Memories of and Thoughts about Vietnam
(Robert "Bob" Granger, B/1/8. Bob was with me on Hill 467, in 2cd Platoon Weapons Squad.)
First a special thank you to Homer Steedly Jr., (one of my former
Company Commanders in Vietnam), for providing me with names of bases and dates
of operations in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, especially in the time frame
of Task Force Alpha on Hill 467!
The year is 1968. I am 22 years old and I have had three draft physicals, since graduating High School in 1964. All three have given me a 1Y 1 classification, because of earlier seizures (as a young teenager) and a motorcycle accident, that ruptured 3 disks and split a lower vertebra. I am living in Lansing, MI with my parents, working full time at a steel fabrication plant, but still hang out with my friends in my hometown of Charlotte, MI. I am the proud owner of a new 1968 Pontiac, GTO. It’s hot and a real girl getter.
A good friend, Mike Hill, was turned into the Draft Board by his ex-wife in June. In early July, the young lady that I was dating was killed in a car accident, along with another friend. The two other passengers were hurt quite badly. My world was a bit topsy turvy. I had no direction in life, so I decided to enlist in the voluntary draft on the buddy plan with my friend Mike. In late July we went to the induction center in Detroit for our physicals. Mike had no problems passing. I knew that if I told them I had been there three times before, they would not pass me, so I lied through my teeth to pass, although I think they were just looking for warm bodies by that time.
We entered into the Army in Detroit, MI in August of 1968 and had a long bus ride to Fort Knox, KY. There were two young cousins from Detroit on the bus (they joined the Army to avoid going to jail). They tried their best to disassemble the bus on the trip down. These two hoodlums eventually became decent individuals, with the help of SSG Lund, our Basic Training Drill Instructor (5’ 3” tall and 3 tours in Vietnam as a LRRP).
Mike Hill, Larry Small, Tony Flora and I were made squad leaders. We had our own room on the second floor of the old wooden barracks. We were given an arm band with Corporal Stripes, to indicate we were squad leaders. Larry had a hard time getting up in the morning. Once four of our biggest guys carried Larry, bunk and all, down the stairs into the shower. Larry didn’t wake until the cold water was turned on.
Some of the guys that stick in my mind, Larry “Tiny” Gerou, they wanted to cycle him through the fat farm, but he convinced them he could lose weight better with us. Tiny had a severe stuttering problem, except when singing cadence. An identical set of twins, Bob and Bill Moyer, who went into tug boat training after Basic on the east coast, not far from their home town. Another unique person was Ivan Ivanovich Korobeinikow. The DI’s couldn’t pronounce his name, so they called him alphabet. He was born and raised in China. Of Russian descent (his father worked for our government and was finally able to get his family here). Ivan could write and speak Chinese, Russian and English. He told of growing up in Northern China near Russia, going to school during good weather and cutting wood all winter. Ivan looked exactly like what you would picture as Russian, red hair, square jaw and a barrel chest, great guy. I would imagine he went to work for the government after military training. Tony Flora, a good guy, all business, when it came to training. Steve Ware, young black kid, well spoken, good upbringing, wouldn’t shower, because he was too embarrassed to get naked around all the guys. He was allowed to shower after everyone went to bed. Another fellow was Max Tait from Lansing, MI. Max would pass out at the thought of getting shots from the air powered injectors. He was fine until the guns touched both arms. When he dropped, the guns cut both arms. The medics injected him, while he was out. What a great mix of people, most all of them great guys. Wonder how many are still with us?
SGT Lund was a unique person. He was only 5’ 3” tall, had a huge nose and extremely long legs for his height. All of the other DI’s hated him for some unknown reason. Our old barracks had to have the floors polished on a regular basis and our buffer didn’t work. The other instructors would not let us use theirs, so we used blankets to polish with. When we went to the range or into the field for training, the other platoons rode a bus back to the barracks. We had the pleasure of marching back. SGT Lund told us to not give it a second thought, as a LRRP, I’m sure he knew those long marches would do us well. We did get justice one hot afternoon. We had been to the range for practice. The other platoons had taken the busses back, but we humped back, singing cadence songs and joking about how there was never any bus for us. When we came to the Company Street, the other platoons had cleaned their weapons, showered and changed and were ready for evening chow. We formed for formations; SGT Lund reported to the Senior DI, that we were all present and accounted for. The Senior DI called everyone to attention and announced that the other three platoons were to clean and guard our weapons, while we had an extended evening chow. That was a great feeling. We never complained, just followed our DI and were recognized.
I only had KP twice during Basic. Long days, up at 4:00 am and in bed by 10:00 pm, almost non-stop work. After KP one night the cook told me to take one of the extra pies, for me and the other squad leaders. I returned to the barracks and everyone was sleeping, so I put the pie in the top of my metal wall locker. The following morning we had a surprise barracks inspection. I was sweating bullets. The inspecting officer was either hung over or drunk, by the smell of his breath. SGT Lund entered our room and we were all at attention by our bunks. With the inspecting officer in the doorway, the Senior DI behind him, SGT Lund opened out foot lockers for inspection, then our wall lockers. He looked at the pie and without batting an eye, turned to the inspector, saluted and said, “Everything looks fine to me sir.” The inspector and the others left for the first floor. SGT Lund turned and said, “Granger, get rid of the f___ing pie!” “Yes, Sergeant!” We ate the pie later.
One morning about three weeks after arriving at basic, one of the cousins from Detroit decided to slit his wrist sown in the latrine. SGT Lund found him when he didn’t show for formation. SGT Lund asked me what the hell he was doing. The kid told him he couldn’t take it any more and wanted to die. The SGT told him to cut his jugular vein, it would be over in minutes and slitting his wrist would only screw up the use of his hand. The kid started crying and said he didn’t want to die. SGT Lund told them to get his ass over to the aide station and get bandaged, then report back for duty. The kid and his cousin eventually became good men. They did a lot of growing up and actually had some direction in their life. A lot different than growing up on the streets of Detroit.
The military tried to court martial SGT Lund. On the live fire assault course, he was motivating a trainee, the trainee tripped and fell, SGT Lund was yelling at the trainee to get up and get moving. The trainee pointed his M-14 at him. SGT Lund snatched the weapon, pointed it at the trainee and as he pulled the trigger, the Range Officer pulled his arm to the side. The round hit the dirt about one foot from trainee’s head. Three tours in Vietnam were apparently what convinced the court to lessen his punishment to an Article 15.
Our Company Commander, 1st Lt. Sessoms, called me to his office after about four weeks. He said I had scored extremely well on the AFQT tests and that he was certain that he could get me into West Point. He said it would be four years for the school and five years for the Army. I said that I really wanted to fly helicopters and that nine years was a long time. The following week I was sent to take the written test and take a Class A flight physical. I scored the highest of our test group. I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to flight training at Fort Rucker, AL. Several weeks went by and I still had heard nothing. The CO said he would check on it. Graduation came and my parents came for the ceremony. That was great. My stepfather was a WWII Veteran (a great man and father figure). Still no word about flight training. I was told the paperwork would catch up with me in AIT. SGT Lund informed me that I would be Infantry. I asked how he knew and he said that most smart people were put in the Infantry. I later found out how true that statement was. Basic Training was completed on October 11, 1968.
From Fort Knox we were flown straight to Fort Polk, LA for our Advanced Infantry Training. As with Basic Training, my friend and I were still together. Pretty intense training, survival, different weapons and explosives, escape and evasion, (At night in the Louisiana swamps and my friend and I managed to not get captured, cool.) Still no word about flight training. Top said that the paperwork was probably lost and he would check. I had a gut feeling it was never going to happen. I concentrated on my current training, because we all knew that we were headed for a vacation in Southeast Asia. The Army’s motto at the time was Fun, Travel, and Adventure, (In Vietnam we had our own definition for FTA). Most of the guys in AIT were a good bunch, lots of professionals, drop outs from flight school, one fellow was a professional photographer, and we were looking at his portfolio of pictures, (nudes that included some of his wife) all very well done black and white pictures. The DI found his portfolio and said pornography wasn’t allowed. My friend argued his case, but lost. I don’t know if it was ever returned.
