Sunday, November 07, 2010

Letter From Basic Training

Pvt. Ronald W. Tipton, 1960 
Picture taken in living room of my best friend Larry's parents after I completed basic training

A few months ago when I was cleaning out my Mom's back room, I came across this letter I had written to her when I was taking Army basic training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey.  The letter is dated March 4, 1960.

I wrote many letters when I was in the Army but this is the only one that I have in my possession.  It is interesting to read it and see my thinking fifty years ago.  

Two areas in which I haven't changed much, determination and immaturity.

The area of determination is where I note that I had a cold but I decided not to go on sick call because that would almost insure that I would be recycled which was a term used for starting basic training all over again.  I knew I didn't want to do that.  I remember that cold I had.  It was awful.  The worst was when I was crawling with my elbows through the infiltration course on a cold, wet day with tracer bullets whizzing inches above my head and my nose running like a spigot.  But the worst thing I remember about the infiltration course was that I got my brand new fatigue jacket caught on the barbed wire and tore a big strip of cloth out of the back.  My gay gene was horrified that I damaged my new duds.

The area of immaturity was the joke I repeated to my parents.  Reading it now it I can see where it isn't even funny.  It's actually childish and immature (am I being redundant here)?  But I thought at the time it was really funny.  But then remember I was a 18 year old small town boy being exposed to the vulgarities of the world outside for the first time in my life.  

Boy was I innocent in those days.  Boy did I have a lot to learn.  

Here is the letter.  WARNING!  This letter contains sexual references and cursing.  If you're offended by such language and references please do not read the letter.

If I only knew what an adventure lay ahead for me, this small town, determined, immature kid from Downingtown, PA.  But you know what?  I wouldn't change a thing.  

As I wind down this life, I'm looking back on my past years with the goal to accumulate and write my personal history in a book.  This is my last goal in life.  

My story may not be of interest to most other people but I do feel a need to put in writing my life experience.  Maybe there is that one person like me way off in the future who will pick up this book and appreciate my retelling of my journey in life.  

If for nothing else, when I leave I want to leave my version of events.  And to leave a small footprint.  

I am still determined and immature for which I make no excuses or apologies.  

That is me.  


  1. By the way, I have no idea who "Helen" or "Pat" were. They may have been the two candy stripers who wre going to help be escape from the hospital where Dr. Spector had me imprisoned. Dr. Spector, the doctor who almost caused my death by his negligence. I almost didn't make it to 18 years old because of him.

  2. I just noticed that I have a flame thrower letterhead. Thank God I wasn't involved in any of that training. Shooting was enough. Some hand grenade action too. Almost blew myself up when I let the pin fall.

  3. Ron,

    I have several of your letters from when you were in the service, if you are interested. I should pull them out and read them again. maybe there is something juicy in there.

    Noelle's home base during her eight years was Ft. Dix. She didn't do her training there, though. Her Basic was at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri and then she went to he Special Services and paratroopers schools at Ft. Bragg.


  4. Lar,

    I would love to see a copy of those letters that I sent to you. Can you make a copy and send them to me? The one I sent to my parents is the only letter I have. By the way, I have many, many letters from you. I'll check them to see if anything juicy is in them.

    Did Noelle send you letters? I'm glad I've saved most of my letters. Now that snail mail is a thing of the past these letters will be of historical value long after I'm gone. No one is going to see all the e-mails and comments that we're doing now.

    In fact I think you just gave me an idea for my next posting. I'll post a copy of one of the letters you sent to me. My intellectual property now you know.

  5. Ron,

    Yes, Noelle wrote us letters and we her. She has a twisted sense-of-humor (like her dad) and her letters were usually funny; although some of what she wrote scared her parents, such as, "I fell out of the plane, but my weapon broke my fall," or "we were attacked last night with grenade launchers, but most landed behind us. Those guys can't shoot worth a darn". She even wrote us letters from Iraq written on pieces torn from MRE packets.

    As I understand it regarding legal ownership of letters. The recipient owns the physical letter and can do as they wish with it; that is, burn it, keep it in a hidden in a drawer forever or sell it if they wished. So, if I were to become famous and someone wanted to buy any of my letters for a lot of money you could make a buck off them.

    However, as I understand it, the words written in any letters remain the author and his/her heirs' property under copyright law.


  6. Mark,

    I'm still sorta cute.....aren't I? ;)

  7. Lar,

    The way I understand I own the content of any letter that I receive. Letters aren't copywrited. Books are.


  8. Ron,

    I stand by my original statement. In the sample cases in your email these were specific instances revolving around the issue of fair use. Fair use becomes very tricky to define and cases take various circumstances into consideration when rendering a decision. However, under normal and general rules of fair use minimal portions of a letter may be quoted, but in most cases of correspondence the entire letter without permission of the writer cannot be published.

