Prior to Sept. 25, 1967, reclassification day, my chief annoyance might've been an unyielding girdle Martha wore for security. My major relief had to be the army rejecting me. Categorized as substandard made my day. I felt marvelous until Project 100,000, a program to recruit rejects.
Robert Strange McNamara decided physical and intellectual disabilities shouldn’t keep poor teenagers from dying for their country. His new standards resulted in belittling nicknames for American troops: “McNamara's Morons” and "McNamara's Salvation Army". Far worse than the media mockery, we were subjected to another summons.
A brief second physical ensued without a happy ending. Dr. Quack's only concern seemed to be my ability to move my trigger finger. Following a few finger squeezing demonstrations that army henchman checked 'IS QUALIFIED FOR'.
So upset I probably stuttered while asking, "What about the pin in my elbow and limited arm movement?"
"Minor impairments!" The bearer of bad news, with a mischievous grin, capped it off with, "President Johnson needs you in Vietnam."
"I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong," I said, imitating Cassius Clay, heavyweight champion of the world, sentenced to five years in prison for evading the draft.
Later I dawdled away from that red brick building thinking over my options. Then it hit me: living under water had to be a lot safer than in a jungle inhabited by people trying to kill me. I changed my pace, hurrying to the nearest navy recruiting office. I decided to become a submariner. Thus, the song "Yellow Submarine" occurs to me.
A large black recruiter sat behind his desk, grinning and chitchatting with a blonde teenybopper standing by his side. As I approached he turned away from the girl and 'ruined my day'.
"We're not hiring! Try the air force...two doors down," he said, baring his teeth in a devilish smile. Clearly he wasn't interested in my experience working inside HY-80 steel war machines.
I made tracks. In a jiff a friendly airman greeted me with a firm handshake. Following a hasty interview I heard the bad news.
"Sorry! Once the army drafts you, your only alternative is the marines."
To avoid infantry, I enlisted in the army to get a guaranteed school: Special Electronic Device Repairman. Enlisting meant an extra year of captivity, but it sounded like a good safe job. Being not too bright, I didn't think to ask, "What kind of electronic devices?"
On induction day, Oct. 24, '67, I stood au naturel with about 40 nude boys in a circle. The shortest kid there, with purple toe nails and an ear-to-ear smile, seemed to be having the time of his life. His rock-hard erection pointed out he might be more than just the happiest fella in the room. The officers took that as coming out of the closet, therefore ineligible for military service. Mental or physical disabilities? Okay! Gay? No way!
In a flash two uniformed officers marched over to the excited kid. One officer grabbed him by the arm. "Come with us," he ordered, escorting the little guy, referring solely to his height, out of the room. Since his stood at attention it was easily more than twice the size of the rest chilled, if one was to compare footage.
I wanted out too, but I couldn't raise a hair. The room felt chilly. A quick glance at my fellow slaves, yes - barely a fleeting peek, verified it: cold induced shrinkage.
No one had his chest out with pride as a doctor with gigantic hands moved toward us to check for hernias and prostate cancer, the latter being pointless, mortifying and painful. The only teen that might've taken pleasure in the torture had left the room. Also, the chances of a teenager having prostate cancer had to be zero probability - clearly a scam by lobbyist for the latex glove industry.
Dr. Hands stopped in front of me. We set eyes on each other as he put on a latex glove. “Turn your head and cough,” he ordered prior to legally molesting me.
It got worse, much worse, shortly after he stepped behind me. The pervert's finger entered my body, exploring. Well, I assume it was his finger. It felt enormous. I have no idea what gave him the legal right to probe or infiltrate without my permission.
Subsequent to Dr. Assailant treating us like animals, prisoners or slaves, whatever, we had to promise to defend the Constitution and to obey orders of officers appointed over us. The oath ended with us repeating, "So help me God." I omitted "So" when I spoke. It didn't hurt asking for help. I knew Vietnam is real and I desired not to return home inside a heavy-duty rubber body bag.
