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My First look at Vietnam
Cam Rahn Bay Air Force Base
The following day we hopped a chopper to Pleiku. After several days we flew back to Cam Rahn AFB, where myself and another "fng" (f'n New Guy) boarded this Huey bound for the "A" Troop perimeter where I would be assigned to Sgt. Kofalvi, or just "K" as we referred to him, and the 1st platoon.
"A" Troop 2/1 Cav Perimeter
1st Platoon setting up night position.
Ambush Alley Hwy One
Here's a note I wrote to a crew chief/door gunner who was in "D" troop of our squadron. "D" troop was our Air Cavalry. I had written a story once before, it is lost now. I had hitchiked out of the April Fools Day (1970) battle on a "D" troop "Loach" and it scared hell out of me! I had 3 days left in the Army after 4 years and thought I was gonna take a bullet in the butt through the bottom of the chopper trying to get out of there. The door gunner was having a shootout with the NVA below us.
Hello Jimmy...Thanks for the letter and I hope you enjoy the story...Personally, chopper rides were tough for this trooper who was way more comfortable on a tank with all that steel to duck behind and a machine gun at the handy, not to mention the 90mm with a variety of rounds to choose from. The Loach was a great ride I must say...however when I was so short I could taste it...and having been rattled by the events of the night..I could not believe my luck when I saw those little guys running around down there shooting at us...I just could not get comfortable with that...and don't know how you guys did it...I will say that from the ground when we'd call you in, we made a great team...a very destructive force to be reckoned with! You were always a welcome, if not an absoulutely exciting addition to a situation!
As for the story, I have been telling bits and pieces for forty years and decided to put it all together. Over 600 people have read it by my count and I have had plenty of compliments. I know its a rather convoluted story..but its also history and it is what it is...I remember this stuff like it was yesterday!
The conflict with the Captain had bothered me for years until I found and visited Sgt. K in November...I mentioned to K and his wife (Veronika) that I was fuming for years over the events of April 1st and the Captains' inability to shake my hand, and kicking myself for going after him...but then K's wife made me feel pretty good when she said..."Well Dennis, he's had to live with it for forty years too!" Funny, I had never thought of it that way! Any way, I'll cut this short...big fishing opener tomorrow and I have a 60 mile run to the grounds...by the way, my boats' name is "Hangfire"...one of the many nightmarish situatiions on a tank!
Take Care...Dennis (aka Liver!)
Note: At the time I lost the story, it had over 20,000 hits in the few years it was up on "The Last Exit on Kearney" website.
Loach over the Central Highlands
Photos Courtesy Col. Myers
April Fools Day
1970 Song Mao
2/1 Cavalry Squadron Ammo Dump destroyed. The perimeter took heavy mortar fire.
Sapper attack repelled
The previous scenes bookend my tour in Vietnam. They represent the day I arrived and the day I left. The perimeter, "A" troop's base camp, was an abandoned French mineral water bottling factory.
A typical evening off the side of hwy One is included and an aerial view of the highway, particularily "Ambush Alley." This stretch of road has seen considerable action, however, during my 10 month stint, we always passed through without incident.
This is part of a roughly 100 mile stretch of road "A" troop kept clear of mines and escorted convoy's of trucks and equipment. On occasion the troop would be called to protect a village in the area from threats descending from the jungles. My entire time in Vietnam revolved around the perimeter and hwy One.
APRIL FOOLS DAY 1970
Marty's "Big Mac"
1966 saw the draft in full swing with me toasting buns at the "Twin Arches." Marty, a high school friend has a couple dozen meats on the griddle. With over a million sold, their mutually bleak futures has a dark cloud hanging over the two cooks. I wonder outloud, "Ya think we'll flip a million fuckin' burgers before the draft takes us?" "Fuck the draft!" Marty snaps. "Let's take that dude's offer and sign up for 4 years. We'll get that guaranteed station in Europe."
The noon rush is on, heat from the kitchen, oppressive. The manager and his family are in line, getting waited on at the counter. Marty's flipping burgers while doubled over, trying to hide the fact, he's busting a gut. I have no clue what's so funny, until I see the softball size meat in his hand.
"Oh Shit! What's he doin'?" Marty straightens up, goes deadpan while he presents the disgusting jumbo ball of cow meat in deference to the manager, as though a gift to his king. With great pride he then displays the meat to the lunchtime throng crowding into the restaurant.
He has captured the attention of the entire establisment, all eyes are locked on the meatball. Marty, always the clown, has the girl at the french fries crossing her legs, desperetly trying not to pee. The manager's face is fat, beet red and appears about to explode.
Marty, with an aire of authority, raises his elbow high, a tuft of hair peeks out from the sweat stained armpit of his short sleeve, white shirt. He carefully places the ball of meat into his armpit, clamps down firmly, then gives an extra press for good measure, and effect.
