Volume 99, Number 4 November 8, 1994 . __ . . -*- N A M V E T -*- ____/ \_ . . ( * \ . . Managing Editor \ Quangtri . . ---------------- \_/\ \_ Hue . . G. Joseph Peck \_Ashau Phu Bai . . \_* \_ . . Distribution Manager \ * ) . . -------------------- _/ Danang . . Jerry Hindle \|/ ( \_*Chu Lai . . --*-- \_ ------- \__ . . /|\ \_ I Corps \ . . \ ------- ! . . /\_____ ! . . / ! \ . . Guest Author ! !___ \ . . --------------- ! \/\____! . . Michael McCombs, Sr. ! ! . . Seattle, Washington / Dak To ! . . / * / . . ! \_ . . ! Phu Cat\ . . \ * * ) . . \ Pleiku ) . . -*- N A M V E T -*- \ \ . . / / . . "In the jungles of 'Nam, some of us ( -------- ! . . were scared and wary, but we pulled _\ II Corps ! . . one another along and were able / -------- \ . . to depend on each other. That has \ \ . . never changed. Today, free of the ! * / . . criticisms and misunderstandings _/ Nhatrang / . . many veterans have endured, _/ / . . NAM VET is a shining beacon, __/ ! . . a ray of hope, and a _ __/ \ ! . . reminder that the _____( )/ ! Camranh Bay . . lessons learned / !__ ! . . at such a high / \ / . . price shall not \ Bien Hoa \ / . . be forgotten - ! Chu Chi * \ __/ . . nor the errors \_ * --------- \ ___/ . . repeated!!!" ____ \ III Corps \ _/ . . / \_____) )_(_ --------- !__/ Duplication in . . ! ( ___/ any form permitted . . _____! \__ * ___/ for NONCOMMERCIAL . . ! Saigon/ purposes ONLY! . . \___ -------- / \/ . . \ IV Corps / For other use, contact: . . ) -------- / . . / ! G. Joseph Peck (813) 885-1241 . . / ____/ Managing Editor . . / Mekong/ . . ! Delta/ This newsletter is a "special edition" . . ! ____/ from the writings of Michael McCombs, Sr. . . ! / . . ! / NamVet is humbled to have such an honor . . ! __/ . . \_/ gjp . . .
Fading Photographs From My Mind's Own Album Michael D. McCombs September 7, 1993 Copyright 1993 Michael D. McCombs, Sr. All Rights Reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author, except where and as permitted by law. By definition, this is a work of fiction. The names of all Americans and some other details have been changed. The rest is as portrayed by an aging memory. I make no pretense that this is a work of history. It is more a work of remembered feelings of long ago. ===================================================================== T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S 1. Fading Photographs From My Mind's Own Album Dedication .................................................. 1 Thanks ...................................................... 2 NamVet/EVAC Copyright Notice ................................ 3 Fading Photographs .......................................... 4 A Comment or Two ............................................ 6 Jargon ...................................................... 7 Prologue .................................................... 10 2. Background Special Forces .............................................. 11 What's in a name? ........................................... 13 Jungle ...................................................... 14 Witness ..................................................... 16 The Electronic Chapel ....................................... 19 Locker, Utility ............................................. 20 Elephant .................................................... 22 3. Middle Distance Nha Trang ................................................... 23 Kontum ...................................................... 25 Special Project ............................................. 29 Montagnard .................................................. 32 Hootch ...................................................... 35 Saigon ...................................................... 37 CIB ......................................................... 39 Rocket Sunrise .............................................. 43 Hootch Raisin' .............................................. 45 Hootch of Hootches! ......................................... 48 Flashlights ................................................. 49 Midwife ..................................................... 52 Rehearsal ................................................... 54 Just a refresher ............................................ 58 Champion .................................................... 59 Maggie ...................................................... 60 Tri-Borders ................................................. 63 Morning After ............................................... 66 The Fourth .................................................. 67 Cooky ....................................................... 69 The Road From Pleiku ........................................ 71 Rosie's ..................................................... 73 Dressed For Success ......................................... 75 Good For The Back ........................................... 77 Dining Out .................................................. 79 Covey ....................................................... 80 Sundays ..................................................... 82 Party Night! ................................................ 84 Ashau ....................................................... 86 Letter From Home ............................................ 92 Idle Moments ................................................ 94 Prairie Fire ................................................ 96 Washington .................................................. 99 One Zero .................................................... 101 Up Close and Personal ....................................... 104 Blood Brother ............................................... 106 Scream ...................................................... 109 Widow Call .................................................. 110 Heavy Rain .................................................. 112 Village ..................................................... 113 Bear ........................................................ 116 First Time .................................................. 117 Black-eyed Peas ............................................. 120 Bomblets .................................................... 121 Redleg ...................................................... 124 The Way It Was .............................................. 125 Weather ..................................................... 127 RON ......................................................... 129 I Don't Remember the Birds .................................. 130 Fog ......................................................... 132 Buddha ...................................................... 134 Highland Sunset ............................................. 135 Home Again .................................................. 136 4. Foreground Freedom Bird ................................................ 139 Survivor's Guilt ............................................ 141 Healing ..................................................... 142 Just Lucky, I Guess ......................................... 144 5. Patina of Age An Old Picture .............................................. 146 Hendrix ..................................................... 147 Words ....................................................... 149 After Twenty Years .......................................... 151 Some Gave All... ............................................ 155 ===================================================================== Fading Photographs From My Mind's Own Album ===================================================================== Dedication: For The VWAR-L Lounge and those that inhabit it. For the incentive and sanity to write. And for: Greg Orman & Mike McCombs, Jr. so that they might understand.
Thanks Special thanks: To Lydia Fish, the list owner of VWAR-L, and to all the denizens of that special place in cyberspace we call THE LIST. They accepted me as I am and tolerated this gloom being placed in front of them, time and time again. Without them, it would never have happened. There are so many of them who have helped in the recalling and the writing that it is impossible to recount them all here, or anywhere else for that matter. Most did it by simply being and sharing their own pieces with me. In no particular order, I wish to thank Monte Olsen (Scissor butt), Tim Driscoll (T-bomb), Tom Sykes (Dog Handler), Jim Lynch (FNG), Tom Edmonds (Terminator), Toby Hughes (Sharkbait), Pats Givens (Rosie), Richard Rohde (Roadie), Marc Aden (voodoo chile), Dan Okada (DanO), Jack Carpenter (JackC), Jack Mallory (Cap'n Jack), Michelle (REMF librarian) and Mike (V-man) Viehman, Nancy Kendall (Motor Oil), Dennis Koho (Mayor), Lisa Harmon (Buffalo Gal), John Creech (creecherman), and a lot of others whose names will not come. Thank you all very much. And a final thanks to a friend who will not read this. His story is here, too. Thank you for having been my friend, my little Jarai brother....
> * - Copyright Notice - * ____/~~\_ < < ( * \ > > Prepared by G. Joseph Peck \ Quangtri < < NamVet Project \_/\ \_ Hue > > Electronic Veterans' Centers of \_Ashau Phu Bai < < America Corporation (EVAC) \_* \_ > > Copyright 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, \_ * ) < < 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 _/ Danang > > ( \_*Chu Lai < < All rights reserved. \_ ------- \__ > > \_ I Corps \ < < NamVet is a collective volunteer \ ------- ! > > effort comprised of articles and /\_____ ! < < items sharing veteran-related news, / ! \ > > experiences and resources amongst ! !___ \ < < veterans, their family members, ! \/\____! > > concerned others, and health, ! ! < < educational, and correctional / Dak To ! > > institutions. / * / < < ! \_ > > ! Phu Cat\ < < Segments of this newsletter may be \ * * ) > > excerpted for counseling, self- \ Pleiku ) < < help, dissemination amongst veteran \ \ > > organizations and groups, and for / / < < scholarly purposes without further ( -------- ! > > permission. This newsletter is NOT _\ II Corps ! < < to appear in any commercial product / -------- \ > > or venture without specific and \ \ < < written permission from EVAC. ! * / > > _/ Nhatrang / < < Our veterans have already paid _/ / > > the PRICE of freedom! __/ ! < < _ __/ \ ! > > Electronic Veterans'___( )/ ! Camranh Bay < < Centers of / !__ ! > > America / \ / < < Corporation \ Bien Hoa \ / > > (EVAC) ! Chu Chi * \ __/ < < \_ * --------- \ ___/ > > . ____ \ III Corps \ _/ < < / \_____) )_(_ --------- !__/ > > ! ( ___/ < < _____! \__ * ___/ > > ! Saigon/ < < \___ -------- / \/ > > \ IV Corps / < < ) -------- / CONTACT: > > / ! Electronic Veterans' Centers of < < / ____/ America Corporation (EVAC) > > / Mekong/ ATTN: G. Joseph Peck < < ! Delta/ Managing Editor - NamVet > > ! ____/ Post Office Box 261692 < < ! / Tampa, Florida 33685-1692 > < ! / VOICE: (813) 885-1241 < < ! __/ > < \_/ gjp <
Fading Photographs The crackle of ancient paper rustles through my mind, like parchment overhandled, frayed, breaking of age. Tired and worn from the passage of years. They were fresh once, in another place, in another time. They carried the images of loved ones, of places I once knew, caught forever; or so I dreamed. The colors were bright and the focus just so. Sharp for the things and soft for persons I had chosen to cast into the forever world in the cloister of my skull. Little things mostly; like a leaf in the spring or a flower in the snow. They held the peal of the laughter and the thunder alike, safe for tomorrow's thinking. There were some big things too, that counted for more to me than all the springs that had passed behind me. Soft eyed children, a grandmother's smile, the final passing of a friend. The ones that seem most faded are of yet a third kind. The ones that tell the story of a younger man, in an alien land, fighting a war without end and not knowing why he does. The sharpness is gone from the friends by the wire or on the berm; the mountains beyond and the stars that shone in that foreign land beyond a graying ocean. Good friends, too. Friends to die for and with, or to die for you. Nametags faded beyond recall. The sound of their voices covered by monsoon rains or incoming rounds. Even the places are going: Kontum, Nha Trang, Pleiku, are simple blurs on the paper that used to hold so much more. Even the tank has no corners and the napalm burns only gray; tracers leaving lines without color. And what of Weet, and Sarge, and all those who gave this strange place a reason, however cryptic, for being at all? Pain and love and hate and fear are all but gone. Only the strongest have survived the years intact, or I think they are. The rawest hate and fear, unmitigated by the lesser, the gentler things that made even these less horrible. So I reach out, with my feeble hands and softly grab, trying to save all of these that I want to keep so badly. The fading photographs from my mind's own album.
A Comment or Two These are some of my stories and musings on what happened nearly a quarter century ago. I have written them down in the hope that, by puttin' them on another medium, I can gain some kinda control over 'em. I don't think it worked. But it's done now, anyway. Maybe they will help you. That would be fine by me. I wouldn't wish what they've done for me on a dog. They are in no special order. Oh, some that go together are placed that way, but it's not strictly chronological. It's more like how I remembered it. Don't sweat it, you'll figure it out. There just isn't that much to get lost in. I've tried to write these as I felt 'em at the time they occurred more than for historical accuracy; and as I would tell 'em if properly bribed with appropriate beverages at a local den of shady repute. It is mostly disjointed stories of an unusual fourteen months - my tour in Southeast Asia. There's some other stuff, too. Things that tell a little about the guy who wrote these things, both before and after. Some of it may pass for poetry. Soldiers and poets are not far removed. Some of it is vulgar, profane and obscene. All of it is irreverent. It was, after all, a vulgar, profane, obscene, and irreverent war. You know any other kinds? Note: I'm a couple decades older as I write these than when I lived them. It is not always easy to recall feelings. I have tried. Gook, dink, slope, and a lot of the profanity are no longer a regular part of my vocabulary. They are offensive, and I despise the words. But they are part of what I was in the there-and-then. Leaving them out would be the greatest of hypocrisies. I would rather be obscene than a hypocrite.
Jargon A soldier's world is filled with equipment and concepts peculiar to his occupation and life style. There is no way to express the thoughts and actions of the soldier I was then without that jargon. Here is what I think you'll need: '16, M-16 - standard military rifle 122 - enemy weapon, 122 mm rocket 123, C-123 - two engine cargo aircraft 130, C-130 - four engine cargo aircraft 20, 20 mm - mini-canon used on aircraft .22 - 22 caliber weapon - light pistol 203, M-203 - 40 mm grenade launcher mounted under a rifle barrel .45 - 45 caliber pistol 4.2 - "four deuce", 4.2 inch mortar .50 - 50 caliber machine gun .51 - enemy weapon, 51 caliber machine gun '60, M-60 - 7.62 mm machine gun 7.62 mini - 7.62 mm mini-gun 80 - 80 mm mortar AA - anti-aircraft AK, AK-47 - enemy weapon, standard Warsaw Pact rifle AO - acronym, Area of Operations Arclight - B-52 strike ARVN - acronym, Army of the Republic of Viet Nam BDA - acronym, Bomb Damage Assessment Berm - a defensive wall of earth Bird - an aircraft, usually a helicopter Black Bird - USAF aircraft for special operations, named for black paint job Bouncing betty - type of mine blown into the air before detonation to increase casualties Browning - a 9 mm pistol Bru - a tribe of Montagnards, q.v. Bunker - a protective shelter C & C - Command and Control, see "Special Project" CAR, CAR-15 - rifle, carbine version of the M-16 CCC, CCN, CCS - acronyms for military units, see "Special Project" Civvies - civilian attire Claymore - a directional mine Cobra - a military helicopter used as a gun platform Conex - metal military container, large. Cork - a drug to prevent defecation, used in the field with small teams Cover one's six - watch the rear Covey - the name of the USAF detachment that flew our radio coverage Crud, the - various fungi and rashes common to soldiers in warm climates DEROS - acronym, Date of Expected Return from Overseas Didi - Vietnamese, flee or leave rapidly E & E - acronym, Escape and Evasion Exfil - exfiltration, point of exit from AO FAC - acronym, Forward Air Controller Fast mover - a jet, usually an F-4 Firebase - a remote artillery position, usually quite isolated Fire fan - the field of fire of a larger gun or mortar First shirt - military slang for First Sergeant, usually the highest enlisted grade in a company FNG - acronym, F*cking New Guy Grease - slang, to kill Hillsboro - an air force command and control aircraft Hootch - see "Hootch" HQ - acronym, HeadQuarters IA - acronym, Immediate Action IG - acronym, Inspector General Insert - insertion, point of entrance into AO Intel - intelligence information Jarai - a tribe of Montagnards, q.v. K, klick - a kilometer, the U.S. military uses the metric system Khaki - a sandish color, used in uniforms KIA - acronym, Killed In Action LTC - rank, Lieutenant Colonel LZ - acronym, Landing Zone, a site for a helicopter to land LZ watcher - an enemy soldier assigned to guard and report on activities on an LZ Medivac - medical evacuation, of injured personnel Mess, messhall - a military dining facility MIA - acronym, Missing In Action Mike Force - an allied reaction team, usually larger than a company Mini-pounder - small radar transmitter user to mark locations on the ground for radar-carrying aircraft Montagnard - one of the indigenous hill people of Southeast Asia Moonbeam - nighttime name of Hillsboro, q.v. MOS - acronym, Military Occupational Specialty - one's job title MPC - acronym, Military Payment Certificate, used in lieu of cash MSG - rank, Master Sergeant NCO - acronym, Non-Commissioned Officer NVA - acronym, North Vietnamese Army O-2 - a light observation aircraft O2 and benedryl - oxygen and a strong antihistamine, for hangovers OAS - acronym, Organization of American States OFM(cap) - Catholic religious order, Order of Friars Minor (Capuchin) OP - acronym, Observation Post Otter - light observation aircraft, an O-1 P, piaster - monetary units of RVN PH - acronym, Purple Heart, awarded for wounds received in action Phantom - air force fighter aircraft, the F-4 Point, point man - the soldier who walks first in formation and scouts the area ahead POW - acronym, Prisoner Of War Reckless - slang, a recoilless rifle, small artillery piece RON - acronym, Remain OverNight, a nighttime position RPD - enemy weapon, light squad machine gun RT - acronym, Recon Team RTO - acronym, Radio-Telephone Operator, the soldier who carries the radio RVN - acronym, Republic of Viet Nam SEA - acronym, SouthEast Asia SF - acronym, Special Forces SFC - rank, Sergeant First Class SFTG - acronym, Special Forces Training Group SKS - enemy weapon, bolt action rifle Slick - troop transport helicopter, UH-1 Slow mover - propeller driven air force fighter aircraft Snake - slang, a Cobra helicopter SOG - acronym, Special Operations Group, see "Special Project" SOP - acronym, Standing Operating Procedures SSG - rank, Staff Sergeant Stabo rig - special web gear allowing the wearer to be picked up by the harness Straphang - operate with a team other than one's own Tail - the soldier who walks last in formation and covers the rear TOC - acronym, Tactical Operations Center TO&E, TOE - acronym, Table of Organization and Equipment, the way a military unit is organized Tracer - military round that leaves a visible trail as it travels Tri-border - that area of SEA around the point where Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos meet V Corps - "Five Corps", see "Special Project" Ville - slang, village, particularly a Montagnard village Watcher - see LZ watcher White mouse - derogatory term for the national police of RVN WP, willie pete - a white phosphorus round or grenade 'Yard - slang, Montagnard, q.v. Zero week - an unassigned first week before the commencement of a school, frequently spent on details
Prologue At the ripe and wisdom-filled age of seventeen, I chose to join the U.S. Army. Any number of reasons, I suppose. The two strongest ones on my mind at the time were parental pressure and anger. Let's face it, if you are seein' a young lady again, even younger than yourself, who has already borne you a son, parents are not happy campers or particularly easy to live with. And it is mid-February 1968 - THE Tet Offensive, and friends are dead or dyin'. Those two factors complemented each other; and on Valentine's Day, 1968, I did the deed. I somehow didn't picture that I would not arrive in Southeast Asia until mid-year, 1971. I did the usual routine. Basic training at Ft. Ord, CA. Advanced Infantry Training at Camp Crockett, Ft. Gordon, GA. I'd already decided to be Airborne Infantry (needed that extra $55 a month when base pay for an E-1 was $89 a month), so next stop was Ft. Benning, GA. And here, the short story of my advanced years got the surprise insert. To get out of work one day during "zero week," I took a test for Special Forces (SF, Green Berets, Green Weenies, whatever). I wasn't interested in any such thing, but it was better than another eight hours at the riggers' shed. I promptly forgot about it during the three grueling weeks under the Georgia summer sun in Jump School. The day after I finished "jump week," I got orders for Ft. Bragg, NC, and Special Forces Training Group (SFTG). Whaddahell! They were nifty hats, so I went. Like I had a choice, of course. I was on Smoke Bomb Hill, the home of Special Forces, for nine months: Phase I training, MOS training (Morse code and radios, 05B), and Phase III trainin'. Then they decided I was good for Phase IV training - another month of seeing how far they could push you before you broke. They pissed me off, and I didn't break. This was an error to haunt me for many years. Like volunteering; it's one of those things you don't do. I was young. Anyway, somewhere in there I got married to the same woman as mentioned above and had number-two son. I also listened to a lot of old SF types and developed a hankerin' to wander and do some of that off-the-wall stuff. So I took a short and reupped for six to get assigned to Panama. More school! Three months in D.C. to learn Spanish. A great tour, as I already spoke it fluently. In November of 1969, I arrived at Ft. Gulick, Panama Canal Zone. Had a blast, though that's not the point here. In '71, it was time; and I volunteered for Viet Nam when the word came around some folk were needed for the special projects. Back to another school for three weeks at Bragg, again. By now I'm a young buck sergeant, have everything a little more under control; and things flow better. Tour the west coast kin, kiss the wife and son good-bye at LAX, spend a couple days at Ft. Lewis, WA, and board a plane for some damned place called "Cam Ranh Bay." Y'know, we make a LOT of errors when we're young.... ===================================================================== Background ===================================================================== Special Forces Special Forces is one of the most misunderstood outfits the Army ever had. Misunderstood by the public, the press, and even those who wore the Green Beret. Not even the Army knew what they were for or what to do with 'em. That didn't stop 'em, however, from doin' all sorts of things to us. Special Forces was created in 1952 as an option to problems like the Czech uprisin' of that year. The concept was a series of small, highly trained teams available to infiltrate into similar situations in foreign countries to train, equip, advise, and, if necessary, lead indigenous populations in the conduct of guerilla warfare. While primarily envisioned as operatin' in wartime, as part of a theater of operations includin' regular armed forces, the unspoken option of use in non-wartime situations existed from the beginnin'. Nearly all of the first batch of soldiers inducted into Special Forces were Americans of recent Eastern European extraction, many of 'em born there before the Iron Curtain came down. But that ideal survived only a couple of months. That same year, somebody in the Pentagon figured that this mission made SF prime candidates for counterinsurgency operations. And they sent the first SF personnel to the far ends of the earth, to a place few Americans knew, called Viet Nam. In less than a decade, the original mission had slipped into second place, and the counterinsurgency role had become primary. With the additional duties, SF expanded rapidly. There are, after all, a lot of guerillas in the world. From the first group in 1952, later designated the 10th SFG, they added the 1st in Okinawa, the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th at Ft. Bragg, and the 8th in Panama. The 5th, of course, went to Viet Nam. The 10th, in Europe, the 8th in Panama, and the 1st in Okinawa saw extensive use in counter-guerilla warfare throughout the world. The others, and the old-time members of the 10th, continued to train for the original mission, never to be used. The old TO&E consisted of a company with three "B" teams, each with five "A" teams. The "A" team was (and is) the primary operational level of SF. Each team is commanded by a Captain, XO a 1Lt, and ten sergeants in five specialty groups - a backup in each slot; operations and intelligence, weapons, communications, medicine, and engineering, primarily demolitions. The organization and high levels of trainin' and motivation made the A-Team very flexible, and it assumed a wide variety of missions, far removed from the ideas of the first organizers. And so it remains today. One got into SF in my time by fulfillin' three requirements: passin' a rigorous test, passin' through jump school to earn your parachutist rating, and makin' it through the intense session with SFTG on Smoke Bomb Hill at Ft. Bragg, N.C. I did these things, though the nine months at Ft. Bragg was more than a little tough. Still and all, I and a lot of others made it, and cast our fate with this hodgepodge of duties and assignments. Not so sure if that's good or bad. 'Course, this whole thin' wouldn't be here if it didn't require a particular off-center set of mind to walk into this with your eyes wide open. We'd all "go anywhere, do anything, as long as we have our hats." It was a secondary credo. And guerilla warfare sounds so romantic. 'Course, I've yet to meet a real guerilla.... But we also did lots of other things. In Latin America we did trainin' and medical assistance missions. In Europe we worked with NATO, and prepared to fight the red hordes. In Viet Nam we built the region's third largest army out of Montagnards, Hmong, and the other hill people of SEA. Out on the A-camps they fought a more or less conventional war against Charlie and big brother Chuck. They were good with the isolated nature of the long border. Let's face it, a guy whose whole life is based on bein' allowed to jump into Hungary and overthrow the government is not all with us, mentally. It is a very special kind of madness. I know, I was mad too. And because we were crazy enough to do it, and had some tentative contact with the spooks from that "first mission", they found us available to accept special operations no one else wanted. It was a bad move. The trainin' wasn't really applicable. But it made me what and who I am.
What's in a name? September 1969 and I'm in D.C. finishin' language school for a language I already speak. The wife and Mike Jr. have already taken off for California, and I'm bachin' it in the barracks. Hey, a Spec. 4 doesn't have a lot of money, and D.C. is an expensive place, even in '69. You do what you gotta do. It's the last couple weeks of class, and everyone is pretty much on cruise control. It's a twelve person class, and ten of us are bound for 8th SFG in Panama. We hang out a lot after class, usually at Louie's, about two blocks from the school. Little place with a couple of pool tables run by a WWII Marine vet who buys nigh on to every other round. Name was Louie, of course. Never knew the last name. It didn't matter. Anyway, we hung there most evenings, playin' pool and generally chillin' out. One night we walk in and this group of construction dudes has the tables and just about owns the place. We look at Louie, and he just shrugs. He's gotta make some money, so we just pull up a booth and get a round. They gotta leave sometime, y'know. Only they don't. An hour later, it's beginnin' to look like they're here for an evenin' of trouble. They've already started hasslin' Louie. But they're still payin', so Louie puts up with it. We're in uniform, and know what will happen if we try to intervene and send 'em on their way. None of us want delays in orders to Panama, so we start to plan. This, of course, requires another round. I've had too much, and I really wanna play some eight ball. Bill's also had to much, so he's my volunteer. I grab Bill by the hand, and we walk over to the nearest pool table and jump on it, kissin' and rubbin' and really carryin' on. The construction guys can't believe their eyes and start yellin'. Behind the bar, Louie just smiles. This goes on for a couple minutes and the construction dudes stomp out screamin' about fags and sh*t. Bill and I get up, I rack. The place is ours again. "Wild Bill" Wiegart, an old E-8 who was in school with us, looks up at Louie with a big grin and says, "I'll buy the next one for the Sweet Thing there, with the rack." Louie just loses it, and we fear we're gonna hafta take him to the hospital. You never know when a name'll stick. I was the "Sweet Thing" until I left the Army in '75.
Jungle Jungles are funny places. At least the ones in Panama are. The ones in SEA might deserve another adjective. But I didn't see any serious ones there. The Central Highlands is NOT jungle. And the ones out west are not even in the same league. But I spent some time in the woods in Panama, too. And elsewhere in South America. The Amazon is an amazin' place, huge beyond belief. The jungles in Panama were worse. Worst I ever saw. The Darien. That part of Panama that stretches from the Canal to Columbia. Godawful jungle. No trails, no people, few ground dwellin' animals of decent size. Couldn't move. Terrain is too steep. I mean, you come virtually straight up from a stream, there's a strin' of trees, and you drop straight back down to another stream. You gotta like water. You spend a lot of time in it. You don't sleep on the ground there. Oh, it's not 'cause of the critters, though that could certainly do it. Lots and lots of snakes and creepy crawly monstrosities with claws and stingers and teeth. But the main reason is the terrain - nothin' to lay flat on. You carry a hammock. The Army called 'em "jungle hammocks" 'cause they built in the 'squito netting. At least you can get horizontal. What you do is get a couple three-foot sticks of around three-quarter inch in diameter, run 'em through the spreaders in the ends, hang it up, tie up the net and use your poncho to make a roof - kinda like an A-frame with palm branches poked across from grommet to grommet. You get so you can put the whole shebang up in under five minutes, raw materials permittin'. And you always use your poncho liner. The jungle gets cold at night - all the moisture still in the air. Didn't think it would get cold like that.... But then there's the thorns. Lots of thorns. In the Darien, everythin' has thorns. Everything. The grass has thorns - saw grass is NOT nice. Palm fronds have thorns. Flowers have thorns. Many trees have long needle-like thorns hangin' down all over the "bark." Black palms. Berries have thorns. Not the little pathetic things that wild black berries do, but the real "ah, sh*t!" kind. You can't reach out and grab ANYTHING, 'cause you'll regret it. Too hot durin' the day to wear any kind of gloves that would do any good. Some guys wore 'em, anyway. Not me, I just tried not to touch anything. The biggest eye-opener was a stand of two-foot-plus diameter trees. The ground was only about a forty-five degree slope, so we stopped for a break and leaned against these big old hardwoods. For about two seconds. They were covered with Hershey Kiss sized and shaped thorns. Everythin' had thorns! Well, of course, not everythin'. Just the vegetation. The animals were all toxic, instead. Except for the local porcupine cousins. They were both. Insects, snakes, lizards, frogs, rodents. Their bites were all bad. Anythin' bit you, and you just swelled right on up. If you lived. Which most of us did, whether we wanted to or not. The Darien is not a good place to find out you are allergic to anti- venom. Take my word for that, I know. Sometimes the thorns and the toxins joined forces. Acacias. Base of every thorn had an ant hole. Every ant was a devout human hater. Worse when the tree died, too. Lean against it and it would crumble, rainin' fire ants. Hated the damn things. And noisy. Jungles are NOT quiet places. Monkeys scream, howl, bark. Lizards whistle. Birds make every noise imaginable. Little rodents can scream, too. Just like a wounded rabbit. Nasty. Big cats cough. Everythin' rustles and scurries. The insects drone in unbelievable numbers - unless you've been to the North Slope, then you believe. Finally, there's the rain. You gotta love dry season, where it only rains two or three times a week instead of the two or three times a day. That's noisy too, but not toxic. But it does make movin' a real bitch. Not a lot of thunder and lightnin'. The rain on your poncho can be even louder, though. Forget about dry socks, or drawers, or anythin'. Guns rust overnight. Radios short out without absolute protection. Everythin' gets wet, especially you. Sometimes you don't even bother with the ponchos. They don't work all that well, anyway, in the heat. Actually, I kinda liked the Central Highlands. There were flat spots where nothin' had thorns or tried to eat you. Coulda been worse....
Witness The year is 1970. I'm stationed at Ft. Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. Nice place to be, all in all. Old Spanish forts still in ruins from when the pirates got ticked off, outstandin' divin' waters, the jungle, the canal - just tons of things to do, places to go, people to meet. I spoke Latin American Spanish like a Cuban (the teacher was, so what do you expect?), and the natives were friendly. It's an accompanied tour, so my wife and my number two son are with me. (The wife who "Dear John-ed" me in SEA.) Spent less than half my tour actually in-country. Group was forever and a day sendin' us off to exotic places to train, or do medical aid, or just to get to know the terrain. This was a ball, and one of the reasons I didn't make some of the classic "ugly-American" errors in Viet Nam later. Made 'em in Latin America and got "larned purty good." Anyway, one of those trip was to Honduras with the OAS. You may recall the '68 "soccer war" between Salvador and Honduras. Didn't last long, mostly 'cause neither side had a lot of money to spend on it. The cause was basically surplus population in each country kinda ignorin' the border when they built their new abodes. That is a rough border to cover - jungle, hills, banditos.... So in comes the OAS. (Locally, the OEA - Organizacion de los Estados Americanos.) Modeled on border watches from the U.N. The U.S. provided very few "observers," as we gringos are NOT tremendously loved in Central America for some obscure reason. But only the U.S. had the resources to provide helicopters and a radio network. These came out of Panama. With 'em came pilots and flight crews for the whirly birds and operators for the radios. Oh, officially I was a "United States Counterpart," but it didn't fool anyone. I was there to make commo - which I do pretty good. The place I got sent was Nuevo Ocotepeque - called simply "Ocote" by the citizens. It's in Honduras, just across the border from Metapan in Salvador. Metapan was a military site, so the OAS station on the other side was Chalatenango - "Chalate." None of these are what could be called big cities. The air strip at Ocote was so small that I had to go in by chopper - an Otter couldn't land there - and that's small! I was to live in a Capuchin friary. (OFM Cap.) The radio (AN/PRC 74 - a multi-banded larger siblin' to the PRC 25's and 77's used in SEA) was in a converted counselin' room, and I had a bunk in an unoccupied friar's room on the back side. Like most such, throughout Latin America, the church sat on one side, the hacienda makin' the other three sides for the patio. The patio was roughly square - maybe fifty meters to a side. It was fully planted with jungle flowers except for a small kitchen garden on the south side near the back gate. In the center was a fair sized stone fountain. Straight out of "Mission". It was splendid! Outside of the friary, the town was a classic, dirt-poor Central American town. There was a Viejo Ocotopeque, down by the river, but it was just a few shacks and the old mission. A flood had gone through around 1960, and only the church, on a very slight rise, had survived. They'd rebuilt uphill about a kilometer. Hard to describe if you've never been to such a place. Very few places in our country know such poverty. There had been grand plans once, and large boulevards had been laid out. The curbs were even laid. But the city manager had decamped with the money for paving, and there it still sat. I made the rounds with the padres - the medical ones. No doctors for a hundred miles, and the folk medicine men couldn't carry the load. So, we Green Beanie types smuggled in drugs and equipment, and the padres played doctor without a license. Wasn't good, but better than nothin'. Makin' the rounds there was like steppin' back in time. I won't go into details of the poverty or the disease - they were at least as bad as you imagine. What struck me as a soldier were other things. The town's people were invisible when I wore a uniform - no one anywhere. I started wearin' civvies, and bingo; there was a population after all. Then I started noticin' other things. Long rows of pocks in the walls at about four feet above ground level. Many houses lookin' like they were hastily constructed in a crater. Everyone flinched at loud noises. The place had, indeed, known soldiers. I let my hair and beard grow. The mission, of course, was on the town plaza. Well, it was supposed to be a plaza, anyway. That money had gone with the town manager, too. It was simply a raised area with some thirsty lookin' trees and some scraggly lookin' native shrubs. Did have a couple benches in the middle, and a flock of unhealthy lookin' pigeons, though. In this "plaza," I met the Lord and was converted. Not what I'd pictured for such a momentous occasion in my life. But what's one to do? The time and choosin' are selected by other standards than mine, I guess. The mission, like many in Central America, was staffed by Norte Americanos. The Capuchins were all from upstate New York. A bunch of good joes, and that is the understatement of the year. They were workin' missionaries, as likely to be found in a field with a plow and jeans as in a cloister. Habit was for church - otherwise they looked like an enlarged version of a local farmer. When I arrived, there were four in residence. I was told that another, Fr. Mary Francis (he had a "real" name, too, but I never knew it) was out on "rounds" - visitin' on mule back the little hamlets and homesteads scattered in the surroundin' hills. He came in three weeks later. He wasn't a big man, maybe 5'9", 130 lbs or so. He was in his sixties, had arthritis and was in generally poor health. But he'd been ridin' the circuit, on a mule. And when the mule couldn't climb any more, he got off and lead it through the nasty stuff. I watched him real closely - had to be insane, don't you know? The day after he got back and mornin' prayers were said and breakfast eaten, he went to the plaza. The window of the radio room looked out that way, and it all looked wrong. Must have taken me half and hour of starin' to figure it out. He was feedin' the pigeons. Nothin' earth-shakin' about that, but you have to remember where and when we are. These pigeons were survivors. They did NOT go near people - EVER! First, no one spent food on 'em. Second, anytime some one tried, it was a trap and they were destined for the stewpot. They avoided people like the plague - livin' off food from the wild. But Fr. Mary was feedin' the pigeons. And they were swarmin' all over him, sittin' on his head, his shoulders, his arms. I was starin' for half an hour before I realized I was starin' at an animated picture of St. Francis. Scared the hell out of me. And then the children came. I don't know where they came from; I'd never seen so many in town before. The pigeons stayed. And he fed the children too. From somewhere in his brown robe came bread and cheese. They laughed and shouted and romped and hugged him. All of 'em together - priest and children and birds. I didn't know what to think. Look, I'm a pragmatist, okay? I only believe that which I can touch, see, feel, taste, weigh and measure. But I see it. He is a magnet, and I am a piece of iron. I sign off the net and walk across the dirt swath that passes for a street. I know that I'll spoil everything, but I HAVE to go. Iron has no choice. I have no choice. They do not go. I am in uniform with a gun on my belt, and the children, the birds and the padre all welcome me like I'd been with 'em just yesterday. We share bread and cheese - and a can of fruit cocktail I had grabbed and put in a pocket. The plaza is beautiful today. The trees are lush and heavy with leaves, the shrubs are in bloom. They aren't really, of course - but somehow they are. I know the symptoms now, in retrospect, though I didn't know 'em then. I had fallen hopelessly in love with the man. We all had - the children, the pigeons and me. He shone with the light that such of women and men chosen of God alone can carry. I am in love. It does not last forever. Duties call to all of us - children and pigeons and Father Mary and me. We meet again many times, and it is never like this again. Oh, the birds still mob him, and the children romp, but it changes. I see the poverty, the squalor, the patches sewn in his robe, the sores on the children's faces. But the love remained. Maybe, even, it grew. I spoke with the friar superior. We started lessons the next Saturday, and I was baptized in the chapel at Ft. Davis in Panama two months later. Fr. Mary was back out on the circuit when my relief arrived. I never saw him again. Or rather, perhaps, I have yet to stop seein' him. He died while I was in SEA. There was a little mission across the creek on the north side of the CCC camp in Kontum. Van Kaufman and I would go to mass there every Sunday we were in-camp. Only Americans in the crowd. We would go to confession to a priest who spoke no English, and we received reconciliation in Vietnamese, which we did not speak. Translator not necessary. The priest, a Vietnamese missionary to the 'yards, knew everythin' he needed, I expect. I did not cry for Fr. Mary when Fr. Rod (the friar superior) wrote me. But it wasn't because I couldn't. I figure he just started one more circuit ride. I keep hopin' his mule can make it up the hill I'm on. Be nice to sit in the plaza again with the pigeons, the padre, and maybe my sons and you and all the others. Did I tell you it had roses in it once? _________________________________________________________________ I'm not that much of a story teller, really - this one always seems to tell itself. I'm not much of a bible thumper either; my faith is kinda a private one. This, however, is different. Here I bear witness that God's glory is still upon the earth, in the most obscure of places; and the saints are alive and well. My only proselytizin'. (Really.... Roses! I can still smell 'em.)