My grandmother once told me, “Ronnie, you have stars in your eyes. You’re gonna die young.”
Granny Ford’s premonition struck a cord as I viewed Vietnam at night from an airplane many miles away. The sight of rockets and red tracers being fired from helicopters, scattered fires and mortar flashes on the ground, and lightning flashes, triggered depression. I thought my life would be ending soon. The faces on my fellow passengers persuaded me to conclude many were thinking the same.
We landed in Bien Hoa. A blast of heat hit our bodies the moment we stepped out of the plane. "Damn! Kinda hot for nighttime." Then a strong disgusting odor caused me to wrinkle my nose. "P. U.! I wonder what died."
"You've been bitching ever since you got here," said the soldier next to me.
I smiled at him. "That's nothing! Wait to ya get to know me."
After we were set up in groups of fours a corporal wearing a helmet and flak jacket ordered us to run, run, run, and hurry, hurry, hurry, across the wet runway toward a parked bus. We could hear small explosions coming from the direction of the bus. The trot lasted about a minute. Then we were crammed inside that hot motor vehicle. I sat behind the driver and looked out the window.
Two grinning military policemen stood outside tossing firecrackers. One noticed me and pointed at three black body bags lying on the damp airfield. Afterwards he made a 'cut throat' motion, moving a finger across his throat. I guess that's his way of indicating there were three dead soldiers in those bags.
The air conditioner wasn’t on so I leaned toward the driver and made a request for cool air. He ignored my plea. I muttered, “My congressman will hear about this.”
A terrified boy sat down beside me. His sweaty hands held a Bible hard against his chest as he closed his eyes and murmured prayers. His body shook like a popular Don Knotts’ TV character.
“Where ya from?” I asked.
With his eyes still shut, he mumbled, “Pennsylvania.”
Clearly he wasn’t in the mood for a friendly chit-chat, so I didn't disturb him again. The poor kid appeared to be younger than eighteen. Perhaps his call of duty involved that jail or you enlist in the army program - extremely common in the 60s.
The bus drove us to the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh. My two weeks stay there consisted of attending lectures, burning feces, filling green sandbags, guard duty, KP, and picking up an M-16 rifle.
Next stop: 5th Battalion, 2nd Artillery - Home of the Dusters, Vulcans and Quad 50s, just a short ride several miles north. Spec. 4 Eric Drinkhouse parked the jeep by a large sign with the insignia for I Battery, 29 Artillery, Searchlights. Then I followed him onto wooden decking running between a row of hooches, the lower half wood and the upper half encased screening. Beyond the screen door to my new home were a dozen bunks, six in a row evenly spaced on each side of a large open room. At the far end of the building were two small enclosed rooms with wooden doors. Drinkhouse led me to our two-bunk room. Inside there were a large stereo system, a small refrigerator, two black foot lockers and two metal wall lockers.
I tossed my belongings onto my bunk. It was party time. I had arrived on a Saturday during the grand opening of our own rubber lined pool. Plenty of hamburgers and hot dogs to munch on, and beer, kept cold in a trailer full of ice, to gulp down. I had a few cans of Budweiser: only 3.2 alcohol but still mighty good.
The most memorable small talk that afternoon involved the accidental death of a kid in our barracks earlier that week. It happened at nighttime. He was fooling around with his rifle and somebody warned him to be careful. He responded with, "Don't worry, it's not loaded." Then he placed the barrel under his chin and pulled the trigger. Big mistake! The kid was dead wrong.
The festivities ended with a fully dressed captain responsible for the swimming hole, our doctor, being thrown into the water. CPT Doc Hollyward, a Californian, had the whitest teeth I had ever seen: 2 shades whiter than snow.
Doc, flashing his ultra bright smile, ascended out of the water. He was an officer and a gentleman who didn't display any signs of animosity. In fact he remained friendly with the four privates who had lifted him high into the air before tossing him headfirst into the water. A court-martial offense: Article 89 or 90 of the UCMJ. A hanging offense many years ago.
