Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Friday, November 28, 2014
Thursday, November 27, 2014
When I volunteered to join the Marines, I was 19 years of age. My brother was a few years older than me and he had already paved the way for me. My brother Barry spent 27 months in Vietnam and he came back all right or so I thought. At least, I didn't seen any scars or missing limbs. So I figured if it was good enough for my brother, it was good enough for me. I had always looked up to Barry for many different reasons, but the most recent one was that he had joined the Marines and was the better man for it as far as I could see. When he joined, he was a tough guy, when he came back, I though he was Superman and he was, at least to me.
I was a skinny 19 year old kid, who couldn't afford to go to college and my parents couldn't afford to take care of me any longer. In those days, parents often allowed their children to make decisions like this. I knew that my brother was finishing up his military obligation and I surmised that I would most likely be sent over to Vietnam as quickly as possible. This was around November of 1969 and the war was still going on. I figured that the Marines would get me into good physical condition and I would be the better for it so since I had no idea about mortality and was confident that if my brother could survive two tours of duty in Vietnam, I could survive one. I joined for two years based upon my brother's advice. He had told me that this was the way to go because if you joined for two years and liked it, you could re-up for additional active time in service and the government would pay you an extra bonus. If you joined for 4 years, they would just have you for 4 years and no extra bonus. So that's what I did, two years.
Boot camp, ITR, & BITS training went fast. I developed into a lean, mean, fighting machine or so I thought. This short and humorous story is about sleeping under the stars in Vietnam. It's meant to be a small window for you to look through at one moment in time and you won't have to get the hankie out except to wipe away the tears of laughter. Well, some of you might not think it is funny but looking back, it was probably the funniest thing I experienced in Vietnam.
Our unit was located in the Quang Nam Province of South Vietnam and were responsible of guarding one of two "bases", LZ Baldy or LZ Ross. Essentially, we would do patrols around the bases, dancing with the Viet Cong and the NVA.
I always liked going back to the LZ Baldy or LZ Ross because after being out in the bush for a few days up to a couple of weeks on patrol, you could go back to the "base" and rest, write letters, drink, play cards or do whatever you wanted to do.
If you got sick or hurt out in the bush and you had to go back to the "base", they would make you stand guard duty and you didn't get much sleep then, so I made it a habit not to get sick or hurt while out in the field.
On this one particular patrol we had been out only a few days, when I was setting up sleeping quarters for the night. The set up was a quick one for only a one night stay so that consisted of a few pieces of chopped bamboo to hoist my poncho over my head and keep the night's mist or rain off of me for the most part. I didn't have a knife or hatchet with me and there was lots of green bamboo around but if you ever tried to break it off with your hands, you know it didn't like to break off very easily. So with my MC high IQ, I pull out my trusty entrenching tool which could do almost any task I put it to and began using it to chop some nice size bamboo sticks down. I bent down one perfect size bamboo stalk and stepped on the middle of the bamboo to keep it steady while I beat down on it with my ever reliable entrenching tool, determined to make quick work of cutting the bamboo down. After a couple of whacks, I could see that I had to put my back into it because the entrenching tool just wasn't cutting into this particular piece of green bamboo. I held the bamboo down close to the ground with my left foot and gave a vicious swing and the entrenching tool came down fast and hard. The entrenching tool bounced off that bamboo like a rubber ball off a school yard, right into my shin bone.
Now, keep in mind, we were out on patrol and setting up for the night in the middle of VC country and my eyes bulged out of my head as the pain shot through my body. I crumpled to the ground, suppressing a loud scream with intense low grunts and growls, that probably sounded more like a loud moan that wanted to be a screech more than anything else. I quickly gave up on chopping any more bamboo for the night and wrapped myself in the poncho and lay down for the night, The pain was severe although I could tell that I had not broken the bone. The skin was cut nicely but the bone put up a good fight and I didn't think I had much tissue damage. It was already turning dark so I lay down in the dark, in pain, unable to sleep. I was tough, really tough. Hell, all of us were tough, really tough. They trained us to be tough and suck up the pain I did but not for the reason you might think. It wasn't about some machismo thing. It wasn't to show my buddies how tough I was. It wasn't even about trying to prove something to myself. What it was, was that I didn't want to serve no damned guard duty when I got back to LZ Baldy. Remember, if you got injured and had to go back to the rear (base) you would most assuredly have to stand guard duty at night, looking through night lenses at apparitions trying to make their way through the concertina wire surrounding the base. I hated that duty more than risking my life in the field, I really did. So, I hunkered down for the night and just sucked up the pain.
The night passed pretty quickly for me although the sleep was restless. Most nights, we were exhausted from marching most of the day with gear that weighed more than half of our body weight. Most nights the sleep came fast and hard. It was also short. You see, we had guard duty at night out in the field too, sometimes setting up nighttime ambushes for the enemy and just to protect our unit from them as well. When you got back to the rear, you could sleep all night long and that was a treasure I thoroughly enjoyed. I don't remember having a watch that night but remember waking up that morning and as always, woke with a start. You kind of did that automatically, waking up with a start. It was kind of scary over there and you had better be alert even when you are sleeping. Anyway, I wake up fast and throw the poncho to my side and stand up rather quickly and went down a bit faster than when I stood up. I slept with my boots on like I did most nights in the field, sometimes changing the socks to keep from getting jungle rot on my feet. Jungle rot is a kind of tropical scab wound that never heals completely. Many Vietnam veterans still suffer from jungle rot but for the most part jungle rot is supposed to leave your body after you get out of that particular environment of wet and cold and wet and warm conditions that seldom changes, except with the monsoon rains and the seasons changing.
I quickly realized that something was seriously wrong. I could not even stand on my feet because the pain was so great. My buddies called our corpsman over. Navy Corpsmen were the medical staff of the Marines in the field. They were also some of the bravest men I ever met in Vietnam. The corpsman quickly deduced that I had a severe infection in my leg from the entrenching tool fight that I had the night before. My leg had swollen to twice its normal size and he had to entirely unlace my boots for me because any movement quickly caused me to wince like a wuss. He suggested a medevac (medical evacuation) for me because I not only couldn't walk but couldn't stand. I knew that would mean that I would be standing guard duty back at the LZ looking through those damned night scopes half of the night if not longer. We only had two more days in the field and we would be back at the LZ, able to sleep long hours, eat mess hall food, drink, rest, write letters etc. I asked him to doctor me up so that I could make it for the next two days. As I recall he gave me a penicillin shot or some type an antibiotic to fight the infection and another shot that numbed the pain. He cleaned the wound which wasn't bleeding any more, bandaged it and by the time the squad was on the move, I had found a hearty stick to lean on and away I went oblivious to the injury, looking forward to those nice long fits of sleep waiting for me back at the LZ.
Over these many years like most veterans, I seldom talked about what really happened over there. No one really wanted to know or so it seemed and quite frankly some of the stories aren't easy to share. We really didn't get a welcome mat when we returned home, so most of us just shut it up inside of us. It's been over 40 years now and while it might not be easy, some of us should record our stories, if just to act as a warning beacon for those to follow. The deadlier stories can be told by some and others will keep those to their grave. Some feel it is better not to relive some of the stories and that's what you do when you tell it to anyone. It isn't easy to relive some of those stories. This one was warm and fuzzy and I hope it brings a smile to your face, knowing that some silly things happen in war and some of us can look back on those stories and laugh about our innocence and ignorance.
We all started out that way but that changed rather quickly as many of you already know.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my brothers and sisters. 11-27-14
Class of 1969-1971.
From the summer of 1970.