"P ut them in panchos, what's left of them. Radio back we found the Loach. No survivors. Two dead."
The next day's re-supply brought news of Moon. "He'll live, but he's lost his balls. We got to move out to connect with C Company. They've suffered more casualties."
The men of C Company were a disconsolate group. Some had tears in their eyes. Others muttered epithets against the Vietnamese.
"Goddamned motherfuckin' gooks."
A dead member of Charlie Company lay on the trail with a pancho draped across his torso and covering his face. Only his dusty boots were showing.
"How'd it happen?" West Virginia asked.
"Claymore. He was walking point. Didn't have a chance. Talked about his family a lot. How much he missed them. Had a wife and little girl. We split up his gear with his squad."
"Want to guard the body while we get re-supplied? Got lots of ammo coming in. Going to need it."
"I'll do it," I volunteered to sit on the trail.
The body lay dormant like a sleeping giant. A slithering leech unceremoniously propelled itself up on one of the boots that pointed towards the sky.
I jerked the plastic bottle of bug juice and squeezed hard, coating the animal with the liquid. The leech agonized.
The men encountered the rest of the bunker complex later. It contained concertina wire.
"Made like a firebase. This is a boot camp for the fuckers!"
Chickens and fish were found.
"They left in a goddamned hurry."
Patrols were sent out frequently in all directions but the enemy had left the area. At times the men would smell the lingering odor of cooked fish, which indicated that they had departed not long ago.
The men had a stand-down on a Firebase Bastogne. After bunkers were assigned to the various squads details were assigned.
Sergeant Conway approached his squad and said, "I'm too short for this shit. You guys decide what you want to do. I don't want one of you guys fragging my bunker at night 'cause I'm picking on you. Cut cards or draw straws."
Hunt came up with a deck of cards. I lost and reported for kitchen police duty the next day.
It was ten thirty in the morning when the first explosion hit. A black cloud of smoke rose from the firebase.
"Mortars coming in!" someone shouted.
The firebase convulsed into action. Artillery fire responded almost immediately as I rushed to my bunker.
Five more mortars exploded on the firebase causing black plumes of smoke to lift into the air. Five Americans on the firebase were killed that day and the wounded were many.
"Get your helmets on!" Conway shouted.
The men were instructed to fire into the nearby hills. They fed the magazines into their M16s for five minutes and sprayed the surrounding hills.
"Now get those 16s cleaned," ordered Bowles.
That night the men were more alert on guard duty. At 11:15 a "mad minute" was held. The men fired randomly into the night at the pre-arranged time.
In the dark the grenadier, Gabe fired a gas grenade by mistake. Plop! The gas drifted back toward the firebase causing the men to cough and their eyes to burn. They searched frantically for their gas masks while their eyes smarted. Some of the men ran aimlessly around the firebase unable to locate a gas mask.
The next day orders came down that every man would carry a gas mask. Supplies were divided up. The men made a combat assault to another location.
The leeches were thicker than usual. Bug spray was a frequent request on re-supply. Big John felt one of the bloodsuckers on his testicles. He shouted in anguish and dropped his pants including the green army boxers. Grabbing a bottle of bug juice he squeezed a stream of liquid on the engorged animal that had attached to his skin. The leech fell like a rock to the ground.
Big John's solution had brought its own pain. He rushed to the medic who prescribed a cream for Big John to apply himself to reduce the painful burning sensation caused by the insect repellant juice.
The men devoured their mail at re-supply and also received copies of the Stars and Stripes newspaper. The paper was filled with success stories of the Army, sports, and human-interest stories.
"Look at this, West Virginia," Tennessee declared pointing to an article in the paper, "This guy re-ups for six years and gets a ten thousand dollar cash bonus."
"Let me see," said West Virginia snatching the newspaper and reading, "Army Specialist Fourth Class Jenkins is all smiles after signing a six year contract. What a fool!"
First squad was sent on an x-ray. A short while later, a loud blast was heard in the distance. The RTO reported that the squad had hit a "bravo-bravo-tango".
"What the hell is a bravo-bravo-tango?"
"A medivac was called.
"Horton's got a million dollar wound. The doc gave him morphine. He's got shrapnel up his leg. Hit a big bertha."
Horton was lying on the ground. He was smiling broadly and holding a photo of his girl. "I'm coming home,' he said to the picture.
