The firing stopped suddenly, as if the return of our company was something for the enemy to take stock of, while the remnants of Kilo Company had figured out they were only making themselves targets for the RPGs.
“They’ve quit firing those things,” Fusner whispered in my ear, after a few moments of silence.
I wasn’t sure it was so quiet because the firing had stopped or because the concussion waves of the rocket explosions had affected my hearing again.
“They ran low on rockets,” Sugar Daddy said. “We came to the rescue, making ourselves sitting targets too. If they had any more they’d be firing at us because we’re now sitting targets just like Kilo.”
“Like you made us with your lighter in the dark?” I asked, mildly resentful that Sugar Daddy, in lighting up the hole to see what could be seen earlier, had exposed all of us to another rocket strike.
That it hadn’t come was a relief. Sugar Daddy had been around long enough to know better.
“Worth the risk,” Sugar Daddy murmured.
It hadn’t been worth the risk but it also wasn’t worth continuing the conversation.
“Should we get these bodies out of the hole?” Zippo asked, trying to move the dead lieutenant and Captain Carter at least far enough away to separate us by a few inches.
I could vaguely hear one of the corpsmen checking Kemp out somewhere above and back in the direction we’d come, although except for being covered in gore and in shock I thought Kemp, the new company commander, was physically okay. I knew I was going to have to deal with him soon enough, too.
“No, we stay put and give it some time,” I said. “The Skyraiders will be back at first light. Maybe even Puff if we can get him. I don’t want to lose any more men unless the risk is worth it. Sugar Daddy, get your guys to move up and down the bank as quietly as they can to see what we can do for the wounded.”
I pushed my back into the muck of the part of the blown out hole I had for support. The hole gaped open, and the sounds of the nearby river came through the space, as if in search of us. But I felt no leeches. Maybe the mud where we were had too much sand in it. Maybe God had decided that we’d had enough for awhile. I didn’t think it was God. I noticed that none of the leeches hung about in or on any sandy areas, and they didn’t seem to like fast moving water either. I pulled out my canteen and drained the last of my water. I’d debated leaving the canteen behind, because water was heavy, but had decided I needed all the energy I could get, plus the one big downside of the ham and mothers was intense thirst. I figured the cans must be filled with several tablespoons of salt to get that kind of effect.
I put my canteen away, gripped the handle of my .45 for comfort, and was out again.
I didn’t know I was gone until Fusner shook me awake.
“What?” I said, weakly, trying to get my bearings.
“The Gunny, Jurgens and most of the company are here helping,” he said.
I looked around, seeing little, but enough to know I was alone in the hole except for the dead bodies. I’d dreamed of Captain Carter and it’d been a strange dream. We were friends back in the world and I was attending a bar mitzvah for his son. I wasn’t Jewish and I didn’t think a guy with the name Carter was either. We’d been friends, laughing together. I shook my head, trying to get rid of the still tumbling images in my mind.
“Can we contact air at this hour?” I asked Fusner, pulling myself out of the side of the mud wall but not so far as to expose myself to the gap created by the well-aimed rocket.
“Any time, sir,” Fusner replied, but not moving to get one of his radios.
“Well?” I asked, trying to come fully conscious.
“They’ll answer but there’s nothing they can do, schedule-wise, until the crews are up and about. At least nothing I’ve heard of them doing in the middle of the night.”
“Call ‘em anyway,” I said, in exasperation, not wanting to believe that many of our own allied units fought only part time while it never stopped for us down in the A Shau.
Never, except for when things were being readied for more fighting, which is what I feared. Kilo had been hit hard and the enemy would know it across the river. What they would do next had little or nothing to do with waiting or retreating. They’d want to capitalize on their success, particularly since they hadn’t had one for awhile.
“Where’s the Gunny?” I asked.
“Here,” the Gunny’s gruff voice replied, as he hit the bottom of the hole with both boots.
“Where’s Lieutenant Kemp?” I asked, wanting to avoid any discussion about the beating Kilo had taken and the death of the other officers.
I knew the Gunny had made the right decision for our company, and even me, but that decision was never going to go down easy, given the results. And, along with his decision, would be my own acquiescence to that decision. Once again, we’d disobeyed direct orders in combat. It was true we’d never been ordered to stay, in those words, but we had been told to man the holes we’d dug up along the river bank on Kilo’s northern flank. We’d said we would. We didn’t, and we’d never intended to. I’d finally come back for Kilo, like I was some on-the-spot graves registration officer, to count and account for the dead.
“Out of harm’s way a bit upriver,” the Gunny replied. “He refuses to be company commander and wants to speak to the Six Actual back at battalion. Sound familiar?”
I was instantly taken three weeks back to my own introduction to actual combat and my reaction to the same transfer of authority under impossible circumstances. There was no reason to respond. Being company commander had nothing to do with permission from a higher authority. It had to do with permission from the Marines who comprised the company, and that would play out however it would play out, which also included my own situation.
“Medevac is coming in with a CH-46 because there’s going to be quite a number of wounded before dawn’s early light.”
“Not to mention the dead,” I added, although glad they were bringing in one of the bigger choppers.
Along with the big bird would come more of the enemy-dreaded Huey Cobras.