About my fourth week in Nam a mortar attack occurred close to 10 PM. It started during a tense confrontation scene near the end of ‘Return of the Gunfighter’. The movie stopped and we were ordered out of our small movie house. As I stepped outside, I heard the ‘thump’ sound of a mortar hit close by. Then there was a ‘whining’ sound of one going over our heads followed by another ‘thump’. A total of thirteen mortars exploded. Later I heard all were outside our compound, none hit inside. No one was injured.
During that mini-attack, the Bible clenching 'Don Knots' personality I had met on the bus ran by me yelling for his mommy. That was the last time I saw him. If screaming for my mom would have gotten me sent home to Martha, my sweetheart, I would have been running along side that kid if I had any sense.
I missed Martha so much and believed that I would never see her again. If it weren’t for the book ‘Catch 22’, I would have been right. Sadly, the soldier who gave it to me died hours later.
After placing a bulb, a small red relay panel, a converter, a thick cable and a few small tools into a large cloth bag, Drinkhouse briefed me about my first job in the field. "That's all you'll need to fix most problems. Be at the chopper pad by 0800. Ya going to St. Barbara about seventy miles north of here."
The helicopter arrived on time. I got on and sat a few feet behind the door gunner. It was quite scary flying ninety mph just above the tree tops. The reason: less likely to be seen. Anyone not deaf could probably hear us from miles away. In less than an hour we landed at the small fire support base. Except for the Black Virgin Mountain miles away there was nothing but desolated flat land as far as the eye could see.
The job didn’t take long. Waiting for a ride back wasn’t bad, I got to relax and bask in the sun. That beats the heck out of working in the motor pool or filling sandbags.
“That’s what I thought,” the searchlight operator said as I put the bad bulb in my sack.
“That’s the third bulb in three hundred and forty-three days.”
“You must be a short-timer.”
The tall black PFC smiled. “About as short as ya can get: a wake-up. I'm flying home tomorrow.” He wore an unusual necklace, fairly long with large animal teeth spaced an inch or so apart.
“You’re still out here?”
“Leaving this afternoon,” he roared, grinning like a cheerful man about to leave a combat zone.
“I’ll probably be going with you.”
“That hairy dude, Drinkhouse, sat around and read for days.”
“Didn’t bring anything to read.”
“I got a book you can have, ‘Catch-22'. It's not too bad.”
That paperback was so good I decided to stick around and read it until the next helicopter came. Otherwise I would have been on the ¾ ton truck that left that afternoon. All four soldiers on board died. We could hear the explosion and the small arms several minutes after they left. He was the first soldier I had met that died shortly later.
Although just an acquaintance, I felt grief-stricken. Still I found a shady area to sit and read Catch-22. Two days later a whirlybird flew me back to base camp. I was looking forward to a hot cooked meal that didn't come out of a small green can and a shower. The waterworks at St. Barbara amounted to a garden hose suspended in air and spraying water commencing at 1800 (6 PM). You had to wait in line for that skimpy cleansing.
I missed the luxuries available to base camp warriors. Compared to those combatants living in tiny bunkers and eating C-Rations, I had it made. We ate decent food in a mess hall, slept on a mattress inside a building, watched television and movies in a small theater, a swimming pool, a club, a PX, and two dollars a week maid service.
Those hooch girls worked hard for their money. One tiny girl was knocked unconscious. The hard blow came from a PFC accusing her of stealing a pair of socks. She vehemently denied it. The six-feet-two-inch black man didn't waste anytime cold cocking her. That crazy soldier didn't have to pay her anything extra and there were no criminal charges. He did end up in LBJ (Long Binh Jail) but that was for shooting four soldiers the following week.
The girl beater had a disagreement with a large white racist inside the EM Club. The redneck kicked his ass in front of a large crowd. That must have been embarrassing and painful. The winner of the fight was escorted over to the orderly room to file a report about the incident while the loser went to his hooch to fetch his M-16 rifle.
