Thursday, February 26, 2015

One Night In Viet Nam

I actually went to college to play football so it was no surprise to me that after football season ended my freshman year I received a letter from the dean stating that I was placed on Academic probation and would have to set the next semester out. As it turned out the next semester contained the next years football season so my interest in college went from low to zero. I did the only illogical thing an 18 year old macho man would do I joined the Marine Corps. I reported to the Marine Recruit depot at San Diego. We disembarked from the bus and stood on the famous foot prints, and received the first outpouring of screaming and taunting from the three Drill instructors. We marched poorly and heard the Hippity hop mob Stop ,and were at the barbershop .We of course, had our hair cut off. After standing in line for It seemed like forever, we received our utilities ,boots, covers, and everything else that would be our sole possessions for the next eight weeks. After being awake almost all night we marched or a semblance of a march to our hutches, which would be our home . Feverously we tried to put everything away in its proper place We heard, company on the road and scrambled to put on our coats ,I grabbed my gloves as it was December, and even in San Diego it was chilly, ran out the door and lined up along the asphalt at attention. One of our Drill Instructors was sergeant Joy, 150 pounds of Black evil. He walked down the line of us inspecting us and giving every recruit a hard time, and then he came to me. About two inches from my face he yelled slime, what do you have in your field jacket pockets? I responded that I had my gloves. Sergeant Joy then ordered everyone else back in the hootches and when we were the only ones outside, he told me to give him the gloves and when I did he took them and slapped me in the face with them. Then yelling attention, he ordered me in to my hootch. I ran into the hootch and one of the other drill instructors had explained to everyone else the proper placement of Boots and shower shoes under the bunk and on each side of the foot locker. I hurriedly asked which way they went and then placed mine, when sergeant Joy yelled attention and we all came to attention next to our bunks. The Black drill instructor made his rounds inspecting everyone’s bunks and placements when he came to my bunk he yelled everyone out on the road ,then grabbed me and told me to stay. My buddy whom I had asked the proper placement of boots and shower shoes, had told me wrong. When everyone was outside, the drill instructor picked up my shower shoes and while I was standing next to my bunk at attention, he slapped me in the face with the shower shoes. I grabbed him by his shirt, picked him up and threw him against the wall. He yelled attention. I came to attention. He positioned his face inches from mine and said” If you ever touch me again I will Kill You.” I believed every word he spoke. My learning curve began to straighten out after a while as I figured out the best way to avoid confrontation was to become invisible. On the drill field I daydreamed as we marched ,and seeing a new Camero,in the parking lot I was happily visualizing myself running it through the gears as the drill instructor crept up beside me and grabbed my rifle and proceeded to slam the receiver against my head .He screamed for me to report to him at his duty hut when we got back to our hootches.By this time I was becoming quite tired of being his whipping boy so I decided that if I went I would get a beating and if I didn’t I might and maybe might not . Sure enough he forgot all about it until a few days later. He said private, weren’t you suppose to report to me the other day? I said yes sir the private was told but the private forgot. He laughed and that was the end of it. When we finally progressed to the week of the rife range I was ecstatic. I grew up on a farm along the Mississippi river, and My dad was an excellent shot and had taught me to shoot a rifle when I was about eight years old. I hunted our woods ,and always had squirrel and rabbit for my Mother to cook up. As I expected I was a star on the rifle range. Each recruit had a coach and the coach would help you adjust your sites for different distances and wind conditions. Up a click, two clicks to the left etc, until you were shooting predictable. I was shooting better than predictable, I was dead on. The day of qualification, we rode to the range in the cattle cars, which were semi trailers with seats made to haul troops around camp Pendelton.disembarked and made our way down the firing line to our assigned spot, I looked around for my coach and he wasn’t anywhere to be found. Sergeant Joy walked down the line --stopped and told me that my coach was given another assignment for that day and that he would be my spotter coach. I got a sick feeling in my stomach, as I imagined what was coming. We started at 100 yards I adjusted my sites, first shot in the bulls eye in the lower right, I adjusted one click to the left , next shot center of bulls eye, on the bottom, I adjusted one click up, from then on a group right in the center. We then moved on to three hundred yards I adjusted up a few clicks, and shot in the bulls eye, a little high and again on the right, I adjusted one click down and one click to the left and filled the target with a group in the center of the bulls eye. We moved to the 500 yard and I was shooting expert, I was bound for sniper school or recon which was what I wanted. Sergeant joy then said let me see your rifle, I handed it to him and he spun the sight adjustments then threw it down in the dirt, Telling me that my rifle was filthy, as the order went out to lock and load for the final targets at 500 yards. I got down in prone