All have hushed, their shocked faces follow the jumbo meat pattie when it comes out of the armpit with a flair that can only be described as "very French", then slammed down to take its place alongside and over top of the little patties sizzling merrily along on the grill.
Pandemonium breaks out as the manager breaks his silence with a cracking high pitched scream. Customers are pushing and shoving for the doors. The two cooks bolt out the back door, jump into their cars and begin a road race up hwy 99 to the Everett Army Recruiter's office. We take the deal.
It has been one month since the "Big Mac" fiasco and subsequent volunteering for the U.S. Army at the height of the Vietnam War. I had been watching friends disappear. One day they're seen around in the usual haunts, then "poof", gone. Truly, an "invasion of the body snatchers."
The induction center on Alaskan Way in Seattle fills the nostrils with the sweet stench of sweating, frightened humanity. I feel extremely weak and sick in the stomach. I am unsteady on my feet, "weak at the knee." The uncertainty has a firm grip on the three or four thousand souls who have been swept up and crammed into this building by the government.
They are wandering around, mumbling and cursing when a voice booms out "up against the wall, every swingin' dick, NOW!!" The mob shuffles toward one side of building. The voice is of a timbre that plucks at the strings of human conditioning. The order to pack tight together is not devoid of vulgarities, the bodies move ever tighter together aganist the wall.
At this point, I can see our tormenter. He is an Army sergeant, smartly dressed and scowling as he looks over the young boys he will turn into fighting men. "Tighter! Up against the wall, closer goddammit!" When bodies are crushing bodies he stretches two arms out, and, as if cutting a pie with a knife barks his orders. This group move over to your right, this group move to your left. "Move goddammit!" "Your other right goddammit!" "Move!" The shuffling speeds up and people are tripping over each other, slowing the process, further infuriating the staff sergeant, his tirade searches for a crescendo.
How, so many years later at this writing can I not laugh, knowing what level a staff sergeant is and have known so many lifer staff sergeants, all of whom I can think of were a very likeable sort; they just never did well climbing the ladder of success in the Army. I sure had no idea I would soon be joining their numbers! The one thing I can say for the Army is, no matter how big a screw up you are (almost) there is a place for you. You will be asked to stay on, you will never be fired, you must quit or retire, simple as that.
I am also certain, if I were to sit in a bar today and have a chat with that staff sergeant who had the induction center duty, he could keep me entertained for hours with his stories. He was an absolute master. One guy on the floor with thousands jumping to his commands. He is the first of many who will put the fear in you. These guys deserve acting awards. One learns fast, make no eye contact, but, don't look down. Don't look away either, that's bad too.
Once the sergeant is satisfied with his work he calls out for any individuals who have enlisted in any one of the services to step out and form another group on the opposite side of the hall. Marty & I wander out with about three hundred or more sorry looking individuals. Many look like hippies that just swallowed all the acid and mescaline they could handle, others were wearing suits, but the suits were already rumpled and soiled; the guys wearing them, mostly unshaven for several days, didn't look much different than anyone else. Everyone is either sullen or cracking stupid jokes. We are completely surrounded, all the doors blocked by armed guards, with real guns!
As the shuffling of the enlistees dies off the sergeant commands "QUIET!" In that instant, you could hear a pin drop. The sergeant has gained complete control. He gives a wave of the arm and three spiffy soldiers march out and stand before the throng. Each represents a different service.
The sergeant then points to the group off to his left, announcing "you're in the Army!" Without hesitation points to the center group, "you're in the Navy!" He then continues directly to the last group, "you're in the Marines!"
With this last pronouncement, blood drains from the thousands of souls in the hall this morning. All eyes shift to group three. The power of the government over one's life and death is made clear in this moment. Who in that room does not see, or worse, feel, the death sentence meted out? Group three, you are in our hearts at this moment.
With the passing of this shock, Marty grabs my shoulder with a big hug and tears in his eyes. I could see his relief; we had opted for four years, it may have just saved our lives.
A brief stop in the perimeter & back to hwy One
"You're in the Army now"
Marty and I are immediatly bussed down to Ft. Lewis Washington with the entire mass of those now destined for the U.S Army. No special privilges for those who have enlisted over the draftees. We are collectively stripped, showered, heads and beards shaved, shot full of some sort of cocktail, run through a line of doctors and medics where we are intrusively checked everywhere for anything and everything. We are issued dog tags a duffle bag socks, t-shirts and shorts, boots, a baseball cap, fatigues and dress greens then bussed to McChord AFB and flown to California.
Arriving at Ft. Ord we are run through a battery of written tests, take an Oath to defend the Constitution of the United States then assigned to a Company in basic training. That was the last I saw of Marty until one chance meeting in Germany. He ended up an MP over there.
Basic training actually accomplished an astounding feat in just a matter of weeks. The drill sergeants took this mass of soft, flabby, fat, fast-food, beer and whiskey drinking, pot smoking, party-on junkies and had them packing seventy or eighty pounds of personal gear and paraphanailia up and down hills for miles.
