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Pa's Big Adventure Vietnam 1966-1971: A Series of War Stories and Tales of High Adventure

Pa's Big Adventure Vietnam 1966-1971: A Series of War Stories and Tales of High Adventure

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Pa's Big Adventure Vietnam 1966-1971: A Series of War Stories and Tales of High Adventure

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684 pagine
11 ore
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Pubblicato:
Feb 20, 2014
ISBN:
9781491724873
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Libro

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Shoot hollered Willie B.

Where I screamed.

Shoot, Shoot. Screamed Willie B. Again.

I clicked my rifle from safe to full auto and let it rip in the direction of the tracers from the other two guys. I fired one complete magazine. I had no idea what was happening. I changed magazines. I buried my face in the dirt attempting to make myself invisible. I was terrified. I lie there cowering by hiding my face in the dirt. I had no idea what to do.

Shoot screamed Willie B. again . My rifle had a bi-pod attached to the front of it as it was a select fire. (Semi or full auto). I extended the bi-pod and again ripped off full auto rounds. My hands and fingers were moving too slow. It was as if I was moving in slow motion. I couldnt make my hands move any faster. I kept shooting like the other two . At what, I had no idea. My heart was pumping ninety miles an hour. I heard firing erupt from the NDP then stop.

A piece of hot brass hit me in the neck and went down my fatigue shirt burning the hell out of me. I kept firing and trying to shake the hot brass out of my shirt at the same time. I had fired six magazines before I noticed the other two had stopped firing. I errently touched the barrel of my rifle and got a burn that bubbled up the skin. We all lie still. My mouth was so dry, I couldnt swallow. I was shaking badly and couldnt catch my breath. Again, I buried my face in the dirt in a futile attempt to escape. I didnt like any of this. This wasnt at all like playing soldier in the back yard as a kid.
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 20, 2014
ISBN:
9781491724873
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Lawrence R Beutlich was born in Chicago in 1944, Educated in parochial schools, he finds work as an auto mechanic in Perry, Ga. when abruptly conscripted in an early draft for the Vietnam War. After five years in Vietnam, Beutlich returned to the United States, earned a degree in corporate taxation becoming a Certified Public Accountant. Retired in 1998, Beutlich lives with his wife in Tampa, Florida.

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Pa's Big Adventure Vietnam 1966-1971 - Lawrence R. Beutlich

Bloomington

PA’S BIG ADVENTURE VIETNAM 1966-1971

A SERIES OF WAR STORIES AND TALES OF HIGH ADVENTURE

Copyright © 2008, 2014 Lawrence R. Beutlich.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

ISBN: 978-1-4917-2486-6 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4917-2488-0 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4917-2487-3 (e)

iUniverse rev. date: 02/14/2014

DEDICATION

This is dedicated to the thousands of conscripts that never came home from Vietnam. They were denied the opportunity to have a family, raise children, and play with their grandchildren.

CONTENTS

PART 1 – The Beginning

The Beginning

Camp Alpha

Cu Chi

Out To The Boonies

Day after Day

The Cast of Characters in 1/27

My Third Night In The Bush

Field Sanitation

My First Explosion

Pogey and The Trip Wire Incident

The Day of the Supplement Pack Killing

The Invisible Sniper. Or When You Can See The Rivets On The Napalm Bomb. You Won’t Be Able To Breathe

The Day We Got New Rifles

There were a lot of problems with the plastic rifles

Did Pogey Sit on a Trip Wire Again?

Snakebite!

The Lt. Gets Shot in the Foot

A Banana Bonanza

The Entertainment Troupe

1966 Thanksgiving Dinner

What Kind of Option is that?

PART 2 – The Road to Vietnam

How in the world Did I get in this mess?

Drafted!

Greeting

Basic Training

Who Needs A Carpenter?

Air Traffic Control School? What The Hell Is That?

My Last Christmas At Home For A Long Time

Air Traffic Control School

I Really Need To Have My Motorcycle

1966 Mardi Gras

Fort Rucker

PART 3 – Now, where was I at?

Rubber Trees And The Tunnel; Hun Gets One

The Skull

Sniper School?

FSB Betty

Stand-down

Arclight

Rain

FSB Sam and The Rockets or The Purple Heart That Never Was

The 1966 Bob Hope Show

The Tet Truce

Cedar Falls and Junction City

What are Piastres?

The Cao Dai Temple Battle

My Feet Fall Apart

Death Visits Second Squad

A What? An Elephant?

The Truth Is Out There

Promotion and Awards

The Michelin Paradise

Iron Triangle, Bo Loi woods, War Zone C

Who is Who?

Saved By The 125th ATC Company

The 146th Combat Aviation Company

Hello Mr. Motor Sergeant!

Mortars in Tan Son Nhut? Not Likely!

Life In The 146th

Nobody Away From Home For The First Time Should Be Allowed In Saigon

Saigon Social Life

Dinks In The Wire!

Grandma’s Story

R&R

Fuentes Goes Home

Let’s Check Out The Tower

My Last Night In Vietnam As A Soldier

The Way Home

Home For A Little While

San Francisco

Drugs

PART 4 – The Adventure Continues

Back In Nam For A Long Time.

The Phu Loi Strip

A Visit To Yen

Bill, Busby, Tintman and Stumbo

The Martha Rae Show

Tintman And The Crapper

The Prostitute Van or Larry Escapes A Vis-a-Vis

The Honda Scrambler 250

The Midnight Cook Killings

Let’s Ride Around On Sunday

The Special Forces Camp And The Georgia Flag

Rockets And Bronze Stars

The Gas Attack In The Phu Loi Bunker

January 1968- Cuc Dies; Minh Is Born

TET 1968

A Mini-Gun In A Trailer?