The Gunny went to work sealing over the RPG blown opening on the river side of the hole with his poncho cover. In the dark I couldn’t figure out what he was using to pin the poncho to the mud. He then took my poncho laying nearby without asking. I was wet through from the heavier rain but so used to the warm dripping liquid I hadn’t bothered to cover myself. The Gunny pushed my poncho up to someone else I presumed to be Tank, and the poncho slowly became our roof. When that was done the Gunny turned on a light and blinded me.
“What the hell?” I said in surprise and exasperation.
I noted, when my eyes adjusted, that the Gunny was using Jurgens’ flashlight. I prayed silently that there were no holes or cracks in the Gunny’s poncho liner, or mine. The two bodies just a few feet away could not be totally ignored, in light of what had happened to them.
“I’m moving the bodies out,” the Gunny said, pointing the light at what was left of Captain Carter’s head and the shattered mess of his lieutenant who must have taken the explosion full force in his torso.
I looked into the Gunny’s eyes as he shone the light back toward the bottom of the hole, careful now not to aim it at my face. He waited, saying nothing more. It took me several seconds to get why he was delaying, as if asking my permission to remove the bodies. I’d come back for Kilo and not him. He was consigning the bodies to me and the right was mine about what was to be done with them. I looked up at his expression, and read what I knew was behind it. He regretted his decision to not support me and in leaving Kilo behind. I also knew, deep down, that it was the same decision he’d make if circumstances were the same at some time in the future.
“Proceed, and I need the light,” I said, holding out one hand while pulling my map from my thigh pocket with the other. “Tell me what the casualties are when you know and get Kemp back down here to me.”
I worked over the map while Marines climbed in and out of the hole getting the bodies up onto the jungle mud above. I knew exactly where the enemy was now, although there would be some movement. I hadn’t fired any more rounds from the Ontos because there’d been no more enemy fire. I didn’t want to use up the Ontos supply if I didn’t have to because of our coming move in the morning. The Ontos gave me a strange feeling of relief, if we could just get back under its real protection. The beehive rounds, of which we had plenty, were totally deadly at short range.
Even if the Skyraiders came in we would need all the help we could to suppress fire. The NVA had to know we’d left, and then come back. They’d also know we would be heading back up the valley. We could not hide that. If Puff could make one more trip to our position then our move up the valley was almost assuredly a success. The Skyraiders, I knew, would come through the worst weather crap and stay overhead as much as they could, but there were physical limits. I knew nothing about what conditions Puff flew in. Holding the tight cone it held in the air, to get its guns down on target, would be difficult depending on how low the cloud cover ran, but that was the extent of my knowledge about the impressive weapon, and that was only supposition.
Just as I was wondering whether Fusner had made the call on the AN/323, he slid into the hole from above, followed immediately by Zippo. The Gunny didn’t return, which surprised me. The hole was big enough for two more without crowding. The Kilo officer radio operators had put their back into their work the day before to make the hole pretty big, and my thoughts went to El Producto.
“The radio operator,” I began, shining my flashlight over toward where Fusner crouched across the short distance.
“His name was Ruiz,” Fusner said back, his voice soft but firm.
“Was,” I whispered, more to myself than Fusner, and then regretted not keeping my mouth shut, the memory of the boy’s voice immediately brought to the forefront of my mind.
“What’s the word?” I said, to change the subject, although something inside of me was a bit off.
I’d somehow liked the radio operator, more because of his assumed name than anything else. El Producto was a stupid name taken from a lowly cigar box but it had endeared the man to me in a way I couldn’t explain.
“Cowboy will be back but the weather will determine if anything else can fly,” Fusner replied.
I was reflecting on being right about Puff, and the diminishing likelihood that we’d get him back for an early morning departure, when Lieutenant Kemp eased himself under the poncho cover and down into the hole. The Gunny followed him in. I turned off the flashlight and folded up my map. The Gunny immediately lit his Zippo so the hole would not be totally black.
“What’s your situation?” I asked Kemp.
“Kilo wants to integrate into our company,” the Gunny said, thinking I was talking to him. “I don’t know what battalion’s going to think of that although the numbers aren’t good right now, and the leadership is in flux.”
I thought for a few seconds about what the Gunny was telling me. Nobody had called battalion yet and the casualties were high. Kilo had been a smaller company than our own reinforced outfit in the first place. If we were to work as one unit instead of two companies then Kemp, being a First Lieutenant, would also be officially the company commander until relieved.
“Where’s your Gunnery Sergeant?” I asked Kemp, looking as closely at him as the very dim flicking light of the Gunny’s Zippo would allow.
“Back there,” Kemp said, pointing down valley.
I looked at the Gunny. He shook his head once.
“If we work together as a unit then you’ll be the commander,” I said.
“Where are we?” he asked, which brought a total silence to the inside the hole.
“We’re in the A Shau Valley,” I replied, trying to figure out where the man was coming from.
“Why are we here?” he went on, “and where are we going next? I’ll do whatever the captain orders me to do.”
“Gunny,” I replied gently, “Lieutenant Kemp is going to need to get upriver and get some rest, as quickly as possible.”
“Ah, I was trying to tell you that, sir,” the Gunny replied, calling me sir more for Kemp’s sake than my own, I thought, before grimacing.
