Strange to sit here and listen to the "Wichita Lineman" on the radio and the sound of exploding grenades and machine gun fire a half mile away, knowing men are dying within hearing distance. Oh, well. Welcome to Viet Nam Pvt. Myers.
In the taped conversations that led to the memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War," Grady told me about his first days in-country. How he waited nervously at the replacement depot near Long Binh to learn what his assignment would be. But his anxiety became more vivid when I read his handwriting on pages torn from a skinny note pad. He was writing to his best buddy back in Boise, Dave Mueller.
I was inspired to ask Dave for copies of the letters after watching the 1987 HBO documentary "Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam." In it, soldiers' words are brought to life by such actors as Willem Defoe, Robert DeNiro and Matt Dillon. Many are words Grady could have written:
"Vietnam has my emotions in a seesaw. This country is so beautiful ... "
"I do things to make them laugh. They call me dinky dow. That means crazy."
"This was the first body I saw."
The dramatic readings accompany some fascinating video, both news clips interspersed and home-movie-style footage taken by the G.I.s. In one clip, Gen. William Westmoreland talks to an M-60 gunner like Grady. In another, NBC reporter Sander Vanocur, sitting on sandbags at Cam Rahn Bay in 1965, reports on the "recognition that there will be no easy, painless or quick way out of this struggle." The letters and videos are interspersed with statistics, such as the average age of the Vietnam soldier. It was 19. Grady's age.
In their letters, soldiers sometimes put an upbeat spin on things, or at least left out the worst of the experience. It's a testimonial to their friendship that Grady shared many emotions with Dave. On Fort Lewis stationery, he made it clear that training was miserable. "I'm sick of green -- that's all there is in this damned place." (Whether he meant the uniforms or the pine-studded and ever-soggy landscape is unclear.) But he added: "I'm going through this with some outstanding men, some I've already struck up good friendships with."
Always a big guy, he worried about his weight. He worried whether he'd be a good soldier. On the final flight into Vietnam, he wrote: "A few guys aboard are scared and some try to fend it off by being silly and making passes at the stewardesses -- which is fine with me 'cause I'm in on it too." He added that he was resigned to Vietnam and "going over there with a half-hearted spirit of adventure."
Grady had talked about adventure as long as Dave had known him, since they met and bonded as newcomers to Borah High School.
"We shared books about adventures we’d read. Now he was having his own. I remember being both scared for him and envying him for the camaraderie he had," says Dave, who describes his lifelong friend as someone whose compassionate, contemplative interior was masked by John Wayne swagger and humor. "There were deep philosophical thoughts going on inside that red-headed, fair-skinned noggin."
In January 1969, after several weeks in Charlie Company, Grady wrote of feeling lost, overwhelmed and insecure. He was frustrated not to have any contact with the enemy. "We don't want any, but it seems to me, somehow, we're failing in our job, our duties."
Contact came, of course. Grady's last letter to Dave was on American Red Cross stationery.
"To make it simple," he began, "they shot me and I'm coming home."
Julie Titone is co-author of the Grady Myers memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Grady was an M-60 machine gunner in The U.S. Army's Company C’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in late 1968 and early 1969. His Charlie Company comrades knew him as Hoss. Thoughts, comments? Send Julie an email.