Friday, 19 October 2012
I was asked to repost this. It's long,you may want to skip it.
On the radio, the Platters sang "The Great Pretender" to a lightening static backbeat. It was September, 1970 and a late summer West Texas Thunderstorm was brewing far to the west. I pulled up next to a late model Buick at Plains Blvd and Bell Street. I glanced over and noted its business suited driver gingerly giving me and my "67 Cougar the eye.
I knew what he was seeing, a sleek and souped up `67 Mercury Cougar, riding low and belligerent with an ominous rumble in her twin pipes. The driver lean and leather jacketed, with too long light brown hair, combed straight back, a young punk.
And the reality? Close enough I guess, I blipped the gas pedal, and the `67 snarled.
Slouching behind the wheel, I wondered again what I`d hoped to find back here in Amarillo. Whatever it was, I hadn`t found it. Peace? Forgivness?
There had been the three bedroom brick house with double car garage. Where Bill had practiced tenor sax, and I had practiced Fender Guitar. There had been his mother who acted the perfect hostess to the boy who had been the last person to see her son alive. There had been his Dad, who tried to shake my hand as I entered the den, while he tried with all his might to shield the tears that had suddenly sprung into the corners of his dark eyes. There was the younger sister who had blossomed into beautiful young girl in the past four years. Who sorely missed her older brother as much as I did. And finally there was the older brother I hardly recognized.
It was my fault, I guess. Maybe if I`d ventured to that rivers edge with Bill, maybe if I had protested louder about going off alone. Maybe? Maybe, things would have been different. Maybe if I had been able to come home with the flag draped coffin. But that hadn`t been possible either. I had taken my unit deeper into the territory to find the small band that had lobbed mortars into our camp the night before. I had ventured illegally three miles beyond the DMZ in my search, and didn`t really care what might happen to me when I returned to my firebase. The eight remaining men in the Platoon didn`t seem all that concerned either.
I had visted few friends after my return home. Ron had settled down with Julie, they already had two kids. He had a wife and family, I had introduced them in High School. While he had been going to College I had been making combat jumps from a C-54.
Somewhere in the past four years, Ron and I had quit living in the same world. Which one of us had it the best? Hell I don`t know. We just didn`t have it the same anymore. I had a month leave since my return to the states.
I had been home just a little over a week now, trying to get reacquainted, but it hadn`t gone well. The first two or three days went ok, but things just didn`t balance out. I had a few more things I had to do and this morning I had finally gotten the nerver to drive out to Memorial Cemetary, to say a private goodbye to my friend. I owed him an apology for not being here when he came home. He understood. He was always big on a man doing his duty. And he would forgive anything. I promised him I would try and find something in common with the rest of the world one of these days. He seemed to be satisfied with that.
Afterward, I had driven around town for awhile. To all the old places, that now didn`t seem so familiar. I did it just to see if I could pick up the feel of the place again. It didn`t. My gas tank was full. My duffle bag was in the trunk, and there was nothing I needed from this town except a way out.
I found it headed east on Route 66. It was NE 8th when originally built but later changed to Amarillo Blvd. But it was Route 66, the mother road.
The radio blared "See Ya Later Alligator." A good road omen. It was time to go, anywhere, just not here. As I left the city limits sign out by the airport the only sound was the wind and the roar of the twin pipes from the `67. Out beyond the last gas station Amarillo was becoming distant in the rear view mirror. I edged the speedometer needle 10 miles over the limit, and the Cougar and I began to kill some serious road.
As Amarillo faded into the distance my mind drifted to where I had just been and where I would soon return.
This is my home at LZ Betty, Central HiGhlands. Yes, it's, all the homey comforts a sandbag bunker can provide...just think of this as a boy scout campout, and hope it doesn't fill with water like during the monsoon season, which means we sit on top...all through the lonely night. Like it? You comfy yet?
Well don't get too comfortable. We don't spend much time here basking in all the luxury...(?) Usually we're out walking the park on combat patrol. This is the 1st Air cavalry, so we're just waiting for the "eye in the sky" helicopters to spot where the action is...then they pick us up and drop us in the middle of it. Sound like a real good time? Well, saddle up, get your camouflage chalked on, and let's go...