It was looking like I was about to become the official, but less than accepted or effective, commander of half the battalion.
“I’ve a place for him,” the Gunny said, grasping Kemp by the arm, and then flipping his lighter closed.
I listened to the rustling assisted climb of Kemp’s departure, feeling bad inside my very center to hear his questioning of the Gunny about the place they were going as they departed, like they were going to some picnic at a park back home or maybe to a coffee shop. Either the concussion of the RPG strike in close quarters or the traumatic effect of losing his fellow officers right in front of him had unhinged his mind. I shuddered to think about whether people who went over that edge ever came back and whether I would become one of them.
I sat alone with Fusner and Zippo, none of us saying anything. Air would have to be called again before dawn to see what was going to be put together to cover our coming move. There was no way to surprise the enemy because there was no place else to go and staying where we were for another night was to remain in positions already registered for fire by the NVA. I had heard the Gunny ordering the men to dig more holes, as far back from the bank as they could. The enemy wasn’t wasting what rockets it had left in firing at old positions they’d already hit. If I was the enemy commander I’d have my remaining RPG teams buried as deep as I could get them into the edge of the jungle on the other side of the river, ready to hit us at first light when we began our move. I would gamble that the weather would be too bad for Puff to come in and the Skyraiders would also lose their deadly effectiveness. It was all coming down to the weather.
Would the rain intensify and would the cloud cover drop to ground zero?
“What about these amulets I’m hearing about?” I asked, of both men, to get away from the subject of Kilo’s losses and Lieutenant Kemps obvious condition.
“Ah, they’re really nothing at all, sir,” Fusner replied, weakly.
“Just where would the guys get anything of mine from, anyway?” I asked back, using a non-accusatory light tone.
“Just bits and pieces of stuff you cast off, sir,” Zippo said.
“Now, how in hell is having some cast off bit of mine supposed to protect anyone in this nightmare hell? Like I haven’t come close to dying how many times?”
“Yes, sir,” Fusner replied. “But you’ve never been hit. It’s like magic.”
I breathed in and out slowly. Superstition was powerful and it was also dangerous. Expectations were built up and when the goods were not delivered because the expectations were undeliverable then the object of the superstition got taken out as a false god or leader or whatever. I thought of the Savior’s eventual crucifixion, and shuddered.
“Tell me you’re not wearing one of those things,” I said.
There was no answer from either man.
“Jesus Christ,” I whispered to myself. I’d never been so important in my life, and it was for all the wrong reasons.
The rain seemed heavier, beating against the Gunny’s poncho cover over our heads. I thought to brew myself a cup of coffee for some kind of comfort, but I didn’t want to use any of Fusner’s or Zippo’s remaining water supply, as I was out. The knowledge that no matter how much I tried, the more I moved to save the Marines in Kilo company the more Marines died in those attempts. The Gunny was out there in the rain trying to haul dead and wounded bodies from the blown apart holes. I knew I should be out there with him but could not pull myself physically away from the side of the wall. The mud was form fit to my torso from when I’d pressed into it before.
A hand shook me gently. I came awake in relief, knowing I hadn’t dreamed of the captain or any of the Marines of Kilo Company. I’d been out again. I wanted a drink but had no water. I wanted a cigarette but didn’t smoke. I wanted food but our C-rations were all back at our upriver position. My eyes cleared enough to look through gloom. A flickering light appeared before me. I thought it was the Gunny coming to get me for something, but it wasn’t. I was staring through the wavering small flame into darker eyes. Nguyen’s eyes. I jolted myself into full wakefulness.
“What is it?” I asked, surprised that the Montagnard was inside the hole. I’d never seen him inside anything before.
Nguyen folded himself down into his compacted squatting position, letting his lighter remain up in the air, illuminating the inside of the hole like ancient cave dwellers used to do to illustrate their wall murals. The hole danced with movement that wasn’t really there. The rain beat down like before on the poncho’s rubber surface while Fusner and Zippo slept sitting up against the mud, just like I had.
Nguyen didn’t speak. His unblinking eyes stared into my own.
“What is it?” I asked again.
Slowly, with his free left hand, he pointed behind him, before dropping the hand to grasp his ankle. I could tell he was waiting for something.
“Behind you?” I asked, in surprise. “Out there? What in hell is it?”
Nguyen waited without moving. We stared at one another without expression. As if to put a period on the discussion that wasn’t a discussion, he clicked his Zippo off and the hole fell into total darkness.
I didn’t want to go back to sleep. I was wide awake and fully energized. I thought about Nguyen’s gesture in the darkness. If he’d wanted me to see something outside of the hole he’d have led me there, or at least to look. Instead he’d merely pointed. I got it. He was pointing to indicate the direction we had to go. Up the valley. North. He meant for us to leave now, in the dark, and not wait for first light.
“We leave now?” I asked, wondering if he’d get the meaning of my words in English.
Once more I sorely missed Stevens and his translating skill.
The lighter came back on. Nguyen extended himself upward and tapped the pool of water that had collected and weighted the center of the Gunny’s poncho cover down. His lighter went back out.
