Thursday, July 16, 2009

Calling Home During Viet Nam

My Uncle Jack who served in Viet Nam and other parts of South East Asia for several years between 1965 and 1974, had this response to my post on stress:

I was intrigued by your blog about stress. This is completely opposite my experience during remote interludes in the years 1965 to 1974. As late as 1974 calling home from Thailand was impossible. When if you got to the Philippines you had an opportunity. Even then it was a hassle: Go to a special location, file a request with a clerk to call a certain stateside number, then wait. When the call went through you'd be summoned and directed to a booth to which the call would be connected. Then for, as I recall, a dollar a minute you could talk for a limited time, say ten minutes. Pretty much things were even worse in Greenland and other garden spots SAC (Strategi Air Command) populated. There was no internet/email.

In those circumstances it was impossible to be involved in the daily life of your family at home. They had to solve their own problems--or, more likely, create them. As a junior officer of modest means writing a check from the joint account you shared with your wife took two weeks or more of coordination via snail mail. This was in an era when bouncing a check was a serious offense. Of course, trusting your spouse to actually balance the checkbook and keep you from doing that was a stressful gamble. On-line checking didn't exist.

I never considered the circumstances families now face: more or less instant communication and the blessing or burden of participating from a distance. I imagine there is lots of real-time involvement, "Where did you put the vacuum cleaner bags? I can't find them anywhere!" "Do you know what your son did now?!"