We are housed in the same type barracks as Basic Training, two story wooden structures. We have a fire watch inside and out at night. Late one night one of the other barrack’s outside fire watch was beaten to death with an entrenching tool. We never heard whether anyone was charged with the crime. Several weeks later one of the barracks a couple of buildings down caught fire late at night. Everyone made it out fine. The fire department would only hose down the adjacent buildings to protect them. From the start of the fire, the building was completely consumed and down in less than ten minutes. Steel lockers and steel pots were just molten globs of metal.
Our barracks was infested with cockroaches. We would damp mop the floors just before lights out to keep the dust down. If you waited five minutes and turned the lights back on, thousands of roaches would scramble back to their hiding places. The NCO Quarters on the second floor developed a leak in the shower and when maintenance pulled up the linoleum in the room, there were millions of roaches, from adult to tiny babies. The ideal spot to raise a roach family.
The weather in Louisiana at that time was hot and humid. I didn’t think it could get any worse, until I arrived in Vietnam. We had an insane PT Instructor, a former surf bum, long bleached blond hair under his Smokey Cover. He loved to run us every morning for 6 miles before chow. Light up a smoke after that and you would almost pass out.
I met some local guys in our Company. They lived in the area. One guy was Billy Qualls, short black kid, lots of fun. Went to Waynesville on a three day pass. Went to one bar and they refused to server Billy, because he was black. Billy invited us to his part of town for some fun. Billy, Mike, and I with two other guys were walking up the main street on that side of town, when we heard a gun shot. Billy had us go with him to a neighbor’s porch. There was a woman lying dead in the street. The police and ambulance came, loaded the body, and asked if anybody had seen what happened. No one spoke, the police left … end of investigation. This scared the other two guys and they left for the white side of town. They were robbed at gun point on the way back. Billy, Mike and I partied all night, had a good time, and went back to the motel room, where we heard the story of the robbery. The next day I went to the local gun store and purchased a pistol to carry. Apparently the gun laws in Louisiana are a bit lax, no ID or address were needed. That purchase came around to bite me several days later. After we returned to our barracks, I locked the pistol in my foot locker. Several days later I was called to the First Sergeant’s office. I had left my foot locker unlocked; anything unlocked was inspected for contraband. Top asked why I had the weapon. I explained the robbery and said that wouldn’t happen to me. Top said he would put it in the Company safe and I would get it back later. I figured that gun was history. After graduation, getting on the bus to head home for a short leave, Top brought me a package, wrapped in brown paper and string. He told me not to open it till I got home. He was a man of his word. Another guy in our AIT Company, Mike Hebert (pronounced Abare), was in D Co, 1st of the 8th, 4th Inf. He was also from Louisiana.
Home on leave after AIT is mostly a blur. The drastic change in weather from Fort Polk to Michigan left me a little sickly, along with too much partying. Mike and I were scheduled to go to Fort Lewis, Washington the first week in January, 1969. We had separate flights booked, but said we would meet up once there. Traveling in my dress greens, waiting at the airport in Lansing, MI, I met another young soldier in uniform. He was from the Lansing area. His name was Dick Roberts and he was heading to Fort Lewis on his way to Vietnam. Dick was a likable guy. On the long flight to Ft. Lewis we had plenty of time to get acquainted. We found out that we both had dated the same girl.
After arriving at Ft. Lewis, Dick and I were put in the same barracks. No word from Mike yet. The day before leaving for Southeast Asia, Mike shows up and tells me that he had gotten a hardship discharge. He had three children, two had minor health issues. Mike apologized for leaving me to go alone. After my return from Vietnam, I told him that it was better that he didn’t go and not to feel bad about his leaving and everything turned out fine. Don’t know why, but our friendship drifted apart after a couple of years. It may have been his lifestyle or my change in attitude towards life, maybe both!
Dick and I were loaded on the same flight to Vietnam, ten hours with a stop in Hawaii to refuel. The flight was pretty quiet. I’m sure that most of the soldiers were thinking the same as me, not knowing what was ahead. We landed in Cam Rahn Bay in the dark. The only lights on the ground were small fires. Unloading we were hit by the terrible smell, heat and humidity. We were taken to a set of barracks, no lights, told to find a bunk and get some sleep. I was awakened at O-dark thirty, handed an M-14 and told that I was on guard duty. I was taken to a poorly lit area that looked like an old town from a cheap western movie and told that was my area to guard and someone would pick me up. Never said when and the M-14 wasn’t even loaded. God what an introduction. I didn’t have a clue.
After a couple of days Dick and I and some others were taken to Camp Enari. Dick, Mike Herbert and I were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division. Mike Hebert was assigned to “D” Company 1st of the 8th, Dick to 4th Platoon “B” Company and I got 2nd Platoon, “B” Company. I was given an M-79 and a whole bunch of stuff that I thought we needed and trucked off to FSB Blackhawk. There I was assigned to the weapons squad as a Grenadier and later as the assistant machine gunner. My gunner’s name was Chuck, a short, stocky, black guy from New Jersey. Great guy, kind of quiet. He taught me probably most everything I knew about Vietnam; culture, combat, etc … I owe him a huge thank you.
After a couple of days, the weapons squad, along with a dog handler, a squirrelly little dude with a huge German Sheppard and sporting a CAR-15 loaded with all tracers, was to set up a night ambush location along the highway to Blackhawk. An APC dropped us off along the highway about dusk. We humped awhile, and then finally set up at out designated location between the highway and a small village. There was a small berm between us and the village. It was dark, the claymore mines were set on the back side of the berm and I had guard duty in a couple of hours, so I lay down with my poncho liner to get a little sleep. A while passed and I was shaken awake. There were four Vietnamese carrying what appeared to be weapons. A call was made over the PRC-25 radio to see if we were in a free fire zone. We were given clearance to engage the men. They were out past curfew. John Wilcox blew the claymores and we all headed for the ditch by the road. The dog handler was running, when his dog caught up to him and tripped him. The little squirrel sprayed his entire 30 round clip of tracers on his way to the ground. We moved to a different location to set up again. The dog handler crawled into the weeds to heave his guts out. His dog decided to lay down right on top of my head. Things were quiet the rest of the night. A little humorous for my first real action.
The following morning a tank picked us up to take us back to the compound. I chose to sit on the right front corner of the unit and enjoy the breeze on the ride back. As we entered the compound, the tank turned hard left and hit the brakes. It threw me right off into about 8 inches of superfine dust. That was my initiation into riding tracks. The tank crew had a real good laugh on me, all taken in good humor, but that dust got into more places than I knew existed.
Hanging around Blackhawk for a few weeks, doing a few ambushes and patrols let me get to know the guys in my squad a little bit better.
Lt. Mac was our Platoon Leader, good guy about my age and a good leader.
SGT Mack was our Platoon Sergeant, older guy, by looks, a little on the heavy side and a heavy smoker, but another good guy.
SGT Oakley was the Squad Leader, from Tennessee, heavy southern accent, skinny, thin hair. Later when in the field, he would stand on the bunker first thing in the morning, pound his scrawny chest and give a Tarzan yell. Good squad leader.
Chuck Austin, New Jersey, I believe, my M-60 gunner, stocky black guy, kind of quiet. He and I were the only two in the company that smoked Camel regulars. I learned a lot from him, being is assistant gunner. Great guy.
John Wilcox, West Covena, CA, tall guy, easy to talk to, later tried to get religion to get out of combat. Didn’t work. Another great guy.
John Zambella, New Jersey, short guy, great sense of humor, lots of fun.
John ?, red head, always wore a train engineers hat, never shaved a day in his life, peach fuzz, big dude, lots of fun.
Mike Jones, good guy. He became weapons squad leader, when SGT Oakley left country later, kind of quiet, good guy.
Dick Roberts came around several times, finally settled into his platoon.
Arly Short, Kentucky, really tall and lanky. We later acquired him from Ron Coker’s squad. Ron didn’t like him, said he was dumb and didn’t want him in his squad. I was squad leader at the time and Arly and I got along great. He was quiet. One of the best point men ever, 6’ 3”, eyes like a hawk, went through the jungle quiet as a mouse.
