When Dennis Marken of Comanche, Texas agreed to record at least parts of his memories of his time in Vietnam, I told him not to spare us, that I was fine with his sharing anything and everything because I know that the readers who come to Texansunited.com want to learn everything they can about as many subjects as they can.
I think you will find that Dennis has shared much more than most; however, he has chosen not to talk about his combat experience, and we certainly respect that. You will also find many things in the chapters that will follow that will offend you.
To be honest, they offend me, and I debated long and hard about putting these types of things on Texansunited.com. However, we are all familiar with the man who explained that War is Hell, and I guess there is just no way to make Hell look like a pretty place. Therefore, we will judge the story to come as we do all history…within the context of the times.
It could not have been easy dragging up things long buried, and I hope you will let Dennis know just how much you appreciate his deciding to tell his story…one painful chapter at a time.
My reason for writing about my experience in Vietnam was first because I wanted it on paper. I also wanted to put you, the reader, in country by telling you how the military machine worked and what Vietnam was like, war or no war. Hopefully I have achieved that in a small way.
The final reason that I decided to share my memories is to allow you to see the change within a young man that transpired between the time he entered the war and when he left.
I, the young man, upon entering the service was very religious, a nerd, (Not just a nerd, a dumb nerd; I almost failed high school), one who had never so much as kissed a girl until he was 18 and was never involved in school sports other than track.
Woodrow Wilson in Dallas where I attended had a strength contest which I won. The coach decided I needed to play football; I thought otherwise. Remember, this was in the mid-60s.
When I refused to play football, the coach had the team players work me over. I still refused to play, but I did join ROTC. They allowed us to play with guns back then.
Also, other than the altercation with the football team, I had only one fight and got “whupped.” My life was reading books (Edgar Allen Poe) and staying out of trouble.
That, folks, is the young man who went to war…not the same one who came home. I came back a predator, with no religion.
I had violent anger beyond your wildest dreams, built myself up to 250 lb at 5′ 9″ with only 6% body fat, studied marital arts for one reason and only one, to do damage to others. It took decades before I changed.
The only reason I made the change is my wife of 28 years. You can say she led me back into the light. So, there may be some details regarding violence in Vietnam but nothing gory.
That part of the war is locked away in the deep recesses of my mind and to be honest, I don’t have or want to find that key. What I am putting in print here does not need that side.
Where does one start? How does one explain war after having lived it?
Simple…disregard the horror of it by telling the other side. The humor. Do understand that this was over 40 years ago. So if I embellish some, it is not intentional. When one tells a war story, it is a story as recalled by the mind, not notes.
MY VOYAGE TO VIETNAM 1966 U.S ARMY
When I left the U.S.by ship, I was caged in a troop ship for approximately 24 days. At first, it was an adventure. Remember, this was near the beginning when young men of this era felt they were on the path of greatness.
Once on the ship, the first thing that came to mind was the Marines. For some unknown reason they had a Marine with a weapon stationed around every brass knob, faucet, etc. on the ship. Why? Only the Marines knew, I think.
The next thing that caught my attention was the hammocks we had for beds, not the best of sleeping conditions. Being as these were stacked one above the other one hoped, no prayed, the person above you was not a bed wetter or one who released a fluxion of body gasses.
Not only were some above you, they were hanging alongside way too close for my comfort. Try to put yourself in the above sleeping situation for close to a month. Not pretty.
When we went to chow (dinner, lunch, supper) we ate something called food on a metal table. It did not take long before I figured out why the table had raised edges…to keep the plates in place when the ship rolled port to starboard.
Did the food stay in the plate? Nope.
Next was the shower. What a thrill. Cold water…not so bad until I opened my mouth and figured out it was salt water. Now folks, cold is bad, but cold salt water is really bad. I do believe I had a soap film attached to my body for the entire trip. Talk about hard water! I hated that shower.
Of course those of you who have been in the military know that the head (toilets) are not in stalls. NOOO. We sit next to each other butt to butt. Not all that bad unless the ship rolled or bounced. At least one did not have to bring a book. You could just lean a few inches and read your neighbor’s. Quite cozy.
Even more cozy than the head was sharing the showers. No stalls, just one big happy family soaping up together. One for all, all for one, you know.
Things went well until day three. I had just finished dinner and was heading topside. We had a spiral staircase going up to the deck. Being military, we finished eating at the same time so all of us started climbing the steps at the same time. Here is where life took a turn for the worse.
As I was heading up, I happened to look up and notice the line had stopped. “Hmmm,” said I. “What be this?”
That is when the first glob of vomit hit my little face, which, you guessed it, started a chain reaction. Yes I climbed back down and hit the dreaded shower. I hated that shower. Lesson here…don’t have people in front of you going up steps in a ship.
After cleaning up, I proceeded to climb the stairs again, alone, and from that day on, I almost always climbed alone. Did I mention around day three things started going from bad to worse?
Once I got topside they called some type of drill and we all had to line up with our backs against the wall. That, my friends, was when I noticed a smell. “Hmmm,” I said to myself. “That sinks!”
Well I am no doctor but I can assure you the first stage of seasickness is bad, really bad.
All I remember was running to the rails alongside the ship and loosing three days of food. As my luck held out, I was able with help to eat an apple, and a few bites of food each day before I felt a need to feed the little fish again. Twenty something days I repeated the same song and dance.
Yes I did get a shower every three or four days. Man that ship ride was bad, really bad. Great diet program.
Now here is where I may embellish. I hope not, but, this is how I remember it. We anchored off the shore of Qui Nhon,Vietnam. I believe that we were anchored in the South China Sea. I think?
Now understand, no one was as happy as I to see land. Vietnam or not, I did not care. No war could be as bad as living on that ship. Anyway, they had us gather our gear, rifles, etc. and they told us to load up on a landing craft.
Folks, I don’t know how may of you have watched a John Wayne movie and the troops landing on D Day, but I had. Once we were on the little bouncing boat that was to take us to shore, an NCO told us the enemy would be waiting on the beach for us, meaning the war was starting. Not good. In fact the more I thought of the beach landing in Big John’s movie, the more I loved that ship.
Anyway, as we were heading to the beach, my imagination was running at a thousand miles an hour. What first came to mind was the smell. I thought, “Man, Vietnam smells like sh-t.”
Well, it was poop alright, Army poop. Some of the guys had soiled themselves. Understand we were packed in like sardines.
Next were those peeing on themselves. I for one did no such thing. Yes, the water crashing over the side of our little boat wet my pants, but that was all.
So…our little boat hit the beach, the front ramp droped, out we rushed, and bang!
There is an MP (Military Police) standing in front of us yelling halt. Now folks I am only a 19 year old kid who has just been told the second he hits the beach all h-ll is going to break loose. Somebody lied and I ain’t happy.
Before I start, I feel the need to explain the anatomy & physiology of a young soldier’s mind and body. The military has done extensive studies in this area. That is why you seldom see older men feeling the need for or called to duty.
When a young man becomes a teenager, he has immediate brain damage. The Frontal Lobe (layman term for a section of the brain) is where one acquires common sense. Well, as a teenager, ones hormones blast off, make impact with the Frontal Lobe, and knock all rational thinking out. You parents have seen this when you tell your son not to jump because it will hurt. Yet, he still jumps.
This damage usually takes years to repair itself. The military knows this. Why do you think they send recruiters to high schools and not to colleges?
In order to get children to go to war, the military goes to great effort to slow repair of the damage. That is why at the young age of eighteen we fellows are bullet proof and all knowing.
Another factor that came into play for us children going off to Vietnam was the fact that we were the children of WW II Vets. Honor, government, and country, boy has that changed.
So here I stood on the shores of Qui Nhon, pants soiled, loaded down with gear, and mad as h-ll. My first thought was to shoot the SOB NCO that made the funny on the little boat. He was too big to whip so I decided to shoot the dear boy.
And…remember the Frontal Lobe??
MY FIRST STEP, VIETNAM
As I reached for ammo, I had my first small repair to the Frontal Lobe: I had no ammo. Duh!!! Had I not been in such a panic, I would have figured the landing was a joke. I still planned to get even.
The MP (military police) put us in squads and told us to load on a bus. Now, let me get this straight. I am in a combat zone with real guns and bad guys all around me and I am to climb on a bus with no ammo? Hmmm…
As Bob Dylan said, “Sonethin’s happening here, and you don’t know what it is,” do you, Mr. Marken?
Once on the bus I noticed several things. First, the windows were covered with heavy gauge wire mesh. Second, all the buildings around were made of metal cans smashed flat. Third, we and the MPs were the only Americans in sight. I asked the MPs why the wire mesh on the windows.
He explained that it was to stop the people alongside us from throwing a grenade in the bus. I flashed a look out the window and could tell every gook (word for Vietnamese, and no, war does not make one PC) had at least two grenades and there I sat with an empty rifle and no ammo!!!
Have you ever heard of ones balls shrinking? Well, mine did. Then I realized it was only small black bags of rice. Frontal Lobe just gained two more points.
As we pulled off, I saw an elderly lady walking down the road with what had to be 200 lbs of wood stacked on her head. She was dressed in black clothes, black teeth, and was carrying a small child in a bag hanging from her neck.
Next, to my shock, the child (boy) began peeing and the woman (you aren’t going to believe this) drank his urine. At that point I grabbed the guy next to me and said, “Man we ain’t got a chance of winning this war.”
We arrived at a base camp somewhere in Qui Nhon. As we got out of the bus, an officer (first I had seen since being in country) came out of an air conditioned room (remember this is a war zone), had us line up in formation, and told us what barracks we would be staying in. Again, remember this is a war zone, I think.
Anyway, the barracks were two-story, made of wood, and quite nice. After dumping off our gear and rifle (the officers idea about the rifle), we formed up outside again. At that point I was treated to one of the biggest shocks of my teenage life.
The officer looked at me an stated, “You have guard duty tonight.” What the h-ll are you talking about? I explained I had just arrived in county and did not feel I was equipped mentally to handle guard duty.
I immediately could tell that questioning an officer in a combat zone was a no no. Frontal Lobe another two points higher. When his face turned three shades of red and the NCO next to him grabbed me and slung me around like a rag doll (remember I lost lots of weight on the ship), I got the point. Things were just not looking good, folks.
After chow I reported to the NCO and was taken out into Indian country, placed in a sandbag bunker alone. Yes, they did give me my rifle and believe it or not, ammo. Now folks, let us stop here and picture what has just happened. Here I am in a war zone at 19 years old, been in country one day, & I am put on guard duty with a loaded rifle .308 round (one bad bullet) and told that after dark (10:00), the area in front of me was a free fire zone.
Please put yourself in my place. Canada was looking real good. I, of course, had to ask the NCO (the one who tossed me around) what a free fire zone was. He looked at me like I was crazy.
I in turn reminded the stupid butthole this was my first day in VIETNAM, dummy!!! After he let go of my collar and sat me back on the ground, he explained what a free fire zone was.
I was to shoot anyone on the road after 10:00. “WHAT!!!! “Have you lost your friggen mind, you zoomorphic imbecile??”
Unfortunately, he was educated and knew what zoomorphic and imbecile meant. Not good for the mommy’s baby boy. Not good at all.
So there I sat all alone, scared out of my skin. Yes, I teared up a bit, getting ready to die. How did I know I was going to die that evening?
