been to roll a gook one hundred yards down the beach with his machine gun. But most people generate their enthusiasm for two reasons: One is self-preservation–if I don’t shoot him, he’ll eventually shoot me–and the other is revenge. It’s apparently quite something to see a good friend blown apart by a VC booby trap and you want to retaliate in kind.

While I am able to read Stars and Stripes and listen to AFVN radio newscasts, I still feel very cut off from the world outside of VN. I would love it dearly if you would subscribe to Newsweek for me. Also, what do you think of Bobby for President? What about Westmoreland’s new job? What does everything mean?

I now have one last editorial comment about the war and then I’ll sign off. I am extremely impressed by almost every report I’ve heard about the enemy I am about to go and fight. He is a master of guerrilla warfare and is holding his own rather nicely with what should be the strongest military power in the world. But it is mostly his perseverance that amazes me. He works so hard and has been doing so for so long. You’ve heard of his tunneling capability? A captured VC said that in coming from North Vietnam down to Saigon, he walked over 200 miles completely underground. Anyone who would dig a 200-mile tunnel and who would still do it after being at war for some thirty years must be right!

All love, MIKE

3 April

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, your eldest is now a combat leader. So far I haven’t even fired a shot, nor have I been under any sort of fire. Our company is currently involved in an operation to prevent the local rice harvest from falling into VC hands. Our tactic is to remain in a company base during the day, since it is too hot for any long, arduous movement. At night each platoon sends out two or three squad-size ambush patrols.

Two days ago we went on a heliborne combat assault. Our mission was to cordon a village that was suspected of having a platoon of VC hidden in it. It was an extremely well­ executed mission. We were air-lifted out of our defensive position and then were dropped in around the village about fifteen miles south. Once we were in position a group of Vietnamese Popular Forces moved in through our lines search­ing the village. It was an all-day operation that netted one VC killed, six captured, and three weapons captured. It is in operations like this that we hurt the VC most. As you know, the local VC are terribly underequipped. So when we capture two or three weapons we put ten or fifteen enemy out of commission, at least for a while. At the end of the day we were again helilifted back to our company base. It was basically a simple school problem, but for me, since it was really the first operation I had been on, it was quite exciting.

Our primary danger here though is not Charlie himself, but the mines and booby traps he sets. The first night I spent in the field an ambush patrol from the first platoon had three men wounded when they set off a booby-trap grenade. This morning, the second platoon took fourteen casualties, including one killed, when they set off two mines while on a road-clearing mission. So far, my platoon, the 3rd, hasn’t had any trouble, but these booby traps are so well hidden that no matter how good you are, they’ll get you.

I heard Johnson’s speech on AFVN Radio last night and think it to be the best one of his career. I am heartened by his bombing reduction and pray as does everyone else here that Hanoi will respond. What do you make of it? Also, how abou this not running for President? I was beginning to think that the only way for this war to end was to have Johnson reelected in November. This I feel would cause Hanoi to back down to a show of American popular support for the war. Please comment.

Things aren’t all bad–I’ve got a really good company commander and a good platoon sergeant. In my job these are the most important people in the world to me. Also on the bright side, I’m getting the best suntan I’ve ever had.

New pen, All love, MIKE

Dear Mom and Dad,

I just got my first letter from you plus the clippings on Johnson and my pictures. I can’t tell you how great it is to be back in touch with you again.

In Vietnam nearly every GI has a portable radio which he carries to pick up AFVN Radio. It’s really a terrible station, being designed to offend no one and please the majority. It plays the same pap all day long in its effort to appeal to the same Midwestern anti-Communist you mention in your letter. But they do present reasonably uncensored news every hour. This plus Stars and Stripes, which we get twice a week, keep me pretty well posted, at least as far as headlines go.

I did hear Johnson’s speech of deescalation and non­candidacy and thought it the best of his career, not just the way he said it. It created in me a great sense of hope that this foolishness over here will end fairly shortly. There is not a man over here that wants to see this war go on any longer. This is not to say that anybody shrinks from doing a job. But everyone is as confused as I as to exactly what, if any­thing, we’re accomplishing and wants the war over ASAP.