Ed Gehringer, Pennsylvania?, good sense of humor, good guy. We both applied for the medic job later, he was chosen, more time in country … better choice.
Hutchins, “Hutch”, San Francisco, real good guy, we all signed a 5 dollar bill he carried.
I now wish I had recorded more names of those great guys!
One day in late January we were doing a patrol in VC Valley. Early in the day we encountered some punji stakes. A few guys were wounded and taken back for treatment. Moving on through a dry wash with high ground on both sides felt uneasy, as this was a prime spot for an ambush with no place to go. Later in the afternoon, the platoon was moving over a small hill, when one of the guys tripped a spring spear trap. The spear punctured his ammo pouch, penetrating his metal M-16 ammo clip. We all froze in place, looking around. There were at least a dozen more set to be tripped. No one was injured and we disabled all the traps and moved off the hill. Later in the same afternoon, we were taking a break in the middle of a large clearing, joking around. John, the red head, was doing his best John Wayne imitation with the M-60. After we returned to base, we were told that there was a group of VC set up about 50 meters from our break area, while we were there. Hump’n the hills in the area, staying on the mountains, cold at night, lower 30’s, hot in the day, middle 80’s, not much happening, listening to what the guys talked about, some went through TET, tried to glean any information I could.
We get convoyed from Blackhawk through the Mang Yang Pass to an airstrip, don’t recall where, for a ten click hump, as the crow flies, to some hill to set up a base to work from. Hump’n that 80 pound rucksack, through heavy brush, elephant grass and hills in that heat and humidity, is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. We reached the base of the hill just before dusk. I had straggled to almost the last man. I had no more energy or will to climb that last hill. Fortunately for me, a couple of guys pushed and pulled and encouraged me to finish the climb. Reaching the top, I dumped my ruck, spread the poncho liner on the ground and collapsed. I didn’t wake until the next morning. I have never been that completely exhausted in my life. At the base of that hill I told the guys to just leave me till morning. Thank God and those guys for not listening to me. We had to Medevac one guy about half way there, due to heat stroke. The hill was an ideal site to work from. Clear view on all sides with a clear cold mountain stream about 300 meters from the base of the hill. I have never seen a stream that clear anywhere. We could bathe every couple of days and refill our canteens. They later brought a water blivet, which someone forgot to secure and it rolled down the hill, knocking one guy into an open bunker and really messing up his back, another Medevac. One other instance of the crazies, two guys and I went to the stream to bathe, had finished and were headed back up the hill, me tagging along last. The other two had reached the top and I was about 50 meters down hill. Someone had fallen asleep smoking and caught their hooch on fire and all his ammo and grenades were starting to cook off. An engineer with a shovel started flinging M-79 rounds over the edge of the hill. Most all were about 25 meters to my left, then a white phosphorous grenade lit about 25 meters, near me and went off. I started screaming my head off and made it to the top in record time.
Things were pretty quiet around there, except for SGT Oakley’s morning Tarzan yells. We were going out on 3 man ambush patrols, 2 to 3 days at a time. Doing some recon patrols. Never found anything significant. Had a new guy join the platoon, Don Cris, Hamtramyk, MI. He was deathly afraid of bees and such. Late one afternoon, we were sitting on the bunker and I heard a loud droning sound nearby. I told Don to freeze and not make a move. Seconds later we were in the midst of a swarm of jungle bees. They were headed for their night colony location. Don immediately broke into a sweat. In seconds the bees were gone. Don asked why I didn’t tell him the bees were coming. I said, “You would probably have started swinging, then we would all be in deep shit.” Don’s fatigue shirt was soaked with sweat. In the early evenings, we would hear the sound of the FU lizards. This was my first encounter with these little critters. I asked one of they guys, is that the VC yelling. He said no, those are lizards. Had a large centipede crawl across my face one very dark night that startled the bejeezers out of me. I couldn’t sue a light to find it in that tiny hooch. I think I’m finally getting used to the gnats flying in front of my face, inhale 10, exhale 5, chew the others. Get a little extra protein just from breathing.
Around the middle of February, we arrive at Fire Support Base 34. We are running patrols and ambushes. Pretty quiet area, although one of the deuce and a half trucks lost a left front tire to a land mine in the road. One of the guys in the company found a WWII 45 cal Grease Gun stashed under a log near by. The gun was clean and loaded. I headed out with two other guys on a tree day ambush and had gone down the hill from the perimeter about 500 meters, when we heard the Howitzers going off in our direction. The guy with the radio was quick to call back and have them stop. Apparently no one told the artillery unit that we were in front of them. One of the rounds that went over heads made a loud whooshing noise. I asked what that was and was told it was a beehive round. We looked across the valley and could see tree leaves dropping. I told the guys I didn’t know what they were. We crossed the valley and found thousands of little finishing nails with fins stuck in the trees. I dug several out to keep as souvenirs. I still have them. Things were pretty easy around there. I found a very small stream close by and decided to treat myself to a cold bath. I stripped down, laid my clothes on a large rock and lathered up. Right after rinsing off, two young local females stopped by to chat. One of the young ladies picked up my camera and snapped a picture of me in the buff. I was a bit embarrassed, but they weren’t. I later found out that nudity in Vietnam is not as big an issue as it is Stateside.
Around the first of March we made a combat assault to FSB-20, the Tactical Operations Center. We are to provide perimeter security for the 6/29th Artillery. The first few days we are pretty busy building bunkers, filling sand bags, cutting trees for roof supports, digging trenches and perimeter guard at night. The company is sending out platoon size ambushes and patrols. Second Platoon is kept back as the ready reaction unit. We all heard about “A” Company nearly getting wiped out, March 7th, my 23rd birthday. Some of the guys are getting together to celebrate my birthday after I got off guard duty. As I ducked low enough to get under the roof support, I caught the end of a log right square in the forehead, which knocked me right on my keester. As I went in the guys asked what the hell that was. I had to show them the know on my forehead; kinda hard navigating in that darkness, with only starlight to go by. One of the guys had taken a C-ration pound cake and frosted it with jelly for my birthday cake. It was really good. Fruit cake and pound cake are my favorite. The next day I was sent to the rear to be checked by the doctor for a possible concussion. I had a screaming headache and nausea. Two days later I was back in the field.
“D” Company has joined us at FSB-20. They are sending out more platoon size ambushes and sweeps. One afternoon, we are visited by Gen Abrams. He entered our area from the chopper pad. When he approached, I properly saluted him and immediately had a gentle ass chewing from him. He had his aide take my name and said he would send a letter to my mom letting her know I was OI. The letter was sent to the other Granger’s mother from our company. He was a tall black kid. We always joked about whose father was whose. Listen to a lot of music at night or play cards, matchstick poker, when anybody had money. SGT Mack likes to play poker, but is a famous loser. Listened to Hanoi Hannah on several occasions. Music was good, but she is filled with so much crap, she and Jane Fonda are a real pair. Several guys have frag Fonda written on their helmet covers. One night one of the new guys was on perimeter guard. I got into the trench leading to his bunker and started grunting like a wild hog. He didn’t know what to do. Later I thought what a stupid thing that was; he could have shot out of panic.
One other afternoon we were visited by three young starlets from Hollywood. They were dressed in go-go boots with mini skirts. Boy, talk about a real morale booster. Every guy in that camp was wet with drool. I had been carving short timers stick for Jonesy. I gave the stick to Lt. Mack and asked if he would give it to the girl with short hair, she played on the TV Western Cimarron Strip. The Lt. gave it to her and she asked who had made it. I raised my hand and she called me down to the area, where all the officers and girls were. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Boy was Jones pissed. Another afternoon a sky crane was dropping off a damaged chopper, so it could go refuel. We were warned to tie or weigh everything down. The crane had just unhooked the bird and was powering up to take off, when through the air came sailing a red nylon mail bag. It got sucked up into the main rotor and that big bird dropped like a rock. There was an immediate inventory of gear. All our guys were in the clear. No damage was done to the crane and it was back a short time later to get its load.