Reality, no in country training, facing the fact that I would have to kill another human, which I was not sure I really wanted to do or could do. Don’t get me wrong. In Basic back in the states, killing a gook sounded cool.
Well it ain’t, children.
Anyway as dark came upon me, I heard a sound behind the bunker. Now here lies a dilemma. It is not dark 10:00, soooo do I shoot or wait to be shot?
Butthole forgot to explain that part. Remember now, my Frontal Lobe was doing what the military did not want, healing. So I waited. My first thought was that if they didn’t throw in a grenade, I would just smack them on the head with my little rifle.
For those of you who have been in Vietnam, I had an M 14, big heavy, steel plated butt of a gun. Yes folks, it would knock one senseless.
Anyway, in came the head, up went the rifle and then I heard a voice speaking English. That boy to this day has no idea how close he came to having brain damage. Butthole must have acquired a brain and sent backup. The guy told me he was to stand guard duty with me.
I loved that guy. If he had been better looking I would have kissed him.
Ten o’clock arrived. I was not feeling all that well because my new friend had brought along some cucumbers, big suckers. I love vegies. I had grabbed one, then two, and had a feast. When one is scared sh-tless, one eats.
Problem? Being new in country I did not know the gooks grew their food in animal and human waste. You got it. One sick puppy. NCO Butthole came by and I explained what had occurred, that I was sick and guess what. He stated, “Tough Sh-t!”
Yes I kept my mouth shut this time. Once he left I did start feeling a bit better after allowing some body waste out the top and bottom. Folks, it is dark in Vietnam.
Next thing I hear are voices coming down the road. Remember it is after 10:00, kill time.
I peeked out our little hole called a window and saw two figures coming down the road, and they ain’t a talkin’ English, folks. Have I mentioned how ones balls draw up when scared to death?
As the figures came closer I had to make a choice. I placed my rifle on the window ledge took aim, flipped the selector switch to full auto (some M 14 had that option, single shot or full auto), and broke into a serious sweat. I was hoping the figures would turn. Not happening.
I placed my finger on the trigger, squeezed. Bang! My other half, the guy who was on duty woke up and said, “WAIT!!”
I jumped so high I almost unloaded. He asked, “What are you doing?”
Seeing the figures were getting real close, I informed him what NCO Butthole had told me. I asked if he had been told anything different and if so, I would love to here about it “right now!'”
Again folks, you ain’t going to believe this.
He stated this was his first day in country and no one told him anything. What the H-LL???
Then he asked, “Are you sure you want to pull that trigger?”
I thought, “Hmmmm, this guy may have a point.”
Well, to make a long story short, I did not shoot the people on the road. Now it gets sickening. The two people on the road were two little girls about 9 or 10 years old. Was I sick? You have no idea.
In closing I will restate what Bob Dylan said, “Somethin’s happening here, and you don’t know what it is”–do you, Mr. Marken.
Folks, I may have been a child but I was figuring it out and I did not like what I was feeling, not at all.
Let me start with a side note. There are two types of ranks in the military. One consists of Generals, Majors, Sergeant Majors, etc. The other is Officers, Warrant Officers, NCOs, and enlisted men. In the middle of this is the Specialist. In my mind Officers are at the
top of the pyramid, then W.O., next Specialists, etc.
From my point of view, my being a Specialist put me near the top. Well you got it. The Army has it all wrong and put NCOs above me.
PLEIKU, THE MOUNTAINS
Upon leaving the bunker, I went to the barracks crashed, sleeping like a baby. I avoided contact with NCOs and officers as long as I could. One day I heard a bit of a ruckus. Guess what, NCO Butthole had arrived to tell me what a wonderful job I did on guard duty. The dear boy rolled me out of my bunk and screamed, “Get up, stupid!”
I took that personal and replied, “You got a mirror?” Frontal Lobe not fully developed yet.
My eyes focused and what do I see, Butthole’s better half, Officer Butthole. This I know is not good. Not good at all.
Officer BH asks, “Can you drive a duce and a half?”
Now daddy did not raise a fool. I just looked up starry-eyed and smiled. One never admits to a talent in the Army. Never!!!
Next thing I noticed is Officer BH and NCO BH faces. Both either have a fever or they have become angry again. Well, it was not a fever. After a short discussion (they did all the talking) with many expletives, I thought it best to answer yes to driving the truck.
A side note: I feel each of you vets out their saying what a dumb S.O.B. Well, you may be right. One should not make NCOs and Officers angry in a war zone. BUT, I being a “Specialist” felt I should be shown more respect, at least from NCO BH.
After admitting I could drive the 21/2 ton truck (large ugly vehicle) Officer BH informed me I had a mission. A What??? I just had to explain to the dear fellow, again, I had only been in country a short time.
You know where that got me.
TheMission: Driving a large truck up Route 19 (hope that is the correct road) to Pleiku. Sounded pretty cool! Then I was informed I would leave without a convoy (many vehicles running together). Did that mean alone?? You got it. This time I could not think of a thing to say. I was stunned. Was this for real?
I found my truck, climbed in, and noticed a nice looking young man sitting in the passenger seat with a butter bar on his shoulder. That made him an officer. This was good. We shook hands, made sure we were lock and loaded, and headed out. This was really going to be fun.
The officer was a nice guy. After a few miles I happened to glance out the passenger’s window and almost had a runaway. Coming out of a rice patty was 50 or 60 gooks, rifles, black clothes, straw hats, and black rubber shoes.
This my friends isn’t good.
I looked at Mr. Officer and he looked like he was in La La land, totally oblivious to the danger. Did I panic? Absolutely.
Screaming at the top of my lungs, I grabbed the Officer and pointed. I think he fainted.
When I saw light in his eyes again I asked, “Is that the Vietcong?”
I loved his answer, “I don’t know.”
Don’t believe it if someone tells you a government vehicle can only go so fast. Those suckers can move. Once we topped the hill I stopped and looked back. Well, it was not VC. It was farmers working in the paddies with hoes…so embarrassing. We did have a good laugh.
Once on the trail up the mountain, we met up with other vehicles. I am not sure how long the trip was, but no one seemed to be in a hurry. Feeling tough and brave, the Lt. and I talked about how we could handle just about anything they threw at us. We were young and bad to the bone.
Then, a strange thing happened. The truck started pinging. Next I heard a sound like wind going by very, very fast.
That is when I asked the Lt. “You don’t think someone is shooting at us, do you?”
His answer, “I don’t know.”
Seems I had heard him use those words before…quite annoying if I say so myself. That is when all h-ll broke loose.
Yes, it was bullets coming in our direction. I didn’t know I could drive a very large truck up a mountain, lying in the floor board with one hand on the steering wheel and one on the gas. Yes, I had to peek over the dash, but not for long.
Youth and flexibility have their virtues. We made it up the mountain with no wounds except for the truck. Once I arrived in Pleiku, I dropped the Lt. off at a helicopter base. Have no idea the name of the base. Thinking this was the end of my trip I waddled along with him to the CO (Commanding Officer) office only to find out I was not staying.
What!!! Just where in the h-ll was I to go?
The CO told me to head north through Pleiku and find a certain ridge overlooking a valley and set up camp. Now folks, I am not sure I brought this up but, this is a war zone. Yes a good little trooper would just shut up and follow orders. Don’t get me wrong, I had acquired a lot more brain cells over the last few days, yet I lost it.
I explained to the CO that he certainly wasn’t omniscient and needed a serious mental adjustment. Again, to make a long story short, I went north. Now I really was beginning to believe there was a problem here, and only I was beginning to understand it.
This section will cover many days, weeks, and months so bear with me. And yes I wised up a lot after the above, a whole lot. In fact, I got the system down. I am still alive, am I not?
By now, those of you reading this have had to accept that I like to start with a little explanation. I can’t help it; it is in my DNA.
As I was lying in bed last night, I had moments of recall about the war, things I had forgotten. Kind of cool. This is the reason I again want to emphasis I cannot in all honesty state I recall the exact facts. I am sure there are those vets who claim they can. More power to them.
My point is this. The events I am writing about did take place. This I am sure about. The interaction with individuals and exchange of words I am sure differ from the real event. I have tried to use these interactions in hopes it will help you the reader feel the time and place. Hopefully, I will be successful.
As I left the chopper base, I am sure it was a low point in my life. No one for backup, no idea where I was going, and not sure it would not be the last thing I did. But, being young that feeling of dread did not last long. As I drove through Pleiku, I found myself
entrenched in the people and town. Far different than Qui Nhon.
The town was small and much, much cleaner. The people dressed well, and the ladies were drop dead gorgeous in silk dresses with their long, dark hair hanging over their shoulders. Made one wonder; what we were doing here and in what ways would this change their country.
Vietnamwas and is still called thePearlof the Orient. The beauty of the mountains and weather was beyond belief. This was before monsoon. That will come later.
Another reason I feel it was called thePearlof the Orient was the ladies. Remember, I was a very young man and had those warm and fuzzy feeling at least 20 to 25 times a day. Hormones.
Upon leaving Pleiku, I drove through country that rivaled Colorado. For some reason (most likely being young and stupid) I felt no fear. As dark settled in, I did begin to come out of my fog and start wondering, “where the h-ll am I and what the h-ll am I doing over
Yes folks, the Frontal Lobe was healing at a mega pace. After what seemed like hours, I thought I had found the ridge. I pulled over and walked to the edge and yes, there was a valley. How did I know?
It was dark, dark with lights in the valley, lots of lights. My young brain did not know how to process this so I just sat and looked down in the valley. In all honesty I was scared sh-tless without a plan. After, who knows how long, I noticed some strange things going on down below, really strange.
Then reality took over. Oh H-ll!!!
The unit below was under attack. How did I know this? The flashes and explosions all around the unit below.
I remember saying, “I can’t believe this is really happening!” Then, I realized to my horror that I was talking to myself.
Now folks, here is a dilemma. What does one do? The government and military had brainwashed me into believing the right thing was to run down and help. It was real
steep and a long way down. The human half along with my now improved Frontal Lobe said, “Stay stupid, you don’t have a clue what to do once you get there.”
In my heart I knew the unit/base below was Americans. Gosh I was so confused and scared I felt sick. All that love of country and do the right thing or save your own hide was so twisted in my mind I just froze.
Yes folks, my body simply froze in place. After what seemed like hours, the VC (my logical reasoning) the bad guys had just kicked the heck out of the good guys. How did I
know this? The good guys were running out in the opposite direction of the bad guys. Now what? I was still frozen.
Next, I heard the sound of a large twin engine plane overhead. Here goes another you won’t believe this.
The plane flew over the compound and all at once, a funnel of fire came from the plane and set the base on fire. WOW!!!
This only lasted a short time. Next, the folks that had been overrun started charging back into the base (one could tell by the firing of weapons) and out of what looked like hundreds when they first overran the place, was now just a dozen or so leading the way
they came in.
Folks, for the first time in my life I felt sorry for the bad guys. This was a massacre. Later, I found out the plane was a C 130 with a Gatling gun. In other words, I had just seen Puff the Magic Dragon in action, the name given to the plane. Shock is putting it mildly.
Custer’s last stand comes to mind.
This brought about a sweeping mind change and I thought, “We are going to wipe this
country out. I don’t care how tough these people are.”