Orders came down from higher for the platoon to hump a klick a day. The terrain was slow going. The sun hung like a giant yellow ball in the sky. The sweltering heat took its toll on the men. Breaks were short and few. The grunts complained about the heat, the captain, and whatever.
The new cherries were exhausting their water supplies.
"Better take it easy," Gabe cautioned to those gulping water from their canteens, "You don't know how long it'll last."
The rucksacks dug into the men's backs. You could hear the grunts of the men and they plodded on the trail. The medic passed out salt tablets to the men who were sweating profusely.
I was so damn tired that one night I slept through a claymore blast.
The platoon was air lifted to Firebase Tomahawk for one night prior to a stand down. The men were asked to contribute seven dollars each to a kitty to cover five dollars for drinks and two dollars for prostitutes for the upcoming stand down.
Two Vietnamese whores were obtained from a nearby Ville and they set up operations in two bunkers on the firebase. They were going to provide sexual services for the entire platoon.
The black re-supply sergeant with a paunch circulated around the bunkers. He had had too much to drink.
"I want every man in this platoon to get a piece of ass,' he said, "You deserve it."
He told us where the prostitutes had set up shop on the firebase.
One of the black soldiers was gone over thirty minutes. Afterwards one of the women came out of the bunker and told the lined up men, "No more soul! No more soul!"
The men were told that there were no "mad minutes" scheduled that night, as they were short on flares and ammo.
"And be damned sure that you don't send up a red flare by mistake."
The next day the men were flown to the rear for the stand down. They helped erect the circus tents and settled down to a night of partying.
The following day the news was spread that Firebase Tomahawk had been hit by a sapper attack the night after we left the firebase. A few sappers were found in the concertina wire in the perimeter.
An entertainment show was scheduled for that night. The men crowded around a stage where a band performed with several scantily clad go-go dancers gyrating to the music. The smell of marijuana and Thai sticks permeated the air. The Australian female singer mesmerized the men.
"I'd eat a mile of her shit to see where it came from," one stoned soldier said.
The singer danced to the rock and roll music, smiling and winking at the men. When their set ended the soldiers crowded around the stage to shake her hand, touch a real, live woman.
An inebriated Mississippi propositioned the singer, "I'll give you a hundred dollars to spend a few minutes in my tent."
The woman paused as if she were considering the offer.
"I'll make it a hundred and fifty if you come to my pad," said another man.
Mississippi's fist was fast to the man's mouth. A melee ensued with the object of the men's desire exiting backstage.
The next day the stand down was terminated early and the soldiers were sent back to the field. Rumors abounded that Charlie continued to inflict massive casualties on Charlie Company in the field. The soldiers stayed overnight on Firebase Birmingham where the captain addressed the company.
"I would like to announce that any man who captures a VC will receive a three day pass to Eagle Beach!"
The men cheered.
The captain departed.
"Quite a pep talk."
"Three days at Eagle Beach, man."
"And a death ride in a chopper for the VC."
"Whose side you on? Those slant eyes are the enemy."
The men made another combat assault to the field where Charlie Company had suffered their losses. A patrol had discovered another bunker complex. The captain had ordered the rest of the platoon to proceed to the area ASAP. Those who were in the vanguard were pelted with artillery fire.
"Get on the horn and tell them to stop the goddamned fire."
The men had already been victimized. A chubby black soldier lay on the ground uttering a repetitious prayer. The medic rushed to his side and discovered that the man had small shrapnel wound in his large stomach.
"Quit your bitching. You're not dying," said the medic.
No one was seriously hurt from the friendly fire that was meant to destroy the bunker complex.
"Goddamned captain. Just had to see a bunker complex."
The men cast hateful glances in his direction.
"Get your men ready to move," ordered the captain.
"Moo," someone said, and it spread like wildfire.
"Sounds like a herd of cattle, captain," Sergeant Bowles flashed his gold-rimmed teeth in a smile.
"The men aren't happy if they don't complain."
"They must be deliriously happy now."
Rumors of a planned fragging circulated around the platoon.
The only companion on guard duty was loneliness. The men shared the burden by passing the timepiece to the next scheduled guard. First and last guards were the preferred shifts because your sleep was not interrupted.
