Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Vietnam Reflections - 1969

Operation Eager Pursuit I & II

Bob Firing the M2A1 Portable Flame Thrower

This photo of the M2A1 Portable Flame Thrower has been very popular on another website for Google searches. It is amazing how many people around the world are interested in such things, especially in Europe. However, this is not a combat shot. My buddy and I carried these 72 lb. tanks on Operation Eager Pursuit I & II for four weeks, and didn't use them. (Hallelujah!) At the time of the photo, we were about to be picked up by helicopter and taken back to the rear area, and I asked the CO if we could fire them for safety reasons. As I was getting ready to take the picture, someone volunteered to be the rifleman, and I took two shots of Bob. At the first blast he wasn't really prepared for the 2100 psi thrust-back of the nozzle, and braced himself better for the second and final burst. There was about 10 seconds of napalm mixture in the tanks.

Even though our Military Occupational Specialty was MOS 0351, we had only fired the flame thrower one time in training.  The second specialty was the 106 mm Recoilless Rifle, which we fired one time as the gunner.  And the third specialty was the 3.5 inch Rocket Launcher (bazooka) that we shot five times.  Of course, when you are young and have a rifle or other weapon in your hand, you think you are an expert and invincible.

In Bootcamp, the Infantry Training Regiment (ITR), and Battalion Infantry Training Specialty (BITS), we were still using the M-14 rifle, though the M-16 was in use in Vietnam.  Finally the six weeks before going to the Nam, in Staging, we started using the M-16, but I doubt if we shot more than a hundred rounds. Our other standard training was throwing a hand grenade one time, shooting a .45 pistol maybe 14 times, and now that I look back, I understand it was on the job training mostly - sink or swim.

Probably 60mm Mortar Squad, Hotel Company, 26th Marines
I can't make out who is in this photo (maybe the 60mm mortar squad), but it was taken by a large ten foot berm of earth, left and outside of view, where a train track had been.  Not far behind the photographer was a river.  Some of the guys went up the berm and discovered a booby trap in the vegetation, and while they discussed how to disarm it, someone set it off.  Boom!  About five or six were wounded and stretcher bearers were called for. Being somewhat curious I went, and helped bring them down on ponchos, and set them in the dried rice paddy for the corpsman to attend. One Marine had a small hole in every square inch of his body it seemed, but no limbs missing or gaping wounds. They were choppered out.  In the course of the day the CO had mortars dropped on an abandoned bunker on the other side of the berm, and someone said he reported several VC killed to his credit.  As a matter of fact, I hear we Americans killed the entire North Vietnamese Army several times over the course of the war.

Beer and soda rations were flown in along with our C rations, and we were given two beers and two sodas apiece; and it you can believe it, not all Marines drink beer and traded their beers for sodas.  Good place for teenagers to get a buzz - and I was.
Shortly after dusk, tracer rounds began to zip over the top of the train berm where some of our guys were dug in, and incoming fire came from our side of the berm too.   It was an L shaped attack, and many, feeling a bit emboldened by their four beers, started yelling at the enemy, and they at us.  Our machine guns opened up, a short firefight ensued, and a guy on the berm was hit in the abdomen. They carried him down to the rice paddy in the dark, and called for a medevac helicopter.  While we waited, those around the wounded comforted him as best they could, reassured him he would be okay, and asked if he had a photo album or anything else in his pack he wanted them to look after.  

As the minutes passed, he quieted down as if he was going into shock or dying, and then we heard the sound of choppers, but couldn't see a thing.  They circled above in the dark, and one older guy, Lurch, (23-24), stood up with a small strobe light held high like the Statue of Liberty, to show the chopper where to land.  As one helicopter circled above as guard, the other swooped in and picked up the casualty.  I don't know if he made it or not.

It was probably the next day some of us went to the river.  Perhaps it was seasonally swollen and was a couple of hundred yards wide.  Having lots of experience in competitive swimming, I swan out a bit and thought I would dive under the water if the VC started shooting, and swim safely back to shore - or that's the way it goes in movies.  Many years later, I understood the rivers in Vietnam were not only used for boat travel, but were the handy sewers of the cities and villages. Oh well, nothing that a few GI issued halazone purification tablets couldn't fix, and the rice paddy water we filled our canteens with from time to time.  I also have heard the locals made personal and regular fertilizer contributions to the rice paddies.  Yummm

 Mike Aston, Wichita Falls, Texas
Killed on this Operation

High School 1969, USS Okinawa off the coast of Vietnam 1/1969, Vietnam 2/1969

James Michael Aston graduated in '68.
Gonna be a man. Gonna go to Viet Nam.
James Michael Aston, did you take a mine for me?
Stood right where you died, my friend,
did you die there instead of me?
I heard you crying to me, brother.
There was nothing I could do.
Your body torn so viciously,
there'll be no more fighting for you.
James Michael Aston, talked to your mom today.
Thirty-two years have gone by, and I'm still thinking of you.
I heard you crying to me, brother, and still will flow my tears.
Four pounds of high explosives are echoing in my ears.
James Michael Aston, I'm preaching in church tomorrow,
And I'll mention you on this Mother's Day, and how a mom
Gave her son that we might live.  It's so much like -
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son
that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world
but that the world through him might be saved."
James Michael Aston, what can I say today?
I don't think that you threw your life away,
For many have remembered you on this day -

James Michael Aston Memorial Stone, Vashti, Texas

One of the most stirring moments of my life was to visit the cemetery that Mike Aston is buried in at Vashti, Texas, after being nearby when he was killed 33 years earlier. You can read about it at his memorial website, "What life is All About."

Mike Aston's 60mm Mortar

The man in the back without a shirt was in Mike Aston's 60mm squad, and may have been wounded when Mike was killed. Do you know who this is? If so, please contact me.

Notice the dog tag laced in the boot, and this is where most of us kept the two we were issued. The reasoning was, if you got a leg blown off, they would know who it belonged to. Maybe it was hoped a wayward limb might be reattached if anyone was mindful to throw it in the medevac chopper along with your, probably, dead body. Laced on one of mine was also a bottle opener (church key) in the event we came across beer. But if we weren't prepared, we'd just jab the cans with a K-bar. For bottles (in those pre-twist off top days) we used the flat side of the knife against the top of the hand holding the neck of the bottle, and pried off the cap with the flat edge. On another operation, some of the local kids came out to sell us sodas, liquor, and ten pack factory-rolled joints for a dollar. One Marine bought a bottle of soda from a little boy, maybe ten years old, and jokingly asked how he was going to remove the cap so he could drink it; whereupon the little fellow put it between his back teeth and cranked it off.