The pissed off guy entered the workstation blazing. He just emptied his full clip, shooting everybody in sight. Afterwards, he returned to his hooch. Fortunately, nobody died, but two were seriously injured. A soldier with a spine injury was told he would never walk again. He swore he will find the shooter some day and kill him.
Before long I took over for a searchlight operator away on R&R. I got to see a couple of snakes up close. My last afternoon there I sat on a wooden crate inside a bunker reading by a window like opening when I sensed something was staring at me. A couple of feet away a yellow snake with stripes running along its sides stuck its tongue out at me. The snake was less than a foot long and half of its body was in the air - like a cobra about to strike. We gazed at each other, and then he stuck his tiny tongue out again, turned and slithered away. I placed the book down and hurried out of the bunker.
Spec. 4 Doug Goldstein, the owner of an enormous boa constrictor, stood outside putting his serpent into its cage. I kept my distant keeping an eye on the snake while informing Doug about the tiny one I had just seen.
"It's called a two-stepper. It bites ya." Doug held up two fingers. "Two steps later you're dead. Ready to play?"
It didn't take long to get three more poker players together inside a bunker. In a few hours I was way ahead. That appeared to annoy Sergeant Giordano. He gave me the evil eye as he lit up a smelly cheap cigar, inhaled and then blew smoke at me.
I winced, waving the smoke away from my face. "Jeez, that stinks, Giordano."
"What did you call me?" he barked, narrowing his eyes.
Since he had on his Jungle Fatigues I stared at his name tag and made two attempts at pronouncing his name correctly.
"It's Sergeant Giordano, Gagnon," he said, folding his cards to my raise.
"It's Specialist Gannon," I said, showing him my bluff before raking in a substantial size pot.
"You can call me whatever ya want, Serge," said R A, the soldier sitting directly across from Giordano.
Doug shuffled the cards. "Call me Specialist Goldstein from now on, Sergeant. I'm not a brown nosing lifer." He stared at R A while dealing out the cards.
R A picked up his cards and examined them. "And proud of it. Shoes on my feet. Food in my belly. When I re-up, a six-thousand-dollar bonus. What more can a man ask for?"
I folded my cards. "A night with Ann-Margret or Tuesday Weld. Actually just three or four minutes."
R A stared at his cards, flexing his muscles. "I’d settle for anything with a little public hair."
"It's pubic hair, dickhead. Bet or fold," Giordano said with the cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth.
I stuffed the money in front of me into a side pocket and stood up. "It's been a fun week. I had enough. Someone's a bit too cranky for me."
Giordano took the cigar out of his mouth and looked up at me. "Sit down! You're not leaving this early."
"Watch me!" I left the bunker.
The only thing I liked about that week was poor poker playing. I was up over a grand and scheduled to leave the next morning. That night when I slept my rifle was nearby ready for action. I thought somebody might slit my throat for a thousand bucks and I wouldn't feel safe until the money was deposited in The Chase Manhattan Bank in Long Binh.
While back in safer locality, the position I had just spent seven nights at was attacked. Not a night too soon. Doug turned out be a hero for driving along the perimeter with his searchlight all night long, searching for enemy on info-red and switching to white light to reveal them. Just prior to daybreak a mortar hit close to his jeep, causing it to overturn into a ditch. Doug's injuries were minor but there was some blood. His CO put him for a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In addition to those medals Doug was given a few days rest back in base camp.
While returning from breakfast I spotted Doug getting off a chopper. After exchanging friendly waves we approached each other. He looked tired, filthy and apparently hadn't shaved in days. He told me about the battle and that he was heading for the PX to buy razor blades. I went with him.
Inside the PX our new post commander rudely cut off our chit-chat. We saluted as required by military law but notta in return. I thought a return salute was required, but I guess I was wrong.
The tall colonel examined Doug from head-to-toe. "Don't tell me you're in my army," the officer said, slowing shaking his head in dissatisfaction.
"Yes, Sir! I'm one of Uncle Sam's finest," Doug replied with a half-smile. "I just got in from the field. There was an all night attack that just ended a few hours ago. My..."