The rain. It was going to be too heavy for any decent air cover come daylight. But it was perfect ground cover. It was loud and thick. It was both cover and concealment from the hundreds of meters across to the enemy positions on the other side of the river. The noise and vibrations of the flooding waters would also serve as camouflage for our move, and the mud would make dragging bodies atop poncho covers, both dead and wounded, a whole lot quicker and quieter.
I felt more than heard the Montagnard depart. He climbed from the hole and under the Gunny’s poncho tarp without disturbing or spilling its collected pool of water down upon me.
Only a few moments passed before somebody slid into the bottom of the hole across from where I sat to replace him. I only knew it to be the Gunny when he lit his own lighter. I wondered briefly how the U.S. would be able to conduct a jungle war in the night again without Zippo lighters. I took a few seconds to examine my new binoculars. Somehow I’d come by the watch and the binoculars, two pieces of personal equipment I’d never be able to afford back in the world. Here I was, in one of what had to be the shittiest places on earth, and I had this really neat stuff.
“Char wants to have a word,” the Gunny said, smoothing some space on the flat mud bottom of our hole and laying down a tab of Composition B.
“Char?” I asked, putting my new glasses to the side.
“As in Staff Sergeant Char leading Kilo’s First Platoon.”
“Okay then,” I responded, “but not for long. We’ve got to make a night move as soon as possible and get the wounded and dead upriver. We’re not going to get the air we need because the weather’s just getting worse. Too bad to fly in but not too bad to see across the river though. We don’t want a repeat of what happened here.”
“Yes,” the Gunny agreed, pouring water into his canteen cover and beginning to stir. “A plan that didn’t exactly work.”
I was stung by his comment. Turning tail and running had been his idea and he’d left me little choice, but now the whole debacle was becoming one of my plans that didn’t work.
“The plan didn’t work,” I agreed, biting back saying anything else.
I needed the Gunny too much to confront him, which he probably knew. For the first time I felt tears well up in my eyes. Carter had been a prick but he was a Marine. I couldn’t even remember the name of his lieutenant, who’d died not two feet from where I sat. More of the wounded of Kilo would die on the move and in the night.
“The plan didn’t work because it didn’t have a name,” Fusner said, obviously having been awakened by the Gunny’s arrival.
My tears changed into a gurgled series of choked out laughs. The name of a plan was somehow supposed to have something to do with its success. The name that came instantly into my mind for the plan of the night before was “The Chicken Little Plan.” I fought to control myself.
“I’ll speak to the platoon commander, of course, but I want everything ready to go in the next fifteen minutes,” I got out. “We have about two hours of full dark left and we don’t want the weather to lighten up until we’ve made it.”
“Another plan?” Zippo asked.
I could feel that the Gunny was growing exasperated as I looked over the lip of the canteen holder into his glinting eyes. I realized he had eyes like Nguyen’s. Dark pools of mystery and depth. For some reason that gave me heart.
“The plan is ‘Out of the Heart of Darkness,’ so get Sergeant Char and we’ll proceed.”
The Gunny handed me his unfinished canteen holder of coffee and I accepted without comment. The explosives continued to burn, casting a whitish moving glow against the dark shovel-etched walls of the hole. The Gunny stretched to reach up and behind him. Another Marine slid down the wall. A big man, about the size of Sugar Daddy or Zippo, but when he turned I saw that he was white.
“Junior,” he said, his voice deep and rough.
“They call him Charlemagne,” the Gunny said.
Great, I thought. Emperor of the Romans. They called me Junior, the emperor of nobody. For the hundredth time, I thought about just who might be in charge of assigning people names out in a combat zone.
“What is it sergeant?” I asked, my curiosity up, but with a wave of fatigue sweeping over me again.
“Surprise me,” I added, immediately wishing I hadn’t.
To cover my low class comment I took a few sips of the coffee, finding it cool enough to drain in four or five deep swigs. Charlemagne waited patiently while I drank.
“We’ve got twelve blacks and they all want to join Sugar Daddy’s platoon.”
I looked at the sergeant over the lip of the cup, my arm frozen in the air.
“Well, you surprised me,” I said, “I’d have never guessed you were black.”
Char looked at the Gunny. The Gunny rubbed his face with both hands, like he wanted to be anywhere else but where we were.
“He’s not one of them,” the Gunny said, finally and needlessly.
The racial battles went on no matter what the casualties from the enemy or what kind of dangerous move we were about to undertake. Once again, I was astounded by how seemingly little and inconsequential things kept coming up to turn the big things to complete shit.
“This isn’t the Boy Scouts,” I replied, my hand automatically coming to rest upon the handle of my .45.
I wished that the hole was bigger. If I had to fire inside the enclosed space then everyone who survived would have damaged hearing for quite some time to come, including me. “This is the Marine Corps and we don’t do joining crap. But, we’re not about the Marine Corps mission right now, we’re about the objective to accomplish that mission, which is to get upriver or die hiding in these mud holes. Anything else, sergeant?”
I stared across at the man, not about to call him Charlemagne, ever, but wondering what the Gunny would say if I shot him.
Sergeant Charlemagne looked over at the Gunny again.
“So, he’s what they said,” he murmured, before standing and climbing back up into the dark, and then out into the night.
Anything wrong Jim, haven’t seen the next chapter for some time now?
Posting it this evening….
Gods purpose is real for you. He has given you the a great talent and gift for writing to heal others with your story. What an Awesome comment from Pop who has borne witness to the healing.
