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Old 11-28-2023, 21:40   #1
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Heaven and Earth

The drill was the same, the layout, the gear check, battery check, ammo check, chest rig, knife, med kit, assignments, the plan, if SHTF, PACE and rondo. No detail was too small not to discuss, no time was wasted on talking caca. Everyone embraced the rushing adrenalin cementing the infused tension of the mission, with their place, assignment, and commitment to each other, a palpable and absolute trust.

The same drill ran for any mission, but to execute an ambush, lighter loads and swiftness ruled the day. Ammo, water, explosives, commo.
There was no need to speak from load out to insertion, and once inserted, heart beats were thunder drums in the silence.

Conscience of the monotony embedded in the routine; every member of the team invests in the redundancy. One knife in no knife, two knives is one, three knives save lives. Over and over there is reductive simplicity, all related to discipline and discipline related to survival.

Mission and assignment set at the check point in the layout as it is called, each team member responds with a verbal “Ready!”

Load out into the birds is quick, entering, everyone sits in the exact same place. Exiting, everyone executes to the exact same dial on the compass.

Secured, they move to place. There is never a set distance. Insertion purposefully seeks surprise, it could be a minute, or 5 days over impossible terrain to reach the contact point. Ambiguity is an asset within the team. Each member concern is the mission, the process is just part of the mission. It ends when it ends.

The scenario plays outs night after night, the layout, the gear check, battery check, ammo check, chest rig, knife, med kit, assignments, the plan, if SHTF, PACE and rondo. No detail is too small, no time is wasted talking caca. Everyone embraces tension, the mission, their place, absolute trust.

What seems like hours moving to position, was in fact 30 minutes.
Based on intel, the 9 team members moving in single file formation, aligned in an L shaped formation, with 6 team members on southern side of the trail, and three on the eastern side. The enemy would be entering from the west.

Danny ran the drill over and over in his mind as he lay in wait for the enemy. He ran everyone’s layout through his head, everyone’s position through his head, everyone’s possible reaction through his head, over and over again, he assessed and reassessed outcomes.

And then without warning, hell destroyed heaven.

Gunfire, claymores, grenades, explosions, in a slow-motion view Danny watched as men fell, stood, fired, charged, while screaming and dying. Flesh and body parts in the air, yelling names for friends or comrades, the commitment the same, and then Danny see’s MSG Green buried in the smoke and haze.

MSG Green nurtured Danny, he mentored the young Platoon Leader knowing full well the hardship of leadership, and the deadly coincidence of inexperience. They both had been orphaned, they were brothers of the bond, could have been mistaken for father and son, except for MSG Green professionalism, based in tradition and respect.
which demand that Danny reciprocate the same.

Danny exits his position, running into the fray from the long, south side of the ambush to extract Green, taking a bullet in the foot, knocks him to the ground. Down, he surveys the ambush and realizes that to get Green he has to go down the trail, that is now zeroed in by the enemy.
As he low crawls forward, he encounters other wounded soldiers, that are not members of his unit. At each encounter, his decision is to bring them back to safety, all the while being targeted. Every time Danny goes down the trail to retrieve a wounded soldier he is shot again and again.

It’s an hours long trip into the abyss that simultaneously recognizes sacrifices and futility as the same measure certifying existence.

Then, as if the heavens and hell have extracted their full measure, a quite ensures that smothers your ability to reason and contract a common point of departure.

Danny makes a final effort to reach Green. As he descends the trail a withering fuselage is unleashed, every square inch of ground is taking bullets, earth and dirt are being kicked up. At a log on the trail, Danny see’s SMG Green.

Severely wounded, with individual bullet wounds to the forehead, R/hand, R/ankle, and through both the L/R thighs, and the loss of one testicle, when reaching SGM Green, Danny in his effort to pull him over the log, takes two more 7.62 rounds to his lower back and spine, as his fruitless effort to save the SMG is cut short by an explosion separating them and which cuts Green in two.

Knelling and facing the enemy, Danny continues to fire the M-60 machine gun until he runs out of ammunition and succumbs to his wounds, falling face forward into the good earth.

53 plus years later, the dream augments and incorporates current war time visuals, making the dream much more real, the screams are the same, the time of day is the same, the wake up in a cold sweat is the same. There are variations of intensity and duration, due to semiconscious dream awareness, but the absolute realness of fighting through to survive never changes. It wears on the emotional stability, praying to God for it to end, but I know it’s the only way I can honor them, is to bear witness to their story.