The colonel interrupted him. "I want you to shave, shower, change those clothes, and then report to the Orderly Room to pick up your Article 15."
Doug was demoted to PFC, fined a hundred dollars, and denied both commendations. The IG (Inspector General) in Long Binh advised him that he could only challenge the denial of awards as a penalty for his wrongdoings.
The new top brass also issued Article 15's to all soldiers wearing tapered jungle fatigues, having facial hair, and one guy with a handle bar moustache. I can't guess why but many of the base camp warriors paid to have their green baggy uniforms made narrower. Also our new boss made it clear all haircuts on base will confirm to military requirements. His most unforgivable deed of all was transferring me to Song Be. The new post don decided the base could do without two servicemen with the same MOS, searchlight repairman.
From a decent room to a narrow, rat infested, bunker sucked. Talk about location, location, location. This had to be the worst spot to sleep in. A 175 mm howitzer stood about fifty feet away. Every night it fired over my bunker. Extremely loud. Almost enough to cause a nose bleed. It certainly felt that way. Not to mention the brain trauma. Maddening, simply maddening.
The stay there was surprisingly short. A trip to Cu Chi to repair a searchlight resulted in another transfer. While waiting for a chopper ride back to Song Be, I assisted in constructing a concrete grease rack. The cement was poured from the back of a truck. Afterwards a lieutenant ordered me and a PFC to take the vehicle to a nearby pond, outside the gate, and wash it.
At the small body of water I paid a couple of Vietnamese boys to do the dirty deed. While instructing the kids a jeep pulled up. A sergeant major jumped out and yelled, "Get over here."
The private and I hurried over to him. By the time we got there Lt. Colonel McNeill stood by his side. The sergeant told us to see the colonel, a huge guy, enormous, like John Wayne.
The officer and not a gentleman didn't return my salute. Instead he put his finger inches from my face and shouted, "You rotten bastard, how would you like to be private?"
I glanced at his finger, wanting to grab and twist it. Perhaps break it. "No, Sir!"
McNeill turned to the private by my side and screamed, "You, you rotten bastard, next time you approach me, salute me."
My partner in crime did nothing and said nothing. LTC McNeill shouted again. "Salute me!"
The nineteen-year-old soldier, new in country and quite nervous, saluted.
McNeill informed us that the pond was off limits and we had sixty seconds to get the truck out of there. The humongous flake placed a hand on his revolver and started to count.
We ran back to the truck and hopped in. The PFC drove while I sat by his side with my M-16 ready for action. If that officer had pulled out his handgun, I think I might have shot him. Why take a chance? Self defence?
Since I was following legal orders that I couldn't disobey or even question, the conduct by those two masters not connected with my outfit riled me. They had absolutely no right to treat us that way, especially a high ranking officer who should know better. The private and I were not children caught misbehaving. I had turned the other cheek too often. I wanted an apology from McNeill or the lieutenant who ordered us to go to that pond.
McNeill's conduct was clearly unbecoming an officer, Article 133, so I filed an official complaint with the IG.
The major scratched or rubbed himself constantly behind his desk as he read my grievance. Out of the blue the lewd top brass slammed my paperwork on his desk. "Do you expect me to believe this?"
"It's true, Sir," I replied.
"You could go to jail for signing that," he said, pointing at my complaint.
I reacted with a smile and a slight ha.
"Wipe that smirk off your face," he shouted. "You're wasting my time with this petty bullshit. Get out of my office. Now!"
The next morning I was sent to the worst place possible: Position Diamond located by the Cambodia border. That support base had been overrun twice. They actually fought the enemy hand-to-hand inside the compound. It wasn't a safe place to be, especially for a searchlight operator. Every time there was an attack a searchlight operator was killed. That’s why they needed me. There seemed to be a shortage. I knew a quick fix - don't shine a bright white light at the enemy. It makes ya an easy target.