I lost my first man last week. He was killed by accident by another man in the platoon. I had sent a squad out on night ambush. They had been set up in position for a few hours when the flank man crawled away to take a leak or some­thing and as he was crawling back to position another man mistook him for a dink and shot him. He died on the chopper that dusted him off. Of course it really tears me up to lose a man, especially like that, but I must not show any emotion over it. I’ve got to press on, keep doing my job. Even among my men this is universal. They are saddened by the death of a buddy, but he is gone. The concern among the team (for that is what we are) is how it will affect the man who shot him. Will he fall to pieces over this and be unable to perform his function? This is what we’re worried about first and foremost. War Is Hell!

You know that joke abou t how hard it is to tell the good guys from the bad guys over here? Well, it’s funny in Bronx­ville or Dorset, but it isn’t over here. The enemy in our area of operations is a farmer by day and VC by night. Every male is required to register at his provincial capital. He is further required to carry an ID showing his picture, fingerprints, age, etc. But anyone with a VC background is supposedly denied an ID. Simple, you say? All we have to do is come to a village and police up everyone without an ID, right? Well, about three months ago we captured a VC printing plant that manufactured ID cards. Every man we pick up says “Me Vietnamese, Numbah 1, VC, Numbah 10,” so we have to let him go. But more than once we have captured or killed people with weapons whom we recognized as one of those smiling faces we had picked up and released earlier. It’s maddening because we know damn well that they’re dinks, but we can’t do anything to them until we catch them with a weapon or actually shooting at us.

By the way, Number 1 means real good and Number 10 means real bad in pidgin Vietnamese-English. Other handy phrases, just in case you’re planning a vacation in this tropi­cal paradise are: teetee–very little; boo coo (a bastardization of beaucoup)–very much; boom boom–whore; deedee mow–get out of here. What more do you need to know?

Would you also like to know an interesting facet of Viet­namese economy? Gl’s at the large installations can buy cokes or beer for two or three dollars a case. They can sell it on the black market for ten or fifteen dollars. The black market dis­tributes it around the country for lord knows what price. The village peasants sell it back to Gl’s in the field who never see a PX from one month to the next at a dollar per can or twenty-four dollars a case. To the GI in the field a coke or a beer is such a delicacy that he is all too willing to pay the exorbitant price. Oh, well!

More soon.
Love, MIKE

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, I’ve had my baptism by fire and it’s changed me, I think. Two days ago my platoon was on a mission to clear three suspected minefields. We were working with a mech­anized platoon with four tracks, and our tactic was to put the tracks on line and just roar through the minefields, hoping to blow them. Since the majority of the VC mines are anti­-personnel, the tracks could absorb the explosions with no damage done to them or the people inside. My platoon rode along just as security in case we were attacked. We spent the whole day clearing the three fields and came up with a big zero.

The tracks were then returning us to where we would stay overnight. When we reached our spot we jum ped off the tracks and one of my men jumped right on a mine. Both his feet were blown off, both legs were torn to shreds; his entire groin area was completely blown away. It was the most horrible sight I’ve ever seen. Fortunately he never knew what hit him. I tried to revive him with mouth-to-mouth resuscita­tion but it was hopeless to begin with.

In addition, the explosion wounded seven other people (four seriously) who were dusted off by Medevac, and three others lightly, who were not dusted off. Of the four seriously wounded, one received a piece of shrapnel in the heart and may not survive; the other three were almost completely riddled with shrapnel and while they will be completely all right, it will be a slow and painful recovery.

I was one of the slightly wounded. I got three pieces in my left arm, one in my right knee, and about twenty in both legs. I am completely all right, in fact I thought I had only gotten one in the arm and one in the knee. It was not until last night when I took off my clothes to take a shower that I noticed the other spots where I had been hit.