One night the last guard was surprised when morning light did not arrive as scheduled. He had to pull an extra two-hour guard duty. He grabbed Ngoc, the Vietnamese Kit Carson Scout, and held a Bowie knife to his throat. "Don't you ever set the watch up again! Do you understand?"
The days blended into one another. The temperature remained in the eighty-degree bracket. The soldiers kept track of their own time in country in various ways, counting down the days until they could "return to the world." Some kept their calendars in ink on the camouflage cover of their helmets. Mail was the contact with the "world" that kept their hopes up. Mail arrived every re-supply. The guys carried it on their persons or inside an ammo can in their rucksacks until they burned it. Packages from "the world" were shared with other members of the squad. The major portion of re-supply was C-rations, which were a medium of exchange. If we were in an area where "nook" (water) was scarce blivets of water were brought in. Most men carried ten quarts of water consisting of five canteens and a five-quart bladder. Major re-supplies came every six days and in addition to mail and food contained fatigues and sundry packs in which we received cigarettes, candy, soap, writing materials, pens, razors and blades, gum, and string. Stars and Stripes newspapers came with mail although AFVN radio kept most of the GIs informed.
If there was no landing zone for the choppers we created an LZ by using explosives and machetes to clear the trees and vines. If there wasn't time to make an L re-supply came by "kick-out". Choppers would then hover over our area and throw the re-supply off.
In my rucksack I carried a gas mask, pancho, air mattress, chow, ten quarts of water, trip flare, claymore, rain jacket, personal items, LAW (light anti-tank weapon), and two bandoliers of M-16 ammo.
Conway had ended his time in the Nam and took the Freedom Bird home. Big John had been to the rear twice to get injections of penicillin. We got a new squad leader, E-5 Donald Benson. Squads were reconfigured. I was in Sgt, Frazee's fire team along with Dave Sund, Bill Noble, the "Chieu Hoi" KCS (Kit Carson Scout) Ngoc, and Jerry Rusnik. In the other team, the gun team was Jo-Jo Sena, Daniel O'Berry, Larry Hunt, Pat Kunnert, and team leader, Sgt. James Short.
One day the re-supply chopper started to land when three rocket propelled grenades were fired at the chopper and the distinctive small arms fire of the Russian made AK-47 was heard. A member of third squad reported that he saw three gooks running into the nearby hills. The squad returned fire and within minutes the cobra gun ships were in the air working out their mini-guns.
Our long periods of inaction were punctuated by these moments of sheer terror.
Securing Firebase Vegel was one of our company's assignments while it was being rebuilt. Because the enemy hit it so many times in the past FSB Veghel had been abandoned, but now it was to be remade. No bunkers were available so night guard was pulled from foxholes, which we dug during the day. Platoon leader Bowles had the audacity to ask others to dig his foxhole for him in addition to their own. If he had asked me I would have had a surprise for the lifer. Fortunately for him and me, I was never asked.
Bulldozers leveled the top of the hills on which the firebase was located. Chinook helicopters transported the heavy artillery pieces and equipment, which was to be used on the firebase. The constant purring of the bulldozers and sounds from the 8-inch guns were irritating. Not to mention the constant visits from the generals and colonels who checked on the progress of the construction at the firebase. All of them had suggestions, which we, the eleven bravos, had to implement. The surrounding trees and brush were cleared with explosives. Also dud rounds of the prep fire that was delivered before we came had to be exploded in place.
During the day we would improve our positions, and perform duties for the platoon and company CP. Most times we would get one hot meal a day. Mainly we would chow down on C-rations and "W" (world) rations that we received in our packages from the states. We did not have any showers and the hot chow became infrequent. Many of the troops preferred life in the bush.
The weather became foul and miserable. It rained heavily for two days and Firebase Veghel became a mountain of mud. Due to the amount of rainfall, large amounts of fog accompanied the men during the night. Passwords were utilized at night and changed daily. Illumination rounds fired periodically throughout the night gave us brief feelings of security.
Alpha Company 2/502 made contact during the night about four klicks from the firebase and suffered four dead and twenty- three wounded. Our Vietnamese adversary used the elements to his advantage.
Five men were injured in a freak accident on Firebase Veghel. Some trip flares and claymores were stored in the same box. When one of the flares erupted into flame it ignited the C-4 explosive in a claymore sending shrapnel flying in all directions. At the time I was with the majority of the company clearing out a field of fire for some positions on the firebase. We were cutting small bushes and sawing trees when the fireworks went off.