    J. D. Salinger sued to prevent the publication of a biography because the author quoted passages from Salinger's letters. The letters in toto were not published, only quotes and portions. The argument revolved around whether unpublished letters written by a person were subject to fair use. The court eventually ruled the letters under specific rules were subject to fair use. It was stated, however by the Court, "This argument assumes that the unpublished nature of copyrighted material is only relevant to letters or other confidential writings not intended for dissemination," id. at 554, an assumption the Court went on to reject. Pertinent to our case is the fact that the Court underscored the idea that unpublished letters normally enjoy insulation from fair use copying.

    "After emphasizing the insulation of unpublished works from fair use under "ordinary circumstances," the Court considers in turn each of the four factors identified by Congress as "especially relevant," id. at 560, in determining [96] whether a use is fair."

    The question before the court was not whether Salinger, the writer of the letters owned the content of those letters or whether his words contained in those letters were protected under copyright, but only whether his letters were protected from fair use under specific limitations.

    Some changes were actually made to the copyright laws as a result of the Salinger case, but again, these changes revolved around clarification of fair use of information within letters.

    This whole area gets very complicated with fair use generally being determined on a case by case basis.

    I still contend, the recipient owns the physical document, which they may keep, destroy or sell, but the writer owns the words.

    But I'm no lawyer, so who knows. I;m not losing sleep over it, but I may not ever write another letter.


  9. Lar,
    Why are you so protective over the content of letters that you send? It seems to be common sense that if one sends a letter to someone else, then that letter, words and all, belongs to the recipient of the letter. If anyone says otherwise, then they'll have to sue me.

    Where does it stop anyway? When someone says something to someone else, then those words are also copyrighted? I've been blogging for five years now. When I began blogging I knew that I gave up the right to anything I wrote in my blogging.

    Using your rationale, non one would copy anything or quote anything they read in blogs because they would have to pay someone for the copyright.

    I'm not upset nor will I ever be if anyone copies what I blog or write in a letter. It just doesn't bother me. However, if I wrote a book and it was published and someone else make copies of that book, then I would want to be protected. They can't copy my book and then sell it. That is the factor. Selling the words. I'm not selling words. I'm just repeating them.

    Frankly to say a personal letter is copyrighted seems to be to be taking the copyright laws a bit far.

  10. Ron,

    Actually what you write in a Blog is automatically copyrighted material belonging to you. Although in practice it is difficult to protect what you write in your blog from being plagiarized. I find my stuff popping up in online publications regularly. At least, those I've found credit me, which is why I can find them. Who knows how much of my stuff may be being copied without credit.

    As to my own blog, I try to keep any quotes from other Blogs or sources to a minimum so as to stay within the bounds of fair use. For the most part I try to use my own photos and if I can't I try to find ones in the public domain. I try to credit those I use if I can find the credit.

    This has nothing to do with "my rational" or "being protective over content of letters I wrote", it has to do with the law. If I was concerned with being overprotective of my writing, I would have never put my poems, stories, essays or opinions out in a Blog. Writing anything on line is throwing away a lot of protection.


  11. Ron,

    Conversations are not copyrightable because they are not "tangible fixed works". You can't copyright ideas, procedures, names, titles, short phrases, slogans, concepts or principles either. As far as written material and letters, the current copyright laws went into effect in 1978. Anything written prior to 1923 is considered Public Domain. Anything written before 1978 was not automatically copyrighted to the writer as it is under current law. Therefore, anything written between 1923 and 1978 probably falls into Public Domain unless it was registered as copyrighted or that registration was renewed if the copyright was before 1963.

    In other words, letters written before 1978 are most likely not protected by copyright.

    However, i don't know the scope of privacy laws on the publication of letters between private parties during the writer's lifetime.

    My only concern with what may be in letters I wrote around fifty years ago is this: times have changed, I have changed, many of my opinions have changed. I have no idea what i wrote in letters back then. Maybe I made fun of someone. Maybe I said I was dabbling in witchcraft. Silly things we say when we are young and foolish can come back to bite us when we get older.

    Frankly, I can't imagine I wrote anything worthwhile that anyone would find very interesting.


  12. Point taken Lar. Anything you write in your blog is probably "fair game" (to quote Turd Bossom) for anyone to use out in cyberspace.

    Make sure to tune in to "Countdown" tonight at 8 pm. Keith is back!

  13. Good to hear Lar. The way you were going with this copyright conversation I was half expecting you to say that your grocery shopping list would also be covered under copyright laws.


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