In all its horror and all its glory.
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Old 12-01-2023, 07:06   #2
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Old 12-03-2023, 13:06   #3
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As the decent began through the clouds at 20,000 ft., everyone, except those on a return trip, that could look out the small window to view the landscape below, did. The First banking turns over the turquoise blue sea dominated the view, as the plane continued its decent, an incredible jagged white line of sand came into view, separating the tranquil sea from the emerald green of the jungle. A panorama so beautifully set; it obscured the impending imminent danger it held.

On landing and rolling down the runway the view reviled an intensely busy airport, with planes taking off and others unloading their human cargo. Soldiers marching in single file across the jammed packed tarmac, while in the distance helicopters and fighter jets were silhouetted against the pale blue of the sky.

Mesmerized by the bustling activity, the dream state was brought to abrupt attention with the opening of the plane’s door, carrying the rushing scent of the country into the consciousness that would leave an indelible imprint, etched in the perception, you were a long way from home.

That sensual realization of arriving in a foreign land without a point of reference, dispelled the excitement of adventure with the uneasiness of the unknown. As we deplaned, everyone searched for the intangible consensus they were not alone in their thoughts, making small comments to the first of many lasting experiences as they strode down the long aisle, exiting into the harsh grey light of an early October afternoon in 1970, at Bien Hoa air base in the Republic of South Viet Nam.

The welcoming sign at Bien Hoa airfield, noted the airfield was first established by the French and had been in operation since 1953, and that the base had processed over 1million servicemembers. On the margin, an odious inscription penciled in by one of those soldiers from long ago, sarcastically stated you had 364 more days to go in the land of milk and honey.

The weight of that engraving was further amplified in the crossings path of in processors and out-processing soldiers, with the latter mocking the new arrivals time to go, by noting their days on rotating out or “shortness”. It was, by any standard, the beginning of a new in country vocabulary that was quickly absorbed and manifested to overcome the stigma of being a NFG.

The in-processing system, years in the making, was streamline and efficient. From clothing supply to in-country classes that broadly covered the demographic make-up of RVN, to instruction navigating mocked up trails, identifying tripwires, and where to go should the base receive incoming, was a 5day nonstop event ending with assignments, during that process you where offered the opportunity to request an assignment or unit. If the request met the needs of the Army, the assignment would be granted.

Two of my childhood best friends were already in country with the Americal Division, one was an Infantry grunt with 1/46th and the other a mounted Cav quad 50 driver with the 11Inf Brigade. There was a rumor while in processing that a Spec 4 in assignments could help get you assign to any unit requested. Sought and found, my assignment came through to the Americal 23rd Infantry Division, 11th Infantry Brigade, based in I Corp, Chu Lai, RVN

Last edited by Penn; 12-03-2023 at 13:19.
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Old 12-05-2023, 12:47   #4
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No greater love...
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Old 01-21-2024, 00:09   #5
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Introduction

As the decent began through the clouds at 20,000 feet everyone, except those on a return trip, that could look out the small window to view the landscape below, did. The First banking turns over the turquoise blue sea dominated the view, as the plane continued its decent, an incredible jagged white line of sand came into view, separating the tranquil sea from the emerald green of the jungle. A panorama so beautifully set; it obscured the impending imminent danger it held.

On landing and rolling down the runway the view reviled an intensely busy airport, with planes taking off and others unloading their human cargo. Soldiers marching in single file across the jammed packed tarmac, while in the distance helicopters and fighter jets were silhouetted against the pale blue of the sky.

Mesmerized by the bustling activity, the dream state was brought to abrupt attention with the opening of the plane’s door, carrying the rushing scent of the country into the consciousness that would leave an indelible imprint, etched in the perception, you were a long way from home.

That sensual realization of arriving in a foreign land without a point of reference, dispelled the excitement of adventure with the uneasiness of the unknown. As we deplaned, everyone searched for the intangible consensus they were not alone in their thoughts, making small comments to the first of many lasting experiences as they strode down the long aisle, exiting into the harsh grey light of an early October afternoon in 1970, at Bien Hoa air base in the Republic of South Viet Nam.

The welcoming sign at Bien Hoa airfield, noted the airfield was first established by the French and had been in operation since 1953, and that the base had processed over 1million servicemembers. On the margin, an odious inscription penciled in by one of those soldiers from long ago, sarcastically stated you had 364 more days to go in the land of milk and honey.

The weight of that engraving was further amplified in the crossings path of in processors and out-processing soldiers, with the latter mocking the new arrivals time to go, by noting their days on rotating out or “shortness”. It was, by any standard, the beginning of a new in country vocabulary that was quickly absorbed and manifested to overcome the stigma of being a FNG.