Enduring CS tear gas, machine gun fire, verbal abuse aplenty punctuated with hundreds of push-ups, nightime firewatches, and all you could eat. By the time the eight weeks are up, a recruit could put in twenty miles a day with full gear. Most likely, he never called his rifle a "gun" again on leaving basic training and to this day, he can rattle out his service number.
For myself, the testing and the fact I had enlisted is what I believe had me sent to Ft. Belvoir, Virgina for some sort of high class mapmaking gig. I could not make heads or tails of the computations which had me sent to Ft. Story, where I trained on amphibious vehicles for offloading ships at anchor to a beachead.
After completing school, I was sent to Europe as promised and wound up in a tank battalion in the 8th Division at Mannheim Germany. After nearly two and a half years in Germany, I arrive in Vietnam with an overabundence of military skills. I knew my way around tanks, apc's, jeeps, and a variety of weapons.
One skill I excelled at was the ability to escape and return to base, largly unoticed. Whenever I saw the opportunity to put on civilian clothes, drink beer, white wine and search out the varieties of hashish found down in Frankfurt, I would slip away. My roomate and I took turns covering for each other on our many sorties out wire.
With over two years learning the ropes in Germany, I land in Cam Rahn Bay. I am processed, choppered to Pleiku in the Central Highlands where I waste not a moment to slip away in the confusion of the transfer. I had this in mind from the moment I left Germany, like the excitment of visiting my first legal house of prostitution in Mannheim as a nineteen year old kid, I went looking for one of the fabled opium dens of Vietnam.
A new twist for this soldier from the cafes of Amsterdam. The atmsphere in the opium den is religious. Budda is on the alter with candles lit. There are "Marlboro" cigarettes in holders. These are actually marijuana filled and opium dipped which mammasan politely offers after she asks that you bow to Buddha. This done, the patron is escorted upstairs to a room with a series of cushioned benches to lie on, an end table with familiar smoking paraphenalia and a couple of ladies serving ice cold beer. I am not alone, there are a half dozen individuals lying prone in the gloomy candlelight, smoke curling up from their pipes.
With just one quick glance at me, several days late, the clerk mumbles something like "good you showed up to do the paperwork, this stuff happens all the time" with a shrug and a chuckle...he knew.
From Pleiku I was flown back down to Cam Rahn Bay on a "Shithook" (Chinook CH-47) for the single crappiest ride I ever had on a helicopter. How a chopper can shake its frames so furiously for so long and still hold together is beyond me. I then hopped on a Huey (in the video above) bound for "A" Troop. On my arrival at Firebase "Panzer" I had orders to report to a sgt. Kofalvi whom I found straightaway. A pleasant, easy going fellow with an accent I was not familiar with. Casually pointing to a tank he says "throw your stuff on that one." I was immedietly taken by this little tank as I climb aboard. A Korean War vintage M48, not the bulky M60 and M60-A1 modern tanks found exclusively in Germany. It is also comforting to see the machine gun mounted at the loaders hatch. "That's handy." My first thought.
Once I got settled in, I scanned the neighborhood and took stock. I did not like the low spot the perimeter occupied, however there are three 155mm howitzers here, which seem to offset my fears of sitting in a low spot. They can cover the hill much better than the main guns on the tanks due to the elevation.
The perimeter has a generous barrier of concertina wire and a very clear field of fire for a couple hundred yards or more. The engineers did a good job here. there is a berm for each vehicle position around the circumference. There are a half dozen "clackers" on the top of the tank at the ready to set off the claymore mines out front. The entire scene, taken in total looks very secure which puts me somewhat at ease.
I am still quite disturbed, not with the defenses, now, its with the platoon members. No one has come out to greet me, aside from the platoon leader. I am on their radar however, as a large group of surly looking individuals is standing a ways off, they are chatting and taking furtive glances my way.
After an uncomfortable spell, a wild looking individual breaks from the group, saunters over and asks, straight up, "are you a Narc?" I am caught off guard, as I just had a smoke before I got on the chopper. The question sent me into a fit of laughter which put the individual at ease, as he introduces himself as "Wolfman." The next thing out of his mouth is a desperate sounding "ya got anything to smoke?"
Beach Duty along Hwy One
Welcome to the 1st Platoon
Wolfman follows my every move, his anticipation is boiling over. He is the picture of a Ca;ifornia surfer, beach bum and "Dead Head" all rolled into one. He's wearing shades and a few strings of beads around his neck, wrists and ankles. I dig out a carton of "Marlboro's" and watch his eyes bulge. He opens his mouth but no words come out, then he ducks down and stifles a giddy squeal.
The package I had bought in Pleiku is professionally prepared for the customer. Without close inspection (actually tearing it open) it passes nicely for an ordinary, unopened carton of smokes. Wolfman had recognized this item instantly.