Diamond sucked: no running water, no hot food - just C-rations, no mattress - just a cot in a bunker. More disturbing was the fact that many soldiers died there. Allegedly Oliver Stone was wounded there and it was spot depicted in Stone's movie, Platoon.
One night I got credit for half a kill, but I was responsible for the deaths of two humans. Maybe they were just two curious kids - I don’t know. I do know one of them had narrow shoulders and a small head. His death bothers me to this day.
He peered over a boulder just outside the barbed wire. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a person or not. The searchlight puts out this beam not seen by the naked eye. You need infra-red binoculars to see what the beam is shinning on. And those green images aren’t too clear. I stared at him for a couple of minutes through my info-red binoculars. When he moved down behind the rock, I knew he was a person.
I telephoned the tower and gave the azimuth reading (a point of reference taken from the searchlight) where the person was. Someone in the tower checked out that area with the starlight scope mounted in the tower. He stated that there were two individuals crawling away from that location.
Heavy artillery was called-in. Within minutes a bombardment of live rounds from howitzers exploded just outside barbed wire. After the tower reported two direct hits, the shelling stopped.
Although my two months inside that dangerous confinement were gloomy, I had it much better than the infantry soldiers that left the area at sunrise and returned at sundown. I can't guess why they went out daily on a dangerous patrol in an area many miles away from the nearest village or town.
Most of my days were spent lounging around or playing cards with anyone available with money. Since I was in charge of my one man crew and had no one there giving me orders, I flew out of the area every chance I got. I was fortunate if that occurred once a week. Anytime there was a round trip flight to town and back I was on it. Usually there was enough time to shower, eat some decent food and shop at the PX. Beef jerkies and booze were my main purchases.
A fifth of Smirnoff vodka and Jack Daniels whiskey cost just a buck and a quarter each. No sales tax. A bargain I couldn't resist. I bought plenty of alcohol. Since there wasn't a club or PX nearby, I was the neighborhood supplier of high spirits. At a mere fifty cents a shot glass full I could have made about seven bucks profit on each bottle. I sold and gave away plenty of shots. The soldiers returning from their all day hike seemed to appreciate my goodwill. Per word of mouth I imagine my cliental grew and grew. The brass didn't seem to care about drugs, the hard stuff or the lives of young soldiers.
Every night six poor souls were sent outside the barb wire. Officially their lives were insignificant, almost like the rich sending the poor to war. In this case the sacrificial lambs were used as a tip off that the enemy had arrived. Clearly other warning devices would have been more practical. If the one who thought up using a Listening Post had to be with them, I bet he would come up with something more sensible. That rationale might equally apply to those nutcases ordering the spraying of areas with chemicals known to be hazardous. Prior to spraying close to our bunkers, the same stuff should be sprayed by their residences. Mandatory! Maybe they would have reconsidered.
Our government leaders were told back in 1967 Agent Orange caused cancer, skin diseases, birth defect, and other major serious health problems. Yet they continued to use it four additional years. An estimation of about 19 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed over South Vietnam. Endangering American soldiers and Vietnamase civilians just to destroy the jungles by defoliating trees and shrubbery where Vietnam Armies might hide and to deprive them of vegetation and food.
Due to Agent Orange I developed some kind of skin disease. My stomach and penis were covered with a scary looking rash. Sort of like large pimples of different sizes and colors plus superficial ulcers emitting pus. Shortly after showing a medic, I was transported to the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi.
Their emergency room was filled to capacity with seriously wounded soldiers. While waiting to be examined, I sat by a helicopter pilot dying from severe burns. What was left of one arm was covered in a clear cylinder tube. His hand and part of his arm were gone. He had no hair and no ears. His face and body were red, black and purple in color. He was lying on a cot, awake and begging for water.
A nurse came over and put drops of water on his lips. The man continued to plead for water. That’s all he ever said, “Water. Water.” It was his last word. Before walking away, the nurse didn’t cover his face. I didn’t know if he had any eyelids to close, but she didn't bother to try. As I stared at his eyes I felt choked up. My mouth became very dry. I wanted water, but I didn't ask for some.