March 15th “a” and “C” Companies moved onto Hill 467. March 21st “B” Company second platoon humped to Hill 467, through the triple canopy jungle, hot and humid, no direct sunlight and all the steep hills a person could ever dream of, before arriving at our destination. We came across an old set of tunnels filled with spider webs and growth. Some moron decided to throw a CS grenade into one of the tunnels. We all had to put on our gas masks. We arrived at Hill 467 and set up on the North perimeter. The perimeter is only about 50 meters in any direction, with an LZ in the middle. The trees are about 60 feet tall and the choppers have to land almost straight down. The bunkers are already dug, 3 feet deep x 5 feet long and 2 feet wide, with several rows of sandbags above. Hooches were set up behind. The remainder of the company CA’d to the hill later in the day. “A” Company retuned to FSB-20.
March 23rd “B” Company 2nd Platoon is supposed to go on a recon sweep west of Hill 467. Late morning we gear up and set out on the west trail. We move about 50 meters and are called back. There is supposed to be an ARC Light in our destination area later in the day. We return to the hill. Around noon we are told the ARC Light was cancelled and we gear up and head out again. We get about 100 meters out and again are called back, ARC Light on, we return to camp. Later in the afternoon we are once again heading back out the same trail to the same location. Everyone had an uneasy feeling about using this same trail 3 times. We get to our location and are up for the evening, when we get a call that the ARC Light is still on and we have to leave ASAP. Everyone is grabbing gear and hading back up the trail. I got separated from Chuck, my gunner. There was small arms fire about 50 meters ahead of me. Lt. Mack called for me to get with the gunner. I ran up the trail, jumped a downed tree and made it to Chuck’s location. I threw my ruck in front of me and started firing. Our M-60 wasn’t firing; it’s evening and light is dim. Chuck starts disassembling the gun, while I lay cover fire. Total chaos, M-16’s, AK-47’s, grenades going off, men yelling they have been hit. The Medic with squad leader Ron Coker is at my feet. Ron has a sucking chest wound, dying and calling for his mother. Chuck got the gun apart and found that the AK-47 round hit the B3 can that the ammo rolls over, had ricocheted into the receiver, also chewing up his thumb. We grabbed Ron’s M-16, so Chuck was now armed. Several Chi-Com grenades land within 5 feet of us and explode. Neither of us is wounded. Our squad leader fires a LAW at a tree covering one of the NVA. Finally there is silence. Ron has died. We all help carry the wounded and Ron’s body back up the trail to the hill. It is kind of hard making your way in triple canopy in the dark.
Back in the safety of our perimeter, we hear the details of the encounter. Four NVA were spotted setting up an ambush in a bomb crater, when the point man spotted them. On the way down the point man was firing. Ron was behind the point and on his way down, he took one AK round straight down near his collar bone. That rocked him back, where he took the second round in the chest. That was the only wound the Medic could find. I didn’t know till I got back Stateside, that I had been awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device, for my action that evening. I was asked 35 years later by a high school student, if I thought I deserved the award. I told the young lady, that I appreciate that someone thought I earned it, but I was just doing what needed to be done, the things we are trained to do.
The following day we were sent out a patrol to recover the remainder of our gear we had been unable to carry the night before. I had a funny feeling about that patrol. I told the squad leader my feelings and he said it was going to be quick and easy, out and back. I said it still didn’t feel right to me. He told me to stay back and take it easy. Later a gunship fires on the guys, thinking they were NVA. One guy got wounded by the gunship. We hear about the other platoons that went to blow a road block in the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They had run into a large force and 6 were MIA. My friend Dick Roberts is one of them. A couple of days later, 3 of the MIA linked back up with a unit of ours. Dick was not one of them.
We have been taking 105 Howitzer rounds, mortar rounds, B-40 rockets and sniper fire for days. An NVA sniper just outside our perimeter is firing at anything that tries to land. A jet is called in to strafe the area. He unloads his 20 mm guns on the south side and as the jet makes his break and starts climbing, the sniper fires his 3 rounds again. Patrols were sent to locate the sniper to no avail. Water and food are getting low, with no re-supply birds getting into the LZ. Three guys make it to a so called stream, as shown to be nearby on the map, and brought back several ammo containers of water. We were given two canteens each. I filtered the leaches and algae out through the top of a dirty sock, then added the iodine tablets. Later in the day, one of the guys from another platoon offered me $480 for a canteen of my water. I turned him down. I thought to myself how many times in the real world have you gone to the sink and drank a glass of water and never gave it a second thought. I thought, if I ever get home, I will never take a drink of water for granted. To this day I can not pass a drinking fountain without remembering how thirsty we were.
One morning I was just beyond our bunker, towards the concertina, digging a small hole for the morning ritual and had just squatted with my pants down, when I heard the two enemy Howitzers near the border go off. That meant you had just seconds to find cover. I pulled up my pants and dashed for the bunker. As I lay there covering my head, I heard two loud pops in the air. I quickly scrambled inside for cover, expecting more rounds to be fired at us. After several minutes, papers came floating down. I picked one up and read the propaganda. If we gave up and went to their side, we would be treated well and fed and the world would be great. Later in the day our squad leader, from Texas, and I were our hooch, behind the bunker, when we heard enemy mortars go off. We dove for the bunker and got inside. One of the 60mm rounds lit right in the middle of our hooch. It shredded my rucksack, punctured my shaving cream can, and ruined a roll of exposed film. Stateside I found the pictures of the starlets were almost ruined.
March 24th with two other guys, I was assigned to a listening post on the west perimeter. We set up about half way between the bunkers and concertina. CPT DeRoos wanted listening posts outside the wire, but with all the enemy probing at night, no one would go that far out. Not much happened that night, just the usual probing and our guys throwing grenades at the probes and the occasional claymore going off.
March 25th I woke up at daybreak. I was winding up my claymore wire, while the other two headed for the bunkers. About halfway to the claymore, I spotted 4 NVA setting up about 5 meters outside the wire. I crouched down and froze. When the enemy had gotten down below brush level, I made tracks to the bunkers and reported what I had seen. As our M-60 was out of commission, another gunner and assistant were called to spray the area. I showed the gunner where they had set up and he sprayed the area until his barrel got to hot and his assistant had to change barrels, and then he hosed the area down some more. How or why the NVA never saw me is a mystery. I was out in the open, no cover or concealment at all. The weapons squad was selected to go sweep the area. Arly Short said he would walk point, Phil Lynch, new guy, said he would go, but I had an uneasy feeling at the time and told the new guy to wait here. He insisted on going, so we had him in the middle. We went out the trail to the west and were going to sweep north. I was third from the point, when Arly froze in mid step, about 25 meters outside the wire, turned to his right and fired his M-16. I saw one man running down the trail and sent an HE on his tail. The second man from the point and I advanced past Arly. Lynch was now to Arly’s right. We saw movement behind a log and the other guy fired his M-16 at the movement, but couldn’t get enough angle. I loaded a shotgun round, moved forward and fired. There was a huge explosion behind the log. The concussion knocked me backwards on my butt. The area behind the log was devoid of any vegetation. At this point we had made a huge military error. We had no one watching our backsides. A B-40 rocket was fired from behind us, exploding between Arly and Lynch. The concussion blew me from a crouched position up and back about 2 meters. It blew my web gear and helmet off. I swear I watched this happen from above. When I came to, everyone was gone, except for Lynch. The dust was still in the air. I grabbed my helmet, web gear, and gun, then stopped by Lynch. He had large holes in his forehead and they were steaming. I beat feet to the wire, where the squad leader was waiting. We moved inside the wire. We were crouched down and I was relaying to him Phil’s condition, when a Chi Com grenade landed about 3 feet to my right, exploded and knocked me down and knocked my helmet off again. The SGT on my left gets shrapnel in his right side. I do not get a scratch. I am a firm believer in Guardian Angels. The platoon leader is informed of Phil’s condition and a Medic, not Gehringer, armed with only his 45 crawled to Lynch’s position. Several guys from another platoon are sweeping the area from north to south and encounter more NVA. It took quite a while for them to reach the Medics location. They brought in Phil’s body. The Medic said later that he had tried to give Phil CPR 3 times, but there wasn’t enough of the brain to sustain Phil. While the guys were recovering the body, I was sitting in the back entrance of a bunker. The upper half of my body was exposed, Lt. Mach standing to my right and slightly behind. A B-40 was fired at us and struck a tree near the bunker; the concussion blew me out of the entrance, wounding me in the right shoulder and center of the back. Lt. Mach also received shrapnel wounds. I went to the Medics bunker. Arly Short was there bleeding from multiple areas from wounds sustained in the earlier B-40 that hit between him and Lynch on our sweep. The Medic wiped my shoulder wound with alcohol and cut that piece of shrapnel out. He checked the wound in my back, which just missed my spine, said it was too deep to remove at this time. I rejoined the squad. Gunships worked over the area pretty good. After a while things quieted down, but everyone was still on edge. Haven’t had any sleep to speak of in days. The lack of water and food and constant shelling is taking its toll on everyone. A five minute nap is about all I can get at one time. The night time probing and hearing the digging, moaning of their wounded and movement just outside the wire, with it dark enough not to be able to see a thing keeps everyone alert every minute.