A Company, 1/16 Joins Our Party

St. Valentine Day’s Assault

The Friendly Fire Massacre At Phu Loi

Bye-Bye LSI; Hello Philco-Ford

D.I.C.

May, 1968. Son of Tet

An Arm Pulls Out-It Sure is Clammy

Lt. Dang and The Field Force Police

Let’s Go North

Yard Operations

The Cast of Characters at Cha Rang

Yen and Minh Move to Cha Rang

You People Need Security Out Here

D.D. King

Danny: Born and Dies

Nong Gets It On The Wire

Painless Dentistry

The Bullet Proof Isuzu

The Drive Shaft Sniper

Art Reitz Brings In Some Entertainment

Larry Escapes Again

The Wash Out

Recon The Korean Way

Let’s Kill Some Cows and Get a Medal

Money Change Day at Cha Rang

This Is The End, My Friend

A Company Trip to Singapore

Go Solve This Problem

Back To Vietnam

Things Are Dissolving

Unemployed

PA&E

Bill Luna

The 125 Scrambler

Fishing The Easy Way

Grenade!

No Trip Wires!

Fu-Gas Fight

The LZ Hawk Hill Incident

LZ Ripcord

Phu Loi Redux

Glenn’s Warning

Roadblock Bandits

Eugene Akimine

Steamed Brains

Nui Ba Den

Di An

Time To Go

Yen Is Going To Die

We’re Gone!

Epilogue

Postscript—Rolf W. Beutlich

CHRONOLOGY OF SITUS

We left Vietnam on February 22, 1971. Larry Jr. Was born March 3, 1971 in Orlando, Florida nine days after we left Vietnam..

_______________________________________________

PART I

The Beginning

T he air hit me like a blast furnace when I stepped off of the ramp of the giant C-141 Starlifter that had brought us all the way from Travis Air Force Base outside Oakland, California. It was only ten o’clock in the morning yet the air was brutally stifling. The overweight E-6 in front of me was already sweating profusely. We really were in Vietnam. There was a lot of activity at Tan Son Nhut airbase, the main airport near Saigon. After 22 hours in the air, I was glad to be free of the canvass seat that faced backward. Well, here I am. The start of a big adventure that would change my life fo rever.

I had reported at Oakland Army Terminal for reassignment to Vietnam as directed in my orders. It was late in the evening yet the reception building was bustling with all types of people. We were told to keep our duffle bags with us at all times as transportation manifests were released constantly. There would be loud speakers that would announce manifests by name and serial number. We were then loaded on buses and taken to a huge mess facility for chow. There were four chow lines, one for officers; one for NCO’s; and two for all others which meant me. I didn’t realize it at the time but this would be my last meal on US soil for a year.

After the midnight dinner, we reboarded buses back to the reception station. We then were lined up and marched to a medical building for a series of shots. I had my up to date shot record, but it didn’t matter; everyone was given the whole series anyway. We were also given the big orange pill which was for malaria prevention that we were to take once a week as long as we were in Vietnam.

We were then bussed to a large warehouse type building with a big open bay and told we could sleep on the floor. About every hour, another flight manifest would be posted by the big steel doors. If your name was on the list, you were to board the next bunch of busses which would show up in ten or fifteen minutes. Just before daylight, my name showed up on the ninth line of the manifest for a 3:00 PM MAC (Military Airlift Command) flight from Travis Air Force Base.

We loaded the busses for a trip back to the reception station. We were given our 201 files (these were our Army personnel records) and a copy of our orders. My orders assigned me to the 90th Replacement battalion at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam. I overlooked the guy’s orders in front of me and he was also assigned there. As it turned out, everyone on the manifest was assigned as general replacements and would not know their final unit until we got to Vietnam and were further assigned.

We loaded the busses again for a longer trip to Travis Air Force Base. We were unloaded at a large open metal building that had no walls; only a ceiling. There were about three or four hundred of us , all enlisted men except for maybe a dozen officers who were taken away in one of the busses. We were told not to leave the building as we would board the next plane out.

We all sat around in the big building looking at each other. I was 21 years old soon to be 22 next month. I wondered for the first time how long I would live. I calculated how old I would be at the turn of the century; 56 years old. No, at that moment, I never expected to get that old, I thought I would die in Vietnam.

After several boring hours, the Air Force people assembled us out in front of the building and checked each name off on their roster. There were several hundred of us. We loaded our duffle bags on a series of baggage carts and were reformed in a series of parallel lines in manifest order. We stood in the sun waiting for something to happen. After a half an hour or so, 6 large gray busses wheeled up to the formation. I was in the group on the first bus. The busses driven by Air Force types, moved quickly to the actual taxiway and stopped in front of a huge four engine jet aircraft. We boarded in roster order.

The C-141 star lifter was the biggest aircraft I had ever seen. The wings set atop the fuselage. The horizontal stabilizer was on the top of the rudder. The rear door opened downward to become a huge ramp. Someone later said that this plane could carry five battle tanks.

The officers who were previously separated from us, were on the plane in the first 3 or 4 rows. Then we began filling in. I sat in the center section of the fifth row. The seats were canvass backs and bottoms stretched over aluminum frames. All the seats faced backwards. There were twenty seats across each row, ten in the center section and five across on each side. There were no windows in the plane. There was nothing to see but the guy in front of you. I could see that this wouldn’t be the most exciting trip I had taken. I already felt cramped in the seat before the plane was even loaded.

