Happy Birthday From Vietnam
by Nicole Freire
When I was born in Sacramento, California on a warm sunny Sunday on May 4, 1969, my father was nearly 7800 miles away in Long Binh, Vietnam.
My father was in the Army Division fondly called "The Big Red One" (which makes me think of Clifford, the Big Red Dog, but that's not really relevant here). He was in Vietnam as an officer, First Lieutenant, Combat Infantry. At the time of my birth, he was serving as the Executive Director for the Security Guard at the USAV headquarters in Long Binh.
He had spent months wandering around in the rain with the men he was in charge of, watching his friends get killed, helicopters and B-52s exploding, and getting a few Purple Hearts, which stay in the garage and don't get talked about much. His transfer from the combat division to the USAV headquarters was what we like to call, "One Goddamn Good Break". Had he remained in the jungle, he might not have been able to send the letter I'm about to share with you.
My parents wrote frequently during the year my father was in country, at least two or three times a week.
While he was gone, my mother saved every letter she received from my father, under one big condition. She had made a pact with God that if my father didn't return alive from Vietnam, she would give the letters to me so I would know who my father was. When he did return three months later, she burned every single letter except for this one.
I asked my mom about this recently, because, my god, think of the history! Besides, my father was and continues to be a great letter writer. So when I asked my mom, "Seriously? You burned them all? Because you made a pact with God? That's crazy!" She just sighed and said "Well, I was 24 and pregnant."
Here is the letter my father sent to my mother upon hearing I had been born. I am putting it all down verbatim, no editing at all:
5 MAY 69
Wife and mother ---
WOW!!!!! HOT DAMN!!!! HOW ABOUT THAT???!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!! HAPPINESS IS A FAT BABY AND A WARM WIFE!!!!! YIPPEE!!!!!!! LOVE YOU! LOVE YOU!! KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!??!! NICOLE FRANCINE, WELCOME!!!!!!! IT'S A GIRL!! YIPES!! HOORAY!!! I DECLARE A NATIONAL HOLIDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!
??????.and then there were three.
Ballet lessons, patent leather shoes, frilly dresses, girl scouts, everything pink and yellow, sugar and spice and everything nice????..
This morning at 0930 I received a call from the Red Cross. I timidly answered the phone and received the following message: Time: 8:00 A.M. Date: 4 May 69, Place: Sutter Memorial Hospital, Occasion: baby born, Sex: female, Weight: 7 pounds, 1 ounce, Name: Nicole Francine Buchanan, Condition of mother: good, Condition of baby: good. Needless to say, I was struck dumb. Then I went upstairs and sat in my room and trembled for two hours. After my brain cleared, I went downstairs and handed out cigars and accepted congratulations.
I am ecstatic and joyful and nervous and I just don't know what else!!! Thank you very much, my darling. I just have a few questions for you. What does she look like? What color hair, eyes, skin? Nose, mouth, ears, eyes? What does our daughter look like?????!!!??? Did you have much pain? Take any medication? Were you put under? How long were you in labor? Were you nervous, excited, crying? What else?????? Who was there? I WANT TO KNOW ALL ABOUT IT!!!!!!!! HAVE YOU SEEN HER YET?? Were you conscious during the delivery? Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo - Gosh!!
I still don't believe it. I'll be on pins and needles until I get some pictures of both of you. I really didn't think we were going to have a girl. Neither did anyone else, including you! I would have been just as happy with a boy but I really, really wanted a little girl and now we have one! Poor darling, I hope you didn't have much pain. When can you take her home? Do you know that you were just in time for Mother's Day? Happy Mother's Day to my wife. Happy birthday to you, Nicole! HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!!!!!!!
Did you know I was scared to death that something would go wrong?? I never forgot your miscarriage of last year and I was afraid it might happen again. And all the doctors in the world couldn't allay my fears. I'm so relieved and happy --- for you, for me, and for baby. I hope she likes our world.
I got a Mother's Day gift for my mom and one for your mom. They're somewhat similar. Irish linen tablecloths with matching napkins. Your Mom's is beige and my mom's is blue and white. They have stitched roses on them or something. Very pretty - I think. I also ordered one or two things today for you and baby. I hope you like them. The damned PX was all sold out of Mother's Day cards so again I show what a boor I am by not doing the proper thing. All - absolutely every bit of my love to you - on this day of all days.
I don't know what else to say except thank you, my love. I've proved I'm potent and you've shown to the world that you are indeed a woman. And you're my woman?????..
General Haines will be here on the 10th and we have to provide security for the old fool so no one takes a pot shot at him. The purpose of the visit is to see if a minimum of 50,000 troops can be withdrawn from Vietnam immediately. He'll be in Vietnam a week and is going to every major command and division. Personally, I think the old duffer just wants to get his name in the paper.
I know the two Grandmas are just a little bit excited. Your mom is on her third grandchild but it's my mom's first time around. I bet my father is very happy also. Did Kenny really take his flight to never-never land? Maybe he'll drop in at the Peace Talks and put in a good word for me. Is there anything, anything at all that I can do for you????? Besides writing you letters and telling you that I love you? Please let me know?
Our mascot "Top" has doubled in size in just 3 weeks. Babies don't do that, do they? I think the Red Cross man told me how long Nikki (OK I won't call her that!) is but I forgot. 18 inches? I know newborn babies are tiny things. Does she scream good? You just take it VERY easy for a couple of days. Get your strength back, drink lots of liquids and chicken-noodle soup and cuddle and kiss our new acquisition for me. When do you start nursing? (Hope she didn't have any teeth when she was born). Write me FULL details on EVERYTHING.
Your somewhat delirious husband,
Today I turn 40 years old. At the top of this article is a picture of me taken right after I was born, where I am clearly already plotting and planning.
And at the bottom of this article is a picture taken of me with a really good chocolate cake.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.