Several mornings the weapons squad was called to sweep the area between the bunkers and the wire. We were to police up any equipment, weapons, etc from the bodies that were there. You could see where some of their bodies had been dragged out. The remaining bodies were all bloated from the heat in the sun and our own men’s bodies wrapped in ponchos, stacked like so much cordwood, by the chopper pad, filled the air with the smell of death. Usually the enemy bodies would be gone by the next night. The Vietnamese have very strong beliefs regarding their dead. It is not a bad thing.
We continue to get pounded by 105mm Howitzers, 82mm mortars, 60mm mortars, B-40 rockets and small arms fire. Their mortar FO is very good. He has our coordinates down pat. It starts in the morning and continues into the evening, when the probing begins. Almost everyone is wounded. We have one guy in the platoon that hasn’t been hit. He has already passes his ETS date, but can’t get a bird out. He still volunteers to go on ambush or patrols, but none of us will let him. He’s not allowed outside the wire.
March 26th “D” Company has left the hill, extracted to FSB-27. That leaves what is left of “B” and “C” Companies. I don’t know how many men are left, but we are terribly under manned. The exhaustion is wearing on everyone. I had on guy from another platoon jump into my bunker during one afternoon shelling. The guy was unarmed, crying and blubbering about going over to the enemy and surrendering. I told him to get the hell out of there. I didn’t want to hear that bullshit. He left running to some other bunker. I probably shouldn’t have been so cold to him, but I had more pressing things on my mind, like survival.
March 28th the heaviest day of shelling yet. Later reports indicate over 120 rounds of 105 Howitzer, along with the 60mm and 82mm mortar, B-40 rockets, grenades and AK-47 fire. No one has had any sleep in over three days. That night the NVA assaulted our perimeter and some made it inside. They were killed. We are still losing men. The gunship “Puff the Magic Dragon” is called in to work the area outside our perimeter. Grenades and mortars are going off all night long. Although we are all worn our from fatigue and the heat, no one sleeps. Everyone is peering at the wire, waiting for the next assault.
March 29th and we haven’t had food or water in fur days. I drank about two tablespoons of liquid from a tree vine that I had cut. It wasn’t bitter, so I swallowed it. The things you will do when that thirsty are amazing. We are told that everyone would be extracted the next day around noon. We have heavy movement all around our perimeter all day. We are getting rockets, mortars and grenades from all directions. That night the gunship “Spooky” is called in to work the area just outside the perimeter. Hearing the hum of the guns and the solid red line of tracers was somewhat comforting. It is another long sleepless night.
March 30th we get word that the Air Force has taken out one of the 105’s that has been pounding us every day. We are told to get our gear together. The extraction would start in the morning. “C” Company would go first, leaving what was left of “B” Company to take over the entire perimeter. As the choppers were coming in, they had to come in a tree top level and drop down to the chopper pad. They were taking fire from the enemy. The pilots informed us that the enemy was at our wire. Gun ships and Cobras were working our perimeter as the extraction went on. “C” Company is our, “B” Company is maneuvering to cover the area left by their withdrawal. We are all firing our excess ammo at anything that moves outside the wire. The birds continue to come in and the enemy continues to fire at them. It’s finally my turn to leave. When I get to the bird, I dropped something. As I bent over to pick it up, I was grabbed and thrown into the ship. While we were taking off you could hear the AK-47’s firing at us. When we cleared the area, the door gunners leaned outside to access the damage. They reported to the pilot that we had taken 13 rounds. We landed at Polei Kleng. Upon landing, our chopper died. We were listening to the remainder of the extraction. Several of the other birds had been hit and had to make emergency landings at other locations. We heard from the RTO, who was relaying information to us, that no birds were left, the four remaining guys couldn’t be picked up, and the enemy were coming through the wire. Our pilot, I wish I knew his name, God bless those guys, motioned to his crew that the Battalion Commanders bird was sitting and running. The pilot and crew mounted that bird, the Battalion Commander was having a “hissy fit”, that was his bird and they shouldn’t take it. The bird took off and we finally heard from the RTO, that the four men left on Hill 467 had been picked up. A roar of cheering went up. Someone was collecting money to buy that crew a case of beer. When the bird finally landed, a case of beer was given to the door gunner. We are all loaded on deuce and a halves to be convoyed to FBB McNerney. As we were all loaded ready to depart, CPT DeRoos was called down off the truck by another officer from Polei Kleng. We couldn’t hear because of the roar of the trucks, but apparently the CPT was getting an ass chewing, with a finger being poked in his chest and the look on the other officer’s face. We start our convoy to McNerny for a long and well deserved stand down.
We arrived at FSB McNerney in the evening. Everyone is quiet, not much talking at all. It takes several days to unwind from the chaos of the last couple of weeks. It’s great to get a real shower, food and water. I don’t recall how long we were there, probably a week, not long enough. Doing a little whittling to pass the time. A few out door movies, some cold beer and music. I could have taken that for the rest of my tour. The next few weeks are quite uneventful. I think we went to an artillery base and were just doing routine patrols. At some point we stop at Camp Enari for a couple of days. Lt. Mack, another Lt. “Chicago” and I are going to the PX. The two of them decide to buy me a new baseball cap. They have it embroidered with “Captain Crunch” on the back and Captains bars in front. I did a good voice impression of Captain Crunch from the radio. I asked if I would get in trouble wearing it. They laughed and said they would take care of it. It was a hoot, having people salute you. Those two were having a ball. I saw one of my hometown friends there. Graig Olmstead, didn’t get a chance to talk, or maybe I just didn’t want to talk. While at Camp Enari we have to do our turn at perimeter guard. The towers were only being manned every other one. All those spare M-60’s just sitting there not being used. Needless to say, with Chuck’s gun out of commission, we did some parts swapping and were soon back in business as a weapons squad.
Around the middle of April we moved to An Khe. We are at the main base there, Camp Radcliff, and are allowed to go into town for the day. This is my first experience in a Vietnamese town. The local beauties trying to get some business. Several guys and I want into a bar for a few beers. I had to use the bathroom. That was a bit of a shock. Beautiful tiled walls and floor, but no toilet in sight. Just a stream of water running in a trench from one side of the building to the other. The two tiled foot prints straddling the trench made it easy to get the idea. No hookers for me thank you very much. Several days later we are humping up this lonely hill in the middle of a great expanse of flat land and rice paddies. We clear the top and start building our bunkers. We have another new guy in the platoon, a big, burly, black guy. I have been given the rank of Acting Jack SGT, as there are no promotions available. I was given the task of building a new bunker. I asked the new guy to help the other guys with the job. He became hostile and combative. He called me a prejudiced honkie and we were toe to toe, when my gunner Chuck stepped between us, pushing us apart. He faced the new guy and let him know that there was no one prejudiced in this platoon, the N word flew. Chuck informed him that any more trouble, Chuck would deal with him. Never had any more problems with that man. Several weeks later, he and I became friendly. He commented that he didn’t want to be responsible for anyone dying and he would rather spend his tour in Long Bien Jail. I told him that we all look out for each other. He became a pretty decent guy, carrying the machine gun on numerous occasions.