I came back to Chu Lai yesterday because my knee is now quite stiff and swollen and will probably be here a couple of days, days, what with X-rays and what not. Believe it or not, I am extremely anxious to get back to platoon. Having been through this, I am now a bonafide member of the platoon. They have always followed my orders but I was an outsider. Now I’m a member of the team and it feels good.

I want to assure you that I am perfectly all right. You will probably get some sort of notification that I was lightly wounded and I just don’t want you to worry about it at all. I will receive a Purple Heart for it. People over here talk about the million dollar wound. It is one which is serious enough to warrant evacuation to the States but which will heal entirely. Therefore you might call mine a half-million dollar wound. My RTO who was on my track, sitting right next to me, caught a piece of shrapnel in his tail, and since he had caught a piece in his arm about two months ago, he’ll get out of the field with wounds about as serious as a couple of mosquito bites.

I said earlier that the incident changed me. I am now filled with both respect and hate for the VC and the Vietnam­ese. Respect because the enemy knows that he can’t stand up to us in a fire fight, due to our superior training, equipment, and our vast arsenal of weapons. Yet he is able. Via his mines and booby traps, he can whittle our ranks down piece­meal, unti we cannot muster an effective fighting force.

In the month that I have been with the company, we have lost four killed and about thirty wounded. We have not seen a single verified dink the whole time, nor have we even shot a single round at anything. I’ve developed hate for the Viet­namese because they come around selling cokes and beer to us and then run back and tell the VC how many we are, where our positions are, and where the leaders position themselves. In the place where we got hit, we discovered four other mines, all of them placed in the spots where I, my platoon sergeant, and two squad leaders had been sitting. I talked to the mech platoon leader who is with us and he said that as he left the area to return to his fire base, the people in the village he went through were laughing at him because they knew we had been hit. I felt like turning my machine guns on the village to kill every man, woman, and child in it.

Sorry this has been an un pleasant letter, but I’m in a rather unpleasant mood.

All love, MIKE

P.S. Could you check on my bank account and tell me its status?

29 April

Dear Boob,

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are at strategic locations throughout this letter, a number of funny little pictures of alli­gators. Why alligators, you ask, and rightly so. Well, to show you that I’m goi ng absolutely crazy over here I must tell you about my new fixation on alligators. The alligators are “rub-ons,” the nifty surprise that comes in every package of jiffy­ pop. So I thought I’d ru b a few on.

I’m enclosing here a couple of pictures. One, needless to say, is a picture of everyone’s favorite war hero. The other is one which I probably shouldn’t send, but I thought it would interest you as a part of your education. It was just a part of mine as I had never seen a truly pornographic picture before, and I still do not know who makes them or how to get them. They just turned up in my bunker the other day. I had heard about pictures like this before so I’m not shocked, merely revolted to actually see them. I hope that I don’t get ar­rested for mailing obscene material in the mail. I also hope that Marge doesn’t get all excited about seeing a letter from me in the mailbox and decide to open it before you get home from school. Most important, I hope it doesn’t offend you.

I got a letter from MPS yesterday and what a thrill. It was a real pleasure to read a letter from a Skubi who is sane. I’m puzzled by the Mrs. Robinson with which she signed it. Am I then Benjamin Braddock? Are you Elaine? Is Bill Evans (Seattle’s answer to Duffy) Car? Oh well, please reaffirm my love for her anyway.


2 May

Dear Mom and Dad,

I am now sitting in a little hooch in a village in which we’re operating. Company A is still situated on LZ Sue, secur­ing the artillery battery which supports our battalion. The way things are working is that two platoons secure the hill, while the third goes off into the villages on patrol. Each platoon stays down for three days and then moves back up to get relieved by another. On Sue it’s relatively safe, with large strong bunkers, several layers of barbed wire around the out­side.