The in-processing system, years in the making, was streamline and efficient. From clothing supply to in-country classes that broadly covered the demographic make-up of RVN, to instruction navigating mocked up trails, identifying tripwires, and where to go should the base receive incoming, was a 5day nonstop event ending with assignments, during that process you were offered the opportunity to request an assignment or unit. If the request met the needs of the Army, the assignment would be granted.
Two of my childhood best friends were already in country, both with the Americal Division, one was an Infantry grunt with one month in country and the other a gun truck driver with the 11th Inf Brigade well into his second tour. There was a rumor while in processing that a Spec 4 in assignments could help get you assign to any unit requested. Sought and found, my assignment came through to the Americal Division, 23rd Infantry Division, 11th Infantry Brigade.

Chapter 1

The straight-line of flight from Bien Hoa to Chu Lai is less than 200 Miles but became a day’s long flight as the C-130 Crisscrossed all the major airfields in between while delivering its cargo. The long journey brought a welcome relief from the previous 5 days of in processing. Allowing those on board to peacefully dose off between take offs and landing, reinforcing every soldier on board the increasing ability to enter the dream state on a moment’s notice, on any surface at any time.

Nodding in and out to the humming drone of the engines, reminiscent of the kitchen exhaust fans, I’m dreamt back in Dino’s restaurant in Wildwood, NJ., Mrs. Compare was right in front of me. I was on the beach, it was my 18th birthday, telling her I enlisted. She hugged me, said something in Italian, I could smell the red sauce with its oregano and garlic, remember the recipe of one onion to one head of garlic, sauteed and deglazed with one quart of red wine, one cup of sugar, reduced to half and then adding 1#10 can of Mazzarri tomatoes, and 2 of water, cook for 30 minutes and then remove from the heat. I could taste it! I could see the tiramisu on the white cloth table. Jarred awake by the hard landing swelled the confusion between the recent past and present.

Fully awake, my thoughts drifted back to those blissful summers, my childhood friends and I spent living at the beach. Teenagers, working in various restaurants each season in the late 1960’s, from 1967 to 1969, living in a rented beach house at 101 Hand Avenue, partying every night after work, intent on engaging in mankind oldest ritual.

Our schedules were all the same regardless of where we were employed. You signed in at 3pm, prepped your station, worked non-stop until 9/10 pm, signed out, went home, and began another night of dancing and partying to greatest music, usually ending around sunrise, with or without your latest crush; as the sun rose you made your way to the beach, sleeping there till noon or so, then home to shower and change for work. Every day a rerun.

It seemed so long ago, as I was now enroute to reunite with my beach bum buddy,10,000 miles from home. My mind roamed to the two men walking on the moon, one of which, far into the future, I would spend an hour alone with recanting this exact experience, relating my thoughts of flying to an unknown destiny, while our hometown City of Philadelphia was in flames, riots, and protest everywhere and four student dead in Ohio. Yet, I somehow felt strangely safe, knowing that if we could put footprints on the moon, I would come home.

The social unrest in America was deeply disturbing to me. Raised by two depression era parents who experienced all the hardships of the second world war, they presented an oral history at the dinner table to their five children, naturing a deep respect for country. There in our assigned seats, we would hear stories of their friends who served or made the ultimate sacrifice. My aunt Kitties fiancé Ray Welch, a Marine, who died on Guadalcanal manning a machine gun surrounded by 30 dead Japanese, or my uncle Joe, my father’s brother, who was one of the first Americans inside Auschwitz concentration camp, were two of the countless character-based stories that informed our world view and guided our future decision process.

Sitting in place, I looked back at my parents their position and place, incorporated into their respective upbringing. My Mother’s family spent the depression era, raise in two homes, one in the tony St. Monica’s Parish in Philadelphia during the school year, and in Atlantic City in the summer, with a household staff of maids and butlers to cater to her and her three brothers and four sisters. Though we were never told how all that was possible, except that my grandfather owned a trucking company that serviced the east coast from 1905 through the era of prohibition, until selling the company in 1955.

In direct contrast to that lifestyle was my father’s single parent family, his mother having died while giving birth to him, the last of 13 children, the family consisted of 8 girls and 5 boys, with two dying in infancy.

The storyline of my parents was so profoundly different that we were never confused by wealth or poverty. One example that is scared in my mind is the tale of my father at eight years of age kicking coal off a moving train to heat their house. Coal that was most likely loaded from one of my mother’s father’s trucks, as he held the contract for that section of the city. Those stories enforced a deep sense of self-reliance, to always believe in ourselves, to trust ourselves, and to do what was necessary to meet the day.

Compounding those early childhood experiences was a merit task-based system of responsibilities that each of us had to perform daily or as weekly chores. The chores consisted of every household duty, allowing for individual preference and ensured a reward when completed.