We are in this area to work with the locals and one ARVN compound just up the road. I believe it was called OP Tom. We are still running some patrols and ambushes, as there is suspected VC activity in the area. CPT DeRoos is not with us, I don’t remember why. We have a new CO and he wants everyone wearing helmets. Our squad has camouflaged berets made. We stash our helmets when we go out. Meeting with some of the locals, they give us a ride on their tanks up the road to their village. Dozens of kids wanting handouts, one little girl with a deformed foot was always at the back of the crowd. I don’t know if the deformity was natural or caused by the war. I made sure she got her share of the goodies. We all helped with the construction, mostly muscle work, of the Outpost Commander’s new home. It was absolutely amazing to watch the Vietnamese carpenters, with their primitive tools, chisels, bow saws, planes and hand augers. Their craftsmanship was impeccable. The windows and doors were the finest I have ever seen. When the house was finished later, my SGT and I were invited to stay the night. The Commander’s wife offered me her hammock. She and her baby would sleep on a mat on the floor. I told the SGT, I didn’t feel right about that. He told me it would be a disgrace t her, to refuse sleeping in her bed. Reluctantly I slept in the hammock. We had several meals with the family. They were very gracious hosts and it was a pleasure eating home cooked Asian meals. I learned a lot about Vietnamese customs and traditions. What a great people.
The new CO is mad about us buying cold beer and pop from the locals. He orders their coolers be shot up and says he will provide the beer and pop. We get the beer and pop, but because of flight priorities, the huge block of ice couldn’t be flown and sat on the chopper pad all day. By the time the 300 lb block of ice got to us, it weighed only about 25 lbs. Just not enough to satisfy an entire company. Eventually he gave in and we bought cold refreshments locally again. We finally get a mini mess set up on the hilltop. The cook provides a pot of hot soup and coffee to the night guards, what a treat. I always hated split pea soup Stateside, but had a cup one pitch black night and it was delicious. The coffee was always good, unless someone stirred up the grounds.
Thanks to the RJ Reynolds Company, who sent out cases of Winston, Salem, and Camel cigarettes. Chuck and I are the only two in the company, who smoke Camels and made out like fat rats. Most of the black guys smoked Kools, white guys smoked Marlboros. We saved the Salem to trade to the Vietnamese. They liked the menthol. Chuck and I had cartons of Camels. We found out the cook smoked them and gave him several cartons. The next morning the cook made sure we had steak and eggs. The rest of the crew didn’t have that pleasure. The old saying is that if you keep the cook and supply sergeant happy, life in the military is a breeze, is absolutely correct.
During the day, when we are not on patrol, we are at the base of the hill, clearing the brush away for a track unit to setup. We have been working for days and not making much progress. Suddenly we hear the loud roar of tracks coming and through the brush comes a track with a huge blade on the front. It had a pair of water buffalo horns mounted on it. That track cleared the entire area in no time at all. The rest of the tracks came in and set their perimeter. We were now building bunkers in the center of the area and providing perimeter security.
It has been over a month since getting the shrapnel in my back. The heavy rucksack has caused the wound to swell about the size of a gold ball. I asked Doc to cut it out. He had me sit on the bunker and arch my back. He cleaned the area and proceeded to cut it out. It was quite deep, jut to the right of my spine. We both could tell when he found it, the scalpel hitting metal. He pulled it out with tweezers and asked if I wanted it for a souvenir. I told him no. He put some salve on the wound and bandaged it up and I was good to go. It was really tender for the next few weeks, but felt better than the gold ball under my skin.
I acquired a few things from the tracks. They had a dog that followed them around. They had given her some Greek Goddess name. The little dog decided she liked us better. Someone said, “That’s a bitch dog.” and the name stuck. She went with us everywhere. She would chase the water buffalo away, even when they kicked her and knocked her ass over applecart. She would also chase snakes. I saw her chase a cobra about 50 meters into a bamboo grove. What a great dog, rarely barked. I wish I could have brought her home with me. The other thing I acquired was a Colorado Bowie Knife. I swapped a survival hatchet for it. I liked passing the time by throwing the knife and sticking it into trees. Our new platoon SGT Pete told the CO of OP Tom that I had killed 27 VC by throwing that knife. The CO had me show him how it was thrown. He had a nice K-bar. After about 15 minutes, he was sticking it in the outside of his heavy office door at about 20 feet away. The man was really good. Curse Pete for his white lie, although I may be legend in that area.
The platoon spent several nights at the ARVN compound with the mortar crew showing them how to setup and aim their tubes. At the end of the day, the ARVN’s would break out their Marijuana, hashish and opium and they all got stoned. I don’t think they could find their butts with both hands if needed, let alone fight a war. Became quite friendly with the Commander and his right hand man Vinh. Some 20 years later, I was watching a major documentary on the Vietnam War and they were showing how some of the South Vietnamese were being re-educated in the North. They were interviewing Vinh and apparently the re-education was working. Those two guys were really great people. I wonder what happened to the Commander. I hope he is safe and well.
As I put these thoughts and memories to paper, each memory triggers another. Although some happenings are a little out of sync with time, they are true to the best of my recollection.
We have gotten to know quite a few locals. A pleasant older woman with hair that reaches the ground, which she later had cut and sold to a wig maker, and her three pretty girls. One of the guys in our platoon fell in love with Hong. He went AWOL for three days. He was not punished for it, but promised not to let it happen again. These girls were a real pleasure to be around. The locals that I have gotten to know are really great people, if you observe their customs and traditions.
One young lady, a prostitute from An Khe who I befriended, when she wasn’t plying her trade, would fix lunch and share with me. We would talk and she told me she made more money in one month than her family made all year. Early one afternoon she told me she had to leave. When I asked why, she said “VC may come today.” We returned to the base of the hill and in late afternoon, the VC fired mortars and recoilless rifle rounds on our position. Fortunately one of the 50 cal Gunners was sitting in the turret of his tank. He saw the back blast from the recoilless and opened fire on the enemy position and the firing stopped. The weapons squad formed up to sweep the area. After crossing the rice paddies, we swept the area and found the mortar base plate, several mortar and recoilless rounds, numerous blood trails and a bloody backpack. We followed the blood trails for a short distance, but didn’t pursue any further. We returned to base with the rounds and the base plate. About a week later the young lady made the same comment as before. Gunners waited for the start. Several more mortar and recoilless rounds were fired at us from the very same spot as before. Not too smart on their part. Both 50’s opened up on them. Again the weapons squad went out and we recovered more rounds. They were firing the mortar with not base plate. We called back to base to ask if they wanted the rounds. They said to blow them in place. SGT Pete told one of the guys to dig a hole in a termite mound. We had no C-4, so he said to put a claymore in the hole and place the rounds on top of it. I told the SGT that was not a good idea, because the ammo would be blown into the air and go off. He said I was wrong. I said just give me five minutes to get the hell out of there. He finally agreed and put the claymore on top. We moved to the rice paddy dike and blew the ammo. We all survived. We never had another attack on the base. Apparently those two 50’s were very convincing. I’m grateful for the young lady’s warning. I hadn’t picked up on her first warning.
Another humorous event occurred, while we were sweeping a wooded area outside of OP Tom. We were all riding on the tanks, rucksacks off and set against the turret to use as a backrest. We were plowing through the woods, knocking down trees as we went. We suddenly hear machine gun fire; the turret starts to s wing in my direction. I bail off the side and hit the ground. The turret continues to swing. No one seems to know where the shots came from. It is finally determined that one of our gunners fell off his ride and accidentally fired the gun when he hit the ground. We had a laugh over that, until I saw that my ruck had been wadded into a ball by the turret.