We still have to man the perimeter at night, which means not much sleep and we’re always subject to mortar attacks, but Charlie would need a fully equipped battalion-sized force to take it, so I don’t think he’ll try. Basically, being on Sue means a rest and security, so it’s good to be there. Right now, though, we are on our three days down in the field and I have to tell you that ever since we hit that minefield I am nervous all the time. My platoon is way under strength right now and I feel that we are too small a force to be operating as independently as we do. My authorized strength is forty­-three. I had thirty-six when I first joined the platoon and am now operating with twenty. That minefield cost me several people, plus I am hit with a rash of people on profile and people on R&R at this time.

Last night I split my element into two ambushes. I took one and my platoon sergeant took the other. Sergeant West­ern’s patrol was in position about an hour and a half when some dink sneaked up and threw a grenade into their perim­eter. Sgt. Western saw it come in and managed to grab it and threw it back out where it exploded harmlessly. It was, need­less to say, an awfully close call. I put him in for a Silver Star today for his courageous action.

Sergeant Western is a really good guy and I wish we didn’t have to maintain a professional relationship because I’d love for him and me to be friends. He is twenty years old and comes from Larchmont and we are very similar in both back­ground and temperament. He has been very lucky in achieving rank as fast as he has, but he also has the competency to merit his rank. He and I have jokingly suggested that you and his mother should get together and talk about your sons in faraway Vietnam.

I am awfully sorry to hear about the academic difficulties being suffered by No. 2 and 3 sons. I’m sure though that Larry, as usual, will barely pull something out of the bag and squeak through, colors flying. As for Mark, I don’t know what to think. I would certainly hate to see him stifled in some second-rate school, but his only alternative, I’m afraid, is the Army, which would kill him. Maybe NYU or BU might be an answer. You can tell him that he can get into OCS in the Army, if that’s the course he chooses or gets stuck in. As for Larry, since I assume he has no alternative, I would recommend the Army because it’s a much shorter tour, but only if he can get a decent branch guarantee. Otherwise, I’d say Navy or Air Force.

Despite losing people and being scared all the time, I find being an infantry platoon leader an exhilarating, exciting, and, yes, rewarding job. I have ambitions to go higher, even in my short two years in the Army, but I don’t really want to be­ cause platoon level is the last at which I still can have close working contact with my men. I think I’ve developed a pretty good relationship with my people, one in which they depend on me for leadership, but they know that I must be able to depend on them too. It’s very healthy and as I say, rewarding. I am doing all the politicking I can to get a staff job, but if I do get one, I will hate to leave my men (not enough to turn it down, though!).

I got the big Easter-gathering letter and really enjoyed hearing from everyone. It must have been quite a party. I have gotten a few letters from Sally Fairfax, thousands from Ronda, one from JoAnne, and none from Susie.

I have a couple of requests which I wonder if you would mind filling. (1) Have you been able to change the address on the Newsweek subscription you said you ordered? I live in quite a vacuum for news over here and Newsweek seems about the best and easiest way to pull myself out. (2) Could you check the status of my bank account and send me a report? (3) Could you send me half a dozen black mechanical grease pencils. I use these to mark my maps which are cov­ered with acetate. (4) Could you keep me supplied with felt tip pencils (blue) like this one. About two a month should do me fine. As you can probably tell, it’s a cold day in hell (or Vietnam, for that matter) when I get a chance to get to a PX.

This is all for now (both requests and deathless prose). More soon.

Love to all, MIKE

P.S. You might tell any friends you have in Washington to get off their fat asses, quit quibbling, and start talking about ways to end this foolishness over here. Aside from being op­posed to the damn war, it really gives me a case that LBJ, who claims to want peace and who says he’ll go anywhere, anytime, to talk peace, has taken over a month without being able to find an acceptable site. Anywhere, according to his promise, ought to be “acceptable.”

Dear Susan,

I realize that I’m a little late, but I want to wish you a Happy Easter.

As you’ll probably know by the time you get this, I picked up a Purple Heart the other day when I got hit with about twenty pieces of shrapnel from a mine explosion. The mine killed one man and wounded ten, including four quite seri­ously. I was lucky, I suppose, to get off quite lightly.