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Locker, Utility His name doesn't really matter. It was twenty-four years ago, and I guess bygones should be left as bygones. He was a young Signal Corps second looie fresh outta Special Warfare School at Bragg, and that should be ID enough. Oh yeah, he was also VMI. With the big ring. The kind a matchin' ego buys.... They assigned him to our A-team in Panama. We were fresh outta officers, and that couldn't be let ride. Now, all young second looies are hell-bent-for-leather to set the Army on fire with their hard work and innovative ideas, but he was worse than the usual lot. He flat sneaked up on us. He spent the first week bein' pretty quiet and bendin' the manuals, contingency plans, and operation profiles. We were kinda gettin' our hopes up that we'd gotten a good one who was there to learn the way we did things. No such luck. After that week, see, he knew it all. Indeed, he knew better. Especially about communications to and from 'denied areas.' Which meant that I caught it worse than the others, bein' senior commo man and all. Special Forces tactical doctrine obviously was out-dated and worthless. And there wasn't no tellin' him any different. I mean what did Marion, Mao, and Che know that he didn't? A boy genius in our midst, and he was gonna save Special Forces from itself. And he was startin' with us. So we run a few ops his way, that bein' the normal method of gettin' their attention. We got creamed, of course. ASA had us nailed the first night in, and we got captured by stumblers twice. But to him, we had just executed poorly, the plans bein' perfect. Well, this can be a little hard on an A-team's pride, bein' captured by straight- leg infantry so new they didn't know the jungle from a fruit stand. And we started to get a little disenchanted with the young man. Ah hell, we were damned pissed! So now we get a real serious trainin' op. We're gonna run as the aggressors against a company of Fleet Marine in Jungle Warfare School. It's not bad duty, a day job mostly. But the looie wants to do things his way again. This is pretty straight forward infantry stuff, but we're gonna do it with a signal twist ala inexperience. Uh huh, right. He plans his little operations, and even the new Spec. 4 medic just outta Training Group can see we're gonna get cremated again. We try very hard to explain this to him in words of two syllables and less, but he just decides he gives the orders around here, and this is the way it's gonna be. Bill looks at Dutch. Dutch looks at Frank. Frank looks at me. I look at Neal. Neal looks back at Bill. That's the senior guys in each of the MOSs. It's agreed without so much as a word. Frank, the senior medic, saunters over to the vacant team leader's locker and opens the door. The rest of us walk over, grab the 2Lt. and stuff him in. Bill, as the senior, the team sergeant, does the honor and puts the D-ring snaplink through the hasp. There's only wire mesh separatin' us from the team next door, and Bill signals the team sergeant over there in case there's a fire or somethin' to let him out. We grab our gear, and go kick some serious tail on a Marine Platoon. Our turf, it would've been hard to lose. Unless that lieutenant had been there...again. We come back about eight hours later and let the poor fooker outta the locker. He's so flustered that we put him in and that no one let him out, he just turns beet red and can't say a damn thin'. Also, he smells a little ripe, so we don't push him to stay and chat, anyway. Shouldn't oughta drink so much coffee and eat so much chili, I suppose. Anyway, he goes stompin' down the hall to B-team and corners the Major. This doesn't please the Major none too much, as he has a sensitive nose. But he's only a field grade, and he's gotta listen to the man. We can hear it clear down in the team room, the whinin' and yellin' is so loud. Bill is lookin' a little sheepish, but ready to take the heat. Hell, I guess we all are. And happy to do so. Whaddahell.... Then it comes, the ell tee has run down in tears and gasps. We feel little twinges - but only little ones. The Major's thickly accented, hispanic voice bites through, "You meen to tell mee loo-tin-ant that you have so leettle control over yourself that you've been sittin' in your own sheet all day and have the nerve to come complain to ME! Geet out of my offeece! And go take a shower, forgodsake!" The Signal Corps second looie was never seen again. Some signal outfit in CONUS gained, I heard. A week later we get Dai uy Simmons as new team leader, and he's happy to be saved from a staff job at Group HQ. He wasn't quite so happy with the still lingerin' odor of his locker. Well...no plan is perfect. A month later we get a new, young 2Lt named Olsen. They both bought it on the strip at Kontum a couple years later. Two of the finest officers I ever knew. Two of the finest men, period! That's three to one for good officers over bad. As any old NCO will tell you, we done okay on that tour. The Major got a new, teak chess set and matchin' board for Christmas. Could lick any of us with one leaf tied behind his back, anyway. Dai uy and Olsen got the respect they earned, and a place of honor on The Wall. I don't like to think on the career of the other. They don't call 'em "Locker, Utility" for nothin'.
Elephant Americans went to Viet Nam for any number of reasons. Not the country, America. Nobody knows for sure why America went to war in that place, so far from her own shores. Oh, I know the reasons given as well as you do, maybe even better. But I don't believe a single one of 'em. It's not easy to believe any combination of 'em, though the truth is probably in there, somewhere, under the rhetoric and the flippancy. But this isn't about a nation, it's about people. Men and women went to Viet Nam, not any damned nation. Just us folk. The draftees went because they had to. They weren't given a choice, other than Canada or some third world nation. Not real alternatives, those. Not for someone used to the American lifestyle, American freedom. So they went to SEA. Most of 'em came back. Not all. The volunteers were another matter. Some went for patriotism, our country was at war. Some went because, whether the war was right or not, goin' was "the right thin' to do." Some went from parental pressure, some to get out of jail, some to get away from an impossible situation at home, some for adventure, some because of boredom. Some went simply to die, and suicide seemed too hard. Some went to help their fellow Americans who were already there or who wouldn't be comin' home. Revenge and racial hatred figure in the reasons, too. Name a reason, and somebody probably went because of it. I'm not positive now, all these years later, why I went to Viet Nam. Oh, I joined the Army because homelife was godawful; and I wanted revenge for friends and classmates lost in Tet of 1968. But, before I went, I had been in for three years; and this wasn't good enough for me, anymore. My home life was kinda rocky, since I'd found out the wife had been sleepin' with a teammate while I was in Nicaragua, but it looked salvageable. I was makin' rank and goin' someplace, though I'd yet to figure out exactly where. Then I just up and decided to go to Nam. I tend to think it was the old Civil War quote; from whom, I don't remember now. "They have seen the elephant, and they will never be the same." Or words to that effect, anyway. Every soldier knows it. I knew it. It meant somethin' to all the men with whom I'd served who had been there. It meant somethin' to those who hadn't been. It meant somethin' to me. I wanted to test my nerve, to discover if those things between my legs were real and meant anythin'. I found out about nerves. And I found that the things between my legs just represent an increase in target area. I wanted to see the elephant. Well, I saw it. It is big, ugly, gray, mean, and a killer. But I went and saw it. My nerves turned to mush and the things between my legs almost got blown off. Not exactly what I expected. Oh, I'm glad I went to see the elephant. But now I can't forget. Ever. ===================================================================== Middle Distance ===================================================================== Nhe Trang It's a long flight from McChord AFB in Washington State to Cam Ranh Bay. We make a stop in Alaska to top off the fuel tanks, and another somewhere else, don't remember now - just remember a second stop. Good old DC-10. Meals in a box. The steward staff tries, but no one really seems all that happy to be on this flight. I got a window, but the young E-3 next to me keeps tryin' to look out, so I swap with him. The Pacific Ocean is kinda big and boring, anyway. I'm in jungle fatigues with a duffle in the hold. I am not comfortable flyin'. Can't sleep too well while movin'. Never could, still hardly ever do. It's a long flight.... Land in Cam Ranh okay. Nobody shoots at us, and that's fine by me. Haven't got a gun, y'see. Haven't got sh*t. This is unpleasant. Been in thirty foreign countries already. Got shot at in a couple of 'em. Don't like bein' unarmed. Expect 'em to rectify it. Gettin' off the plane is interestin'. Mosta the guys melt upon steppin' on the roll-up staircase. Musta been what I looked like when I arrived in Panama a few years back. It doesn't hit me too hard, I was only stateside for a couple months. One Colonel in greens is exposed to the error of his ways. He's soaked to the skin before they take him away with the rest of the officers. Run us over to some barracks for some prelim paperwork. Then they tell us we gonna be there for a couple days. A couple DAYS? Sh*t! I ask about firearms. Young buck sergeant (like me) says no sweat, you don't need it. Okay, but what kinda rock did this dude crawl out from underneath of? Get together with some old SF types and we begin to wrangle for a ride to anywhere. Crusty old MSG wanders off to an office and comes back, smilin'. Nha Trang's gonna send us a truck. It's not all that far, he says. Country's mostly safe. Sh*t. Thanks, Top! Ride a truck for fifty, sixty miles in a hostile country unarmed. Sure, it's okay. Didn't wanna go home, anyway. Sh*t. Guess it's better than stayin' here, though. A couple jeeps with M-60s and a deuce and a half roll up a few hours later. We haul out before they notice we're leavin'. They brought some heavy metal! I get to hold my first CAR-15, only seen 'em, before. Lock and load, and roll north. Two jeeps and the truck. Fifteen dudes in the truck. Top's down and it's rainin' like all hell. Don't care. Hey, I'm from Panama. Weather's okay, country looks like I can handle it. Maybe not a cakewalk, but I'm gonna be okay. Lotsa check points, mostly ARVN. They don't look like really sharp troops, but it's hard to look sharp drenched and lookin' for cover. Don't see anyone in black PJ's, nobody shoots at us, and it's a pretty uneventful trip. This is good. By now, I'm one pooped pup. We get to Nha Trang in one piece. Check in, and get assigned to two- man rooms. Everybody heads for chow. 'Cept me. I stumble to my assigned room and manage to low crawl into the rack. Don't remember anythin' from the time we signed the roster till the next mornin'. Not sure I got to the rack on my own. Was there in the mornin' though, and that's all that mattered. Go to mess and get greasy eggs, somethin' that was once ham, and some not too bad orange juice. Nothin' to do today, leave for Kontum in the mornin'. "Why don't we go swimmin'?" I think about the offer. "You got a secured area on the river?" "Nope, the pool." "The pool? The POOL!?? You gots to be sh*ttin' me." "Nope, here's some trunks." Go out back. They got a fookin' swimmin' pool! Concrete and tile. Life guard. I walk around the compound. Curtains in the windows. Grass is mowed. Mowed! The parkin' lot (yeah!) has gravel and stripes - names on some of the slots. The berm has poured concrete bunkers and is painted white. Painted white? The doors in the buildin' have signs on 'em. They look like real oak. Go to my room to change. Yep, curtains there, too. And my locker is custom made in some kinda wood. Skirts on the bed. Maid service. Sheee***t.... I muse as I go swimmin' my laps. I'm havin' a severe case of culture shock. That's funny, I thought this was a war zone. This ain't gonna be a bad tour. Bound to be better at my final station.... Okay, I was young and impressionable....
Kontum Been at Nha Trang a whole day. Not a bad place. But, as a buck sergeant, I seemed to be the lowest rankin' critter in the universe. This is NOT good, and I'm interested in gettin' to Kontum. Hell, this place has a swimmin' pool. Kontum can't be all that bad.... Next mornin', we get driven to the strip. Big place. Fulla all sorts of aircraft. We drive off in some godforsaken corner and find the Black Birds. Six of us goin' to Kontum. One old geezer, musta been thirty, tells us it's a nice place. He's goin' to the Mike Force compound on the other side of town from our compound. I ask about swimmin' pools. He laughs and laughs and laughs. I begin to re- evaluate my previous position. And they take our guns back. No sweat, they'll give us new ones upon arrival. Okay, got no gun ports on a 123, anyway. Load up. I been on C-130 Black Birds in Panama. I know enough not to go liftin' the curtains up front. Tell the other newbies that. Don't wanna loose new friends too fast. Long wait in jump seats, and we finally get to take off. Windows are kinda small, but we glue ourselves to 'em and rotate turns. 'Cept for the old geezer, he grabs some shut-eye. Wish I could. We fly. Ten minutes out, the loadmaster tells us they ain't gonna be down for long, and we're gonna hafta jump off the tailgate real smart- like unless we wanna stay on the plane. "Why?" "'Cause otherwise we gonna get hit by rockets. Rocket City, ain't you heard?" Sh*t! I do not take this as a good sign. Okay, though. He has inspired us to be prepared to un*ss this bird with rapidity. Single guy ain't nothin' to waste a rocket on, so it's better than stayin' aboard. Five minutes out, and I start to realize this IS a war zone. Too late to un-volunteer? Yep. Damn! We hit the strip hard and fast. Rough landin'. Seem to be movin' kinda fast. Never did really get used to C-123's. The tail drops as we begin to turn. We head for the gate. I'm gonna be first one off and movin' away from this thin' as fast as I can. I'm not, though. Now wheredahell did that old geezer come from? Don't care. Follow that dude! I see he's headin' for a bunker. I also begin to realize I see no one on the strip. Sh*t! Pick up the pace and dive for the bunker. The 123 is just barely airborne when the first rocket hits. I hear my first 122. Phwip phwip phwip *)BOOM(*. Two more before they stop. Don't hit nothin'. 'Cept my nerves. Welcome to Kontum, RVN. I only learn later that there's a lot of Rocket Cities in Viet Nam. If I'd known then, I'd've been lookin' for a ride home. We stick our heads back outta the bunker. Strip repair crew is out and movin' already. A black painted jeep and a three-quarter-ton wait about fifty meters away. A bored lookin' guy waves us over. The other driver is a little sawed-off runt, with a flat nose and dark brown skin. I met my first Montagnard. He says, "CCC?" We say yeah. He got out and threw each of us a CAR- 15. Then he threw us a couple magazines. We locked and loaded without askin'. The bored lookin' dude took the old geezer and left in the jeep. The 'yard, in perfect English, says, "Get on up, *ssholes, we gotta get home for dinner." Sh*t! I'd met my first wise-*ssed 'yard. But, since he was startin' the truck and puttin' it in gear, we got on without arguin' a whole bunch. No top on this one either. I begin to suspect nobody puts tops on vehicles in SEA. I'm wrong, but it is fairly common. Troops are gonna get wet, what's the use in coverin' em? Equipment gets cover. We drive through downtown Kontum. I meet my first White Mice, see my first Vietnamese city, see too many ARVN screwin' off. Okay, it's not all that different than I'd been told. We keep on goin'. Roll on out the south side on the road to Pleiku. I look at the 'yard driver and ask how far. He points at the low ridge line ahead. I see a camp nestled along the top, huggin' it real tight. Okay, not far. Maybe a klick. Tanks along the road, a check point at which we don't stop, and nobody looks askance. Hhhhhmmm... I'd heard that CCC was a privileged group. Never did have to stop at any check point when in one of our own vehicles. Get up the hill after crossin' the river and find this route runs right through the middle of the fookin' compound! A major highway through a defensive perimeter? Who designed this thing, anyway? And it ain't Nha Trang. Raw sandbags and wood, everywhere. Mud and puddles, everywhere. Somebody had obviously had a sale on concertina and claymores, too. Damn! Really wasn't a swimmin, pool, was there? We pull in on the west side in front of a captured .51 cal. rigged for anti-aircraft. On the base is a crude plaque dedicatin' it to Montagnard KIA. Yep, this was the right place. I think we found the war. The 'yard, who turns out to be the Recon Company translator, tells us to get out. While we do so, he calls out in some 'yard dialect. A dude in a beret with a CAR-15 strung over his shoulder, carryin' an umbrella like an English gentleman, saunters over. This guy is outta a cartoon, and that's for sure. He's got no rank insignia, so we just wait. Me and three other buck sergeants and a Spec. 4. He says "Hi, I'm Joe, which one's the Sweet Thing?" Oh sh*t! My name got here first. I hesitantly own up. He looks at me like an auctioneer sizin' up his sale and points the others at a buildin' up north and says Security Company's thata way. Not wantin' any part of this loon, they take off. He says come on, and I do. We go inside the building, which turns out to be Recon Company HQ. Two rooms. The outer looks like a day room, pictures and a pool table. The pool table has apparently taken a couple direct hits, and I don't see a lot of hope in playin' on it. Shame, I'm not too bad with a cue. We go into the other room and it's a small, efficient office. He sticks out a hand and says, "Joe Stevens." I take it slowly and say, "Mike McCombs." Joe Stevens. MISTER RECON! THE Joe Stevens! Sh*t! And I thought he was some kinda jerk. Sh*t! He knew my handle from elsewhere. Sh*t! Might prove to be a long tour! Sh*t! He brings out the paper work and I sign in. He says to have a sit and hang loose, Doc Thomas will be right over. I'd heard of Doc, too. Real *sshole, I'd been told. Went sour in his second tour. On his third, now. They said no one stateside wanted him back. Ever. Okaaaaaay. Joe leaves. I wait. About five minutes and Doc walks in. About my height, but skinny as a rake handle. Face that could kill at twenty-five meters. I've met the kind before. Can't show any weakness or he'll eat you. Okay, I'm pretty good at bluffing, we'll see. He smiles. Oh f*ckinsh*t! Man, I just got here! Sh*t! He says, "Welcome, I'm Doc." I say, "Thanks, I'm Mike, Top." "Good to have you, got a job for you already." Oh sh*t! "Sure, whatcha got in mind, Top?" "RT Michigan needs a leader, you ready to run a team?" F*ck, I just got here, man! Run a team of 'yards in the woods? You gotta be sh*ttin' me. Fake it. "Okay, what first?" He calls in a 'yard who takes me to the RT Michigan team house. Says any old bunk'll do, it's vacant at the time. I figure they musta DEROSed, three empty bunks. Okay, I choose one and throw my duffle in a locker. Follow the 'yard to the supply shack. Get my basic load, plus a CAR-15 that's not a loaner. Takes two trips to get it all to the room. Sit down and contemplate the vagaries of military assignments. Momma said there'd be days like this. Damn know-it-all. Ten minutes of relaxation and there's a knock at the door. Two 'yards. The first one gives his name and introduces the other one. I don't remember either one. The first one says the other one needs leave 'cause his mother died. Okay, we're gonna play games right up front. Not even this FNG was gonna buy this one. And besides, how the hell they know someone's here already, ferchr*stsake? Let's go to your bunks, I say. And they lead off. Short walk to the 'yard barracks. I figure there's gotta be a team sergeant or some such, and I can ask. We walk in and there's only two occupied bunks. Their's. I begin to smell a rat. I ask. Yep, team didn't come back last week. They didn't go 'cause it was only an eight man mission, and they were junior. I'm startin' to get pissed. Doc's f*ckin' with me already. Man, I just got here! Sh*t! F*ck! F*CK! Dead man's team.... Back down to Recon HQ. Find the company clerk. Find the forms. Put 'em both on leave for two weeks. Don't care if anybody died or not. I need time to regroup. F*ckit! Rustle up the guy with the money, get 'em paid and out the gate. They figured they fooled me. Troops are all the same, nationality irrelevant. Had found that out in Brazil. F*ck that, too! Doc's gone for the day. Okay, *sshole, we'll get it straight tomorrow. I go back out. There's Joe. Okay, I'll deal with him first. He's headin' for the mess. "He give you a team? Which one?" "RT Michigan." Joe frowns. Big frown. Okay, he didn't know. "Come have a bite with me." Okay, we go eat, and I tell him what I've done and why. He smiles. "Okay, you don't sweat it. Come with me, I'll introduce you around." I begin to suspect Doc might be alone, here. Had a damn good evenin'. Meet a bunch of crazy SOBs who will become my family and my unit in short order. This place was gonna be all right. Damn straight! Still lookin' to get Doc.
Special Project The program was, in general, referred to as "Command & Control," which was a total misnomer. It didn't command or control anything, except under some very unusual conditions, which I'll mention later. But C & C was the name. Actually, there was almost never cause to refer to the whole program, at least not at my level. There was CCN, CCC, and CCS, and that was enough; north, central and south - Da Nang, Kontum, and Ban Me Thuot. The program was launched in the early '60s by MACV SOG to provide "strategic intelligence," the kind that went in front of the president's briefer every mornin'. We worked in what we euphemistically called "V Corps." These are the areas outside of the four "corps areas" of the then-RVN. CCN ran north and west - North Viet Nam and northern and central Laos. CCC ran southern Laos and parts of Cambodia. CCS ran the rest of Cambodia. We also ran "risky" areas in-country - the Tri-borders, the Cobrahead, and the Ashau ("Ah sh*t!" or "THE") Valley. Basically, we ran anythin' on, near, or beyond the borders. That's why it was "strategic recon." It was the sort of information that campaigns were based on, rather than battles. The intelligence that guided the "Cambodian Incursion" was largely gathered by CCS and CCC. The original intel came from the USAF photo recons and "spook" sources - but it was the guys in funky green that went and got the details for what unit was to go where and what they were to do upon arrival. Air doesn't give you that kind of data. And the Army brass, in general, has grave doubts about "spook" data. Who can blame 'em? "Magic" has a bad reputation.... The Cambodian incursion was before my time, but I saw the photos. Took some just like 'em later. Lot of guys died for very damn little noticeable change in that campaign. But, I digress.... We also did other things that required our particular structure and skills. BDAs on the ground. Again, photos and pilot perceptions don't tell the whole story. Also did downed-pilot operations, prisoner snatches, special types of interdictions, and preparation for never-executed POW rescue operations. (Spent three weeks gettin' ready for one once, only to have CCN bring back word they'd moved - DAMN!) That lot was our venue - though the last was a mismatch of unit and operation. They did know we could keep ourselves secretive, and I think that's why we got the call. Everyone in camp wanted in on those. But they never flew for real while I was in-country. Odd list of duties, I admit. But, with the exception of the POW rescue operations, they fit us. In order to do what we were supposed to do in intel-gathering, we ran in VERY small units. I saw two-man ops and eighteen-man ops. The average was six: two Americans and four Montagnards. Very well paid 'yards, I might add. These were the cream of an excellent crop. There is no way I can put into words how good they were, how much we owed 'em, and how little we left 'em. (Sorry, digressin' again. What we left behind gets to me sometimes.) At any rate, I "know" of one-man ops, too. Losses were too high, we gave 'em up. The teams went lightly armed, heavily supplied. The basic idea was that anythin' too large called attention to itself. A small team could, hopefully, get in and out unobserved, bringin' back high quality, timely intelligence. It worked. Got photos to prove it. Hangin' on the Recon Company wall at CCC was a picture of an NVA regiment on parade; dress right dress, eyes front, passin' in review. Didn't take that one, just saw it there. Taken in THE Valley, Tet 1968. Scare the hell out of you if you are sane. We weren't; one-upmanship was the name of the game. That size team also fulfilled the requirements of BDAs and the other things I mentioned before. Worked okay, though we didn't save many pilots, and BDAs were NOT popular assignments. It's amazin' how much activity there can be in an area only fifteen minutes after a B-52 strike. It is NOT an anti-personnel weapon, and that's a fact. The heart of any of the three units was Recon Company - the guys with the sleepy look who don't smell so good. Support forces were there as well, of course. Security companies, mess, supply, brass, and so on, existed on each compound. The compounds of all three were classified in and of themselves. Nobody got in, unless we were in the mood or orders came down from way up the line. It is nice to tell the IG where to go. On the flip side, no stateside entertainment on-site. We had to go elsewhere. In our case, to the air base at Pleiku. Only performer we had on the compound while I was there was Maggie, Martha Raye. LTC Martha Raye, USA Nurses Corps, in case you didn't know. She earned her leaves in WWII and Korea. She could go anywhere any guy with a green buffer rag was, no questions asked. She had one, too. Wasn't official, but she had the whole war suit: patch, jump boots, the whole ball of wax. Went through jump school in Thailand to make it official. She was one of us, and we all loved her.... So far, so good. Nothin' one didn't know had to have taken place, even if one didn't know the details. It gets worse from here.... First, military rank meant nothin' within Recon Company. Position mattered. The Recon Team leader ("one zero") ran the team. It was not uncommon to have a SSG as one zero, SFC as one one and a 1LT as the one two. Nobody complained. The "company commander" was an old MSG/E-8 while I was there. I'm not sure an officer ever occupied the position. C & C always was an NCO's domain. Second, in the field we didn't wear uniforms - at least, not American ones, sometimes NVA ones. Weapons were a mixed lot - Soviet, French, British, American, you name it. I carried an RPD - a Chinese made, Warsaw Pact, squad light machine gun. Better than an M-60 in my opinion, certainly a LOT lighter, a critical criteria. American was okay, as there was so much combat loss in Viet Nam that it wasn't all that unusual to see NVA with American weapons. Clothing was modified foreign jungle fatigues, or local if the American was small enough. Mine were French, customized to my satisfaction. My pack was local, web gear was British (except for the stabo-rig, which was NATO standard, and American), food local, made to our specs. The idea was to be unobtrusive, mess with their minds, and provide "plausible deniability." We knew that there were teams of "unknowns" in Southeast Asia, and we never figured out who they were. The NVA must have known it too. (To some other units, we were probably the "unknowns," which gives food for thought.) Also, it could have been embarrassin' for the U.S. to admit it had ground troops in "V Corps." Anyway, that's the way we did it. Others did carry American equipment, it bein' acceptable because of the combat losses. Our cameras were Pentax half-frames. Not the best, but we had a good darkroom. They were rugged enough for what we were doin', and that was the ticket. Don't think a big fancy Nikon would have cut it. We got pretty good at drawin' maps, too. The ones the U.S. had were NOT good once you got away from the coast. Fortunately, pilots seem to always know where they are, so we could always back track from the exfil point. In addition to gatherin' pretty pictures, we always had somethin' or the other else to do while in a "hole." (A "hole" is either an LZ or an AO, usually 6K by 6K, dependin' upon context.) A popular pastime was puttin' out NVA ammo boxes (they come in peel-open galvanized tin boxes, real strange to an American) that had one in every thirty rounds packed with petin instead of gunpowder. You will hear some Nam Vets mention that they had instructions NOT to use captured ammunition. This is one of the reasons why. Low casualty production rate, but if you're in the area anyway.... Also, we placed space- age bugs and some other things far less pleasant. That's the sleazy side of the job - the price you pay for 'em lettin' you do the fun stuff. The fun stuff was gettin' as much as you could without gettin' caught. The later bein' the "prime directive." I guess I don't have to tell you that if we ran into anyone, they outnumbered us. We tried not to get found. We would walk an extra twenty klicks rather than set down too close to final objective. Doesn't always work, of course. Sometimes you get caught. Some teams never came back. The Lord alone knows what became of 'em. Just one day, no more radio checks. Recon Team Michigan failed to come back just before I got to Kontum. Not a distress call, not a peep was heard. Not unlike a submarine, just disappeared from the face of the earth. We were very careful. We also had a high rate of turnover. Lost most after the first mission. "They" say that if you lasted through five, odds were in your favor. "They," however, were not to be trusted.... That's a touch of what C & C was about. I know some of it is pretty hard to believe, it was not the "Nam Norm". But it is true. It is one of the reasons there are SF-specific vet groups. They know, and accept it as a matter of course. I did too, until I talked to a group of vets in Massachusetts in 1974. Got labeled the local equivalent of a "damned liar" in thirty seconds flat. Wasn't quite that polite a phrase, either. Fortunately, I was the more sober, and got out in one piece. I went back and talked to some of my friends in SF. The same had happened to 'em, too. Classification, it seems, has its downside. Like I said to start with, low PR budget. I don't talk about it much these days. Oh, yeah, the time we really got to "command & control." When we had GOOD intel, and knew it, we'd radio that fact in via "Covey." (Usually an O-2 that could be mistaken for flyin' recon, that was our radio relay.) If we got into trouble on the way out with that intel, we got MASSIVE support. Team leader became "AGC", Allied Ground Commander, for the AO in question. This allowed diversion of aircraft, ground troops or virtually ANYTHING else to get the stuff out, up to and includin' diversion of B-52 strikes. We did NOT get this support unless we had declared in advance we were "loaded." It is not pleasant for a lowly E-5 to assume this position. But someone "upstairs" always wanted the intel real bad. Some got a high on it, too. It takes all kinds, they say....
Montagnard "Montagnard." The word sounds funny to me. It always has. From the first mention of the word, back in SFTG at Ft. Bragg, it was "'yard," and it always will be in my mind. I'm not gonna try to give an ethnography here, that was done by Gerald Hickey in Free in the Forest, many years ago. Just wanna say a few things about some of 'em I've met. None of the "noble savage" bullsh*t. Some friends of mine, is all. Just some friends. The first 'yard I ever met was the Recon Company translator, at the strip upon arrival in Kontum. He was a shock, even though I'd seen pictures and had plenty of descriptions over the years. All of 4'10", maybe 100 lbs, dark and animated, and a regular wise ass. I learned later he was an okay dude, and came by his attitude honestly. He'd been translator for RT California once upon a time. The limp didn't show much, but the right leg didn't work too good. An American would get a Purple Heart and a trip home. He did get the trip home. Which was about 500 meters. Now he didn't work on a team. But they kept him employed. Call it "keepin' the faith...." My next two 'yards were the ones who tried to con me out of a trip home. Come to think of it, they succeeded. Anyway, they don't count. I didn't even catch their names. Then came Mr. Weet. Weet was Jarai, the large tribe/people that inhabit the Central Highlands of Viet Nam and spill over into adjacent areas of Cambodia and Laos. He spoke seven 'yard dialects/languages, French, English and a couple Vietnamese dialects. Didn't read in any of 'em, though. Which is okay, as there isn't much to read in a 'yard ville, anyway. Helluva mind, anyway. Blows the hell out of the word "primitive." Mr. Weet was the current translator for RT California. Joe assigned him to show me around and familiarize me with the 'yards my second day there. First thing he did was take me down to the 'yard barracks and introduce me to Sarge. Sarge really had a name, of course. But I'll be damned if I can remember what it was. He was just "Sarge" to me, RT California, and every 'yard in camp. He was the "elder" or "headman" in camp. He looked it. He couldn't have been over thirty- five, but he had an agelessness about him that really struck home. A wispy beard, a fair sized, erect stature, and a perpetual pipe, set him aside from all our troops. When he spoke, everyone stopped and listened. Some folks just have TheWay about 'em; natural leaders, wise before their years, knowledgeable in what is important. Sarge was that way. When we had the shaman come to the camp for the EyeCrud, even he deferred to Sarge. A leader among men, and would have been anywhere, anytime. Weet also introduced me to the rest of the team. They were an odd lot, held together by the will power of Joe and Sarge. Four different tribes were represented: Jarai, Rahde, Sedang and Bru. And their looks were as diverse as their tribes. Punch was the smallest at about 4'6", Drog the tallest at about 5'4". The age variance was from around twenty (Punch) to mid-forties (another one of those whose name eludes me.) With the exception of Weet, none of 'em spoke more than a few words of English, and those mostly tactical or profane or both. They all knew "fuginamboose", for example. I always thought it meant "f*ckin' ambush," but I could have been wrong. Weet then toured the camp and showed me what it looked like to the 'yards. Quite different from what Joe had shown me the previous night. Which is what I think Joe intended. The 'yards were fightin' a different war than we were, we simply happened to overlap on missions. If you didn't understand that right up front, you never got far with the 'yards. Weet made sure I knew it. I didn't fully realize what he was doin' then. I don't think I really understood the real situation for many years afterwards. Joe had asked him to size me up, and he had decided I passed muster. Those who didn't get the 'yards approval never made it to command a team. This wasn't in the rules, "we" were in charge. Except that without the 'yards unstintin' cooperation, you never could look good enough to go anywhere. They might like you a lot, like they did Mortar Peter, but they wouldn't do those extra things to make you look good. They always made me look good. Weet did that for me. One more thing I owe the man. We did this sort of thing for three days. Weet knew everybody and everything goin' on. I'd eat meals with the Americans, then spend the day wanderin' the compound and environs with Weet. Hell, he even took me home to meet his wife and kids in the ville. And showed me my first jug. Took me about a day to realize that this guy was a friend for life. Funny life we stumble through. But I loved the guy from then on. Till a mine got him. Never mind that for now, it's another story. Each team had from eight to sixteen 'yards. Then the security company and the Mike Force, when it moved into our compound about four months after I got there, added another 250 or so. The ARVN company in the compound had another twenty as scouts and point men. Call it 420 'yards or so employed as soldiers in our camp. We had another fifty or so, mostly older men and women, employed as labor. Nearly all the skilled positions were filled by ethnic Vietnamese, by political necessity. The 'yards are to Vietnamese what the Native Americans were to the white settlers in the 1870's; savages to be put down and herded onto reservations. They had euphemisms, of course. But the most common term was "moi." I don't recall now what the literal meanin' was. Think of it as "nigger," and you'll be close to the intent. The laborers and many of the families of the soldiers lived in a ville just off the north side of the camp. It housed about 1000 folk, kids and all. Unlike a "natural" ville, it was a hodgepodge of tribes and sub-cultures. The rulin' body was a group of "elders," rather than the normal "headman/woman." Conflictin' habits and norms were sorted out by this group of men and women, and it kept 'em hoppin'. It was also bigger than the usual tribal ville, with over 200 longhouses up on poles. And it wasn't surrounded by rice paddies or huntin' grounds. The wages of the workers in camp provided food and clothin' from the Vietnamese stores just outside the north gate of camp. Not like anythin' I saw elsewhere in the highlands. But it worked. 'Yards are much like any people in any time and place. The variety of appearance, temperament, spirituality, work ethic, skill, intelligence, and so on, was as great as it was among the Americans. And, by and large, like the Americans and the Vietnamese, they were good people. Many of 'em became fast friends, like Weet. None became enemies. Wish I could say the same for the Americans and the Vietnamese about that. I can't summarize them briefly. You can't do that for any People. But I can say that there are no other People on earth, other than my own, with whom I would care to spend a lifetime but them. People of the earth and forest. People of another place and time. Glad I could share some time with 'em. It wasn't long enough. It couldn't possibly be.
Hootch Funny word, hootch. As I grew up it meant booze. Specifically, illicit booze. Spelled it without the "t", too. It didn't mean that in Nam, though. There, a hootch was a structure in which you lived and slept. Specifically, a "field expedient abode." Air bases and other semi-permanent installations had barracks. These are not hootches. A hootch has to look..., well..., ramshackle. Tents could be hootches. A couple pieces of cardboard with some tin on the roof could be a hootch. Ours were considerably better than that. But they were still just hootches. Another thing about hootches. They sorta just happen. Somebody always starts with a plan of what the area should look like and how it should be laid out. It doesn't last through the construction phase, however. Too much personality involved. Too little real construction material involved. But in the older camps, like mine, you can see that at least somebody, once upon a time, had thought about it. I lived in several different hootches while in Kontum. The first was RT Michigan. Inside it was pretty much like the others. But time and the vagaries of material and personal opinions had changed it from a single, simple structure into a "complex." Over the years, roofs (well..., tin) had been added over walkways, outlyin' conexes had been annexed, extrusions and additions had happened, and it had evolved. Sorta like an old shoppin' center that first covered its walkways and then later roofed over the whole place. Four or five buildings of four teams each had grown together into such a hodgepodge that it was difficult to impossible to tell where one ended and the next began. Mostly, we didn't bother. It was a maze of passages and dead ends. I was glad to move out when I got transferred to RT California. Was gettin' real tired of gettin' lost. RT California held sway in one quarter of a buildin'. Three other teams shared the same basic structure, each with two exterior doors and a couple screen windows with drop-down, tin covered awnings. They dropped to keep the wind out when it blew. They sorta worked for that. Inside was about ten foot by thirty foot. Outside, the first four feet from the ground were cinder block. Above that it was clapboard. Small attic under the gabled tin roof that was covered with sandbags. The sandbags did two things; it kept the wind from removin' our roof, and it covered the holes we blew in the tin shootin' rats with the silenced .22. RT California's section of the roof had over twice the number of sandbags as any other section of roof in Recon country. I won't mention any names.... A single bunk sat in each corner of the hootch, with lockers in between the bunks. This kept farts at a more or less safe distance. At least in our hootch. Others stacked 'em or made diverse arrangements. The bunks, that is. At the foot of each of our bunks was a homemade foot locker for gear. They also were the only furniture besides the beds for sittin' on, or playin' chess, or pinochle, or whatever. Well, we did have one small table - for the hot plate and the black-eyed peas. As that implies, we also had electricity. At least, most of the time. We had one unoccupied bunk while I was with the team. At the foot of that one sat a five cubic foot refrigerator. That was always full of cold stuff to drink. Beer, coke, tea, lemonade or whatever took the mood. There was never any room for anythin' solid. One has to maintain priorities, y'know. We also had shelves here and there around the walls for this and that. Radios, a phonograph, lamps, and odds and ends accumulated there. And nails everywhere in the walls for hangin' things - web gear, guns, gas masks, coats, hats, umbrellas, pictures, you name it. Experience proves that virtually anythin' can be hung on a nail. Includin' me - but that's another story altogether. Two of our bunks were home made with thin Army mattresses. Two were cheap grey metal with thin Army mattresses. Still, much better than no mattress at all. Pillows were of all shapes, sizes and varieties. Same thing with the linen. The only thing common to all was the poncho liners for blankets. Camouflaged. In case the enemy came in, he wouldn't be able to find the bunks. At least, that was as reasonable a theory as any. Real blankets would have been a better idea. Still, one whole hell of a lot better than many in Nam ever saw. Not really glamorous for decor. But what the hell, it was only a hootch. It's not like any of us thought of it as home or anythin'. Except when we weren't there, of course.
