Schrum, Ronald Wayne
Manuscript Correspondence of U.S. Marine Cpl. Ronald Wayne Schrum, of Company B, 3rd Platoon, 9th Engineer Battalion, while serving in Vietnam, written to his fiancé, later wife, Carolyn Ann Garrett of Mechanicsville, Virginia, 1967-1968.

120 letters, 429 pages, of these 120 letters, 113 letters (383 pp.) are written by Ronald W. Schrum to Carolyn Ann Garret, with the remaining 8 letters (46 pp.) written by Carolyn to Ronald. Many retain their original mailing envelopes. The collection also includes several printed paper ephemeral items, such as a folding map of Vietnam, an issue of the "Sea Tiger" (May 5, 1967) a newspaper for the III Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam, and a couple of greeting cards sent to Caroline by  Schrum.

on hold | Contact Us >
Cpl. Ronald Wayne Schrum (1946-1995)

Ronald W. Schrum was born 24 Dec 1946 at Richmond, Virginia, and died on 20 June 1995, at Glen Allen, Henrico Co., Virginia. He was the son of Lewis A. Schrum (1925-1983) of Chesterfield, Virginia.  Ronald's "ration card" which is included with one of the letters he sent home to Carolyn, was issued on 2 October 1967 and expired October 1968. It states he was with Co. "B", 9th Eng Bn, and his grade was "LCPL," he would later be promoted to full corporal for some heroics on the battlefield.  His date of birth on this card is given as 24 Dec 1946, which matches the Ronald W. Schrum that is reported by the Social Security Death Index to have died on 20 June 1995.

Public Records show that Schrum lived at Mechanicsville, Virginia at some point between 1950 - 1993. Likely he lived there with his wife Carolyn after he left the military, since this is the town she lived in when Schrum was writing her. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows a file that has Schrum enlisting on 4 Feb 1966 and released from service on 3 Feb 1970. Public records show Schrum lived in Richmond, Virginia in 1984, then Glen Allen, Virginia in 1986, which is where he died in 1995. He died young, having been only 49 years old when he passed away.

9th Engineer Battalion in the Vietnam War

The 9th Engineer Support Battalion of the 3rd Marine Logistics Group was once titled the 9th Engineer Battalion. Schrum was attached to this battalion, with Company B, 3rd Platoon. The 9th Engineer Battalion was activated on 1 November 1965 at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and was under the operational control of the Commanding General Force Troops, located at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.

On 2 May 1966, elements of the battalion began deploying to the Republic of Vietnam and by 17 June 1966 all of the battalion had arrived in the country and were located in and around Chu Lai. There they repaired vital road networks and reconstructed many villages south of Chu Lai.

While in Vietnam the 9th Engineer Battalion was responsible for the repair and mine sweeps of many of the major highways and bridges, for camp construction, for building ferries and for supporting the army and many foreign units on the battlefront. In a number of letters Schrum wrote to Carolyn, he writes of being a mine sweeper and building bridges.

The Battalion participated in operations such as Colorado, Fresno, Nappa, and Golden Fleece. On 2 March 1970; Hawaii became the next duty station for Company A. while the rest of the battalion was returned to Camp Pendleton by 11 September 1970. At Camp Pendleton the battalion became part of the 5th Marine Amphibious Brigade until it was deactivated and retired its colors on 30 October 1970. The 9th Engineer Support Battalion was activated on 1 May 1976 on Okinawa, Japan. Since activated, Camp Hansen has served as home for the battalion.

       Description of Archive:

Cpl. Ronald W. Schrum's first letter of the archive is dated March 31st, 1967.  The next is dated  May 11, 1967, which begins with Schrum telling us he is twenty years old, has blond hair, blue eyes, and stands 5' 8" tall. He is stationed at Chu Lai, pulling guard duty and going out on mine sweeps, taking sniper fire while he's at it. He has been in Vietnam for ten months working as a combat engineer, doing "all kinds of work from building tents to using explosives and laying minefields." He also mentions he will be getting "thirty days leave" then will come back to Vietnam for six more months. He would appear to have only met Carolyn Ann Garrett before going into the military.

