27 February 2012

Letters from the Gulf, Part II

Blog-editor's note: This is the second part of a 1990 essay, which summarized the pre-war correspondence of my father, who had deployed to Operation Desert Shield as a U.S. Air Force Reserve navigator on a C-130 aircrew.

For the first part of this essay, as well as additional historical background, click here.


'SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS' continued ...

Dad also took great delight in telling the family about the "hooch," as well as other places he had to call "home."

"Quarters are real spartan! We slept in a tent last night," he wrote. "The cots plus being tired made our evening's rest very adequate. In the UAE, we have a 'wood' box with a door for 12. I believe the term male bonding comes to mind" (Sept. 15)

Dad later wrote more about his hooch, which on the bad days and nights quartered two aircrews, about 12 personnel.

"Out house is a plywood 12 x 25 box with a door, two small windows, and two air conditioners," he wrote. "The Furniture is limited to 14 beds, 3 folding chairs, and 1 concrete block with board table. Finding a place to put the 'stuff' is tuff. The B-4 bags and A-3's [different types of Air Force-issue luggage] are pushed under the beds just to give a bit of walking space." (Sept. 18)

Still, one gets the feeling Dad wasn't complaining. At least, not too much.

"A Marine sgt. [on Bahrain] that he was ready and already tired of waiting," Dad wrote. "I should that add that even with our spartan conditions we living at the Holiday Inn compared to the Marines. They had basic tents with no sun shades. War is hell!" (Sept. 19).

I've seen pictures of the "Chi-town Sheik Shack" (Each hooch had its own name, apparently, if not its own Frisbee golf course.) The crews apparently got into constructing lampshades, shelves, even a working 'refrigerator' out of cardboard, red duct tape, and one of the air conditioners. If Necessity is the mother of invention, Boredom must be the father.


Dad usually opened his letters with some discussion of setting, the weather and what he was doing besides writing letters.

"The weather here on an island in the land of O is hot and clear during the day," he started in a typical letter. "The breeze starts coolking things off at sunset which makes sleeping great. The big part of the day is make passable by living in our air conditioned tent. Isn't that a dichotomy in terms?"

He started another, "It is 8 p.m. here and I am in front of our hooch enjoying the evening. There is a breeze and a bit of noise from a C-130 engine run about 50 yards away. I hope the place moves soon or my just move inside and forget the evening breeze." (Sept. 22)


One of Dad's more significant themes seems to have been the "all this stuff that's out here nowhere" motif. Rather than set it up myself, here it is in all its basic continuity:
I would tell you where I'm located, but it isn't on the maps. The same is true of the airports we're operating into. I wonder how some of these complexes got built in these locations—they are in the middle of nowhere and without roads, etc. (Sept. 19)

I am still amazed at the places we are operating into. They are large complexes with major runways and accessories. The fact they don't appear in the airfield directory and on our charts is also interesting. It would appear that our "hosts" are well prepared in some ways to defend themselves. (Sept. 26)

We flew into Jeddah, SA yesterday and I found it hard to believe. According to some ground personnel, the airport is built to handle up to 1 million people a day during the "Holy" days. From the size and numbers of facilities, I would think that handling that number is possible. What makes it hard to believe is that all this construction is at the middle of the desert and nowhere. (Sept. 29)

I'm still both impressed and depressed by this land. We fly for hours and view nothing but sand and rocks—miles + miles of wasteland. then in the middle of nowhere we'll find a four-lane divided highway that goes nowhere but runs for miles. The depressing part is the money that is spent on facilities that have no real purpose. (Sept. 30)
That's about as political as Dad got.


So what have I learned from reading my mother's mail? A little about the war, if one chooses to call it such, a little about Dad, and a little about the way I write. There's something in the phrasing, "ready and already," "impressed and depressed," that smacks familiar, not to mention the continual discovery of dichotomy and oxymoron. That's not where I want to end this, however. I've been saving that part until the end.


Dad's always had a particular sign-off, which I once regarded as dangerously close to affected, which I now find myself using in the appropriate settings. (We are doomed to become our fathers.) Through the years, he's said it enough that it seems natural enough, and it seems right that chose to close his many letters with "see you in my dreams."

"I'm sure glad I'm getting paid to do this because I would hate to pay for this tour. Got to go—see you in my dreams." (Sept. 30)

If his letters brought the war home, that phrase brought Dad home. Even before he got back.

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