None the less, I could soon feel the engines start, then the huge machine began a very long roll to the active runway. The take-off acceleration of this behemoth was breath taking, and all of us were now beginning the biggest adventure of our lives.

The 22 hour flight to Vietnam was the most boring ever. As I noted, there were no windows, so there was nothing to see. The urinals were pieces of plastic pipe inserted into the sides of the airplane. They just emptied into the air. There were two regular toilets which someone said also flushed into the air. I had taken nothing to read so I tried to nap. The guy next to me could not have been very old. He struck up a conversation in which I learned he was from Pittsburgh. He had volunteered for the Army when he was seventeen. He went through basic and advanced infantry training. Today was his eighteenth birthday. As I looked around, I could see that many on the plane were about that age. I was almost 22. And probably one of the elders of the group.

The big plane stopped at Hawaii, Midway Island, and the Philippines and took on fuel at each stop. We were allowed to deplane at each stop. At some stops we were treated to a box lunch and sodas, at some, we just got sodas. I specifically remember Midway as there wasn’t much there but a jillion seabirds all around the runway. The entire flight was in the daylight as we were chasing the sun to the west. The pilot made an announcement as we crossed the international dateline which put us back a day. That announcement was met with silence. I wondered if my new friend in the seat beside me went back to being 17.

When the plane began it’s decent into Vietnam, the plane went ominously quiet. Most. I guess, including me, wondered to themselves what was in store for them.

Camp Alpha

T he plane touched down at Tan Son Nhut air base which is just outside of Saigon. God, it was hot! I along with everyone else started sweating as soon as we stepped off the loading ramp. We were moved unceremoniously to a large terminal building, not air conditioned, and ushered into a holding area filled with steel folding chairs. I could have really used a drink of water but there was none to be had. We waited there for thirty minutes before an NCO came in and told us we would be moving to the other side of the base to a replacement depot called Camp A lpha.

All of us, officers and others were loaded into olive drab painted Army busses that must have been twenty years old, emitted a lot of black smoke and, of course , no air conditioning.

The busses to Camp Alpha had wire mesh screens over all the windows. Someone asked the driver if the Army was worried that we would escape. The driver casually explained that the wire was there to keep grenades out. Again, the bus went silent. Vietnam, at least the part I saw in the ten minute ride, had a unique smell to it. Sort of a combination of urine, wood smoke, rotten fish, and diesel smoke.

We were unloaded at Camp Alpha with our duffel bags and assigned to tents. Twelve men to a tent. Each had bare bunks with no mattresses or bed sheets. I pick a top bunk toward the rear. Outside the tents, sandbags were stacked up about three feet high. High enough to protect the lower bunks but not the top bunks. I went back inside and moved my bag to the bottom bunk. We were then told to follow an E-5 to a small wooden building with a line formed outside. He told us to wait. The line moved kind of slow but it moved. We noticed people leaving the building from the back door putting something in their pockets. When we got inside, we were ordered to take any money we had on us an put it in a plastic bowl. An officer went down the line warning us that it was a serious crime to keep any U.S. currency. What is this about? I wondered. Soon enough I reached the front of the line. An E-6 Sergeant took my bowl and counted out $54.16. He dumped the money unceremoniously in a large white laundry bag by his side. At the next table, another E-6 gave me a written receipt With $54.16 on it and made me sign a ledger sheet with my name and $54.16 written on it.

At the next table, an extremely young looking second lieutenant counted out $54.15 in paper money, cents were dropped, there were no pennies in Vietnam. He made me sign another ledger, and handed me what looked exactly like monopoly money. It was different sizes and different colors. They got to be kidding said the guy in front of me. It did look like a joke. There were no coins, just bills. There was a five cent paper bill, a ten cent paper bill and so on. A twenty was as big as they came. This stuff was called Military Payment Certificates.(MPC). I flashed back to when I was a child in Japan. The military used MPC there also. U.S. Green currency was prohibited in Vietnam as it supported a thriving black market. All transactions on US bases were in MPC. The Vietnamese had their own currency but MPC was accepted everywhere.

I was a Spec. 4, pay grade E-4, when I arrived in Nam. I had been promoted to Private First Class, E-3 at the Air Traffic Control school at Mississippi and then to Spec 4, E-4, when I was at Fort Rucker Alabama. The lower ranking guys were all promoted to PFC upon arrival in Vietnam so no one was lower than PFC (E-3) unless they had got busted in rank for some misdeed. I out ranked the other guys in my tent so a Sergeant put me in charge. My job was to be sure everyone heard the announcements over the camp loudspeaker and keep the tent in order. The next thing that happened was an announcement that the mess hall was serving chow by order of tent number. We were called pretty soon as we were close to the mess tent. The chow was the worst I had ever had in the Army.

We returned to the tent and lay down for a nap. All night at regular intervals, the loudspeaker came alive with a list of names and an order to report in front of the administrative building. We didn’t sleep very well that night with no mattresses and the blaring loud speaker. I didn’t know it then, but that was probably the best night’s sleep I would have for some time.

Sometime during the night, somewhere in the distance, I heard an automatic weapon rattle. Then again, then silence. Welcome to the war! I finally made it. I was somewhat excited as I thought about being a real soldier in war. It seems like every generation of Americans has it’s own war to deal with. As a naïve country boy from south Georgia, The whole thing was so far, a new experience. Little did I know what adventures would ensue over the next five years.