With a wide toothy grin, I am clued in to the current situation in the perimeter. "First platoon has been guarding the perimeter for two weeks an' we ran out of grass a few days ago, it's bad man, really bad. The artillery guys are dry too." In a matter of a minute or so, I go from possible undercover narcotics officer to the "fng" that turns everything upside down.
I tear off the celophane, rip open the carton and pull out a pack for myself. The carton had been carefully opened previously. The tobacco was replaced with a red haired product from the highlands, then the "cigarettes" are repacked and the entire carton put back like it had never been disturbed. A peek into an exquisite Vietnamese smuggling technique; even the little pull tab is still there.
I hand the rest of the carton to Wolfman asking "ya wanna introduce me to the platoon?" With a muffled yowl, he takes the carton, pulls a pack out for himself, jumps off the tank, waving a "let's go!" He has me half running toward the knot of troopers who had taken great interest in the goings on atop the tank.
Wolfman hands the carton over and the remainder of the packs are passed around. All are excited and I am happy to see how the bonanza is shared amongst the members of the platoon. The 1/50th Arty guys are not left out either. With this observation and the hearty welcome I receive, all fng uneasiness evaporates. The unselfish comaraderie of this bunch is unmistakable; I am delighted to be brought into the fold.
Wolfman introduces me around. I am greeted with big grins, back slaps and hugs. These guys really show their appreciation for the gift I had brought to the perimeter, the dumb-luck timing could not have been better.
Nightfall has Wolfman showing up at my tank, adament I follow him. "C'mon, yer gonna love this." As we walk toward the center of the perimeter, it does not go unnoticed, everyone is in an absolute jolly mood. Wolfman even comments on the cheery atmosphere in the platoon. Passing by the 1/50th Arty, there are hoots, waves and beer offered. Wolfman and I both grab a warm beer then head for a structure, devoid of walls or roof. It is a simple assembly of bare pipes surrounding a pool.
"The guys saved a spot for us, hop in!" Wolfman and I join a half dozen troopers in the mineral spring. We pass joints, sodas and beers for hours, smoking and joking. I learn much about the dynamics of the first platoon in the pool this night. The subject of sgt. Kofalvi comes up right off. It starts with an argument a couple of the guys are having over where "K" came from.
It is accepted among the troopers that K had escaped from somewhere in Russia and joined the U.S. Army, volunteering for duty in Vietnam. Months later I learned he is not a Cossack, as argued in the pool, he is Hungarian. The rest was accurate, and I asked him "why the hell did you go through all that to come here?" (as the popular story in the pool was told). "To take care of young fools like you." K was always a man of few words. I was lucky to be assigned to the 1st platoon and ride with these guys.
What comes out of this lively disscussion is the very obvious respect all hold for this man. The platoon is fortunate, we are lacking a lieutenant. K is an e-6 staff sergeant in the position as 1st platoon leader, most often held by a junior officer.
There are roughly thirty-five or forty platoon members in the seven or eight vehicles that are running at any one time (three tanks and five or six apc's on average). Some of our vehicles are running shorthanded. "A" troop is tasked with keeping a section of hwy One clear of mines and act as escourt to convoys of trucks through the area. They are called on to protect villages on occasion as well.
I learn the 1st platoon is made up of two distinct groups. One third beer drinkers and two thirds pot smokers. A symbiotic relationship. K's tank has a full compliment of beer drinkers. The pot heads drink beer only rarely. They save their beer ration as trading material for the soda pop ration the other group is happy to get rid of. Beer is delivered by the pallet load, hanging from a Huey or rolled out of a Shithook. Marijuana is procured by more nefarious routes. Mammasan is always out on the hwy, she is backbone of the local black market.
It is very late at night in the pool when a drowsy Wolfman looks at me with a drunken chuckle and slurs out a "you look like Liverache."
Driving a tank offroad / Agent Orange defoliated
"Liver"...word travels fast in a small perimeter occupied by one platoon and handfull of artillery guys. The day after arriving, I have a handle. "Liver." Everyone's calling me Liver already, it stuck overnight. Ten months later on the day I left the platoon for Song Mao, K shook my hand saying "Liver, or whatever the fuck your name is, you better stay in the Army, you'll never make it on the outside." I loved that guy, he had to say it, he had to try, but of course, I just laughed it off and shook his hand real hard, "Thanks for keeping us safe all these months sarge." He just smiled. His eyes are warm and bore right through me. I feel the presence of a very special human being.
A New Sheriff in Town
Life has been good these first few months with the 1st platoon. The routine is a comfortable mix of time out on hwy One and breaks taken where the platoon takes its turn guarding the perimeter for a week or more. Vietnam is a fascinating country. As time goes on, faces become familiar after repeated visits to small villiages along the road.
Mammasan will invariably show up everyday to supply the platoon with a variety of wares. She always has plenty of candy bars, fresh pastries, grass, and a couple nice young ladies to keep the boys entertained. There is always time to stop the platoon for a break when they are not busy with a convoy or other detail. The countryside which has not been wrecked by the war is interesting and beautiful, the people are friendly and the kids always crowd around.