As daylight arrived, I finally began thinking I had some idea that I was in the right place. Thanks to the military, I had no communication. I did have plenty of C Rations (army food in the field, they did not have MREs), a weapon, ammo, and shelter.
Was I feeling brave and bold? No, no, I was scared, near panic. Finally I made one big decision for a man of my age, stay put and wait for the unit to come up. I lived in my truck, cooked C Rats with heat tabs (a big fire in my young mind was not a good idea), and waited and waited.
It was days before the unit showed up. I did stay clean, or at least I tried. I showered in the rain. Remember folks what I said about cold salt water on the ship? Well let me tell you a little secret, cold rain water in the mountains tops ship showers by a factor of 10 in being the worst bathing experience of my life.
No salt water of course, but, not only is the water cold and super hard (meaning soap sticks to your body like glue), Mother Nature has a dry sense of humor. She will for no apparent reason cut the water off.
Now remember, I was on limited equipment which means no towel. Have you ever tried to dry off with a T shirt, body soaped up, and no water?
Let me give you some words of advice, don’t ever and I mean ever, take a shower in a light rain.
The troops had arrived. I can’t say their arrival was as much of a thrill as I expected. Yes one was much safer, but I had found peace being alone. Being alone in the mountains of Vietnam changed my life to this date more than the war, the hate of the American people
toward us, or anything else I can think of other than marriage.
You ask how? Folks, I can’t and may never be able to explain it. I know it has stayed with me since Vietnam. In fact, I have to work not to become a complete recluse. If one doubts, all they have to do is ask my lovely wife Tina. I go off into the woods or on a motorcycle trip alone almost every year.
Gosh, I really wish I could explain the hedonistic feelings I experience when alone on the road, hiking, or just camping alone. I realize since I have become older this private world has been in my DNA as far back as I can remember. Heck, when in Dallas going to High School I remember going downtown on rainy nights and walking the streets alone, living in my little world of being the only person on earth, or touring the museums at Fair Park in the middle of the day with no one around. Sorry, drifted there.
Anyway, the troops had arrived. For many the transition that took place would be called civilization. To me, it was the beginning and the destruction of the land and Vietnam. Huge bulldozers tore the land apart, removing trees, rocks etc. in order to have a safe zone around the main camp.
Nothing was left but bare ground, razor wire, and booby traps, just a barren wasteland for no other reason than killing. Next they put up tents, bunkers, towers, etc. in the name of war. It hurts to this day thinking of the destruction of the land just to kill another. But, young and still believing in honor, country, and government, I jumped right in, helped and accepted it. Our government was doing what was right for the world and Vietnam.
Then one day I was approached by the CO and some of his staff. You guessed it, here we go again. But, my Frontal Lobe was around 45% developed so I handled the encounter much better.
The CO brought to my attention that I had scored very high on an electronics test. When, where, I have not a clue.
Next, he asked if I would run the radio repair program. Now folks, in all honesty when I took those tests state side I had just guessed. They meant nothing to me. I had been given E-5 stripes my first day of basic (temporary) because they were short on NCOs and because I had had several years of ROTC in high school.
I again heard dear Daddy’s words, “Don’t ever admit or volunteer for anything, and I mean anything.” Well dear old Dad had made his share of mistakes during WW II in the 82nd Airborne so I did not heed his advice.
Folks, I jumped up and said, “Where is my hooch?”
Now begins a mass growth of my Frontal Lobe which put me in control of the military machine until I got out. I folks (yes you can call it bragging etc.), had figured the system out. I had become light years ahead of the system.
First, I figured I could survive alone; second, dear old Dad’s words went off like a bomb in my head, “Never acquire a friend in a war zone and never ever be attached to a woman back home. And most of all, stand alone, use the system, and always, always duck.”
I went over to the radio room (tent) and realized I had not a clue what I was looking at. Yes they had lots of manuals, but I was way above studying. Man, I had never seen so many tubes, wires etc.
“Well heck,” I thought. “I can do this. Just sit around and always keep some type of equipment in front and look busy.”
This worked well at first. If someone came in, I would point at something and tell them I would get with them once I finished what I was working on.
Cool huh?? No one wanted to upset me because without communication in the jungle, life could get bad, real bad. I was like a mechanic on a fighter jet. No pilot would dare challenge him.
Did I get pretty cocky? You have no idea, nineteen years old, no knowledge regarding my job, and an attitude. Then it happened. The CO rained on my parade. I looked out the tent door and up pulled a jeep.
Folks, this jeep must have had 10 radios all attached, antennas, hundreds, maybe thousands. I stood there thinking, “What in the h-ll is that?
Well in comes the CO with a whole bunch of other brass (officer, usually high ranking). Life just went to sh-t and I was swimming in it. Now folks, I have mentioned fear before but nothing like this. I was screwed.
At first I thought I would cry, maybe pee my pants and try to get out on a section 8 (get out because you are crazy). Anything would be better than the fate I was now facing. Oh Lord was I ever in trouble.
As the CO and all the big brass came through the door I almost fainted. Yes, I saluted and stood at attention. Then the Gods looked down on me. The CO who put me here asked, “Who is in charge?”
Now folks, Mommy did not raise a fool. I snapped to attention informed the CO he was out. He did not remember me, and it was not my job to remind him. He then said, “When he gets in, tell him to contact me and get the radio in this jeep fixed, today!”
Those guys are always in such a rush. Tsk Tsk. Out the door they went, and I dropped to my knees and took up prayer. What in the H-LL was I going to do? Die for sure once they put me on an outpost by myself for several months. At least that is what I would do to me. OH, I was sick.
Here is another you ain’t gonna believe this and folks, this is the honest truth.
This incident I remember like breathing. I looked up and there stood a fellow about 5′ 4,” blond, blue eyes, perfect teeth, and his uniform did not have a wrinkle. Told you, this left a huge imprint in my mind. His name was SP Frank French (Not his real name but he was French) from California.
The love of my life, Mr. French sent music to my ears. Angels fell upon me from the heavens as he said, “Cool job, man. I did this type of work back home.”
Now remember my Frontal Lobe was healing. Now I was at 50+%. I took old Frenchy by the arm showed him around and that is when he asked, “Do you have any idea how to fix the radio in the jeep?”
My guess is that the look of pure fear and defeat in my eyes showed. Folks, one must really think before he speaks in the military. I was learning. I stared at Frenchy and thought, “What have I got to lose,” and said, “NO.”
I swear he almost fell over laughing. He could not believe I had pulled this off. I, of course, did not see the humor. Not funny Frenchy!!
This boy was really smart. He said, “I heard the CO. Did he not know you?”
Well to make a long story short, Frenchy and I changed jobs there on the spot. I hear you vets saying “NO WAY!!” Yep, we did it. And to this day no one is the wiser. Remember, this was a new unit.
Before leaving my old job, Frank fixed the COs radio. The boy was good. We then started walking toward my new home. We walked, then walked some more, finally reaching our new location. His little home was in the far, far northeast corner of the compound, as far away from everything else as one could be without being in the boonies.
Now folks, something just did not seem right. As we came upon the place, I noticed it was the only building made of wood.
“Nice.” I thought.
Frank opened the door, and as I walked through I got the shock of my life. It looked just like what I had left with radios, and electronic equipment all over.
To say I was a bit put out is simplifying it. Anger is a good word. I looked at Frankee in shock. Did he not understand that I was way too dumb for this job? Did we not just leave a clone of this?
Frank turned, and I could see his fear. I had brought my weapon, loaded. I am not sure he even had one. I was also several inches taller and pounds heaver.
“Frank,” I said, “What the h-ll is this?”
Was I pointing the rifle at him? Close enough.
You must understand. My thinking was that if I killed him, I would get my Section 8 (Crazy).
MY NEW JOB
Sooo…Frank begged that I settle down and he would explain everything. His job, that was now my job, was Communication. WOW! Frank what does that mean?
He explained that I would be a central source of communication between base, the men in the field, other bases (think helicopter base), and the Battalion Commander. Of course, he explained that I would have to learn codes etc. Yes, he did say I had to read the manuals.
He also told me I would have to arrange and coordinate the shipping of troops and supplies involving convoys. Now, folks, this was just too good to be true. Here was a job where I had direct contact with all levels, controlled how supplies got from point A to point B, and had to answer to no one.
Yea you got it, just a bit too good to be true.
I smiled at Frank and said, “You are someway somehow screwing me, son.”
Frank just smiled, cocky SOB.
“Yes,” he said, “There is a catch or two.”
Looking at Frank, I thought, “Just kill him.”
But I felt I should at least give the boy a chance to explain. The undisclosed came out. First, Frank explained that he was deathly afraid and being out here alone was more than he could handle.
He then told me there was a NCO, a Sergeant Bill, who was really in charge but very strange. Then, with his cocky smile he dropped the bomb. The job required that one must venture into the jungle now and then, possibly alone. He stated that he would take a dishonorable discharge before he would go outside the compound. I just stood staring at him for several minutes.
Was my brain working? You have no idea. My Frontal Lobe was at full charge. I saw nothing wrong with what he feared and thought with his help even I could do this job. I broke the silence.
After he agreed to my demands, we got our gear and switched. That is right, just switched jobs and no one the wiser. You ask about the NCO? He was clueless just as Frank said. The boy was nice but not right.
As I saw it, that worked in my favor. Here I was 19 and in total control, (nerds love power) got to be by myself, and could still go play in the jungle. Fun, fun, play in the jungle, gosh was I green and stupid.
The job turned out to be quite interesting. I worked nights most of the time. The power I had was even beyond my belief. To help one understand, I shall provide an example.
At one point I received a call to provide a jeep to manage a convoy. Of course the jeep needed communication equipment, an M-60 (machine gun) mounted and an officer to ride along.
I looked everywhere, no jeep. Pressure was on. After strolling around the base, I found the COs jeep just sitting there. I took it, had it equipped with the M-60, called the officer that was to go out, and then all h-ll broke loose.
The CO came to my office with all of his cronies. Boy was he mad!!! He proceeded to explain the law and in no uncertain terms told me I was toast.
At that point I became angry, walked in my little office, and called Battalion.
By now the CO was not acting normal. Foam was coming from his mouth. Now don’t get me wrong, this was a roll of the dice that could easily have ended my career in communication. I really never did like that CO.
Anyway, I saw a cloud of dust coming from the MACV compound (nice place were the big brass stayed). Low and behold as the new jeep pulled in, my first thought was to cry.
It was a General.
Now those of you who have been in the military know as well as I that Generals don’t get involved in such small matters and for sure don’t back a Spec 4. Doom on Dennis. The man’s driver stopped right in front of me.
The General looked me square in the eye and said, “Son, what in all h-ll is going on here?”
It was hard to explain because to do that, I would have to stop running around him kissing his rear.
Panic was also a factor. Once I got my voice back and the CO stopped yelling about having me thrown in jail for stealing his jeep, I spoke up.
After many Sirs and much apologizing, I was able to provide him with the details and the CO’s abuse toward me.
I know, not wise, but I was cocky. The General just stood staring at me…Forever. (Note, I pushed it this far because the CO was the ultimate Garret Trooper. Fat, starched uniform, spit shined boots, and half a dozen weapons on him.)