The mess call was at 06:00 the next morning. The food was a little better this time. It was my first taste of dehydrated eggs, course white bread, and reconstituted dry milk. I was hungry and didn’t complain. At 09:00, The speaker called a formation of the first six tents. We were told to assemble in front of each tent with our duffle bags. Something was about to happen.

We were all standing there in front of the tents. About 10 or 12 to a tent for the first six tents.

We were told to have our 201 files (Army standard personnel record) in our hand. Then a large black staff Sergeant in filthy fatigues started going down the ranks and picking out people at what looked like random, because there was no pattern to his selection. As he got closer to me, I could hear him order those selected into some trucks parked nearby. It occurred to me that he was selecting people for some kind of dirty detail; but why were we told to bring our duffel bag? The big sergeant pointed at me as he passed and said take your bag and get in the truck. I did as I was told.

We all sat in the trucks waiting for something to happen. There were about thirty of us loaded into two deuce and a half (2 ½ ton) trucks. A couple guys started to speculate on our fate. One said we were going to burn shit buckets. I thought that sounded stupid. Another said we were being transferred to another camp close by. Someone shouted at the big black sergeant as he approached the first truck; Hey sarge, where we going?. He didn’t answer or even look our way. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be good.

The trucks started out of the Camp Alpha compound and drove through the sprawling air base past an assortment of unusual sights, smells and people. The smells were the most striking. Asia has a smell all it’s own and not very pleasant to most westerners. This smell was different than the air base smell. Soon, we passed the gates and the perimeter made of coil after coil of concertina wire. We traveled through an area of civilian settlement which had narrow streets of various shops and stands. Some people were moving about. Vietnamese were short and slight of stature. They wore strange looking conical hats made of straw. Some shops had signs advertising laundry or photos or other services in English. I was taken aback when it appeared that Vietnamese used English letters for their writing. I thought that strange as I remember from my time in Japan, that the Japanese and Chinese used characters for writing. I had naively assumed that all Orientals used characters. Well, I learned something new. The first of a lot of things I would learn over the next five years.

Cu Chi

G radually, the trucks left the city behind and Traveled down a two lane paved road into the countryside. We passed rice patties, banana groves, and small clumps of shacks. It all looked rather exotic. There was no sign of war out here. We were heading west. After a ride of an hour or so, we passed through a large village with gaudy signs, once again, advertising all sorts of products and services in English. And, once again, unpleasant smells. The trucks then approached the entry to a large base about a mile north of the village. MP’s guarded the gate. There were rows of concertina wire on the perimeter and guard towers every 200 feet or so. It looked more like a prison to keep people in rather than keep people out. I thought of what an easy target the guard tower would make for an attacker. Then, I noticed that there were two or more bunkers located at intervals between the t owers.

The trucks pulled onto red dirt roads that looked like red Georgia clay. Then I noticed that everything was covered with a coating of red dust. I mean everything had a red tinge to it. Even people’s skin and hair was red.

The trucks pulled up to a series of tents that had a sign outside reading Welcome to 2nd brigade 1/ 27 Wolfhounds. with a crude picture of a dog’s head in the middle. The big sergeant got out and went into the second tent next to the sign. The drivers, none of whom had any rank insignia on their fatigues, got out of the trucks and lit up cigarettes. Someone asked one of the drivers if we could smoke. He said I don’t give a shit. What nice people these guys are, I thought. In a few minutes, A PFC came out of the same tent the sarge went into and collected everyone’s 201 file. He said " you guys can get out if you want but don’t go any where. Right! Where would we go? I stayed in the truck sitting on my duffel bag and smoking. It then dawned on me that it was really hot without the breeze from the moving truck. Everyone was sweating.

After ten minutes or so of sitting in the sun, the sergeant returned with another older soldier in the new jungle fatigues who also had no rank insignia. He ordered everyone out of the trucks and into a formation. He began to organize us into groups by reading of peoples’ names from his stack of 201 files. I was in the last group. There were only two guys in the first group. They were told to go inside the headquarters tent and wait. The old sergeant was called top by the other sergeant there, so I assumed he was the Battalion First Sergeant, he would be the highest ranking enlisted man in the battalion.

The remaining groups were designated A B, and C with C being my group. Groups A and B each had 10 or 12 guys but there were only four guys in my group. We were all formed up by group and marched down the dusty road to a tent which had a sign posted which read S-4. A rather small black guy in new jungle fatigues, came out of the tent with some black markers and wire tags. We were told to tag all our baggage with our name and serial no. and pile them next to the tent. He then took 5 guys from the A group into the tent while the rest of us waited outside, still in the hot sun.

I noted the jungle fatigues because I had never seen them before. All of us new guys still wore the regular Army cotton fatigues which were sweltering hot. It would be several months before we all got jungle fatigues and jungle boots. A fact of life in Nam was that the guys in the rear jobs got all the good stuff first before the line dogs.

The first group came out of the S-4 tent all carrying assorted army gear including a ruck sack, web gear, entrenching tools, canteens, ponchos and liners, etc. They were then marched down the red dust road to an unknown destination, and another group of five went into the S-4 tent and so on. It had still not dawned on me what was happening. None of us knew what to expect.