In Vietnam we were issued the coveted jungle boots with green canvas sides. The Marines in-country a long time (salts) had bare beige leather on theirs, while the new guys were still blackened. About ten months down the road we got a commanding officer who wanted to do things by the book, limited us to four rifle magazines that were to be refilled with clips of loose ammo, two canteens for water, and shined boots. I had 22 magazines at the time, six canteens, and bare leather boots. Well, I wouldn't shine mine out of stubbornness, and tossed them from the fantail of the ship, and managed to get some new ones. Of course, lacking a brain cell or two, I chucked the laced up dog tags too. And now, every blue moon I find myself irrationally going to websites that list dog tags found in Vietnam, even though I know mine are at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

More on dog tags: One fills out an information slip in boot camp for dog tags: name, serial number, date of birth, and religion. Well, I put down "Christian." However, when I got my dog tags, they said in the place for religion, "No Pref." This meant No Preference. I guess if you were a Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Jew, Buddhist, or Muslim, there was a stamp for that, but not for a generic Christian. And now I can say with some certainty it is so. When I filled out a questionnaire at the Veterans Administration many years later, and put down Christian again, they entered for the record "Christian Scientist." I suspect if you are a member of some 501(c)3 non-profit government church, they'll put your brand of religion on your tags, but not for a Christian. After all, Christians ought to only pledge their allegiance to God - period - and not to flags, or constitutions, or the queen of England. Mike Aston above had No Pref. on his dog tags, too, and for the same reason, I bet. Why do they call them dog tags anyway? Are we dogs, and summarily vaccinated and serial numbered like so much chattel? Dah!

 Is this Donald Bowerman?

Donald J. Bowerman?

Birth Date: 15 June 1950

Social Security Number: 089-42-5627

Last Residence: Ocean, New Jersey

Zip Code of Last Residence: 08005

Death Date: 30 April 2003

Linda I. Bowerman (wife)

Toms River, NJ, Lakewood, NJ, Flushing, NY, Forked River, NJ,Waretown, NJ

Queens, NY

Bare Butt in the Back

In the background is the rear end of a Marine hanging out of his pants. Underwear? What underwear? Ol' Bob had one pair of white boxers on this op, but he was the lucky exception. As you may guess, out in the bush there was no easy re-supplies or stores around or Laundromats. We just wiped the sweat and grim off with a green towel, or took a dip in a sewer contaminated river. Hygiene was not high on the list of priorities either: you simply pissed where you stood, and pooped a ways away, hoping not to set off a mine, or soil your boots in the process. Thankfully with our C-rations came a bit of compressed toilet paper, but if it ran out, we used letters from home - read and wipe. And if things were a bit hazardous in a foxhole at night, we'd pee in a can and dump it an arms length away; but if you had to take a dump, you took the chance that moving your bowels would be assisted by an AK-47 round.

I don't think many had extra clothes along for this four week operation, and if we had extra socks, they were stuffed with C-ration can goods with the tops tied together, and draped over our packs. You see, if the cans were left in the box, they nosily rattled, but socking them away in the socks took care of that. Sometimes we had no socks even to wear; and once I wrote home to have some sent, which was more expedient than waiting on the US government. I also asked for a blue t-shirt you will see, but no one objected, as things were pretty informal. Today when we look at the servicemen over in Iraq and Afghanistan, they seem like neat and tidy uniformed robots. Of course, it's professional soldiers and marines now with all of the spiritual baggage that goes with it, which means a huge subculture that has been taught to kill/murder as a vocation. If having a tour in Vietnam left former high school football players and choirboys traumatized for their brief military careers, think of what it does to those who have had several tours of combat duty year after year.

This is Not a Bible Lesson in the Bush

Someone who saw this picture below thought this guy was preaching, but perish the thought. He was having something to eat. Don't remember his name, and he was assigned to be with our flame squad as a tag along, because he was one of the "Dirty Dozen," which I will not elaborate on at this time. Talking about preaching: Many of us had a cross or other religious object hung around our necks, but I don't remember anyone being the religious type, and surely not a Christian. They were just good luck charms, I guess, or a type of "phylactery."

Bob Having a Smoke After Gourmet Dinner

Bob is having his after dinner smoke while on a break trekking across the terrain.  We got two C ration meals a day, and you can see his emptied cans nearby.  There were twelve different meals to choose from (if you got a choice) and some of the gourmet delights were Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, Turkey Loaf, Ham and Lima Beans, and the often discussed and disgusting canned Ham and Eggs Chopped.  The last entry is proof positive of graft and corruption in the highest levels of the military, as enemy forces must have slipped countless millions to menu planners to have this joke distributed to those who were jeopardizing their lives in defense of the republic.  Think about it. Of the twelve different C-Ration meals, you probably could find something similar in any supermarket - except one.

Also in a meal box could be found cans of peanut butter, jelly, pound cake, crackers, cheese, and a brown cellophane package (SP Pack) containing salt, sugar, instant coffee, matches, chewing gum, a wad of toilet paper, and a sampler pack of cigarettes.  Ah, cigarettes, courtesy of our Uncle Sam, who hoped we'd get hooked and pay those high taxes back home to fatten his coffer.  Some of us used the empty SP package to wrap the end of our rifles with to keep debris out; and if one had a little camping knowledge, he'd use a cardboard C-ration case to sleep on at night as a buffer against the hard damp ground.  How any of us survived on the two meals a day is amazing I think, and maybe the cigarettes were to help curve our appetite until back in the rear area or ship, where we could freely feed three times a day.  At the beginning of Bootcamp I weighed in at 200, after Bootcamp 180, and home from Vietnam about 165.

We'd get other types of food on occasion out in the bush, such as chocolate bars that were evidently made without sugar (maybe baker's chocolate), and canned grapefruit juice.  On this particular operation we got both one day, and I gorged myself much to the shock of my intestinal tract.  That night, before moving out at 3 am, and doing an all day sweep until dusk, I was deathly sick.  Several times I slipped down to the bottom of a bomb crater to expel my distress in the dark, and was greatly tempted to wimp-out and report my imminent death to the corpsman, but resisted in order to suffer and croak for my country, if needs be.

72lb. Tanks + 28 lbs. (not on at the time) = 110lbs. Total

This is the only weapon nobody wanted to fire in combat, and surely not to carry.  The M2A1 Portable Flamethrower weighed in at 72 lbs. with the tanks full of napalm mixture.  Of course one had other things to carry.  I also had a rifle, three bandoleers of M-16 magazines, two around my chest, and one around my waist; 4 quart canteens of water, two days of C-rations, photo album, camera in its box, dictionary, and other smaller items.  This brought the grand total to 110 plus pounds when I weighed around 175.  I unexpectedly had to carry this monster at the last minute, and maybe if I had known, would not have brought anything extra. During the Civil War many of the troops going to the battleground dumped their extra gear on the wayside, except rifles and ammunition, and quartermaster wagons followed behind to pick it all up, and reissue it later to the survivors.