The General then turned, looked at the CO, and explained in such a way no one would ever forget his words
“Captain, this man (me, me) runs this Communication Center and when he calls for something you will make sure he gets it.”
Generals have a way of saying things with few words but deep meaning. Of course (the CO had to be dumber than dirt) he snapped back at the general stating no SP 4 was going to tell him anything.
Oh man, I really did feel sorry for our leader. How dumb can one be?
Our General did not even get angry; he just smiled and looked at Mr. CO and said, “Captain, those two silver bars on your shoulder mean no more than corporal stripes to me and come off just as easy.” (Only a garret [Garret trooper] would wear rank in combat zones. Generals don’t have to. God lets you know when you see a General. He did have his rank, in black.)
I do believe he got his point across. Then to add insult to injury, the General I now loved turned and asked me if I had an officer for the convoy.
Folks, I just could not help myself. I smiled, snapped to attention and told El General “NO!”
Guess who went into the jungle. Our love CO. Okay, here we go again. A bunch of you vets are jumping up and down saying, “Lies, lies, lies!”
Gentlemen, what I just put on paper was not a lie. It happened. Had this been an old unit with experienced combat vets, I would have been dead meat, but this unit I was in was all new and I can’t think of one person that had ever seen combat until we arrived in Vietnam.
Remember, this was in 1966.
After that no one came around me except Sarg. Bill who had totally lost it and sat in a corner, not speaking or moving until they took him away. From that day on I was the Lone Ranger and no Tonto. I spent time in the jungle (boonies, Indian country, what ever you want to call it) saw things no human should see.
This is when I first felt in my head that this boy was portending the arrival of evil regarding the war, the military, our government, and how I was changing.
First, I want to give you a little background. I was a very religious boy that never really got in trouble or fights and did not kiss a girl until I was 18, all around nerd. Well, unknown to me there was going to be a big change in mommy’s baby boy and it was not going to be pretty.
Things went well with the new job. After the Sergeant fell apart, I was on my own. Most of my work was at night. When I was not on site, I went off into the jungle. When one spends a great deal of time alone, he becomes aware of things others would never notice.
During the day when on base, I wandered around and just watched. Remember, this was a new unit and most of the troops seemed tight at first. One of the first things that caught my attention was black troops moving around so they were separated from the whites.
One tent would be all black, the other all white. Yet when they left to go in the field everyone got real tight. Also, as time went on the NCOs started showing favoritism toward their race. Black NCOs assigned the dirt details to whites and vise versa, details such as burning waste.
We did not have regular bathrooms. One took a dump sitting in a wooden outhouse with
several stalls next to each other, dropping loads into a 55 gallon drum cut in half. You got it, some poor sap had to drag the full drums out, pour diesel, light it, and stick around until all was gone. Nasty job is being way too nice.
You also noticed Officers just not seeing problems as if they did not happen. Most barracks (tents) had the smell of pot 24/7 and nothing was done. Fights then started out
between the races.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?
Then I really started seeing things that were way wrong. At first, I thought it was my imagination. The way the system was set up, which made no sense to me, is that during the day, Vietnamese civilians were allowed in camp (remember we had 100 + yards of bare kill zone all around us, razor wire and booby traps/guards etc. to keep the Vietnamese out) to work in the mess hall, clean barracks, etc.
My young mind had a hard time making sense out of this oxymoron. Yet it took place every day. Anyway, only women cleaned the barracks and most were very young, some as young as 8, 9, or 10.
The troops got where they would hang around when not in the field and play around with the young girls. Then it escalated to touching, grabbing; you got it. I found the officers and NCOs wanted whatever was going on ignored.
Folks, these were just kids!! Not long after, most just wised (sick way to put it) up and got paid for extra duties. I was starting not to like Americans. Parties would go on all night and female company was slipped into camp, no one wanting to be the wiser.
Understand now. I was never around the other troops just shooting bull. I did not drink, smoke, etc. and I soon realized there was a lot of anger thrown at me. Think of it like a middle management position, someone that did not belong.
My job also required me to get a group ready to go into the boonies; the NCO or officer I contacted made it clear they had no choice about sending someone out because, you got it, that strange guy alone in the Commo hooch did not give them one.
Here I was a Spec 4 and they were telling the troops that I was telling them what to do?
Sooo…I started getting lots of heat which caused me to nerd even more and avoid all others. In fact, I would go to the mess hall, get my food, and head back to my little office. I never felt alone but somewhere in the depths of my mind, another person was moving in.
Next I found a gym at the MACV compound and on slow nights I would sneak off, walk
a few miles, workout, and come back. Unknown to me, that really put a label on me. One day I slipped off and I met a S. Korean officer. He offered to show me some self-defense if I would help him with his workouts.
Understand that I ate well, slept well, and worked out every chance I got. To say I physically stood out would be one way of putting it. Finally, one day I decided to go to town with a group and hit some bars. I was not looking to drink, but at 19 there were some needs one has and they can take charge of the mind.
First, I noticed no one would sit near me and went out of their way not to talk on the truck. Really, I did not care.
Once I went in the bar I did order a beer…nasty. Did I have any physical release? NO.
As I watched Americans take turns with the girls, fight, get loaded on drugs in a filthy bar (there are no toilets in gook bars. One pees and takes a dump in a 8″ diameter hole.), I just could not cross that line.
Don’t get me wrong, this had nothing to do with morals. It had to do with anger, shock, and disgust.
The Vietnamese people had been in wars all their lives, China, the French, the Russians, and now us. They had no life, and here we were as bad as the rest. Even in the field, we were shameful at times upon entering a village.
What people in the U.S. did not and do not understand is that if you are an unarmed peasant in a third world county, life can turn bad under normal conditions to horrid in war. Women suffer the most.
Ladies, there is no such thing as women’s rights in third world countries and if they are at war, women become meat. It was that bad in Vietnam. We Americans would come into a village, find too much rice or a small catch of firearms, and all hell would break loose.
At times people were killed, villages burned, and then the people uprooted and moved to what we called a safe compound. I called it prison. Then, you had the other side. The Vietcong and NVA lived in the jungle all the time, not like we Americans who went back to base camp.
If the poor villagers did not keep extra food and hide ammo and weapons the VC/NVA killed, burned, and destroyed their life. Talk about a catch 22.
Don’t get me wrong. There were more good Americans than bad, but, the old saying that it only takes one bad apple to destroy the barrel is ever so true.
Folks, all these people ever wanted to do was farm, raise some livestock, and live in peace. Our government made sure that would not happen. When I first went over, my understanding was that we were there to help and liberate the people. Our cause was to stop the Domino effect. By stopping the Communist at one point we would stop the rest of the world from becoming Communist. What a piece of crap!
Ladies and gentlemen, those farmers and villagers in Vietnam could care less if they had a Democracy or if they were Communist. All they wanted was no war and to be left alone. Anyway, with all the above going on, figuring out our government and brass were lying, I was starting to snap.
Think of it this way. You come to a country as an 19 year old kid having believed all of your life thatAmerica was the good guy, that our government made the right decisions, and the military was always right. Remember every male in my family had served from WW I to Vietnam. Then one day reality sits in, and it is all lies.
My little brain was not doing well. Since I did not stay loaded or drunk all I had to deal with all this was reality, and it was not pretty. Next, troops in our unit started dying because of stupid stuff, drunk or loaded, falling out of a truck and being run over, yep by their truck.
Some just snapped and let death happen. Others lost a girlfriend (remember dad, no love left stateside), went off in the jungle, problem solved. It did not take long before I figured out the parents of these kids were not getting the truth, the whole truth. More lies. On top of all this I realized that we not only had an invisible line we were not to cross when chasing the bad guys, body count became the name of the game.
If you or your unit killed one VC, ours leaders reported 6 more possible kills. WHAT!!!
Then came the shock that change this young boy from a religious, good person to a two legged predator. I got a letter in the mail from my 17 year old baby brother. No only was he in the Marines he was inVietnam!!!!!
Sick, angry, violent, heck I can’t begin to explain what I was feeling. Then, to pile wood on my fire, I found out that dear old Dad signed the papers so he could go in at 17. Did that stupid drunk fool not know we were at war?
Yes I know, we never declared war. Folks, I was sick. How could this happen? Who in their right mind allowed such? This I had to correct, and I did not give a d-mn whose face I had to get in. I knew my CO would do nothing so I went over his head.
I explained to the Commanding Officer that two brothers could not be in a war zone at the same time, had to do with DNA. History has records on why brothers could not be in the same war at the same time and I didn’t have time to hand feed him. Do some research.
After several months of baby brother living in pure hell, I got a letter and he was out of country and safe. Here is where it gets sick. Once the military realized they had to let one of us out and I was not leaving, they proceeded to screw up (forgive me for that word but it is the only way to explain this) his life.
Not only did they send him out on patrols by himself on the same trail day after day. In fact his LT told him he would rather see him dead than leave. Once he got out of country his dear leader could not let it go, so he informed baby brother that because of his leaving his whole squad was wiped out, sick man.
Remember, he was a Marine, and they had gone through basic and all advance training as a group so tight is putting mildly. You can say baby brother had a few problems. Oh while I am thinking of it, baby brother finally went to the wall, Lord O Lord not one name from his squad was listed. Yep, it was all a lie.
This is when I noticed no one and I mean no one came around me. Even the cooks etc. just stood in silence and gave me anything I wanted. Was I religious? Not. Was I a nice kid? Not. Was I violent? You bet. Did I give a sh-t what officers, NCOs the troops around me thought? Not at all.
Frank (remember Frenchy) came by a couple of times to check on me. That is when I understood the change in camp. He informed me the whole company not only thought I was nuts but way too weird to come around. Again, I could care less. Everything I had believed in, everything I trusted, everything that had made me the man I was before coming to Vietnam, was a lie. My country, my government, my parents, my religion, the military, the American Soldier, honor, trust were all lies. A predator was born.
As time went on and I was becoming short (less time than the new guys in country), I don’t remember keeping up with the days like most. A lot of the troops kept calendars marked showing days left. I guess it made them feel better.
I decided to join up with a convoy and go north to a base camp. For some reason, I cannot recall the base. Anyway, I set up a jeep, mounted it with an M-60 (already had radios), and told the officer I would drive. The driver was more than glad to let me have his place. We headed out into the jungle.
The ride was uneventful except when we had to stop while they checked for mines. Once we got to the camp I dropped off the Lieutenant and went my merry way. I walked into one area where there were several body bags being loaded. No bad guys were in those bags, pure American meat.
The men based there seemed not to be worried about being attacked, which I thought strange since we were a long way from help and deep in the bush. As evening fell, they set up a screen for movies.
A large group was watching when the first rounds pierced the screen. Not good.
No one seemed overly excited and just keep watching. Then things all around started happening. Movie over.
Each ran to a bunker or on line. The action was short but spooked the camp to go on full alert.
The next morning the convoy loaded up and we headed back to Pleiku. Weather was great; monsoon had not set in yet. Once we got back to camp, I dropped the Lieutenant off, stripped down the jeep, and dropped it off. Did I mention the rainy season was just starting? Well, it came with a vengeance.
Now I have seen rain and what I call hard rain, but this was unbelievable, 24/7 rain with only a few minutes break. It rained so hard one did not walk around outside without a helmet because he could not breathe without an air break.