In a letter of July 14, 1967, Ronald writes to Carolyn relating his feelings about having gone back to Vietnam after having a 30 day furlough in June of 1967:

"Carol I must say one thing before I go on with this letter and that is I thik I fell in love with you when I was home and I'm sorry I didn't see more of you while I was there, but you know us Marines we are always on the go at any time day or night....I'm listening to some Dave Clark Five songs right now and I guess the VC [Viet Cong] thinks I'm a nut because I've got the record player very loud and the whole tent's swing now. We are going to the club later tonight to get drunk and me well I will too because I should be kicked in the ___ for coming back over here after meeting a girl like you... "

Later in the same letter he writes:

 "Well, five of us went through six cases of beer tonight and boy are we feeling good right now. We are back in the tent and some of us have guard duty later tonight and boy will we be in shape for it. Well if anything moves we'll shoot it and ask questions later."

Ronald relates in a letter of July 19th, 1967 being in a truck that hit a mine, no one was killed and he only wound up with some cuts and bruises, needing to go to Chu Lai (he was in Tam Key at the time) for x-rays. This wouldn't be the only time he was wounded. In a letter to Carolyn on 5 Sept 1967 he tells her of getting shot in a fire fight: 

"Dear Love

Well I'm doing just fine today but I'm still scare from last week. I went out with the recon's on hill 445 for five days and six nights. The VC were waiting for us when we got there but the trouble didn't start until the second night and boy when they hit us it was like being in hell and it only lasted two and a half hours but when it was all over with we lost one man and six wounded and there were only 18 men total so this is why I haven't written to you in a week so I hope you aren't mad at me. I've got five letters from you the day I got back to Chu Lai and the chain is very lovely ad I'll always wear it. But Carol I've got tell you on thing. The nights we got hit I didn't think I was going to make it off that hill alive and I didn't get off in one peace I've got a bullet whole in my leg but I'm doing fine now. I prayed to god every night just to let me see the sun come up the next morning and I knew he was with me because I'm still here now. Carol when you answer this letter please don't ask me anything about it no more and I'll tell you all about it when I come home ok. It is going to take me a couple of days to get straight out but I never once forgot your love for me and I'll never forget it. I hate to write and tell my mother about it. Tell Mama and Daddy it for me ok. Carol you'll never know how I feel right now and how much I miss you. But I've got to thank god for letting me live through last week. Carol I'm going to close for now because I haven't had much sleep so I'll write you again tomorrow morning, ok...."

The gunshot wound kept Schrum sidelined from action for a little while, afterwards he went back to work, starting out with guard duty. He is later found to go out on mine sweeping expeditions. In one letter Schrum tells us his MOS is 1371, a Combat Engineer. A Combat Engineer's responsibilities ranged from "constructing, altering, repairing and maintaining buildings and structures, or to lift and move heavy objects and equipment by setting up, bracing, and utilizing rigging devices and equipment, and perform various duties incidental to the use of demolitions in construction projects and destruction of objects as well as getting instructions for specialized demolitions for urban breaching and land mine warfare."  One letter Schrum mentions going up to Da Nong for three days to go to school for "land mines."

Ronald writes to his fiancé, later wife, with some letters detailing his military experiences, being stationed at Chu Lai, taking a trip to Tam Key, etc. By mid November he moves to Hill 63 where "the bugs are hell out here in the field and I've got my bug net up around by bed tonight."  He will have to "sweep the road tomorrow morning [for mines] from here to Da Nang about 25 miles away."

Schrum doesn't mind Hill 63:

"Well we don't have a club up here so they let us keep the beer in our tents now and we get movies twice a week from the army so it won't be too bad up here unless the VC start to play their funny games at night....We've got twelve men to a tent and the tents aren't that big, but we are very happy anyway and we help each other out all the time. We've also got some big guns right behind us and they make a hell of a lot of noise all night every night but they also keep the VC away from us too! The big guns are talking right now."

Schrum's mine sweeping trips were fraught with danger:

"Well today just wasn't our day and the Viet Cong almost ended it for the mine sweep this morning. We started at 6:30 this morning and we walked for about two miles and then we found a small mine in the road and then hell broke loose there were about 15 VC waiting for us of the side of the road and it lasted for an hour but when it was over we had four wounded men and killed 7 VC."

Cpl Schrum's daily routines are anything but normal:

"Well I'm doing just fine tonight, Love we got hit here last night, but we didn't we lose anyone thank God. The mine sweep went okay this morning and it has stopped raining now."