After two weeks on the firebase we were replaced by Alpha Company and moved out to the hills. As there were gooks in the area we prepped the area with artillery fire and CS gas.
Eagle Beach did not happen as promised. But you could count on the rain. There were only two seasons in the Nam, hot and wet. Combat assaults came and went. Re-supplies sometimes came on schedule. Everyone was hungry on re-supply days. Ironically when re-supply came we had to throw a portion of the food out. It was just too much to hump in the field. Fruit and cocoa was taken from the extra meals, and holes were punched in the remaining cans of C-rations so that the food would be spoiled if Charlie ever found it. We tried to bury what we could.
At the end of June I was transferred from the 1/327 to the 1/501 as part of the Army's Infusion Program that was designed to prevent a mass exodus of soldiers from the Nam at the same time. Hunt, Stobe, Jo-Jo, AJ, and I were sent to different units. The last day with the 1/327 in the rear I participated in training exercise which involved rappelling from a helicopter. It was a strange experience to stand on the skids of a helicopter hovering fifty feet from the ground. We had a ten-foot drop in the air before ropes secured around our pelvis caught us so we could control our descent.
I came out via truck to the 1/501 who were stationed on Firebase Tomahawk. I was assigned to the second platoon who were out in the bush, but were scheduled to come in the next day. I had met a few of the men while processing from the 1/327 while in the rear. "Sgt. Rock" Cassell had made his rank in Germany; Moore, a soul brother who was "ghosting" in the rear with a broken leg suffered while on patrol; and Miller, who used to be in second platoon, until he re-upped to get out of the field. The commanding officer is Captain Stubblefield, a soul brother, as is "Top" Jackson, the first sergeant.
My first hump with the 1/501 was from Firebase Zonk, an ARVN firebase that was abandoned months ago. We made a combat assault there from Firebase Tomahawk. Our mission was to secure the firebase while artillery pieces were brought in to fire a few hundred rounds. The mission changed and we had to hump down to the road and move towards Firebase Veghel.
In the small squad were John Estes, the squad leader; Herman Burris, the M-60 gunner; Danny Davis, the assistant gunner; Gary Wright, the point man; Phillips, and myself. I took an immediate disliking to Wright who had the annoying habit of calling for first guard whenever we decided to set up in the bush.
In my rucksack I was humping a pancho, pancho liner, large ammo can for personal items, the LAW, one hundred rounds of M-60 ammo, twelve magazines of M-16 ammo, C-rations and LRPs, two smoke grenades, three hand grenades, gas mask, rain jacket, and nine quarts of water. The water was the heaviest item to hump but it was nothing to down three quarts in a flash. The C.O. said that since we are humping LRPs (which require water to mix) and are only getting re-supplied every four days (instead of every three with the 1/327) we would move in the direction of water on the map.
Our area of operations was the mountains near Firebase Catherine. We were flown to LZ Anne and from there a Chinook transported us to the rear of the 501st. There we were transported to Camp Campbell for a training stand-down. Our commanding officer preferred to be called "Iceman" but the company changed it derisively to "Icecube."
Several new cherries came into the platoon: Earl "Eddie" McCarty, an ex rodeo rider from Wyoming, and a soul brother, Carl Edwards. Also in the platoon was Eddie's best friend, Dale, with whom he entered the Army on the Buddy program.
Upon arriving at the stand-down area we were greeted by an Army band.
One of the grunts joked, "I'd rather land on a hot LZ."
We were allocated billets, showered and shaved. Each man was given fives cokes or beers of his choosing. Every time we got a drink from the cooler a dot was added beside our name until we reached the limit of five. Chow consisted of pork, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, pineapple cake, and ice cream. Anything was better than Cs.
We spent one day at Eagle Beach. The Enlisted Man's Club now served mixed drinks instead of just beer and soda. A stage had been built and there were floorshows nightly. There was an area designated for movies and double features were shown. Instead of cots we had small bunks with mattresses.