After dinner each night, we could choose whether we wanted to clear the table, wash the dishes, or dry and put them in the cabinet. At each point in the line, you could call for rejects.
If the one clearing did not remove all the remaining food particle from the plate and the dishwasher call a reject and the reject was certified by MOM, you not only cleared the table, but you washed and dried also. The reverse produced the same result.

The reward, after dinner each night we engaged in one of three games: chess, pinochle, or danced. It would be many years later, as a parent myself, before I understood the genius that my parents exampled and where I would fail miserably as a parent. Chess taught us strategy, pinochle taught us partnership, and dance taught us how to have fun.

The regiment of discipline was so readily enforced, that as I watch the movie play before my eyes, complying to the current demands of the moment was thoughtless, if not second nature. And somewhere, over that forbidden landscape, the memory of that long ago, short, loving time, filled with the laughter and the thrill of competition, from crying foul to winning, devolved into an induced state of hopelessness and homesickness that ate at the core of my spirit, leaving in its wake, a bile aftertaste of foreboding.
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Old 01-21-2024, 01:07   #6
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Chapter 2


The dead of night landing in Chu Lai dispelled the growing sense of Dread. Chu Lai was lit up like a Christmas tree, my trepidation and anxiety immediately disappeared, juicing me with energy.
Recognizing the shift in mood in myself, I could sense that those remaining and about to deplane felt the same, that we would have to find our place in between the dark and the light to deal with the here and now.

Off loaded, duffle bag secured, we move into the bright as day replacement area, which was divided into section for each unit of the 23rd Inf. division. There, an orderly or company clerk accepted the orders and other paperwork directing each soldier to their waiting ground transportation, a duce and a half, or a jeep. The clerks receiving us NFG’s could not have been more dismissive, all the while, all I could think of was when are you no longer an NFG?

Handing my orders to the receiving clerk, I am directed with several others to the 11th Infantry Brigades hold area and wait. The clerk processing us in has a Philly accent, I ask where he is from in Philly and he states 69th Street, West Philly. He attended West Catholic, I mention Bonner, we joke at how small world is and the chances of two archrivals meeting this far from home. While covering common ground, I ask if he knows where the 63rd Transpo Company is and that one of my best friends from HS was on a gun truck in that unit. He calls the unit and about an hour later Kevin shows up. The clerk tells us I have 24hrs and to report back to him same time tomorrow. Its 2am in the morning, October 10, 1970.

We head up to Kevin’s unit which overlooked the entire base with commanding views of the South China Sea, the Airfield, and all of Chu Lai. There, I meet his buddies, talking about everything home, how much time they each had left in country, their job of running convoy from Chu Lai on Hwy 1, North to Da Nang and South to Duc Pho, when Kevin tells them he’s going to introduce me to “Charlie!” The banter stops dead cold, producing an immediate response of don’t do that, He’s a FNG man, are you crazy? That went on for a bit, but they gave no clue as to what exactly “Charlie’s” was, and as much as I tried to discover what it was, the more I tried to understand the ribbing, which increased, but without an answer, I had enough beer in me, I crash into a deep sleep.

Joining Kevin and his crew, who were up and ready to run a convoy south, Kevin laid out the plan. They would partly assemble on base, but join with another convoy already in route, heading south. When we exit the gate and enter Chu Lai village, the gun truck would stop and Kevin and I jump off. Confused, I ask what the deal is, and Kevin states we going to meet “Charlie.” Kevin gives no clue as to where or what we are doing with “Charlie” as we make several left and right turns that are disorienting, before entering a through an elaborately carved wooden gateway, that opens onto a large stately house.


Stunned by the hidden secret dwelling, I am speechless as I watch an impeccably dress women, wearing the traditional Vietnamese áo dài, floats across the manicured courtyard. She welcomes us in French accented Vietnamese “xin chào tình yêu của tôi,” Kevin replies “Xin chào.”

I ask Kevin what she said, and the Vietnamese woman answers in perfect english, “Hello, my name is Teri. I said to Kevin, how are you my love?”

Tired, hungry, a bit hungover, dazed by the deep cultral shock and the atomsphere riff with the senet of lemon, mint, basil and other exotic aromas, mixed with burning insense. The smell of charcoal fires and cooking, cinnamon and ginger and flowery spices miggeling in the air. I Look into the house and could see women moving about, turning we enter another doorway and are met by several more woman who are also dressed in beautiful tailored and colorful áo dài.

Teri takes me by the arm and leads across the courtyard and into the building. We turn down a hallway, then turn into a room with a large platform bed, and long table with lit candles on one wall, opposite an open box with hinged doors on each side, and a chair balanced on its rear legs in the middle of the box.

