Free Postage

As a little kid in Spokane in the 1950s, I recall the family gathering around the phone to listen to Mom talk long distance to her aunt and cousin in Seattle.  The cost was high, the calls were rare and short, and the transmission quality was somewhat challenging.  Communication was tough; letters were easier, cheaper, and more thoughtful.

Things were not that much different for us while serving in Viet Nam in 1970-72.  The Defense and Postal Departments had arranged for us in Viet Nam (and some surrounding areas associated with the war zone) to send our letters without postage.  All we had to do was be sure to use our return address that included the Army Post Office/Navy Post Office (APO/FPO) number that was included on the list of applicable units.  Also, we had to write the word “Free” on the top right corner of the envelope where a stamp would usually go.  As technology progressed, this same authorization applied to voice recordings, whether the two inch open reel tapes or the newly available cassette tapes.

Remember sending those letters and tapes home for free?  Our families were so proud and relieved to get them and we were so happy to be able to save the cost of stamps from our $128 monthly paychecks.  Just as great was that any friends and families back in The World had the same postal privileges sending letters and tapes to us as long as they followed the same addressing rules.

We could write our letters any place, but you sort of had to get off on your own to make and listen to some of those tapes.  I chose the rooftop of the St George Hotel, our living quarters.  The location made it kind of exotic, but it mostly provided the privacy to record how lonely and scared I was.  It also gave me the opportunity to listen to my parents’ worried but encouraging words and the cooing of my girlfriend.  Yeah, the tapes were cool.

Some folks were aware of and took advantage of phone service available at the USO in Saigon.  That was a great place run by people with a wide variety of reasons for being there.  Most of those folks sincerely cared about our well-being.  I didn’t know about that service my first year and took the chance to use it just once my second year in-country.  I called Mom and Dad to tell them of my schedule and plans for returning home.

Too often, we don’t take advantage of the chance to communicate when it’s available.  All the more often, we only learn that fact when it’s too late to communicate at all.

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