Saigon Off to Long Binh for school. They call it "One Zero School." Teach you how to run recon. Nice theory. What they really do is teach you what a jungle looks like and how to live in it. Just outta Panama, this is a cruise for me. SEA has jungles, but not the same as Latin America. I worry about gettin' shot at on the final test op, but that's all. The jungle's a snap. I end up doin' more teachin' that learnin'. Except about dodgin' bullets, of course. New class comin' in, and we gotta un*ss the hootches a day early. So somebody asks if we wanna go to Saigon. Sure, I never been there, let's go. Jump on a short hop and head for town. Saigon is unimpressive. Ain't never been here before, but I've been to Mexico City, and this place is about the same. I have a hard time gettin' excited over crowded streets and exotic smells. Seen too many, and know what goes on in the back streets. I'm badly disappointed. We drive around long enough for me to get seriously turned around, and pull up at this shabby lookin' buildin' with a 'yard on the gate. Safehouse. The projects keep it here for guys passin' through to hang out in when they're in town for one thing or the other. Nothin' visible from the outside, but it's a fookin' fortress with limited fields of fire. The doors, even the internal ones, are huge, heavy, steel-sheathed monsters with code locks and heavily armed guards. Not 'cause anybody's ever tried to get in. 'Cause it makes guys from the field feel better in Saigon. Damn sure did me. And maybe it had other purposes. Those did not make me feel better. We get four-man rooms, and it's impossible to tell how many there are. The halls go every whichway, and they're all locked off from each other. I suspect other things go on here too. That's okay, got plenty to occupy my mind without worryin' about extraneous stuff. Suffice it to say that the place is big, and tight.... Our dinin' room is public, though. About twenty guys share the meal. Besides us newbies, there's guys in from CCN, CCS and some of the projects still runnin' out there on the borders. Afterwards, there's a chance to go out on the town. The guy at the door issues 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards to those that go. I note that none of the guys who been here a while go out. So I stay, too. Usually means nothin' goin' on worth seein'. Matches my first impressions. Time for a little intel gatherin'. We adjourn to a lounge somewhere on the second floor. Maybe fifteen of us left. There's a no-host bar in the corner, big overstuffed chairs and everythin' but windows. Nice place. Coulda been in any first class hotel in the world. But the clothes on the guys in the room tells you it's Saigon. OD is "in" this season. Okay, we sit down to serious dialog. I get to know about the guys up north, the guys down south, and the guys out west. An education. Not a war I fought, for the most part. The A-Camps are bad news, now. As if they were ever good. The "rural pacification program" has gone Vietnamese, and everybody's glad to see it go. That sorta thing. Basic intel to make you feel like part of the family. Though I have to admit to wonderin' about the nature of the family. Here, I first get the stories about ops gone bad in the woods. The disappearin' teams, the long walk-outs without radios, the flashlights and the bad guys called NVA. Not a lot of VC left, I'm told. All NVA now. I'll find out they're right, later. I also hear from CCN about the Ashau. I shudder about that, and hope my number never comes up. Other places, too. Bad places, with evil names; Cobrahead, Parrot's Beak. Black Virgin Mountain.... I hear about ops I can't and don't believe. It can be tough sortin' the truth out from the fiction. And I've been tryin' for years. Shrug. Whaddahell, it's just jaw-jackin'. We musta talked damn near all night. Without windows, time is hard to track, even lookin' at your watch. There are ghosts down the halls that flit from door to door. Ya don't ask. You play some cards and shoot the sh*t. I get to tell about Panama and the ops we ran into Latin America. Most of 'em ain't been there, and it sounds kinda romantic to the uninitiated. It ain't. I try to remember that when they're talkin'. Don't work, of course. I'll figure that out later. Finally we filter off to bed. In the morning, we head for the strip and plane rides back to the war. It wasn't anythin' special or all that worth rememberin'. Except the house. I always wondered what really went on there. Shrug. Probably blown to sh*t a long time ago. My only trip to Saigon. My last night before the war. Kinda dull stuff. 'Less you're a spook. But I'm just a soldier. Thank God! Spooks do crazy stuff....
CIB A "CIB" is the Combat Infantryman's Badge. Blue rectangle with a musket and a big wreath. You get it for bein' shot at - well, technically, for bein' an infantryman in combat. Boils down to the same thing, though. Easy enough to get. The EIB, Expert Infantryman's Badge, is much harder. Schools, tests, a major work out. But you can guess which is more valued. It means you've "seen the elephant." Means a lot to 'em what's got one. Or wants one. Now, Nam is not the first place I got shot at. But if it's not a "combat zone," it don't count. So, unless you were in WWII or Korea, Nam was the only game in town if you wanted one. Not the reason I went, but I damn sure wanted one when I got there. Stupid. Gettin' shot at is not cool. I get it anyway. I've been in-country for a couple months. I've straphung a few times, but managed to sneak and peek effectively enough that I ain't been shot at. Neither were dry holes. No CIB. Not smart enough to let it ride. The team I'm on simply isn't. It was wasted just before I arrived. I got some 'yards, and that's it. So I straphang as often as I can. I cozy up to RT Washington, it bein' ready to go into a suspected "very wet" hole in the next couple days. They say, "Sure, you ever carry an RPD?" "No, I be CAR-15 man. Seen 'em, fired 'em, but never carried one." "Well, you be one now, Mat's sick." "Okay, let's run out to the range." Fifteen minute drive out the other side of OP Alpha. Hand me an RPD. I never fired one that had been "modified." Barrel's cut back to just in front of the gas cylinder, and that's cranked wide open. Bipod is gone. It gets real hot, and the forward wood grip is wrapped with asbestos and green tape. Butt's been recut for a bigger shoulder. Don't matter, never get it to your shoulder, anyway. Unlike an American machine gun, it uses a drum. Not a wind-up, just a box to hold the belt. Non-disintegratin' links. Drum holds 100 to 125 rounds, dependin' on how tight you crank the roll. Hang another twenty-five outside, and you max at 150. With a 150 rounder, it weighs in just slightly less than an M-60 without any rounds. Good for small teams. Range is just an open field with a beat-to-sh*t treeline as a backstop. "Okay, hose off some rounds to get a feel." Drop some six-seven round bursts. They go pretty much where I want 'em. Kicks a little, and I'll have to rock up on the pistol grip in a big burst. Fire's good, though. "Now, do a sweep." This is not a regulation range, and I know what he means. I put the muzzle down, and drop rounds in longer bursts from five feet to twenty-five feet out, swingin' slowly. He shows me how to recover the non-disintegratin' links as they break off in twenty-five round lengths. Stuff 'em in your shirt front. Hard to replace, so you do it. Okay. Got 100 rounds left, now what. He goes out and plants some cardboard in the woods beyond the treeline. I stand at twenty-five meters. He says to hose 'em with the remainder. Okay. I grease some cardboard from the hip. Was always pretty good with a '60. He brings back the cardboard. I'm on the team. Some pretty dead lookin' cardboard. That night I learn to strip and clean it. I learn to love it. Sweet piece of 'chinery. Hand load the belts. Every fifth round a tracer. Green. That'll take some gettin' used to. Next few days we go out and practice IA (Immediate Action) drills. Point man or team leader does this, you do that. Fire from over here, you go over there. Basic sh*t. Teams are different, so I try to do it real good. F*ckups get ya dead. I be bright lad, and it goes well. I'll walk behind point with the firepower. Okay. Can you tell I ain't got a clue, yet? Back in camp, we pack our bags. I find out how many rounds you carry. Sh*t! Gonna be heavy. Big sigh. Sweet gun, though. I'll make it. We go over the insert and mission in general. Gonna see if a regimental HQ is where they think it is. I don't get the camera this trip, even though I be good sneaky peter. One zero on this team likes to do it hisveryownself. Okay, his team. We plan and rehearse. Looks like a lot of folk in there. One zero says we'll do some huntin' when we're done so I can get my CIB. Hot damn! I'm in! Zero-too-damned-dark-thirty and we eat a light breakfast and climb on the renta-slicks. Drivers know where to go, and we're off. Stop and refuel once. Drop off that god forsaken hilltop and into Cambodia. Thirty minutes later we peel into an LZ and move out. Covey says it looks quiet, but there's some activity to the south. Okay, we're goin' west. Spend a night before we get to where we're goin. Next day, around noon, we set up on a slope above where the bad guys are supposed to be. One zero and one 'yard go for a looksee with the camera. Come back just before sundown with big, sh*t-eatin' grins. We're in fat city. Move off a couple klicks and set up for the night. Tom (the one zero) tells me it's right where it was supposed to be, and the place is crawlin' with guys in khaki. Fills us all in, 'case we lose him on the way out. SOP. "Now," he says, "we gonna go huntin'." Damn straight! We swin' back east and then south. Two days on the trail, but we're goin' slow, so it's not a problem. Don't see nobody worth pickin' on. Couple papa-sans in their paddies, nothin' else. Around mid- afternoon on the second day we find a trail, highspeed variety. Heavy usage. Good sh*t. We drop back and watch. Every hour or so we see troops goin' east. Mostly ten men and less. Carryin' heavy supplies. Perfectomundo! In the mornin' we'll set ambush less than a klick from a good LZ we'd passed earlier. Tom makes the call to Covey and arranges exfil and some air in the neighborhood, just in case. Straight outta the text book. CIB time, folks. Don't get any easier than this. Next morning, between first light and sunrise, we head out. Form a single line on a little game trail the 'yards found and go back toward the trail. Whoops! Point freezes and does a hand signal. I think it's the "jump right and freeze" one. So I do. Land in a pile of bushes and start lookin'. What I see is a khaki covered leg and a bata boot. F*ck! I start to come up to get my .45 into play; the RPD has swung outta my hands. This little f*cker has an RPD, too. He's got it up. He tries to bring it down. SMACK! Right onto my head. I'm too fookin' close. He looks to readjust. The .45 is good, though. He gets everythin' it's got, point blank. It runs outta bullets way too soon. Sh*t! It's gettin' noisy, real fast now. I look around for the team, and they ain't there. Oh sh*t! F*ckf*ckf*ck! I remember the signal. It was really "jump left and run like hell!" Sh*t! Better late than never. I do that thing. I am missin' peer group support. Soldiers do NOT like that. There's shootin' behind me, but I don't stop and repay the compliment.. Thirty meters the other side of the trail, I find the team. They heard me comin' and figured it had to be an American 'cause of the noise. One zero looks at me and gets real white-like. I feel my face, and it's just covered with blood. Damned scalp wounds! I give him a thumbs up to show I'm okay. He don't believe it, but decides it don't really matter, it's time to go now, anyway. We hear more rustlin' behind me. We drop a basic load in that direction, along with some grenades. Then we dash for the LZ, Tom yellin' into the radio. The sun's barely up, and Covey says Wilco. We stop and leave some presents on our back trail. Only gotta slow 'em for a little while. We move out again. We're gonna beat the birds to the LZ, so we wander a little bit, Tryin' not to let 'em know for sure where we're goin'. We get to the LZ about five minutes before the first snake shows. We hear the booms behind us. Chuck's coming, but it looks like he's too slow gettin' organized. Musta been as surprised as I was. Tom sends the snakes to slow 'em down some more. Jumi, his translator, takes a look at my scalp and slaps a dressin' on. He smiles. Thank God! We hear the slicks. Spread out and get ready to go. Off in the distance we hear the snakes havin' fun. Sleepin' on the job can be fatal for 'em as well as us. We pile on the slick and head back for the firebase. Door gunner looks at me like I'm gonna die right there in front of him. I give him a thumbs up, too. Back on the firebase, Jumi cleans the wound and changes the dressin' while Tom reams me a new *sshole. I coulda got 'em all killed. I hang my head, he's right. I am maximally embarrassed and not too convinced I should be doin' this for a livin'. Maybe I should just go infantry or somethin'.... Just before we get on the slick again, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a CIB and pins it on me. Wherethef*ck that come from? He laughs and says I buy tonight. It won't be official for a few weeks, but I pay up front. Helluva deal. Jumi produces a "Vietnam Hunting Club" patch and pins it on, too. Damn straight! The guys on the firebase look at us and the 'yards like we just got off a space ship. Okay, they look funny to me, too. We pass through here a lot, and some old-timer will fill the FNGs in. We wave as we fly off. Some of 'em even wave back. Don't matter, got my CIB! Hot damn! Don't want no stars for the sonuvabitch, though.
| | |____====________ ||______________)==================|) =============---------------------===_____ /| | | | |\\ \________|__________|_________|_________|/ \\(O)___(O)___(O)___(O)___(O)___(O)// _____________ / / / \ \ \ / / / \ \ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ \ | / \ | / \ | / \ | / \ | / \ | / \ / \o/ | / \ ____________ ======= _________________/|_____... | | " === |_______________| |-----::: |._ - " ) |_|___| / / |___| /_/
Rocket Sunrise Last night was party night on the compound. All the clubs were open late, the booze flowed freely, and nearly everyone is sleepin' VERY late. The security company is at post, and peace is upon the kingdom. phwip phwip phwip *)BOOOM(* Adrenalin dump! Camp is awake. NOW! phwip phwip phwip *)BOOM(* phwip phwip *)BOOOM(* Hangovers and all, bodies with web gear and guns head for the bunkers and berm. The 4.2 pit comes alive, hatches unlocked. The 80s receive the same treatment. Teams begin to straggle into the reckless positions. The yellin' that inevitably accompanies incomin' has begun. I'm half way between the hootch and the bunker.... phwip phwip PHWIP *)BOOM(* boom, BoOm, bOOm KABOOM! Sh*t! Secondaries! I was runnin' before. Now, I'm sober and flyin'. I dive through the door to the bunker, landin' like a sack of sh*t on a pile of 'yards and Americans already aboard. Willy's at the slit, searchin' the wire. Mortar Peter is on the company net. No HQ yet. Just teams in the bunkers. Tryin' to find out what's been hit. PHWIP PHwip phwip *)BOOM(* phwip phwip phwip *blank* phwip *)BOOM(* The siren finally begins to wail. Incoming! No sh*t! Give the guy in the TOC a medal! booobooom, boom, pop, pop, popppppp Sh*t! Small explosions! Less than fifty meters! Ohsh*tohsh*tohsh*tohsh*t!!!! We check weapons, check loads, check each other, check our pucker factors. We say "ohsh*t!" a LOT. I learn what it sounds like in four different 'yard dialects. Unmistakable, it's "ohsh*t!" in any language. Roar! ROAR! BOOOOOOOOOOM! Claymores and the reckless at the north gate! The radio starts to sound like a chinese fire drill. Suns barely up, but the command net is howlin'. Nearest American birds are in Pleiku! More "ohsh*ts!" We hear the ARVN slicks on the lower pad in panic starts, tryin' to get into the air where a lower probability of gettin' hit exists. Somewhere near the 'yard barracks a big diesel roars to life. The team assigned to our blackmarket fire engine has an objective. OHSH*Tohsh*tohsh*t! Willy reviews with us the E&E plan, "justincase." Willy makes it a single word. Willy's a slow talkin' southerner. BIG "oh sh*t!" phwip phwip phwip *)BOOM(* phwip phwip *blank* The fire engine is heard approachin' again from the other direction. They stop three bunkers down and everyone piles into their bunker, the rig deserted. I stick my head out the door, big black billows of smoke from the north gate and the vicinity of the tower across I-2. I finally realize I'm NOT hearin' any small arms fire. boom, boom, boom.....boom, boom Willie pete's by the tower. Curiosity now. "WellI'llbedamned!" replace the "Oh sh*ts!" No more reckless. No more mines. Still no small arms. The 4.2 gets off one round toward the local "rocket ridge" before the ARVN ships are up and into the fire fan. The pilots are apparently pissed and not thinking, they're flyin' straight from the camp toward the ridge. So much for returnin' fire. Big regular "sh*t!" Word's out on the net. The Covey Club below the tower was hit. The booze cooked off. Somebody had left a case of willie pete's in the back room. We're short on willin' volunteers to fight the fire, and we all LOVE the Covey Club. Another rocket hit the ARVN recoilless west of the north gate, settin' off one round and activatin' a strin' of claymores. That turns out to be the first blank, it buried itself and went off late. The second blank is buried to the fins in the mine field just west of the gate itself. We blow it later that day. One minor injury from shrapnel at the ARVN site hit; the delay allowed everyone to get out. Big John in the Covey hootch next to the club is a little charred around the edges and gets evacuated to Pleiku. Everyone else is okay, though there will be a major laundry day tomorrow. The siren finally stops. There is a run on O2 and benedryl at the dispensary. In two days we'll have a new hootch raisin'. Another beautiful mornin' in Viet Nam. Rocket sunrise....
Hootch Raisin' Ever been to a barn raisin'? All the men get together and put up the barn while the women fix the meal and do whatever else is the local custom - quiltin' bee, sit and gossip, watch over the children, whatever. Well, a hootch raisin' is somethin' like that. Without the women. At least at our place, 'cause we didn't have any except the maids. No kids or quilts, either. Whaddahell! Hootch has gotta go up, anyoldway. We have this deal with the NVA, see. They blow 'em down and we put 'em up. Then they come along and blow 'em down again. We figger whoever's ahead when the war ends will be the winner. We want it to be us. So, day before yesterday they blew the Covey rider's hootch all to hell, and today we're gonna put it back up. The ARVN think we're crazy. Well..., they're probably right. At first light, Paul's out checkin' the site to be sure there's no more hot spots from the fire. We did our best to put it all out once the willie petes quit cookin' off, but ya never know for sure till someone climbs into the wreckage and starts pokin' and proddin'. At chow he puts out the word that the Covey riders would be greatly obliged if'n we saw fit to drop by and help pound a nail or two. We allow as we might find some time if the beverages are cold, free, and available. Everybody knows the outcome, but it's formula and ritual now. Gotta do it right or it'll just burn down again. Superstition is powerful stuff. Paul says he reckons that can be arranged, and the deal is done. In half an hour we'll all sorta saunter over and see what we can do. It takes that half hour to sort out the details. The materials will be there before we start. But the rockets also got officer's row and did a lot of damage to the mess hall. Sort out who's gonna do what, since all the teams have been tasked with providin' labor for the other jobs. Everybody wants to go to the hootch raisin'. Hell of a lot more fun than a simple construction job. To the sound of saws and hammers by the mess hall, twenty of us show up at the site with tools, shovels and assorted equipment. Washington brings an old fridge, California a spare bunk, somebody else a couple lockers, and all the accoutrements of a hootch. And we set to work.... Takes a good hour to clear the site of debris. It's a cool morning, but we're sweatin' hard and heavy real soon. A little grab-ass, but everybody's puttin' their heart into it. Might be 'cause we see some of the cooks startin' a pig roastin' on a spit over by the tower. Nah! Couldn't be that. We're just good people.... The concrete pad looks intact once the rubble's gone. Makes it easy. Paul pries the remains of the old six-by-sixes outta their holes and we put some new ones in. Four guys to a wall, and the framin' goes real fast. Paul moves around, changin' a window here, a door there. As they start to raise 'em, Ferris and I run around drillin' holes and runnin' wire for outlets, switches and lights. No inspectors around, but we do it right, anyway. The guys who gonna live here are friends. Half the guys start slappin' up plywood while the other half go inside and put up the internal walls. Don't take all that long, we ain't buildin' for posterity. More plywood inside, once the wire's run. A party of five breaks off and starts on the roof frame, while we finish the interior with the ends of the wires and a couple doors scavenged from the old officer's row. How they gonna know what's missin' anyhow? Good doors, too. Put up the last of the frame, hang a couple exterior doors, put some drop-down shutters on the windows, and break for lunch. Six hours and all that's left is the roof and some odds and ends. Wouldn't cut it stateside, but this here is the Nam, man. It's dry and it's sound. What more you want in a hootch, anyway? The mess hall is comin' along just fine when we get there. Everybody is hot and stinky, but we don't give a damn. Dai uy Simmons is soaked to the bone in his own sweat and grinnin' from ear to ear. He confides to me he tapped the water lines and ran a tap into his new room. Sh*t, you ain't supposed to do that. But a tap in your own room...? I decide I can't fault him, I'da done it too. Tell him I'm proud of him, and if he's in the neighborhood of my hootch sometime later.... We both get a good laugh. I don't tell him about the doors, of course. One of 'em had his name on it. Recon Club springs for a few cases of beer, and the newly "remodeled" mess hall gets a good breakin' in. Back to Covey country. A couple of the Covey pilots have shown up from the air strip, and they brought house warmin' presents for the riders. Hell, they even scrounged up some AC. Good group of guys, for zoomies. They roll up their sleeves and join right on in. The beer at lunch started it, and now it starts to move a little more freely. The roast pig is startin' to stink real purrty, and we be highly motivated. We hang the tin and fill the sandbags to hold it in place. Put some vents in the gables and screen 'em and the windows over. Don't take long, and there's a regulation hootch just a sittin' there. Time to get serious about completin' it. Been a lot of beer and the pig is smellin' pretty close to done. Paint. Paul had decided on battleship gray, probably 'cause it was all there was to be had. Half of us set to paintin' with everythin' vaguely resemblin' a paint brush we can lay our hands on. Paul, the Covey pilots, and the other riders start settin' up lockers and bunks and sh*t inside. Ferris and I do the suicide connection to the camp power grid; can't turn the power off and there's essentially no zonin'. The rest of the gang fills sandbags and starts stackin' 'em up around the wall to about four feet. More of us join 'em as we run outta room for so many painters and the power comes on. By four o'clock we all stand back and admire the new hootch. Paul hangs a freshly painted "Covey Country" sign over the main entrance, and it's in business again. They'll rebuild the club next door themselves now that they got a hootch again. Now to pop its cherry.... Willy is senior recon man present, so he shouts warnin' and goes inside with his .22. We all get under somethin' or the other. Pop, poppity pop, pop pop pop. Little holes show up in the tin, and we lug some more sand bags to the roof. We move the drinkin' inside and the place get's its first party. Try not to tear it up too bad, after all, it's new. But it gets that lived-in look pretty fast. One of the pilots gets to be the first man to throw up on the floor. He's proud of that, and gets applause for the artfulness of it all. The pig is done, and we move back outside. Pull up some spare lumber, tin or sandbags and commence to chow it down. We talk about the good job we've done and how it'll last forever. We grab-ass and carry on, with that nice healthy glow a good, hard day's work and some well deserved beer gives you. It was a good hootch raisin'. The others won't be finished until around noon tomorrow, but the Covey riders will have their own house tonight. A good way to spend a day in Nam. We'll be a little sore from usin' muscles in funny ways by the morning, but whaddahell! It lasts six months before it gets blown to hell, again. Hey! Another hootch raisin'!
| /O\ \_______[|(.)|]_______/ o ++ O ++ o o _---| _ _ _ _ _ o ---| o ]-I-I-I-[ _ _ _ _ _ _ _---| | _---| \ ` ' / ]-I-I-I-I-[ ---| | ---| |. | \ ` '_/ | / \ | | /^\| [*] __| ^ / ^ \ ^ | |*|| |__ ,| / \ / `\ / \ | ===| ___| ___ ,|__ / /=_=_=_=\ \ |, _| I_I__I_I__I_I (====(_________)___|_|____|____ \-\--|-|--/-/ | I [ ]__I I_I__|____I_I_| | '| |  |`__ . [ \-\--|-|--/-/ |. | |' |___|_____I___|___I___|---------| / \|  .|_|-|_|-|-|_|-|_|-|_|-|   | <===> | .|-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-| | / \ ] |`  ||.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.||- <===> ] | ` | |/////////\\\\\\\\\\.||__. | | [ <===> ' ||||| | | | ||||.||  <===> \T/ | |-- ||||| | O | O | ||||.|| . |' \T/ | . _||||| | | | ||||.|| | | | ./|' v . | .|||||/____|____\|||| /|. . | . ./ |//\.......... ...........\........ \\\ / / / / Covey Country / / / / ((_______________)) ___|_ ___ / | | (( _|_ )) __/___| |____/ *| [________________| \_______||_____
Flashlights It's night. We're out a fair piece. I'm not sure what language the locals spoke, but since we weren't with 'em, it doesn't matter a bunch. Probably one of the 'yard dialects, which were all outta my league, anyway. It's been a long, hot, miserable day. We're comin' out again. We've been in about five days, sneakin' and peekin', makin' with the low profile. Mostly 'cause this place is straight outta In Country, 3rd cut, 1st side of the tape - Six Clicks - and this is "Charlie's Land." Actually, it was big brother Chuck's, but you get the picture. We'd been down in a valley with a goodly sized body of troops - not ours. They felt real comfortable there, not a lot of real tight security. We have some counts, some pics, a mail pouch some guy walkin' alone on a trail had been convinced he really didn't need anymore. We'd do that sometimes when it was time to go home. I'm told some people had use for this stuff. Don't know, don't read it any better than I speak it. We'd moved a long way since then. We're about two klicks from our exfil point, where we're scheduled to be in the mornin'. Did a nice little fishhook, doublin' back to where we could overlook our own trail in case somebody is interested in recoverin' his mail. We move again one more time between sunset and last light, just to be sure. I have first watch. I always have first watch. I snore real bad and everybody wants to get to sleep before me. Whoever's got the watch will sit next to me for the same reason. Snorin' has its advantages - I'm always first to know. I stand for two hours. It's dead out there. A few crickets, somethin' small movin' in the brush, some night birds about their business. We have mini-claymores out, and I make a last walk of the line before wakin' my relief. He's a "Bru," one of the northernmost tribe of 'yards; taller, heavier and darker than their southern kin. Still all of 5'4". He smiles, musta been dreamin' a good one. He takes the watch and I settle in for six or so hours of snooze. He too makes the rounds before sittin' down next to me. I'm still only in-country for six months, and they're still checkin' me out. Okay, they have been doin' it for a lifetime, I'll take the crosscheck. Hell, they're better at it than I am, anyway. I drift. Someone's shakin' my shoulder. Eyes fly open and I get ready to apologize - musta done it again. Isn't my Bru, it's Mr. Weet, the translator. His expression is not "anger-at-snoring." The rest of the senses come on line as he moves on to wake up the others. It's quiet now. Nary a cricket, bird or anythin' else. This is NOT good. Adrenalin begins to pump as the other rustle softly into wakefulness. It's been maybe two minutes since the first shake, and I'm in my web gear and recoverin' my pack. Weet comes back and points up slope in the general direction of our back trail. I don't, but I wanna scream. I also am glad for the cork, otherwise the place would be an advertisement with neon lights real fast. A few meters below the crest of the ridge is a row of flashlights. They're movin' down slope, real slow, about five to ten meters apart, online, as dress-right-dress as the terrain allows. I've heard of this in war stories back at Kontum. Didn't believe 'em. Sh*t, flashlights, ridiculous! I'll figure out who I owe apologies to later. The one zero is up and looking, too. He looks distressed. Not at the flashlights, I think he's seen my face. I pick my jaw up, and my RPD. I'm straphangin', not a regular member of the team, and I don't want to look too bad. The 'yards are up and ready to go. One of 'em hands Chief his CAR, and he starts makin' decisions. We get real close together and he speaks real soft. We're gonna cut and run. Don't look like we've been seen yet, though they damn sure know we are here. Don, our point (another Bru, couldn't pronounce his name, so settled on Don) starts puttin' timin' fuses on the mines. Chief makes sure everybody has grenades at hand. Directionless weapons - they go boom, and the other guys still don't know where you are. Real desirable tactic right now. Its now about ten minutes after the first shake. Don's got everythin' rigged and we start movin' perpendicular to the approachin' line. Real slow-like. Think the phrase "excruciatingly slow" was made for this. We gotta try to be absolutely quiet in serious darkness and still make enough time to get past any flankers. There's only a few of us, and a good-sized squad could take us out. We're still too close to use the radio, too. Only got so much volume control on the damn things. We've got ten more minutes until the claymores go. That's supposed to draw attention, and when that happens we gonna run like all hell about forty-five degrees off course for the LZ. We'll hook in later when it quiets down again. We got an earlier than planned start, so we have the time. It's a good plan, the 'yards like it - so I like it. We manage to get past the flank before time runs out. The mines go before the line gets to 'em. Seven of 'em, spaced by the time Don took to set it up. We hear startled grunts just about seven or eight meters straight uphill, where there are no flashlights. Lots of shootin' goin' on behind us, so it's "show time." The 'yards chunk grenades high thata way. I got green tracers, so I unload some of my ammo. This is prearranged, not like I'm thinkin' fast. Adrenalin dump is startin' to wear off. I'm gonna get another real soon now. One scream, maybe a grenade, maybe me. Lots of yellin'. Weet says we can cut a choggy now, they think we're confused "friendlies". We need no second invitation. There's a high speed trail about half a klick off in the direction we're goin'. No time to observe rules. Must have left a trail a blind guy could have followed. Ran the trail, too. Like I said, not a time for strict adherence the rules. About a half hour later, it's still dark. We set up in a bunch of rocks on a slope. We've put a ridgeline between us and the flashlights, and it's time for a little talkin'. The FAC won't be up yet, so Chief sets the radio for Moonbeam. Takes two calls, but they're home. He announces "deepsh*t!" and asks for a sunrise time at the LZ. Maybe some friendly air assets are in order? Damn straight! It's only two hours till dawn. So we get to humpin'. Hit the LZ early. Don and Weet leave us long enough to check it out. They come back with smiles. Good news, 'drenalin only carry you so far. Sun begins to poke up about the time we hear a distant thunder that sounds like Phantom. Low down to the south we see the first snake comin' over a ridge line. Don sees movement on the far side of the LZ, bushes movin'. None of the rest of us see it. But we're tired. Chief has the fast movers and snakes tear up the real estate just to be on the safe side. A million bucks for a movin' bush. Whathef*ck! They can dock my pay. We get on the slicks and make good time back to a friendly site where we use our bus transfers for the final leg home. Firebase somethin' or the other. Medic comes out on the firebase and paints the lacerations we got from the underbrush. Nobody's got any new holes, so we're in good shape. The guys at the firebase look at us funny. 'Sokay, we probably look a little harried. We sleep from there to Kontum. Door gunner has to wake us up. Didn't kiss the tarmac. Kissed the local equivalent of the porcelain god instead. Good enough, glad to be home. We sleep for a day or so. Too much adrenalin is not good for you, y'know. We go to debriefin'. Doc (Recon Co. first shirt) is bent outta shape for the ordinance expenditure at the LZ. To a man, we tell him he can go do it his way next time. We go meet at the Recon Club and get knee-walkin', commode-huggin', snot-slingin' drunk. I apologize to the old timers. They can't figure out for what. One of 'em (Joe, I think) pulls out a flashlight and shines it in my eyes. They laugh their asses off when I sh*t gold bricks. Friends are priceless things. Have to be, who'd spend good money on 'em? I still don't much like flashlights, even though they're handy when it gets dark.
Midwife Babies are basically ugly people. Little, ugly, very young people. Their faces are all squinched up, they are messy, and they cry a lot. But, somehow, they remain very popular with parents. So I keep meetin' 'em wherever I go. In Viet Nam this always seemed kinda outta place. But I met more there than anywhere else. It was the Ville, y'see. Between the troops and the labor force, most of the women were always pregnant. Sex, too, remains popular with parents. Parents-to-be, to be more accurate. The infant mortality rate is high, and it's the local brand of Social Security. Lot of investments are always bein' made. This is not a new phenomena; it's actually rather ancient. But we've added a new twist: clinical birth. On base we maintain a dispensary for the local 'yards and the inhabitants of Rosie's. The girls from Rosie's mostly get pelvics and penicillin. Sometimes they have other things, and we treat those, too. The local 'yards mostly have advanced pregnancy. This is a self-correctin' problem, and we handle that, as well. Usually it's to the tune of about five babies a day. Because of limited pre-natal care, about 15% are stillborn or never leave the dispensary alive. Not the women's fault. They just do what they've been doin' since the dawn of time. We aren't goin' to change that in less than a decade. We preach, but it goes unheard. Still, we birth a lot of baby 'yards. This increases the survival rate all by itself. Far lower infection rate for both mother and child at birth. The birthing clinic is nothin' fancy. It stands by the main gate on the west side, another cinderblock-and-sidin' hootch. Inside we have three beds separated by wood partitions and curtains across the front. At the end is a closed exam room for the non-pregnant and the pregnant-to-be. No room for visitors; the dads either don't come or don't stay. Cultural norms are served. Occasionally there is a midwife in attendance from the Ville, but usually we are on our own. The women come in an hour or so from delivery, and barrin' complications, they leave within a few hours of the birth, a wee 'yard wrapped in surplused linen held to their breasts. There is no body shyness in this context, though the 'yard and Vietnamese women are almost prudish in normal affairs. It is fast, and usually a painless process. At least for us. But it's a big undertaking, so we have re-instituted the draft. Unlike the government, ours is 100% mandatory service. Only the colonel escapes. Every American spends two or three days a month as a midwife. We even offer our own trainin' seminars with Docs from Pleiku. Mostly, this is real easy - the woman does all the work. All's we gotta do is be there to watch for complications, cut the cord and tie a neat knot or two. The medic on duty supervises and provides emergency services. It's sad, but this is another reason we lose so many. The medics are good. They are very, very good. But they are not obstetricians and we lack the equipment to do everythin'. We have no incubators, no infant-sized instruments that we didn't make ourselves, and no trainin' worthy of the name for caesarean's and other fancy procedures. Like I said, though, it's better than nothin'. I guess I delivered well over a hundred babies while in-country. I even had one set of twins, which was a surprise to all concerned, especially the mother. Lost my share to stillbirth, low birth weight, VD, and the myriad of other things that claim small lives. All in all, however, it was a positive experience. For all that they are ugly little people, they call up the best in a bein'. Especially soldiers. Even Doc Thomas smiles with each successful live birth. So do I, I guess. It acts as a counterpoise to the takin' of life we do on other days. It makes the balance positive for most of us; on a scale of life to death, we are nearly all deep into the life end of the scale. And that's pretty damn nice when you think on it. Which we did a lot.
Rehearsal Fortunately, it's a short flight from Kontum to Ban Me Thuot. 'Cause I gotta pee. How come these things don't let ya know well in advance insteada waitin' till you're gettin' on the fookin' plane? We got all our gear and nobody's sayin' why. Got the word, up and packed and out in less than thirty minutes this mornin'. Barely had time to grab a quick cup o'java before we jumped on the trucks and headed 'cross town. Up early, rushed like sin, carryin' way too heavy, and now I'm pacin' real frantic-like at 2000 feet. This is not the way to encourage soldiers, dudes.... We touch down just slightly after noon, and after a mad dash to the side of the strip, we climb up onto another set of trucks and drive off to a compound I've never seen before. It's CCS, our bros in the south. Still haven't a clue as to why we're here. Four teams, complete with 'yards and full field sh*t, jumpin' off trucks in someone else's home. At least it's bros. Okay, some old friends I recognize are in the group that meets us. We get parceled out to empty team hootches and some tents near the north wall. I draw a team hootch with an empty berth - and a one zero who I'd served with in Panama. He says he's almost as much in the dark as we are. Word's come down from SOG to get ready to go on no notice into deepsh*t. Damn! I didn't need that. But at least I can get some coffee and chow now. RT Iowa's hootch is even better than mine, has runnin' water and a shorter dash to the bunker. At least I'll get a good night's sleep tonight. Somewhere along the line I've come to the conclusions that happiness consists exclusively of gettin' enough sleep. Okay, I guess I'll be happy. Just before dinner the word comes around to form up without gear on the inner pad. Takes a little while to get the whole team together, but it finally happens. We note that it's just the Americans out here, the 'yards weren't invited. SGM "Deacon Rob," CCS's Recon Company commander, another guy I recognize from Panama, tells us to listen up and turns the gavel over to a guy with no rank insignia, no patches, no nothin'. Uh oh! Who invited the spooks, man? This is not a good sign. Never is. We all know who runs SOG, but we do try to forget, mosta the time. "Men, CCN has found a POW camp near Muang Xepon, about eighty klicks east of Khe Sahn in south-central Laos. We don't think we have the time to organize something like we did for Son Tai. We have a week to practice, and then we're going in - fast and dirty. Does anyone want out?" Hot damn! The mood is electric. The question is stupid. Hands are convulsively grippin' on weapons not present, eyes seekin' targets not there. We live for this, man. Anybody who'd backed out woulda been laughed outta the outfit - and SF at the same time. There was no way on earth they could keep any of us outta it, now. Finally, some voice in the back (sounded like Sprague to me) pipes up, "So whaddaf*ck we sittin' here jaw-jackin' for, ferchrisake?" Universal applause. The spook smiles. "Right. First thing in the morning we start rehearsals. Team leaders meet us in the TOC." Fookin'-A, man! Willie goes off with the rest of the one zeroes and the rest of us go to chow. At CCS, this is not a joint American- Vietnamese mess hall, and we get to jabberin' pretty damn fast. There is only one subject of conversation. The locals tell us they've known somethin' was up for days. Wall and gate security has been beefed up beyond belief, and a couple CCN teams have been hidin' out in Security Country since last Friday. Like they could fool the locals.... Hot damn, man! We're gonna get to do somethin' really worthwhile. Somethin' for all the lost bros. Somethin' that'll perk up morale on both sides of the water. Somethin' we've dreamed about. Speculation of who's in there runs rampant. We've all lost buddies, but we know it's more likely to be mostly pilots and air crews. Which is just fine, and worth the trip. But you gotta hope. And they never did account for the A-camp personnel outside of Khe Sahn in '68. Or Mad Dog, or RT Michigan, or.... It runs on and on. After dinner the team leaders hunt us down and bring us up to speed. Like at Son Tai, we're gonna go balls to the walls right into the compound. Oh, sh*t! Well...okay - you do what you gotta. We will ferdamsure do whatever it takes. Half the teams will infiltrate a day early and set up for takin' out all roads, watch towers, radios they can see, and close-in reaction forces. RT California will be one of the two teams that drop into the compound HOT. With the RPD, I'll be the third man to touch earth. The first two will be a couple guys from RT Iowa with LAWs to pop into the guard barracks. "More in the mornin'. Start psychin' yourselves up." No sh*t. Fookit, man. We're goin' for the bros, and that's that. 'Most anyone in-country would give his gonads to be goin'. But it's gonna be us! The problem won't be gettin' psyched up, it'll be gettin' calmed down. So much for the "good night's sleep" theory. We're gonna be talkin' all night.... Which, of course, we did. But we have no problem gettin' up early, anyway. We board a whole fleet of choppers and head SE to some place they consider a safe area to rehearse. Here we break down to task forces and begin practicin'. A couple of the bros from CCN come with us and hand around photos blown up too damn far. The details are gone, but we can make out the buildin's and the stuff we'll have to work with and on. No time to build a mock up, so we lay out outlines and each team does its own rehearsals for the full day. Takes a full half the day to get us all down to earth enough to do even the simple things right. We are some seriously excited lads. But we work our asses off, anyway. By the time we go back that night, there's no question but that there's gonna be sleep tonight. The next day's pretty much the same. But, toward sundown, we run through it once all together. It's all screwed up, of course. But we all know it's just the first time, so it doesn't get us down. We note the problems, and that night we work 'em out verbally. The third day we're gonna spend doin' nothin' but workin' out the kinks and modifyin' the plan to fit the reality of team coordination in circumstances we won't know for sure until we hit the ground. Most of our missions are like that, anyway, so it's nothin' new for us. It goes pretty well, all in all. Still some rough edges, but we ain't shootin' each other, anymore. The crossfire patterns have been resolved, and the things we thought might be hidden behind actual walls turn out not to be a problem after all. The guys at SOG who drew up the plans had apparently learned from Son Tai, and a lot of the early errors simply aren't there. The fourth day we're gonna get some Super Jolly Greens from Spec Ops and do it full speed. And it goes down like clockwork. The first two guys pop out with the LAWs with Drog and me hot on their heels - exitin' the tailgate just after they've split right and left and shot their piece of the action. Willie and MP are right behind us with commo, followed by the other sixteen members of RT California. The rest of Iowa and portions of Indiana are in another bird right next to us, snakes in short orbit, holdin' high and dry. Phantoms are orbitin' five minutes out - a real dangerous thing for 'em in that region of SEA. One of CCN's FACs will be up there too. Plus, of course, Hillsboro or a counterpart won't be too far away. It'll be a sunrise strike, and tomorrow we'll do it by the numbers - live fire. We've had live ammo all along, of course, but we haven't been shootin' 'cause we didn't wanna take each other out. Looks like we're ready, though. The early-in elements stay overnight on the scene, while the attack element goes back to camp. It'll be the first time the Jolly Greens are seen in Ban Me Thout, and we hope the guys we know damn well are watchin' will be too slow gettin' the word back that we're up to somethin' funny. We spend the night on restin' and goin' over the withdrawal plans - both with and without POWs recovered. That's the easy part, really. We're gonna have unlimited air support for that phase, and several more Super Jolly Greens, complete with a full medical team, in far orbit. It's just a matter of gettin' onto the birds and flyin' away. Just before first light we're up, loaded and onto the birds. We're all aware we gotta get it right this time, 'cause tomorrow we're gonna stage north, rest the next day, and go in the followin' mornin'. It's a short flight and we get the ten minute warnin' as we leave the pad. We're low and fast, the Jolly Green makin' a full 180 just as we hit the ground. The first two guys are out before the gate's all the way down, and I see the flames from the LAWs burst toward the front of the ship as Drog and I run off, RPDs blazin' a full sweep aft. We each loose a drum this way, and load new ones as the rest of the team is off and providin' coverin' fire. Meanwhile, the other team enters the area occupied by the POW hootches. In under five minutes we've run the drill and are loadin' out. F-4s and snakes are tearin' up the terrain all around us as the point elements that took out the outer enemy defenses join us inside the compound for the evac. Ten minutes for the full op. We plan for up to thirty with the live, pop-up, shoot-back-type targets, and casualties and POWs to help. We think we can do it. We wish we had time to rehearse the contingency plans. But time's awastin'. Forty- five minutes after launch from Ban Me Thout we're back. The actual flight up north will be closer to forty-five minutes each way, but that's the small stuff. That night over dinner, we're a much more subdued group. We all know what can go wrong. We also know we're as ready as we can be with only a week from first notification to actual operation. Tomorrow, we'll stage north to an LZ not too far from Khe Sahn and make like bushes for twenty-four hours. That may damn well be the hardest part of the operation. Waitin' frequently is. Ah, hell! It always is. We spend the evenin' doin' what guys always do before a big op - cleanin' weapons and gear, recheckin' everythin' and everybody. We crosscheck the 'yards, they crosscheck us. The teams crosscheck each other. No room for errors. And we worry about it, big time. We don't sleep too good, either. Butterflies like you wouldn't believe. Well..., maybe you would. We get up with the sun and get some breakfast. We're quiet and determined to get it right. Still both tickled and scared it's gonna be us goin' in on somethin' this big. In walks the spook from the first day. "Attention everyone. The mission's scrubbed. CCN just got word in that the camp has been moved. Thank you all for your time and hard work, the planes will take you all home, today. Maybe next time...." Sh*t, man. No bros to save.... There will be no "next time." Ever.