Forty or so years later I went to see K in Germany, he retired as a sgt major, I was not surprised he made it to the top. When I called from Amsterdam to let him know I was on my way, K answered, "is this Dennis?" I damn near burst into tears, it was the only time I had ever heard him say my name.
There is occasional excitement when a tank runs over a bomb or the Viet Cong lob a few mortars at our perimeter. We are not harrassed very often. For our adversary, it must be like walking naked up to bee's nest and whacking it with a baseball bat. They are well aware, it's going to sting. They have learned the cavalry's standing orders are to mount-up and drive straight into the fight with every thing blazing. They seem content to plant the occasional explosive and be well clear of the area when it goes off.
Crater from a mine, likely a U.S. 105mm dud
There came a day when "A" Troop was assigned a new commanding officer. It became apparent to the troop, this new individual wearing captains bars intended to make an impression.
His very first decree is to order all dogs removed from the perimeter. Every dog, including, "Speedo", my little pup had to be dropped off near a villiage to suffer whatever fate awaited them. It was maddening, heartbreaking and unnescesary. A morale breaker. The dogs were our early warning system. One in particular proved the point when he was in the ammo dump when it blew up. He was killed next to a sapper who had penetrated the wire. (J.P. Fuckit was in "B" Troop, not affected by the captains orders.) He was on that sapper in the middle of a mortar attack.
A second order soon follows, once the dogs are expelled. The mineral pool is put off limits. With these two orders, the Captain alienates the entire Troop. He completely upsets the apple cart. The aggravation reverberates through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd platoons.
The 1st platoon occupies the pool every night, whenever they are in the perimeter, violating the Captains orders. My guess, the 2nd and 3rd platoons are in the pool as well while the Captain sleeps.
His order is reduced to a change of hours when the pool is open. The Arty guys are always welcome, they're subject to our Captain's whims as well, even though they're from a completely different outfit.
Morale has effectively been beaten down for whatever reason when the 1st platoon runs out of grass during a stretch in the perimeter. There was already grumbling aplenty when they were stuck behind the wire, we much prefer life on the road. The days are more interesting and pass by quicker. After all, a majority of the troop are counting every day.
Faced with the dilemma, a conspiracy to solve the issue takes shape. Wolfman, Hackett and Liver will go to Cam Rahn AFB where there is a healthy blackmarket located at the terminal. The trio will take the mail chopper on fabricated dental issues.
Cam Rahn Bay
The three troopers make a beeline for the terminal when the chopper lands. The connecton is made in short order. On leaving the terminal with their bundle, the monsoon lets go. The conspirators run to the nearby outdoor stage and duck underneath for cover from the rain. They waste no time getting into a bundle, make up a few joints by refilling cigarettes and settle back to smoke and gloat. The have done well in the deal, there is plenty for the platoon to tide them over until they are sent back out on the road. The trio break down the large bundle, the smaller packages are stuffed in their fatigues, while the rain hammers the stage above them.
"Oh shit!" the trio freeze. Sitting in a tight circle, their pockets full of packages and some joints, each has a clear view in a different direction. There is a collective gasp and "shit" is whispered as packages are hurridly scooped out of the pockets. They are surrounded, only the legs can be seen, approaching from 360 degrees. In the next moment, "ALRIGHT. COME OUTA THERE !! Is shouted out.
The legs, clothed in starchy green, with bloused, spit-shined boots tell a story. These are MP's, it's a dead bust. Blood drains as we come out from under the stage into the downpour. The rain is refreshing now, washing away the shock. Each of us are searched immediately, I am the first to be told "go sit in that jeep." One of the packages had broken open in my pocket, the officer put the evidence in a plastic bag. Wolfman has a joint he missed and joined me in the jeep and there was a plastic bag for him as well. Hackett is clean. Nothing. The MP's let him walk, right there.
The two detainees watch their stash being removed from under the stage as the jeep departs. A water soaked Wolfman is looking dejected, I probably don't look much different. We are put in jail, processed, then the following day shipped back to "A" Troop on a Huey. On arrival it is no surprise, the Captain is waiting for us.
We report as ordered to the Captain's hooch. Inside the heavily sandbagged structure, it is stifling, the air unmoving and the light is dim. There is no mistaking, the Captain is in a bad mood. He makes it clear right off, we will not be getting a slap on the wrist. There will be no "article 15". We will be "courts-martialled" and sent to "LBJ" (Long Binh Jail). An "article 15" is punishment within the unit and does not involve "bad time." (Conviction by courts-martial involves "bad time" which is time that does not count toward your time in service. You must make those days up. Also, it does not count toward your rotation back to "the world" either, you must remain in Vietnam and make the days up right here. This is SOP. (Standard Operating Procedure)...Make an example of the troublemakers, this keeps the troops in line. At least, that's what they think, actually the troops just get smarter.