As we sat outside and waited our turn, two soldiers walked by and said look at the FNG’s. One guy in our group whose name I remember as Matthews, hollered out asking them Hey, what’s an FNG ? Fucking new guy" was the retort. They stopped for a few minutes and speculated that we were going to be replacement for the various line companies in the 27th Infantry Regiment. They said they were in the headquarters company and were headed for the mess tent.

Matthews’ first name was Eddie. There was a star baseball player at the time also named Eddie Matthews. Matthews said he was hungry and wanted to eat. One of the others said let’s just follow those other guys to the mess tent and see what happens. Which we did. We went through the serving line and nobody said anything to us, though we were obviously FN G’s because of our heavy cotton fatigues with all the name tags and insignia still attached. We were so hungry that the food, served on metal trays, wasn’t too bad. After chow, we wandered back to the S-4 tent, no one had even missed us.

We hung around an hour or so when one of the clerks came outside and told us to follow him. He took us to another tent and handed each of us a poncho liner which is like a light blanket printed in a camouflage pattern. He then took us to a tent with twelve canvas cots set up in two rows. He told us to sack out for the night and disappeared. It was a good thing we had found the mess tent on our own or we would have gone hungry, as no one in charge had considered feeding us.

During the night, we were awaken several times by the sound of small arms fire on the perimeter. Each time it was of short duration and going only out- not incoming. We all lay there privately wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. It was unbearably hot in that tent that night. No one slept much.

The next day we lolled around the tent after we again went to the mess tent on our own. There were only the four of us from C group left. Everyone else had been processed. I was out of cigarettes. At that time I smoked Winston filter cigarettes. I and a guy named Rudy wandered around for a while and found a small concession in one of the tents in the adjacent compound. The only cigarettes they had were Pall Mall and Chesterfield. My dad smoked Pall Mall so I bought two packs of them. Cigarettes were ten cents a pack. They also sold warm sodas for five cents each. Rudy and I bought two sodas each and saved them for later.

After a while, a PFC clerk came and took us to the supply tent. We were issued combat equipment which included a rucksack, web gear which was a shoulder harness and pistol belt, a mess kit, a poncho to go with the liner we had got last night. We also were issued three one quart canteens, three pair of GI socks, mosquito repellent, and a bottle of halazone tablets used to purify water in the field. We also got a helmet, helmet liner, a bayonet with a case and an entrenching tool which folded out to make a shovel on one side and a pick on the other. I would later use this a lot. Two guys got machetes with a case that hung off the web belt and I was given a big radio battery to carry as the platoon spare. It was about five pounds. We stuffed everything in the rucksack and were then led to the armory which was also in a tent.

The armory tent had fence wire strung all around the inside of the tent except for the door. There was a bunk and steel locker in one corner, which I assumed was the billet of the armorer who was a buck sergeant (E-5). There were rifles stacked in one area, machine guns in another, and M79 grenade launchers in another. There were stacks of wooden boxes arranged around the interior of the tent. It occurred to me that this would not be a good place to be during a mortar or rocket attack. Rudy, Matthews, and I were each given an M14 rifle while the forth guy whose name was Koster was given an M79 grenade launcher. The M79 looked like a big sawed off single barrel shotgun. The breech opened with a lever and loaded one shot at a time. The cartridges looked like a huge .22 short that was 2 inches in diameter. The ammo came in a vest which had 25 cartridges. The M14 rifle given to me was a select fire. This meant there was a lever on the side which could be flipped from semi-automatic to full automatic. With a 20 round magazine, it was almost like a machine gun. There was no particular reason they gave it to me; it was just the luck of the draw.

I was given 10 magazines, two magazine pouches to wear on the web belt, a bandoleer which could carry 10 magazines, 10 boxes of ball ammo, (20 rounds each), and four boxes of tracer ammo. We then moved to the back of the tent for more munitions. We were each given four fragmentation grenades, (baseball size), Two smoke grenades which looked like tin cans with a fuse on top. We were also each given two Claymore mines. Claymore mines were a plastic case about 6 inches by 12 inches in the shape of a curved rectangle. On the outside curve the words toward enemy was molded in the plastic case. We were also given little hand size squeezing devices which had a small roll of thin black wire wrapped around them. Rudy asked what they were and the armorer said they were clackers used to fire the mines. Claymores were vicious and deadly weapons. Inside was a shaped charge and many ball bearings which blew out in a 60 degree angle and would kill anything for a 100 foot range. I later learned to how to set and fire claymores as we always set them out at night.

We were then sent back to the tent and told to wait. We spent the time playing with and packing up our new toys.

Soon, the clerk from the headquarters tent came and told us to gather all our stuff and come to the HQ tent. The four of us assembled outside the tent. The first sergeant appeared and gave us and introductory speech. Welcome gentlemen to the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, of the 25th Infantry Division. You are assigned to ‘C’ Company. Capt. Sidwell is your Commander. The best thing for you all to do is do what your told and stay alert. If you don’t fuck up, you might just go home in a year from now I raised my hand and spouted Sergeant, I think there has been a mistake. I’m an air traffic controller 93B40 (My MOS Number), not an infantryman. I don’t know anything about this stuff. Then Koster spit out Hey, I’m an electronics tech, I don’t know anything either. The top sergeant yelled; Goddamn it, I just told you to shut up and do what you’re told. The Army is going to put you where it needs you. It’s you that made a mistake. You two will never get out of here alive unless you suddenly get a lot smarter then you are now. Wow! I stood there in silence. So, at least I got started on the right foot!