Tents flooded, mud was knee deep, and if one needed to take a dump, the walk to the head was beyond belief. Vehicles got stuck even on the best of roads.
I dare say for the months (seemed like years) that it rained, I nor anyone else had a dry set of clothes to put on. Washing clothes was not going to happen. The best one could do was hang them outside, wring them out, and hopefully they would dry some by morning.
If you have never dressed in soaking wet clothes for weeks on end you have missed life. I got to where I would eat alone at the mess hall because if I tried to bring my food back to the hooch, the rain would overflow in the tray.
C-rations were the alternative. Not good.
Well you guessed it. Charlie (another name for Viet Cong/North Vietnamese) being the most obnoxious creature on earth, decided this was a good time to attack base camps.
Now we not only had tons of rain, mud, and cold (remember we were in the mountains), we had our buddy Charlie trying to sneak up and kill us, sorry SOB. This required the camp to be on full alert almost every night.
Yes we had ponchos (army’s version of a raincoat). Another military joke.
All they did were provide a funnel so the cold rain could run inside, soaking you. It was beyond miserable. Then to really make things worse, the NVA decided to throw a full attack on the base camp I had visited earlier. I mean all h-ll broke loose.
This of course kept my communication working 24/7. We were required to run supplies and additional troops to the hotspots and yes, the rain just keep coming down. Now I know those guys fighting in the jungle days on end had it bad, really bad, but there is always another story.
The drivers of the trucks hauling supplies, troops, etc. to the battle lived in h-ll also. No sooner would they pull in than they would be reloaded and sent back out if the vehicles were not shot up too bad. If so, they got assigned a new one.
Now I ask that you put yourselves in one of those trucks. You had nothing to eat but C rations, using the toilet was out of the question.
What?? That’s right. The guys driving the trucks had one choice, their pants. Defecate, urinate, what ever, it was up close and personal.
Many got sick from living on Cs and no sleep. Sooo if you could not get your head out of a window, you threw up on your clothes. After several days, you could almost smell a convoy coming. Military protocol such as shaving etc. did not exist.
Folks, this kind of thing happened more than once. Now I am not playing down the combat troops in the field, but I feel that one needs to understand all sides. Yes, I got involved, but far differently than I ever expected.
After a few days of this, I was approached by an officer and told to go down to the intersection and divert trucks to loading zones and to keep them from going into base camp.
Did I think this a bit strange? Yes.
Not only would I be down along the road alone (not good in a shooting war), I had not an idea what to do. Yes, I went. When a few trucks came in, I realized I lacked the rank to make filthy, tired, scared, sick drivers obey. I had a problem.
Of course, there was not an officer or NCO in miles. Have I mentioned the Frontal Lobe? Well it had matured a bunch.
Before the next load came in, I removed my shirt (just a t-shirt on) grabbed a clip board, and BONG, I became an officer. You ask what about those that knew me. Fear of a crazy person can even affect the toughest.
This went on for days. I still don’t know what took place in my communication area. Finally, that small piece of the war was won. I had 8 mm movies of all of this as well as my time in the jungle but when my parents’ home burned, all was lost.
Gosh do you have any idea how priceless those movies would be today?
I told this story just to let folks see another side of the war. Men and women (nurses) suffered in many ways. One did not have to be running around in the jungle to feel the impact of war.
No folks, war not only affected just combat troops; it affected all.
Some of each category never came back…mentally, especially when these folks came home to a country that hated them, a government who jailed them, and a land that had changed in such a way that they did not really know where they were.
Many lost their war after coming home. Many died because of how they were accepted by the country they fought for.
There is no wall for them. Yes, many still walk the streets of our great country with a shopping cart, dirty clothes, and if lucky an old dog. They are the forgotten. They, folks, never got to come home.
MIAs in the flesh
I was going to write about going home, but I have discovered a few ghosts I need to talk with before I start. You vets know where I am coming from.
The Cook Who Would Not Cook
Before I went off into my private world and was still fresh in country, others and I had a run in with our Mess Sergeant, the guy who runs the mess hall (where you eat.)
At times, troops would come in late. Dinner was over and the old sergeant did not feel it was his duty to open the mess hall and feed them. I would call down and he would say in no
uncertain words, “tough ____”
You say contact an officer. Did I not mention they were in the see no evil, speak no
evil, hear no evil mode? Plus, he was their cook also.
First, a little background on the old boy. He claimed to have been in Korea. Do I know that for a fact? No. My guess was he was afraid to come out at night. The guy had a hooch all to himself. What a pad! His tent was what one called an officers’ tent. It was approximately 10 to 12 feet in diameter, circular base up to about four feet, with a tee pee top. Nice sucker.
My first clue that he was just a bit afraid was that he had sand bags stacked around his tent almost as high as the tent, two layers thick. Now that is some protection. He would then go inside, tie (no zippers) the entrance super tight, and that would be the last one saw of the dear fellow after dark. Several attempts were made to get him to understand the mess hall needed to stay open all night.
Did I mention “our” officers were a joke? This got to be a problem that needed to be solved.
A short side step…
When in a combat zone one has access to many, many toys and all of them go boom. Tear gas, frags, smoke grenades, etc. Anyway, one did not make the mistake of confronting a mess sergeant and making him angry. Only the Lord knows what he could put in your food.
Sooooo…one has two choices. Kiss his butt or put such fear in his heart that he would not even think of poisoning you because you could live just long enough to get even.
A group came in; the dear sergeant was called and, of course, those loving words, “tough sh-t!” Such a rude, rude man.
Anyway, late that night some innocent soul had had enough and tossed a grenade into his tent. Remember, it was tied tight. No one could get in our out; bad new if one was inside with a grenade. They do make a distinct sound before they go off.
Mess boy obviously was familiar with such sounds. Yes, there was much screaming and tearing of cloth. I do believe we heard him crying. This all happened in seconds. One only has about 3 seconds.
The grenade went off; mess boy, of course, could not get out, bad, bad. You are all wondering who took over for mess boy. It was a smoke grenade. Yes it went pop and when locked in a small tent alone the effects are bad, real bad.
Anyway, it seems there were few who liked the fellow and cut him out. After that little adventure, our mess sergeant had a come to Jesus moment. The mess hall was open 24/7, and I do believe he moved his bunk into the back of the mess hall.
Even old sergeants can learn. You may not know this, but those silly little smoke bombs do some serious damage when confined in a small area.
First Mortar Attack
It was a beautiful day. Sun shining, around 80, no wind, and I was sitting in my office chilling when out of nowhere the field in front of me became a giant fountain of dirt. Not only did dirt rise high, high in the sky, it was followed a BOOM that defied nature.
Of course, the whole base started running in about 1000 directions. Seeing as no one knew where the big boom came from, running in circles seemed like a good idea for a second or two. Why did people not jump into bunkers? Well, if you will remember, monsoon season was still around so jumping into a bunker before one was sure he had to wasn’t going to happen.
Not only were the insides knee deep in mud and muck, they tended to have long, will bite you, slimy creatures called snakes in some. Don’t get me wrong. The big boom scared me out of my wits, but, I was still alive and felt one should wait for one more boom before entering the pit of h-ll.
I feared snakes far more than most can understand. When one lives in and around the jungle, it becomes apparent quickly that Mother Nature likes to raise lots of big & small biting creatures. Most inflict much pain and many just kill you out right. Sooo I chose to wait for the second boom.
Well, it never came. By now even the officers came out. I heard one NCO yell, “What the H-ll?”
Rifle in hand, I ventured out where there was a rather large hole in the ground…Big hole…Way too big for a mortar round. Heck, it would have take ten to make a hole this large.
Then I heard screaming on the radio back in the commo room. Yea, I know, dummy was supposed to be there. I ran, grabbed the radio. It was some high end brass yelling, “Is anyone hurt?”
Once he calmed down I explained that no damage, just a big hole. After he explained in so many words that I was not to leave the radio unattended, he asked to talk to the CO. Of course, no one could find him. Finally a Lt contacted him.
The problem? Another Army mistake. There were getting to be way too many around here. A few miles away was a place called Artillery Hill. They kept really big guns (cannons) there for long range support. Yep you got it, a short round.
Short or not folks, it was an explosion that put the fear of God in us. Luckily, no one was hurt, but I assure you no one forgot either. Every time a shell passed over, we hit the dirt. Just another day in Vietnam.
R & & (Vacation In Vietnam)
When one served in Vietnam, it was standard procedure to take a week of R &R. I believe that stood for Rest and Recuperation. I doubt many used it for that reason. Most troops went some place where there were plenty of women for hire and much partying. I chose China. Yes, I know…stupid.
My reason was that I did not drink, yet, and I had no buddies to hang with. Plus, China sounded cool. I met a guy on the way. Nice kid. Since we were both in civies (civilian clothes), I have no idea his rank or outfit. When we arrived, we acquired a room. I had my own.
He suggested we go into town. Being as I could not speak Chinese and did not look Chinese, you could say we were lost souls. After a while, we found a bar. I will never forget the name: Top Hat. Don’t ask me why I remember that.
Sitting at the bar, we were approached by some ladies and my new-found friend seemed more interested than I. Anyway, he hooked up with a young lady and left. This I thought was cool because I now was on my own, my preferred way of life.
I know you are wondering is this guy gay? No, I just could not see spending all my time in bed with a prostitute. Yea, I was certainly in need. Just as I was going to leave, they had a young lady come on stage and start singing, in English. She was good or at least at that time of my life she seemed quite good.
I listened and then was approached by some gentlemen and asked what I wanted. It occurred to me then that I most likely seemed quite strange. A guy from Vietnam alone, not drinking, and zoning out.
My answer, “I really don’t know.”
That seemed to spook them. Then, and to this day I can’t say why, I stated, “I want her,” pointing at the lady on the stage. They rushed off and in a few minutes I was approached by another gentleman. He informed me that she was not available.
Bummer! Look at it from my point of view. First, remember the Frontal Lobe. Much developed. If she was not available that meant one, not a regular lady of the night. Second, even better, clean. Also keep in mind I had bunches of money saved up.
I then asked if she could be made available. Now, today I understand that this is degrading a woman and wrong, bad wrong. But I had just come from a war where killing gooks (yes even Chinese were gooks) was the norm. Someone trying to kill you was an everyday joy, and I had to go back. See my point?
Plus, putting a value on such a person was not in my mind. Yes, it was wrong now that I look back. The men all got in a group, called her down, and off they went. Some minutes later all four came back.
She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I will go with you.”
I don’t think they made her. This gal was just not the type to be forced to do anything. A quick point: I was darn good looking when younger, well built, and quite clean-looking when compared to others. Plus, I had not had a drink and not being loud and crazy must have been an asset.
By the way, that was the last English words I heard from her for six days. She could only sing in English. Don’t ask me. Anyway, they brought out a stack of papers for me to sign; my new buddy did not have to sign anything, but I did.
Yes they were in Chinese. Dumb, yep! They said something about money going to her, not them and that I had best pay. I took that part quite serious. We left; she picked up some clothes and off to the hotel. NO we did not jump in bed and go crazy.
She, in her own language and hand signals, informed me we were going to dinner. As I said, this lady was in charge. We went to dinner. This was when I really figured out I was in above my class. The restaurant was five star. We sat on the second floor looking down on those below us.