From Eagle beach we were transported to Firebase Gladiator. The routine of the firebase consisted of getting up at six a.m. to pull in our nighttime defenses such as claymores, trip flares, and sensor devices. From six to eight was our own time to eat (usually a hot LRP), wash up, and clean our weapons. At eight o'clock our general workday would begin. There were usually a few work details to be done so men from different squads were taken to perform them. The major portion of the day was spent clearing fields of fire inside and outside the perimeter. As the firebase was vacant until our arrival there was a tremendous growth of vegetation surrounding the firebase. The C-47 Chinook aircraft also would create lots of trash to pick up when they transported the artillery pieces and ammunition rounds to the firebase. The winds accompanying the Chinooks were strong enough to blow fully loaded rucksacks outside the perimeter. Laying additional concertina wire around the perimeter was also a required duty.
Firebase Gladiator was rapidly assembled. Sleeping quarters with overhead roofs and fighting positions were dug. The squad which consisted of John Eyster, the squad leader; Herman Burris, the M-60 gunner; Danny Davis, his assistant gunner; Gary Wright, the point man; Eddie "Wyoming" McCarty, the slack man; Mark Breslin, the new cherry rifleman; and myself, the M-16 rifleman. Phillips obtained a rear job.
The word was passed around that the 1/501 would be operating between Firebases Gladiator and Rakkesan until the monsoons were over. Each company would spend fifteen days in the boonies and fifteen days on the firebase during the monsoon season that lasted from September through February.
The temperature was averaging around a hundred degrees Fahrenheit during the day and seventy-eight degrees at night. The twenty-degree difference made for some cool evenings.
I developed a tremendous toothache. I was sent to the rear to have it checked out. It was abscessed and needed extraction. On my way to the dentist I passed a latrine with two johns divided into U.S. Army personnel and Vietnamese. The shit smelled the same.
I lost the tooth and returned to the company area. In the Enlisted Men's Club we shot the breeze and bought each other beers and beef jerky. Some inebriated guys did the funky chicken as Iron Butterfly's In a Gadda Da Vida played on the sound system.
We talked about Dan Parkin's experiences in Saigon and decided to visit Hue, the ancient provincial capital of Vietnam. We bought some film at the PX and jumped on the back of a dusty deuce and a half on its way to Camp Eagle.
Hue and all the villes were off limits to GIs. There were signs everywhere to this effect. And MPs were roaming around to enforce the ban. But Parkin and I were determined to see the city, the real city of Hue
We jumped off at the Circle in Hue, a circular crowded street in the middle of the city.
Immediately, motorcycle riders besieged us and offered us their chauffeur services. An attempt was made to separate Parkin's camera from his neck by slashing the straps that dangled the camera from his neck.
"We'd better get on a bike or we'll get killed here," Dan said securing his camera with a free hand. There was a sense of urgency in his voice.
No verbal response was necessary. We both sat in the passenger seat of two cycles and urged the men to zoom away.
The cyclists spoke English and transported us to a whorehouse where we were escorted to different rooms. Dan sent out for a bottle of liquid speed. I remained outside while Dan had his way with the woman. He emerged minutes later, smiling. "Not bad. You should have got a piece. But the day is young."
After the girl was paid we were back to the cycles. We told the drivers that we wanted to see the city. As they sped on the cycles we snapped photographs.
After a few hours we debated on whether to return to the base or not. We decided to spend the night in Hue. The Vietnamese pimps suggested spending the night on a sampan. For the sum of twenty-five dollars military payment currency we could sleep on the sampan and have a prostitute to boot. We agreed.
From the shoreline of the river we could see the sampan approaching. A woman and her daughter operated it. The older woman pushed the boat while her prostitute daughter made a provocative pose as the boat came to the shore. Only the daughter, whose name was Mi-Ling, spoke English. Dan took a liking to her immediately. After the terms of agreement were made Mi-Ling sent her mother to find a girl for me. The first girl that came was obese and I took a pass. The next girl was uglier than the first. The third girl that came couldn't speak English but she seemed pleasant. She removed my military issue eyeglasses and began to clean them with her shirt.
"This one will do,"' I said, tired of this Vietnamese version of the dating game.
The girl's name was Huan. I called her Helen.
We ate the local fish dish and engaged in small talk with Mi-Ling.
'Are you horny, G.I.s?" asked Mi-Ling.
"I'm always horny," I joked.
Mi-Ling sprung up and pulled a shade to split the boat area into two compartments for privacy.
"I don't think that I'll do anything," I said. "I don't want a case of the clap."
"Good idea, " said Dan.
Huan began to strip. When I didn't express interest, Huan complained to Mi-Ling in Vietnamese.