. =DMZ= Camp Carroll__Con Thien =DMZ= . . |___/ \_ Quang Tri . . Khe (| * * \ . . Sanh-/\* * Dong \Camp Evans . . (Hawk \_/\ Ha *\_ Hue . . LZ) / \_ \Phu Bai . . Cam Lo \_Bastogne\_ . . \ An. )Da Nang . . / Hoa \ (Marble . . ( ------- \_Mountain) . . \ I CORPS \__ . . \------ Hoi \ Chu Lai . . \ An ! . . /\_____ ! . . / ! Duc \ . . ! Ben !___ Pho\ . . ! Het \/\____! . . ! !English LZ. . / Pleiku ! Bong . . / Camp / Son . . V I E T N A M ! Holloway Happy \_Hammond . . ! Camp Valley \ LZ . . \ Enarl An Khe ) . . \ Qui) . . \ \ Nhon\ . . / Oasis / . . ( ! . . _\ -------- ! . . / II CORPS Tuy\ . . \ -------- Hoa \ . . ! / . . _/Ban Me / . . --------- _/ Thuot Nha / . . III CORPS Song Be_/ Trang! . . --------\Quan Loi __/ \ ! . . Katum\_____( )/An Loc! Dong Ba ! . . /Dau Loc Ninh!__ Thin ! Cam . . Tay /Tieng \ / Ranh . . Ninh\ Phu Phuoc Yinh\ Dalat / Bay . . ! Loi \ __/ . . Lai Khe\--* Di An \ ___/ Phan . . Cu Chi\ Bien Hoa \ _/ Rang . . / \_____) )_(_Tan San Long Binh !__/ . . ! ( Nhut Bearcat ___/ . . _____! An Long \__Long Thanh_/ . . ! | . \/ Long Giao . . \___ My /| \/ \ (Black Horse) . . \ Tho Dong / | \ Vung Tau . . )Vinh Long Tam / | Saigon . . / \\ ! Tan An . . /Can Tho Phu ___\\| . . /-------- Vinh . . !IV CORPS\ \ / . . !-------- \ \__/ (Due to rectangular restrictions of character . . ! Soc / placements/positions, locations approximate) . . ! Trang / . . ! __/ . . \_/ gjp .
Champion This is not an easy one to tell. But I guess it's only right I do it. It's tellin' on myself, is what it is. About what I was, and how it wasn't always pretty. But maybe it says somethin' about what war does to a guy. About what it does to values and common sense. Try not to think any the less of me. Those were other days in another place. I like to think I buried that guy a long time ago. I like to hope.... We're just back from Flashlights a few days, and I'm still feelin' a little rocky, I guess. About twenty of us gathered in the Recon Club, gettin' drunk. We did it too often. But who really cared? Crazylegs yells out, "Gross-out contest!" And it's on. Ancient Army tradition. Well, maybe just SF. But I've been in 'em before, elsewhere and elsewhen. But this time, I got a serious attitude. And I'm gonna win. Whatever it takes. To be Gross- out Champion of Kontum. It starts small. Guys throwin' up on the floor. Other guys lickin' it up. Somebody stirs your drink with his dick, and you drink it. The little stuff, the warm-up. Then we get serious. I won't describe it, but it's pretty bad. We eliminate the faint of heart pretty quick, and there's just two of us left. He decides his best move is to just run me out fast, as I'm relatively new and he doesn't know my endurance. This is okay by me, as I don't know it either. The jerkin' off in the drink and downin' it almost got me. Whatever it takes.... So he grabs his drink with the scum on top and we follow him outta the door over to the "O" Club. Over in the corner, Dai uy is have a pizza with some other officers. Okay, it's all fair game. He casually saunters over to the table, climbs up and takes a very loose, very large sh*t into the pizza. Too much booze, and it looks more like chunky brown sauce. Dai uy and the others just sorta fall back and start clawin' at their waists where their pistols should be. Sheeeiiit! Literally. This is a new maneuver in the "O" club, and it ain't gonna be easy. Doesn't appear to be very popular, either. Okay, I gotta top it if I'm gonna stay in. So I eat the pizza. The contest is over. New champion. Whatever it takes.... Wars are good for that....
Maggie LTC Martha Raye. Helluva lady. Hell of a woman, period. Only stateside entertainer to ever come to our compound in Kontum. No troupe, no lights, no microphones, no nothin' fancy. Just Maggie. And that's the way it's best. None of the others even tried. Not that we would've have let 'em in, of course. The compound was sealed from pryin' civilians, and most military, for that matter. Which was good, 'cause we never had to look over our shoulders to see if Dan Rather was writin' it all down to be corrupted on the six o'clock news. But it did have the downside of never seein' a round-eyed woman without makin' the trek. Well, I guess nothin's perfect. But Maggie came. She had a standin' invite. Didn't even have to mail it to her. We were there, the guys in the funny green hats. That meant she was welcome. Don't know how old that was, but it had been a fact of bein' SF since Training Group. Maggie was one of us. You learned it along with the club handshake upon receipt of the magic decoder ring. And it was just about as fundamental as which end of your rifle pointed down range. I found out why in Kontum. The excitement amongst the older generation (over twenty-five) was dynamic that mornin'. Everybody was runnin' around gettin' haircuts, clean uniforms, brushin' their teeth, and checkin' their booze supply. I asked, and they would just grunt, "Maggie." Like maybe it was some kinda magic formula or somethin'. Oh, I knew the name, but damn man, this was bizarre behavior. So I did it too. Sarge didn't raise no dummies, and I can sense a gale blowin' as well as the next guy. Hell, I even helped clean the Recon Club - an awesome task, flatly turned down by the maids. Whaddahell, might as well get in on this. Never met any celebrities before, anyhow. She'd been in a lot of those old movies I'd watched as a kid. She arrived on a chopper from Pleiku around mid-afternoon. A couple of the E-8's went out and got her in a jeep and brought her back through the gates. Little woman, not too much bigger than the 'yards. Hair permed to death, wrinkles everywhere, and a smile that could stop an incomin' 122 and make it purr. God, the smile went from ear to ear and back again, and it dropped twenty years off her like a shot. And she wasn't tidy with it, she spread it all over the place. Had one for everyone of us, with plenty left for the 'yards, ARVN, everybody. Sheeeeiiit! This was okay, man. She got outta the jeep in front of Recon company HQ, threw off her baseball cap, and out came the beret. She put it on, smiled even wider, and said, "I need a f*ckin' drink!" Damn straight. It didn't strike me as incongruous, then. I mean we all talked like that, too. I wouldn't catch on to that until I got home and had a series of folk explain to me it wasn't proper English. Whadahell! Somebody got her a drink. Then it was off for a tour of the compound. She'd been here before, that was obvious. What was amazin' was that she remembered the place. She wanted to see this and that, and she knew all the old names, all the teams and who'd been on 'em. She also remembered every name given to her. First time, every time. "Maggie, this is Mike McCombs from RT California." "Glad to meet ya, Mike, didya know Joe?" "Damn straight, met me off the plane." "Good man, Joe, saw him in Hollywood a couple weeks back. You the one he called Sweet Thing?" Sheeeiiit! What kinda memory banks this lady got, anyhoo? She stops and talks to everybody. The 'yards haven't seen any American women in a while, and are dazzled by this one with the silver leafs and the big mouth. She gets more bracelets than the rest of us put together. Later, Weet will smile at me and say that he now understands why alla men come to Nam. I only smacked him a little. And at every stop she drinks. And she stays sober. Now, I've got good capacity, but this is awe inspirin'. And it's still before dinner. Dinner she eats one night with us and one night in the O-club. She admits she does have to do it cause of the rank. But she doesn't spend a lot of time with 'em, she wants to be with the guys who hump the boonies. Good taste. She don't mind the officers that do that humpin', it's the staffies she don't like. After dinner, she bar hops. Its odd about this camp. We have maybe 100 Americans, and five clubs. We all bar hop to an extent, spread the wealth around. But we all have our favorites, too. Mostly it's the regular clientele. Recon or Covey or old NCO or Officer or Mike. Maggie hits 'em all. She concentrates on Recon and Mike. Again, 'cause we hump the boonies. Lord only knows what she does when she goes to non-SF joints. But that ain't my problem. The first night she holds forth mostly in Mike. The second night, she's mostly in my AO. There ain't no third night. She's got a schedule, and she has to get back to her troupe and still make stops elsewhere. But that second night.... The war wasn't put on hold. Teams still came and went, the guard changed, life went on. But Maggie managed to lace her way into the fabric of it. She'd stop in with a team and help pack chow. She filled sandbags, she helped a team off the pad with their rucks, bringin' cool ones, she watched us go to the range, played pool, walked the berm, visited Rosie's. Sh*t, she was everywhere. Ate with the guys, and always had a kind word, a good story, and news of the other sites the few remainin' green weenies were hangin' at. She never said a monologue or stood on a stage. but she did her entertainin' job to the max. Sh*t, she didn't bring a piece of home, she brought herself, and gave remorselessly. That second night I spent three hours drinkin' and talkin' with her in the Recon Club. Nothin' special 'bout me, just I was from Southern Cal., too, and we had lots to talk about. Others came and went, but we stayed. I don't remember Viet Nam that night. don't think I was there. I think we were down on the Sunset Strip, and the band was playin', and the folks were dancin', and it was a good date. She left, that third morning, the way she came. We stood on the berm and waved as she flew away. Then we did a collective sigh and went back to war. I saw her again in '72, after I came home for the divorce. She kept a safehouse in Hollywood for us. I was at loose ends, no home anymore, and she took me in. She couldn't stay; off to Thailand, I think. But I was welcome to stay. I did for a week, and then I went off to Ft. Devens and 10th Group. One last time, I saw her. At Arlington, in D.C. A funeral for an old SGM who dived into a pea patch in Thailand. She was there, in dress greens, Corcorans, beret and all. For a friend. She pulled me aside and asked if it was true that his 'chute was fine, and he just hadn't pulled. I just pointed at the man's wife and kids, and she nodded. She went over to 'em, afterwards, and said TheWords. Helluva lady. I think she knew she'd heard right. After the funeral, she and I once more held forth at a local club, the NCO club on North Post, just outside the cemetery. The others came by, and I somehow ended up delegated escort. Don't know how. Maybe it was the way she said "Sweet Thing," maybe not. A young Spec. 4 came over and begged her to come to the Acey-Deucy club, 'cause they never got celebrities. And we went. I got her back to her hotel around 2:30, and I don't remember how the hell I got back home. I'll bet she didn't even have a hangover.... That's about it. That's the Maggie I knew. I guess she recently got married to some young dude in Hollywood. She's no sprin' chicken anymore. Hope it works out. Just a quick word for ya, dude. You'd better treat Maggie right. You don't and your ass is grass. And I know a couple thousand lawn mowers, all of 'em ugly as me.... .-~~-.--. : ) .~ ~ -.\ /.- ~~ . > `. .' < ( .- -. ) `- -.-~ `- -' ~-.- -' ( : ) _ _ .-: ~--. : .--~ .-~ .-~ ~-.-^-.-~ \_ .~ .-~ .~ \ \' \ '_ _ -~ `.`. // . - ~ ~-.__`.`-.// .-~ . - ~ ~ ~ ~-.~-. .' .-~ .-~ :/~-.~-./: /_~_ _ . - ~ ~-.~-._ ~-.
Tri-Borders It's February 1972. Tet. Simple word. Chinese New Year. But not to a Nam Vet. Mostly, to us it means the Tet Offensive of 1968. There were individual times and places when the war was worse. Some of 'em I've written here. But that was THE worst. I lost a lot of friends from high school in Tet of '68. So did a lot of folk in the country. Tet of '72 was bad too. Not the same way. It was the beginnin' of the end. From then on, the U.S. was pullin' out. And the North Vietnamese knew it.... For months, since around Christmas, we'd been diggin' in. The camp had become a maze of sandbag walls and bunkers. We'd wired the whole place for sound - deep basso-profundo. Against a determined attack, we could not hold. But they were gonna pay dearly for what they got. And once they got it, it wasn't gonna last for long. This was serious stuff. An army deals in death - its major product. We were plannin' on beatin' our quota. Mid-month, February 1972. We're all just lazin' around. Only one team's out, and we're all real tired of fillin' sandbags. Guys on the berm, burnin' the crud off. Maids makin' the rounds, cleanin' the rooms and heads. I'm sittin' in front of my hootch, with a lemonade, just catchin' rays and listenin' to a record of the Mama's and Papa's. Doin' like the song says: California Dreamin'. Don't get a lot of days like this. Gonna enjoy it while I can. Weather out west is bad, and it'll get to us soon enough. Today is nice. It's enough. Hurryin' feet. Reach for my CAR - acquired reflex by now. It's Doc, Recon Company first shirt. "Where's Willy?" I point at the berm. Willy's up there, naked as a jay bird, just a sunnin' himself. Mortar Peter is next to him, dressed the same. You can always spot that. The 'yards come by and just suck air. Ain't nobody like Mortar Peter to catch your eye stark naked. Even if you are male. Doc yells up to 'em. Willy looks down and waves. He puts on his shorts, grabs his '16 and comes down. "We need to get all the one zeroes together, and fast." Willy nods, he knows where they hang. He points at the berm and says get 'em. I sigh, set down my lemonade and climb on up. Fetch Sprague, Tom and Chief from a few bunkers down. Willy goes down to the hootches and rounds up the others. They mutter and head for the TOC with Doc. Everyone looks at me in hope. I shrug. I get the next opening, and they all know it. But I ain't got it yet. I don't know. But I can guess. Last time somebody mentioned a POW camp sightin' this happened. Break's over, we head for the hootches. Weapons to check, bags to pack. Ain't sure yet. But somethin' is damn sure comin' down. Ferris goes down to the 'yard barracks and lets RT California's Sarge know something's in the air. He'll spread the word. In a ville, he'd be an elder with his beard and pipe. 'Yards'll be ready. In the distance, I see our Mike Force standin' to. Gonna be a busy afternoon. I'm ready. No problem, I'm always ready. People like me to strap- hang with 'em. You take me, and you don't make contact. Besides bein' a good sneaky peter, I'm lucky. Just superstition. Counts for a lot around here, though. Nevertheless, all I gotta do is get dressed. Others got more to do. MP is always puttin' off to the last second what shoulda been done yesterday. Damn good man in the field, but a lazy fart in camp. He's gruntin' as he tries to find his spare ammo. Sarge wanders in for the key to the ammo bunker. I toss it to him. 'Yards only get to keep a couple hundred rounds each in the barracks. I tell him to double the basic load. He shakes his head and goes to the conex. This is bein' repeated all over Recon Country. The compound is breathin' to life. An hour latter, Willy comes back. He looks around and nods. Calls me, MP and Sarge over. "An SF-advised ARVN Mike Force battalion is gettin' its butt kicked in the tri-borders." "Why not the 4th?" "They got enough problems of their own." Tet '72 has begun. Leavin' the security company, the ARVN, OP Alpha and some others behind, we're about a battalion, ourselves. Don't operate that way, but it's in the TO&E, and we have practiced it a couple times. Okay. They've come for us. We'll go for 'em. RT California, in three birds, will go in point for Recon Company. Willy will be in command, Doc is tied to the TOC 'cause of shortages there. Okay, Willy's only an E-6, but the best we have since Joe left. MP will go with him as company commo. For all his faults, he's the best we got for that - no quibble. I get the team. Sh*t! Am I ready? I say yes, but I'm not sure. I got the best damned 'yard Sarge in Viet Nam, and we'll make it work. "Okay, here's what we're gonna do...." Weather out there sucks. We won't get in until mornin'. We spend the night with the radio tuned for Mike. Mostly static, but an occasional burst of traffic makes it in. Got good commo from here, nice antenna field. We can hear Covey, playin' FAC. They are busy, and runnin' constantly. It's gonna be hot goin' in. Spend the night talkin' to the other one zeroes and Sarge. Gotta be done right. I get Lt. Olson, fresh into country, as my RTO. Okay, he was my XO in Panama, we work well together. Shoes reversed, but he's been here long enough not to sweat it. Good man, as I'd known in Panama, too. 0500, wake up call. Like we'd been asleep! Okay, chow real fast. Eat light, gonna fly hard and fast. 0545, the birds begin to come in. The pad's not big enough for all of 'em. RT California and RT Washington mount up and head out as point. Got plenty of snakes and I can hear there are Phantoms nearby, though I don't see 'em. Fair length flight. Long enough to get nervous about my new role. No sweat, it'll go away on the ground. It always does. Ten minutes out, the gunner taps me and gives the signal. LZ is NOT hot, but we get ready for it anyway. Everythin' is wet, we're gonna get muddy. I lean out and see the snakes and fast movers shakin' the area out. I don't see any returned fire. Okay! Point it out to Sarge and Olson. Nods. Sarge has seen already. We lock and load. We'll be about a klick from where Mike Force is thought to be, though we've been told all commo is gone. I'll take point, not a place for the team leader. Better not to have a 'yard be the first one they see, though. They're gonna be tired men. We'll have to fake it. Sarge will walk where I should be. Olson's not ready to be in the chain of command, yet. We hit the LZ fast and dirty, over the trees and in, without a looksee first. Unass the birds and hit the tree line. It's a three ship LZ and the whole team is together fast. Washington lands about sixty seconds later and follows our rear. Within fifteen minutes Recon Company is on the ground and movin'. Never been in an operation this size before. It's a little spooky not bein' able to shoot at anythin' that's movin'. Drill. Practice. Hope it pays. Move out. We get to where Mike Force is supposed to be, but they're not. A lot of bodies are. Most are American or ARVN, some are NVA. Spread out, move real slow. Sarge hits me in the back with a rock, points to the tree line to the east. An American wavin'. Notify Willy, and take a part of the team in, leavin' the rest to cover rear. It's a sarge I know from Bragg, Craig somethin' or the other. He's shot all to sh*t. Olson goes to work on the worst of it, while I ask TheQuestion. They're gone! He figures there's maybe a platoon left, holed up behind him about a hundred meters in some big rocks. The NVA moved out a couple hours ago. I call Willy, and he comes in. He calls for the air to look and see what they can find. Should be able to find somethin'. Battalions are not wiped out by small units. We move in. Craig goes out for a dust off with our own Mike Force. He'll go home early. We go lookin' for the rocks. We find 'em. I shout and wave, and take my hat off to show the old baldin' pate. I get a wave back. We move into their lines. Its a fookin' mess. If you've never seen the remains of a battalion destroyed..., well..., I can't tell you what it's like. You cry, you curse, you want desperately to kill someone, anyone, anything. Battalion commander is an E-5. He's what's left. A platoon advisor now has a battalion. Well, it used to be a battalion. F*ck! Sh*t! We're too muthaf*ckin' late! I'll have nightmares for weeks about this clusterf*ck. Too muthaf*ckin' late! Maybe the poem says it better.... Morning After The sun, it always rises. Tho' I ain't so sure just why. The blood soaked rags, the body bags, are stacked to the fookin' sky. Las' few grunts still standin' be lookin' like dogs from Hell. Heads are cracked, faces black'ed, and, gods!, that fetid smell! The field is pitted an' slimy. God only knows with what. Don't wanna know, it could be a bro won't be seen tonite at his hut. Too many bros have fallen; ain't goin' HOME "upright". Lovers and kin, sorrier'n sin, lost all they had las' night. War, it sucks, and battle be worse; farewell sweet ring o'laughter. But bad as it be, ain't nuttin' I see as bad as the mornin' after.... May 20, 1993
The Fourth Security call! Sh*t! Somebody else is havin' to use our inner pad, usually reserved for our own ARVN slicks and Kingbees. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes the big LZ's are outta action when somebody really needs to land. The main pad is no sweat, it's sandwiched between the main camp and OP Alpha and doesn't open onto camp at all. The inner pad, though, is just inside the berm and gives access to the whole west side of the compound. Somebody uses it, and we gotta go stand guard. Like maybe they're gonna steal the place or read an op plan or somethin'. Okay, it happens. Roust the team, don our gay apparel and hit the strip. California is gonna take the main road out from the pad to the gate. We form up by the bunkers built to cover the pilots comin' off the pad in a hurry and we hunker down. The net starts jabberin'. It part of the 4th, comin' in low on fuel 'cause of a diversion from up north a piece. They've been in heavy action, though the seriously wounded are on other ships headin' for Pleiku. Sh*t! They ain't us, but we hate to see bros shot up. Top, for once, is feelin' like a human, and has a couple full water tanks wheeled over, they'll probably be thirsty. We send off to the Recon Club and the NCO Club for some cases of beer. Won't go far with a whole lotta company comin' in, but the guys in the worst shape will get somethin'. It's the deal, man. Even if they ain't ours. The call, of course, was premature. We're on the pad for nearly a half hour before we hear the first slicks. The first wave goes overhead and goes into the main pad. The second wave, maybe ten birds, drops into ours. The pilots are obviously in a helluva hurry to hit the mud, and some of the landings would get 'em recycled through flight school. But it don't hold our attention long. The grunts command it. They get off the birds like creatures barely redeemed from the brink of hell. It reminds me of the Mike Force from Tri-borders, they look so bad. They got too much gear to carry, and they ain't got the strength to carry half of it. Their faces are grimy and strained, creases of fatigue runnin' from forehead to chin, ear to ear. They slouch, some just barely able to stand. Many just collapse, sittin' down in the mud, not movin' from the side of the choppers. Some are wounded, and we see a stretcher or two still on the birds. Top looks it over and shakes his head. He looks at us and gives a grim nod. All we need. F*ck a bunch of security bullsh*t, time to do something! Top heads for the TOC, to get the trucks here faster. And to get some more help. Willy sends four 'yards in different directions, for the docs, some more beer and some more Americans. The rest of us and the other teams chuck our weapons and head for the grunts on the ground. We pass the beer, we refill canteens, we check the wounded, set two aside who have already died. We mix with the grunts, helpin' with what we can. So maybe they're ours after all. The trucks come eventually, for the men, for the equipment, for the dead. The fuel trucks come in from Kontum proper and set to fillin' the birds. We count up to fifty holes in some of 'em. Musta been one bad muthaf*cka. The grunts ain't talkin' about it. They're still catchin' their collective breath and countin' buddies. It sucks, big time. I find a young buck sergeant with a dressin' around his left arm, suckin' on an empty can of Bud. He looks at me through tired eyes, me bein' clean and fresh as a daisy, and says thanks. I say, "Mike," he says "Bill." He looks around at the pad and asks wherethef*ck are we. "Just south of Kontum, the trucks'll take you home." "Sh*t, we just went out this mornin'." "Looks like they hit ya pretty bad." He gazes out at this mates, "Yeah, pretty bad. The sh*t is we gotta go back tomorrow and get the guys we left behind." "You're sh*ttin' me." "Nope, the word's out already." "F*ck, man." "Yeah...." They pack up and roll out, and I slip Bill another beer and a piece of jerky saved from our last trip out. He smiles some, and passes the beer to a buddy. "Keep your head down, bro." "You do the same. Kill some gooks for me tomorrow." "Damn straight." They limp outta camp, and the choppers fly away to nest. We pick up our gear and put it away. It's over in under two hours. Happy as sh*t I'm no f*ckin' grunt.
Cooky An army lives on its stomach. And that ain't always easy. Certainly ain't easy in a war zone. I don't think they teach battle field mess to Cordon Bleu chefs. And they don't teach Cordon Bleu cookin' to battle field chefs. But sometimes you do okay. We weren't authorized an Army cook. We didn't have a real mess hall, y'see. What we had was a "Mess Association." Meanin' that we all drew separate rats and paid into the association for meals. Local cooks didn't know what to do with ground round, so we had some serious scroungin' to do. 'Sokay, we had 100+ highly qualified scrounges in camp. And we did it right. First, you get somethin' worth tradin'. Somethin' real good. Since we spent our time wanderin' in the back country, this was pretty easy. What we used was a pallet-load of SKSs, still in the preservative. They're pretty easy to take home, so the guys with whom we were gonna barter would know they were gonna turn a profit. Hadn't cost us nothin', we just found 'em, anyway. Just layin' around, y'know. Then you find somebody to trade with. What we found was the 4th Division's senior enlisted S-4, a crusty old E-8. The game began, and ended. It took a remarkably short time, and the guys came back with SFC Holcomb. Officially an 11B, he was a cook. Specifically, he was Cooky, the guy who made it work. Cooky made things happen with minimal fuss and budget. He'd tie in here, tie in there, and steak and lobster would materialize on Friday night. He'd tie a few more knots, and on Sunday we'd have ice cream. The man was good with knots. He was the only American in the kitchen, but he knew how to run it. The rest of the staff was Vietnamese, it bein' a joint mess facility. But they could cook anythin' by the time Cooky was done with 'em. Pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, omelettes, and even a decent spaghetti, were all in the repertoire. It was better than any mess I ate in stateside. Or anywhere. All's Cooky wanted was to be left to bake. The man had made a career in the infantry only to find out he was a baker at heart. And, Lord, could that man bake. Cakes, pies, torts, pastry, bread, you name it, and he baked it. The Covey pilots and some of the others privileged to eat on site would almost literally kill to be there for Friday night dinner. 'Course, so would we. I frequently wondered how many teams had ended operations early just to come home for dinner on Friday night while Cooky was there. I know I did. Twice. I mean, an army lives on its stomach, and I really wanted to live real bad. I think I would have done so if we'd had to fight off a fookin' regiment to do it. Cooky was the best investment I ever saw us make. When he finally DEROSed, we held a wake. The Vietnamese head cook he left behind was good. But he couldn't bake like that. Not even my grandmother could. Helluva thing to spend your time contemplatin' with a war on. We were supposed to go out get our intel and get our asses back. But if Cooky casually mentioned he wanted a new NVA pith helmet.... Well, it just seemed to show up in the captured equipment real soon. And, as an old grunt, he had plenty of stories about his first tour with the Big Red One. Only cook I ever saw with a CIB on his hat. Made a fellow happy just to be. Life can be good, y'know. And his butterhorns were worth dyin' for!
The Road from Pleiku I'm stuck in Pleiku. This is not good. I don't belong on no air base. They don't like guns here. They don't like Army here. They don't like anythin' I know or am here. Though they do seem to tolerate my money. Spent last night in the BEQ. Curtains in the windows, wax on the floor, not a hootch. My CAR-15 is disassembled and in my briefcase. They won't get it away from me. I know there's a war on, no matter what the guys at the gate say. The bunker is too far away, there are no sandbags on the roof or around the walls, and I only have the four magazines I brought. Sheeeeeeiiit! I gotta get home, man. No PX run is worth this. The next mornin' I walk out the gate. The fookin' guards didn't wanna let me go. Nobody leaves the compound without orders. Yeah, right! I produce my 'Walk-on-Water Pass,' and fook 'em if they can't handle it. It's a mile down to Route 2 that heads north to Kontum. I walk it. The place is crawlin' with folk that don't seem to know there's a war on. Signs everywhere, speed limits, MPs, and not a soldier in sight. Oh, lots of guys in uniform, but no one with a gun except the MPs. So I guess there are some soldiers, after all. The MP units in Nam did some serious butt kickin' on Charlie. Maybe some of these are 'em. Don't matter, 'cause all they are right now is a pain in the ass. Gotta keep the gun in the case. Might as well be missin' my eyes or somethin'. Well, I do get to I-2. And I stick out my thumb pointin' north. Now, I gotta tell you this feels real weird. I'm standin' at an intersection in the middle of a fookin' war, hitchhikin'. Crazy place, man. An ARVN deuce and a half with a couple of three-quarter tons and a couple jeeps with M-60s actually stops for me. Okay, I know the drill. I offer some P to the driver, but he shakes his head and points at the back. Okay, there's still a lotta good soldiers in this joint, and this one's just gonna help another GI. I mount up. Only a couple guys in the rear, ARVN tankers from the road defense force, if I read the uniforms right. Look back, and the three- quarter tons have supplies. Okay! Caught a resupply run - it'll go all the way to Kontum with minimal stops. I smile at the driver, and point at the CCC logo on my jacket. He grunts okay, and we're off. A mile down the road, and we've left the American area of influence behind. The tanks along the road are ARVN. Open the case and reassemble the CAR, lock and load. Much better. Even with only four mags, I can at least shoot back. The tankers watch the whole process, and start to bargain for the CAR - guess they like it. No dice though. Three M-16s and a case of grenades just isn't enough. I don't speak Vietnamese, they don't speak English, but soldiers can always barter. They are disappointed that I won't part with it, but recognize they are short on tradin' goods. No hard feelings, and we watch the Central Highlands roll by. I'd flown down to Pleiku with Covey in cloudy skies. This is my first trip of any distance by ground since my arrival in Nha Trang. I'd forgotten how nice it is to see country from a truck. You see different things than you do from the air or afoot, my normal modes of transportation. The ARVN are good company. They're real soldiers, not parade ground troops. The scars and the eyes tell it. To them I'm just a weekend warrior come to visit. Okay, they're right. When I go home, they'll still be here. We pass tanks every half mile or so, with infantry in between. They're arrayed to protect the road, but the line is too thin. I can tell when we are in problem areas, 'cause the tankers with me get more alert. It's only sixty or so miles to Kontum, but it'll take better than half the day with road blocks and service stops. Okay by me, it's gettin' there. I have my camera and I grab a few shots. The tankers catch what I'm up to and warn me when somethin' good is comin'. I catch a small Catholic cemetery with a large statue of Mary still intact. I catch some shots of an army on dull duty, and a tanker pissin' off the back of a tank, at which we all laugh. The lens isn't very big, but I try a couple shots of the western horizon, too. Cambodia and Laos are out there, somewhere. They tense as we approach fortified positions, and I put the camera away. It was the right thing, they are happy with the decision. We swap the two tankers for an Lt., drop some supplies and pick up some papers. I have to go through the barter routine with the Lt., and he ups the ante with an SKS. I think about it, but decide to stick with the CAR. He too, is disappointed, but doesn't get upset. The road goes on forever. It's a nice day, and I catch a short nap. Finally, we pass the range. There's a team out there, RT Minnesota, I think. Another mile and we pass OP Alpha, and enter the passage through camp. The driver stops at the main gate and lets me climb down. Much to the disgust of the 'yards at the gate, I give the driver two of my thirty round mags, knowin' they are in short supply for ARVN. I can see the driver wants to turn 'em down, but he wants 'em real bad, too. I pick up two of his twenty rounders, and the deal is sealed. They disappear down the road into the city, and I never see any of 'em again. Hitchhikin' in Viet Nam. Make new friends, see the country. Don't try it in Southern California, though. You could get dead.
Rosie's Rosie's is a bordello; a brothel. Oh hell, it's not really either. That implies too much class. Rosie's is a whorehouse, plain and simple. It's just outside the north gate, toward town. It exists for this camp and its American and ARVN occupants. And it does a thrivin' business. Why "Rosie's?" I don't know. All whorehouses are "Rosie's," aren't they? I suppose we coulda called it somethin' else, but tradition is tradition, y'know. It's gotta be served. And so do the soldier's, for that matter. Its a big, two story, wood frame structure. Upstairs is the residence, and no one goes up there but the girls. Downstairs, in front, is the parlor. It's a bar, really. With overpriced drinks and girls waitin' for a trick. The madam has figured out that Americans want to have some verbal play before-hand, to give a "love interest." She thinks that's funny. She's probably right. But money is money, and the Americans pay well. So the parlor is okay, even good. In the long, single story trailin' back are TheRooms. Small and unromantic, but private for "romantic" activities. Must be twenty of 'em. It's a busy place. No guards here. Well..., the bartender has an AK under the counter, but that's it. The patrons do their own policin'. Has to be that way, really. What kinda guards you gonna mount against a bunch of horny soldiers with rifles...? No, the guys will straighten out anyone who gets outta line. It's worked for years. Probably will till hell freezes over, too. Some things you can't guard against, even with twenty or so Americans with rifles and a like number of ARVN, though. One of 'em is Mortar Peter. Ask the girls. There is NO defense against that. He doesn't come here much. Don't do no good, he can't get laid here. Once a month we pack him onto a Black Bird and send him to Bangkok to the specialists. You do that for a friend. You fergodsake don't let him go to Rosie's. Not again! First time MP went there, it started off well enough. He bought some drinks and got the attention of the girls. He wasn't the best lookin' of men, but he wasn't any slouch, either. And then they went to the back. SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMM! Stomping! Rumbling! The girls come flyin' outta the windows and the doors, less than half dressed, or not dressed at all. And not carin'. Some of the guys go too, not havin' the foggiest notion whaddahell is goin' down, just reactin'. Naked Americans and ARVN, weapons in hand, lookin' everywhere for a bunker. In the bar, tables are kicked over and a hasty defensive position is assumed, joint command by somebody or the other. Safeties are off, and it's startin' to look pretty ugly. The madam goes flyin' down the hall to see what's up. Her girls will be off their pace for days, and she is NOT happy. The crowd in the parlor grimaces and hunkers down. Screamin' and yellin' down the hall, and mama-san is back movin' faster than the girls. The look on her face is horror beyond horror. Ohsh*tohsh*tohsh*t! Must be a fookin' regiment back there! The guys in the parlor start plannin' E&E routes. The floor creaks, and foot steps approach. Rifles up, itchy fingers. Out steps Mortar Peter, with his pants in his hand and that foot- plus long magic wand of his standin' at attention. All you hear is the suckin' of air, as twenty guys try to keep their inferiority complexes from goin' riot. One by one, safeties are put back on, and a smatterin' of appreciative applause goes around the room, punctuated by continuin' gasps. Some guy from one of the teams yells for him to put on his fookin' pants, ferchristsake. He does, and goes back to base, more than a little embarrassed. We sent him to Thailand the next day. Madam was pissed. Also scared. She threatened to give the place over to the NVA if she ever saw that "elephant" in her place again. She didn't mean it, of course; she'd lost too many kin to the northerners. But she was one shook lady. I guess if I'd been a woman when lookin' at that instrument of destruction, I'da been scared sh*tless, too. Well, it passed, lesson learned. But the guys kept goin' to Rosie's. Not all of 'em used TheRooms, of course. Some just wanted to talk to someone besides the same, old, ugly guys they spent all their other days and nights with. Which was okay; it brought in the Piaster. I only went there a few times. One time was to find the teams. We had a hot one come up, and we needed to get briefin' in and start back to work. So they sent me down to round up all the guys that were ours in the joint. Okay, not a problem, it's less than two minutes out the gate. Madam, however, is not interested in my problems. She ain't gonna disturb all those rooms to find a couple guys just 'cause I need 'em. I get pissed, she gets pissed, and we yell at each other for a good five minutes. Finally, my brain kicks into gear and I tell her if she won't get 'em out, I'll have to go get my friends. She looks at the crowd in the parlor, and laughs in my face. "One of 'em's named Mortar Peter, Rosie." And I smile. Really big toothy smile. I get my troops, and never have another problem of any kind at Rosie's. Secret weapons are where you find 'em. Even at Rosie's.