God Bless you.
Thanks Nancy. Yes, Poppa, J, Mike S, Larry and so many more have made stunningly coherent and such touching comments.
People sometimes wonder why I answer every comment on this site. It is time consuming but it’s also so very rewarding. Not for the exercise of writing and expounding
about what I think but for sitting here and considering what so many write in their own comments. There are a lot of really good writers that have been able to reach
into their own hearts and then put the words on this site. The whole 30 Days effort has been converted to the 30 Days Experience by the writers of comments on here.
Thanks does not really say it.
Please realize… I work at a VA Clinic in Northern Wisconsin and since becoming aware of your work I consequently try to tell all my Vietnam Vets about 30 Days. Many, many of the vets I tell come back to me and express their thanks to you for writing their lives. They talk of the great comfort and healing you have brought to them. God Bless you James.
These are not all easy segments to write, in fact most of them are not, as I must ride the emotional highs and lows I’d thought I’d long dealt with years ago.
I have dealt with them but their presence is very much at the forefront of my mind these days. Sometimes, I read these comments and pick up a pen immediately
to go on. That’s the feeling your comment gave me. Like this is all worth more than my own supposed cathartic pouring out of my soul wrenching events.
Thanks for making me smile into this night.
Semper fi, my friend,
That VA rep should pass this info on to other VA installations as a form of help in counseling. The counsellors first have to understand what took place, before they can properly counsel the vets. I have believed this every since I read the first chapter of this book.
The counselors at the VA have the same problem most civilians have.
They don’t believe what really happened and they are listening to a lot of returning veterans who were never in the bush.
How can they be expected to know how to deal with the real guys who can’t tell them much of
what might be bothering them. VA counselors are required to turn vets in who confess
or make the admission they killed or harmed their own men.
They must also report theft of civilian material while in country if a vet admits it.
They also must report possession of automatic weapons if the vet
might admit that he has one or more without necessary tax stamps. And so on.
Yes, you can go to the VA to get counseling but you are not going to get counseling.
Hand them my book and say shit like that happened to you, but don’t tell them that you did the same identical shit.
And believe me, after all that I’ve written here in this comment,
they also do not want to hear about racial stuff.
Semper fi, my good friend,
Still here still reading your great work, I forgot the exact date you arrived in country was it Sep . Of 69, I also arrived mid sep 69 army infantry. I experanced some racial issues. But was not there that long. Why is it that we as whites are called prejudice when it always starts with some other race fucking with us. Reverse discrimination I would say. Don
Because they ‘fuck’ with us by merely existing on the same planet Don.
Race is the ultimate perspective because it is self-evident upon first sighting.
Most of life is subtly and deceptively hidden behind other things but race is right there
in your face and in his or her face instantly.
And so it was meant to be since the Tower of Babel, when the Lord created the different tongues and likely the different races. Each group went off on their own out of fear for the other and things have not changed much on this planet since then.
Usually the term racism never rears it’s ugly head, until a member of one race accuses a member of another race of racism. The true racist is usually the one who is making the accusations! Think about it, who is always crying racism?
Thanks J, for your direct opinion and unfettered expession of it on here.
We have some differences of opinion about several subjects
but I don’t see that as a problem to agreeing about life in general and our existence on this planet.
Thanks for the usual deep thinking…
I happen to agree. As to whether or not racism was an issue for our brothers that fought,died,and/or survived that war, I can only listen to the words of those who were there. Yet, I happen to believe that Vietnam was the first time overseas, racism against humanity as a whole was employed…not only as experienced and now evidenced by recounting your story James of that time, yet sadly, with every time thereafter…by who? By those willing to sacrifice humanity itself to monetary and political gain. Every word you write allows humanity to realize who or what continues to foment racism and the imperial construct it maintains. The telling of your story James reveals the courage we might all apply for the sake of humanity, not for having been forsaken.
Racism was all over Vietnam, just as it was back home. It is still all over the place here.
Racisim is the easiest eliminator we have as humans. Even easier than sexism.
Instant recognition by eyesight of someone different and in the minority.
We are all predators and prey…
sometimes assigned those roles and at other times fully in charge of them.
Our ability to use our very thin neocortex located intellect to overcome the monster of emotional cerebellum
we all have is what is allowing us to advance as a successful civilization.
But it is very slow advancement and we kill off a lot of one another in order to advance at all.
Thanks for discussing something so sensitive and doing so on here.
Love the story. Being born in 67, the Vietnam was something I never learned about. In 18 years of school I never had a class that went beyond WW2, or maybe some very basic on Korea. Your story really helps me understand what an absolute mess that insane war was. Seems like they were just throwing men into a meat grinder. How could they possibly expect anyone to be able to function logically and tactically in that mess? I mean, sure you can fight, but I mean wow…..don’t eat or sleep well at all for 2 weeks and still come up with a plan to keep your men alive…just crazy. I mean, sure sometimes that just happens, but when it is the operational norm, some one was is either incompetent or has seen so many casualties that they can’t get what is going on….or something. Just one note for consideration. The sentence ““Was,” I whispered, more to myself than Fusner, and then regretted not keeping my mouth shut, the memory of the boy’s voice immediately brought to the forefront of my mind.” Could use some help. At the very least a better verb than brought (active?passive?) would help. I think you might be further ahead making a few sentences out of that. I will say this too, it seems you rushed this chapter a bit. Not technically, but emotionally…..that may just be me and I do not mean to be a jerk, but it seems this has a slightly different feel…not as introspective as the last chapters. It’s your story, tell it how you want, just an observation.