In a few minutes, a convoy of three deuce and a half trucks pulled up to the HQ. The front truck had a M60 machine gun mounted on a ring above the cab. Each truck had two guys in the front seat. The second truck was pulling a water trailer. We were loaded in the last truck. The driver told us to lock and load our weapons and if anything happened to shoot into the tree lines and not toward the other trucks. The first two trucks were loaded with mermite cans. These are insulated carriers , about 15 gallons in size which were used to transport food. We were going to our units on the dinner run. Well, I thought, this outfit can’t be too bad if they get a hot lunch. And so, we were on our way. I sat across from Rudy. He gave me a smile that said "What did we get into?

Out To The Boonies

T he convoy left the base camp and headed west on the only road. It started off as a fairly decent paved road but soon degraded into pock marked pavement then to a one lane red dirt road after about 30 minutes. We were now clearly into the countryside. There were rice patties, banana orchards, and an occasional small village made up of a few dilapidated shacks. These people must have a harsh life.

We turned down a side road and soon passed a group of G.I.’s in deuce and a half trucks parked on the side of the road. Our convoy stopped for a second as there was some conversation between the convoy leader and the group on the side of the road. Then we were on the move again. Our driver told us that the group was an engineer outfit who cleared the road of mines. Mines! I was glad to be in the last truck and not the first. My ease of mind was soon shattered as we passed the burned out hull of a M113 Armored personnel carrier. (APC.). The APC had a hole about 10 inches in diameter burned right through the side. The side of an APC has six inch thick aluminum armor which was burned right through by whatever hit it. We later found out that a commie rocket propelled grenade (RPG) with a B-40 rocket would burn right through an APC then explode on the inside. My stomach tightened as we passed that site of destruction. Rudy and I looked at each other again and again wondered about our future.

The road became nothing more than two ruts forcing the small convoy to move slowly. Eventually, We came on a group of a hundred or more men in a dry rice paddy. This was to be our new unit, C company. The trucks stopped and we were told to get out. The various groups of soldiers were mostly sitting around talking and smoking. Some soldiers close to the convoy started unloading the mermite cans from the trucks. The cans were arranged in a line and were opened. Men began to form up and chow was served by the truck drivers. Each man accepted his ration in his mess kit which was actually an oblong metal pan with a metal cover. Some men formed a cue at the water trailer and filled canteens. It occurred to me at the time that these were the dirtiest people I had ever seen. They all had the ubiquitous red dust impregnated in everything. Some had torn clothing and their boots were a tan/red color. These boots had not seen polish in a long time.

The gunner from our truck stepped down and told us to follow him. We were led to a group of five or six men in the center of the bunch who were obviously the command group. The commander introduced himself as Captain Sidwell. He looked us over for a moment and said we were all assigned to the second platoon. Just like the first sergeant earlier, He admonished us to stay alert and do what we were told and he would get us out of this alive. He said he had not had a KIA (killed in action) in the company since he had taken over and had no intention of having any of us killed while under his command. I felt reassured. He then asked each of us what our MOS (military occupational specialty; In the Army every job had a numeric code assigned to it) He asked me first because I was the highest ranking one of the replacement group.

93B40 Sir I responded.

What the hell is that, Military Police? he asked.

Air Traffic Controller, Sir I said.

God damn, what the hell are you doing here, We don’t have any friggin airplanes Said the Captain.

I don’t know sir, I think a mistake has been made I said thinking I could somehow persuade the officer to send me back to a nicer place.

Yeah, no doubt; but we need all the help we can get, you’ll do just fine. He said, squashing my last ditch effort for a rear assignment. When he was done with us he told one of the radio operators with him to put us through the chow line then take us over to the second platoon.

The chow wasn’t bad actually. Hamburger patties with mashed potatoes, green beans and two slices of a course white bread. We sat on the back of our truck and ate then washed our mess kits at the water trailer. I also filled all my canteens without being told to as I guessed we might not see a water trailer everyday.

We milled around the truck conspicuous in our heavy cotton stateside fatigues.

I noted a group of three soldiers come out of the tree line and head to the chow line. I later learned that this was an OP (observation post) Which was one of several three man teams sent out a short distance to provide advance warning of anybody trying to sneak up on the Company. OP’s and LP’s (Listening Post) were always put out when the Company stopped for whatever reason.

Soon, a really grimy soldier in torn jungle fatigues told us to follow him over to the second platoon. Lieutenant Tandowski introduced himself as the second platoon leader. He called the platoon sergeant over and told him to take Koster, Rudy and I to Ghost. I didn’t know what Ghost was, but It didn’t sound good. He told the platoon sergeant to take the other guy over to first squad.

The platoon sergeant’s name was Charles Granert . He was an E-7 who had been in the Army for 14 years. Granert was the platoon sergeant for the whole time I was in 1/ 27. We had something in common as he was from Fitzgerald Georgia, a small town south of where I lived when I was drafted. We knew some of the same places and people. Granert really tried to keep anyone from getting hurt and keep the officers from doing any thing stupid. He was a lifer but I got along well with him. It was him that insisted that I be evacuated with immersion foot in January and probably saved my life.

Granert took us over to a group milling about the south edge of the rice paddy. He bellowed Ghost here are your FNG’s (Army for ‘fucking new guys’) I don’t want no more bitching, and try to keep these guys from getting wasted for at least a week. Wow! At least a week? Said Koster under his breath. That made us feel real good.