K is standing by, not glowering like the Captain, he's got that "you dumb fucks" look. He's pretty much unmoved nor surprised, there is a hint of amused resignation in his eye. Wolfman and Liver are his lot in life.
More Life on Hwy One Scenes
K leads the pair out of the bunker into the sunlight, pointing at the latrine, "that's yours." Liver gets rolling eyes and a sigh of defeat from Wolfman. This is no surprise, it is inevitable. They have been placed on "extra duty" until their trial. They will be assigned every lousey detail that comes up.
Liver looks at the situation in the most positive light possible. During bitterly cold German winters, he had spent many long hours on extra duty doing the big chore of "KP." The upside is, KP (Kitchen Patrol) happens in the mess hall, the warmest place in all of Baumholder. Liver is no stranger to extra duty, he attempts to explain the pro's and cons of KP in Germany, to cheer-up a rather morose Wolfman.
Describing the mountains of "pots & pans" for an entire battalion every meal which took hours of scrubbing and scraping to clean did not do much to cheer my friend up. "We got no KP here man, we got "C's," so no peelin' spuds, no clean-up, nuthin!" Liver get's furled brows when Wolfman grunts out a "Bad time, man, fuckin' bad time!"
Wolfman has a point. A sentence of six months or a year in LBJ is a real threat. The two troopers are both "shortimers," Wolfman only has about two months left on his two-year draft. Liver has five months left on his four-year enlistment. The potential six months or a year more added on here weighs heavily.
11 a.m. the next morning, Wolfman and Liver find themselves in a world of shit. Their first and primary extra duty chore is A Troop's latrine. A sixteen seater, two eight seat rows without stalls; conversations take place, face to face. Several hours earlier, the latrine had the usual revolving gang relieving themselves, smoking, joking and telling stories. This can go on for hours. Following the morning rush, Wolfman and Liver arrive.
Fifty-five gallon drums, cut in half wait under each seat. The two troopers are not unfamiliar with the chore. All platoons and every individual take their turn under normal conditions. Now, Wolfman and Liver own it.
Covers at the base outside are removed and sixteen barrels are pulled out in the open, a good distance clear of the wooden structure. Liver grabs the five gallon jug of diesel, walks around the barrels giving each barrel a good pour. Wolfman follows up with a can of gas. This done, matches are struck. A putrid black cloud rises above the two as they grab their stir sticks and go to work.
NOTE: This image has been floating around websites. I have a request for permission from the owner, who I have yet to find. I would like to thank the individual demonstrating here, and thank you for your service.
I thank the photograher for this important piece of historical documentation.
DMc aka "Liver"
The following weeks see the two offenders keeping a low profile, diligently tending to every chore. Liver spends much time and energy cheering-up his buddy in any way possible. The platoon does their bit to keep the atmosphere light, and no doubt K is getting the platoon out on the road at every opportunity. Days on hwy One are refreshing, even theraputic for the pair.
The weeks drag on slowly with no word of a court date. Liver becomes more and more focused on thirty days of extra duty. On day twenty six, Wolfman has hit a new low. Down in the dumps, bemoaning his plight, he has lost all hope of going home; he is a pitiful sight.
Liver however cannot contain his excitement, "Three more days Wolfman and this letter goes in the mail!" "Three more days an' I'll get us out of this." Liver only gets dirty looks and grunts. "Really man, trust me, I know what I'm doin'!" Liver is adamant and will not let it go. This only serves to irritate his friend and make matters worse. Wolfman is sinking into an unfathomable depression. Liver feels helpless, yet confidence in his letter keeps him buoyed up.
Day twenty-nine with no court date, Liver cannot contain himself any longer, "by the time this gets to the Division IG (Inspector General) thirty days will be long gone!" Unfortunately, Liver's exhilaration at sending off the letter serves only to irritate Wolfman and aggravate his depression. He snaps with a string of obscenities.
Less than a week since the letter was posted, A Troop's radioman strolls out of the Captains hooch. Andy always has his ear to current events happening while the troop is in the dark. Wearing a broad, toothy smile, he let's Wolfman and Liver know, the IG's helicopter will be landing shortly.
The barrels are burning, the stinking smoke rises over the two at their stir sticks. Liver explodes. He starts up dancing the jig with his stick, skipping and jumping and twirling from barrel to barrel. He makes exagerated rotations with his stick in a barrel, then charges an imaginary boogyman invading his space.
Andy Minor A Troop Radioman
Liver is carrying on so, Wolfman goes ballistic. His sunburnt face in a full blown rage. He takes a near miss swipe at Liver with his stir stick. Liver avoids the shitty stick with a neat piroette and a couple of stirs in a barrel for effect, then dances on, ever bigger. This only serves to further enfuriate his friend which drives Liver into uncotrollable fits of laughter.
Wolfman has come unglued. He is chasing the clown, swinging his stick wildly at an agile, dancing Liver who manages to avoid the shit slinging swipes. The chase comes to an abrupt halt when the combatants are interupted by the sound of an approaching Huey.