Mi-Ling offered a prophylactic. Huan was completely nude now and lay beside me on the boat. She attempted to kiss me with a motion I can only describe as puckering her lip and pushing it against my mouth and cheeks of my face. There was no passion. It was only perfunctory.
"Now, G.I? Now, G.I?" Huan whispered.
I was surprised at her English but not as surprised as by what she did next. She grabbed my penis and testicles and squeezed hard.
"Yeoww!" I shouted in pain.
"I thought that you weren't going to do anything?" Dan's voice traveled from the other side of the screen.
The screen came down and we were a four-some again. Mi-Ling and Huan spoke in Vietnamese after which Huan dressed and left.
Dan offered me some of his liquid speed but I declined. We sat on the outside of the sampan, watched the lights of the city, and the traffic as it crossed a nearby bridge over the Perfume River. Vietnamese music filled the night air.
That night Mi-Ling's brother, an ARVN officer, visited the boat and was sexually serviced by his sister.
In the morning we made our way back to the base camp just in time for the morning formation.
"Jones, where were you yesterday?" demanded the first sergeant.
"At what time?" I responded.
"Ok, at what time," Top repeated, "Now get on that truck! You're going out to the field!"
Re-supplies came and went. Everybody put in five dollars a month to receive 3-5 sodas at each re-supply. I looked forward to an R and R. The platoon sergeant had a list containing the allocations and filled in the names. The men in the field shared their fantasies of the ideal meal.
The platoon would move each afternoon and set up our night defensive positions. We were assigned positions around the perimeter by the platoon sergeant. Usually there were six men assigned to a position. The remaining hours of the day were spent to dig sleeping spots, set out claymores, and eat chow. I would usually eat two LRPs a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. It was C-rats for lunch.
Guard consisted of one hour and forty minute shifts from eight p.m. to six a.m.
Patrols were sent out twice a day. We would move to our new positions in the evening.
The majority of our time was free.
The men grew moustaches, beards, and all types of facial hair.
Our area of operation was the surrounding hills around Firebase Rakkassan. The temperature remained in the nineties during the day. Time seemed to slow down.
At times we had to make our own landing zone for re-supply.
Danny Davis returned from his R and R in Hawaii with a tent and was a popular choice for a hooch mate.
Guard duty became more onerous when the platoon leader and platoon sergeant decided that they were above pulling guard duty and required that each of the positions rotate a man to pull their duty. Instead of six per night pulling guard we would have only five.
We set up near a water source as we were humping a lot of LRPs, which consume half a canteen cup per meal. A difference between the 1/327 and the 1/501 was that the latter utilized more Laps. But in the monsoon season (September through February) water was plentiful and more dry meals could be carried. Re-supplies were changed from four to three days due to the increased inclement weather. Or at least that's what we were told. A rumor circulated that the company commander, "Iceman", had tried to pick up a rucksack and couldn't
Some times re-supply, also called a "log", was delayed due to weather or another combat assault mission. One time several guys shared a small can of peanut butter as the re-supply was late. Even C-rats were appetizing when you were hungry.
One day it rained continuously from eight p.m. until noon the next day. Everyone was soaked to the max. Our squad went on a long patrol that covered eight hundred meters. We left at a quarter to ten in the morning and returned at two thirty in the afternoon. At three-thirty we had to move in our "heavies" (rucksacks) as the point element until we set up our hooches at five o'clock in anticipation of the nightly rain.
During the heavy rains some days the men came close to getting immersion foot. Foot powder and dry socks were in demand.
The battalion commander, "Iceman", called "Ice-cube" in derision by the troops, was always coming up with new ideas. His latest, the Buddy Plan, required everyone out in the field to have a buddy. If someone came up to you and asked, "Who's your buddy?" you had to immediately tell him your buddy's name.
Another time the battalion commander required that we wear our dog tags in our boots to aid in body identification if we were blown to bits.
I was asked if I wanted to carry the Delta-1 for the CP. I said that I would, but a black soldier in third squad claimed that he was being discriminated against, so it was given to him. I was asked if I wanted to go to sniper school. I replied yes, but the CO decided that he wouldn't send anybody in. Many new guys coming into country were getting "profiles", doctor's excuses which exempt them from coming out to the field. Since they were in the rear, most of them were getting the rear jobs, which hurt the chances for the on-line troops to get some.