After being trucked to the place where we began the operation in the QuangNam Province, we entered into the bush at a route step, a very fast walk. If we stopped for a while, we two tank carriers might just bend over a bit to move the load into a different position, as it took a lot of effort to get down and up again.

One time as the company was entering into a large rice paddy clearing, the Viet Cong opened up on us.   Bob and I hit the deck.  He had a small mound of dirt to fall behind, but I was in the open.  Also, the bleeder valves on the flame tanks (left open when not in use to let expanding gasses escape) were slowly dribbling fuel onto my neck.  As I lay there with the burden pining me on my face, my rife was stuck under me for time as I struggled to get  it out, and imagined a VC would run by and kill me point blank.  The 60mm mortars responded to the AK-47's almost immediately, and dropped some short phosphorus rounds on Marines in the front, wounding a few, as the rest of the company was throwing lead across the rice paddy to the rise on the other side.  As things simmered down a bit, Bob was able to light one up, and knowing my situation with the leaking fuel, extended his cigarette from ten feet away, and asked if I wanted a puff.  Funny Bob.  Soon two fighter jets were on the scene, strafed and bombed the enemy's position for a half hour, and reported they had killed several VC to their credit, and to our blindness.

Bob Firing the Flame Thrower

Funny the things you remember - or don't.  The guy kneeling had a civilian hunting knife in a sheath on his cartridge belt, with a shiny stacked leather handle, but I don't remember his name.

The first time the Flames Section went out in the bush was on Operation Bold Mariner, 1/13/1969 to 2/9/1969, but we didn't take out the tanks.  Not many slept the night before on the USS Okinawa, and we mustered early in the hanger bay to be issued ammo. Divided into debarking groups of five, we were called over time to the flight deck to pile into small CH-36 helicopters. Previously we had inspected some of the choppers in the hanger bay for repairs or storage, and noticed riveted metal patches over bullet holes. There were lots of patches.  As we waited for our number to be called, a few of us (but not many) went to the mess hall cumbered in battle gear to wolf down a steak breakfast. Some swiped hot sauce off the table to season their C-rations later.

On the previous operation, the newly formed Flames Section didn't go because we hadn't been issued any combat gear.  As we observed groups called to the flight deck then, someone on the ship's PA system would report the conditions at the LZ (landing zone), "Light enemy resistance. Rice paddy dikes two feet tall with six inches of water."  But before all the Marines were flown out, they started bringing back the casualties.  One guy was gored by a water buffalo, rushed up to the infirmity, and then carried below into the bowels of the ship in a green body bag.  I wonder if they told his folks the true circumstances.

Anyway, our debarkation number was finally called on Bold Mariner, and we climbed several decks up a stairwell to the choppers.  It was an overcast day as the rickety helicopter took off over the sea and headed for the LZ.  Hovering over a muddy rice paddy a few feet, we jumped out and were stuck in the mire momentarily and my glasses fogged up.  Normally I didn't wear glasses back then, except for target practice, but had them on already with an elastic strap holding them in place. Now I was stuck in the mud, blind, and not off to a very good start.  Pulling my boots out of the sucking mud, and pocketing the glasses, we headed for higher ground.  There was sporadic gun fire in the distance as we walked a mile or two, and stopped on the edge of a paddy near some primitive thatched hooches, maybe six feet tall.  One was ten feet long, and had a giant earthen pot for rice, a place for a cooking fire, and not much else.  Nearby, some twenty women, children, and a few old men were herded up, and I was giving them cigarettes and food until told not to. Such things were used to bribe them during interrogation.  These country folk wore the black pajamas we'd seen on the news, and they were very small compared to us well fed Americans.  While guarding them for a while, a woman approached and jabbered at me, then turned and started to walk away. I didn't know what I was supposed to do, and told her to stop, but she kept on going, squatted down in the clearing while dropping her pants, and emptied her bladder right in front of everyone. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

We stayed in this area for three days, and my squad was directed to dig in by a round eight foot in diameter, two foot tall mound, that we figured was a grave.  There was about fifty feet of clearing ahead, and to the left was another flame squad a hundred feet away. Of course, that night we were pretty much keyed up, and planes circled overhead and dropped illumination flares by parachute, which eerily lit the area for a while; and our lack of sleep before the operation, and now in the bush, was taking its toll.  It was the first or second night out, and I started to hallucinate, and reported to my other two squad members I saw black pajamaed girls in the clearing dancing with umbrellas, but reassured them I knew they weren't really there.

During the night there were loud explosions going off behind our position which we thought were infiltrating VC throwing hand grenades.  Enemy behind us, and dancing girls to the front.  Wow, what a combination!  Come to find out later, the "grenades" going off were our own 81mm mortars using full charges.  Well, somehow we got simmered down a bit, and as I recall,  were sitting in our not so deep fox hole, the dirt piled up in the front a foot or two, when Charlie opened up.  Bob had his feet propped up on the mound and was almost hit, and we wished we had spent more time digging deeper into the cemetery, even if we met up with someone's  honorable ancient grandpa. As the three of us crouched in our rectangular hole, like a shallow one man grave, I pitched a frag in response so the enemy wouldn't see any M-16 muzzle flashes that would pinpoint our position. Shot-putting the grenade as best I could without getting my head blown off, it plopped down a dozen feet, more to the left then to the front, and exploded putting dirt and rocks back on us. There was no return fire, and eventually we braved-up and waited in the alternating light and darkness for the next event. 

After a while I heard something moving directly to my left getting close and closer, but was too terrified to look.  As it slowly encroached upon us, I knew if I didn't face the situation, I'd probably get killed just sitting there in fear; so I swung my rifle around, and leveled it in the face of the flames' lance corporal crawling on his belly from the next hole.  I could only give the first word of the textbook challenge, "Halt, who is there!"  An illumination flare was suspended and swinging in space at the time, and with an ashen face, the about-to-be-murdered Marine lifted up both hands and pleaded, "Don't shoot!" and went limp. And so, I didn't shoot, and we were both elated he wasn't drilled from ten feet away - him more than me, I suspect. You see, the grenade had gone off so close to our position, the other squad thought it had been tossed by the enemy, and we were all dead. So this "old salt" who had been in county for six months, had come over to investigate. Also during the night, one of the guys in our hole started to quietly, but hysterically, laugh with anxiety, and as I tried to calm him down, briefly caught the contagion myself.  War is hell it is true; and war is equally as weird as well. 