As all this is processing the women enter the room, its then that I realize I am in an Asian bordello. Teri asked who I like, I tell her to choose for me. Teri picks two women, stating they have the best knowledge.

When the others leave the room, the two women, one of each side begin ever so slowly to undressing me. One button at a time, they open my fatigue jacket, rubbing their hands across my chest, shoulders, and neck before untying my boots and then loosening my belt buckle. Guided backwards to the platform bed, they remove my jacket, then gently lay me down and remove my boots, and then slide my fatigue pants off, the other takes my hand and pulls back to an upright position and walks me the box, gesturing for me to be seated.

Sitting there facing the two women, they reach up to their shoulders and unbutton their áo dài, allowing the elegant dresses to float gracefully to the floor. Standing before me naked they enter the box together while closing the sides, leaving my head sticking out the hole cut in the top of the box as the warm steam begins to fill the interior, they squeeze sponges of warm soapy water over my body, washing away years of inhibited infused behavior.

Alternating from front to back one caresses my neck and shoulders, while the other straddles across my thighs, barely touching my erection with her midsection as she rolls her arms up and down the sides of my rib cage, reaching around to my back upper spine, allowing her erect hard nipples to encounter mine. Every time I attempt to pull her into me, she gently forces my arms to my side.

Its then, that the two together, one on each of my thighs move ever closer as they reach around simultaneously, forcing and spreading my thighs wide open while sliding up and placing abdomen to abdomen with mine, wedging my full manhood between their upper legs as their fingernails comb and run through my hair. There is no end to their serpentine dance, unable to see what or where they are moving next, the exquisite torment continues until the air in the box begins to cool.

Sensationally aroused, I am lead from the steam box to the patted platform bed, wrapped in a silk sheet, I am placed face down, concerned and then surprised as my erect throbbing cock and testicles hang through a purposefully design hole in the platform.

The two women kneel on each side of me and begin to massage my back through the silk, using their palms and fingernails. My closed eyes imagine they are drawing foo dogs and dragons with each long and titillating stroke. At each joint they run their finger into the crevasse, if one is working the left shoulder the other is massaging right foot or inner thigh, over and over and over waves upon waves, run up and down my spine as they glide naked on my body.

Turning my body over they place my ankles on a slightly raised pillow and place a scented small pillow over my eyes. I can smell the oil they pour into the palm of their hands. It smells like oranges, mint, clove, almonds. A sacrilegious thought enters the mind as Heaven descends through the ecstasy, taking turns as they do, gliding on the smoothness of my oiled and anointed skin with their thighs spread wide, riding just above, and barely touching my aching erection with their hot wet dripping vaginas.

When they finally release me into oblivion, the endomorphic rush renders me unconscious. When I awake, night has fallen. On each arm the women sleep soundly. I drift back to sleep.

Later, naked, and alone, Kevin wakes me smiling and laughing, with a loud “Welcome to Vietnam!” I smile but am speechless. Kevin, shaking his head and smiling suggest we get something to eat. Moving off the platform bed, I’m in a daze like state, and while walking back through the hallway, I feel infinity, like I’m stretched across time, unconnected and separated from my body simultaneously, an incomprehensible state of being, and I am incredibly hungry.

Coming into the cooking area there are grated open fires, some have large pots filled with simmering liquid, vegetables rolling in them, others are clear and scented with herbs and spices, I pick a piece out, it is spicy hot, sweet, and lemony. Moving around the fire we are handed small pieces of a glazed meat on a little round bone, it is again sweet and spicy hot, minty, I ask what it is, and Kevin, laughing and says, “you may not want to know.”

But I’m hooked. Memories surface of my mother who used spices like these, I remembered the ham legs with clove, cardamon, and cinnamon. Clear chicken soups with basil and cilantro, short ribs glazed with peppery honey.

We make our way back to the base entering through a guard tower that Kevin had prearranged.
It would be the first and last time I would see Kevin. He was rotating back in 35 days. Years later, I would be told he was one of the big pot suppliers on Chu Lai, running convoys up and down QL1 seven days a week gave him access and opportunity, and that when Kevin rotated home, he was a heroin addict. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I have often wonder over the years what his connection was to Teri. Especially, after a few months in country when I had several opportunities to fly into Chu Lai and tried to visit Charlie again, but I could never find the location and when I asked about Charlie, no one had ever heard of it.
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Old 01-21-2024, 01:11   #7
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Chapter 3


Processed into my new unit, the 3rd of the 16th Arty, I would then be assigned to either LZ West, Bronco, or Liz with C Battery once I reached my units base in Duc Pho. I was hoping to go by convoy, thinking that Kevin would be on the route, and I could ride with him, but was transported by shark tooth painted helicopter, my first, to Duc Pho.