Each day the squads in our platoon size element would go out on a patrol to scout a possible night defensive position sites and a general x-ray of the area. Humping wasn't bad on level ground but going uphill your back let you know the meaning of "grunt." Slipping, sliding, grabbing anything to maintain your balance. We constantly heard the sound of our own breath as our chest heaved. On particularly elevated slopes we used a rope.
R and R was a constant topic of conversation. Shipmund had taken an R and R and failed to return as scheduled. He had to pay his own fare back, was busted in rank, and given an Article 15, military discipline.
I found a "Chieu Hoi" flier and mailed it home.
My R and R date finally came and I was taken to the rear. I obtained my shot record, took a smallpox vaccination, and received a slip stating that I had been given a medical examination. The latter was necessary for Sydney R and Rs. I purchased some clothing and shoes at the PX because you can't leave Vietnam in anything but civilian clothes. While at the bank cashing my check from home I realized that I had misplaced my shot record and heath certificate. Retracing my steps I was hoping to flag a ride. Receiving wrong directions from a soul brother I found myself in an off limits section.
As I walked through the area two Vietnamese men on a motorcycle approached me from the rear at a high rate of speed. While one steered the cycle close to my body the other grabbed with both hands at the package that I was carrying. The bag broke sending my clothes and shoes flying down the rode as the pair sped away. They had succeeded in stealing a shirt. I found my way to the PX and purchased another shirt. Back to "Freedom Hill" and searched for my records to no avail. I was depressed until I was told that if I obtained a copy of the orders I could get a copy of my shot record and health certificate from the aid station. Luckily I found a friend who had my name in his orders and was in business again.
With some friends of the 1/327 I flew to Sydney after a stop in Darwin, Australia where we went through Customs and a few of us were spot checked, searched physically. We were taken via bus to the R and R center located in the Wooloomoo district in Sydney. We were then briefed on what we could or could not do. They also informed us of the many things that we could do by proscenia, an R and R organization designed to help the G.I.. After a money exchange (you lose ten to fifteen cents on each dollar) we were told off limits establishments and set out on our own. I purchased some clothing at the R and R center and made my way to the Bayview Apartments located in the Kings Cross area of Sydney. Accompanying me were Joe Hennig, Bob Meyers, and Roy Edleman, all of who were from the 1/327.
The apartment at the Bayview cost sixty-nine dollars for the six days of R and R. The room included a living room, bedroom, kitchenette with cooking facilities, small refrigerator, and bathroom. Located across the street was a grocery with a proprietor by the name of Tony who was a bootlegger on the side. He didn't have a license to sell the stuff.
"You want some Vodka to go with that orange juice?" he asked as I checked out.
I said I did, and he reached under the counter for a bottle.
It was back to the apartment. I had a screwdriver. Another one. Another one. Before long I was plastered.
That night I had the runs.
The next day I explored the city and ended up at the Texas Tavern where a "Happy Hour" was held each night from seven to eight p.m. I also spent time at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, a discotheque, and the Red Baron, a place that I remembered from the forbidden list of places at our R and R orientation.
I rejoined the platoon on their last day of stand-down and we were flown to Firebase Birmingham, also known as B'ham. The guys were pleased to see me and asked many questions about my R and R in Sydney. They informed me that we have a new platoon leader, Lieutenant Giguerre, as our previous platoon leader, obtained a rear job.
We stayed on the firebase for two weeks. One day a tremendous storm came up in which the lightning set off Fu-gas (Napalm) and CS (tear gas) all over the firebase.
I was assigned to an O.P. (Observation Post) near Firebase Birmingham. With me was Danny Davis. We were there until 6:00 p.m. The weather remained hot, in the high eighties. Back on the firebase we occupied our days working on details ranging from a mine sweep on a Duster to trash detail.
A good way to get out of details on Sunday on the firebase was to attend religious services. They say that there aren't any atheists in foxholes. I'd like to add that there didn't seem to be any atheists on the firebases on Sundays.
The rumor making the rounds was that a Christmas drop, a reduction in time spent in Vietnam, would be given to all soldiers who had entered the Nam before January tenth.
We left the firebase and began running patrols every other day. We made a combat assault to abandoned Firebase Tennessee where I had a reunion with the 1/327. Their mission was to secure the firebase. The 1st-501's mission was to op/con the area around the firebase to prevent the NVA forces from building up and attacking the firebase. We worked in a platoon size element in the field but we did not move that much as the monsoon season was in full force. Rain was a constant companion.