Thanks for the help Paul and I’ll mention this to Chuck for changing.
These chapters are all ‘rushed’ because they move at very intense emotional speed, although the physical reality
may follow. Thanks for the help editing…
Very interesting comments Paul, about the way you see how the Vietnam War went down. What you probably don’t realize, is the fact that it was never fought as a war as far as our government was concerned, but referred to as a Police Action by the U.S. government. That is how they justified sending our troops into Vietnam.
The other factor to consider, was that our nation was in the middle of a major cultural change at the time, that was brought on by the leftist movement disguised as a free love and peace Era., i.e. the hippie generation. It was a great time for social upheaval and rebellion against the laws of our nation and particularly against military activity. With the election of JFK, leadership of the military began to change rapidly, with civilian liberals taking over the Pentagon, many of which had never been to war and despised it to begin with. However, they believed that they knew all there was to know about running a war.
To understand what happened in Vietnam, is to understand the mentality of our leaders at the time. They did not believe in victory as they represented peace right? So from the onset of that war, our leaders were busy creating a peace treaty in Paris. Do you remember hearing about Henry Kissinger? He was the spear head for bringing about a peaceful resolution for the Vietnam (Police Action) war!
When you read the history of WW II, undoubtedly you read about some of our greatest generals, who had been well trained to win wars and were very proud in their ability to fulfill their assigned mission. At that time, they had the full support of our government and were able to fight a war the way they had been taught to do so, i.e., win it! That mentality all changed with the onset of the Korean war that was also supposedly a Police Action. That ended the same way as the Vietnam war did, with a peace treaty. Problem was, peace was never established in either country as the communist took over Vietnam and the the war has continued between North and South Korean to this very day!
The reason you saw such upheaval in the Vietnam war, was because you had a major division within our government, about how to deal with a Police Action. In such an action, you don’t resolve it by winning, you merely reach terms for peace. That being the case, you don’t give your generals the support to win such a conflict, just enough support to create a balance in the skirmish, until both sides can agree on the outcome. With such actions, it is our troops on the ground, that suffer the consequences from a divided leadership. They pay a heavy price for buying the time needed, to come to a peaceable resolution of the conflict.
The lessons that should have been learned by our government from both the Korean and Vietnam wars, are that you don’t win wars with Police Actions, you win wars by defeating the enemy! That is how you attain peace.
By ‘winning’ a war, in ‘defeating’ the enemy you do not end up attaining peace.
Not in any historical rendition of any war ever fought. You win a contest of violence domination that passes for peace.
Wars are fought over stuff and over the natural genetic crying need for your
and my genes to be selected over those of the next contender for reproductivity.
We ‘won’ WW-II. Do we live in peace? Have we lived in peace? Nope, because there is always the next
bit of acquisition of stuff belonging to someone else, the next generation to be selected for survival.
Humans do not seek peace. They seek domination which they call peace.
There is no political solution to this if real peace is to be found.
The solution has to be gained from understanding what’s going on in the first place
and then going directly at those two root causes. Which mankind isn’t ever likely to do.
Anthropology and Sociology are among the most abject failures as educational disciplines
that have ever appeared on the college scene.
They spout truths nobody, but nobody, wants to hear, and certainly not put into action.
History is the third great scholastic failure. To illustrate that just stand by for some
more of the JFK nonsense about to be released to this gathering herd of eager recipients.
Semper fi, my friend,
Jim, much of what you say when you are looking at the overall history of mankind on this planet is true. However, Paul was trying to understand what happened to our leadership in the Vietnam war. I was just trying to supply him with some of the basics of how a government can mess up it’s own military, as well as it warring activities.
Our reality of what happens in wars is totally shaped for us by the media,
television shows and the movies.
Almost all if it is total or close to total fiction.
My writing on here and in producing 30 days in print has been found to be interesting because
I have been giving it to everyone just as it really was over there and down in the valley.
The interest generated has been associational but also because of the fact that my version
of war experiences differs so staggeringly from that generally created, provided and supported….
Thanks for the comment, as usual.
One of my childhood best friends and favorite people on this earth was an Army EOD tech with 3rd Ordnance in Long Binh in early 1968 and 1969. He believes that the vast majority of non-combatant Vietnamese he worked or visited with were: 1)focused on surviving today and maybe tomorrow, and 2)had no knowledge, appreciation, or interest in a democracy. His outlook from his perspective was and still is: “We were winning when I left.”
This is the best discussion of our reasons for being there I have ever seen.
Afternoon Jim, an interesting comment, Actually by winning WWII We established the longest period of peace in Europe in it’s history, The difference was, In every other war, The Victor raped the loser with demanding pay back, The US did something never done before, It was called the Marshal Plan, We rebuilt the nations destroyed after WWII Both Allies and Enemy, We put them back in a track to civilian government, The difference is there to see, The difference between the Marshal Plan and the Soviet Occupation of Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe is still pretty much a basket case after the soviet occupation in where the Russian took almost everything that was of value back to Russia as war reparations, and made the Warsaw Pact dependent on the Soviet for their economies…….. Yes we had the cold war, and a bunch of small scale conflicts, But since WWII there hasn’t been anything coming close to the continental and world wars before the 1940tys.