An unfortunate event took place near one of the other outposts, can’t recall the name. We had a new guy in the company. We were told to keep an eye on him. He was only in country a few days and apparently while doing perimeter guard at the main base on night, he opened fire with the M-60 on some fireflies. He thought they were VC flashlights. He had been with us for a couple of weeks and accidentally shot himself in the foot with his M-79. He was carrying it through the brush with the safety off and not covering the trigger housing. A branch hooked the trigger and it went off. He only received a nasty bruise on the side of his foot. In another of his moronic moves, he was assigned to carry the radio transmission scrambler/decoder. About half way up out hill he threw it down and said it was too heavy and he wasn’t going to carry it any more. All this leads up to the unfortunate event. The company was going to cordon a village at night. The village had an Outpost in the center and ROC’s at the entrance and exits to the village. We were all in position, when the OP started their nightly ritual of throwing mortar shells into the jungle. None of them were even remotely close to us. Mr. Moron decided to fire his M-79 at the outpost. The tower observer at the OP saw his muzzle flash and opened up with everything they had. Our new black, the one I had the problem with, Bitch and I are hiding behind a big termite mound. Rounds are hitting the ground around us. One of their grenadiers lobbed a round that lit between the legs of one of the other squad members. He was from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, can’t recall his name. He was going to buy a new Z28 Camaro, when he went Stateside. Our company commander finally gets the firing stopped. Our man has both legs shredded pretty badly. A Medevac is called. The squad leader wants to shoot the Moron, but the Lt. stops him. Another bird is called in to take the Moron out. He was transferred to “D” Company. We let them know of this guys problems. The cordon was a total bust. We found out later that our guy was going to be OK, except for the use of his legs.
While working off the top of that lone hill, I had the privilege to buy a Monkey from our Mess Sergeant. It was a young female, indigenous to the Central Highlands. He kept it tied to his bunker. A few of the guys would pick at her and she was known to bite. I think I pad twenty five dollars for her. I named her Suzie, after a former girl friend, and took her back to our hooch. I tried to make friends with her and things went well the first couple of days, then she bit me over a food issue. Without thinking, I backhanded her, knocking her about ten feet outside the hooch and splitting her lip. I immediately felt absolutely terrible about what I had done. She sat on a bunker and looked at me, tears in her eyes, for about 30 minutes. I was finally able to coax her back to the hooch. I apologized, petted and cuddled her. She never bit me again and would rarely leave my side or should I say my shoulder. There was a food issue between Suzie and Bitch. I sat both down with the food in between and wouldn’t let either ear for about ten minutes. That cured the food problem. Suzie and Bitch became playmates. She would keep the fleas and ticks off the dog and me. She did have a few bad habits. One was getting into my shaving kit and taking a pack of menthol cigarettes, breaking off all the filters and chewing them. She would also get into my sewing kit and load her cheek pouches with buttons. When confronted, she would look at you with big innocent eyes, like what are you talking about, with cheeks bulging with buttons. She did have a hate for Vietnamese children and some black guys and if allowed she would chase and bite them. Any of the guys that were rolling left hand cigarettes, she would run over and pick all the seeds out, put them in her cheeks and eat them. Then she would start her crazy act, dangling by her teeth from a string tied to the hooch and spinning. Then she would crawl inside my shirt and crash for a while. Every night she slept inside my shirt. Every evening she would find SGT Pete. She knew he would have a beer and she would perch on his shoulder and Pete would share his beer with her. She was incredibly intelligent, loving and curious. I would have brought her Stateside, if it weren’t for the long quarantine period. Instead I left her with Pete.
I had to travel back to the base at An Khe, don’t recall why, and the only bird available was a LOH. That was just fine with me. I love flying. The pilot “Crash” lit the bird on the hilltop, told me to get in up front as he had to take the Battalion Commander on a short recon, then drop him at another hill, then drop off some paperwork at another base, then we would go to An Khe. Crash asked if I was comfortable flying. I told him I was and he lifted off, went forward to clear the hill and dropped the bird down, skids barely skimming the tree tops. When he leveled off, he looked at me smiling and asked how that was. I told him that was better than a roller coaster. We did the short recon, dropped the Battalion Commander and his aide off a “D” Company’s hill, flew to another base, he got out and delivered the paperwork and returned in minutes. He then flew straight to the base at An Khe. He asked where I needed to go. I told him the barracks at the base of the hill the radar station was on, in the middle of camp. I said he could drop me at the air strip and I would catch a ride. Crash said, “I can get you closer than that.” He dropped the bird in the middle of an intersection, a block from the barracks, trucks and jeeps coming to a halt. I get out with my ruck and weapon, everyone that is stopped is saluting me. They must have thought I was some high ranking officer. Top is standing in the company street when I get there. He asked me, “What the hell do you think you are doing?” I tell him that it was Crash’s idea. He just shook his head and walked away.
While in An Khe I was given the task, along with a group of guys, of clearing the brush and trees from the side of the radar station hill. It is steep and rocky. We have only one chain saw, a couple of axes and a few machetes. There was one very tall tree, probably 100 feet tall and five feet across the trunk, too big for the chain saw. The engineer in charge, packed two cases of C-4 into the roots around the base, ran detcord down the hill to a vacant barracks by the wire and when everyone had cleared the area, he ignited the detcord. In a flash the C-4 exploded. The huge tree went straight up into the air like a rocket in slow motion. As it reached its apex, it slowly rolled on its side and came crashing down. It was such a huge explosion, that there were many complaints and broken windows. That brought our clearing project to a halt.
Several days later, I’m back on the hill with the rest of the guys. One of them has acquired a puppy from the locals, cute little bugger. He follows Bitch every where she goes. Bitch was following some of the guys going out on patrol and no one grabbed the puppy, so he ran out through the concertina, hooked his belly and ripped it wide open. The intestines were hanging out. We asked the platoon leader what we could do. He said that we might be able to get a bird to take him back to a veterinarian. All the choppers were committed to other missions and we wouldn’t be able to get one for days. The pup was in agony, so I asked for permission to shoot the pup to end it’s misery with an M-79 shotgun round. I felt so terrible having to do that.
On one of our three day patrols, we stopped at an abandoned French farm house. It was a pineapple plantation and I picked one of the fruit and ate it, what a treat. One of the guys decided to stay stoned the entire three days. Glad we didn’t see any action. We were visited by some of the local kids. I had them fill our canteens and gave them a few dollars for their work. I had taken off my boots and socks to let my feet air out for awhile, when the kids saw my bare feet. They were amazed, pointing and smiling. I don’t know if they had never seen feet that white or that all my toes touched each other, not being spread out by paddy mud.
C-rats and humping the hills must be agreeing with me, I have put on 35 lbs, mostly muscle in the legs and back. Had a bad bout with walking pneumonia, that lasted a couple of weeks. No one would let me go on ambush or patrol with them. All that hacking and gacking might give them away to the VC. What a miserable climate to be in with that crud. I thought I was going to die. The medics couldn’t do anything for me. I finally got better, but it sapped the energy our of me.
We spent a few days with another ARVN Outpost. It is the first time we have gotten to use a starlight scope. Kind of strange viewing, reminded me of early TV pictures, all green and fuzzy, but they really did work. Most of the ARVN’s were pretty good guys. They shared a few meals with me. Had one jerk that thought he should work his martial arts on me. I threatened to shoot him if he did. He left me alone after that. When the company left the OP, there wasn’t enough room for me to fly out, so I had to stay for another day. It was a pretty boring night. My Vietnamese is poor. I understand more that I can speak. I finally get a ride out the next day, back to camp and English speaking friends.
I have been sent back to Camp Enari on two different occasions; don’t recall the exact time frame, once to work with a Kit Carson Scout. I was there about three days, when I was informed that the Scout had died from Malaria. Shot that plan in the butt. At that time Top was going through the barracks informing all the slackers that they would be on the next convoy back to the field. Those guys were selling everything they could, stereos, tape recorders, what ever they had. Some tried arguing with Top, but it didn’t work. They were all loaded and trucked out. My second trip back to Camp Enari, was to learn to be a sniper. Someone decided we needed a sniper and I was volunteered. After being in the rear for a few days, they changed their minds and back to the field I went. Another plan shot down. Guess I was destined to be a grunt.