Of course, she had to order seeing as the menu was Chinese. Not sure what I ate, but it was quite good. My new lady friend also ordered drinks. I have not a clue what they were. But, they were good. I do believe I was a bit inebriated when we left.
The next day, she made sure I got up early. Then the next thing I knew, we were taking a taxi and when it arrived at her destination, I realized we were in the mountains. Now folks, this was spring in China. The sights were unbelievable. Trees blooming, warm and as stated, unbelievable. The lady was not what I expected, not at all.
Our adventure was much like this everyday. She would take me to places no average tourist would ever see. Man, I was having a ball. Then Murphy decided to come along.
You ask who Murphy is? Those in the military know him well. You civilians know the guy you just don’t understand him.
Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) is that little sucker who comes along and screws everything up.
Example: One is on a night mission sitting on a hill in the jungle watching Charlie. Things are looking good. Charlie (Viet Cong) has no idea you are there and is clueless that you are about to rain on his parade. Yep, getting ready to call in the jets and drop all h-ll on him. Looking good.
Then Murphy pops in, does something stupid/mean, and before you know it our friend Charlie has figured out not only that you are out there, but where you are. Not good. So you spend two or three days running through the jungle (not easy) until someone can come in and get you out.
Not I nor anyone else has ever seen Murphy, but, he is always around. I hate that little sucker. Anyway, Murphy dropped in. We were heading back to the hotel (5 star) and my lady suggests we stop at a street vender and have a snack. I for one will eat anytime. Man, the food was delicious. The lady had it together.
Sometime during the night I noticed a need to have a bowel movement, then another, and another. Next, I found stuff shooting out of ever hole in my body. Now I have been here before. Remember the cucumber? But for some reason this was not going to stop.
Just before daylight, right before I died, my lady suggested we go to the hospital. Now I had no idea what or where the hospital was. See, I had died. I do remember the doc could speak English and when I could make out words, I remember him saying that I was really sick.
Now here is where Zen takes place. Doc informed me that he was going to give me a shot. Wow, big deal. Next he stated that it was really going to be painful. I was way too sick to question him. Doom on Dennis.
The puncture, not bad. Then I remember finding life and Buddha. I don’t know what was in that sucker, but the pain was beyond belief. Had I not been so sick and unable to move, he would have been a dead man. He and half the staff and my lady friend carried me to the taxi.
We went back to the hotel. and I did not move for two days. Finally, I started feeling frisky and then, the big shocker. R&R was over.
Oh, I was upset. Yes Den, Den was going back to Vietnam. I packed and the next thing I knew, my lady friend was crying. Right now a bunch of you vets are laughing your arse off and saying “Sucker!”
Well in my young mind and since for the first time since coming to Vietnam it seemed like someone cared, I felt real warm and fuzzy. She asked that I not leave. It crossed my mind.
I did leave, but as I was walking out the door I turned, told her I had to go, then threw every penny I had on the bed. Folks, that was a bunch of money. It did seem to slow down the crying. Good morning Vietnam. I’m back!
Stupid Things Young Soldiers Do
I was sitting outside the hooch one nice day. Monsoon was over. Along came several troops drunk or stoned, not sure. They were carrying a cage and inside is a very large rat.
So you civilians understand. First, rats in Vietnam are big, easily as big as a big, big cat. Second, it is the Vietnamese that set the traps. Why? They eat them.
As they carried the trap, I noticed the rat was in a pother. Remember the troops are 18, 19, & 20. No frontal lobe. But, I had mine. I decided to go back in the office.
Being as I had screens all around to look out, I watched the event. Our American Troops sat the cage down, giggling like girls. Then, the tough guy came along with a jar of gas. No, we did not have safety containers. Get real. It was the 60s.
The dude, stupid dude, walked over and poured gas on ye rat. To hear that rat scream one would have thought it was a fusillade. Rat was really really upset.
Being American youth they could not let it stop at that. NOOO!!! Our boys then lit the BIG rat with a match. One could say this was not an act of being judicious.
We-ll it did not stop here. Remember there are 6 or 7 guys standing in front of the cage dancing and having a ball. Then…the guy that lit up ye rat opened the cage.
Now saying all h-ll broke loose is not even close. Out come Mr. Rat, on fire, soaked in gas, angry. Did he run off? NO. Mr. Rat hit the first person in front of him right in the chest. Remember the rat is on fire!!! Ye soldier hit the ground and also caught on fire. Bad enough, but Mr. Rat intended to kill him.
Anyway, after the rat died our young friend, an American soldier, was carried off to who knows where. He was never seen again. Moral to this story. Don’t light up a rat in a cage then open the cage.
The Hornet’s Nest
Outside my little home was a really large hornet’s nest hanging from a tree. Understand, in the jungle everything is big, bites, and has poison. I admired the little (make that big) devils and avoided them. As I saw it they were a form of security. Not even a gook would come around a hornet’s nest that big.
The hornets and I became one. I carried on many a conversation with the little buggies (inside the hooch), and they left me alone. Well, here again, it was a slow time, then came a bunch of drunk, drugged out troops. I do now understand why the general rule in the military is to keep troops busy. Even if the work is dumb.
The military knows that when dealing with young boys who have more testosterone than brains, slack time is not good. This time they had rifles. I was watching, thought about it, got my rifle, flipped it to full auto, just in case. Remember I was the outcast.
They walked right by my little home, aimed the rifles, and shot Mr. Hornets big, big nest. Oh man, not good. Now, I could make this unbelievable, but portending the arrival of evil even I could not make up. One thought Mr. Rat was a bad a-s.
Folks, he was a joke compared to Mr. Hornet. Mr. Rat only took out one guy. Mr. Hornet took out 6 or 7 plus a half dozen others around camp. Now these boys did not just go away. Oh no. They stayed P-SSED for days.
Finally (I was really getting hungry and sure everyone else was), my pet hornets came back, rebuilt their little home and all was well.
Even you dumb ones have to have figured this one out. What happened to our, oh so smart troops? Remember the 55 gallon drums full of poop? They finished their careers in Vietnam keeping them clean.
A short history lesson regarding my family:
I did not come from a stable childhood. My father who was in WW II for the duration was all screwed up and mom was half Indian and had limited intelligence. If you need proof, she stayed with my dad until she died. No one else in the family even attempted to stay around him that long.
Mom and dad wrote the book on drinking. Fact is fact. Five cases of beer and two bottles of whisky were brought in on Monday. Friday, same procedure but then they added in the parties and bars. I know this is not all bad, but in our family it worked against us.
I had two brothers, both Marines, and a sister. Dad worked construction after WW II until he died. Mom died in her 50s. We boys came out of the chaos and did well. Sister went to the nut house.
Violence was the name of the game. Dad had no problem beating mother or us kids. I’m not talking a swat on the butt. I am talking kicking, fist flying, etc. type fights. We would move every few months, sometimes up north then down south.
I went to 32 grade schools. When up north, we were put back a grade, down south put up a grade, confusing to say the least. Dad and mom would go from riches to pure poverty. One day we had a big house and all the toys, next we (this is the truth) lived on the beach in a tent in Corpus Christi,Texas.
Drinking was the norm, and men beating the stuff out of their wife was also the norm. We had crosses burned in our yard by the KKK while living in Oklahoma because mom was Indian (She really looked Indian). They also wrote things like no Indians and no dogs on bathroom walls, and dad got into fights in about every bar he entered.
Dad was over 6′ tall and not fat so he did a lot of damage. You ask why the short history. It all comes down to DNA folks.
My time in Nam was ending.
By now I had spent a great deal of time learning the ways of the world, and it was not pretty. I really had doubts about the things I saw and was so confused!!!
I have stated that I did not talk to another person face to face for more than 100 words while in Nam. It could have been around a 1000. The bottom line, I had no friends, no women at home (dad’s advice) and just over all I was a bit weird.
Anyway, I was in my little home when I saw the CO (this may have been the only time I saw him since the jeep incident) and a large congregation coming my way. Not good, not good at all.
I do think they were a bit spooked. The CO asked that I come outside. He proceeded to explain that I was being sent down south to Saigon. Now understand, I still had around 30 days left so yes, I was confused. I had yet to say a word so he went into his song and dance. I was being sent to Saigon for rehabilitation before going home.
I looked the old boy in the eyes and asked, “What the h-ll is rehabilitation???”
There was more than two syllables here. He fainted and the Lt explained in a round about way that I needed an overhaul, mentally.
Now folks, this did not set well, and I took offense. But, as stated, my frontal lobe was much improved and getting out of Pleiku was not such a bad idea. I asked when was I to leave. Right now! So I picked up my rifle, some items I had accumulated and left.
From the look on their faces, I don’t think I was suppose to take my rifle. When I got to the air base in Pleiku, I hopped on a C130 (one big plane with propellers) and left Pleiku forever. OK, I hear you. What happened back at base camp. Don’t have a clue and don’t care. I had orders, a plane, and baby boy was gone.
Of course it did seem a bit strange I was the only one leaving. But at the moment that was not on my mind. We landed in Saigon. Of course on the way there the door blew off, the plane was shaking so badly I thought it would fall apart and for the record, I hate flying!
Once I got to Saigon I was taken to a location where one was to be overhauled. Well this is when things started going all wrong. Bad wrong. I was taken to a small hut inside a large base and told this is where I was to stay.
OK, why? For rehabilitation. There was that word again.
Folks remember, we are in Vietnam, it is the 60s, and the term rehab. had a whole different meaning. If fact, I don’t think the brass had a clue what to do with me and several thousand others.
After a few days I got real bored. So what does one do when bored? Explore. I was in a whole new world. Great food, bars, etc. and little or no problem with people shooting at me. Cool man. Strange, but cool.
As time went on I researched rehabilitation and came to the conclusion it meant isolation. That’s right. It was a nice place to put one so they could not get in trouble.
No one knew me, no one came around, and you got it…just fine with me. Now I know why dad was so screwed up. They must have decided he needed rehabilitation after WW II. Dad was a needy person and being all alone was not good for his DNA. I did not get that in my DNA.
Then one day an officer came by and told me I was going home. He did asked if my programming had worked. What the H-LL? Yes, I keep my mouth shut. Duh, speak-up, I don’t think so.
I was picked up, taken to the airport, and low and behold there sat my freedom bird. WOW, I was going back to the real world.
Next, I noticed some of the guys I was stationed with in Plekiu. Did we speak? Not a word. I swear when they saw me one would have thought they had just bumped into the Devil.
A short side note. A lot of new kids were off-loading and for the first time in their young life was in a war zone. The fear in their eyes was beyond sad. Think of yourself or your child 17 or 18 climbing off a passenger jet into a hot, nasty war zone looking at people you were told want to kill you and not a clue.
Did I remember my first days in county? Yes, but the mind’s eye does not always see the same picture. All I could think of was that half of these children would never see America again, never ride in a cool car again, never see their mom, dad, or girlfriend again. No, these young teenagers just out of HS were going to die or worse, come home with parts missing to a world and government that hated them. Doom on them.
We boarded the plane, typical military. They had some young round-eyed (we called American women round eyes, gooks slant eyes) girls as air hostesses. You really ask, “What is wrong with that?”
Put yourself in their position. You have a hundred or so combat, over sexed, kill-crazy young men with a hormone level of 10,000 who have not seen a round eyed American girl for a year or more. Those poor girls suffered through the worst days of their life on that ride.