There are numerous other mentions of wartime activity by Schrum, at places like Hue and east of Phu Bai, however he wasn't always fighting the Viet Cong, as he relates in a letter of August 20th, 1967:

"Guess what, no I didn't get drunk yet maybe next time, oh yea I got in a fight last night and boy does my hand hurt now. Before he opens his mouth again he'll think first, ha ha."

There is considerable detail in the letters about Schrum's military activities, for instance, when he was about 15 miles east of Phu Bai. There were only six marines attached to an army group, Schrum was one of the marines. He writes they were in the middle of nowhere taking mortar fire every night: "We sleep in a hole in the ground. We don't shower or shave anymore. I got a new M16 rifle today because my old one got blown up by a mortar round."

War and fighting was not the only thing Schrum wrote about. He also details his love for Carolyn and the loneliness caused by their separation. The correspondence seems to start just after the couple began dating. Schrum is very frank in expressing his physical desire for his girlfriend and in the sexual aspects of their relationship, they did not make love yet.  Soon after Ronald gets into fire fights and when he first sits down to write Carolyn about it, he seems to get emotional and expresses his love for her more then he usually does: "I love you too much for anything to go wrong now. Love you'll never know how many times I've sat here looking at your picture and then I stop and think about it. But I guess this place makes a guy think like that once in awhile."

The number of letters in which Ronald expresses his desire to be intimate with her increases, and over time he becomes not only more frank in his expressions but the letters take on greater sexual content.  Ronald writes Carolyn about his feelings on numerous occasions, including this letter of Dec 22, 1967:

"Love I can't wait until our first night together as man and wife, but I'm still scared about it. I'm going to say something that may make you very mad at me but I'm not going to lie to you about anything. I've looked at your pictures so much and the more I look at them the more I want you in my arms and to kiss your sweet lips. Now here's the bad part I've undressed and dressed you in my dreams more than once and I know this isn't right, but I can't help it love and I know you must think I'm a nut for doing it....when I get home with you I'll keep my hands in my pockets okay with you Love, understand what I'm trying to say and when we do have sex together it will be as man and wife and not until then love. It's been 18 months and I can wait until June."

The letters get especially frank by 1968 before their marriage the couple were married in Junewhile Schrum was on a 30 day leave

"Love I want to tell you about something, but I don't know how to say it or how to put it in words so that you won't get mad at me for saying it and it may seem wrong to you, but I'd like to try it on our first night when we are married and if you don't like it you just have to say no once and I'll never write about it again okay Love. I don't know if you read many books or not, but I've been reading a lot of books lately on everything and one book I've been reading tell's how to please a woman in every way ... Now Love if you are going to leave me for saying just write and answer this letter but you wanted me to tell you the truth and the way I feel about you love and if you do love me I'll still love you forever Carolyn, But Love I would like to try it just once if its okay with you. Love just let me know what you think about it."

A follow up letter by Ronald seems to show that Carolyn was willing to let him try it as he then goes into further detail of just how it is all supposed to work. In a letter, written before they married, Ronald seems to be preparing for his honeymoon:

"Now I'm going to ask you a question and don't get mad okay. Love have you ever thought of taking birth control pills and if so and not to mean anything by it but would you start taking them about a week before we get married and if you don't like it just say so and I'll understand Love."

After the couple is married in June of 1968 (Schrum had a 30 day leave and went home to marry), Ronald really becomes more expressive. There is a break in the correspondence when Schrum goes back home to Virginia to be married in May of 1968. When the correspondence begins again in July 1968, Ronald and his new wife appear to have developed pet names for their genitalia. A number of the letters after this point have sexual references intermixed with military actions that are taking place around him, perhaps a way for Schrum to keep his mind off of the fact that he is in the middle of a war. There are big guns (155 mm howitzers) next to his tent going off "every night all night," interrupting his sleep on a constant basis, while he spends his days going on dangerous patrols and adventures of rebuilding bridges, or sweeping for mines, all while taking sniper fire regularly, or even engaging in the occasional firefights, only to get back to camp at night to think of resting, but having the camp bombarded by mortar fire while he tries to sleep and the army's own big guns going "all night every night."

The correspondence is an interesting account of one soldier's experiences in the Vietnam War which captures at times, probably unintentionally, the absurdity and surreality of the conflict. Schrum's letters also highlight many of the societal and social changes transforming America at the time.