Later that night, evidently the VC who had opened up on us were engaged down the line, and one was killed and the another captured.  The next morning the survivor sat blindfolded next to his dead companion who was missing part of his skull.  They were both grown men much older than we.

On the same operation a new Marine in another section met up with someone unexpectedly on the trail, and both raised their rifles at the same instant, and he shot his squad leader three times in the chest killing him.  Later the same fellow would have an AK round rip through his chest while riding down a road, but he survived, and after three months in a hospital, returned to his unit.   I saw the exit wound scar in his back later, which was the size of a fist.

And talking about meeting someone on the trail unexpectedly: One of my fellow Bootcamp Marine recruits, Garcia, a short and burley Hispanic with a broad grin and likeable disposition, met a VC face to face on the trail one day.  It was just a matter of who was going to get the first shot off first to determine the other's departure into eternity, and Garcia beat him to the draw.

In about three days we moved to another location.  There were lots of Marines on the op and it was the largest amphibious assault since Korea, but there wasn't much enemy response. Evidentially there were flame throwers from other unites around, and an order, or scuttlebutt, was passed that flamethrowers weren't to be used to burn civilian huts because the press was with us. However, cigarette lighters were used as an alternative.  

A large underground hospital was found in a hill, and investigated by some lucky souls who crawled into the snake holes with their flashlights and 45's.  One tunnel rat said he was on his hands and knees in a cramped passage, with an almost dead flashlight, and came unexpectedly face to face with an old man  He dropped the flashlight and figured he was a dead man, but much to his relief, the old boy was unarmed and not a threat.  Just recently I talked to another Marine whose buddy, on operation Eager Pursuit, got gassed in a tunnel, whereupon he slipped in behind to grab his feet and pull him out, but was overcome himself.  His friend died, but he was evacuated.  In the hospital he said he was embarrassed to be among those with legs and arms blown away, and was grateful to go back in the bush after a couple of days.  

At night we watched overhead as slow flying aircraft with their mini guns (Gatling guns) sprayed streams of red tracer bullets every fifth round at 6,000 rounds per minute; and artillery cluster rounds in the distance exploded mid air and dumped their lethal loads, like a hail of small meteorites, which exploded and flashed on impact.

After a Month in the Bush.  Mail & Black Label Beer

This particular photo is the Flames flaking out after getting back to the rear area.  Some are catching up on letters from home, eating, and I see a case of Black Label Beer in the tent. After another operation we ended up at another rear area, and there was beer available, also. Well, we dumped our gear out in the open somewhere, as there were no tents or bunkers for us, and proceeded to drink until we couldn't drink anymore, curled up in the dirt, and passed out for the night.  That's "salty" don't you think... just curl up in the dirt and go to sleep!   Good thing the compound wasn't run over, which could have happened.  And if drinking out in the bush and getting buzzed wasn't bad enough, there was marijuana and pills to pop if you wanted.  One group of twelve had their sea bags searched on ship and there was found thousands of factory rolled joints stowed away to take home.  I don't know what sort of criminal proceedings there were, if any, but they were shipped out to different grunt companies to be ammo carriers for some time.

Talking about being overrun.  One issue of the Stars and Stripes military magazine reported a compound being overrun by VC, and "the mess sergeant was killed defending his mess." I wonder if the news reporter got a promotion or a demotion for his clever choice of words.   On another occasion, one of my friends from boot camp was in an overrun compound in the black of night.  In the chaos, his bunker buddy grabbed his bandoleer of ammo to get out and start shooting, leaving my friend with just the one magazine in his rifle

It was after this operation, Eager Pursuit I & II, some of the Flame members started transferring out of the section: one to supply, one to the mail room, and another became the Chaplin's assistance.  I guess the possibility of having to carry the 72 lb. flame tanks in the bush encouraged them to defend their country in another manner.  Can't imagine why.  The tanks were quite safe to carry, we were told in training, and even a direct hit by a rifle round, or other ordinance, wouldn't set them ablaze. (Yeah, right.)  I guess not everyone was naive or patriotic, and wasn't in a hurry to bleed or die for their country.  The exception was another transferee who wanted to go to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the North and South Vietnam where the heavy action was, but he was re-directed over to the psychiatrist instead as a Catch 22 case. His persistence paid off over time, though, and was transferred to a grunt company as a rifleman.  "Ask and it shall be given you."

The chaplain's assistant was an artist from Texas, and no matter who told him they had been to some city in the Lone Star State, his response was always, "Why that's the strawberry capital of the world!"  Berry interesting.

Scary How Young They Look!

Looking back at this photo from over forty years ago I think of how immature we were, (18 -19 years old most of us) and being raised only a few years after World War II. There were lots of old films to watch on the tube that glorified war in black and white while we grew up, newer ones in color, TV shows like Victory at Sea, and the series Combat and the Rat Patrol, to name some. All this propaganda looked like a fat and juicy worm on a hook to a hungry dumb fish, and pretty exciting when you are a teenager until the first bullet whizzed past your skull and you realize that some unseen stranger was trying to murder you for no good reason. I found it interesting as a mindless teenager recruit, we were not indoctrinated into why we were going to Vietnam or to hate the enemy. It might have been helpful to have some good motivational reason to kill, maim, and destroy the Viet Cong for about $125 PFC wages, $60 dollars a month combat pay, and all the mosquitoes you could swipe at. World War II was different, though, because servicemen were taught if Hitler and the Hirohito were not stopped they would take over the entire world and enslave us in their dictatorships. At least that was what I understand from those vets. They also didn't have to just survive for a 12 or 13 month tour, because they knew they weren't going home unless in a box, or disabled, or until they killed all the German and Japanese soldiers.

In Vietnam I saw a simple agrarian people who wanted to be left alone by both sides and plow their fields, have a good meal to eat, and hope for a peaceful time to raise their families in, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Some of us enlistees, on the other hand, just wanted to get away from home and be independent (ha), and have an adventure. Another important consideration was those alluring and flamboyant dress blue uniforms, compared to what the Army and Air Force had to offer, and the navy's bell bottoms with a thirteen button fly and little white caps. Now I see the dress blues as rather gaudy; and even though I didn't purchase any, I found out later one needed to have garter straps to attach the shirt tails to the socks, which mutually keep the one down and the other up. (I thought only girls used such riggings.) Recently I read the United States Marine Corps is boasting they're going to excel in recruiting homosexuals over the other services which might account for those garter straps. Times are a changing; but back a few years, I think homosexuals would be shot by our own side in a firefight, like CO's who liked to jeopardize their men in overzealous or mistrusted combat tactics. I heard $100 pools were started in Vietnam, and he who blew such a CO away with a frag dropped into his fighting hole at night won the pot.