The only thing that did not happen was rape. All at once I got the idea something was just not right. In fact, something was way wrong. These young ladies looked at us like predator animals just let out of a cage.
Hold on, what happened to the great home coming my dad talked about? You got it. Our beloved government and military neglected to tell us things back home had change and the change was not good for us.
If my mind serves me right, I believe the trip took 20+ hours. A lot of time to think. We landed in Japan, switched planes (No round eyes on this plane, someone wised up), and took off.
Have I mentioned that I hate flying? Well the plane did not make it off the runway. Yep, we ran right to the end and dropped off. This was beyond belief. Here I had survived Vietnam, weeks on a troop ship, walked in the jungle, met the Devil, and was going to die going home. It was time for Den Den to take charge. Luckily no one was killed or hurt. They off-loaded us and then told us to board another plane.
Right! Not this boy.
I proceeded to tell all around me either I go home by boat or else. No, I did not have my rifle any longer. After much screaming and threats, along came some brass and we had a talk. I boarded the plane. Big Brass has a way of making you understand. Off we went.
Since there was not a religious bone left in my body, praying was out of the question.
Well we made it to California, and the real war had just started. Folks, the best way I can prepare you for this next page in my life is by using the words; PAIN, ANGER, TEARS, HATE, VIOLENCE, and not a shadow of love.
Here goes. For you vets that have lived this and hopefully forgotten, STOP, DON’T READ ANY FUTHER! No need to go back unless you are strong of heart. You have been warned.
I would like to start this with a little prep regarding mommy and daddy. If you recall these are the loving parents that signed off for my 17 year old baby brother to go to war/Vietnam.
Just as I was to go to Nam, the military gave me leave, not sure they did that later. I am sure some would never have come back. I went home. One uses as much leave as possible before going to war.
Anyway, I only had a day or two to get back. My parents helped me load the car, and off we went. Yes, they were drunk with Mom crying. Dad got to the highway and pulled over, got out, grabbed my bags, and said, “Catch a ride.”
What? Dear loving dad. You got it, they dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and I had to hitchhike to base so I could catch the train to war. I understand. They had to get to the bar early…just a short note to prepare you for what is coming.
Now understand, I had this all pictured in my mind: People screaming, many hugs, and women falling at my feet. Hey man, I was coming home from war. Cool!!
Well something went wrong. First, I shall explain what I had cooked up before coming home. I had 30 days leave coming back from Nam (before reporting to base stateside). My plan was to buy a motorcycle (Harley) and load up and head for Texas. What an adventure. (It took me almost 40 years to make that trip.)
We started off-loading, and the minute I walked out of the plane I knew things were not quite right. You ask, what was the first thing you saw? Mini skirts. Lots and lots of mini skirts. Remember, when I left the good old US of A, girls still had knee-length dresses. These new dresses (did not know they were called mini skirts) I really liked.
That was the end of my parade.
Next, I noticed the plane was surrounded by cops. Hmmmm!. As we descended, each one of us was accompanied by law enforcement officers. Not good.
I, not one to let things go, explained to the cops that I did not need an escort and where was a Harley motorcycle shop. Folks, while in Nam I had seen my share of people frightened out of their wits, I being among them. These guys were sick with fear. And guess what? It was us they were afraid of.
Man, something was bad wrong. Where were the screaming women? Well I found them, and it was not kisses and love they were throwing out. It was pure hate. They had signs saying things like die U.S. troops, baby killers, etc. People were screaming alright. Calling us names, throwing things at us, and those few that had to go through the crowd got spit on, hit, etc.
What the hell was going on here????
Remember, I had been through rehab by our military machine. Hmmm, must have forgotten this part. Was I afraid? Not even close.
Anger, shock, and numbness is the best way to explain it. Not being one to let things go, I told my cop buddies that I didn’t care what those people thought I was going to buy a motorcycle and ride to Texas. I knew in Texas I would be loved. After all, I was a veteran returning from war.
Both cops freaked. These boys were beyond fear. Yes, it did cross my mind that they had guns, my guns. They just did not know it. Finally one in a weak voice said, “Sir, (I was probably ten years his junior) you can’t do that. They will kill you.”
Ladies and gentlemen, to say that I was confused is putting it lightly. I just stood in the middle of the runway staring at them and the people, Americans I had just fought for???
I could not move.
After several minutes, my escorts got really spooked and one said, “Look, don’t hurt us or start any trouble and we will get you on a plane to Texas.”
Again I informed him I was going to buy a Harley and ride home to Texas. What part of that did he not get??
Now things got exciting, more officers, guns, and fear. Folks, the crowd did not spook me. The cops freaking with guns did. All at once I felt sick. What the h-ll was going on?? More than my mind was ready to handle.
Once again a cop approached me (the rest of the troops were gone) and asked that I take it easy and listen. He attempted to explain what was going on. I was informed that there was a lot of hate toward Vietnam vets coming home due to antiwar protests etc.
No, I did not catch on. In fact, did I mention I was feeling sick? What the h-ll was I to do. I could not take that many cops. Yes, I just dropped my head and said, “Do what ever!”
Did I hurt inside? You have no idea. Dad lied. Coming home was not cool.
My escorts walked me to the Braniff terminal, got my ticket, and put me on the plane. My whole plan was shot because a few nut cases were meeting us at the airport.
Then I had the hair on the back of my neck stand-up. I was standing in the doorway of the plane looking for a seat, and I made the mistake of looking into the passengers’ and hostess’ eyes. There was the same fear I saw on the girls when we left Nam. A bad habit, I just stood their and stared at them.
Yes, it was pure fear I saw. I have said this before, but “what the h-ll is going on here!”
After what was minutes (I am sure it seemed like hours to those on the plane) the dear frightened girl asked if I would please sit down. I did. Not a soul approached me on the trip to Dallas.
Did I state that I have a huge fear of flying? Well if there was an Almighty, He was trying to kill me. I was sitting next to the wing, living in pure fear. Remember, Den Den not like flying.
Next, I noticed smoke coming from one of the engines, next flames. Folks, this is number (3) regarding planes. Now I am no expert on jet engines, but this did not look right. I grabbed the guy across from me; I think he fainted.
When he woke up, he just looked at me like a deer looking at a lion. I asked, “Do jet engines do that?” Then pointed.
He screamed, and the hostess came running; she screamed and it came to my attention that those who could not see the engine thought theVietnam vet had just gone off the deep end.
Now everyone was screaming. I hate panic. It accomplishes nothing. Still to this day I get angry when some one panics and screams. My lovely wife is well aware of this, and bless her heart, she goes to great effort not to do such. (can’t say the same for her mom.)
Our hostess ran up front, beat on the door, and out came the Captain and he wasn’t looking at the wing. NOOO he was focused on mommy’s baby boy, and it wasn’t pretty. He ran up; I pointed, and he ran off.
Next thing I knew, the fire was gone. They announced that all was taken care of and we would land in Dallas Love Field in a few minutes. Yea, you got it. Most of the people on the plane thought the kill crazy vet was going to jail as soon as we landed. They had not a clue regarding the fire.
Now I have done some traveling in my days and seen some neat places, but Texas is my land. The rest are just places one visits. I grabbed my gear and headed out. No, I did not call home so they had no idea I was back. Love Field was in a section of Dallas where one could catch a bus. I went to the bus stop. The bus arrived, doors opened, and there it was, pure fear.
Who this time? The bus driver. I was getting tired of this crap.
I entered and he just sat staring at me. Duh. How much do I owe? He shocked me and said, “You just back from Vietnam?” No sh-t buddy. Now how much? Folks, this is another one you are not going to believe. He was actually sweating (it wasn’t hot) and said, “Don’t hurt me, and I will take you where ever you want.”
Folks, I was just not doing well right then. Confusion is putting it mildly. Yea the old habit, I just stared at him, minutes to me, hours to him.
Again, he in a weak voice said, “Please, just tell me where you want to go.”
I shook my head, told him Gaston Avenue, and turned to sit down, the old eyes of fear upon me from all those sitting in the bus.
Now I would like to say I flipped them the bird and threw out a few expletives. Not so. Folks I hurt, hurt real bad deep inside and still did not have a clue what was going on. At the next stop, believe it or not, every person on that bus got off except the bus driver. I to this day believe the only reason he did not jump ship was that I sat right behind him. Sick!
Finally, I reached my destination, Gaston Avenue.
I exited the bus with my duffle bag slung over my shoulder, and in uniform, I started walking home. These were the streets I had hung out on while going to high school in Dallas, yet I felt nothing, no warmth, no joy, nothing. I couldn’t figure it out.
Everything was so clear until I stepped off of that plane in California. Did I rush straight home? No. Some vets had a good family to go home to. Some had friends and church. Others had brothers, sisters. H-ll I didn’t even have a dog.
My baby brother was in Alaska, which was good. At least he was not in Vietnam fighting. My older brother, I didn’t have clue where he was. My sister? You don’t want to know.
Finally, after walking around, I came to the apartment where my parents lived. As you remember, I stated that they went from riches to rags. Well they were in the middle at this point of their life. Once I got up the stairs, I stood at the door. What was I to do?
I knocked, and the door opened. There stood Mom. Folks, she had not a clue who I was. Yes, I had changed. Then she asked, “What can I do for you?”
“Hi Mom.” The light came on. Her favorite son had come home. She screamed, cried, and gave me a big hug. We did not kiss, not a family tradition.
I walked in (it was a weekend) and there sat dad, drunk. He got up shook my hand and said hello. Once mom calmed down, she showed me to a bedroom. No folks we kids never had a home or room long enough to call it our room.
I dropped my bag and came out and sat at the table. Dad said I could have a beer (it was around noon), but only one. If I wanted any more, I had to go buy it. I got the beer.
Now, understand that in my mom’s eyes I was the maestro, her favorite son. The one that did not drink, cuss, mess with girls, and never got into real trouble. Well to her shock, that son had died.
The beer shook her world bad. When I did speak and every third word was a cuss word, she started coming apart. For those of you who do not know, drunk people are far more emotional than those sober. Yea mom was bawling and falling apart.
I must have used the GD word several times because all at once Mother jumped up and said, “I can’t believe you’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain!”
To be honest, to this day I think it had more to do with insulting her as opposed to the Lord. I just sat and looked her in the face and said, “Mom, there is no God and never has been one so get over it.”
Yep, did not go over well.
Dad just sat there; Mother then jumped up and took a picture of Jesus and turned it so it faced the wall. Quite childish, I thought.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This was not just being tough. Heck, I had been like this most of the time in Vietnam. It was a natural state of mind, not planned. But it must have caused a rough time for Mother.
Yes, I wanted to ask what in the h-ll was going on in America and why people were so weird. Mom and dad were not up on current events. They lived in a world of their own. Big homecoming, huh??
Toward evening, mom cooked supper. We never starved, and yes I was a bit upset but hunger had the lead. I had not eaten since California.
After supper, I asked dad where he had stashed the money I sent home. See, I had spent very little except R&R. How much had I sent home? Not sure, but it was in the thousands. Why? New car man, wheels. Not just wheels, cool wheels.
Well as you have seen, life was not what I had expected and was just about to go too sh-t.
Dear, drunk, loving dad looked me in the eye and said, “What money?”