Dressed for Success Let's face it, what soldiers do for a livin' is just like any other business. Well, maybe plus a little. You do planning, projections, contingency adjustments, budget your resources, and all those things any other businessman does. You also have to dress right. 'Power ties' are not really "in," but clothing is still very important. This is especially true for the field troops. The wrong clothes don't lose you a contract, they can get you dead. Which closes a deal real fast. Back in the states we were issued uniforms and they were expected to be maintained as received. 'Tweren't the case in Nam, though. Here, we got to improvise and customize to our heart's content. And we damn sure did. My drill sergeant would not have been pleased. My regular field uniform was originally French. Much like U.S. jungle fatigues, it had lots of pockets and was an off shade of olive drab. I'd learned some of its deficiencies in Panama. And I got to apply those "lessons learned" in SEA. First, in jungles or even dense woods, extra cloth flappin' around is NOT an asset. It's forever and a day gettin' caught in this or that and makin' your life miserable. Or worse yet, it could make noise at an inopportune moment, or hang up your weapon. So extra cloth had to go. That meant, foremost of all, that the tail of the jacket had to be tucked in. Remove two pockets you really wanted, but couldn't get into wearin' web gear anyway, and cut a couple slits on the sides for easy tuckin'. Leave it full length, though, so it'll stay tucked even when crawlin' around in slime, mud or other uncomfortable things. Soldiers have to do that a lot, y'know. The legs were also a problem. All that extra cloth above the boot got hung up, too. This causes one to fall down. Murphy dictates that this only happen in the presence of the enemy, so it is best avoided. Someone had given thought to this prior to my arrival, and the solution was stored away in old Army-surplus warehouses. World War I canvas leggings. Crazy world, huh? They worked like a champ, though. Put those suckers on, lace 'em up tight, and you not only got rid of the extra cloth, you got canvas protection for your lower legs. With all those fookin' leeches around, this was a nice addition. Parachute cord makes good lacing, and lasts a long time, even when immersed in fetid water. Used a parachute strap for the belt, too, for the same reasons. Don't know what happened to all the parachutes we got this stuff from. Damn sure wasn't gonna carry the whole damn thing. Second, you now have two extra pockets detached from your uniform. I always liked pockets on my shoulders 'cause they're easy to get to with web gear on, in just about any state of horizontal-or- verticalness. Great for maps or a candy bar. Can't put 'em on the outside up there, cause the extra cloth problem will get ya. So you put 'em on the inside and add a zipper. Make the zipper nylon, so it's quiet. Noise is also undesirable. Now, we didn't have cammies. So we did the next best thing. We pulled out cans of black spray paint and did random doodles on the OD surface. Had to be flat black, of course. Between the paint and sweat, you got as good as or better than cammy coverin'. And it came pretty darn close to the color of the vegetation around you. Which, of course, is the whole idea. You did the same to the leggings, naturally. Add some green paint for 'em, as sand colored canvas doesn't blend too well with verdant green. You still won't pass for a bush upon close inspection, but who wants to be that close to the NVA, anyway? Now for the headgear. Boonie hats are cool. But the brim is just too damned wide. It blocks your upward vision. Since Chuck likes to hide in trees a lot, this is not somethin' one usually wished to sacrifice. So cut it down to about and inch and rebind. Go back to the paint cans and do it again. The brim is large enough to keep the rain outta your face mosta the time, but not to block sight. Mine was black, and had to get some green paint, too. Some of the guys sewed a piece of a marker panel into the crown as emergency backup. I never felt the need, but it's not too bad an idea as such things go. I was always afraid my hat would come off at some inappropriate moment. Third, your feet. Can't emphasize these enough. Man, a ground pounder lives on his feet. If you're runnin' in small teams, you won't take your boots off for several days, more likely than not. So they gotta be good. They gotta fit right, and they gotta drain right. Don't sweat it about water leakin' in, it's gonna get in no matter what you do. You do hafta worry about it gettin' back out. In swamp land, leather doesn't really cut it, and some of the new synthetics wear better. They also don't turn white when the polish is gone. White is not a good color in a green place, either. Some of the guys liked gloves, too. You paint 'em just like everythin' else. Me, I didn't care much for 'em. Too much trouble when you're in a place where it rains a lot. I suppose if it didn't rain all that bad, they'd be okay for the protection they offer your trigger finger. That needs protectin' a lot. Successful business requires the proper attire. In an army at war, it couples with your instincts to survive. It also happens to fit that old adage about fashionable clothing: "Dressed to kill." Fashion has its place....
Good for the Back Your web gear carries your life. Maybe you think of it as equipment, but it's not simply that. It's the tools of your trade and the things that will keep you from gettin' killed too easily. As such, it should get a lot of thought. Preferably your's. Mine was a standard web belt with a stabo rig replacin' the load bearin' harness. The stabo acted as a harness for liftin' on ropes from a helicopter. The only thing that had to be done was tape up the crotch straps and tape down the rings at the shoulders. This took a strong cloth tape that wouldn't rip easily, but would rip when needed. Replaced it after each mission to insure it didn't wear excessively from abrasion and wetness. Medical tape worked okay, though it, too, had to be painted. Nothin' dangled, but it all was within reach for use in a hurry. If you're to a point where you need your stabo rig, you are probably in that hurry. On the belt I carried two canteens without cups - they made too much noise. I also carried three drums of RPD ammo in custom made carriers, as no one made the damn things. Also carried a canteen case for grenades. Two field dressin' packets filled up the remainder of the belt. On the stabo straps I carried a strobe light with a "neck" to avoid light goin' anywhere but up. Had a blue filter on it, as I'm told this made it more visible at night. Like you'd be usin' it any other time.... We carried indigenous rucksacks that came in an off shade of gray. These got painted like the uniforms, black and green. They were just one big sack with no external pockets, so organization was not all that easy or even really possible. In here went at least one pair of socks for each day in the woods, though they seldom all got used. Also in here went rations, another drum for the RPD, a mini-claymore, spare paper and pencil wrapped in plastic, timin' fuse and cap, parachute cord, and a poncho liner or lightweight sleepin' bag, as appropriate. As the guy with the machine gun, that was about it for me. The others carried more grenades and extra rations for everyone. They also carried extra ammo for the M-203's that nearly all the teams carried. In a nylon shoulder holster I carried a Browning Highpower, 9mm pistol and spare clips. I started with a .45, but decided after its first usage that it didn't have enough bullets. Stuffed into the top of my right leggin' was a K-bar. Never could understand how people could go to the woods without a good knife. Probably the single most useful tool one can carry any time, anywhere. The K-bar is not good for any particular task, but it is fair for any number of jobs. It stayed on the person, for reasons to become apparent. One of the things you always try to do is plan for contingencies. So we worked in layers. The ruck sack carried a lot of good stuff, but you might have to leave it behind at some point. So you carried the really important stuff on your web gear. Well, you might have to leave that behind, too - like if you got overrun without warnin' while sleepin'. So survival stuff went on your person. Besides the knife, I always had one meal in my left leg pocket, along with fifty feet of parachute cord, some safety pins, and stray stuff. In the right leg pocket went an URC radio for emergency contact with aircraft if it went truly to hell in a hand basket. My shoulder holster and Browning never came off, either. In my pockets I carried maps, morphine, lomotil, amphetamines, more dressings, and more paper and pencils. Put it all on, add a weapon, and it comes out to a lot more than you wanted to carry. But where we went there would be no evenin' resupply, no one to give us food and ammo, and no Safeway. So we carried it with us. Like the good, environmentally-conscious types we were, what we packed in, we packed out. No sense in leavin' intel for the bad guys. Hell, we were supposed to get, not give, that stuff. Though sometimes we left little presents. The kind that ticked.... Which someone had to carry, of course.
Dining Out In a war zone, you can leave home without it. Visa, Mastercharge, American Express and Diner's Club didn't work the field in Viet Nam. Which is okay, as it eliminates one more way to die. So you take your food with you. Not bacon and eggs, not steak and potatoes, but things that are easier to prepare and eat. Because eatin' is somethin' you do between steps. Because preparation consists of addin' water. Probably tainted water. Purification tablets don't do much for flavor in most meals. We were lucky in a way. We got to pick and choose our meals. We got issued standard indigenous LRRP rations, our own LRRP rations, and good old Korean surplus 'C' rations. Given a few cases of each, you could put together somethin' acceptable. We couldn't take the mess hall with us. But we did okay. The indigenous rations were basically cup sized bags of rice with some meat and veggies added. The shrimp combo was the best. When you added the water, you tossed in some tabasco or pepper sauce, tied the bag into a sock and hung it on the back of your ruck to hydrate. This stirred it up, too. Tasted pretty darn good after six to eight hours without anythin'. Didn't need utensils, either. You just choke the bag and squeeze out bite-sized portions as you walked or sat. Generally, we preferred not to eat in a fixed position. Too easy then to get too casual. It was not a casual war. We also brought along the better parts of the other meals. Cans of fruit, if you didn't mind carryin' the weight, were real popular. Candy bars were good, too. Surplus was given to the elders in the Ville to distribute, so nothin' went to waste. If you ate out in the Ville, you had to be prepared for ham and muthas. Helluva deal. It wasn't hot and prepared in a kitchen, but it sufficed to keep strength up and spirits goin'. And the price was A-Number-One even if the menu was kinda primitive.
Covey The Air Force had more than jet jockeys. Not to belittle the guys in the Phantoms. They were great! They'd come to the end of their fuel range and hang around longer than they should to give your ass some cover when you really needed it. They brought death with 'em, and left it with Chuck whenever possible. Good group of folk, all in all. But they weren't all the fly boys in the Nam. Slow movers, old prop jobs brought out of retirement just for ground support, were good too. Slow to get there, they had long TOT - time on target. They would and did get down and dirty long after the fast movers had to go home or refuel. Never met one of these guys. But they were real, and I personally owe 'em my ass as much as I owe the jet jocks. Then there were the cargo guys and all the ground crews and support types that kept 'em in the air. Met few of 'em, but they did their thing to get me back. And the Jolly Greens did, too. Spent some time with 'em both before and after my SEA excursion, as well. Another group that knew about "up close and personal," and brought the air war to the ground. But for us, operatin' recon out of CCC, there was Covey. Covey flew our recons, our FAC, our radio relay, and sometimes our beer. Little ol' O-2s for the most part. Single door on the right side, the pilot bein' on the left. Hadda be uncomfortable knowin' you had to climb over whatever might be in the right seat before you could get out. But they flew in all weather, at low altitudes, under enemy fire, and kept us alive when no one else would or could come. They did more, too. They had the finger. They were the guys who knew where we were. Now, that may not sound like a lot. But when you are somewhere in Cambodia or Laos, the maps are what they were, and you've been runnin' for a couple days so as not to have the vaguest notion of where in the holy hell you are, it counts for a fook of a lot. I don't know about you, but with the maps we had, most of the time I didn't know but within a couple klicks of where I was. And I'm a whiz with land navigation. I've maxed ever course I've ever run. Even in Norway, ferchristsake! But the maps we had of V Corps were godawful. Sometimes they weren't even worth carryin', they were so inaccurate. Like most soldiers, I didn't like bein' lost. I get to missin' peer group support real easy. Pilots, on the other hand, especially Covey, always know where they are. Even if they have the wrong map. Even if we ended up in the wrong fookin' country. I don't know how they teach that. They tell me it's because they have the same view as the map. I don't think so. I've been on aerial recons, and nothin' on the map looked like what I saw down there. But Covey, he just leaned over, thumped a finger onto the map and said there. While flyin'. I mean, isn't he supposed to watch the road or something? But they always knew. Thank God! 'Cause a lot of the time I ferdamnsure didn't. They did this a lot for us. On recons, on inserts, on radio contacts, on exfils, they were ready with that know-it-all finger. I don't know how many times I'd get back from a recon and be briefin' the slick pilots and say I wanna go in here, and the finger would appear and say no, there. Or I'd go to a debriefin' and I'd have to say, Covey, where'd we come from, and backtrack from that all-knowin' finger to show where we'd been and where the bad guys were. Maybe they have special fingers with inertial guidance systems or somethin'. Issued in flight school. Or maybe their own special shaman. Issued with their cast iron stomachs and brass balls. Beside bein' the guys who told us where we were, they also told us where the bad guys were. Which was good. 'Cause when we found out on our own, it was usually kinda late. Don't get me wrong. The 'yards could smell Chuck at a klick. But Covey could see him at ten. And they could explain it in terms we understood. Like, look *sshole, just the other side of the fookin' ridge you're stupid enough to be standin' on when you're supposed to be over fookin' there. You could feel the finger stabbin' the map from 2000 feet. They got communication skills from a somewhat less exalted spot than they got the finger. But we got the drift. And when the sh*t hit the fan, they could get fast movers, slow movers, slicks, snakes and all sorts of good stuff near us in a hurry. Which is good. 'Cause we always needed it. Six guys wanderin' around lost in Cambodia need everythin' they can get. Covey would roll in, pop a willie pete rocket into the bad guys, and all hell would break loose. They'd sit up there and direct traffic with that magic finger, and the Phantoms and snakes and things would just sing. Good songs, too. War songs. Death songs. But mostly, we loved 'em 'cause they talked to us. It gets pretty lonely when you, your one one, and four 'yards are the only friendlies within 100 miles. Bone crunchin' lonely. And desolate. Twice a day, a lonely little O-2 would fly somewhere near and talk to us. He'd have a Covey rider aboard, then, to man the radio. And the rider was good. He could even read the map and match it to the terrain most of the time. Rider would tell us we're okay and we'd tell him what was what, and be a little less lonely. Riders are good people. But they don't have the finger. Covey had the finger. Covey was a demigod. And he was always givin' us the finger. But we couldn't have done it without him, anyway.
Sundays Sundays are odd days. In the here and now, they are days off work. Stores are closed. Days to do the things we didn't get done durin' the week. It wasn't always so. In Nam, Sunday, or any other day of the week, didn't matter a whole helluva lot. You're in the field, and it might not even cross your mind what day it was. Sometimes for weeks at a time, you have no idea. It just doesn't come up. When in camp, it was different. Oh, the camp functioned just like every other day. But around 0900 the bell at the church outside the wire, halfway to the 'yard ville would ring. It was an odd sound. Not one you ever felt comfortable with. I mean, it didn't fit. We came over here to fight a war, and we walk in jungles and rice paddies, terrain that we would have avoided if we were elsewhere. But we're not elsewhere. People shoot at us, and we shoot at 'em. Jets raise an infernal racket, choppers a background hum, explosions everywhere. It's about noise and death and dyin'. A bell just doesn't fit in with it at all. That's supposed to be back "Home." But at 0900 the bell rings anyway. We've been expectin' it, Van and I. We wait for it every Sunday we're in camp, if we know what day it is. And, with only Brownings, we follow the sound to its source. Only times we ever left the compound so lightly armed. But RPD's and churches don't seem to fit together, even in this place and time of war. To preserve our faith and fulfill our obligation, to say a rosary and participate in the Mass, we follow the bell. We walk down a dirt road along the north side of camp, wade the river at its shallowest, and wind up the trail to a small rise. Nothin' we see is legible, nothin' we hear is in a language we understand. But we go anyway. Even here, or maybe especially here, the bell summons like no other sound can - or, perhaps, even could. Or ever should. The Mass is said in Jarai by a Vietnamese missionary (who attended seminary in France before the war) to the 'yards who come. Not all of it. For Van and I, he does the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei in Latin, so we can join in somethin'. The crowd is used to us, and we have regular seats in the back, where our failures to sing and respond are less noticeable. At the passin' of the baskets, we will provide a full half of the church's weekly income, $20 each - in P. They have repainted and patched the roof since we arrived. We are both happy and sad at this, but we continue to come. The ritual is the same. The words have changed, but remain immutable. There are advantages to a church with fixed rites. We know when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel. Actually, the mass is sung for over 60% of its length. Only the homily is spoken. With a great deal of labor, the padre has translated the Mass from Vietnamese and French to Jarai, and set it to music the people will know. It is lost on Van and I - I'm from So. Cal. and Van from inner-city Baltimore. It isn't even particularly beautiful to us. But it is Mass. We'll go to confession every other Friday, as well, if we're in camp. We say TheWords in English, the priest grants absolution in Vietnamese. Penance is self-imposed, and we do it in Latin. Neither of us can sing worth a tinkers damn. Still, Stabat Mater is heard in the Central Highlands, RVN, in an American accented version of a language long dead on yet a third continent. The rosary is said, the 'yards frequently join us. It is English, Latin and Jarai. We think the Pope would like it. We pray God does. It is the "Church Universal" in its rawest form. Mass will end, and the people will be dismissed. This much we can catch, always. After the procession, we exit and shake hands with the priest - a custom he knows from France. We play with the kids and hug the parents, some of whom we know - a custom far more fundamental to the human condition. This is the good part. The community of the faith. Like any people new to the Church, they will travel five days into the hills to the shaman for serious spiritual needs, but they are with us today. Another European custom superimposed on an alien culture. This one, well..., maybe not so bad. Van and I go back to camp. There, we will once again be foreign soldiers. For a little while, though, we've just been strangers in a strange land. It felt pretty damn good. I think it's why we continue to go. The war is a little less present for an hour. It is not Home, but it is as close as we'll get in Viet Nam. It was as close as Van ever got again. Sundays are odd days. So what...? It don't matter. We still pray for you, padre. Do you still pray for us...?
Party Night! Party night! Yes! The 'yards are celebratin' somethin' or the other. Somebody important who I never heard of. Don't matter. We're goin' down to the 'yard barracks and get crocked. Set out the O2 and benedryl so I won't have to look for it in the mornin'. Put on some really old and disgustin' fatigues. YES! War's on hold tonight, dudes. Chuck'll just have to wait till we're done. Saw the wine come in earlier. Big ol' jug, earth still fallin' off the sides. Fresh dug up, the best kind. 'Yards have been grillin' somethin' all day. I think it's probably an animal of some kind. You don't ask, you feel better. All tastes the same by the time the straw's been around a half dozen times, anyhoo. This is a formal occasion. Even the mold's been scraped off the bread. Well, looks like bread. Sorta. Same as the meat, don't matter. 'Yard barracks is basically a larger version of our own with more bunks. RT California has sixteen 'yards. They're the team I borrowed for my first op. Kinda crowded. It's rainin' like it really means it, and we're soaked by the time we get there. A whole twenty-five meters. Dry out inside in about fifteen minutes - it's kinda warm with all those bodies and the steamin' meat. The floor is concrete slab, so we brought some pillows. I can only squat so long, gotta sit. Been to 'yard parties before - in the ville. First time we do one in camp, mission prep and all. Feels right good. First things first. Team sergeant, name now forgotten, does the "welcome to our humble abode" bit. Like we never been there before! Willy responds in kind and presents a magnum of Champagne. The 'yards are tickled pink. Don't get western booze too often, and a lot of 'em got a taste for good wine. Lots of hugs. Someone gives me another bracelet durin' a hug. Didn't even notice, but I'd been outta uniform. Okay now. Champagne disappears into the sergeant's locker. He'll save it for a special time. That'll be six months later when he takes the first all 'yard team into V Corps. Joe had trained him well. They came out okay, full team, full rolls of film. But that's yet another story. We all find a place around the center of the room, and the jug. It partially buried in a pile of dirt in the floor to keep it from tippin' over. About two feet high, with a BIG straw out the top. Willy, team leader, gets the first sip. Then the sarge. Then it just goes around - clockwise most of the time. The first sip is NOT good, but it numbs the taste buds just fine. Deceptive, like gin. It goes around the nineteen of us twice before someone brings in the dinner. Mystery meat is okay. Drog says it's dog, and snickers. Others say other things. Tastes like somebody crossed a cow with a coatamundi to me. But the seasoning's good. Takes the first two coats of skin off my tongue. "Pass the fookin' straw!" Damn straight! Eat it all, some bread, some rice, the mystery meat. Good aperitif! Excellent vintage. The straw continues to travel. I'm at the north end of the circle, and they start callin' me the "communist." I look at Drog on the south side, and call him "ARVN." Everybody laughs their ass off. I score two points and they pour in fresh water and pass me the straw. A couple more times around, and I won't be scorin' any more points. Food goes around again. Eat it all and don't even notice the third degree burns this time. The straw goes by again. Now it's smooth and silky on my tongue. We sing, the 'yards sing. Someone turns on the radio and we listen to Jimi. We dance. Now, I don't dance. But "the straw talks." We all dance. Things start to glow. Especially the jug. Nectar of the gods. Somewhere, deep in my mind, I know that tomorrow it will be a vengeful god, but whathef*ck, over? Pass the straw. We laugh, we cry, we are happy, we are sad. We remember those not here, and hope for those who will be some day. Even the 'yards are startin' to glow. By any definition. We are havin' a good time. I wake up in the mornin'. Well, I ceased bein' asleep, anyway. Willy's there, and he forces the benedryl down my throat and straps on the O2. Musta had his already. In about five years I get up and head to the john. That stuff ain't gonna burn. I'm burnin' though, so it balances. Today we're gonna pack our bags for the woods, nothin' too strenuous. That's good. Might be another couple years before I'm ready. Mortar Peter looks even worse. But, then, he always does... And I'm no winner. Party night! Yes! Don't party much any more. Not the same, somehow. Play hell findin' a jug. A slab of bread, a jug of wine, a hunk of mystery meat, and thou. Crazy place.
Ashau The Ashau Valley is for us ground pounders what Tally Ho was for an F-4 pilot. You go 'cause somebody tells you you gotta. It is not recommended. It's not ours. Except for a brief time that the Marine Corps went through, it never was. It never will be. The place sucks. Its supposedly in CCN's turf. But we change things from time to time. Fresh perspective. Maybe not enough turnover up north, and everybody told 'em to f*ck off. Don't know. But the marchin' orders are emphatic. The Ashau. Sh*t! We're gonna go try to get some pics. Gonna try to count heads. Gonna get our asses shot off. The last wasn't in the mission briefin'. It's in our minds, though. The Ah Sh*t Valley. I've known about this place since SFTG at Bragg in 1968. The bogey man for us. The place they send you when you say "whatcha gonna do, send me to Nam?" I'd rather go to Hell. At least once you're there, you're already dead. Somethin' like 25% to 30% of all the teams that ever went in there didn't come back. Sh*t! Okay, we plan it. We read every report that's ever come out of the fookin' place. There'll be no aerial recon. Every hole big enough for an insert is already known. To all parties concerned. Okay, we ain't gonna sneak in. We're just gonna hafta hope we can get lost real fast once we're in. Major air support. Arclight will be enroute from Guam. Not a fast response time, but you can't keep somethin' like that in short orbit. Sh*t! Ah Sh*t! They say Mike Force will be thirty minutes out and rarin' to go. We believe the thirty minutes, the rest probably ain't right. They went to the same SFTG I did. I was scared in Nam a lot of times. That night ranks right up there with Flashlights. What we're gonna do is get inserted just over the southeast corner ridge while the USAF is tearin' the hell outta some other areas of the valley. We gonna try to kill anythin' in the way of watchers, and then disappear into the brush, relatively thick in that area. Then the AF is gonna tear the hell outta the LZ we came in on. We figure we'll get around twenty-four hours on the ground. We also figure 50% casualties, if we're lucky. Sh*t! Yeah. Ah Sh*t Valley. We pack heavy. Light on food, lots and lots of things that go boom. I don't know about the others, but I got a willie pete with my very own name on it. Low return rate on lost teams. I ain't gonna be MIA if'n I can help it. I figure I can. RPD has been cleaned to death. I've got 150 rounds in the drum that's mounted, two more 100 rounders on my belt, and another 150 rounder in my ruck. Also my Browning with a couple extra mags. Not likely to help, but whathef*ck, over? Another three drums scattered around the team. Grenades up the kazoo. Claymores, too. Full sized ones, which we hardly ever carry. We are both psyched up and out. Sh*t! Ashau! Why the can't we get somethin' easy, like huntin' Satan or somethin'...? D-Day. We go out. Nobody smiles. We're runnin' heavy, ten dudes, four of which are Americans. Not a strap hanger - another one zero from another team. Sam's a big boy. He's got an M-60 fed by an aircraft feed tray to a 100 lb ruck of nothin' but ammo. Ace in the hole, we hope. Bulky, but puts out a lot of bullets without havin' to change drums or boxes or nothin'. Too bulky for sneakin' and peekin'. 'Sokay, we ain't gonna do a lot of that. We've staged north, and it's only a thirty minute flight in. In the distance, the F-4s are doin' their thing. Snakes too, closer to us. Looks more like a war on than anythin' I'd ever seen in Nam before. Sh*t! Check my mini-pounder again. Friendly fire is a higher probability than any other mission I've gone on. Sh*tsh*tsh*tsh*tsh*t! Ah Sh*t! Here we come. We go in hot. The door gunners see the watcher and go after him hard. Got the little mutha, too. Good, maybe we get our twenty-four hours, after all. If there wasn't another one. Little LZ, takes two trips. We form up and get the f*ck out, fast! I'm runnin' next to tail this time out. Extra firepower in the rear. We get a 100 meters out, and the Phantoms go in on the LZ - HARD! Nape, bombs, 20s, everythin'. We left anybody back there, they ain't gonna tell nobody. The slicks move on, droppin' firefight simulators in other holes all over the area, for maybe four klicks around. Confuse 'em. Make 'em split up. Give us a chance to sneak a little, anyway. The fear is gone now. No time for it. Attention to what you're doin'. Fear'll be back if it's needed. Always is.... Another 100 meters, been on the ground maybe fifteen minutes. The '60 up fronts lets go, as do some AKs. Sh*t! Ohsh*tohsh*tohsh*t! Show time! Hop to the left, make room for the others comin' back, ready to drop a drum in the general area up front. And here they come. It's called the Banana. Everybody hops left and right and drops a basic load as the guy in front of 'em peels back past him. Group stays organized that way. First one through is point. Then the '60. He stops opposite me and kneels down. We'll provide a big burst to give the others a chance to set or run. Noisy now, full fledged firefight in front. Hear a couple grenades. Hear a mortar. A mortar?! Oh big muthaf*ckin' Sh*t! Sam looks over at me and says over the noise, "company." I don't think he means friends droppin' in to visit. He means it's a least a company sized unit. F*CK! Concentrate, drill. Only way. Hope they launched the arclight. The fear is back.... After a few seconds/hours, the 'yard in front of me peels back and books. Sam and I walk it out. Lots of movement up there, muzzle flashes. We can't see 'em, yet, so they ain't aimin' at us either. He drops a steady stream, walkin' it back and forth while I do bursts at individual targets. Finally, he turns and books. Just me and the tail gunner now. He's got a 203, too, and they start chunkin' out. I'm excited by this time, and I drop the remainin' 100 rounds in my drum in a single burst. God only knows where the last fifty rounds went. Tail drops more brass while I hook on a new drum and lock and load. Time to go. I lead out, tail follows. We run into someone we know real soon, they've decided to fight. We don't, they decided to run. And I don't see nobody. Sh*t! Good decision, though. We find ourselves back at the LZ before we catch up. It's still smoldering, fires still goin' on two sides. They've settled into an ambush position, and Willy waves us through. We're bait now. We're supposed to run out the other side and draw the guys in khaki into the kill zone. Sh*t! Okay, we run as fast as we can out the only other side not burnin'. Ten meters into the brush, we find a spot and move off to the right where we can help in the firin'. Hittin' the dirt, I burn myself a little on the barrel. Sh*t! The ambush opens up! They were that close! Sh*t! I can see Willy hollerin' into the radio. The explosions down the valley stop. Good news, the AF is still around! Tear 'em a new asshole, Willy! Go Phantom! Kill! Snakes in first. 20s and 7.62 minis. Too F*ckin' close for rockets. Then the Phantoms. The area beyond the LZ is a mess. Willy drops the team back to our side, and I wave him in. He moves me to the left for more firepower on the flank they're most likely to come into. Sam's right up front, watchin' the LZ. Willy and Mortar Peter take the six with the radio and are jabberin' as fast as they can. I don't gotta be told. Turn on the 'pounder. Drop my ruck and pull out the spare drum, set it next to me. Gonna take as many of the little cocksuckers with me as I can. More drums handed over by others carryin' my spares. First time I ever pulled out the bipod. Look, I've had my CIB for months now; but it ain't never been like this. We ain't gonna make it. I pat the willie pete. Not afraid, now. Just pissed like a sonuvabitch. Gonna kill some gooks first, that's for muthaf*ckin' sure! Drog, the tail, sees 'em first. The CAR makes its sound in short bursts, he's a disciplined dude. Keeps me calm, and the RPD growls out streams of hot lead. I scorched the barrel back there, it's only an area weapon now. Grenades go flyin'. Willy yells. Snake rolls over and the woods in front of us explode. Phantoms scream! God how they scream! They got the 'pounders marked, and Willy musta told 'em to smoke everythin' outside the perimeter. They do. We don't gotta shoot except at some really confused f*ckers that come our way thinkin' it's "out." They go "out", anyway. Three of 'em made it to within five meters of the RPD. F*ckin' gooks! They ain't gonna shoot up anybody, EVER again. F*ck 'em! F*ck 'em all! The noise is felt. Concussions. They're usin' rockets and 40mm now. We ain't gonna make it, and they're gonna help us take as many out as can be. It's comin' in close, but it don't matter. I change drums again. No bayonet to fix, or I'd do that too. Never thought I'd feel that way. I was wrong. I was gonna die. Those muthaf*ckers were, too! You never been there, you don't know the noise. Can't hear Sh*t, everythin' is visual. And olfactory. It stinks as bad as it sounds. We gonna make it stink like death! Die, you F*ckin' gooks, DIE! New noise. Slick! Someone is comin' in! I pull another 'yard into my spot and shift to the LZ. We just shoot into the sides, the brush. Can't loose the bird, man. That's our one hope! Hope? Now wheredaf*ck did that come from? Don't matter, I got people to find and kill. It comes in fast and low. Right through the smoke and Sh*t. Tracers comin' outta the far treeline reach for it. It blocks our shots. Snakes roll in outta somewhere. The tracers stop. Sam grabs a pile of 'yards and runs like a stallion for the bird. They're hardly in and it lifts. We can shoot again, and do. It's gotta make it! Man, those are our 'yards. Ain't no F*ckin' slope gonna get our 'yards! We bunch up close. Asshole to asshole. I got the LZ now. Willy, Motor Peter, Drog, Punch and me. Call him Punch 'cause he's little and mean. I'm still firin' at trees. Willy stops me. Okay. I put on a new drum. Only a couple left. More snakes and Phantoms. Someone up there should get a conductor's baton, he's callin' it good. The noise is back. How many snakes and F-4s they got up there? Sh*t! I'll take it! Nobody in sight. Slick noise again. I open into the far side of the LZ again. The others are shootin' too. They ain't aimin' my way, and I can only guess what they're shootin' at. One thing at a time. Willy jabbers some more, but I can't make it out, even at less than five feet. The noise is incredible! Slick hits the earth as the woods behind me ignite. Willy hits me, hard. We head for the slick, pile on. It starts to lift. The engine sounds funny, and we run straight forward into the trees in a burnt out area. The rotors hit, in slow motion. We crash. Sh*t. We settle to the ground. No explosion. Jesus Christ! Bail out. Now we got company. Door gunners grab their '60s, the 'yards grab the ammo boxes. Willy and I grab the pilots. Left seater is bleedin' from the stomach. The right seater is okay, and has his pistol out. Any port in a storm. I help Willy with the lefty. We go around the LZ from the crash, 'case it decides to go. The noise has not abated. MP has told the FAC, and everybody who didn't see it now knows they got a bird down. They also know the crew's alive. If I'd thought about it, I'd be happy. We're gonna get unlimited air now. The arclight is on its way inbound now. Didn't think about it, though. Busy tryin' to help the pilot. Shrapnel in the gut. Ain't supposed to give him morphine. Do anyway. Don't look like he's gonna make it. I'm startin' to get yet another adrenalin dump. And I'm still pissed. Willy sets the '60s and the others, I'm busy. Shootin' is sporadic. At this point we know it's a f*ckuvalotmore than a company. This is the intel we came for. I forget to take pictures. Just as well. Camera took some metal, I found out later. Wasn't at the top of my mind at the time, anyway. From outta godonlyknowswhere we got slow movers. They're busy workin' over everythin' within a couple hundred meters of the burnt out spot that used to be the LZ. They're takin' incomin' small arms and some bigger Sh*t - .51 cal. maybe. Outta our range, anyway. The snakes continue to work on that. Somethin' makes me look at my watch. Thirty-five minutes on the ground in the Ashau. Muthaf*ckinshit! Another slick comes in through the fookin' Sh*t. Willy and I take the lefty, the door gunners and the right seater carry themselves, leavin' the '60s. We put 'em on, and then move out, a medic already workin' on the pilot. I'd left the syrette in the collar, he'd know. Back into the trees. Hose down the LZ again, with a '60 this time. Damn thing's heavy! But I'm gettin' low, and if we run I don't want to take one of those big muthas. The next slick in puts down in a minute. We make the run again. Don't even make it there before it starts to slip toward the one already down. The gunners jump. The pilots fight for control. They don't make it. It smashes into the other and both ignite. Fourth of F*ckin' July! We don't go look. We won't be sayin' "hi" to 'em. One of the gunners ain't movin'. We grab 'em both and run back to the '60s. It's beginnin' to feel like a John Wayne movie, one in which he dies! Sh*t! This place sucks. Gunner's leg is busted. He's out like a light. The other guy looks scared, but mans the '60, anyway. Good dude. I give him the ammo can I got left from my last jammin' on the LZ. He don't 'xactly smile, but he sets it up and starts lookin' out into the woods. I think he knows we ain't gonna make it, either. F*ckit. Kill gooks! No more slicks. The smoke is too thick. Everythin' is burning, has burned or is about to burn. The stink outweighs the noise. We can barely breath. Makes it easy. Anythin' coughs, shoot it. Make 'em cough harder. F*ckin' A! We put on gas masks. It's that bad. But we get to kill gooks! Calm. Funny thing. Any battle lasts long enough, there's a moment of it. It hits me like a palpable force. Bad Sh*t, lets me think. I ain't done none of that since first contact. We take inventory. Drog's got a scratch, the gunner with the broken leg is still out. Willy and I are covered with blood. We think (hope) it's the pilot's. Count bullets, grenades, body parts. We ain't good for much longer. We're just about out of it, already. Fatigue. Emotional exhaustion. But it only lasts a minute. More Phantoms scream. More nape. Must be new birds. Look at my watch, forty-five minutes, thirty since first contact. New birds are about on time. Arclight be along soon. Willy knows it, too. Sh*t! Another slick. Didn't even hear it, it's just there, droppin' into the hole. Grab the unconscious one and run like hell. Throw him on. Climb on. The other door gunner is still out there with the '60, he's emptyin' it into the tree line we came from. The door gunner on our bird is doin' the same and screamin' into his mic. The last man turns, drops the '60 and runs and jumps as the bird lifts. We drag his *ss in. Snakes roll in on the treelines and light 'em up. We look at the dude. He's got holes all over him. Willy and MP go to work on him and I dump the last of my ammo into the tree line. Die you gook mutahf*ckas, DIE! I toss the last willie pete, the one with my name on it, out after I run out of ammo. We're high enough now that if we go down, it's just too F*ckin' bad. Maybe I'll get one of the cocksuckers. The birds in orbit see it as a markin' round. That area of Viet Nam will never grow anythin' again. We go about ten klicks and land in a big LZ with snakes in short orbit. The wounded bro is transferred to a slick with a red cross. We carry him there ourselves. He's one of us now. We'll put him in for a medal. Door gunner with brass balls. We notice our bird has holes, too. They'll count 'em later - twenty-three. We lift off again and get some altitude. Back in the valley, the ground is beginnin' to shake. Every air asset is out. 'Cept for two pilots we left on the ground. They won't feel anything, anyhoo. Nobody gonna parade their bodies for baby Jane! Less than sixty minutes in the Ashau. Two pilots dead, two slicks gone, three wounded, the team is whole. Lotsa gooks dead. Ugly muthaf*ckers! Go B-52's! Kill 'em all! F*ckit! Dust 'em all! Every last muthaf*ckin' one of 'em! God, I hate gooks! Every muthaf*ckin' one of 'em! We go home. No pics. So who muthaf*ckin' cares! _________________________________________________________________ When we do get back and clean up, the only casualty is Drog. A round creased him on the left shoulder. He gets two weeks leave, and then back to work. The two pilots' families will get a letter, a visit from a chaplain and a bronze star each. Maybe they deserve more. The gunner will get a bronze star with "V" device and an early out. The guy with the broken leg will also get an early ticket home. The gut-shot pilot gets a star and a disability. He gets his PH, too. They all got that. With seventy-five cents, it'll get 'em a cup of coffee. Unless one of us is there. Then he won't have to buy anyf*ckinthing. Sohelpmegod! The Ashau is still there. Most of Viet Nam I'd like to see again. In peace time. Not the Ashau. Little piece of Hell on earth! Place sucks! Big time. And I hope I never hate like that again....