There were about six or seven guys in the little group around Sgt. Ghost. They were the dirtiest people I had ever seen. Their fatigues were ripped and torn; and were badly stained with white streaks which I later learned was dried sweat. Their hands and arms were cut and festered with sores. Some had jungle boots. Those with combat boots had completely worn away any sign of black or polish. The boots were completely scuffed a reddish tan color. Almost all had several days’ beard and scruffy hair. I was also struck at the time by how they all were young and looked like little boys who had been playing in the dirt for a long, long time.

Sgt. Ghost introduced himself; then introduced the rest of the men in what was second squad of the second platoon of C Company, 1/ 27th. Each man nodded when his name was called. Then the first thing Sgt. Ghost did was to take out a G.I. pocket knife and tell us to cut all the name patches and insignia off our fatigues. It was then I really noticed that there was not a single name or rank indication on anyone’s uniform. Sgt. Ghost asked me to give him my entrenching tool . He then dug a hole and told us to throw all the name patches we had just removed from our fatigues in the hole. I thought this was some kind of weird initiating ceremony. As he kicked dirt in the hole, he said that everything we discarded or left behind had to be buried or Charlie would use it.

Koster looked at him and asked even cigarette butts ?

Ghost gave him a hard look and replied You bury everything you leave out here and I mean everything.

Sgt. George Ghost had been in Vietnam for ten months; had only two months to go. He was a big guy who carried the M-60 . Ghost really knew how to stay alive in the bush. Were it not for him, we would not have made it. He had done a tour in Germany and really wanted to go back. He always used the word dork. It was the first time I had heard that word. We soon learned to follow Ghost’s orders very closely. In the two months he was with us, I never knew him to make a mistake or do something stupid.

A little later, Sgt. Granert came around and told Ghost to get ready to move out. We would be the second squad to move out or the slack position as Sgt. Granert had called it. Ghost gave me two cans of machine gun (7.62 mm linked) ammo to carry. There was two hundred rounds in each can. They were tied together with a piece of webbing strap which made it easier to carry.

The Company began to form up in two lines for what we would later call A walk in the sun. The whole Company would string out for several hundred yards. Ghost told the three of us new guys to follow right behind him with a five yard interval.

Always keep the guy in front of you in sight. He said. If any shit starts, get on the ground pointed outward; one guy pointed out one way and the next guy the other. " Lock and load your weapons but put them on safety and don’t shoot anything until I tell you to.

Thus began an adventure in the jungles of Vietnam which would change my life forever. The pattern was the same every day. One day ran into the next. We never remembered what day of the week it was; they were all the same. We knew what month and date it was because short timers would track it and remind everybody every day how much longer they had to go in Vietnam to finish their one year tour.

Day after Day

T he terrain was like a single canopy forest without too much undergrowth. It was not a hard walk except for the heat and the weight of our gear. Within five minutes, everyone was completely soaked with sweat. In Vietnam, You were constantly wet, either from rain or sweat. I would be wet for the next five years.

After an hour or so, It was really a struggle to keep up an interval. I was behind Ghost with Rudy and Koster behind me. I tried to watch what Ghost did. There were maybe twenty or thirty people in front of us. I thought we made a lot of noise walking in the bush. Maybe that was a good thing because anybody out there would hear us coming and get out of the way. We walked north for an hour and a half then turned east. We almost never knew where we were going or what we were trying to do. Only the C.O. and maybe some platoon leaders knew what our mission was on any given day.

In the late afternoon we stopped to get in a NDP (night defensive position).We were in a large clearing the size of three or four football fields. Sgt,. Granert came around and showed Ghost where he wanted people set up. Ghost placed the machine gun on what looked like the corner of a big pentagon shaped position. The idea was to have machine guns on each angle to provide interlocking fields of fire. Ghost told Pogey, (PFC Pagendoff) to show me how to dig in. Then he placed everyone else in the squad where he wanted them. Everyone started digging in. Digging in meant digging a fighting position or foxhole. The idea was to get where you could be below the ground level and still be able to shoot. We dug in every night we were in the field and covered up the holes in the morning. Pogey dug a L shaped hole placing the dirt on the front of the short part of the L to form a notched shelf for the machine gun. That part was about four feet long and four feet deep and would accommodate a two man machine gun crew. The long part of the L was six feet long and two feet deep. This would be a sleeping position for one man and double as a fighting position when necessary. A second hole was five feet behind the first hole. It was simply a depression about six feet long and 12 or 14 inches deep. This was used as a sleeping position for a third man. Ghost said that you must always be able to get your head below ground level.

Ghost, Pogey and I were the second squad machine gun team. Almost every night we were on 30% security. That meant one of us must be on guard while the other two could sleep. We would then rotate every two hours. There were guys dug in on both sides of us in the same type of L shaped hole. The radio operator dug a single trench about 15 feet behind Ghost.

Ghost inspected all the holes every night. When he was satisfied, we could break out the C-rations for supper. C-rations came in a box with cans inside. There were twelve boxes in a case each with a different main course so there were twelve different choices. Beside the main course, there was usually a can of fruit, a small pound cake or crackers and jelly, a plastic fork and a package with instant coffee, cocoa, sugar, salt , etc. and a package of four cigarettes. C-rations were usually several years old so items not in cans were not the freshest. My favorite was Ham and lima beans, which lucky for me, was one of the least popular. Most days I had three boxes of C-rations; one in the morning and two in the evening . On days when we did not have mid-day dinner delivered, I ate the fourth C-ration at lunch

Once, while I was sitting there trying to open a can, A black guy named Oliver showed me how to heat up a can in a hurry with C-4 plastic explosive. You peel off a pea size piece of the explosive, roll it into a ball and place it beneath a can balanced on sticks or stones or a field stove quickly made from an empty C-ration can. Then light the pea with a match or lighter. It would flare up in a hot blue flame almost immediately heating up anything above it.