I was the only passenger, along with some cargo and a crew of 4, two pilots, crew chief and a door gunner. Somewhere over Quang Ngai providence, the door gunner checked fired his M-60 machine gun. Sliding over the floor of the slick, I looked out the door to see what he was shooting at in the rice paddies below. There was nothing there except a farmer plowing a paddy with his buffalo. The gunner wasn’t aiming for the farmer, just checking his weapon he said, but I could see the rounds splash 100 feet from the farmer.

Arriving in the early evening in Duc Pho, I am met at the LZ, checked in and then escorted to my temporary “Hooch,” which contain just one cot, a rather unusual arrangement, when I mentioned that, the company clerk notes its temporary that I’ll be moving to one of the LZ’s tomorrow, to relax and get some sleep.

Laying on the cot, I review the past few days, the hurry up and wait, Kevin, and the mind-blowing trip to Charlies, the food and those two women. The experience a dreamscape, I fall into a deep sleep.

Unconscious, I am blown off my cot by a huge explosion, Bewildered, scared, insensible, I run for the door screaming “incoming” “Incoming”, while I am running, trying to remember where the bunker is located, looking left and right in pure panic, out of my mind, filled with fear. It’s then that I hear the howling and see men on the ground withering with, not wounds, but laughter, laughing hysterically, chocking for air laughter, pissing in your pants laughter. laughter with tears rolling down your cheeks laughter.

Partially deaf from the explosion, confused and disoriented, I’m in a state of incomprehensiveness, what is happening I’m screaming, which causes my future team mates to enter another level of hysteria. Their frenzy only abates, when I gain control of my emotions, realizing the jokes on me.

The welcome “Hooch” was purposefully set up under a M-110, a tank like mechanized gun/cannon, which shot a 200-pound shell up to 15 miles from base with devastating results.
Every night, directly over the roof of the Hooch, the gun had fire missions in support of troops in the field, affording my bored team mates the rare occasion to break their monotony with an initiation ritual that ensured permanent tinnitus, sensitivity to sound, and that there were no rules.

The next day I was on LZ Liz, a week later sent to back to LZ Bronco, and then LZ Professional. One week after that, with almost a month in-country, our unit was deactivated, and I was left without orders on LZ Bronco, alone, with no command and a year to go. A year that would fundamentally transform me and impact all my future decisions.

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Old 01-21-2024, 01:12   #8
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Chapter 4

On LZ Liz I had met a Medic by the name of Phil Grist, from Minnesota, who ran the 1st Aid station on LZ Bronco, he was my only contact point, so I went to him explaining my situation and looking for direction. Being shorthanded, he called his command at the 91st medical unit. The Army is renowned for (OJT) on-the-job training, with that understanding, he secured a TDY position for me by stating he needed assistance. I was told orders would be cut and was given my first assignment at the dust-off pad on LZ Bronco. My job would include basic medic instructions, and at the dust-off pad, litter carrier, triage, and maintenance gopher.

I dove in headfirst in my attempt to be useful. When several weeks in, Phil asked if I was would be interested in working with some MACV Medics doing MEDCAPs, which were Medical Civic Action Programs designed to win the “Hearts and Minds” of the Vietnamese.

The MEDCAP Program would be all over I Corp, in remote settings that could and would be dangerous, that I would be dealing with everything from refugee camps to live fire aftermaths, my job would be pulling security first and assisting where needed for the two MACV medics. I readily agreed. It was a real job and had purpose.

The next morning, we met the MACV Medics at the aid station, one is 6’2” tall and the other is about 5’8” tall, immediately earning the monikers “Big Doc and Little Doc”, they introduced themselves and describe what the program was about, what our roles would be and that we, along with three others, an E-6 squad leader, an RTO commo guy and another soldier would form the security detail. They described the mission and what was expected from us and that the first mission would commence if a few hours. We would be going to a hastily build refugee camp in the Central Northwest of I Corp. We were told to pack 5 bandoliers each of ammo, a bandolier held 200 rounds, 4 canteens of water, and prepare to stay overnight. What was expected from us was cut and dry, to be ready and remember there would be the 7 of us and an possibly a ARVN civil action team on the ground, once we were there and no one else.