Letter from Home We've been out for seven days. Seven very bad days. Nope, no contact. Just huggin' the earth and prayin' a LOT. Too many of them. They were onto us from the start. How they managed to not find us, I'll never know. No pics, no nothing, except that there are a LOT of those guys in these areas. Better than nothin', but only a little. Tired of runnin'. Tired of hidin'. Sh*t! One of those.... We're out, though. Goin' back to camp. We've passed the firebase and rollin' down the valleys back in the Central Highlands. Everyone's just layin' back and waitin' to get in. The 'yards will get three days in the ville. We won't. Comes with the turf. Comes with bein' from the other side of the Pacific. We try to think positive. Beer. Showers. Crappers. Mail. Mail! Yeah, there's a good one. Might get a letter from the wife. Hot damn! Letters from Mom and Dad are okay, but Chris is like me, more..., um..., graphic. Yeah. Wet dreams! Sometimes even pictures! Yeah, glad I met that woman! Knows how to treat a soldier gone to war. Ooooolala! Also news about Mike Jr. Ain't seen him in nigh on a year, and I bet he's grown a bunch. Little red-head with the biggest smile you ever saw. Come back from up-country in Panama and he'd just run up, throw himself around my calves and said "Daddy, daddy, daddy...." Didn't know a lotta words then. Didn't need to, I caught the drift. The old heart gooshes out. Yeah, mail! Soon, too. They meet you on the pad with mail unless you comin' in hurtin'. We're not, and they know it. The guy in the mailroom is okay. Never misses a flight. He'll have only the personal sh*t. The rest will be picked up later. Good dude! A saint! I laugh! A saint deliverin' porn. Crazy country! Big laugh! Also on the pad will be friendly faces from other teams to help carry the bags in. Someone always comes to help. No one assigns 'em. They just hear the choppers and come. They'll have somethin' cold with 'em, too. Always. There's so damn few of us that we do that sorta thing. Yeah, we also squabble like kids, but that's okay. Means they care. We talk about it, Bill and I. Start to smile some more. Hope it's Big John on the pad. He brings Coors. Don't know where they come from. Don't even ask. He gets 'em from somewhere, and he shares. Good sh*t! Good Covey rider, too. Pulled our asses out that time in the Ashau. If he could figure out how to get that O-2 onto an LZ, he'd probably talk the pilot into it. Big John! Yeah, mail and Coors. Okay! things are lookin' up. The 'yards catch the perk-up in mood on our side of the slick, and they start talkin' and laughin' among themselves. Good sound. Don't understand a single word. Don't gotta. Troops are happy. All that counts at this point in time. Maybe not such a bad trip, after all. Camp below! Drop in and climb off. Stiff and sore, shake it a little to get the blood goin'. Not Big John today. Willy. But he's got Bud, and it's COLD! All right, Willy! He helps Bill with his ruck, he's limpin' from a sprain on the way out. Others come along and grab mine and the 'yards. Nice to be back, bro! And here comes the mail! Yes! Letter from Chris? Yes! All right! Home! Chris! Michael! Better'n Playboy! Rip the envelope and read the top. Hey, only a week old! Not bad! A picture enclosed, too! Mike Jr. at third birthday party! God, that's a handsome kid! Takes after his mom. Reminded all over again of why I gotta live to get home! Family man! Wife and kid at home. Happy dude, today! Man, I ever lose those two, and.... Shrug. Don't matter now. Love 'em both to tears. Even get a little misty eyed holdin' the letter and lookin' at the pic. Nobody even cracks a smile. They feel the same. I read the letter.... "Dear John." F*ck. ___________ \Dear John,\ _____) )_____ _________(____(__________(_____(@) ) ) gjp / O O O O O O O O O/_/| /<> O O O O O O O O O/ | /MM O O O O O O O MM/ | / ___________ / . /O (___________) O O/. (====================(
Idle Moments Some things to do in camp on a slow day: Chuck dummy grenades for practice Lay on the berm and burn off the Crud Listen to music Play cards Chase the maids Clean your weapons Gossip Talk about almost any place else Lay in the sun with an ice cold lemonade Play volley ball Pretend you know how to throw a knife Pretend you know how to use that 'yard crossbow you got Listen to tape delays of big games Count the rats you've been killin' the last couple nights Lift weights Run around the berm Read a good book Read a bad book Read any book you can get your hands on Read the newspaper uncle Bob sent you Read your mail Reread your mail Reread that "special letter" Write your Mom and Dad Write your kids Write your wife Write your girlfriend Worry whether you got the right letter in the right envelope Have a beer Go to Rosie's Cadge a meal from the cooks Walk in the fog Put out a perimeter and swim in the river Get chased by the maid you chased earlier - she now has a knife Put more sandbags over new .22 holes in the roof Clean out your locker Eat some black-eyed peas See the Doc about that "drip" Day dream of home Day dream of the car you'll buy when you get home Day dream of the girl you'll meet when you get home Look around guiltily when you remember you're married Get Mortar Peter drunk enough to "flash" the maid Cadge a meal from the 'yards Mope or sulk Run from the maid MP flashed Dodge the FNG who wants stories Seek out the FNG who wants stories Look in the refrigerator for something interesting Look in your bunker for something interesting Be bored Walk in the rain Run in the rain Low crawl in the rain Drown Play pool on a table so bad it has "ground rules" Play darts Chew the fat Chew the lean Chew your cud Hide from the first shirt Hide with the first shirt Hide the first shirt's shirt Throw rocks at the dog Dodge rocks thrown at you by the dog handler Stand in the road and yell "MINE!" as a convoy rolls by Run from the guy in jeep with the M-60 Go back to hidin' from the first shirt Not there! Go to the ammo bunker and ask for one round of .50 cal. "Read" that magazine you got in Saigon Stare at a picture of your wife or girlfriend Be homesick Shine your boots Clean your web gear Reclean your weapons Fill some more sandbags Take a shower Make your hootchmate take a shower Make your first shirt take a shower Wish like all get-out the general would take a shower Wish Charlie would take a shower And drown Smoke Drink Play horseshoes Wash your hair Get a haircut Shave, sorta Get really bored and show up for work Bug the guy in the commo shack Reinventory body parts Pretend you understand the "fading" in craps Cadge a ride in a cobra Cadge a ride in a slick Cadge a ride with Covey Cadge a ride in an F-4 Damn, here comes the first shirt again Hang around your hootch Sleep
Prairie Fire Two very ugly words. Sunset is gone, and camp is settlin' in for another night. The wall watch is up, and I'm over with Tom in Minnesota playin' double-deck, partnership pinochle. This is a dangerous game with Tom. He takes it like it was blood insteada MPC. But a man's gotta do somethin' with those spare moments. Clatter, clatter, stomp, stomp. The door bursts open and the company translator's head pops in. He says two words. Prairie Fire. We have six teams out at the moment, I ask, "Who." "Washington." Sh*t! Chief was gettin' short, too. F*ck! Game's over. Recon Company Americans converge like a plague of locusts on the TOC. Doc comes out and says it. Washington is out in Sierra Lima 3, they just called a Prairie Fire. Sh*tsh*tsh*t. Sierra Lima 3 is as far into southern Laos as you can get without bein' in Thailand. The far side of the Mekong. Not a good place to have a Prairie Fire. Not that there is a good place. A Prairie Fire is an announcement that a team is about to die. And that it is loaded with good intel. On the banks of the Mekong, it probably means troops and supplies. Very good stuff. The stuff the B-52's need, the stuff the planners need. In this case, it's stuff even the Thais need. I've never been to Sierra Lima 3, but I know it's way the fook out there. The rescue effort will not come out of Viet Nam, it'll come out of Thailand. It's a hell of a lot closer. One zero is Chief. He's gettin' short, like I said before. This was gonna be his last trip to the woods. Supposed to be cut and dried. Mosta the bad guys out that far are movin', not sittin', and it's so far out they don't take a lot of security measures. 'Course, it's also confusin' out there. Besides the NVA, you have the Khmer Rouge, some Cambodian bandits, and some good old fashioned Mekong river pirates. Any of 'em could take a serious dislikin' to an unknown presence. We recover less than 50% of the teams that declare a Prairie Fire. This is the first one in months. And, 'cause we can't go, it's the worst one in years. Tom gets called into the TOC. We know what that is. Minnesota will go in if we fail to get the team out. They'll try to find out why and how. This never works, but we never stop tryin'. We'd all walk if they did. Tracy, his one one, heads back to the hootch to get the 'yards workin' and to start the ball rollin'. We're useless here, and we head for our own hootches. In a lotta places across Viet Nam and Thailand, Phantoms are scramblin' from their strips. Another C & C ship will launch out of Udorn. So will the refuelin' ships. Jolly Greens will pierce the newborn dark as their engines scream to life. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, a flight of B-52s will start gettin' fresh marchin' orders. Somewhere in Thailand, some brothers of the beret will be bustin' balls to get ready for the Jolly Greens. It's why they're there. They'll do what they can. We keep the faith, there just ain't that many of us. All across SEA two words have aggressively stirred the already boilin' stew. It only works half the time, but the try is always sincere. Prairie Fire makes it happen. We can do nothin' but wait. The company net is brought up for passin' the word. But it's silent as a tomb. It takes time. Time, of course, is somethin' Washington can ill afford. We don't try to do much of anything, our heart just isn't in it. Sarge comes in with Weet and joins us. He'll represent the 'yards on the ground. Weet'll translate. Pass him the wine bottle. And we wait. Thirty minutes. A half an hour. Infinity to a team on the ground. Crackle.... FAC has contact with the team on the ground! They're alive. Someone's alive! Sh*t! Hot damn! Maybe they gonna make it. Phantoms are on the scene, the rescue team is less than fifteen minutes out. Fifteen minutes? How close to the border do those guys hang, anyway? Never mind, I don't wanna know. It'll be too high a level for us. Hope, man! We got fookin' hope! We wait on the edge. Crackle.... On-goin' airstrikes, the Jolly Greens have a hole less than a klick from last contact. Our boys are on the ground and movin'. A 'yard comes in and Sarge tells him. He goes back out. Next door, we can hear Minnesota cheerin'. Like a football game, and the home team just took the field. Someone close by is yellin' too. I finally notice it's me. We're talkin' now. Speculation. We've all stood in their shoes, and we make educated guesses as to what's goin' down. Crackle.... Ground contact with the team! They've got 'em. Now, they just gotta get the fook out. Time collapses. Causality fails. Everythin' starts to blur together. And we're safe in our hootch in Kontum. Empathy is powerful stuff. Crackle.... They're out! Not all of 'em, but they're out! We have no idea who, yet. Won't know before first light, more'n likely. The important stuff is done. Beer is passed. A whole compound does a toast to the brothers in the air and on the ground who saved Washington's ass. At least, some of its ass. It just as easily coulda been us. Might yet be. Over Thailand and Laos, hungry birds slurp fuel from a boom and start the long trip home. Udorn will take its planes in, as will Pleiku and other bases. Also somewhere over Thailand, some Jolly Greens will head for a base far out of sight. SF medics, better even than navy corpsmen, will be workin' on our brothers who may have made some lesser real estate deals. And somewhere over the coast of Viet Nam, an arclight will be redirected to its original target. The crew will never know what was up. A thousand men and women will go to bed wonderin' what the hell happened. So do we.... At first light, RT Minnesota is on the pad, loadin' to go get the team and its equipment. They lift, and disappear SSW. Breakfast is a subdued affair. Quiet conversations. We've all had time to absorb the fact that some of the brothers won't be comin' home. Life will go on. The routine will be maintained. But a lot of eyes will watch the pad all day. Just before noon, I get called into the TOC. Uh oh. Dai uy Simmons and Doc are there. So is Willy. Dai uy speaks. "We're gonna announce to the camp in about five that RT Washington made it out with solid information that may indicate a new offensive build-up. Chief is alive, but so badly wounded he's gonna stay in Thailand and then go straight back to the states. They think they can save one of the legs. Bob didn't make it out. Two of the 'yards were also shot up pretty good, and won't be comin' home soon. The rest are with Bob. Willy'll tell their families. "As of now, you have RT Washington. Keep 'em busy. Don't let 'em think about it. We'll give you a local patrol two days after tomorrow. I'm gonna pull Olson off Covey and give him to you." Okay. It's done. So it has to be. But who's supposed to keep me from thinkin' about it? I don't ask. Minnesota comes in empty handed two hours later. Even the intel is bein' rerouted, not comin' our way. Nothin' normal about a Prairie Fire. Shoulda known. Two very ugly words.
Washington The hootch is pretty stark with all the personal belongings gone. They came and took it all this afternoon. Chief's stuff is bound for Thailand. Bob's stuff will be sterilized and sent home to Bragg. Eventually, the truly personal stuff'll find its way to his mother. He wasn't married. Always suspected he was gay. Don't matter, he was a good soldier and always carried his end of the deal. And he wasn't the only one here. About the only thing left on the walls is the Washington state flag and the trainin' status board. Olson will be in later, and I want to get the hootch situated first. It's my first team. Considerin' how late in the war it is, it'll probably be my only team. I wanna do it right. I go down to the 'yard barracks to talk to the team. They already have the news, and Sarge and Weet, from RT California, are with 'em. They have four empty bunks, too. Sarge has seen to the packin' of boxes, and will see they get where they have to go. Okay, it'll work. I pull Sarge aside and ask him if he thinks any of the team are ready to be team sergeant or if I'm gonna have to go outside. He puffs on his pipe and calls Puck over. Not his real name, that. No American could say his real name. Sarge does the formal introduction via Weet. Sarge says he's ready, even done it a couple times when the old team sergeant was on leave. I shake his hand, and say you got it. I'll do the paperwork tonight. It'll be a big pay raise for him, and he'll be happy about it later. Right now, it just means work and fillin' the boots of a dead man. I know exactly how he feels. I ask Weet about a translator. He shakes his head. I ain't got one. He talks to Sarge in Jarai, and they wander off. I can't talk to 'em, but they're my men, now. I make the round, touch 'em all, and say good things they don't understand. They get the drift. I'm the new headman. And it looks like it'll be okay. Washington was a big team, and I still have eight 'yards. Once I can nail down a translator, I'll get Puck to tell me their status. I'm turnin' to go when Weet walks back in with Sarge. They're carryin' Weet's beddin' and gear, and plop it down on a vacant bunk. Weet says that Willy says I got a translator now. "Sh***t! You're spoofin' me." "Nope, you gonna need a hand." Okay. OKAY! I got Weet! Fat city. Times awastin', and I'll get back to the 'yards. I tell Puck via Weet to think about how he wants his team, and to come see me after dinner at my hootch. Dash out the door and go back to my old rack in California to get my gear. Tell Willy thanks, and give him the Bud left in Washington's hootch. He says it's okay, got another one comin' along just fine, anyway. Washington is literally next door, so I make it in several short trips. I choose a bunk on the west end near the reefer, which suits my late-night raidin' tactics. Fill the locker, pound a couple new nails for my gear and get set in just as Olson arrives. He opts for the far end 'cause it's got the biggest locker. He's been livin' on officer's row and workin' as a Covey rider. He's ready for the field, and I'm glad to have him. He was also my XO in Panama, and we already know each other pretty well. It'll work. Neither of us are happy to be gettin' a team like this. But at least it's a team. Olson has a good head on his shoulders, and a real flare for trainin'. I tell him Puck will be up later with a report, and he gets interested. We'll do this right, ferdamnsure. This RT Washington will be harder to take out. We set ourselves in and fill the reefer. He drinks a lot of lemonade, too. Big smiles, we each have independent sources. Not gonna run out in the immediate future. With just the two of us, it leaves lotsa room to set up the hootch any old which way we want. We set the whole inside wall with lockers and such for a big work area. We're gonna be trainin' hard for a while, and that takes skull sweat and paper. Olson agrees to take most of it, leavin' me to work on personnel and seein' to the needs of supplies and equipment. A lot of that was lost in Laos with the team. We sober up again, and work hard. Dinner comes and goes, Puck reports in with Weet, and we start figurin' who's good for what. Got a big Bru who likes RPD, so I'll be givin' mine to him when we run seven and over. It feels weird to think about goin' back to a CAR in the woods. But you can't move as fast and see as much if you're tied to a machine gun. Olson takes notes. We're goin' to the woods on a local out toward rocket ridge in two days, so we have a tight deadline. If you've ever walked into a new job with new subordinates and a short deadline, you can figure what the next couple days are like. Fortunately, Washington had trained a lot with California, and a lot of the drills were identical. Olson had to do more learnin' than the 'yards. But he learned well. He had to. He got the radio. On the third day, we took the whole team and headed for Rocket Ridge. We didn't get that far, but we went due west. We sneaked and peeked and practiced and tried to find out who knew what they were doing, and who didn't. In other words, the 'yards wore Olson and I out. We practiced fishhooks and RONs, too. Everythin' we would do on the real thing. We also had to be careful. While ARVN was pretty good in this area, one never knows who one will meet in Viet Nam. We even managed to sneak up on an ARVN encampment and get some pics. It looked like a good team. It acted like a good team. I was a happy camper. After three days and two nights we came back to camp. We had functioned as a team, and I was very tickled with the way it went. There are always things to improve, of course, but it was obviously a well experienced team, ready for duty. I put everybody on two days stand down and went to the TOC and asked for a mission. No sweat, there were always plenty of those. I draw an easy one. I have a team, if not in the best way. I have a mission I know and enjoy. What more can a soldier want? Besides the authority to give himself two days off, that is....
One Zero Back from break. It's time to go back to work. I keep hearin' rumors there's a war on. Stand down was spent takin' it easy and talkin' with Tom and Willy and the other one zeros. I had the title, but I really wasn't one. I hadn't run my own team in the woods, yet. So I went and sought advice and ideas. Not "what do you do?", 'cause I already knew that, or at least, thought I did. I asked "how's it feel to?" a lot. And I got as many answers as the number of guys I asked. Which is what I expected. But it was comfortin' to know that almost everythin' was "normal." Everybody comes home, and I do mission briefin'. Nothin' heavy duty for a first time one zero. Just a little hop over the border to look for a suspected phone cable. It went into this area here, and it came out there. Where did it go in between, and who was monitorin' it? Sounds simple anyway. We'd find out for sure in a few days. Just two days for mission prep, but since we just walked a light one, this is mostly packin'. We do practice on rope ladders for insert, as the best lookin' LZ is a bamboo thicket. That's what the tower is for. We also stand a good chance of bein' split by the bamboo on insert. So we go outta camp to a clump of it and rehearse linkin' back up without shootin' each other. Little things like that get folk dead. I've gotten kinda used to livin'. First light on the third day and we hit the pad. Willy is there with Sarge as a good luck send off. Thanks, bro. I'm nervous, but I always am until we get off the choppers on infil. It bothers me, but I read about it in Starship Troopers, and I guess it's okay. I goes away on the ground, anyway. Its a short one, so there's no interim stop. We fly out in a dog leg, and the LZ we get out on is the second one we drop into. The bamboo is deeper than it looked on the aerial recon, and it takes a little longer than anticipated to climb down. We don't get split up by comin' down both sides, though, so it works out. The slicks move on to three more dummy drops in other LZs, and the six of us are all alone. We get the heck outta the bamboo and go NW to find the cable. We figure it has to run down this one valley and over a ridge there. Tomorrow we'll try to find it. For now, it's just hide and seek, makin' sure nobody knows we're here. Not a hard game, but pretty exactin'. Three hours of wanderin' at seemin' random, always able to overlook your backtrail, is harder in steep terrain than it sounds. But it goes well, and we lay up for dinner. Nothin' shows by the time we quit eating, so we move again before sunset. We do it once more before last light. There are times when bein' lonely is desirable. First nights always fit that category. We sleep a good sleep. And we go find our cable. Follow it, find some places they can drop a bug down and listen in. Find a couple watchers before they find us. And we make no contact. The last part is important for team that recently got shot up. Even if the ones who got it aren't here. Especially if they're not here. We got what we came for, and I decide to take us home early. I tell Covey as he passes at twilight, and we spend one more night on the ground. No couriers to hit up at the last minute, and we just walk out to the birds and fly away. In the classic sense it is the perfect mission. They don't even know we've been there. No reason to change anythin' we found. That's frequently a concern if you get caught leavin'. Not this time though. ASA will get their tap, and at least a little intel will be had before it's found. Not like the hot ones. That's okay. I'm not sure I'm ready for a hot one. "Content" is a good word. I can live with it. The team can too. The relief is palpable. The first mission is always tense, they tell me. The team doesn't know if it's really a team until they do it. Now we know. And it feels good. We hit the pad, grab a beer, and get the mail. Sh*t, shower, and shave. Then I tell the team to take it easy, they'll get two days off in the ville startin' tomorrow. Weet goes and talks to his old teammates, and Olson and I head for the TOC and debriefin'. This one's a "no brainer," and debriefin' is swift. Dai uy gets excited over the map and takes Olson off to talk about it over dinner, with a phone at hand. I'm pooped and head for the hootch. Not thinkin', of course. It ain't gonna be that easy. I get halfway to the hootch, and Willy grabs me as I round the latrine. "Where you goin'?" "To bed, Willy, I'm bushed." "My ass, you're comin' with me." Sh****t! I'd forgotten. There won't be a lot of sleep tonight. Recon Club is decked out proper. Only the one zeros are here, which is the way it's done. I've never seen it, but I've heard the routine. I'm a one zero myveryownself now. And it's gotta be done right. First, a board of senior-types grills the holy sh*t outta you. Has nothin' to do with operations. Just the grill. You sit there and answer. The trick is to slip in a joke or two. And I manage. Then I gotta buy the house a round of whatever they're drinkin'. And these guys know what to order when someone else is buyin'. Shee********t! There goes my last month's poker winnin's. Tradition says the last one zero of the team gives you your jacket. Chief won't be makin' it tonight, and Tom has the honors. He was Chief's best friend. Black silk jacket with the RT Washington patch embroidered a foot high on the back. On the right breast is the CCC patch. Over the left breast is my handle, a CIB and wings. On the right shoulder is an SF Patch, the left shoulder is bare. It is for me to fill that slot, as well as the sleeves and other holes and spaces. What goes there is important, and it's for one zeros to know "why." Even though it gets seen, and lots of others will know "what." I put a unit patch of the 'yards there about a month later. I'll let you worry about why. Tom gives it to me. No, he puts it on me. I'm a member of the club now. Probably no more than 150 of us in the world, ever. Back in the states, it and twenty-five cents will get me a cup of coffee. But in the here and now of Kontum, it means I am what I set out to be. I may not live to ever wear it again, but for now it's the peak of my career. And I guess I'm pretty damn proud. We party hard. And, fortunately, the rockets do not come. Epilogue: The jacket lasted many years. But, like all things of silk, it finally just wore out. I burned it in rural King County, Washington, in 1983 or so. It seemed right that it came to its end here, in the state for which the team was named. I burned it 'cause it was mine, and so that no one else would ever wear it. Selfish, I suppose. Some street person could have used it, even as raggedy and worn as it was. But I couldn't let that happen. And it was time for the Sweet Thing to retire. Life has moved on. I guess I'll be goin' with it....
Up Close and Personal It's kinda makeshift, like most hootches. Out in front, there's a flagpole with a flag hangin' in the still air. Windows have flaps made from local materials, and they're open in an attempt to keep cool on a very hot day. Door is open, too. A lot of people are hustlin' in and out with paper and things on their minds. Over the door is a sign big enough to read at fifty feet. Which is about how far away I am. Hidin'. Makin' like a bush. 'Cause the guys goin' in and out are wearin' khaki and pith helmets. And they're all armed. [Camera] Click.... I make sure I can get the whole sign and some faces. Click.... I get the truck next to the hootch and a machine gun position just the other side of it. Shift just far enough to add 'em to the diagram I've made of the HQ and the surroundin' positions. No more than a hundred guys in the immediate vicinity, but they keep comin' and goin' from the ridgeline the other side of the hootch. Must be plenty more up there. I don't think I'll go look. Tap.... Weet points to the left. Patrol walkin' the perimeter. We should be good where we are, but we ease back another few meters to be sure. They go by, not lookin' too closely. We're a long way into Cambodia, and they're not expectin' any visitors. This is good. 'Cause we're a long way from home, ourselves. Crawl back up, more to the north this time. Behind the hootch we find the guys arguin' we had only heard before. A couple of 'em wear fresh bandages. Click.... Either we have a unit on the mend after its last excursion into Viet Nam, or they've been takin' in casualties from another unit. The sign over the door should tell someone who understands such things. I just write it down with the other notes. Click.... The tunnel entrance I've just seen in the hillside just beyond 'em. Big one. Almost like a mine entrance in an old western. Machine gun on the slope above it. That goes on the diagram, too. Tomorrow we'll come back and try to figure out what that's for. Tunnels like that are none too common. Whoops. Somethin' happenin' back at the entrance to the hootch. Too late to move back. Click...click...click.... Got some faces, anyway. The old one had a lot of sh*t on his collar, maybe someone will recognize him in the blowups. They get in the truck and drive west down a marginal road. Note the time and place. The hootch appears to be deserted for the moment. Do I dare sneak over and get some paper? No, I don't dare. Not worth it, I think. "Dead men tell no tales." Sounds like good advice to me. Always wondered why they stressed it so much. Guess I know now. Very temptin'. Tap.... Weet points at his wrist, where a watch would be if he was wearin' one. Yep, been layin' here for two hours. 'Bout time to move on. Don't wanna strain our luck too far. I start inchin' back. Voices...! Real fookin' close! F*ck! Two of the guys from behind the hootch have walked almost up to us 'cause I was concentratin' on the truck leavin'. Freeze. I barely hear Weet's safety click off as we wait. They stop just inside the treeline, less than three meters away. They don't have any weapons visible. Easier to kill 'em that way. A small mental victory over the fear. The one with more bandages drops his pants first, and pisses into the bushes. It's loud at this range. I look at Weet, and he looks back. A quick sparkle of humor passes across his eyes, and I know I just saw a wish the SOB would hit me with the spray. I'll get you later, Weet! He catches that, too. We been together a while. We go back to watchin'. The guys in khaki finish their business and head back to the small group by the hootch. I can smell their piss. Second time this month, damnit! It's time to go. We crawl back five meters or so before we stand up, bent over, and start back to where we left the rest of the team. We swin' north first, and plot a place to set up tomorrow where we can watch the tunnel. We're fifty meters out before we stand up all the way. I give Weet a light smack in the middle of his back. He replies with a quiet chuckle. We'll try to do this again in the mornin'. And I guess we'll have to climb the ridge. The tunnel is somethin' worth knowin' about. Probably a fookin' regiment up there, too. Sheeeee**t. Helluva way to make a livin'.
Blood Brother Good mission. We dropped in three days ago to look for tanks. We found 'em, right where they were supposed to be. From the looks of things, they'll be movin' east soon, so we're gonna go home early. Gotta tell somebody. The Easter '72 date they've been talkin' about in Saigon looks right. Got T-54s on film to prove it. Thirty-six tanks, lots of petrol, lots of soldiers, not many of 'em watchin' their backs very good. Good combination for us. They don't even know we've been here. Perfectomundo! Third one in a row for me and the team. Weet's in front of me, and we keep smilin' at each other. Team did great! We're a good ten klicks NNE of our objective, maybe five klicks from our exfil LZ. Sh*t's pretty thick, and we're takin' our time, not goin' anywhere till tomorrow morning, anyway. Mid-afternoon now. A little more casual than we should be, but still quiet and respectful of procedure. No time to slack up. We fishhook about a klick from the LZ and set up in a thicket. I take the watch after chow, and we get a good nights sleep. Olson and I talk a little at twilight, when the woods are noisiest, and we're most free to do such things. We're pretty happy dudes. They're gonna love us for this one. Tanks, man! We got pictures of fookin' tanks! First time for either of us. Weet covered my six when we did the close ups, and he's in this too. We're all pretty happy dudes. Up early, pack it up and head for the LZ. Pong on point, Weet at shotgun, me as three, Olson with the radio behind me, Drog on tail with Puck just in front of him. I sign, and we head out for the LZ. Nice morning, sunny and not too warm, yet. Be a scorcher before too long, though. Lookin' forward to the bird and the ride. POP! KABOOOOOM! F*ck! Weet drops like a stone, pieces of him fly in all directions. Hit the dirt! Pong's gone, man! Paste spread on the ground. OhSh*t! F*ckin' mine! Don't bother with first aid. There ain't enough of either of 'em to put dressings on. F*ck! Weet's my main man. Good little f*cker who got me started straight with the 'yards. Man, his ass is grass! Sh*********t. Circle the other three, and I take a look. Bouncin' Betty. F*ckin' mine. Pong was our new point, pretty damn good, too. Musta stepped on it and it got both of 'em. No trail, just out in the middle of the woods. Mine field? Oh sh*t! What we into now? I turn to tell the others to watch what they're doin', but they're way ahead of me. They got Weet! My Weet. F*ck! F*CK! F*****CK!! No help for it. Strip their gear, their maps, their everythin'. Can't leave nothin' for the NVA. The hurt is startin' down deep inside. They got Weet! An ache in the gut that ain't gonna go away, maybe never. I got pieces of him on my shirt. F*ck, man. They got Weet. Send Drog to scout a safe path the few remainin' hundred meters to the LZ. Tell Olson to tell the choppers the LZ may be mined and to hover low, not land. Tell the f*ckin' world to GO TO HELL! Weet's gone! F*ck! No one to shoot. No one to curse. Nothin' but pain comin' from the gut so bad I feel like I'm gonna split. Not Weet. Oh, sweet God, not Weet! F*ck! Uniforms are too clearly uniforms and not northern ones. No way to take 'em off the remains. Haven't got the stomach for it, anyway. They were friends. Especially Weet. I just about seize up. Heart feels like it's gonna burst. "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetttt!!!" Olson tells me to shutdaf*ck up. Sh*t! I really said it, not just thinkin'! F*ck! Okay, gotta think. Pull out two willie petes, one for each of the brothers on the ground. Drog's comin' back and I sign Puck over and hand him one, point at Pong. He knows. We can't stay. The noise will call somebody real soon now. And we can't leave 'em as they are. They use bodies. We won't leave enough for them to use. Weet would've done it for me. F*****ck! They got Weet! Plant the willie petes. Book out after Drog for the LZ. Choppers are inbound, gotta hurry. MP's on the radio when the grenades go. I stop and look back and start to cry. F*ckin' war zone with Chuck comin', and I start to cry. They got Weet, man. There ain't nothin' right no more. It all sucks. Weet! Puck pushs me and I get it together and get to the LZ. Bird comes in and we run out prayin' we don't find a mine. Tell the snakes to demolish the fire the willie petes have started. Maybe some of the bastards have shown up and we'll get 'em. Maybe we won't. Don't care. Don't know if I'll ever care. Weet's down there. My brother, man. Damndamndamn! We get some altitude and the door gunner puts his '60 down. He checks the sides of the bird and then looks down at me sittin' next to him in the door. And he goes sheet white. Uh oh! I know I got pieces of Weet still on me, but he's starin' at my crotch. Big fookin' UH OH! I look down, and my groin is bright red, fresh stuff. Mine. Fear! I didn't feel nothin' but the hole Weet left. I been hit! In the fookin' balls! Ohsh*tohsh*tohsh*t! The pain starts. Weet musta hid it! Serious pain! I almost slump outta the door. Olson grabs me and pulls me all the way in. He cuts the crotch outta my pants and gets as white as the gunner. The gunner and he and Drog start stuffin' dressings in. I see the gunner yellin' into his mic. And I don't remember any more. I wake up on the ground in Pleiku. Some hospital. My gear is gone, my pockets empty. Two guys pick me up on a stretcher and we move into a buildin'. I look down and the bloods comin' out of the dressings. Ohsh*tohsh*tohsh*t! First Weet and then me. I'll probably make it, but I'm gonna be without dick and balls. F*ckf*ckf*ck! I wanted more kids! A f*ckin' eunuch at twenty-two! It ain't fair, man, it ain't fookin' fair! A doc comes over and takes his turn at gettin' pale. He yells to get a table ready and takes the dressings off to take a look. He doesn't look good, and I can't look. He starts irrigatin', and the blood slowly comes back to his face. He looks me in the eye and says I'm one lucky muthaf*cka. I just pass out again. The next day I'm back in Kontum with twenty stitches from minor shrapnel wounds in the groin. It's not pretty down there. But, then, I guess it never was. Turns out groin wounds bleed like scalp wounds. I'm in a diaper. And Weet's gone. I'll never see him again. Nobody's ever gonna see him again. Weet was by brother, man. My little Jarai brother. We lived, slept, laughed, cried, got scared, got pissed, got drunk, got everythin' together. He even followed me from RT California to RT Washington when I got my own team. And I smeared him all over a half an acre of Cambodia. F*ckin' war, man. Stupid f*ckin' war! The shrapnel that got me came through him. His flesh and blood and my flesh and blood are forever mingled. Our spirits already had. Brothers of the flesh, brothers of the spirit. Blood brothers in every sense of the word. I'll cry for you again tonight, Weet. I think I always will. Scream It came at night, after lights out and everyone was asleep. It pierced every hootch, woke every man within a hundred meters. The guards on the wall shuddered; that voice spoke to them. It was rage, and anger, and hurt, and pain, and fear. It was disembodied, an ageless knowing of all things evil and so deathly worn from them. Every night it wended over the camp and the wire, disappearing into the darkness. The bunkers seemed to echo it back, only louder and more shrill. No one knew who cried out so. It was all of us, and none. It comes at night, after lights out and everyone's asleep. It pierces every apartment, wakes every man within a city block. The drunks on the corner shudder, that voice speaks to them. It is rage, and anger, and hurt, and pain, and fear. It is disembodied, an ageless knowing of all things evil and so deathly worn from them. Every night it wends over the city and the bay, disappearing into the darkness. The buildings seem to echo it back, only louder and more shrill. No one knows who cries out so. But now, I think it is me.
Widow Call I have one picture amongst all the others that I've saved over twenty plus years since I came home that I value more than all the others. Simple picture really. Just me and Mr. Weet by the entrance to his wife's home in the 'yard ville just outside the compound in Kontum. His wife is just outside the door, sweepin'. What makes it special isn't in the photo. It's what it means; the whys, the hows, the days after. Three days after it was taken, Mr. Weet stood between me and a bouncin' betty tripped by the point man. Not a whole bunch of him left, unrecognizable lump of bleedin' meat - nor of the point either, for that matter. He wasn't bein' a hero, just the circumstances of time and place. A little shrapnel made it through him and into me, but most of it stayed in him. We were in kinda a hurry at the time, and we stripped him, left his remains under a willie pete and moved out. Not somethin' you like to do to a friend, but he woulda understood. We didn't have time or manpower to carry two dead with us - and we didn't want to leave anythin' for the guys who planted the mine. Five days after the pic was taken, I went back to the ville. Widow Call. Usually we leave it for one of the staff officers. Not this time. I can't bring myself to let that happen. They tell me it's hard. No sh*t. I do it anyway. I'm still in a diaper from the shrapnel in the groin, but I'm not plannin' on sittin' a lot, so that's okay. I borrow another team's translator, Weet havin' been ours. Grab a jeep and head out the north gate. I take TheBox, contents of his locker and a years salary in greenbacks. Greenbacks are a NoNo, but piaster and MPC fluctuate so damn much on the open market, we always bend that rule. The 'yards in the ville know what's up the moment we drive outta camp. It's just a question of where in the village we are goin' to stop. Too many trips like this are made, way too fookin' many. At the entrance to the ville, we are met by one of the elders. No questions asked, he gets into the jeep with us, and we drive the rest of the short way to the hootch. The wife comes out and greets us, stonefaced. He hasn't checked in and we've been back two days. Musta suspected. By now, she knows. We greet. We talk about the weather, the kids. Protocol, culture, the way it is. Finally, I present TheBox, say TheWords. She accepts, gracefully. Well, as gracefully as the circumstances permit. These are still people of the earth. Death is a part of life. It still doesn't feel good, though. The tears hang in the background, barely. I break down and tell everythin'. I hug the kids, the dogs, the elder, everyone but the wife. That is not in the cards, and even I know it. From out of nowhere, the elder's wife appears. She is instantly in charge, and no one, least of all the elder, questions that. She shoos us out of there. This is just as well, as I am out of words and just about out of stamina. I've lost a fair piece of blood. Knowin' that salves my conscience a little. I know now I'd have been exhausted if I had been whole.... On the way back to camp, the borrowed translator said I had done it right, that it was okay, maybe even good. I dunno. To me, doin' it right means bringin' 'em back, preferably alive. It can't be good. TheWords, TheBox, Widow Call. Try to do it right. Too f*ckin' late to do it the right right way.