I hope it stays that way, But we have to learn to win, and then rebuild and create stable governments and friends of our enemies as we did after WWII.
Semper Fi/This We Defend.
Robert, The Atom bomb also came along.
There can be no true huge theater wars for those that possess that weaponry.
There can be these smaller conflicts and in these smaller conflicts the U.S. has done nothing at all to rebuild anything,
instead piping out the oil of Iraq and mining out deposits in Afghanistan.
If the Marshall Plan ideals had been kept and improved upon then the U.S. would be
the most respected nation to ever occupy any part of the planet instead of how it is today seen.
Thanks for that comment of some significant intellect and thought…
J, This is such a clear statement of the reality of the “Vietnam Police Action”.
Tragedy is today young people will never be exposed to this knowledge. Thank you for your candor
You are welcome Chuck and yes, most of the younger generation will never be told the truth of our government and military mistakes, instead they will be told about how terrible our nation is and why the world is in so much turmoil, because of our nation interfering with other nations. The fact that we saved a free Western Society after WW II, does not seem to have any bearing on the marxist agenda.
If the day ever comes in this nation, where the truth can once again be spoken, perhaps our younger generations will learn from our mistakes and not get involved in the wars of other nations, that have no bearing on our own sovereignty. Our Constitution proclaimed the fact, that we were to be a sovereign Republic, but somewhere along the line that fact got lost in limbo.
Right on the mark, it has been downhill since Korea and it only gets worse!!! 🇺🇸
Funny ideas people develop about war and how it is really conducted…and even the reasons for why they do on…
Unfortunately racism has been around forever and sadly probably will be around forever. James I have heard these stories of racism from a few friends that were over there and in the bush to, you confirm what they have told me. I think everyone should read 30 Days Has September, great work LT,and when book two is available I will buy that one too. Everyone owes you guys and all veterans a debt that can’t hardly be re-paid. I have a friend who tries to defend Hanoi Jane, I tell him that disgusting bitch should have been tried for treason. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area born and raised there and I never will forget have those people treated you guys when you came home, it was heart breaking and I can only imagine how you guys must felt, lousy bastards I have no use for people like that, my oldest brother was doing 90 days in the county jail once and they brought in a load of them that got arrested, they got their asses kicked and they had to be put in protective custody.
Like all of the chapters this one was good to.
I was at Oakland Naval Hospital in Oakland, across from San Fran in 1969 and I took no heat from the public. I took heat from the medical staff because for some reason they were very anti-war and anti-veteran. In truth, the hospital had few wounded vets so their exposure to us was limited, which meant that only a few of us took the brunt of that ire. It wasn’t real bad. They called us funny names and put stickies on our doors and above our beds but other than that the treatment was good. I came out and once I was released from the hospital all went well with the public, although I was a stick person weighing a hundred pounds so mostly people thought I was dying.
Down in Southern Cal at Pendleton the worst treatment was from commanders and Marines who had not gone over. They didn’t much like returning vets that were fucked up physically and mentally and, like me, had five rows of ribbons on their chests (I finally quit wearing decorations). The public in San Clemente, where I lived, mostly didn’t know. I never wore the uniform off base and I grew my hair as I gained weight. It would be twenty years before I ever admitted to anyone I was in the Marines or in Vietnam.
I can attest to that statement your not declaring your experiences in San Clemente , but we are all glad you were encouraged to write these memories down.
The picture of the amulet and its contents that you included in this segment mysteriously fascinates me. The amulet has a Special essence to it. Not only the contents of the pieces of the things you touched while in the valley but the pouch and the person who wore it. The pouch has to have absorbed the smells, pain,fear and sounds of that valley and the man who wore it left his imprint of essence too. It is not like a sea shell that you can hold to your ear and hear the ocean but something that you can touch, feel, smell and see.
The person who sent this to you definitely thought highly of you and your essence.
I am not sure about what would have been the meaning of the person who sent this to me in 1975.
It came just before Christmas of that year and I thought it was a Christmas gift.
And then I opened it and could not figure out what it was. Only after I carefully took it apart
and went through the stuff did I get it.
I put it back together put it in ‘that’ box and never went through it again until I made a photo for Chuck.
Now it’s back in the box. The biggest mystery to me was the part of the envelope.
That would have been part of the return address of one of my letters home.
It was in my print and it was on those envelopes now long gone that the military had for us to use.
That made it real but I also wondered what letter did not make it home because that part was torn off.
It has the aroma only very faintly of common dirt. Nothing exotic. I went back and smelled it after you wrote.
Bentley, the new cat, will not allow it to be on the bed where I put it.
He immediately kicks it off every time. Interesting stuff, for sure.
Maybe I will never ever know. I hope it worked for somebody…
I have never seen that type amulet. Thinking maybe it was sent back to you as a thank you, but if Bentley wants it back in the box, that’s where it needs to be. Animals are sensitive that way. Thinking I probably shouldn’t have asked about it.