There I was, a kid with a rash, in a room with soldiers suffering from severe injuries. I wished they would just give me some green soap and send me to a place where I can bathe every day. That’s all I needed, but a doctor assigned me to a hospital bed. I stayed nineteen days. Every morning I had to hear this petite nurse, a cute lieutenant, tease me.
“Time to wash your little friend,” she yelled, approaching from 10 feet away.
Teasing people can be contagious. I was taken out of the hospital to fix a searchlight nearby. While waiting for a ride back to the hospital, I messed with one of the working girls outside the barbed wire. After negotiating, she led me behind a bush. When she saw my penis, covered with sores like little volcanoes with pus oozing out of their tops, she handed me my money back. It scared the hell out of her. Me too!
My doctor wrote down chancroid and rash on my health record. The rash cleared up and I was released and stayed there, in Cu Chi, as a searchlight repairman, again. That huge base had showers: doctor's orders. I had to be able to shower daily. Yes! No more places like Position Diamond and Song Be.
The first month in Cu Chi was okay. It appeared safe until February 26. Underground tunnels were used by an estimated thirty sappers to get inside. The throats of two sleeping guards were slit. Their bodies were found later inside a bunker by the helicopter pad. The group of combatants took small explosives, handheld rocket launchers, and automatic weapons to the helicopter area. Using wire cutters they cut the final wire protecting the pad area. At 0400 the first chopper exploded.
There were fourteen Chinook helicopters. A guard stationed inside most of them. The loud blast woke Jose Pridou. Immediately he noticed an enemy peeking through an opening. He grabbed his .45 handgun by his side and fired twice. One bullet entered the VC's eye. His helicopter was one of three able to fly after the attack.
A nearby guard wasn’t as fortunate. As the Chinooks were exploding, he made a dash for the bunker line. A rocket took his head off. In a matter of minutes nine helicopters were completely destroyed. Jose made it safely to a nearby bunker.
As soon as the first helicopter exploded, Viet Cong attacked two sides of our compound and the main gate area. My side wasn’t one of them. Soon we got word more than fifty VC had made it inside. We were ordered to stay inside our assigned bunkers and protect our perimeter. Eyes front when the enemy was behind us? Not too likely.
I defended the entrance. To my right more than two hundred yards away there was an explosion inside one of the bunkers. I could barely make out a little guy running toward me. He fell face first into the dirt. There was gunfire everywhere and plenty of flairs lighting up the areas surrounding our compound. Rockets and mortars were hitting inside the compound.
The battle lasted a couple of hours. Fourteen American soldiers were killed, over fifty wounded. I saw more than a dozen dead Viet Cong scattered around inside the compound. I heard seven were captured, more killed outside perimeter and nine hanging dead on the barbed wire in front of the main gate.
I gazed over the bodies and took some pictures at approximately 0630. My fellow Americans smiled broadly as they looked down at those dead kids. I wondered how anyone could get pleasure from viewing the dead, especially ones that young. Most were naked except for the ones wearing American jungle fatigues. Non-American clothing was probably taken for a souvenir. One of the deceased reminded me of a friend back home. This poor guy’s leg was hanging by skin, bones exposed, and he had a huge hole in his head. I guess somebody took his brain for a keepsake.
I never got use to corpses. Viewing them bothered me. Maybe if they weren’t so young, I wouldn’t have felt so sad and guilty. It was their country and we shouldn’t have been there. To this day I don’t have a clue why our country drafted the young and poor to kill younger and poorer people that lived so far away.
The trip back to the states was very pleasant. The stewardesses were super nice. I don’t recall civilians treating me other than friendly while in uniform. It felt absolutely great to be back in the USA. I landed in California, home of people with ultra white teeth. I would have stayed for awhile if Martha wasn’t waiting for me by the other ocean.
I was happy to see her. When we hugged, I noticed she wasn’t wearing a girdle. Actually, I didn’t notice any panty lines.