Duh, fool, the money I sent home. That is when he lowered the boom. That money in his mind belonged to him. Why?? As he informed me I owed it because he raised me. Yep, he had spent every red cent.
Not only was I hurting from the reception at the airport etc., now I was broke except for what I had on me. Doom on our little Vietnam vet. I got up, went to the bedroom, changed clothes, and got out of uniform. Wearing it now did not mean much, and I asked dad to borrow his car.
He threw me the keys and said with a straight face, “Needs gas.”
Ladies and gentlemen my head was so screwed up at this point that to this day I can’t explain what. My world had died, and I was living in Hell. I took the car without so much as a goodbye (Yea, mom was in hysterics) and left.
No I did not try to find any old friends. H-ll what could I talk to them about. None had been in the military, let alone war. I drove around for hours. Just drove. Yea, I cried a bunch. But if one thing was ever steady in my life it was solitude. That is where my strength came from.
You see, people are like Succubus (a demon that sucks the life out of you). So solitude was how I recharged. Finally, I stopped at a store, picked up some beer, and went to the drive-in-theater and stayed all night. What was on? Don’t have a clue.
In the early morning I came home, tossed dad the keys, and went to bed. H-ll even the bad dreams were better than what I was living.
This went on for several days: drive-in, beer, sleep all day, problem solved…NOT. Towards the second week I came in, and dad was sitting at the table. He must have loved that table. At least as long as he sat there, he was not beating on mom.
Mom? Oh she went nuts, just walked around cleaning and cooking. Dad was half sober and said, “Son could we talk?”
Now folks, I had been in the good old U.S. for a couple of weeks now. Things had gone from bad to worse. The minute someone found out I was just back from Nam, all conversation ended. Sooo dad wanting to talk was the first warm and fuzzy feeling I had had since R&R. Heck, a tear came to me eye.
Dad had to my knowledge never ever called me son. This was heavy, emotionally. I was hurting, and here was a war vet who could understand. I really needed this. America and the people of our great land were killing this boy. I sat, and Dad handed me a beer and then knocked the living h-ll out of me.
He looked up, crying and said, (Man you won’t believe this even after you read it. I still don’t.) “Why in the hell did you not get killed inVietnam?”
I thought it was a strange way to start a father and son conversation. Now old Dad was really crying. My life changed here folks and I never ever forgave my parents, the American people…some, the government…never.
Not sure where this was going, I just said, “Excuse me?” Dad shook his head, and the bottom dropped out. His statement, “Son, you cheated me out of $10,000 by not getting killed.”
He no longer had to worry. Between him and the way our country and the people treated me, I just died there on the spot..
It was over. I was done. I no longer felt sick, lonely, or confused. I had come full tilt with anger beyond anyones wildest dream. America, the American people, and my country could burn in Hell for all I cared. The predator was born. God save the people. I had arrived.
I get a bit emotional here and really need to switch gears. What was the $10,000? My life insurance if I got killed in Nam, yep, in Mom and Dad’s name.
Now a lot of you think this is terrible. Yes, but you that have never been to war and had the luxury of coming home to be hated for what the people, government, and military had told you was the right thing. For us, this was just more of the same.
Now it hit me. I had flashbacks of what horrid things happened over there, how I thought I was doing the right thing. Now, all at once I became aware that it was all lies, just lies.
But of course good old Dad had to top that. He then looked up and said, “Well, if I am lucky your brother will get killed.”
Did I want to kill him on the spot? NO. All I wanted to do was go away, somewhere deep in the jungle. Yes I did think of going back to Nam. I needed some sanity, and I knew it was not going to be found in America.
I grabbed his keys and left. I was still stuck there for another week, but I could shut down and shut down I did.
In that last week, my baby brother’s girlfriend came by. Now she was some good looking and a GO GO dancer at that. What’s a Go Go dancer? A good looking girl that danced in cages, etc. in clubs.
We attempted to talk. I did not have much to say. She then informed me she had always been in love…with Me! Have I mentioned that the world had turned upside down? Next we went back to the bedroom and yes, nature took over. Girls did not act this way before I went overseas.
After a while she made the statement that I was rather strange. Nothing like I used to be. Really!! What was I going to say? I just sat there.
She then jumped up and said, “Your eyes are empty. Like a dead person.”
Next she said that I was way too weird and ran out. I think some refer to what she was seeing as the thousand yard stare. Did I feel anything? Not a thing. I just dressed and left.
Time was running out for me to have to report back to base so I felt a car was top priority. I had been stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and that was a long way to hitchhike when the world hated you. Yea folks, I caught on. Before I left forNam, one in uniform could get a ride in seconds. Now, with short hair and the look, I would have to walk to Kansas.
Two things I had to consider. Dad would never co-sign so going there was a not. Second, I had less than $100. Not good. I grabbed Dad’s keys (No, I did not ask, and no I did not buy gas. Had the sucker run out, I would have left it sitting where it quit.) and went looking for a car.
Things went well, and on a couple of occasions I even had a co-signer. That was until they asked the question: What type of job do you have and how long have you had it?
At first I was stupid and explained that I had just come back from Vietnam. Yep, end of conversation. Out the door I went.
Finally I went to a dealership in Dallas called Friendly, found a car, and sat down. The salesman asked the old question. I told him I was a returning Vietnam vet and had little money and no credit. You got to love the silent majority.
He said that it was no problem being a Vietnam vet, that if I would slip him a little under the table, he could work it out. Yea those who screamed the most supporting the war sure as h-ll were not going to back a vet unless they were paid a little money on the side. I had had it.
He will never forget me. I left with no car and went to a bar. Now folks, I did not even go to the family bars. Oh no. Those super conservative Americans who supported the war would have none of that. No way was a baby killing nut going to date their little girls. Die for us but stay out of our lives.
And you think the hippies were bad? No, I went to bars like they have on Harry Hines in Dallas. I know I am talking to the deaf here. These were not bars where good folks went. Why, at least once a week there was a stabbing or killing. Fights several times a night.
These were bars where the ditch diggers, construction laborers etc. hung out. Bad to the bone, blood, guts, and beer was a way of life. Heck, for many of them dying was an upgrade. Please understand, I am in no way putting hard working, honest construction people down. These were ex-cons, etc. that drifted into construction work for a week or two, and those of you in construction know what I am talking about.
Sooo you say, these guy/gals were patriotic! You are so wrong. Yes, they supported the war and would kick anyone who said anything bad about the war. But, the vets? They hated us for many reasons.
Seeing as they were as low a low could get, having a Vietnam vet around meant someone they could talk down to. Plus, most of these guys were old. Here I was twenty, and they were in the thirty to fifty range. Now folks, the world is made up of predators, and humans are at the top of the heap. Not only was I a Vietnam vet, I was a threat to the status quo. Clean, young, and good looking, yep the girls in those bars liked it.
Remember now, most young men were at war. So the bars were full of women (10 to 1 women over men), and these old fools had a feast going.
Did I care? NO, more fun for Den Den. Every night I went to these bars I could take out a little frustration. It was during this time and only then that I felt warm and fuzzy. Pain has it’s virtues. Stomping the living sh-t out of an American was sex.
It did not take long before all stayed away. I was coming of age while swimming in the blood and spit at home. Did I mention warm and fuzzy?
My war was alive and well.
We told you from the first that this series of articles was powerful and that some of you would be offended at times. However, history is history, and Dennis’ reactions to his experiences are his own. We have recorded them just as he gave them to us. We’d be privileged to record yours as well.
Well as you may have guessed, I took a bus to Ft. Riley, Kansas. Once there, I became aware that they were not prepared to handle incoming Vietnam vets. In fact, I only knew of two others who were there.
The officers and NCOs pretty much left us alone. Yes, they thought of us the same as the civilians did, and the more we stayed invisible, the better for all. We did have a Captain running the company that was a nice guy. Heck, every morning he would pull up in his corvette with a chick, make sure all were accounted for, and off he would go.
He allowed me to take classes at Kansas State or was it the University of Kansas? I can’t remember. You ask if I had problems at the University? Not really. Most were farm kids and really were not involved in the protests. Plus, the government was using kids like this for their meat in Vietnam so they were more interested in how to stay alive.
There are a lot of stories I could tell while at Ft. Riley, but that is for another day. I was discharged while stationed there.
Once I got home, the sh-t started again, something about big cities, my guess. Maybe the people in the large cities have too much time on their hands. Violence was the name of the game for almost two decades.
I joined up with some hardcore bikers called 1% back then. Most were ex-military. It was the only place one back from Nam could be accepted. I did try the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), looking for something. Not sure. They were as bad or worse than those on the street.
The vitriol and hate toward Vietnam vets by the Korean and WW II vets was really hard to deal with. All that did was bust my brain some more. Baby brother got out, and big brother showed up. That was Doom on Dallas. We all rode together in the same bike club.
Every weekend all the hardcore bikers would get together and break bad on someone or something. Yes, many went to prison. I did run into some of the football players that worked me over in high school. Yes, you got it. Baby brother and I did some serious payback.
It is amazing how out of shape high school football players get once they finish school. I remember dragging one out of the pizza bar one evening and stomping him into the ground. Out of the blue, a chick came up and asked us who the H-ll we were and told us that this had to stop.
I just stepped over Mr. Football, smiled and told her, “Just one of the nerds your group picked on in high school.”
Then, I left. No, I never found the coach. He must have lost some games and gotten fired. God forgives, I never forget. I never went back after that.
Understand, I am not trying to play Billy Bad A-s here. I am just explaining how Baby Brother and I handled our hurt, fears, and pain from the war and the reception at home. Some vets went into holes; lots went to drugs, and others took it out on family.
Many, and I say way too many, went to prison, government’s way of handling the problem. I am aware now that violence runs in our DNA. Good or bad it was the way it was.
You ask if it’s over. No, it will probably never be over. Of course I don’t go out fighting or looking for trouble anymore, too darn old. I do workout with weights and work on self-defense five days a week, more weapons now as opposed to hand to hand.
I also take a lot of trips alone, backpacking and motorcycling to recharge. These are my ways of coping with the deep hidden pains. Others I am sure have theirs.
In closing, I will say I that thought my war was over. Well folks, how wrong I was. Thanks to our government, the Bushes and Obamas, I realize my war will never end.
When I think of what our grandfathers, fathers, and my brothers and I fought for…God, County, Freedom, and America…and I see what is happening today, I feel sick deep down. In reality, it was all for nothing, absolutely nothing.
All that dying, all the pain, Why? To see our country fall apart? Then, to make things worse, I watch your kids being brainwashed into believing the war they are fighting today is for freedom.
Kids, your government is lying just as they did to us. It is not about freedom. It’s about power, corruption, and destroying freedom. “GOODBYE AMERICA!”
It is a shame our kids, nieces, nephews, and grandkids will never see America. Yes kids. We are the guilty party. Yes we allowed the government to destroy your future. Do I ask for forgiveness? NO! We DON’T deserve it. We have shamed ourselves at your expense.
I hope in closing this story I have given you a different view of war and Vietnam. If this is read by some of you other vets, maybe it will lead to your story. Hopefully it will come not only to be about just Vietnam vets, but those of you in all our current wars. People need to know and if we the veterans don’t tell them, who will?
It won’t be the history books. That I can promise.