God Bless you and this was an Awesome segment.
Thanks Nancy. I saw a few of these packets in Vietnam and then later at the Indian pueblo where some friends live
in Santa Fe. I also heard that the old mountain men used to carry such supersitious packets. Some Catholics wear
saint’s medals and scapulars. Bentlye, is of course, much more sensitive to smell and he may not like what he can glean
from the thing.
If the Gunny or one of your scouts survived after you were hit, they could have sent you some of your things that you had on you, when you were wounded. You always wrote to your wife when you could, so the envelope must have been the one you were still carrying in your pocket when you were wounded.
Not having read about the day you were wounded, one has no idea what the situation was or how many survived that day.
No, J. It was an amulet. That was the way they made them.
But thanks for the usual analysis and the rest will, of course, develop as the story goes on….
I was with the first Cavalry in 1968 in the Ashau. After we left I corps in ’68 the 101st took over some time after they were there guess the marines went in. That valley and its peaks was TOUGH. An area of mayhem for all sides. Aircraft, when they could we’re great but weather and terrain sucked.
Yes, the A Shau was about as tough as it got in Vietnam, what with its proximity to the North
and then the supply route running down the middle…
Semper fi, and thanks for the comment and your own experience….and putting it up here, of course…
I was with the 1st Cav, 1st Bn, 7th Cav company ‘C’ in 1968. I arrived in September of 1968.The Battalion had already been in A Shau Valley around May of 68. We were supposed to go back in around October but the mission was scrubbed due to bad weather and heavy fog. We were ready to go with two sand bags full of c-rations. The leadership figured we would not be able to get resupplied by Huey, so the extra food along with our 80 lb ruck sacks and ammo. A couple of weeks later the whole division was moved from I Corp down to Tay Ninth province.
God, but weather down in that valley and the highlands on both sides was
such a factor in trying to conduct any meaningful operations.
Every operation, mission or plan ended up being about just surviving.
Nothing else much got done. Thanks for your additive report.
I cannot believe we hauled all that shit around in that terrain. Yet, we did!
Have been reading since the first chapter. Always anxious for the next and never disappointed. Tough duty for you and the rest. Also tough to bring it all back to the front. I would guess that you have healed now. To a great extent. Strength of mind and character. You’re a positive example of many like you out here. Thanks.
thanks a whole lot Vern. I work at being something like that. So many guys came back totally out of it.
I had to do the drug thing and then the booze thing and I’ll never ever be able to know that those are over.
I went back (to the CIA) for more violence, but of a more controlled sort. Then I finally swore it all off
and got rid of all my guns. I will fight no more forever, coming to mind. I went to Washington state to visit Chief Joseph’s grave even.
Thanks for the high compliment…
NEVER a dull read Sir!!! I can honestly tell you as much as people don’t want to believe it , the type of behavior that Ssgt Char and yourself dealt with,(the race issue) is still alive in the corps today. As a recently retired Marine of twenty years I dealt with the Mexicans wanting to be with the Mexicans ( and me forcing them to speak English while in uniform) and the blacks wanting to be with the blacks ( forcing them to shave and keep their hair in regulation) is still alive today.
Yes, race is a really big deal again today in and out of the military. The order and keeping of society,
structured and not so structured has always been problematic. Combat simply places a magnifying glass on the
deep fear that governs most interactions…and tribal gathering is a response to such survival fears.
Thanks for the good comment and making it on here…
Thanks, a job well done. I had to put off Reading this chapter until I could have the time to read the whole thing and here it is 1:08 am and I am wide awake! Semper Fi Lt.
Thank you so much Walter for staying up.
Yes, there are many different reactions to the reading of my Vietnam work
and I am glad that your own, being taken with the work to the point of not wanting to put it down,
illustrates some goodness and interest in its being published.
Thanks for that and for writing about it in public.
Just a quick question here in addition to my complements on the great writing. I hope it serves well for future marine officers. While you were out there how much time, if at all, did you spend wondering about the enemy commander? Did you ever try and imagine who he was and how that might help you beat him? We’re his actions ever predictable? After the war, did you ever try and get his name or learn more about his thoughts on this amazingly continual engagement? Thanks. FYI, US Navy 73 -77. Thankfully missed this but we did spend some time in the gulf for the wrap up/exit.
I really didn’t think the enemy was organized the same way as we were. I think there was more than one commander and some were not so good or I wouldn’t be writing this.
Also, I think they had those in charge of certain segments like weaponry, ammot and such. We had that in the rear but not much in the field. They, of course, operated out
of their holes and tunnels which allowed for recovery and some security while we had little. It’s not like the movies. Even a lot of my ‘orders’ were modified and implimented
by others along the way.
Thanks for the comment,
I didn’t get to read this when it published on the 19th, and reading the comments placed before me I consider myself an intruder in this hall of hero’s and giants where demons beyond my comprehension are being battled for the umpteenth time. I had to share with you though Jim that I found this chapter when at Cardiac Rehab (you know the whole open heart surgery deal)and made the mistake of reading it while going through my paces. It seems that when I reached the end when my blood pressure should be a good low number, I had to sit for an extra ten minutes because it was elevated from reading the chapter!!