Don’t ever step on it, he cautioned me. It could explode. He then took his knife out and cut a 1 inch square piece of the explosive and gave it to me. I used the C-4 method often especially in the morning for instant hot coffee or cocoa. We were also supplied with heat tabs which were designed to heat C-rats. They were like a small can of sterno.. The C-4 method was much better.

While we sat around eating, one guy moved off to the edge of our little perimeter and dug a hole about two feet cubed. As people finished eating they would walk over and through their empty cans and trash in the hole. It was all sort of automatic to clean up. Ghost had everyone well trained on field sanitation.

I learned that the night pretty much belonged to Charlie. We almost never moved at night. Most guys lit up a cigarette as twilight fell on us. In our unit , no one was permitted to smoke in the dark. I once saw Sgt. Granert physically kick a guy in the head that he caught smoking in the bottom of the hole. Sgt. Ghost showed us how trying to light a cigarette down in the bottom of the hole would create a glare that could be seen a long way. He also told us a story of how a guy in the headquarters platoon lit up a butt in the hole at night and was instantly shot in the head by a sniper. I was a smoker then. I believed that story and never smoked at night. Ghost had put the fear in me.

That first night in the bush was an education. Ghost took first watch and told me to get some sleep in the L section of the hole . When I lay down, Everything on my body had turned red from the fine red powdered dirt. Immediately mosquitoes found me. They would instantly bite any exposed skin. I covered up completely with my poncho liner. Of course, then I was hot with everything covered up. I became wringing wet with sweat. Sleep was impossible. I lie there in the hole until Pogey got me up for my turn on guard. He handed me an army watch with luminous dials. Ghost kept the watch on the pocket flap of his fatigues when it was not needed for guard duty. No one else there had a watch. In those days, watches were expensive items. My parents gave me a Gruen as a graduation present from high school. It broke within a few months. Ghost left me the squad watch when he rotated home; I, in turn, left it to the next squad leader when I left the unit.

I learned a lot on my first shift on guard. First, mosquitoes will eat you alive if you are not completely covered with clothing or the oily repellant. You must not make any noise by slapping or swatting mosquitoes or bugs. If you do, you will be immediately ostracized by the others. You must sit there without making any sound. Next, things move around at night. You will notice something you didn’t see before. A tree limb or bush you didn’t notice will become visible. I remember old cowboy movies where the Indians would use bushes for concealment to sneak up on the cowboys. I thought that was happening here. I was afraid to wake anybody and got ready but decided not to shoot for risk of embarrassing myself. As the night progressed, I saw things appear that weren’t there before. Later I learned to study the field of fire while it was still daylight and remember where every bush, limb, and rock was positioned so I knew where everything was during the night.

Ghost had cautioned me not to sleep while on guard. One sleeping guard can get a lot of people killed he said. Even though I could not find any sleep while in the hole, It was really hard not to doze off on guard. When I felt my head nodding off, I would squeeze my rifle and blink my eyes rapidly to ward off sleep. During my entire time in the bush, I never once got enough sleep. I learned to nod off when I had a few minutes here and there. Still, remarkably enough, I never slept on guard. I was scared to death of Charlie sneaking up and slitting my throat. My shift was two hours from 1:00 to 3:00 AM. I kept looking at the watch every 15 or 20 seconds. Time goes very slowly when you are having fun like this! Eventually. My time was up. I let the watch go to two minutes after three then shook Ghost awake. He got right up and without a word, took the watch and got down in the hole behind the M60. Pogey was in the sleeping part of the hole so I lay down in the depression behind the hole. I now understand how these guys got so dirty. You essentially spent a third of your time lying in the dirt.

People began to stir at what I thought was a time before dawn. I had not slept a wink. I sat up and watched others move about. I could see Pogey in the machine gun hole and Ghost in the sleeping hole. He looked sound asleep. More and more people began to stir as the dawn began to grow. When it was light enough to see, I was startled by three guys approaching the perimeter from the left. I nervously reached to bring my rifle around. No one else seemed concerned.

One of them hollered LP coming in.

I asked Pogey what those people were doing outside the perimeter at night. You’ll find out was his curt answer.

I did indeed soon found out that when the Company was stopped, teams of three soldiers were sent out in four directions to serve as early warning so no one could sneak up on the rest of us. In daylight, they were called OP for observation post; and at night LP for listening post. These groups were supposed to be observant and noiseless. Any probe was to be reported back to the CP (command post) by the radio. There was a radio code for use when it was not safe to talk on the radio. One click on the mike squelch meant no; two clicks meant yes or everything was OK ; and three clicks meant some serious shit was coming your way.

So here I was about to begin my first full day in the bush. Already I was tired, dirty and hungry. This first day would repeat it self many times in the next few months. Except for occasional short bursts of excitement, one day was pretty much like the next. We would rise at daylight or before, make some coffee or cocoa, eat a C-ration breakfast, then clean weapons. Around eight o’clock or so, the Company would form up and hump through the bush. The only variables were which direction and how many columns there would be. We usually moved in two columns which was quite dangerous if anybody forgot there were our own guys to the side of us. The point or lead platoon was alternated daily or sometimes more often. Oliver Simpson was always the point man whenever our platoon was on point. He was quite good at this and had unusually good powers of

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