We were going to a hill near Dak To, to work for awhile. We were taken to an air strip for a helicopter ride up. It was raining a little bit, not heavy, just a light sprinkle. We were loaded onto dome old Sikorsky birds with Vietnamese pilots. We sat in those old vibrating machines for nearly an hour, waiting for the rain to let up. We were finally told to unload, because the pilots couldn’t fly in the rain. We were reloaded onto a Chinook. By then it was getting dark. When we reached the hill, it was dark and the LZ was so small, that the Chinook could only touch its rear wheels down and hover at an angle. The ramp was lowered and we started to unload. I was given 2 cases of PRC-25 batteries to carry off, plus all my gear. About half way down the ramp, I stepped on a spot of hydraulic oil. My feet went out from under me and the batteries and I both slid out the back and hit on the ground. The batteries, both cases, went bouncing down the side of the hill. One of the SGT’s told me to go get them. I told him I would get them in the morning, when it was light and I could take a couple of guys for security. He reluctantly agreed. Several days later, an extended LP was set outside our perimeter. About ten o’clock at night one of the guys in the LP, not sure what unit he was with, decided to return to the perimeter. He was shot and killed by the perimeter guard. He had not radioed in and did not announce himself, so he was mistaken for a VC. A couple of weeks later, we were visited by some USO Donut Dollies, friendly ladies, playing games, chatting, trying to boost morale. Recall one who’s last name was Sellers. Ran into her at the hospital at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in 1970. I thanked her for her work with the USO.
Back at the lone hill near An Khe, we read in the “Stars and Stripes” about three soldiers in the jungle at night set on an ambush. While two slept, the third was on guard, being stalked by a tiger. The tiger grabbed the guard by the head and was dragging him off for a late night snack. The guard had the presence of mind to hold onto his M-16 and put it on automatic and fired in the direction of the tiger. The animal dropped him and ran. I must have been a long night after that.
If it weren’t for the mosquitoes trying to give you Malaria, the water buffalo trying to run you over, the snakes trying to give you your last three steps, spiders, centipedes, scorpions, trying to make life miserable, tigers trying to make a meal of you, and the enemy trying to maim or kill you, we could have had a pretty good time in Nam.
Almost the entire company came down with amoebic dysentery. It was thought that it came from washing our mess trays in old water, that hadn’t been changed or heated properly. The heater that went down the sides of the metal trash cans we washed trays in, didn’t work very often. What a miserable ordeal that was. There wasn’t enough fuel to burn the barrels off, so a pit was dug and the barrels were emptied into it and covered with lime. Anything we ate would either come up and out or go down and out almost immediately. About the only thing that would stay down was the C-ration crackers and cheese or peanut butter. I don’t know how many pair of shorts I had to cut off, just by trying to squeak out a fart. Wound up losing about 35 lbs. in three weeks. We all looked like death warmed over. I never regained any of that weight I had put on.
I had made the decision to re-enlist, to get out of the Infantry and be a door gunner on the choppers. I went back to Camp Enari one last time to sign my life away. I signed the papers for another two years, got an Honorable Discharge after the paperwork was done and a thirty day leave back home. I was told that the orders would be sent to my home. The next day I was taken to Cam Rahn Bay airstrip for my trip home to the real world. I had to wait for two days for my flight, but that was OK. Sitting at the airport with nothing to do, I remembered I had an AK-47 round in my gear from Hill 467. I decided to wear it on a chain, so I took my pocket knife and bored two small holes in the sides of it and dumped the powder in the trash. There was a young Vietnamese man sitting at an engraving machine in the airport. I asked if he could etch some words on the side of the round. He said he would try. I had him etch “War is Hell, but actual combat is a son of a bitch.” I still have that round. I was surprised to find that the casing of the AK-47 round was steel, with a copper or brass plating. Must be cheaper to make than our brass casings.
While sitting in the airport, I met a young Buddhist Monk, dressed in yellow robes. What an intelligent young man. He had some seminary training in California. He could speak French, both North and South Vietnamese dialects, Chinese, German and English. He noticed that I was wearing a St. Christopher medal and asked if I was Catholic. I told him no, that I just wore it for good luck. He asked if I was Protestant or Baptist. I told him no. He then asked what religion I was and I told him maybe a little of all. That we all have a God, but they may look differently. He paused for a moment, and then nodded agreement. The young man took two Vietnamese 1 Dong coins from his purse, put them between his thumbs as he held his hands in prayer, said a low prayer, and then placed them in my hand. He said he hoped they would bring me luck. I still have one of the coins. He was one of the greatest people I have yet to encounter.
The trip home was an exciting event. We had a stop in Japan of about an hour. I was able to purchase a Cannon 35mm camera and a genuine Rolex Oysterdate wrist watch for less than a quarter of the Stateside cost. A short stop in Hawaii to refuel, then off to Fort Lewis. Arriving at customs, my duffle bag came down the belt. The customs officer asked it I had any explosives or weapons in the bag. I replied no, that I had left all that back in Vietnam. He said you’re clear to go. I thought, if I had known it was that easy, I would have brought back a hundred pounds of weed and gotten rich. We were bussed to Ft. Lewis, where we turned in all our jungle gear and were fitted with a new set of Dress Greens. There was some rude SOB working in supply, who gave me a pair of pants that were about 8 inches too long. When I asked if he had a shorter pair, he just said take what you get. I snatched a stapler from his counter and stapled the cuff hems up to a decent length so I would at least look presentable. The flight home was by military standby. On one of the layovers I had spent too much time in the bar across from the waiting area. When I was finally called to bard the plane, I had had a bit too much to drink. As I boarded the plane I could hear this loud pitched voice calling, “Robert.” As I sat in my seat and buckled up, I was approached by a former girl friend from Vermontville, MI, Dorothy Marshall. She was one of the stewardesses on that flight. We spoke briefly. She said that her older brother was on the plane also returning from Vietnam. I was exhausted and went right to sleep and didn’t wake up until we landed in Lansing. I hadn’t told my folks that I was coming home, so I was hoping to surprise them. I called my friend from Charlotte, Brian Fernster, for a ride home. He and his wife and daughter picked me up and took me home. I was so happy to see them again. Needless to say, the folks were surprised to see me walk through the door. Maybe a little scary, I had lost so much weight in such a short time, dark circles around my eyes and not much color. Sleeping in that comfy bed was a real treat. I slept like a rock, until morning. Mother came in to wake me up. She grabbed my shoulder and shook me. I came up suddenly with a fright. The look on her face and probably mine said it all. I told her next time to just tap me on the foot and I would wake right up. Several days went by and I visited family and friends. The folks gave me a large manila envelope form the Army. When I opened it, I found the Bronze Star with “V” device award. Not much was said. I returned it to the envelope and put it away. The awards I would like to have are the Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge. Those are the closest to my heart and experiences in Vietnam.
I had decided to go to Charlotte about 20 miles from my folk’s home. I didn’t have any civilian clothes that fit or a car to drive, so I put on my Dress Greens and decided to hitch hike. The two lane dirt road that leads to the main highway back to Charlotte was only about 4 miles long not much traffic. That 4 miles was easy walking. When I got to Lansing Road, there would be plenty of traffic and catching a ride would be easy. As I walked with my thumb sticking in the air, the cars would just blow right past me. A few of the kind people would raise their hand and show me their IQ. I continued to walk, thumb in the air and a smile on my face. I was a patriotic individual. I was sure somebody would give me a lift. Boy was I wrong. I walked the entire distance. I swore to never wear that uniform in public again. I was so proud of what we had been through. That was a tough lesson to learn, but the public had shown me more. You didn’t dare mention that you had fought in Vietnam. There would be all kinds of comments against you and your fellow soldiers. I never mentioned my service to anyone and never put it on a job application.
Several weeks went by, my hair was looking better and the mustache I started in Vietnam was looking pretty good. My friend Mike Hill and I decided to go to the Ionia Free Fair. I was up for that. We stopped at one of the shooting booths. You had to cut out a star with an automatic BB gun and 100 BB’s. I cut that star out cleanly and got this great big teddy bear, which I shortly gave away. We walked up the midway, stopped at another shooting booth like the first. The carnie told me I was not allowed to play the game. Apparently he had been told I had won at the other stand. It was getting late as Mike and I walked the midway. The crowd and ride noise kept me from hearing the mortar that shoots the aerial grenade signaling the start of the fireworks. When the grenade exploded, I was in the middle of the midway, laying face down with my arms covering my head. Mike asked if I was OK. I nodded yes, but my heart was pounding and the adrenalin was pumping. Everyone looked at me like I was some kind of weirdo. It took quite a while to get back to a reasonable state of mind.
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