The boys are all here and ready for patrol out into "The Killing Zone." Want to come? Just put on your steel pot, and watch those bullets...there's a lot of them flyin' around...and listen for the whine of incomin' rounds. Just stay alert every second...every second...Chances are, some of us won't make it back, but try not to think about it. Look at those boys. Which ones won't be with us tomorrow? Which ones won't answer the call "Saddle Up" to continue the walk through the park?
Just pray the bullet with your name on it won't ruin your whole day....
People are trying to kill you here. Things tend to explode here, so stick close, but not too close...don't want one round killing us all. Don't wander off, hear? Death here is as real as it gets. You can almost taste the hot and sticky pungent fear on your tongue, can't you?
Our limousines ready to take us to the war...into the face of death. It's a chinook helicopter, a troop carrier...so make sure your helmets are fastened tight and rounds chambered in your weapons. It may get hot and deadly in just a few minutes...are you ready? I mean are you really ready? There's death in the air...could happen any minute, but try not to think about it or you'll go crazy. You don't want to live forever do you?
Can you say SNAFU...the chinooks delivered us to a mountain top where we spent one night at a radio relay station. The next morning we were airlifted on Huey helicopters, descending onto the desert. The Huey door gunners raked the area with machine gun fire before setting us down to find out up close and personal whether or not it was a hot landing zone compliments of the local welcoming committee, Charley Cong.
As soon as the helicopters hovered six feet above the ground, we jumped and ran...quickly forming a perimeter of defense around the landing zone.
Keep your eyes open...every second. People hate you here, and want to kill you with every fiber of their being. Death is all around us...if not here waiting for us we're lucky...maybe life will end a hundred yards down the trail...maybe a mile away...maybe tonight. But you can't think about that too much or you'll go crazy...just be aware...always alert. Your life depends on it!
What's that shadowy form behind that tree? Did that bush move? Is there a sniper in the treeline?
That ground looks uneven...could be a booby trap there in the trail...
Make every step a careful one...if you don't, it might be your last step...
We stopped for resupply on a deserted road. Half an hour before we had run into an ambush, and a guy ten feet away from me was laced with machine gun fire. It was horrible, but you can't dwell on it or you'd lose it. You can't afford to even think about it too much...and so life goes on...for now!
We searched a large underground VietCong village complex.
Coming in we had received fire from someone leaving town in a hurry. Word filtered through the troops that this was a base for 2,000 main force Viet Cong rebels. Troops probably from here had wiped out a company of the South Vietnamese army two months earlier... Under that board is an extensive tunnel system, but be careful moving anything or you may set off Charlie's surprise...a booby trap meant just for you. Booby traps are everywhere. By the way, you having fun yet?
We formed online for a "Search and Destroy," sweep...and every night dug a new foxhole home, rigging trip wire flares over incoming trails to let us know if we had unwelcome visitors in the night. That's me standing Guard Always I kept an eye out for the bullet with my name on it.
Two of these men were killed the next morning and airlifted out on dustoff choppers.
You get tired and dirty and the only place to clean up is in a jungle river.
The next day a horde of entrepreneurs came out of the bushes, Vietnamese babysons. They hastily set up lean-to coke and beer stands for thirsty and weary GI's. This temporary respite from the war delivered some civility and normalcy back to the war...
The three young entrepreneurs pose, with C-rations boxes given them by recently resupplied GI's...
This man was shot and wounded severely in an ambush, but even in times of adversity and hardship, compassion and love for the little ones comes out of hardened GI's, rising above the inhumanity to man conflict that war has dealt them...
GI's try to forget about war and hate, laughing and making light conversation with new friends...
Our sole piece of bedding, the poncho liners were used to make temporary lean-tos against the termite mounds to provide relief from the withering Vietnamese heat...
But anything like rest is too good to last for the infantry. We were picked up by a fleet of Hueys and carried to join in a sweep operation with three tanks near Phan Rang.
I walked the right point flank position, receiving sniper fire directly at me three times this day. The sniper was following us around just out of sight, looking for the killing advantage...and I was the lucky one that always seemed to be right in his line of fire. Good thing he was a poor shot! My eyes were intently scanning not only for booby traps hidden in the ground, or set off by trip wires to kill and maim, but for Charley hiding behind nearby bushes, and in distant trees where snipers hide...