You know what–this mine incident has changed me. I’m still as opposed to the war on moral and political grounds as ever. But since I am here, and when I see the gory mess that mine made of my people, I want revenge. I want to kill every little slant-eyed bastard I see. I just wish to hell the VC would come out and fight. We never see them, just their damn mines and booby traps. Do you know that in the month I’ve been with this company we’ve had over thirty people killed or wounded and we haven’t seen a dink or fired a single shot.

It is now two days after I started this and I’m back in the field again. I’m in the middle of reading an interesting piece in the March Harper’s called “From the Steps of the Pentagon” by Norman Mailer. It’s about the events which happened before, during, and after the March for Peace you went on last fall and at which I gather Mailer made quite an ass of himself. What else is new? Regardless, it’s quite well written and I don’t know if his views correspond to yours, but I recommend it to your reading pleasure.

Needless to say, the life I lead is fairly miserable. But there are a lot of compensations in the “thank heavens for small pleasures” department. For in­stance, you can’t believe how great it is to get coke with our resupply each night. The coke is hot and it’s been so shaken up by being thrown on and off of the choppers that you invariably lose half of it when you open it, but it tastes just fabulous. Another thing is ice cream, which we get about once a week for chow; again it is usually melted and warm, but it’s ice cream and it’s yummy. Probably the greatest morale builder of all is mail. A word from home which can sail you millions of miles away from Vietnam. Of course, though, Vietnam is actually quite a beautiful place. If we weren’t at war, this would probably be quite a nice assignment. I imagine that when this idiocy is finished the truce will allow for several U.S. bases here. Most of our bases now are right on the South China Sea which is, like most oceans, beautiful. I think therefore that you’ll see lots of people requesting tours in Viet­nam.

I had a funny experience last night. I’m sure you’re familiar with Orientals and the importance of face. My platoon was holed up for the day in a village with three or four people in a hooch. I babysans. In the late afternoon we got resupplied with hot chow, and I was sitting down on the front porch with my hamburger, beans, potatoes, and ice cream, which doesn’t sound that great, but after eating C rations for the pre­vious two meals this was to have been quite a treat. No sooner had I sat down than Papasan comes out of the house and motions for me to come inside, which I did. The family was just sitting down to their own dinner and it seems they had set a place for me. Before I knew it, Mamasan had grabbed my plate with my own food and took it away while Papasan urged me over to take my place on the dirt floor around a tray of food. I didn’t really want to give up my food or eat theirs, but I felt obliged; so I crossed my legs and sat down and was served a bowl of rice, a grungy pair of chopsticks, and was urged to help my­self to the variety of dishes on the tray. I don’t know what any of it was, but one looked like fish, another spinach, tomatoes, and noodles. I sampled them all and still don’t know, but each bite tasted the same, super-salty, and each bite made me feel like vomiting. I ate as little as I thought polite, managing to avoid throwing up. As soon as I fin­ished, I got up, bowed to the family, thanking them profusely for the delicious meal. I left them and as soon as I got around the corner of the house, I blew lunch all over the place.


11 May

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ransom,

It is with great difficulty that I write this letter expressing my deepest sympathy over the loss of your son Robert­ known as Mike to us. I have never written a letter like this before, but then, in my six years of nursing I have never met as courageous an individual as your son.

I was able to care for Mike daily and I want you to know that his sense of humor and will to live made my work much easier. Things he could no longer do for himself–like brushing his teeth–things that surely brought him discomfort–like turning him–brought only thank-yous, humorous remarks, a gleaming smile, or a twinkle from his eyes.

Mike fought hard, terribly hard, to overcome his body’s wounded condi­tion. But, strong as he was, his body could only endure so much. Mike was never afraid and although I’m sure he realized what was happening, he never, never lost his smile or his courage.

I guess I really wanted you to know that Mike did not die alone, with no one caring. I care, we all cared–we all share your sorrow.

Be ever so proud of Mike!
Most sincerely,
2nd Surgical Hospital MA