position with the rifle strap wrapped tightly around my upper arm, and around my wrist, so that in the prone position the rifle would be as steady as possible. In theory when in the prone position your right elbow should be in a direct line with your left elbow. I have wide shoulders and for me that is impossible, but in Sargent joys mind he saw an infraction that needed to be corrected, so as I was lying in the prone position he walked up and jumped on my rifle .I screamed in pain, while being screamed at what a worthless puke I was that didn’t deserve to qualify, and should be sent back and made to start all over in another platoon. Sergeant Joy then told me to assume the prone position and qualify .In Pain I placed the target in my sights, exhaled then as I was slowly inhaling squeezed the trigger, Maggies drawers, meaning that I completely missed the target, I was in a Panic and asked Sergeant joy witch way the bullet hit and he said he didn’t see it shoot again, My second shot missed the target again, and this time sergeant Joy gave me the blessing of telling me that it was in the dirt to the right, I adjusted my sights five clicks up and three clicks left, I was lost because sergeant Joy had spun the adjustment and I did not know where I was. Next shot I hit the target low right, my next shot I aimed at the upper left of the target and hit in the bull’s-eye Now this is called shooting with Kentucky windage and is frowned upon, I finished my qualification by aiming not at the bulls eye but at the top left corner of the target, and ended up qualifying not as expert , but two tiers down at Marksman, eroding my dreams of Sniper school.Seargent Joy looked at me and asked did you qualify using Kentucky windage? I lied and said well, No sir, Kentucky windage is not allowed. After qualifying at the rifle range we returned to basic training, and I soon discovered that when trying to perform an order arms where you hold the rifle out and hold with your left hand and open the bolt with the right, I could not hold the rifle, I had torn ligaments in my left arm from Sergeant Joys jumping on my rifle, Sargent Joy put me on the weak squad. In spite of Sargent Joy I managed to graduate from boot camp, and went to Pendelton for Infantry training, as every marine is number one a rifleman. It was like the weight of the world was lifted off me, no Sergeant Joy. After ITR I was given a MOS of 3500 truck driver, I stayed at Pendleton for truck driving school. I was a natural, having grown up on a farm and driving twin stick Macks for Bremco mills in the summer before I enlisted. I breezed through schools battalion. Home for a two week leave my orders were to report to Staging Battalion for assignment in Viet Nam. The two weeks went fast, I reported for Staging battalion, and Met Wieakki. Wieakki was a full blooded apache Indian, going to Nam for his fourth tour, We instantly hit it off an he became my teacher, and buddy. The night of War games we infiltrated behind enemy lines climbed the mountain and walked up to the CO and said bang your dead, he wasn’t amused. He taught me a lot and after we deployed, I never saw him again, but I did check the wall and his name isn’t on it. I arrived by passenger jet at the De Nang airfield, and when we stepped off the plane the 100% humidity and 120 degree temperature hit you in the face and took your breath away. As we disembarked the chain link fence that separated the tarmac from the terminal was lined by short timers waiting for their ride home on the “freedom bird” many of them called out with cat calls and encouraging words like” you are going to die” ha ha ha. I began my tour at headquarters battalion first battalion thirteenth Marines. As I unpacked I pulled out several Hot Rod magazines, and the sargent said you know how to work on cars? I said yes, he said good you are our new mechanic. I worked in the motor pool for the first month .One day a couple trucks came pulling in and they were covered with dust, and the guys were just as filthy, all wearing bush hats . I talked to them and found they were with Kilo 4/13 out at a firebase In An Hua. I requested a transfer the next day. The first day at Kilo The sargent told me to get up on top of a Five ton and with a pickaxe and break the steel bands holding the pallets of 155 howitzer shells together so they could be unloaded , a couple guys from the gun were there to help me at first but then they said fire mission and they took off leaving me on top of the truck swinging that pickaxe. I saw the turret of the gun swing around until it was pointed directly over my head but I was busy and it was hot so I didn’t really pay much attention. I heard Stand by fire . One thing about Kilo battery was that when they had a fire mission all the guns six in all would fire at exactly the same time. It was awesome, however when you are directly in front of the muzzle blast It feels more like the world has come to an end. It blew me clear off the truck ,but other than ,my pride from being so stupid and a severe ringing in my ears I was ok. The guys told me that they had been getting rockets and mortars regularly and I asked what a rocket sounds like, not to confuse with the sounds of the guns, I was told don’t worry you will know. The first morning of a rocket attack, I woke to the sound of a screaming train roaring through the hootch.we grabbed our rifles, bandeliers,helmets flak jackets and headed out towards a bunker ,where I saw a white hot gear like out of a transmission rolling across the ground. It seems they would use anything they could find and use it as shrapnel in the rockets. As it turned out that morning, Pappy from gun six spotted the muzzle flash of the rocket as it was launched from the side of the mountain he contacted FDC and with the lieutenants go ahead; barrel