Then the war reared its UGLY head and reimposed itself on our senses, and we were once more on the move...this time joined by M-40 tracks.
I couldn't help thinking about what would happen if I was killed and left this life...if for me there was no tomorrow. What would it do to my poor mother? It would kill her! But I had to forcefully cut those thoughts out of my mind or go crazy... The fear of death was a wall-to-wall, everyday thing you had to learn to live with...or not! Death could come any minute, at any hour of the day out here. There was no such thing as a safe time.
Fighting through bamboo thickets and wait-a-minute thorn bushes...never knowing what awaited on the other side. It was a case of don't look up, keep an eagle eye open for that booby trap tamped in the ground...booby trap's can kill you and you'll never know what hit you. But don't look down, keep your eyes up and peeled for that sniper in the treeline. If you don't see them first, Sniper's can kill you dead where you stand. That's why God gave infantrymen two eyes...so he can look two directions at once. Good thing too, or he would surely die! But then, you don't expect to live forever do you?
Just after our platoon passed this tranquil looking family scene, we received extensive automatic weapons fire at our backs from this hootch. One man was killed instantly, and two others wounded...
The family inside had vanished. The hootch and an extensive tunnel system we later found, were occupied by VC. Our 2nd lieutenant platoon leader called up Arty (artillery fire) and blew them away...
Our Battalion Commander flew in to oversee the situation... Notice the difference between his boots and ours...ours were made for walking, his shiny officer ones weren't.
We captured several VC prisoners...ruined their whole day, and confiscated several weapons. Note the man below tied to his stretcher...we had to take these precautions because the dead and wounded were often booby trapped to kill those who tried to help...
Then we saddled up and moved on our way through the lush and flowered foliage of the banana plantations
For the fifth night on patrol, guess what, we dug yet another foxhole for to lay our weary heads...
At the end of the sixth day on our little walk in the park patrol, at the end of an exhausting day, we popped a red smoke for the helicopters to mark on, and went home...no, not home back to "the world," home to LZ Betty...
We also got our first hot meal in...well, too long, a real treat...even if we grunts did have to do KP duty and serve it ourselves...
But the best part was a 1/2 day pass to beautiful downtown Phan Thiet near LZ Betty, the bustling metropolis of the Coastal Lowlands on the south China Sea. This was the only time in my tour I would see any leave...except for a month that I got to return home.
These are street scenes in the major part of the city of beautiful children...beautiful adults...
Who could know that hatred and killing is so close at hand...
With lives lost and lives ruined. There is no glory in war, no pomp, no ceremony, only heartache and hate for both sides.
Groundpounders from my company spent five days patrolling the toolies to every two days at either landing zones Betty or Virginia. Here's my patrolling platoon coming back home to LZ Betty through the concertina wire.
Home sweet home
A few hands of poker using M16 rounds for chips.
But you dont get much rest as mortar rounds begin to hit your happy home
The helicopters rained fire from the sky wielding mighty fists of suppression...to teach Charley Cong a lesson... Somebody below is dying a grisly death tonight! Will his family miss him? Did he have a sweetheart he loved...was he a hard worker...did he deserve to die, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Eye in the sky choppers looked for Charley till they found him...then set you down right on top of him. So lock and load, cause in a moment we're going to be in the thick of battle, and it's gonna be a hot one...somebodies gonna die...will it be you...but you better not think about it or you'll never make that jump off the helicopter skids! You don't want to live forever do you?
There's an explosion...everything goes black...you're hit...you're bleeding...the essence of you about to die! You're just another soldier...so lost and alone, and so very far from home.... Then came the dustoff choppers to carry you back to the aid station...where medic's try a soldier's life to save... No one there knew you...how smart you were...how tough you were...what kind of future lay in store! You were just another casualty of the Vietnam war...maybe you would live...maybe you wouldn't! Good men and bad men alike die in this war...men of all colors, races, creeds and religions...for the God's of war show no prejudice! Like all wars, Vietnam was no respecter of persons...an equal opportunity slayer of the flower of America's youth!
Did you enjoy the tour of beautiful Southeast Asia? Fun wasn't it? We'll have to do this again real soon...