The chopper lands outside the wire. One individual hops off as the engine winds down. He walks briskly into the perimeter, glancing at the two troopers at their burn burn barrels and proceeds to walk directly into the Captain's hooch.
A few minutes after he entered the hooch, Wolfman and Liver are called in for a meeting. "We're fucked now" a dejected Wolfman mumbles as the two head for the hooch. Liver, on the other hand, is still boiling over with his exhuberance. "No man!" This is good, you'll see!"
Wolfman and Liver go quiet as they duck into the Captain's hooch. They find him sitting at his desk in the stuffy half light with a very young lieutenant standing at his side. Before the Captain can speak the lieutenant takes command saying to the Captain "I'd like to speak to these men alone." There is no question, that was an order from the junior officer to the Captain which sent him out the door. The Captain outranks the lieutenant, however the office the lieutenant represents reduces the Captain to the rank of a pissant.
The lieutenant turns to the two troopers "I really don't have a problem with marijuana." There came an audible "wheeze" out of Wolfman. Liver looks deeper into the eyes of the lieutenant and sees a young, long haired hippy college kid, studying law. Like everyone else, somehow, someway, he finds himself in Vietnam.
"We agree thirty days extra duty should count for your punishment and trial by courts-martial at this point would in fact be considered double jeopardy." Wolfman's grin lights up the hooch. Months of tension drain from Liver as the lieutenant explains there would be an Article 15 issued by the Squadron Commander in Song Mao. With that, he shakes our hands and we walk with him to the waiting chopper. The Captain is nowhere to be seen.
New Year's Eve
With the conclusion of the Cam Rahn debacle, life in the 1st platoon and on hwy One returns to the usual routines. Wolfman rotated out on schedule and ended his two year commitment. Liver switched from a tank to an "apc" (armored personnel carrier) just for the change to a more sporty vehicle than the lumbering tank which must be driven a bit more carefully to maintan accurate sights for the cannon.
The last weeks of December saw the entire troop, for the exception of short local patrols on the highway, stationed in the perimeter. A company of the 173rd Airborne or as they refer to themselves, the "Third Herd" came out of the jungle and made camp in the middle of the perimeter. They keep to themselves, unlike the cavalry troopers who are on their vehicles or wandering around, smoking, joking and drinking beer. These boys are sullen, filthy, and generally appear really beat up. They remind Liver of the chilling "Dogface" of WWII.
The troopers are happy to have them here, it must be an oasis for them to be camped around the mineral spring in the security of a heavily defended perimeter. Not anyone Liver knew would have wanted to trade places with them. Their war is tough, and it shows. A Troop and the 1/50th give them the security, space and respect they deserve; that, and the mineral spring is all they have to offer.
Blocking Force in Jungle then to the Beach
The grumbling begins around Christmas when the Captain makes the decision to send a three-man patrol outside the wire at night. Liver is selected to take the first of these sorties out. The nonsensical order angers the 1st platoon; to a man, they are shaking their heads. What is there to gain by putting three troopers at risk, possibly being stuck out there with an attacking force? They are in danger from two sides, as the "friendly fire" out of the perimeter will outmatch whatever incoming rounds they are engaging. The patrol will be caught in the middle.
New Year's Eve, tensions in A Troop and the 173rd come to a head in very different ways. The early afternoon saw Liver wander over to the 1/50th "tracks" for a social gathering. The turrets of the 155 Howitzer's are roomy, perfect for an event such as a New Year's celebration.
A fun loving, rambunctious gang are hanging out, smoking, joking and getting a good drunk on. Liver is smack in the middle of the fun when A Troop's 1st Officer, a young lieutenant fresh out of ROTC, breaks in to the party and orders Liver to take out the patrol. Liver comes unglued in a raging temper.
Taken aback for a moment, the lieutenant collects himself and, in his best attempt at stern intimidation, issues his order again. "He's gonna send me out again?! Fuck him, I'm drunk and I've taken the patrol out twice in a week, fock him!"
Liver grabs his rifle, brushes by the lieutenant and makes a beeline for the Captain's hooch. The lieutenant is on his heels, Liver wheels around with a wild round-house which misses, but the lieutenant goes down on his butt. Liver doesn't break stride and barnstorms the Captain's hooch.
Launching a tirade at the Captain does not budge the man, sitting at his desk, stonefaced, watching the rant. It gets serious when Liver starts waving the M16 around and the lieutenant shows up. Liver turns on the officer, lashing out with a string of obscenities and accusations "This is idotic! The Captain is gonna get us killed!"
K, having got wind of the situation walks in, sees Liver holding his weapon to the lieutenant's belly, calmly and simply says, "Liver, take the patrol out." In that instant, Liver goes sober, "OK Sarge." Liver will do anything K asks without question, he knows K always acts in the best interest of the members of his platoon. He takes care of them as if they were his own. Liver and the 1st platoon have huge respect for K. One may even say, a sincere love for the man.