I am reminded of the old lady in the nursing home commenting about war, how mothers would raise their little babies so carefully, and dress them up nicely to have the government take them to die or be maimed in wars when they grew up. But most young men don't have to worry about leaving a widow or children behind if they died, which helps to remove some anxiety of being KIA or wounded. Of course your family members worry about you, especially when the evening news presents up to date film footage along with the body count of theirs and ours. Today on occasion I hear of vets who boast, or with feigned regret, recount the mowing down of harmless villagers from helicopters for sport, or urged POW's to make a run for it and shoot them in the back. By the way, we, the Super Power, lost the Vietnam War one way or another while enabling a bunch of new millionaires and billionaires to win and reap the profits of the war industry, whose CEO's didn't go to war or their sons.

In regard to mindless teenagers: I read the brain still is making significant changes after 18 years old, and does not reach maturity until somewhere in the 20's; and this is part of the scheme of taking children into the service by draft or volunteer, as they are still operating a brick or two shy of a complete load. Maybe several bricks. Most of us could not legally drink a beer in a bar, vote, get married, or sign a contract for a loan, because a mature adult society forbade us; but we could sign our life away at eighteen to die for the likes of Dow Chemical and the canners of Ham and Eggs Chopped C-Rations. And now, most every Vietnam Vet has talked himself into how he was doing his patriotic bit for the country, defending its freedoms, and cannot face the fact he was duped into being a dim-witted pawn of crooked politicians and amoral businessmen. (Still a brick shy?) If one really wants to win a war, put all of the war industries CEO's on the front line along with their sons for a hundred dollars a month, and they'd get it over with real quick - before they got there as a matter of fact.

It used to be when the country declared a war, the businessmen knew they had only a few years to make hay while the sun shined; but now they have perpetual wars for perpetual harvest$. It is no longer a hay day, but a hay century. What was it Eisenhower warned the American people about in his 1961 Presidential farewell address? The Military-Industrial Complex? Yhep

 Which One is the Mule?

Dai Loc Pass was just outside of Da Nang, and we were there two times at the top of the ridge. I think the first time was around April 1969, and then later in October/November until my group went home in December. All these photos were from the second time, and there are a few newer guys in this one. The young man on the far right we called "Bootcamp," and he looked about 14 or 15 years old, but oh could he cuss. As a matter of fact, I thought I could cuss quite well (choir boy that I was) until he came around. Cussing, by the way, is just one of those Marine Corps attributes one gets by osmosis via the Drill Instructors. One day, while my Platoon Commander was having a chat with me in front of the other recruits, I managed to use the F-word several times trying to impress him with my new Marine Corps verbiage. At some point he stopped me and asked if my mother knew I talked like that.

We were up on the top of the ridge in the photo which had a road that wound its way up from the compound below. The small flatbed vehicle we are sitting on was called a "mule" which was designed to carry a 106mm recoilless rifle, or just quick transportation. In training on the 106, we had to drive this thing up a steep hill after pulling the lawnmower cord to get it started. One guy flipped over backward with the instructor - no one hurt. I think it was the same instructor who had a real sadistic streak about him. As I recall, someone had messed up and he was hitting the guy with his helmet or some other object. (His last name was Killet of all things.) As if directed by an unseen force, all of us trainees advanced toward the instructor in defense of our comrade, and Killet became fearful of the embolden and encircling wave of green and backed off.

On the mule again: Once in the compound below I was asked to start one up and move it while one of the flames' guys was talking to some big brass. Well, the mule was parked facing a small metal building, and I thought it was in neutral as I pulled the rope next to the seat that sat on the front edge. It wasn't, and it jumped into the building with a big thud as I jumped out of the way like a bull fighter. Ole!

The first night we were in the compound we were asleep one early morning in a large wooden framed tent when a rocket screamed in and hit a hilltop above. Grabbing our flak jackets and rifles we sought a sandbagged ditch outside, but Buck was still on his cot sleeping away. A new kind of reveille to experience for those who heard it.

One time in the compound we got to throw a bunch of trash into a pit to burn, and like little kids we hurried to be the first to light the gasoline soaked pile. Vaboom! It went off while one Marine had his head over the stuff, and it dazed him for a while; but he looked a bit sophisticated and older with his hair and eyebrows singed white against his dark skin.

 Looking Towards Bob's Bunker on the Ridge

This is the ridge above Dai Loc Pass with the road coming up from the compound to the left.  It’s a gloomy photo which does the place justice as far as my memory is concerned.  It was taken on top of a short bunker, and maybe that is a pool of water in the foreground that built up one night while it rained 32 inches in two weeks during the monsoon. At some point the “dike” broke, and flooded the bunker floor which was about two feet below the level of the ground soaking the gear and those sleeping below. 

The Flames had four bunkers on the ridge 100 to 200 yards apart, and let me tell you, it can be a boring position to man, but safer than going out in the bush.  If you could take your pick though, one might take the bush as the better option.  However, in the case of being on a ship floating around off the coast, it was extremely boring, and we preferred the rice paddies and jungle to steel decks, and canvas stretched racks four high (bunks), even if ships had hot meals, showers, and toilets.  It was healthier in the bush, too, as one was out in the fresh air, and not in confined close quarter bacteria breathing berthing areas.  Once I got strep throat on ship (the only time I caught a bug), and when we were scheduled to leave on the choppers, about the time I was to go back to the doc, I didn’t make the appointment lest he would have kept me on board.  When we get to the USS Valley Forge photos, there will probably be a slug more comments about ships.

 Home Sweet Home

This is Bob’s bunker at the latter part of the tour, and I was here the first time for a spell.  At that time the sarge got a 500 gallon tank of diesel fuel delivered to the top, and we doused the brush on the downward slope to the right, and tried to set it aflame to clear the ground.  Good luck as diesel doesn’t ignite easily, and so we only managed to burn a little green foliage, waste most the fuel, and get doused ourselves in the process.

Once at the bottom of the hill (or mountain you might call it if you were from Nebraska), we heard the far off voice in an oriental accent shouting, “2/26 you die tonight!” (Our battalion and regiment numbers.) I was bit gullible and considered it might have really been the Viet Cong who had watched a few too many John Wayne movies, but it was probably from a bunker down at the bottom.