I became a "two digit midget" with less than a hundred days left on my tour of duty in the Nam. I put in for another R and R but wasn't optimistic as our C.O. Captain Warren didn't seem very interested.
In the field, Eddie "Wyoming" McCarty and I set up a two-man hooch to keep dry.
I was made a squad medic and given a small aid bag containing two IVs, cold capsules, vitamins, and medicine for jungle rot.
We made a combat assault to Firebase Birmingham from Firebase Tennessee and we supposed to have a forty-eight hour stand-down. A new battalion commander was appointed to replace Colonel Aaron, the current "Iceman". Rumor had it that Aaron was negligent in supplying his troops.
Our mission during the monsoons was explained to us. We were to sweep the surrounding hills of Birmingham in either squad or platoon size elements as intelligence information indicated that this area was a means of infiltration for the NVA. Every twelve days we would be given a two-day stand-down. The three squads of our platoon were split into two groups led by the platoon leader and platoon sergeant respectively. Lieutenant Giguerre was very gung-ho throughout the mission. We did a huge amount of patrolling, humping our rucksacks, and cutting our own trails. Our squads were further divided into two separate units that would alternate going on recon missions. We did an average of two recon patrols a day. Lieutenant Giguerre confided in his RTO, Moe Stevens that he planned to make the rank of captain before he leaves the field.
The new battalion commander said that our "loads' were too heavy and should be lightened. We were told to hump only one grenade as compared to three before. No one was allowed to hump ammo cans anymore. The men's cameras and radios were to be put in plastic bags that used to carry our gas masks.
The medics made frequent checks for immersion foot due to our prolonged exposure to water. Severe cases were treated
We came into the rear at Phu Bai by truck from Firebase Birmingham for a five-day stand-down. Once in the rear we went through a "contact team" who inspected our weapons for defects. While this was happening we were provided free ice cream and sodas from two lovely "Donut Dollies", women who volunteer to come to the Nam through the Red Cross organization. We were then assigned billets and received mail and clean clothing. Sundry packs were also issued.
There was tremendous excitement in the camp over the possibility of "Christmas drops" as many troops were receiving them. I was excited when I leaned that the C.O. had approved my R and request and had sent it to higher.
The weather continued to be inclement and it rained the majority of the day.
On an overcast day we played a game of softball with guys wearing their rain jackets on the sidelines cheering us on.
I received an absentee ballot through the mail and mailed it.
After the training stand-down it was back to Firebase Veghel. Our original mission was to remain on the firebase for a few days and the combat assault to an area south of Firebase Bastogne. It was changed to remain on Firebase Veghel for a week to ten days to improve its defensive position. Since the summer many of the bigger guns and bunkers had been removed. I was assigned to the platoon CP that consisted of platoon leader Lt. Giguerre, Sgt. John Ingold, the platoon leader's RTO, "Moe" Stevens, an RTO transfer from down south, Sgt. John Powell, the platoon sergeant, and Carl Cross, the platoon medic.
Our days consisted of working on our "underground" bunker- covering the top with wooded boxes from artillery that we filled with dirt and sandbags that we then laid upon the boxes.
Guard duty at night was two hours in length beginning at six thirty p.m. to six thirty a.m. Situation reports, known as sit reps, were radioed in every half hour. "Mad minutes" were held at night.
We slept four in our bunker. The lieutenant and his RTO constructed hooch for themselves outside the bunker.
A new Kit Carson Scout was assigned to our platoon. His name was Tu and he came from a hamlet near Chu Lai where he was a rice carrier for the VC for two years.
From Firebase Veghel we made a combat assault to Firebase Bastogne and rifted off to provide security for the firebase. The weather took a turn for the worse and "socked" us in. We had to hump back to the firebase for re-supply. We stayed on the firebase for two days until we were trucked to Firebase Birmingham because the severe weather prevented the use of helicopters. The CO had requested a new AO and we had to hump to it about four klicks away.
In the field a rainbow appeared in the sky.
My last day in the field had arrived. My tour of duty was ending. I didn't have to carry the rucksack anymore. But the memories of Vietnam I would carry forever.
Grunt B/1/327th. '70