In any life, there are moments that define your experience or your place. This was one of those instances where you as once question and deny possible outcomes. Instructed to pack a thousand rounds, when you have only fired your weapon once or twice for qualification standards alerts your survival instincts, and it did. The excitement of the moment gave way to being vigilant in the extreme, a condition that would surface in decades to come, as the sense of vulnerability collied with the situational awareness of volunteering for an adventure, which birth a fear-based hypervigilance as we assembled and boarded the two-shark tooth painted helicopters for a journey into the unknown.

The point of departure for such a journey is a detachment from control. Whatever is going to happen will happen, and when it does, you can only react to the situation, and you can only control what you can control in your immediate self. Your awareness, your fear, your acceptance of that condition can be the difference between success or failure. Losing control is gaining control.

Flying from the basically flat coastal region of Duc Pho to the Northwest of I Corp, the landscape transitions from scrub bush, rice paddies, and grasslands to triple canopy jungle. The flight is a roller coaster of a ride physically and emotionally, as the pilots ride the treetops to our destination, which pops up as a clearing in the dense tropical forest, the clearing was once a mountain village.

Off loaded, the E-6 staff sergeant positions us around the clearing as the Medics set up under a partially destroyed structure. The people are dressed unlike any Vietnamese we have ever encountered, we were told that these were Montagnard’s. That they are the native people of Vietnam.

We stayed at the makeshift refugee camp for several days, which would be the first of many, while working with the two Medics, who for whatever reason, make a point to work with the Montagnard’s.

Several mission later, we were west of the Hue in Quang Tri providence, which was a major target in the TET offensive of 1968 and was still a heavily contested area, when we were told there would not be an evac for us due to the monsoon weather conditions, that we would have hump our way to an extraction point that was closer to a combat base.

It was then that the chief medic stoically explained that not only would there be no one coming for us, but that commo was weak due to terrain and weather, and that the only thing we had was each other, and that we should expect contact with the NVA as we were in their home turf.

Fear has a remarkable quality to focus your attention. There is a dull memory that we were kept busy with perimeter security, get this carry that, assisting where needed, securing our equipment and rucks. The mission gave a sense of meaning to what we did under the cruel and constants state of hypervigilance, which the Medics instilled with an attention to detail in the extreme, that checked and doubled checked every piece of equipment, every day, before, during, and after use.

When we moved out, the understanding that we never took anything for granted built a level of confidence that we would accomplish the mission and reach the extraction point, what we did not know was how difficult that would be, as the terrain and monsoon conditions exacted a toll on our bodies and mind. The expression of no rest for the weary would be an extreme understatement, as we forced ourselves to ignore the biting ants and bugs that crawled into every orifice and found every tender spot already bitten, bitten again, we suffered in silence, fearful of attracting any attention in our passing through the enemy infested territory.

Climbing up to a ridgeline, we are suddenly aware of the nammuc sauce that is a staple in the Vietnamese diet, as its characteristic odor easily identifies it use, drifts down the hillside as we are moving up. Stopping cold, we all recognize the intimate danger ahead.

We are aligned in a single jagged file, facing upward about five feet between each man. No one moves. The senior medic who was in the middle of the file, makes his way up and then down the line telling each man to slowly and carefully as possible, to turn around and make their way back down the hill.

As we do, the senior medic pulls me to the side of the file, we will be the rear guard as the team retreats to safety, once they are out of sight, we turn and make our exit as well.
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Old 01-21-2024, 01:14   #9
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Meeting up with the rest of our small team, the squad leader and the senior medic pull out their map and plot another direction to the rendezvous point. Exhaust by effort, fear, and soaking wet, the cold mountain air has us shivering, so we huddle together under the triple canopy sharing our body warmth, trying in vain to avoid the rain, while finding deep comfort in our togetherness, we look at each other, using our eyes to communicate silently that we are ok.

Then, out of nowhere, an enemy soldier walks directly into the squad leader and the senior medic, who grabs the fully dressed NVA soldier by the neck as the E6 squad leader all but decapitates him. The violence of action was so quick we never moved. Hand singling us to move, we grab the body and four of us carry it deep into the undergrowth. Returning, we move out as quickly as possible, following a monsoon made stream in the valley for several kilometers, before turning and clawing our way up to another ridgeline.

That evening there is a break in the weather and overcast, reaching our new extraction point, we are picked up within minutes of arrival. The flight to Hue feels over in a few minutes but was much more. We are taken to some units mess hall and then their shower facilities. I remember standing under the hot steaming water shivering like mad until that stopped. The next morning, we were asked to write up what happened on our way to the extraction point.