My friend, who was attending UC Berkeley at the time, sent an antiwar flyer referring to the unnecessary botched battle won and quickly lost by our side called Hamburger Hill, and I wondered if any of the bulldozed hill tops in the distance was one of them.  We had no awareness of the great antiwar demonstrations at home, but when we returned we would find an unthankful public.  I made my bird home in December 1969 and had a good tan and short hair compared to the stateside folk.  While walking in one of the local department stores, I met someone I had gone to school with for six years.  He asked if I had been in the service and to Vietnam, and when I responded in the affirmative, he silently did a 180 on his heels and walked away.  Welcome home.

One night on the ridge someone threw a CS (tear gas) grenade down the compound side of the hill, as the breeze was drifting that way, to give the boys below a thrill. On other occasions someone might set off a pop up flare, or fire a few rounds to wake them in the middle of the night.  This was a reminder we were their buffer against an attack as they slept peacefully in cots shielded from the rain, in ten man tents equipped with electricity. There was also an officer’s club in the compound where they had a bar, and other amenities.  RHIP (Rank Has Its Privileges)   For Thanksgiving one of the RHIP came up to the top on a mule and gave us some miniature liquor bottles to liven our spirits, which I suspect were brews they didn’t care for, such as brandy.  Talking about booze and such, the huge PX in Da Nang had one whole side of the building stocked with beer and liquor that only E-5’s and up could buy.  Maybe a case of beer was $1.50, and cigarettes by the carton were available for anyone for $1.50, which was a cheap to get a case of lung cancer back then. (2/19/2012)

When we were here, maybe the first time, we got a hold of a starlight scope.  This went on a rifle that amplified the view at night, which may have been only lit by the moon or starlight.  I guess it was a forerunner to the night goggles and other such things they use in the military now.  As we sat on this bunker, which was not only on the ridge but on a little hill as well, we could look down the line of bunkers at night and see the guys sitting on top smoking cigarettes openly, the cherries glowing distinctly.  You can imagine what they can see in the night now.  Out on an operation, we’d cup our smokes in the hand lest we give away our position, but we gave it away anyway by the smell, no doubt.  I remember us going through contortions to light them up in the bottom of the hole with something over our heads to keep the burning match or lighter from advertising our stupidity.  “Tell Saint Peter at the Golden Gate that you hate to make him wait, but you just got to have another cigarette.”

 Maybe This was Taken From the Tower at Hill 10

This photo album was over at Bob’s for some 26 years before we would find each other again and I could get it back.  For the last few years I thought this was taken on the top of the ridge of Dai Loc Pass, but I am not sure anymore.  Perhaps it was at Hill 10, a small rise in a large rice paddy area west or south west of Da Nang.  Hill 10 brings back some memories though.  Three or four of us were assigned to man one of the two towers in the compound.  The ladder went up about twenty-four feet before you got to the 8x8 enclosure.  Inside were cots, and a ladder up to the sandbagged roof armed with a .50 caliber machine gun. Unfortunately nobody in the tower had ever fired a 50 cal, taken one apart, or even touched one.  I guess we figured if we had to fight for our lives and defend those below, the spirit of Chesty Puller would possess us, and we’d win the Medal of Honor and a few Navy Crosses too.

The first night in the perch we realized our new home was inundated with red cockroaches that enjoyed brisk walks on us.  So, as necessity is the mother of invention, we devised an airtight method to rid the place of the critters.  A large #10 can was rimmed with C-4 explosive, which burns with an intensive blue flame when lit by a match.  (When ignited with a blasting cape, however, it explodes violently.)  The can was set against a wall with sugar in the bottom to lure the bugs into the can from which they could not crawl up – we hoped.  In the morning it was half full of live cockroaches waiting to be snuffed out.  After the C-4 was lit, they turned into a churning hyper activated red blob briefly as the oxygen was sucked out of the can and them.  No more cockroaches.

One night we watched what we thought was a 122mm rocket takeoff from the rice paddy in front, maybe a quarter mile away, and zip toward Da Nang.  The VC would do that, you know, just haul a ten foot rocket somewhere, set up a crude cross bar to launch it from, and let it loose. There was silence in the rice paddy before the launch and afterwards, and we were at a loss what to do.  None of the bunkers on the perimeter opened up, no flares popped into the sky, and no orders from headquarters. So, we just waited, not wanting to open up so close to the compound without knowing if we had guys out there on patrol or at a listening post.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think we were ever filled in on anything by the powers that be for the couple of weeks or month we were there: just up in a tree house as the perfect sitting ducks.  Ho Chi Minh died while we were at Hill 10, and the other side took a three day break to honor their big boss.

This entry is a continuation of the previous one.  The last thing to report on our sitting duck tree house at Hill 10 (that I can tell in public anyway) is the night I tried marijuana for the first time.

Some of the guys at the compound were smoking dope and popping pills, and I was dead set against it, as I was in high school.  You see, where I went to school we watched educational movies in P.E.  that dramatically portrayed how we would hallucinate if we smoked marijuana, see ourselves as werewolves in a mirror, steal a case of coke from a small grocery store, bust the necks of the bottles off on a brick wall in an alley, drink the contents not noticing the broken glass cutting our throats as we crazily and laughingly gulped it down, and end up as homeless derelicts on skid row – or President of the United States.  (I added the last part.)

As it happened one night, some of our other buddies from below or the other tower came up to visit.  They were loaded, and one of them talked me into taking some Darvon he had bought from a corpsman.  So out of boredom I swallowed the capsules of whatever-it-was and was feeling no pain. (Pun intended.)  Well, the visitors moved up to the roof of the tower with the 50 cal to smoke their weed, and after a while a hand extended down through the ceiling’s opening offering a joint to me.  I took them up on it, and was curious about the grass’s effect, and wondered if it would enhance my singing abilities. Kind of a scientific approach.  So, there I was in a tower in the middle of the night and in the middle of a war, singing loudly Frank Sinatra tunes and a few Concert Choir numbers from high school, thinking how good I sounded.  This carefree serenading went on for probably a half hour, and all of a sudden it dawned on me… What will happen if the Viet Cong open up on us, and my mind is as scrambled more than the eggs in an omelet?  Well, I got scared mighty fast, but didn’t sober up, so to speak, which compounded the fear; and it was the last time for grass and dope for me in Vietnam, but not the last for alcohol.  Different strokes for different folks.

 On Second thought, this is probably Hill 10.
A compound was luxury living compared to the bush.  (By the way, see the other tower at the other end of this little island in the rice paddy oasis?)  On Operation Eager Pursuit for a month, there were no compounds, water was flown in sometimes, and of course no showers or USO’s.