Heavy Rain Ferris and I are walkin' across camp headin' for the chow hall. We're just passin' the old NVA .51 AA when he just drops with a scream to the mud. He's clutchin' his foot, and blood is spreadin' through the nylon weave of the upper portion of his jungle boot. No sounds, nothin' on the ground. Whathef*ck, over? I give a shout for a medical kit and kneel down to look. He's sayin' "I've been shot! In the f*ckin' foot! Sh*******t!" I tell him to lay down and I take the boot off. He groans a lot, and it's loud. We're startin' to draw a crowd, now. Tom Madison comes runnin' up with a kit and we cut the sock off. Bigger than sh*t, he's got a bullet wound in the arch of his foot. F*ck! Where the hell did that come from, man? Slap a dressin' on it and put him on the freshly arrived litter. It's only 100 meters to the aid station, and we practically run it. Old Bob, senior medic, is on today, and we fill him in, pronto-like. He takes the dressin' off and hoses it down so he can see what he's got. He clicks his tongue, pulls out a syringe and hits the foot with novocain. Shortly, Ferris quiets down and says thanks. Bac si continues to look. Out come the probes and he works it over a little. We start gettin' a little queasy. Hey, this is one of ours, it ain't the same. Bac Si says, "Jeezusf*ckinchrist," and pulls out the forceps. He reaches into the hole and pulls out a slug. .45, no question. He tells one of the others to go to the TOC and get a medivac. Two or three of the metatarsals are broken, and this is gonna take surgery. He packs the wound, splints the foot and wraps it all in dressings. Ferris can't believe it. He was just goin' to chow. Some f*ckin' Cowboy or White Mouse downtown musta fired a shot into the air. It came down. We think about this while waitin' on the pad for the slick. Lemme see, round comes down vertical and hits foot. Seen from above that foot ain't very fookin' far from the head. Sheeeeee***t! It sinks in on Ferris. Sheeeeeeeee***t! Helluva way to go home. It's April '72, and he won't be comin' back. Crazy fookin' war, man. No Purple Heart for that .45....
Village Unusual mission, though hardly unheard of. We're gonna go and contact a village and ask about what's goin' on in the neighborhood. Usually, we just figure this out for ourselves. But this time we have a friendly village that has supplied a fair number of troops to the teams. Not my team, but that's why they chose us. No commitments. And the area has been very active, says the Air Force. Everythin' else is normal: mission prep, recon, insert. At least on paper, it is no more dangerous than any other mission. Except for the villagers, of course. Their lives are on the line. The mission brief says other teams have been there before. Okay, that's the way it will be. I always say that. Like we had a choice. Its a long flight in, and we set twenty klicks from the village into a small, abandoned swidden. This will make for a very long walk in this terrain, but it's better than sendin' an engraved invitation to the guys with the pith helmets. In this stuff it'll take as much as three days in and out. Long walk in the heat. But you do it 'cause it's right, 'cause they tell you to, and 'cause it'll give us a chance to check out at least some of what's goin' on around here before we get there. Independent information to verify what we're told. It's a cold world.... And we walked it. It was very, very hard. The terrain was largely vertical, and very dense. The trails were moderately traveled by the guys on the other side, which left us only the woods. Got some good counts and some idea of how heavily used the area was, but mostly we just humped. Seven or so back-breakin' klicks a day. Not what is known as a record pace. But we couldn't go any faster. The third night we set up less than 500 meters from the village. This area was less dense, and it wouldn't take long to go the rest of the way. We slept an exhausted sleep. Up with first light, form up and hit the trail. We get about 100 meters out, and I send the point and tail to take a looksee. It's really rude to visit a ville that already has visitors, so we're gonna knock first. The rest of us hunker down and listen for the sounds of a village comin' to life with the dawn. We don't hear a damn thing. The guys come back, and they ain't even vaguely happy. Point comes over and tells me via my translator that everybody's dead, wiped out, gone to wherever spirits go. F*ck! Sh*t! Lotsa words to that effect. Tail has told the rest of the team, and the strain is visible. Okay, don't make any diff, I hafta go look, anyway. Maybe some clues, maybe someone alive, maybe all sorts of things. But, I'll be damned if I wanna go. We walk in. Tail and point had already made sure there were no watchers. I put two out as guards, anyway. Shoulda just left then. But after three days of humpin', you gotta do something, get something, or it just ain't right. The ville is just plain gone, man. All the longhouses are ashes. Bodies are everywhere. It's been a little less than a week, and the meat is very high. The stench woulda alerted us if we'd come in from the other side, downwind. They're scattered around, not lined up in nice, neat rows. Some of 'em are just charred piles of bones and flesh still in the hootches. Some of 'em have the scorched remains of crossbows next to outflung arms. They didn't go easy. They went like they'd lived, tough little muthaf*ckers with a will and a means. As we walk, we choke on far more than the smell. They were our brothers and sisters. It hurts a lot. They've been shot, bayoneted, beaten, and, in some cases, apparently raped and mutilated. I ain't a pathologist, and I don't know if they were alive then or not. I'm just as happy not to know. It isn't nice. Even the fookin' dogs and chickens have been killed. The livestock musta been taken away. The 'yards start puttin' kerchieves over their faces, and I do the same. It don't help much. We start pokin' around, but it's already obvious there ain't gonna be nobody alive. With everythin' burnt, we ain't gonna find sh*t. But we look. We try to honor the dead. We also cry.... The aftermath of a massacre is kinda hard to describe. The biggest challenge is not to throw up all over the remains. We wanted to do something; bury the dead, stack 'em up and burn 'em, somethin'. But there simply weren't enough of us. Our hearts have sagged down to our knees, and there's nothin' we can do about it. Nobody on this team is from here, but everybody knows someone who is. And we're gonna hafta go back and tell 'em. Sh*t! We walk among the bodies for maybe an hour. It don't do no good. I take a few pictures - "proof" for when we get outta here. None of us like that, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Then we just pull back upwind to talk about it. And to throw up where it won't get on the bodies. The trip is a bust, and we ain't got the juices left to go gather the intel for ourselves. Another team can come do it, 'cause we for damn sure ain't! Okay, we gotta do somethin'. We talk for a while. Nape strike on the ville? At least the remains would get a little respect from the cleansin' fire. Maybe an arclight? Get some of the c*cksuckers that did it, too. Just go away, not let the bastards know we've even been here? That's the logical one. We reject it. We'll do both of the first two. F*ck the money, this is family business. We go back out a klick and I call for exfil. We're gonna lift from the village square. Gonna let the pilots and crew see what we're fightin' for, and why we're gonna plow it under. I tell Covey to get the fastmovers and an arclight. The rider says no, and I tell him why. F*ck. I can hear him chokin' from clear down here. He says he'll try, and asks if I wanna call a Prairie Fire. I think on it and say no. Just do what you can. He agrees, and we'll see the birds an hour after dawn in the mornin'. We don't sleep much that night. We're all wired. There are always survivors, and they're out in the jungle somewhere. We won't find 'em, but we worry about it. At first light, we make a sweep. No one home but us, the dead and the flies. The sun comes up, and we make ready. The birds come a little early, and we exit without a shot fired. The pilots see, and the gunners too. The gunner on my side pukes out over the gun. I don't know about the others. We are a few klicks out when I see Covey roll in and squirt a willie pete into the square. The napalm rains. This time, it's a good rain, a clean rain, a way to say thank you. And good-bye. There is no arclight. They are, after all, kinda expensive. We just do what we can for our brothers and sisters. I look back and say some words. Wish I was a shaman, they woulda had the right words. We go back to camp. It is very quiet that night in the 'yard barracks. And I guess I started to think about home. I didn't wanna play war, anymore. I wish I hadn't taken the pictures. I still see that place through a viewfinder. And I still try to brush the flies from the lens....
Bear Bear was a dog. Canis domesticus. Breed: unknowable. Age: not apparent. Disposition: a bear. Which, of course, explains the name. She is a camp mutt. And a bitch in at least two ways. She lives on the largesse of the homesick gringos that people this place and time. We all have dogs back home, and she gets the attention they would have received had the U.S. Army and Viet Nam not interceded. She is spoiled, and semi-feral. She has no regular place of abode, sleepin' when and where she will. Usually, this is at one of the night-watch stations on the wall. Sometimes, especially when it rains, it's one of the bunkers or in some kind- hearted team's hootch. She is not house broken, and you figure this out pretty quickly. She'll just do her business wherever she may be, even once or twice in the mess hall. I had a dog at home, too. But It didn't cloud my judgement, much. I didn't like her. And, frankly, she didn't like me much, either. She growled at me, barked at me, and once, tried to bite me. She didn't try that again. I was real good with dummy grenades, which we were tossin' at the time. But she liked the 'yards, which was odd. 'Cause they looked at her like a reserve meal, still on the hoof. She didn't seem to know it, though, and I have a picture of her and Drog on top of a bunker, all cuddled up together. She was stupid, too.... She took to howlin' late at night, on top of the RT Washington bunker, which was closest to our hootch. My bunk was closest, to be absolutely precise. Aggravatingly, absolutely precise. We tried everythin' to get her to stop; food, threats, thrown rocks and the like, chasin' her around camp in our birthday suits at all hours of the night and early morning; much to the amusement of the 'yards on the wall. Nothin' seemed to work. And I guess I just plain lost my sense of humor. One night, after a stretch of nearly a week of this bullsh*t, I threaded the muffler onto my CAR-15 and went up to the wall and greased her. Nary a twinge of conscience. Not many complaints from the peanut gallery, either. Startled the nearest guards, but when they saw what I'd done, they just shrugged. The next morning, her carcass was gone. The 'yards probably ate her rather than let perfectly good meat go to waste. Hell, I may have had a bite, myself, I ate with 'em often enough. Sorry, Bear. But y'see, there was this war on. And I bet you wouldn't appreciate "To Serve Man" jokes worth a sh*t.
First Time May of 1972, and we are all but outta here. They stopped the Easter Offensive up north and are gonna push 'em back outta Quang Tri, back across the Cua Viet. The U.S. strength is droppin' daily, and this camp will be handed over late this summer to some ARVN SF. Not sure we like it, but that's the way it is. So we do it right. We've been runnin' these teams into V Corps and along the border for years now. Time to let 'em do it without Americans. The one zeroes talk about it for days. Who should be first? Lotsa the teams are ready. Hell, given good commo, most of 'em have been ready for a long time. I want it to be my team, but so does nearly everyone else. But it'll be none of 'em, it'll be California. Has to be, really. Joe built that team. Sarge is the best damn 'yard team sergeant in the whole fookin' world. I know it better than most. So that's the way it is. Sarge is gonna take the team into some nasty turf north of the Se San River, about 100 klicks into Cambodia. We know there's still a lot of strength in the Sanctuary, and trackin' disposition is a full time job for two teams. We call in Sarge and give the briefin'. He takes it like he expected it. His only question is "Talk to Joe?" We try, but can't get the call through stateside. Okay, he does it anyway. He picks out a six man team, so as to use just one insert bird. He figures the rations, the ammo, the supplies, the aerial recon like he's done it a million times. He ain't never done it once. Flies the recon hisveryownself with nothin' but a gringo Covey pilot. Hand signals work okay, God alone knows where he learned 'em. We sit back and watch. He doesn't even need advice. He asks to borrow my RPD, the newest one in camp. Sh*t, I'da given him my arm if'n he asked for it. Tuesday they set to packin'. Wednesday he does a local patrol to shake out the kinks. Thursday they finish packin' and we give the translator lessons on the radio. Friday, they're gonna go in. The fookin' first time, man. 'Yards have never gone alone. They're ready and treat it like any other trip. We're scared sh*tless. I mean, Sarge is one of the most squared away dudes what ever hefted a ruck. But he's a 'yard. We finally figure out we've been carryin' a load of prejudices and treatin' 'em like our own kids. Sheeeeee**t! We know this, now. Don't make no diff, we're still worried nigh on to death. Friday mornin' they head out onto the pad. None of us go with 'em but Willy, and that's right. We'll meet 'em when and if. And that's right, too. They take off and head SW with the entire recon company American contingent on the berm watchin'. Can't work up a wave. Like your oldest when askin' for the car the first time. You worry. Did you teach 'em right? Too fookin' late now. Its amazin' how many can crowd into a commo bunker. First couple checks, everybody's there. Then we settle for Willy actin' as middle man. Everythin' is goin' great: insert, movement, approach. First light on the fourth day they're gonna get up close and personal. We run a hard wire from the commo bunker to RT California, one of the bigger hootches. We sit on it all day. No beer, no nuthin' but food we fetch in shifts and the black-eyed peas from the pot by the wall. This is where it goes to sh*t most often. You gotta get close to count and get pics and draw maps. Sarge knows. He's covered my six a dozen times while I done it. Many more with Joe and Willy and others. Ain't ashamed to say Van and I prayed a lot, either. Commo check that night runs smooth. Objective accomplished, and they're gonna go for exfil. We all wanna ride out on the slicks and get 'em, but it wouldn't be right. Also, we'd be in the way. So we wait. Sorta like bein' in the dentist chair waitin' for him to come back after lookin' at the x-rays. Sixth day, mornin' check and they hit up a courier. Had to do some shootin' and they're comin' out hot. We begin to sweat. A whole fookin' lot, man. By noon we know they're in the air, and no casualties. Hot damn! Sh*t yes!! They did it! We did it! It got did!! By mid-afternoon they'll be on the pad. First time, man! If the pics are good, it'll be as good as any of us could do. Makes a fellow proud. Like I had anythin' to do with it.... They hit the pad and we're there with the beer and to help 'em carry their rucks. They're cool, but the hugs are warm. Sarge is real together, and ready for debriefin'. And we head for the TOC. Here, he turns over the camera, the drawings, and gets grilled with a translator. He's only got Willy now. We ain't invited. Okay, used to that. 'Sides, got a party to get together! First time, and we're gonna celebrate it right. Damn straight. Proud daddies ain't got nothin' on us, man! Debriefin' drags into the evenin'. The team goes back to the 'yard barracks and cleans up. Around 2000, Sarge is finally sprung and saunters down with his pipe lit and an air of "f*ck those TOC bastards!" Yep, we taught him right! We let him sh*t and shower, and it's 2100. Plenty dark. Don't care. The one ones and the one twos materialize a jug and some stew, and the party begins. Except for Sarge. We one zeroes take him with us to the Recon Club. Look, we got the prejudices. We've been patronizin' the 'yards for decades and not knowin' it. Time for a change. Sarge gets all the drinks he can take. He takes only wine. He has good taste. We're all dressed up in our best camp cloths. One zero jackets. Black silk things with the CCC logo and the team patch embroidered on. Lotsa other stuff sewed on to. Willy takes his off and puts in on Sarge. Says, "Its yours now, bro. Your team, you gotta drive her." First time again. First 'yard one zero. Sarge don't speak English worth a damn. But he can't miss this one. All the gringos are misty-eyed. He smiles that slow, all-knowin' smile of his and asks, "Where's the smokes....? And the babes?" Ice broken, we party hard. First time, man! First time. Miss ya, Sarge.... _____________ / / / \ \ \ / / / \ \ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ \ | / ((_______________)) \ | / ___|_ ___ \ | / / | | (( _|_ )) \ | / __/___| |____/ *| \ | / [________________| \ | / \_______||_____ \ / \o/ | / \
Black-eyed Peas It's funny about memories. Many are weak, or only come across in your worst nightmares. Many of the stronger ones are not the sort of thing that were a big deal at the time. Just life. Little vignettes of livin' with a bunch of other guys a long way from home. One of my clearest is about black-eyed peas. My bunk was at the east end of the room in the hootch. Next to my bunk on the north side is a little table. And on that table is a hot plate and a never-endin' pot of black-eyed peas. Smells good! Smells like home. Not my home, mind you. We never had black-eyed peas. Willy's home, maybe. Home, regardless. It was always there. When it got low on water, anybody around went and got more. A twenty-pound bag of the beans set on a shelf under the table, and they also got added at need. Fatback or just plain mystery meat would get sliced in from time to time. Nobody talked about it, nobody planned it. It was just there, like the sandbags or the weather. Omnipresent, never-ending, the pot at the end of the hootch. And we'd eat 'em. Sometimes with relish, sometimes with gusto, sometimes with resignation, or even, sometimes, unconsciously. But we ate 'em. Oh, we had a great mess hall, before Rocket Sunrise, and we ate there two, three meals a day. But late at night, comin' in from the wall, or from a late night pinochle game with Tom over in Minnesota's hootch, you'd sneak in and grab a bowl. Or maybe it was a stand-down day, and we'd all lay out on the berm porkin' it down and talkin' about whatever, whoever, whenever. And it wasn't just us. All of Recon Company would come around for a bowl from time to time. Like mail, it was a link with home. You didn't eat it 'cause you were hungry, but because it helped make the place a little more tolerable. I think Willy's folks used to send 'em. Don't know that for sure. They came in small packets, and ended up in the bag. I know I had a few pounds sent over, too. Strong memory; sight, and smell, and sound. Funny how the memory works. Funny the things that stick. I never said "Thank-you, Mr. and Mrs. Krakovich." Shoulda done so a long, long time ago.
Bomblets Sucking Chest Blossom of red on soiled green. It froths. Layer of plastic, layer of cotton; maybe they'll save the lung. _______________________ Sniper Crack! from a tree or maybe the rocks. Roll and take cover. If you can, you're okay. _______________________ LZ Opening in triple canopy, bordered by raging death. Will you let me go? _______________________ Rice Funny grass in a puddle. If you eat too much, your eyes will slant. Or maybe it'll be your stomach. _______________________ Bayonet Good for cans and such. Back in basic they told us it had another use. But I have forgotten. _______________________ Monsoon Rain without end, pours into my bunk, wetting my blankets and ruining what looked to be the best dream of my career. _______________________ Phantom Roar and scream and boom; without end, without beginning. I hope he knows who wears the white hat down here. _______________________ Papa San In the paddy, bent almost double he is making a harvest fed by his sons and daughters. You can't see the tears through his sweat. _______________________ Weet We laughed and cried and held each others' hand, like they do in that place. And now I can't hold it. I want to very much. _______________________ Mud Its what is left when the earth and the sky have finished fighting. _______________________ Concertina Circles within circles, passing endlessly around your camp, that carries thorns to pierce you. Unless you're a child.... Then you can just walk through. _______________________ Tank It sits by the side of the road, waiting for someone with stars to tell it where to go and die. The men on top will go with it, too; but maybe someone will survive to do it all over again. Foxhole portability is not an asset. _______________________ BDA The ground shook here, bare minutes ago. The earth was moved and shaken by a giant fist. Trees fell down, and men. And some damn fool wants to know how many. So we count them.... _______________________ Heat Water's gone, armpits dry and another klick to go. You won't melt, they always say, but maybe they just don't know. _______________________ Night Contact Red and green tracers probing in the darkness. Sabers dueling, seeking a sheath in warm flesh. It damn sure isn't Cristmas. _______________________ Redleg We're at a firebase. Somewhere west of the Central Highlands, along the Cambode border. We're makin' a fuel stop on the way home. Been in ten days on a dry hole. Nobody home, camera's empty, no new notes except that nobody's there. We look a little tired and dirty, the way you do after a week and a half in the woods. We're just sittin' quiet-like on a plank in the mud, waitin' for 'em to tell us it's time to go. Fire mission! Guys half naked, appropriate for the heat, bail out of their hootches and whatever the hell they were doin' and head for the guns. The air is charged with action, and the battery gets cranked around to the north. The noise starts. Big noise. Like an arclight, but closer. They give up tryin' to water the birds till it stops. It goes on for maybe twenty, twenty-five minutes. Ain't nothin' to see. Guys humpin' ammo, shove it into the breach, pullin' the trigger. Can't see the enemy, can't know what's goin' on. We stand up and watch. This isn't our war, it's somebody else's. Surreal. And I just can't figure it out. I mean, whaddahell is all the shootin' about, anyway? Its over, and a tired, hot, filthy dude walks over to the water buffalo, sticks his head under the faucet and lets some run on his head. Not too much, it's hard to come by up here. He stands up and we lock eyeballs. I don't know him, he don't know me. But we're bros, and we know it. We are also aliens - incomprehensible to each other. We stare until the bird's full and it's time to go. We each break and walk off. We each know we got the better part of the war and pity the other poor bastard. I mean, what can it be like for that dude? Head shakin', shoulder shruggin' time. Crazy fookin' war, man.
The Way It Was War, at least the war I knew, is a study in contradictions. For all the hours like that one in Ashau, there were many hours of boredom and nothin'. For every mission with fear and action like CIB and Flashlights, there were three with little or nothin' of excitement. Not to say there was no fear. There was always fear. And this is good. Fear makes you cautious. Caution makes you more likely to live. I'll keep the fear, thank you very much. But the majority of trips I made to the woods were uneventful. Maybe they were uneventful because there was no one there but us. Or maybe they were uneventful because we were very good at what we did. Or maybe we were just plain lucky. I don't know for sure on some of 'em. But the uneventful ones were always in the majority for me. That was fine by me. I wanted to go home upright, not horizontal. Always. Dry holes account for some of the uneventful ones. You do your mission prep. You read all the info. You make your aerial recon. You train and pack and practice. You go in full of trepidation and hope. And you find nothin'. No one home. Not a damn LZ watcher, no couriers, no nothin'. You spend five to ten days wanderin' around lookin' for what you were sent to take a peek at. And you don't find it. Some are close; they were here not all that long ago. You find the slit trenches, the booby traps, the signs that somethin' was here. Some are just plain empty; it doesn't look like anyone's been here since some primate got the bright idea to come down outta the trees. We call 'em dry holes in the same sense a well digger does. All that work for nothin'. Though that too, of course, is intel of a type. Wet holes can be uneventful, too. Actually, you try to make 'em that way. You go through the same mission prep. Only you find what you came for. Or maybe somethin' else. You do what you can to document it. Pictures are good. Notations on maps, drawings, notes on numbers, equipment, disposition, and so on, are all good. It depends on what you got. You spend a lot of time bein' very quiet and makin' like a clump of bushes. You crawl up close, sneakin' past guards, watchin' for mines and traps, and get everythin' you can. This final few meters is a one or two man trip when it boils right down to it. Less to be noticed, and that's the name of the game. Then you sneak out. Maybe you leave a present, maybe you don't. Depends on the mission, depends on what you find, depends on your nerves. Anyway you look at it, wet holes are more interestin'. The fear is a lot higher, and you are a lot more cautious. At the same time, you feel challenged to get everythin' you can. This is the conflict that separates the heros from the guys who do the work. I was a workman. Maybe a coward, too. That's an okay thing to be in my book. Especially in a war zone. As long as you do your job, that fear will be okay. It's the kind that doesn't disable; it's the kind that makes you think. My kind of cowardice. It got me home. In addition to the uneventful wet holes and the dry holes, there's all the time between missions. Average mission is a week. My average was five days. For every day in an AO, there's at least one day of downtime and a half of one in mission prep. So in the sixty weeks I'm in-country I ran about thirty missions. (Some were real short, like Tri-borders or Ashau.) Not a whole heck of a lot in the big picture. You feel like you're not doin' enough. You have to multiply it by fifteen teams to start gettin' real numbers. 450 missions in that time. And that's just CCC. The other two ran about the same. Now we're lookin' at over 1300 missions in my fourteen months. Not all mine, obviously. Just to give a perspective on how hard we all worked at gettin' intel for the real soldiers - the grunts who win or loose a war. But you still spend 50+% of your time NOT runnin' missions. That's partially covered in some of the other stories. But also in there we played cards, wrote letters home, paid income tax, ate, slept, watched movies, listened to music, and all those things we Americans do. And we did some things Americans don't usually do, too. Like get blessed by a shaman of a faith that has no name, try to plink rats off rafters with a silenced .22, or raise a new hootch where one got blown up by a rocket. We bitched about the weather, the mud, the food, the lack of women, the surplus of barbed wire, and anythin' else that came to mind. We laughed and cried, praised and cursed, worked and rested. We just tried to live like real folk in a crazy fookin' place. Nothin' fancy, much at all. Just the way it was.
Weather Can't do anythin' about the weather. Well, mostly you can't. You can sometimes find or make some kinda shelter. Usually, though, it does to you instead. Ask a soldier. Any soldier. He knows. Few folk ever get to know weather like a soldier. Especially pilots and grunts. Pilots gotta fly in it, whatever it may be. And some of it is distinctly life-shortenin'. But then, they get to go home. Not grunts. Grunts just keep on livin' in it. You wanna know about weather, ask a grunt. Soldiers in general, yeah, but grunts in particular. They think about it, dream about it, curse it, love it, hate it, worship it. But they damn sure know it. Now, Viet Nam had weather. It wasn't the deathly cold of Korea or the Apennines or Bastogne. It was more like the Marines found on Guadalcanal and elsewhere in the South Pacific. But it wasn't really like those, either. It was hot, it was muggy, it was wet and it was miserable. The last should not come as a surprise. They never fight wars where the weather is good. It's in the Bible or the Constitution or somethin'. Wars can only be fought in inhospitable climates. Ask any soldier, ever.... Kontum wasn't too bad, really. The monsoons sorta slid by the place, and the heat was alleviated by bein' inland and up some in elevation. But other places.... The delta, ugh. DMZ, worse. Anywhere on the coast was the pits. And the Mekong Valley in Cambodia was just plain godawful. I have no idea how or why anybody ever settled there. Terrain wasn't as bad, but the sky was worse than the Darien. First arrivals probably had seal skin. Heaven only knows how it got bred out. I can remember ops where we went in between storms, 'cause it provided good cover. But the price was horrible. Monsoon is such a simple word, but what it means on the ground is ungodly. If it wasn't underwater, it was almost impassibly muddy. Not just any old mud, either. Deep, sticky, get-in-everything, red clay mud. Streams would swell in less than an hour to uncrossable floods. Visibility could drop to zero in as little time as it took to aim and focus a camera. In places like that, the rain becomes lethal. The mud could eat you faster than quicksand. Not a pleasant combination. And it didn't get better real soon. When it stopped and the sun came out, all that moisture would rise back into the air. It could get so humid you had to stop movin' because breath got too damn hard to come by. The warmer the air, the more water it can absorb. So when it's hot, the air gets thick. You are plastered wet whether it's rainin' or not. Matter of fact, you start to missin' the rain. Everythin' gets soaked in time, no matter how you wrap it or protect it. Your clothes, of course, your web gear, your weapon, your food, your dry socks, your batteries, your electronic gear, it all gets soppin'. Makes for a lot of interestin' problems. Personally, I could have lived without the interest. Or the problems. Weather may have been a grand invention for God, but it's not quite so grand for the guy on the ground. Go ask that soldier. Especially a grunt who walked in it. I just bet he'll say: Amen! | | |____====________ ||______________)==================|) =============---------------------===_____ /| | | | |\\ \________|__________|_________|_________|/ \\(O)___(O)___(O)___(O)___(O)___(O)// ____________ ======= _________________/|_____... | | " === |_______________| |-----::: |._ - " ) |_|___| / / |___| /_/
RON We sleep at night. We do this because we gotta sleep sometime, and you can't see as well at night. Seein' is why we're out here where we have to sleep on the ground, anyway. Where you sleep, that's a RON. With so few guys, you don't make an NDP, a Night Defensive Position. You make a RON, Remain Over Night. It relies more on bein' hidden than on defensible terrain, though we always try for both. We don't carry the big Claymores, they just weigh too much. Instead, we make these little mini-claymores outta soapdishes, C-4, and nails. Put a hole in the top for a blastin' cap, and you're all set. Well, you should also set it up on the far side of a big tree or rock, too. We never measured the back blast zone, but C-4 is volatile stuff. We always carried timin' fuse and detonators, too. This allowed us to cut and run or leave 'em behind for optimal results when necessary. Didn't have to do that very often, fortunately. I like sleepin' at night. You look for a couple things in a good RON site. First is a view of your backtrail - about a klick back. This gives you time to didi if someone comes along. Strangers comin' to call by followin' you are seldom good visitors, and it is generally best to just avoid 'em. Second, you look to disappear into the terrain. Since most of us didn't look a whole lot like bushes, this usually meant a thicket or a large group of boulders. I personally look more like a boulder than a bush, so I preferred the later. It didn't work when I put the team to bed on a patch of glow-in-the-dark moss one night, as an example of what not to do. We woke up feelin' really uncomfortable. I suppose it woulda been okay if we glowed too, but as it was, we moved. That said and done, you try to stay away from trails and LZs as RONs. They are popular meetin' places, and I already told you about late night visitors. A good steep slope is nice, as it discourages drop-ins. Hilltops and river beds are not cool either. I didn't have to worry about the obvious ones, the 'yards just wouldn't stop. After a little while, I wouldn't either. This is called experience. Fortunately, it didn't kill me. In the Central Highlands, we carried light weight sleepin' bags. It gets kinda chilly at night. Other times, we'd just carry poncho liners. You don't worry about stayin' dry, as you won't. You just worry about gettin' some sleep. Humpin' twenty klicks in nasty terrain can make you kinda tired. Especially with the extra weight of the mini-claymores and the sleepin' bags. And we did that a lot. Comes from bein' scared a lot. And I was almost always scared to death. Which didn't help with the sleep, either, by the way. Comes with a RON. Or maybe it just came with Viet Nam.
I Don't Remember the Birds One of the hardest things to capture is what you don't recall. By definition, you don't remember it. How in the hell you supposed to write that kinda stuff down? Gonna try, though. Might say as much as what I do remember.... The first thing I don't remember is the birds. Birds? Yeah, them. I remember layin' in night positions and listenin' to the night birds call to each other. But I have no memory of ever seein' any kind of bird but chickens in the ville. I'm a birder, too. I love birds. I mean, even with a war on, there shoulda been hordes of birds all over the place, just like almost any other place on earth. I shoulda seen 'em, enjoyed 'em. But I don't remember a single fookin' one. And I don't remember a lot of the big things from home. No oil derricks, no fields of wheat, no soarin' purple mountains, no skyscrapers, no tall steepled churches. I don't remember those things 'cause they weren't there, I suspect. These don't bother me much in retrospect. But they bothered me then, with their omnipresent absence. Not up front. In the back of my head, like a missin' tooth - just a gap in what should be, not a real pain. And the things of youth weren't there either. Little girls with pigtails and little boys with frogs in their pockets. Both of those swingin' on a rope over a crick filled with brackish water. Plenty of boys and girls and brackish water, but none of the expected behavior. Yeah, I know. Cultural differences. But not even one little heart carved into a tree with two sets of initials? Not one lousy little league game? Some kids playin' tag on roller skates? Just more of the things I missed even while I was there.... I remember the sky and the sun. The sky got cloudy a lot, and the sun was very hot when it was out. But I don't remember stars or the moon. Always had a telescope as a kid. Watched the moon, the planets, and the stars a lot. Dreamed of 'em. Dreamed that someday maybe I'd go out and greet 'em. Not in Nam, though. They had to be there. But I have no memory of 'em. Hell, I can even remember moonlight filterin' through the trees, and the look of it on the perimeter mine field. But no moon. Others remember them well, but not me. Little animals are missing, too. Except rats and snakes. No squirrels, no possums, no chipmunks, no voles or mice, no nothin' small and interestin' to watch. Plenty of dogs, of course. But no cats, either. Don't miss 'em. Don't like cats. But we coulda used 'em to keep down the rats. Didn't have any, though. That's really odd. I mean, cats are everywhere people are, aren't they? How come I can't remember 'em, either? The grass was wrong, too. At Nha Trang they had a lawn that they mowed. Kentucky Blue Grass, I think. Had to import the seed, I'm sure. The lawnmower, too, no doubt. Nobody real had a lawn. The grass that grew was all misshapen or warped beyond recognition, like bamboo and millet. No clover, either. Let's face it, grass is pretty much universal stuff. Musta been plenty of varieties I would recognize, even if it only grew in clumps. But I don't remember any. Or flowers either. The only times I saw flowers was in a store in the city or in a longhouse in the ville, already picked. Flowerin' plants have been with us since the dinosaurs. There had to be flowers. Absolutely had to be. I don't remember any at all. Pretty little streams just right for a trout fisherman. Saw lots of streams. Crossed too many of 'em. But the rocky ones with occasional cascades and small areas of sandy bottom? Nope. None of those, either. And those are geological necessities. Even saw some of those in the deepest jungles of Latin America. But not in Southeast Asia. One shouldn't be bothered by what one doesn't remember. Unless it represents things that had to be there. That bothers me a lot. And there's so many of those. Too many. What does it mean? Did I not see 'em because they represented normalcy, and I would have had to accept that I was the misplaced item? Was I afraid to recognize that I was on the same planet I had been born to? Was my mind too stressed out to note the commonplace? It all had to be there. Kinda frustratin'. Why can't I remember the birds?
Fog Fog belongs to Kontum like it belongs to San Francisco. It doesn't creep in on little cat's feet. It doesn't come in at all. It's just there or it isn't. I don't remember it either risin' from the ground or rollin' in down the valley. I don't remember it blowin' out or burnin' off. You simply got up one mornin' and it was there. Another morning, and it wouldn't be. It was the same even when you had the watch on the wall. Sit on the wall until 5:00 a.m. and it's clear all night. Go grab a couple hours of shuteye, get up, and it's foggy. I don't know how. I just know it was. I liked the fog when in-camp. The long east wall was a nice walk in the thick coolness of it. I'd get up early, take my camp gun, trot across the road and walk the berm from northeast to southeast. It wasn't the fog that came in terrible, thick, chokin' billows. It was the soft spreadin' tendrils that caress the spirit. It would be early, and only those on the watch would be out: some 'yards from the security company, some ARVN, seldom Americans. I'd stop at each station and we'd share a few brief words that we might have in common. Mostly it was to let 'em know I was there and a friendly. It was also to maintain contact with reality. I have a few pictures of the mornin' in the fog along that wall. It was very easy, on such a walk, to forget the reality of war. It comes from my youth, I think, in Ventura, California. I used to walk in the fog along the beaches as the sun first lit the eastern sky. Only a few would be out, beachcombin' or walkin' hand in hand with a loved one. Everyone was invariably friendly, but in no rush to be with anyone but themselves. The gulls flew on their mornin' rounds, mewin' rather than their screechin' with their usual raucous squallin'. A time for absorbin'. A time for bein' absorbed. A time just for bein'. A time for contemplatin' one's place as a little piece of the whole. The fog cut you off from the immensity of it all. It simply and cleanly reduced everythin' to the immediate and the present. Easy to forget you had to go to school, or weed the flower bed, or much of anythin' else. The thickness of the air made every breath so much more tactile and so much more important. Even the swingin' of arms, the motion of legs and head in the rhythm of simple walkin' was simply more alive. I would do it every day that I could. I think it helped with the emotional savagin' of bein' a teenager in the '60s. So it was along the east wall. It was furthest from buildings and everyone and everythin' except itself. The wire and the watchers disappeared into the distance unless you looked very, very hard. I tried not to look very hard on those mornings. It was a lot like the beach rollin' down to the ocean. I enjoyed those walks along the east wall with only the fog for company. From the wall, the terrain tumbled down through the wire and the mine field into a ravine with a small, sluggish stream that emptied into the river a klick or so north of camp. The ground was burned off every year to keep the fields of fire open, but it grew back rapidly enough to look decent most of the time. Green remained the dominant color, even with the dusky, brick red of the soil. Even the wire and the big concrete .50 cal bunkers took on a romantic look in that mist-shrouded light. Like steppin' back in time and place to another era without so many cares, without so many burdens of life and death. Unlike so much of the war, characterized by noise and violence, it was so silent and peaceful. A walk along a sleepin' line of other-worldliness. Each step was adrift in texture and Presence. I could imagine I felt the spirits that the shaman spoke of. They drifted in the tendrils of overburdened clouds, come down to earth. They spoke of the simpler times; of the hunt, of the harvest of rice, of the immortality of a land and its people. They knew of war, but it mattered little. It was but a small and transitory thing in the life of the earth and its denizens. I didn't try to be mystical. But the fog was still a mystical thing. And the fog knew those that it had known for so many millennium. It knew the valleys and the hills, the streams and the fields, the rise and fall of villages and kingdoms. The wire and the wall and the watchers were not unknown to it. The fog had seen 'em all before. The fog also knew me. Maybe it was the same fog that I knew back stateside, on the sand of that distant shore I knew as Home. I guess I don't know about all that. I just know that the fog and I seemed very good friends. It comforted me when I lost Weet. It comforted me whenever it all got to be too much. It shared its silence and cool patience without question. I loved to walk the wall in the fog. They all thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. It certainly wasn't Southern California. But, if you listened very, very carefully as you walked, you could hear the combers rollin' in, and the mewin' of gulls....
Buddha Another little, but strong memory of Viet Nam came very early on. Unlike Black-eyed Peas, it wasn't long-term; it happened and was gone in less than five minutes. Maybe what I saw wasn't even there. I can't recall positively the time or place. It is a simple picture in the mind's eye. I think it was that first day, on the road from Cam Ranh Bay to Nha Trang. It rained and visibility was only a klick or so. I know it was from the back of an open truck, with others around me, not watchin' for the same things I was. What was I lookin' for? I don't even remember that, now. Only what I saw. I know I wasn't lookin' for that. A couple hundred feet above the valley floor, on a mountain side cloaked in verdant green, sat the Buddha. Huge and white, his eyes stared out into infinity, focusin' on everythin' and seein' nothin' of that which was around him. He was serene in the sublime. Not my faith, not my beliefs, but he was there as he was, anyway. I remember thinkin' it odd that with all the war that had passed this way, he was still there, unstained, unsullied by it all. A trick of the light illumed him amidst the mist-shrouded hills, contrastin' him with the emerald green. Or maybe it was just a trick of the mind. How do such things escape when all around them is torn and ravaged by war? Who stood up there to keep it safe from both north and south, and even the random foreigner like myself? It fully occupies my mind, and I don't watch for ambushes, for movement at the side of the road, for anythin' at all. He doesn't call for me to leave all and follow him, like a Christian or Jew or Moslem would. He simply sits there and, without a word, says there is a better way. And for the few minutes before a turn in the road hides him away forever, I have to agree. Why am I here? What have any of these people done to me that I should cross a world to visit them with death? Who in the hell do I think I am? Are you still there, Buddha? Do you still feel the same? Can you teach me that way of thought, too? Or maybe you know the Lady with the sad eyes, or her Son, whom I worship? You look like you do. Personally. Why do you stay in my mind when so much else has faded?