The following morning, standing in a loose formation, we are told by the senior medic “Big Doc” that the MedCap program was being shutdown and that we would all return to our assigned units. We all just look at each other in disbelief, we had huddled together sharing our body heat to keep warm, sat in night LP’s for hours together, being eaten alive by the fire ants and bugs, we know longer knew anyone back at LZ Bronco, our squad and place was here. “Little Doc” seeing our reaction, “Men, it’s temporary, we’ll be touch.” We all knew that it was over, but we apricated the gesture.

I am certain, looking back at that intense experience is when the loss of innocents and rebirth into the world occurred. And that those few months under the vigilance and tutelage of those men, cemented the acceptance that fear and hypervigilance in its infancy then was a good thing, that later would destroy many future relationships as the demand for attention to detail morphed into an unnatural exactness.
An exactness regimented in the rigor of military discipline to survive any encounter for the sake of the mission, to always be aware, would dovetail seamlessly into a future unknown career, which would demand the same excellence in preparation and execution to succeed.

Back on Bronco at the aid station they assigned me to a TDY with the “C” 1/3 198Inf Bdg. The squad leader, Brian was from Scranton, Pa., so we had some common ground, but when I informed him that I was not the medic they were looking for, he responds by telling me that’s ok, and hands me a rifle.

And then God intercedes, and I am pulled into a perimeter patrol squad, whose sole responsibility is to check all the perimeters at all the LZ’s in the 11th Inf brigade’s AOR biweekly. It’s another small 8-man squad, led by an Lt., a senior E-7 and a junior E-6 sergeants, with a commo guy and four grunts.
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Old 02-11-2024, 21:17   #10
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Reporting for duty, the Lt. returns my salute with the two-finger peace sign, as a group they were completely informal in their introduction and mannerism, their personal behavior instilled no confidence. Sensing the undisciplined nature I immediately stated that my assignment was a mistake and want to speak with the Company Commander, that I had a copy of my original orders assigning me to the 3rd/16th Arty. The Lt and the two sergeants looked at each other and then the Lt said, in so many words, go ahead. He did not ask to see my orders and did care one iota about me or what he was responsible for.

Presenting my orders to the commander of C 1/3 198th Inf Bde., eventually led to me being transfer back to Chu Lai with 3rd/16th Arty., where my assignment is to assist with the units supply and equipment needs. The job was tedious, involving request for and storage of everything an army unit needs to operate, along with endless list of records, that required signature or a receipt for. Hours where spent cataloging and cross-checking records for the record control officer, who rewarded the work with a break in the drudgery, by establishing a the latrine disposal specialist.

There are few Army memories deeply engrained in the psyche as the burning of human waste. It’s a detail that must be experienced to truly grasp its significate deep rooted imprint.

As the FNG, I was ceremoniously handed the long metal hook to retrieve the bottom half of 50-gallon drums use to collect the process food that passed through the units members, daily, from under the three wooden structures, accommodating 3 ass each., while being graciously informed that duty had not been preform the pass two days, so to be careful in not spilling the contents before burning the fully loaded drums with diesel oil.

The stench is indescribable along with the thick black smoke that billows and tracks your every movement like a sorceress as you attempt to remain upwind from the smoldering slow burning mass, which requires a stirring now and again, to ensure its complete disposal into the air.

But, inside of that dark cloud was a silver lining. As a TDY supply clerk with the exalted titled of latrine specialist, building another 3 seater cut the shit burning from 7days a week to 4. In the supply hootch, you interacted with everyone in the unit, and everyone in the unit always needed something. A resourceful supply clerk, with innate entrepreneurial and librarian recording skills was a wonder to behold.

What was misplaced could be found, what was old could be new again, what was needed was acquired. Balancing the books, accounting for equipment issued and not returned, or recorded but not in inventory, was easily assessed on paper.

That duce and half truck is the one that went in the river with all the equipment on file number IXYZ212HTY 5632 2 ½ (1) each. It was magical for balanced records, opening opportunity for lowly spec4 shit burning clerks to assist on resupply missions to the firebases that the 3rd/16th had personnel and guns on, every resupply mission by convoy or flight was a chance to get outside the wire, offering the possibility to see and feel the country.

It was the very reason, I enlisted and volunteered for Vietnam, being stuck on Chu Lai was garrison duty. In essence, it was a large American town, harboring all the same amenities and social problems that were currently issues back home. I despised every minute being there and used all resources to request assignment on every resupply mission, even going so far as to visit other units who were responsible to deliver the resupply and offer myself to fill in or replace someone if they were shorthanded. The NCOIC of the supply Hootch was ok with that, as I was useful but an extra man on TDY to him. As much as I tried to find a way to work the resupply missions, I was only adamant about one destination: LZ Maryann, where my childhood best friend Danny was with “C” Co 1st/46th Inf of 196th Inf Bde
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