On USO’s, we saw only one in a rear area, which was a far cry from what you see on the news.  It was composed of a small troop of entertainers, maybe three Asian girls that did strip teases wearing G-strings, and tassel pasties on their nipples. One accomplished performer could twirl her tassels opposite each other in eggbeater style, which is quite a trick to behold for a former choir boy.  There was, also, a band or taped music, and to quench the thirst was an eight foot pickup trailer packed with ice and free beer.  On the ridge in December 1969, just before rotating home, there was a big USO show in not too far away Da Nang with Bob Hope; but those celebrity studded moral boosters were in well secured areas and attended mostly by office pogs perhaps.  Pog or pogue may be from a Filipino Tagalog word meaning prostitute.  An office pog is an office whore: a non-combat Marine.

One thing I didn’t figure out for years was our being used for “bait” while out on an operation.  In the month of March, 1969, with the 2/26th Marines, Hotel Company, it seemed as if we just walked around in the rice paddies and elephant grass until the enemy engaged us first– not us engaging them.  A couple of times after we had done an all-day sweep and stopped at dusk to park our tired bodies for the night, they would try to put us to sleep with their AK’s.   They probably knew where we were all the time– in their own backyard.

I remember stopping one evening after starting a sweep before daybreak, taking off the flame tanks, and lying on our backs to look at the stars coming out.  There was the constellation Orion, which I didn’t know the name of at the time, and four of the  stars were my good luck sign because I saw them as a cross.  Soon tracer rounds start zipping overhead.  It was one of those when-you-least-expect-it moments   On another occasion the company had gone through some wet rice paddies, waded through a canal, then up  a hill overlooking a dry rice paddy, and began crossing it to another rise about 500 meters away.  The VC opened up with small arms, and the usual response of firing everywhere and anywhere ensued with our 60 mortars going off and landing short on our guys. Oh well, we found the enemy, or should I say they found us, and two jet fighters were called in.  It was more the rule then the exception: walk around as bait until the enemy struck, and then call in support, which was a costly way to pinpoint the enemy’s position, I think.

That reminds me of some statistics I read on the age groups of servicemen killed in Vietnam.  About 25,000 of the 58,000 killed were under 21, and about 40,000 under 25.  I suppose most of those young men/boys had no wife or children to grieve and morn for them the rest of their lives, just two parents.  (Just?)  Politicians work it out that way.  Draft only fathers and husbands into the war, and you’d probably have a few less wars.  Another thing to think about is until the 18 year olds got to vote in presidential elections, those under 21 couldn’t vote for or against those that sent them off to die for the industrial/military complex – ah, I mean, their country.

And why we are on the subject of those killed in wars, why are they referred to the numbers killed rather than the numbers murdered?  After all, one is trained to murder the enemy, unlike being trained to kill a hog humanely in a slaughter house.  And it sounds better to say killed in action instead of murdered, don’t you think?  Mike Aston, for example, was really premeditatively murdered by the Viet Cong’s booby trap or mine, and all the Viet Cong we dispatched were actually murdered by us.  War: The murdering of political and religious opponents paid for by your tax money.  And by the way, it wasn’t cheap to murder all those Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.  One news article (The   Bell-McClure Syndicate in the Modesto Bee, July 21, 1970) reported it took 100,000 bullets to kill or maim one Viet Cong.  This is called the spray and pray method, while Viet Cong practiced the one bullet equals one dead Marine policy.  Do the math.

 The Compound at Dai Loc Pass

This is the compound at Dai Loc Pass.  Da Nang was out that way on the other side of the mountains maybe 20 miles as seen from the Google satellite.  Occasionally we came down from the ridge, but preferred to stay at the top, out of sight and out of mind of officers, I guess.  Once on the way down for a shower, we just stopped halfway and took a bath in the clear rainwater in a foot deep ditch on the side of the road.  On top of another ridge at 1/7’s rear area I tried taking a shower with soap in the rain, but it wasn’t storming enough to get a good rinse.  And if you ever tried washing with soap in the ocean… don’t work.

One of my buddies who worked in the Post Office got a ride into Da Nang one day, and reported meeting up with prostitutes on the side of the road pedaling their wares.  Their sales slogan was, “We f___ you!  We f___ all of you! No VC, No MP.  No VD. We f___ you!  We f___ all of you!”  Cute.

In contrast, on my one of two times into the city, I saw the silent sales pitch of one woman as she dropped her pants to exposed her skinny butt as we went by.  On second thought, maybe it was an impromptu political comment. The brief encounters a Marine might have with a local cost only $2.00, and, believe it or not, some scrawny 80 lb. girl would spend the night in your bunker for $20.00.  And that leads me on to R&R.  You know, Rest and Recuperation.

After spending at least six months in Vietnam, one was entitled to go on R&R to some exotic Far East country for a week; and we heard there were ten round eyed women for every man lustfully waiting for our arrival in Australia.  At the time I didn’t really realize R&R was the way the U.S. military sponsored whore house runs.  You’d put on your civilian clothes and hitch a ride on a military plane there and back.  Of course most of the guys didn’t go sightseeing on R&R, but to the bars, and pick up prostitutes who also posed nude for your camera in your hotel room in various explicit poses.  Later these pics would be proudly passed around to your drooling buddies back in the bush.  Luckily I never took the opportunity to go on R&R.  What a pathetic sight: baby-faced eighteen/twenty year olds sitting in seedy saloons with whores, spending a half years pay, and getting a case of gonorrhea or the “black syph.”

The black syph was reported to be a form of syphilis that there was no cure for.  If one got it, he’d have to spend the rest of his life in a remote island like a leper, and folks at home would be told they were missing in action.  This was scare tactic conjured up by some infantry instructor to amuse us before we went overseas. Another truth or tale told to discourage sexual activity was concerning Viet Cong women having razor blades up their vaginas to slice your manhood down the middle.  And for those who contracted a sexually transmitted disease, they might look forward to the “short arm” inspection, which happened to us once on ship.  In the middle of the night the berthing area’s lights were flipped on, and we were ordered to jump out of the racks and milk our short arm for a corpsman to see if we drew venereal pus; whereupon, the pus producers would be required to report to sickbay.  One such infectee didn’t bother getting out of the rack, and simply told the corpsman to put his name down – he had it.  So that’s what Rest and Recuperation is all about: Rest your morals & Recuperate from VD.

 A Sunny Day at the Front of the Bunker
Looks like a beautiful sunny day on the ridge with a nice view before the monsoon hit.  It was probably in October 1969 when we got there the second time around, and this is looking at the front of the bunker which faced a clearing strung with concertina wire.  Behind the guys was a steep drop off to the compound below, and that immediate area was our garbage can and bathroom: the place we dropped our trash and dropped our drawers. Somewhere on top of the ridge one day someone tossed a CS (teargas) grenade down the hill toward the compound as the wind was drifting that way.  I suppose they were trying to give the Marines below some comic relief.