Highland Sunset Crimson fingers stretch out to darkness, across crumpled hills and sundering plains; spells cast by shamen ancient, yet steeped in the wisdom of winds and rains. It starts, the blush of a palid virgin, a hint of the woman yet to be. And flushes deeper to the blood of warriors, splattered upon an azure sea. Vivid orange and gentle amber, join the poem of darkening sky. Like a rose from Chartres descending, shattering splender for dazzled eye. For like that stained glass, wrapped in solder, this great song has the gift of blood, of the artisan and his helpers; a sacrificial, timeless flood. For in the glory of descending nighttide, rise the prayers of a thousand crying, and bombs dropped and humans breaking, of lands destroyed, and forests sighing. Napalm and arclight have crowded heaven with ash and soil, in air suspended, piled high unto the uttermost star; refracting light with earth upended. Like that rose lit by daylight, men have been suffered and have died to raise these glorious scarlet emblems across horizons, beyond time and tide. And yet, for all of that, it is not all evil. For ancient goodness dwells upon Ngoc Linh and in these sacred vales lined with paddies; this glory shines for all breeds of men. Highland sunsets are like no others felt or witnessed, in life or dream. Their bursts of glory, liquid silence, promising hope in a red-hued stream. When, at last, sun descended, lost and gone beyond Rocket Ridge, a scent of serenity and of promise, build a better and a dreamed of bridge. Tomorrow day, or yet another, I'll descend again that Highland bowl I'll watch those crimson fingers stretch out and take at last this weary soul.
Home Again It's time. Fourteen months is enough. The teams are startin' to run their own missions. In a month or so the whole program is goin' to shut down, anyway. I've got a divorce to attend to. It's time to go home. Fly to Nha Trang for a final debriefin'. An LTC there feels the need to tell me one more time that this stuff is all classified and I'm not to talk about it. Yeah, right. I won't. For over twenty years, I won't. The price is too high, and I'll never make a promise like that one again. The pool is drained and closed for repairs, so I won't be swimmin' this time, either. That's okay. The mood isn't there, really, anyway. Next morning, I fly to Cam Ranh Bay. I left my gun in Kontum, and I strangely don't care. The fire is gone, and it just doesn't matter anymore. I'm goin' home with mixed feelings. The war is still goin' on, but I'm emotionally detached. Weet and so many others are gone. I guess I figure it's not my war now, and they can't get me. I dunno. Just know it doesn't really matter. We dress up in Khakis freshly issued from some back room in some warehouse. I pull out the beret that's been in a bag for months, pin on my "I-been-there" ribbons, wings and CIB. My Corcorans look a little the worse for wear, but a Vietnamese civilian by the PX fixes that for me. I tip him well and wish him the best for his country. He doesn't understand a word. It figures.... The flight is just as long goin' back as it was comin' over. I still can't sleep, so I and a couple of other NCOs spend the flight just shootin' the sh*t and talkin' about Viet Nam and what we're gonna do when we get stateside. We're all gonna be stayin' in, so we talk about our next assignments, too. This is supposed to be a happy flight, and I guess a lot of the younger guys are real happy. But we're just off to another assignment, and the mixed emotions pour out into every other word. One of 'em is goin' home to court, too. Ft. Lewis takes us in when we get to Washington State. Most of us are not locals, and we eye the guys bein' met by families with a great deal of jealousy. Instead, we check through the proper desk, and arrange for transportation to SeaTac International, and a ride home. We get an OD bus loaded with every grade and service imaginable. We are warned it may not be pleasant in the airport; the press has turned the country against its soldiers. I was home on R&R, and this is not news to me, though I have doubts that it was the media. It was more likely the letters home. It doesn't matter. We will partner up as they suggest, with others goin' our way. For me, this turns out to be an E-5 SeaBee headin' from Da Nang to Pt. Mugu, not far from where I live. We don't talk much, but we cover each other's six as we wait for the flight to LAX. A lot of very rude stares, but few words are directed our way. At me. The funny hat probably isn't helpin'. He's a sailor, and he doesn't get it as bad. The civilians obviously don't know SeaBees and can't read his ribbons. LAX is worse, and some heated words are exchanged. The really good responses don't come for two weeks, of course. But one guy with broken buttons will probably be more careful in the future. Airport security does what it can, but there are just too many of us, and we're mostly on our own. My SeaBee has a wife and baby daughter waiting, and I decline a ride. I mean, he didn't come home on R&R or nothing, they don't need a stranger in the car. I hail a cab and head for Greyhound. It's only a couple hours ride back up the coast. The bus terminal is better. Not so many folks with strong feelings one way or the other. Tired people without much money are less politically oriented. The driver for the trip is a Korean War vet, and he gives me my first feelings that it will be okay. Sad thing that it takes all those hours and miles for someone to shake your hand and smile at you like he meant it. The ride up the coast is quiet and uneventful. The sun is out and the trip up US 1 is beautiful. I feel a little bit better about bein' home. So. Cal. looks pretty much as I left it. That's very comfortin' to any soldier in any time. I think the driver took a couple detours just for me. I didn't complain. I spend the time thinkin' about what I'm gonna do. With the impendin' divorce, I have no home, no one to turn to. So I guess I'll go motel it while I figure things out. My folks and I are marginally gettin' along, and maybe they will take me in when the money starts runnin' low. And maybe I'll make a play to get my wife back. She probably isn't worth it, but my son certainly is. Basically, I conclude I don't know what I'm goin' to do for the next month of leave before gettin' to Ft. Devens in Massachusetts. The bus arrives in downtown Ventura. The bus driver shakes my hand again and also shakes his head. I think he knows what I'm goin' through. He probably went through it himself. I simply say thanks. Ventura isn't a big town, and I'm hardly stared at as I get a cab to a little motel down off US 101. Though the haircut will give me away, I go to Sears and get some civvies and try to pretend I'm just another guy passin' through. I look around real hard to avoid possible folks I may know. For some reason, I'm not in the mood for company. That evening, I make my way up to Chris' (the wife's) parent's house to see her. This is a total bust; and Mike Jr. isn't there, anyway. We do make arrangements to see a lawyer in a couple days, and I go back to my motel. I don't eat much. Climate change has got to the appetite. Well, maybe the climate contributed. The next day I go to a local gun store and buy a little .380, I am missin' havin' a piece at hand. At least, I try to justify it in my mind that way. I almost convince myself, too. I also call Mom and tell her I'm home. She offers a room, and lookin' into my wallet, I accept. It turns out okay; her anger at me has faded a lot in the last three years. She is welcoming; and though it is awkward, it's obvious she remembers the long wait for Dad when he went off to Africa and Europe in WWII. She has nothin' good to say about Chris. This is a mixed blessin' for me, as I've yet to figure out where I stand on the subject, myself. Dad comes home from work later, and it's good to see him. We are not emotional with each other, and the pattern continues from all those years ago. Just after dinner, I mention the Viet Nam war and the verbal slap will last me all my life. "That wasn't any war, boy, it was just a little brush fire." I remember the pictures of Dad in the death camps of southern Germany, and I see Mr. Weet sprawled in with the emaciated bodies of the victims. I don't deck him. I retire early. And I spend the evenin' learnin' the taste of blued steel. I learned it real well before I got back out of Ventura. We go on. We see the lawyer, and two weeks later we receive an interim divorce - to be finalized in six months. I see a few friends from high school, and those don't work. They haven't seen the elephant; and we just don't understand each other, anymore. Or maybe it's just that the muthaf*cker is still standin' on my chest, blockin' communications. I run out of money at the local bars, and I make the trip to Pt. Mugu Navy Base to take an advance. I've decided to take the trip to Devens and check in early. Blue steel has turned out to have an unpleasant flavor. Mr. Weet wouldn't have approved. Thanks, bro. I make the drive to LA. Spend a week gettin' my head back together. Then I drive for Massachusetts, sharin' time behind the steerin' wheel with a couple of hitchhikers I picked up in Needles who were goin' to Cleveland. We drive straight through, takin' turns sleepin' in the back seat of my Pinto; not really a good sleep. I drop 'em in front of their house in Ohio and finish the last few hundred miles alone. I pull into Devens late and finally find 10th SFG HQ around midnight. Fortunately, the barracks aren't far; and I've seen the CQ and am in a room by 0100. It was a long trip, and I sleep for eighteen hours. I get up, and I have to report for duty to Co. A, 2nd Bn in the mornin'. But I take a couple hours to drive into Ayer, the local town, and look around a little bit. And maybe to have a drink. At one of the bars, not too far off base, I'm approached by a hooker lookin' to make a little more that evenin'. She looks me over and guesses right. "Welcome home, soldier. Lookin' for a good time?" Welcome home. I give her a twenty. Gratis. And I go back to base alone. ===================================================================== Foreground ===================================================================== Freedom Bird I've never been to The Wall. I'm afraid of The Wall. I'm not sure I fully understand why. I think it's because I fear that the brothers whose names are inscribed there are waitin' there for me. Not that I did anythin' wrong to any of 'em, just that I'm afraid I might want to join 'em. And I know too many of 'em. I left Viet Nam in July 1972. I had extended for six months because, despite all, I was enjoyin' myself. Let's face it, I had been a soldier for over four years, and wars are what soldiers do for a livin'. But then I got TheLetter from the wife. I had to go home early. With the cutbacks already in full swing, this was easy enough to arrange. And I packed my bags, flew down to Cam Ranh Bay and caught Flying Tiger for the U.S. By August I had been to court and was with the 10th SFG at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts. Ran into some old friends there, both from Panama and Nam. Tom Madison was there, and Bill from What's in a Name? Ferris showed up the next year. I knew some of the others from Kontum where scheduled for Devens, too. It was goin' to be an okay tour. Then, one day, Tom came over to my team room. Jim Bighorn and I were the only ones there, playin' darts. Tom came in and asked me if I'd heard. "Heard what?" "The last plane out, man, you haven't heard?" I'm not happy now, and I fold on the game. Pour a cup of coffee for Tom and I and sit down. Jim watches from the side; he hasn't heard either. No hidin' from teammates. "So tell me." "It didn't make it. It loaded up with equipment and troops, taxied to the end of the runway and was hit by a 122. No one got out, it burnt to the ground, man. They're all back and buried now. We just heard from Dai uy Simmons family today, lookin' for anyone who knew him. You knew him from Panama, didn't you?" F*ck. Dai uy, Olson, Willy, MP, Sprague, Chief, Van, all of 'em. Live through CCC and recon to buy it on the fookin' strip? Sh*t, man. Just sh*t. And f*ck. I never did call John Simmons' family. I couldn't talk for days. Jim sent me home, and the team came over that night to the barracks and got me very drunk. It kept me whole. We talked about 'em and their goods and their bads; Tom and I and our teams. Teammates are for that. And they kept the faith. Enough for normalcy to return, sorta. My career was ending, though. I knew already there was no way I was gonna reenlist again. You can only afford to push your luck so far. I'd already pushed it well beyond that. Many years later, after settlin' in Seattle and marryin' for the third time, I met a guy named Dirk Porter. Dirk flew Covey in the Central Highlands in '72. Sometimes it's a damned small world. He'd been the FAC that day, and saw it all happen from the air. He thought the rocket hit the fuel tanks in the right win'. It was gone in a flash. He figured they all bought it virtually instantaneously. That helped a little. Easier than Weet, but still pretty bad. I was supposed to be on that plane. Instead I was playin' darts in New England. It ain't right, somehow. Soldiers shouldn't die like that. I shouldn't be here to talk about 'em. Academically I know better. But the gut speaks its own language. And it knows I should be long dead and buried. Maybe that's why I can't go to The Wall. Maybe I'll just stay there, where I belong. I cheated 'em, somehow. I feel it in my gut. I broke faith with teammates. They never broke faith with me. My head says otherwise. What's it know...? It was the last plane out. Freedom bird, my ass.
Survivor's Guilt Got there too late and he died in the field. Hugging the ground, losing the warmth, that should have been shared with his kids. Add another child of guilt. Weet is dead and gone, crimson shreds upon the earth. I took him there, and left him, holding his silence alone, without friend, or hope, or pride. Add another shard of guilt. Chief was there, when I should have been. Leg shattered and bloodied beyond all repair; a ragged stub on which to walk home. Add another limb of guilt. A battalion wiped out to the final man. Tanks that were there, that I failed to call in. They didn't stand a chance in hell. Add another sin of guilt John and Sprague, Willy and Van, blasted and burned to hell, for simply boarding a plane. Orange flames on a black tarmac strip. Add another fire of guilt. I made it home and they all died. While I played darts, and walked in the sun, their widows and mothers mourned. Add another cry of guilt. Its insane I know, I didn't really fail; nothing can change what is. But the gut doesn't know, or even care, about my savaged mind. In sightless spite it simply screams Add another layer of guilt.
Healing One thing about the Army, it does keep you busy most of the time. Fresh back from Viet Nam, learn about the last plane out, and they put me to serious work. A special project with civilians. Lasted all summer. And then they decide I need to learn Norwegian. Norwegian? Now there's a language heavily used in world affairs. Okay, I'll do it. Like I got a choice. Nine months in Washington, D.C. Same building I'd taken Spanish in back in '69. Only now it's late 1972, and the country has changed. When I was here last time, the uniform was still honorable attire, and good for free drinks and a nice evenin'. Now it was a subject of derision and only good for unwarranted slurs and fights. Hell, even Louie's is gone. A 7-eleven stood there when I went to say "hi." We learned to carry our uniforms to school in hanger-bags and go straight home afterwards. Go spend a tour fighting your country's war, and alla sudden your country doesn't want you any more. My brain knows it's not that simple. It knows that there has been major cultural upheaval and change. The gut just knows that guy over there called me something I never even called the guys shootin' at me. Strong confirmation, I ain't gonna reup again. School is enjoyable enough. Norwegian is surprisingly easy to learn after more than a year exposed to a tonal, stressed language. In nine months you get a lot of the culture, too. One of our teachers, a little old lady from Bergen, ran messages for the underground during WWII. She literally couldn't say "Vidkun", Quisling's first name. Had to write it for us. Had the spirit of a twenty-five year old in a seventy year old body. Musta been a hellion when she was young. They teach us about the composers, poets, soldiers and statesman we never got in school. I end up admiring the hell outta the place, and am anxious to get there and see it and its people. I get to, shortly after returning to Ft. Devens. Send a team of us off to cross-country ski school with the Norwegian Heimevarne, the National Guard. It's actually winter warfare school, and they work our butts off. You carry fifty pounds on your skis, as well as weapons and ammo, and you take turns pulling another 500 lbs in a toboggan. They call it a pulk. Taking it up hill is a job for four guys. "Puke" is what we call it. They teach you how much snow it takes to stop an AK round. It takes a lot. Importing the stuff into Nam wouldn't help a whole bunch. How does one survive a blizzard on a barren mountainside with a whole team? Not sure it was in the lesson plan, but the weather did come up, and we found out. And it was always very, very cold. But I liked the soldiers teaching us. They got guts and class. In the middle of the blizzard, we're all hunkered down in a tent we bastardized together from bits and pieces, and one of the sergeants produces a bottle of hjembrent - the local white lightnin'. We mix it with coffee to make something we can drink. Not sure who blew out first, us or the blizzard. Don't matter, 'cause it was a long way back down in fresh, deep snow. Another time, Lt. Oien pulls out a radio telephone while we're stopped on top of a mountain, gettin' ready to set up for the night. The Norwegian Army pays for us all to call home. Hello, dear? Well, I'm on top of this mountain in Norway, see.... Good course, good people. They send us home, but I'm in a hurry to get back to my new friends. Next time, it's summer. We're going over to teach 'em demolitions and our part in the defense of Norway. Look, it's a long, harsh country without a significant population, it isn't really defensible. The whole defense plans consists of holding along the fjord lines long enough for the Heimevarne to get into the hills and the underground to get ready. That's where we come in. We bring the weapons and the plans for getting back at the bad guys. We also bring the necessary commo to make it all work on a theater-wide basis. We even get to practice it along with the NATO exercises that year. We have a ball. The whole country remembers the Germans. And every citizen is willing to bust his/her butt to give us a hand. Things go smoother here than any place I've ever been before. One could easily fall in love with this place and stay. Only I don't, of course. The Army has other plans, and that's just the way it is. I bounce in and out several times, and make some good friends in their army. The guys have never been to Nam, but they've been to Gaza and before that, Korea. Their eyes tell; they too have seen the elephant. They are allies we can be proud of. And friends I can share with. And I did. The big things, of course, doesn't work up front like this. It doesn't make me forget. But it gives me something else to remember. For each of the minutes in Nam I was scared and angry, I get a new minute of fun and camaraderie. For the loss of Weet, I get Lt. Oien. It's good, and the war fades a little, buried in a deep snow drift of time. It doesn't go away. But life has other meanings, too. And some of these are just fine by me. Norway is a healing place. Strong medicine not even imagined by the shaman who visited us in Kontum. About as opposite from Viet Nam as one can get. The train ride from Lillehammar to Dombas is a place of divinity to match the Buddha. I really needed it. And when nothing else will work anymore, I know a trip there will do it again..., and again..., and again. Its kinda nice to know.
Just Lucky, I Guess Viet Nam is forever burnt into my psyche. It won't ever go away. It does fade, though, in the sense that it represents a smaller and smaller percentage of my life as the years pass. Much of what was there is no longer a factor in my day-to-day affairs. Other things, especially Weet, are as strong now as they were the day they happened. I don't know if this is good or bad. It simply is. One pays for such memories, and for living through what made 'em. The current vogue term is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In other places and times, it has had other names. It don't matter what you call it, a lot of the bros and sis's have it. They don't function right. The Terminator calls it "werewolves." I like that, it describes what I see to a tee. Of course, it isn't just vets. It's all kinda trauma related events; rape, accidents, disasters, and such like. But it may be higher amongst vets than many other like-sized segments of the population. And more important to me, personally. Somehow or the other, I don't have werewolves. Which is good, 'cause those things scare me to death just watching it in fellow vets. I'm more fortunate. I just have gremlins. I learned about gremlins from Dad. Long before I ever heard of Viet Nam. He had this cartoon book about the Army Air Corps in World War II. He used it to illustrate what he meant. It was a pretty good book. Pilots always had gremlins, y'see. They fulfilled Murphy's law for that generation - damaging parts, throwing things overboard, jamming guns, generally making life, not unlivable, but very unpleasant. Dad told me he had those. I didn't believe him, of course. He was always sane. Well, most of the time; he was, after all, my Dad. I believe him now, though. I have 'em too. Not bad enough to ruin life, just enough to make it a little rough. They have to be run off alla time. They aren't easy to herd. And the little muthas bite! Sometimes they even gang up on you, and then it can be real bad. Then I start seeing Weet spread all over Cambodia, not even enough left to hug. Dad had terrible eyes, y'know. For WWII, they assigned him to the Quartermaster Corps in the 5th Army HQ. He came off without a scratch. But when the 5th got to France, the war was still on. They didn't just send him home. After all, we're talking Army, here. Instead, he got transferred to what was then called a "colored" unit. An all-Black graves registration company. All across southern France and into southern Germany he went, from battlefield to battlefield. Ugly job, but someone had to do it. He figured it was his fair share, and he did it as acting first shirt of that outfit. Liked the troops. They swapped letters and Christmas cards till he died. Said it was a helluva lot better than working for "Hollywood" Mark Clark. He never swapped Christmas cards with any of that batch. Then, one day, they got the call to pack the whole company and come to this place. He went, he worked, he hated it, he took pictures, and he musta been sick a lot. There, he also inherited gremlins. He said he personally took the body counts in the kilns. Dad says he never hated a man in his life, until then. I don't know about that. I do know how he felt about the swastika. I never knew the name of that death camp; Dad wouldn't ever tell any of us. Not even Mom. When I was fifteen he burnt the pictures. Pictures of trenches, and kilns, and bodies little more than skin and bones. Too late, of course, for curious little boys to not see 'em. He tried to exorcise those memories. He couldn't burn his gremlins, though. The damn things don't burn worth a sh*t.... I've tried, too. Dad, of course, was right about gremlins. I don't much like it. But It's better than werewolves. They call it "lucky." ===================================================================== Patina of Age ===================================================================== An Old Picture I was young, once, though I don't recall it very well. I see it in old pictures, if not in my mirror, or in the silvered glass of the buildings by the road. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't go back, even if I could, which, of course I can't. The other side of middle age has no appeal for me; that mind still seeks a life's experience, and I have found another pace. But as I look, slowly, into the eyes of that man, while I wouldn't trade places, I wonder, in the back of my mind, if he wouldn't object too strongly if I just borrowed that younger body for a while....
Hendrix It's always Jimi I think. His music is pulsing in my head. The headphones vibrate like an arclight and the guitar screams like the Phantoms used to. PurpleHaze, Voodoo Child, The Wind Cries Mary.... They beat on my mind. They twist in corridors long empty of the companionship of the brothers who always knew. The brothers who shared it with me. And the past lives again. MP gyrates to All Along The Watchtower. Willie's foot taps to Gypsy Eyes. Weet sits and downs shum, body moving to Foxy Lady. It's like Jimi invented this kinda friendship, this kinda thing for all of us. It's the key to remembrance. The key to old friendships, somehow not quite dead. Though they all are. 'Cept when Jimi plays. We were all musical conservatives, really. Well..., mostly. But Jimi picked up a guitar and strummed our souls with sounds like we'd never heard. The heart and the mind throbbed with the bass, the nerves trying to keep up with the rip. The music was not our style, but we lived by it; we loved it. Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night. Life blood. You were more likely to hear Bach there than Rock 'n Roll. But Jimi was there - in every hootch, in every meal, in every breath we took, in every waking hour. In many of the sleeping one. Maybe it was 'cause he was dead, like so many we knew. Maybe it was 'cause he was different, like we thought we were. Or maybe he just found what really counted to all of us. Crazy fookin' music for a crazy fookin' war. Dunno. Just was. Just is. The spokesman of an age, the poet laureate of the Viet Nam War. Now, I sit alone in this hollow shell, all these years later. Weet and Willie and MP and Sprague and Van are all dead. All gone. Others lived, but are equally gone from this life. Dead for me. Dead to everyone. Bodies moving, but minds gone to another place. One hopes it's a better place. Seems like there's no one left who knows, man. Really and for truly knows. No one left to bring the cold ones to the pad. To bring the mail to bone-tired troops comin' back to a place desperately called "home." No Covey left to get drunk for savin' your ass. No more passing of the straw in the ville. The fog isn't the same. The Buddha no longer touches me. No more sandbags to fill. And they're all empty, man. Everything is. Especially me. Can't believe I actually miss any portion of this crap, man. It's all gone. And I'm still here. Sh*t! God, Jimi. Why can't I let you just be dead? With all of 'em. Why can't you let me be dead? Or at least just plain forget? Maybe 'cause somewhere 'tween Fire and that unbelievable version of Wild Thing, I'm not quite so alone. Lord only knows why. Or, I s'pose, cares. F*ckit. "Lord, in that Red House over yonder, Lord, that's where my baby stays.... I ain't been home to see my baby in 99 and one half days...." Looks like self-pity is ageless, don't it? Whaddahell! Do it Jimi!
_ ______ _______ __ _ _______ /\\ H M H H\\ H HHHHHHH / \\ H H H \\ H H /====\\ H HHH HHH H \\ H H / \\ H_____H H______ H \\H H ______ ______ _ __ _ ______ _______ H H H /) /\\ H\\ H H M H H H H____// / \\ H \\ H H H H H H \\ /====\\ H \\ H H HHH HHH H_____H H \\ / \\ H \\H H_____M H______ . _ . _ . . -.- . - . - . -. - . - - - - . - - - - .- - . . . - - -. - . . . . . . . -. -. . . . U S . - -. - . . . . - . . - -. - . . . - - . . -. - . .. V I E T N A M V E T E R A N . _ - - . . . _ _ _ . _-_ . - - - . - - -_- -_-xxx _ -. . - .-. - . . . . - XXXXXxxXXXXXXXXXXXx -. - .- . - . . XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX-. .--. - .- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX -.- - -.- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX -. -. -. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXx .g -. -. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX .- j. .- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX . p .-. XXXXXXXX ]XXXXXXXXX ]XXXXXXXX .- - -. XXXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX -.- - -- XXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXX -- - XXXXXXXXX X'`XXX XXXXXXX Y Y XXXXXXXXX XXXXX XXX XXXXXXX X X XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXX XXXXXX XXX XX X XXX XX XX XXXX XX XXX XX XX XX XXXX XXX]XXXXXXXXXXXX XXX[ XX XX XXX XXXXXXXXXX " I t ' s o n l y t e e n a g e a c n e ! " -Robert Nimmo-
Words Words force themselves from within locked spaces through my fingers, onto paper, bleeding my soul as ink upon linen for all to see. And I am but a witness. They are not summoned by aught I know or feel. Rising from a darkness I do not know, cannot sense, they flow upon an ocean beyond mere human knowledge. I don't control it. It comes from within, pulsing, like an artery severed, like life leaking out and into a being of its own. Beyond recall, or even wishing. They scream back at me from the crimson parchment on which they gather strength to assault my senses with the long forgotten, and deeply buried tragedies. They bludgeon me with guilt and with regrets for the lost and never to be recovered shards of my diseased soul; bleeding me further of thought and of hope and of faith. More is demanded of me, and of my shattered consciousness than I knew possible, or ever dreamed could be drained from any being made only of mortal flesh. And still it pours upon the page of stained and torn mortality which it created for itself from the leeched remains of the shell that used to be my only solace and defense. So I give it more and more, and my heart beats in empty chambers to empty muscles, shorn of power to move the body, much less the soul, of even its tired occupant. Oh words, why do you drain me so? Why must I bleed to place word to page, to satisfy what strange longing must my mind be sacrificed upon the blood-stained altar of your merciless shrine? Is there no resting place for me? For any of us? _____________ \ Not "once \ _____)upon a time")_____ _______(____(__________(______(@) ) ) gjp / O O O O O O O O O/_/| /<> O O O O O O O O O/ | /MM O O O O O O O MM/ | / ___________ / . /O (___________) O O/. (====================( ... EVER !!!
After Twenty Years As I write this, it has been over twenty-one years since I came home from Viet Nam. It's been eighteen since I left the Army and entered into the civilian world. Those last three years in the Army were very full years. They were healing years. They gave me the chance to put up walls to lock in the stench of decaying bodies, napalm burning, and the fetid smell of a firefight. And I took that opportunity. I sorta just stopped, and stayed in place, mentally. Life, however, in its inimitable way, carried on. I came home without friends. Those I left behind in Vietnam didn't come home after me. Those I'd left behind in the 'world' didn't want me. Not as I was. They wanted some poor young sap who hadn't been away in a changing place. It didn't stay that way, though. I made new friends. Hell, you live with 'em day in and day out, fly across the world with 'em, share your life, your hopes, your dreams and nightmares with 'em, and you get kinda close. Not like SEA, maybe. But close anyway. I even found a woman to take me in. She didn't understand me, but she was willing to accept me as I was. I thought I healed. By '75, when I got out of the Army, Vietnam was just a series of disjointed memories with no application to the workaday world. No sweat, I was in grand shape. Not like those poor bastards I saw on the streets or in the bars. Something bad musta happened to them. Damn lucky it didn't happen to me.... Of course, it couldn't be that simple. The choices I was making weren't really mine. Inner wheels were turning where I didn't even know I had wheels. I knew I got depressed from time to time, but I figured it was just the change to Seattle, new job, and a new environment. I became irascible. All I wanted was to drink and get laid. I threw the woman who took me in, out on her ear, 3000 miles from anything she had ever known. It broke her heart. I hated myself and yet frolicked in my new-found 'freedom'. I also slid so far into debt, I'm surprised I ever found my way back out. Good times. A few months after the divorce, I had a 16 year old move in with me. Hell, it was exciting for her; and she could do pretty much as she damned well pleased without mommy hovering. Had about as much future as the lion bedding the lamb, of course. I knew that. But whaddahell! It was my life, and I was gonna live it my way. I honestly thought it was my way. F*cked that one up, too. Things didn't get a whole helluva lot better. Like I gotta tell you that.... Oh, we partied on, and things felt great. But the walls I'd erected were beginning to develop leaks. Little pieces begin to spill out on the floor. The nightmares started. Nothing I could identify. By and large I don't remember my dreams, good or bad. Haven't since Vietnam. Self-defense probably. I just knew things weren't 'A-okay' upstairs. I woke up one morning with this lovely little lady next to me and literally went through the "whaddaf*ck you doin' here?" routine. And I didn't mean with a minor, I meant with my life. I'd lost control. I had no idea how to get it back. I was really f*cked up. It scared me to death. So I asked her to leave. Bought her into a new job and a new place. And I moved myself. I made myself a promise, no more women/sex for five years. I had to try something. In the wisdom of my years, I figured it was sex. I liked it too much and didn't much care from whence it came. Well.... It was a plan, anyway. I moved into this little hole-in-the-wall flop house and set up for the duration. Murphy bed, no kitchen, just a room and a bath. Self-loathing was rearing its head. I didn't know that, either. I was as clueless as a kid hittin' puberty. Maybe even knew less. I started to go through jobs. Performance couldn't justify the payroll, and the employers let me go. Finally ended up as a minimum wage security guard at Harborview Hospital, on assignment for Burns. It was a nothing job, with nowhere to go. Felt mighty damned comfortable, and I stayed. No one messed with me, and I didn't have to make any decisions that amounted to squat. Good times. I also started to have run-ins with the law. My child support was chronically late and chronically short. Kept talking myself outta jail time, but the debt kept getting deeper. Whaddahell, I was a free man, in charge of my own life! I could hack it. I'm a helluva man, ain't nothin' they can do to me! The nightmares got worse. Still couldn't pin 'em down, but I knew things were still all screwed up. So, a couple years into my self- imposed exile, I grasped a straw, decided to use my GI bill and go back to school. I had a good transcript from HS, and enrolled myself into a local community college in the Criminal Justice department. It helped some. Kept the brain busy. I also met some fellow VVets doing the same thing. One of 'em was Bud. Bud had been a snake jockey in the Highlands in '70 and '71. Gave us something to yack about during class breaks. I only knew I felt better after those talks. We always skirted the nasty stuff. I don't think either of us were ready to face it, yet. Hope he found someone like I did. Haven't seen him hardly at all since I left school. Good man. Worked down at the county jail when last heard from. School gave me a bit of an ego boost. I started to rise the ladder at the hospital, ending up in charge of the account at Harborview. Ultimately, Burns pulled me into the Seattle office; and I took over personnel for the division. Turned out to be another "no-brainer." The applicants were all the same, the training was rote, the job headin' nowhere. I was able to meet my child support payments, but still couldn't pay all the bills I had accumulated. Same old hole- in-the-wall. Still went home after work and school and vegetated. 'Twas okay, though. Man, I was on my way. Good times. School got rougher, of course. Finally, I just couldn't hack the office job and school anymore. I quit, and went back to a minimum wage job as a guard for another company. The manager there was an ex-regional manager for Burns, and I knew I wouldn't stay a guard for long. I finished my first two years about the time I was kicked upstairs to operations manager. By the time the next two years had passed, I found myself regional manager. The bucks were enough, finally, to make some headway into the debts. I'd quit drinkin', even the slow can learn. And I'd started goin' back to church. I'd been a good Catholic, once upon a time. Had good cause to be. Maybe it wasn't His fault totally. Maybe there was some help there still. "Somewhere in here, I started seeing my third wife to be. She had worked at Harborview when I had been there, and she was a little cutie. I ran into her again at church. Gave her a couple rides over to her father's place in Kirkland. It hadn't been five years yet, so I behaved myself. We were just friends. Can't say I didn't want more, but I somehow managed to keep that particular promise. The calendar continued to move on, and it was March of '82 now. Her father died suddenly of a heart attack; I gave her a ride over in a hurry when the phone call came, and we've pretty much been together since then. It was tough times, but something told me it would be worth the wait. Going back to church really paid off for me. Fr. Mary would be happy, I suspect." Too bad it didn't last, either. She, being no fool, could see something was chewing me up. With two brothers who'd served in Vietnam with the USMC and one who'd done so with the USAF, she caught on pretty fast. She'd ask me about it, but, "Naw, everything was fine. No problems for me." I'm a tough ol' geezer, dontchaknow. Little sh*t like that can't get to me. The nightmares and the screamin' heebee-jeebees got worse. I think the cancer brought it back in full force. I got scared. Not a deathly fear, but a milder form that prodded rather than disabled. That fear looked around for support in my mind, and found it hidden behind the walls I had erected. It found it in the Ashau, and in Cambodia. It broke down the walls to discover its own kind, and all sorts of things spilled out. Or so I imagine. I'm not really sure, of course, about the sequence of events. I know that SEA was not a factor in my life until 1990, when little things begin to creep out; when gremlins were to be seen in the stairwells and the dark corners of unoccupied rooms. Ashau came first. Then Mr. Weet. And to get 'em off my mind I explored the others. I sought and found veteran activities that I could practice from a distance, afraid to go any closer. The memories, however, came closer with each page of the NamVet Newsletter, with stories on the TV or in the newspaper. It was slow and inobvious. I wasn't even really aware of it at a conscious level, myself. I think the wife knew, but I denied it when she asked. No it doesn't bother me, it has no effect on what I am today. I believed it. Early in 1993 I posted an article to a usenet newsgroup in defense of gays in the military. No response up there, but a letter appeared a couple days later from a woman named Lydia Fish. She invited me to subscribe to a list, VWAR-L. I subscribed, and this just sorta happened. I had no intention of it happening, no thoughts of what the war meant or did to me for all those years; much less any thought of recording what I remembered of that time. But it came out anyway. And now you have it, too. When I first signed onto the VWAR-L mailing list, I had, by and large, avoided the war in memory since Aug 25, 1975, when I left the Army. Well, I tried to avoid the memory. It didn't always work. The vets know what I mean. The sleepless nights, the screamin' heebee- jeebees, the thoughts wandering off on strange tangents, the visions. Not all that bad when compared to so many out there. But enough to bother those around me from time to time. Particularly the wives. When I got to the List, there were Terminator and Sharkbait, telling it like it was. I was fascinated and appalled. I didn't want to read it, and I couldn't stop from reading it. I tried to walk away, but I couldn't. It hurts to go through those memories, even when they're not your own. I read and read. It entranced me. It also scared the livin' bejeezus out of me. Then, one night after a long day and a lot of messages, I sat down to write up a little one about flashlights. It just came out in a rush - like, maybe I wasn't writing it, or already had. I didn't know the sensation, I just knew it happened. And I read more from T- bomb, FNG, Dog Handler, Term, Sharkbait, Monte, and all the others. Each new one elicited sympathetic vibrations in my aging grey matter. And I wrote some more. I wrote for my sons to understand, and for the List to see a part of the war they might not have seen before. But it evolved. I quit writing for my sons and for the List. It has become a personal battle for my soul. The pain is worse than it has been in twenty-one years. And the memories are right up front, nothing to cushion them, at all. I found myself crying while I wrote, while I ate, while at work, while at the movies, just about all the time. I knew where it was going, but I kept writing other things so as not to face it; Redleg, Rocket Sunrise, CIB, Hootch, Black-eyed Peas, Heavy Rain, What's in a Name?, Sunday, Jungle, and a lot more. I wrote them because I had to write them. The pain was still there, but it became a little less demanding, a little less omnipresent. And then I couldn't stall anymore. Widow Call had mentioned it, but I skirted the edges of the reality of my one truly disabling nightmare. I'd tried to write it before, and I'd failed. But this time I came closer. Blood Brother is my Alamo. It's the end of the fight. I've been crying for days for Mr. Weet, and I'm soaking the keyboard as I write this. I will write again. I have to, there is so much left to say. Weet was the push that made it all work, even the unrelated stories. That push will never go away. Weet is with me eternally now. He'll never go back behind a wall or into a closet. He's my bro. Hell, I love the man more in death than almost anyone in life. Life, of course, had not stood still during the intervening decades. A lot has happened. Since then I have been remarried twice, and divorced once, skied in Norway, assaulted the North Face of the Eiger, swum in New England lakes and walked heaven knows how many miles of trails. I've been to college, held many jobs, and faced down cancer and fought my gremlins. Basically, I've done the same as every other American my age; I moved on and tried to hang tough. Not much choice in that. But some of that may be worth writing about someday, too.
Some Gave ALL ... Some Still Give!!! O O O SOME GAVE ALL ... ________O__________________________________O______________ ! O O ! ! pow mia pow mia - BRING THEM HOME NOW! - pow mia pow mia ! ! O O ! ! ~~~~~ ~ ~ O~ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~ O ~~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~ ! ! ~~~~ ~ ~~ O ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~O~~~ ~~~ ~ ~~~~ ~~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~ O~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~ O ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~ ! ! ~~~ ~~ ~~ ~ O ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~ O ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ! ! ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~ O ~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ O ~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~ ! ! ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~ O ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~ O ~ ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~ O ~_~_~_~_~_ ~ O ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ! ! ~~~ ~ ~ ~~~ ~~ ~ O ) O ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ /(O) / O \ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~ / / O \~~~~ ~~ ~~~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~ ! ! ~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~ / PRISONER / \~~ ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~ / / MISSING \~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~~ ! ! ~~~ ~ ~~ ~~ / OF /\ \~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~~ ~ ! ! ~ ~~~~ ~~ ~ / / \ IN \~ ~~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ! ! ~~~ ~~~ ~ / WAR / ~~ \ \ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~~ ~ / / ~ ~~ \ ACTION / ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ! ! ~~ ~~ ~~~(__________/ ~~ ~~~ \ / ~~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ! ! ~~~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~~~ \ / ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ! ! ~~ ~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~ ~~~ \ / ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~~~~ ! ! ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~ \ /~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ! ! ~ ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ! ~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~ SOME STILL GIVE ! ~ ~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ! ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ! ! mia pow mia pow - BRING THEM HOME NOW! - mia pow mia pow ! !__________________________________________________________!