sighted ,and then shot a High explosive round, and took em out. We were at An Hua for a few months and then were told that we were going to move to a place called Fire Base Ross. From Ross we could hit Cambodia to the west and the China Sea to the East. We would send a convoy to LZ Baldy once a day for an ammo run. The road was often mined and went through a village and many rice fields. I was still classified as a driver even though I was in charge of the motor pool as a mechanic and responsible for maintenance on all the trucks. Every so often I would take a truck in the convoy just to break the monotony .One particular day we went to Baldy got loaded , waited for the mine sweep then headed back. We were following an Army convoy Americal Division and as Marines we always made fun of the Doggies.The convoy stopped and all the doggies ran out into the rice paddies setting up a perimeter, we Marines just sat on the hoods of our trucks enjoying the doggies going through what looked like a training exercise’s had with me, a Guy from California named Ferris. Now Ferris like all of us was crazy, so we are sitting in the truck with the windshield open and the doors with flak jackets draped over open and to the right of us all these gooks were passing the convoy on their little Honda 50cc motorcycles. Ferris said hey watch this. He waited until this gook was almost up to the cab and shoved his flak jacket with his foot ,it sailed into the air and cleaned the gook right off that motorcycle. Then Ferris jumped down and ran up to him and started yelling at him about being a VC and trying to steal his flak jacket. Man I had never seen anything like that and I felt bad for the gook but like I said we were all crazy. One day our Navajo Indian named Harjo hit a mine that must have been just c4 with no shrapnel because it lifted the truck off the ground about four foot, and then it came down .Harjo slammed on the brakes jumped out of the truck shouted GET BACK LORETTA then jumped back in the truck without a scratch and came on home to LZ Ross. January eighth 1970 I was on guard duty at 4:30 in the morning. It was raining and I was sitting on the North wall of the bunker looking South and Dillinger was sitting on the South wall. I had placed my flack jacket behind me to act as a diversion for the rain. It started with a load scream as a rocket propelled grenade ripped into the bunker wall just to me right. It knocked me to the floor of the bunker which measured about ten ft by ten ft. I scrambled up and saw Viet Cong Zappers behind up inside our compound. I dove to the floor trying to find my rifle in the dark ,a Chi com grenade landed on the wall of the bunker and went off . I found my rifle and popped up and started shooting at the black pajama wearing sappers, hit one wearing grenades and one of them blew up that finished him, one ran up with a grenade and I got him before he could lob it into our bunker. Seventh guns had a machine gun on the top of a huge rock about twenty foot high and one of the sappers got to it and started shooting at us. So we had the machine gun and several AK’s all trying to take us out. An M79 took out the Machine gun and I spotted one sapper running toward a trailer parked beside the motor pool. I stared shooting at him and he dove under the rear axles of the trailer. By this time the sky was lit up , and morning was breaking. A platoon came down to check on us and I yelled that there was a gook under the trailer as I had been taking pot shots at him most of the night. I would watch and see an arm or a leg and squeeze one off then I wouldn’t see anything for awhile. The Sargent in the platoon had a flashlight and was looking under the trailer where I had told him the gook was hiding ,and saying no nothing there nothing then all of a sudden he yelled out Chu Hoy Mother F--r and emptied his 45 . He didn’t hit anything so we ended up with a prisoner somewhat shot up in the arms and legs. The longest night of my life . In March we received word that we were being withdrawn, Get all the vehicles ready for the ship ride home. I was in Nam when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon I heard good Morning Viet Nam every morning on the radio, and heard the music Run Through the Jungle being blasted from helicopters, I smelled the stench of death in Viet Nam,I survived and many did not. I rode on a LST ship home, with all the six 155 self propelled guns and all the trucks and jeeps in the cargo hold. Of course as luck would have it I was on guard duty when we crossed the international date line, and so I had guard duty two days in a row because it was Wednesday two days in a row. When we arrived in San Diego, there was a small greeting party of a handful of relatives of some of the crew members of the ship, and a small band playing the Marine Corp hymn. After turning over our weapons we received orders for liberty two weeks at home. I flew home and was there when Kent State happened. I just happened to be in Wapakoneta Ohio at A hangout called Minerdings. I was there with some high school buddies when some guys started getting real loud, a couple football jocks from Wapak who were in the National Guard and they were bragging about being all bad and macho for being in on the Kent State shootings. Well I never cared much for Wapak guys anyway so I just walked up and told them that as far as I was concerned they were nothing but pansies and sorry so in so’s for shooting girls. I told them that I was a Marine just back from the Nam and that I was over there fighting for those students at Kent State to insure they had the freedom to protest whatever they wanted to protest. The loudmouths shut up , you could have heard a pin drop , I turned and walked out the door. One thing I have forever; I am a United States Marine.