Talking about a bathroom, I don’t think I mentioned what Da Nang smelled like.  In the rear areas around Da Nang (maybe that’s a pun) there were outhouses equipped with sawed off metal drums with cut out handles, and they were filled a third of the way with diesel fuel.  These were placed under the hole one sat over to make your drop.  At some point when the barrel was full, a lucky couple of guys (me one time) lugged the barrels up on to a mule and drove them outside the area and set them alight. (Bouncing the mule on the road was not to your advantage.) The smell of burning diesel and crap marks your memory and your nostrils, and this is what I associated oriental civilization with.  When flying over Da Nang in a chopper, for example, we’d smell the aforementioned aroma.

You can notice some sandbags lying around we were filling to improve the real estate value. Now as an adult, I think we should have spent more time in designing a better bunker then the one we inherited, but were too immature and lazy to consider such a project.  At least I was. How did we spend our time on this lonely ridge anyway? Sleeping, smoking, talking, playing cards, reading junk magazines and books, and writing letters. No wonder it was boring except for those brief moments of real or imagined terror. I guess we must have listened to the Armed Forces Radio when we had a radio and batteries. “Gooood morning, Vietnam!” the DJ would begin his shift.  This is where I first got any exposure to Country/Western music, and am catapulted back in time and place hearing some of the songs and other popular music replayed today.

One time we found a large centipede to entertain us.  He was about ten inches long, with a half inch wide body, and a zillion legs.  Him we chopped in half and watched wiggle on for some time.  There were a few large scorpions as well, and “rock apes” that supposedly threw stones your way at night to amuse themselves.  I think they were of the same genius as snipes.  Another wildlife sighting happened when a few wayward pigs were rooting around in front of the bunker past the concertina wire one night, but not many more animals than that.  And of course mosquitoes were really bad out in the bush, and feisty flies that could dodge a swipe far better than the American homegrowns.

Fine Cuisine Served Here

As you can see, the bunker was improved a bit from the previous photo.  There are two sections with the living quarters to the left.  One entered from the back and stepped down and into an area ten by ten and only four feet high.  At least there was enough room to lie down, set up, and keep us out of the weather.  However, during the monsoon when we had 32 inches of rain in two weeks, a little lake grew on the right side of the bunker behind the fighting hole to the right, and eventually the dike broke and gushed in, surprising those getting some shut eye.  I didn’t particularly like sleeping in that damp crypt afterwards and learned to sleep on top in a rain suit.

The area with the camouflaged tarp was where we stood watch, and took three hour turns during the night starting at nine.  Usually whoever took the first watch had company for a while, then the next guy came on at midnight, and the third just stayed on after six and let everyone else sleep in.  We didn’t stand watch in the daytime because we felt pretty safe on the mount with a space of 50-60 yards of cleared ridge and wire between us and the slope off into enemy territory below.

There was an empty 55 gallon barrel nearby that we burnt trash in and cremated rats who had wondered into a trap in the bunker.  I guess we were getting a bit calloused because we used the same barrel to roast marshmallows and didn’t tell those who joined us from the other bunkers.

No chairs to go with dining room table unfortunately.
Believe it or not, this is a dining room table the CO encouraged us to build as he thought we should have a nice place to eat.  Beats me.  Animals don’t sit at a table and eat anyway.  We just opened up our C-ration cans, ate, and tossed the empties down the hill, thinking if the enemy was sneaking around at night, he’d rattle them a bit.

 I guess we felt like step-children up on the ridge all by ourselves while the others in the compound had better living conditions.  So, one day, we put up stone letters on the ground in front of our bunker which read, “The Peons.”  In Spanish a peon is a low level person held in servitude to pay off debts; or perhaps we were peons because we felt peed on by the brass?  When the CO came up the hill and saw the sign, he asked me what it meant; and I blabbered some benign explanation with an idiot’s smile that only an enlisted man can do, and satisfied his curiosity.

 Newer guy on the left before thinning out on two C-rations a day.

This is at the top of the ridge on a nice sunny day, and Nick is pointing to Buck’s chin that has a Band-Aid on it for some long forgotten reason.  I see Buck, who was a new guy in the Nam, had a little belly on him, but I am sure it shrank after eating only two C-Ration meals a day.  As a matter of fact, I saw him after he rotated home maybe nine or ten months after me, and he called from the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.  I picked him up and we spent a few hours together down at Laguna Beach.  Yep, he was thinned out.  As I mentioned before, I weighed in at 180 after Bootcamp, but getting back from the Nam, 165.  I suppose our “Uncle” Sam figured he wasn’t going to kill off too many young virile teenagers in the space of a year with diminished rations, and cut down on our food to trim his budget, and increase our desire for appetite suppressing cigarettes.  Of course, if you were a little 5’2’ Marine, you might have fared better on those scientifically engineered diets providing minimal survival requirements. (I think there is a pun in the last sentence.)   And I won’t mention canned Ham and Eggs Chopped again for those who thought I would. 

The Civil War General from the North, William Tecumseh Sherman, used a supplementary method of feeding the troops.  He just took any food he needed for the troops from Southern civilians, as well as their property, on his famous “Sherman’s March to the Sea.”  Using this method, there was less weight to haul around, fresh meat on the grill, and of course, no bill.  Congress probably liked that.

 Looking Down into the Compound at 1/7's Area

For some reason I bought some black and white film to experiment with.  Sorry.  This is a photo from the top of a hill above 1/7’s rear area (1st Battalion, Seventh Marines) near Da Nang where we spent some time.  It looks like the Southern California desert, but believe me, it was very green as can be seen in the next color photo. At the bottom of this big hill was the compound, and in the distance a sandy flatland, and then the Pacific Ocean.  I used to day dream if I swam or rafted and went directly west, I would come to my old spring break stomping grounds on the beach at Newport or Laguna.  Good luck.

This is looking from the opposite perspective from the previous black and white photo, and I suspect the tower on the ridge to the right is the one where our bunker was.  For some reason we didn’t come down too often from the hilltop perch, because we were all to ourselves and unsupervised most of the time, even though down in the compound there was a little enlisted man’s club selling beer and snacks, air temperature showers as opposed to no showers, and twin seat outhouses in contrast to solitary squatting behind a bunker.  There was also in the compound wooden framed tents, cots and electricity, and runs to the PX in Da Nang.  I went to the PX once, and out of the blue, I met someone who I had been in Boy Scouts with, who was a grade behind me.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know he was in the Corps. Small world!

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All the Vietnam Photos

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