Liver collects the two individuals who received the assignment as well. One is a really pissed off shortimer from the second platoon with only days left in the Army, the other is a redhaired kid from the third platoon in starchy clean fatigues. This freckle faced kid who recently arrived In-Country looks too young to be in the army.
Liver has developed a routine for this detail. The trio travels light with M16's, a couple grenades and a shovel each, they leave the radio behind. They walk southeast up the hillside into a dense brushy area less than two hundred yards away, overlooking the perimeter. From this position they are prepared to sprint back to safety at the slightest hint of trouble.
A depression had already been dug out previously. This night, Liver and his cavalry companions dig a foxhole any infantryman would be proud of. Liver and the shortimer know what to expect, and both encourage "Red" to "dig deep". "At midnight, all hell is going to break loose!"
The troopers settle in and wait. At 11:50 pm, there is an explosion. "Shit! They're startin' early!" All goes quiet, then at midnight, Hell does break loose. Parachute flares light up the perimeter throwing a dim orange light on the three in their foxhole. Grenades and claymore's are going off in the wire while streams of tracers fly overhead, some, too damn close. The shortimer pleads, "Goddamn! Don't fire the fuckin' Howitzer's!" All three are covered up in the fetal position.
The celebratory volley abruptly ends after less than a minute. Parachute flares hang over a quiet valley now, they slowly fizzle out, one by one. With the excitement over, Liver and the shortimer leave Red to keep watch while they try and nap. Sleep is elusive in the foxhole, at the first hint of daylight the trio return to the perimeter.
Liver satisfies his curiosity about the early explosion. He learns someone in the 173rd had rolled a grenade into an NCO's (non-comissioned officer, aka sergeant) sleeping quarters. The individual was not there at the time and no one was hurt, however an unmistakable message had been sent. Liver got the message as well, he must be very careful around the Captain if he wants to go home on time, or even go home at all.
Railroad Station Detail
January and February are quiet, routine, and the night patrols have been abandoned. Liver takes his seven day "R&R" (rest & recuperation) to Sydney, Australia where he comes within a hairsbreadth of desertion. He certainly had a good opportunity. The band of hippies he hooked up with made a very appealing plea, offering to take him to the Outback. Liver will have only a little more than a month left in the Army when he gets back from R&R, this swings his decision to tough it out in Vietnam.
Somebody's Laundry Hanging in the Barb Wire
Liver lays low on his return from Australia, he switches back to riding a tank for the end of his tour, the heavy metal and firepower feel safer, even though they are the favored target. His goal to stay under the radar fails when he is called into the Captain's hooch. The perimeter has been taking a nightly shelling of mortars. Liver is ordered to take a squad out and blow up the abandoned railroad station over a mile from the perimeter, off hwy One. There is a water tower as part of the building which the Captain says is being used to call the rounds in on us.
Liver's adrenaline bag is about to burst with the excitement. He sprints past his tank signalling them to fire up and follow him. He ducks into the A Troop ammo dump, grabs a box labeled "TNT", the next guy in grabs a box labeled "C-4." They haul the explosives out, pile them on the fender of the tank and dash in for another load. This time Liver goes straight for the five thousand foot roll of "Det Cord," (detonation cord, a hollow plastic tube filled with C-4) this, the crown jewel of the magnificent pile of explosives. Another case of TNT and one of C-4 sweeten the pile.
K has sent a couple apc's to join the tank and the squad heads down the road to hwy One, then on to the station. The vehicles surround the building, keeping their distance. The Station is a shot-up two story, forty foot square structure built of cement. A water tower rises at one corner, reaching well above the second floor. One trooper hops off each vehicle, they join up and together clear the building, searching for booby traps. When they find it to be safe, Liver hops off to have a look at the job. To his delight, there is a small six by eight storage room under the structure.
All the boxes are offloaded and placed in the small room, while two troopers start running around the building, wrapping it with the Det Cord until they get tired, then the remainder of the spool is thrown on the pile under the building.
Liver breaks open a stick of C-4 and buries two blasting caps deep into the soft, clay like material. Wires are run from the blasting caps back to the tank where he jumps into the drivers seat, hooking the them to a clacker. He had purposfully doubled the blasting caps for redundancy. A failure here would create a very dicey situation.
The troopers take cover in their vehicles, Liver had the driver's periscopes, allowing an excellent view of the building. When he gave the clacker a squeeze, the Det-Cord blew a black ring around the base of the building. The building rises, intact, five or six feet straight up, then falls to the ground, disintigrating in a mushroom dust cloud.
As angry as the Captain is at Liver's wasteful use of explosives, there is no tirade, threats or punishment. He does bitch some saying the earth shook under his hooch and threw out the old "what the hell were you thinking?" line. That was the end of it.
Could the Captain have been thinking he might get rid of two problems at once? End the mortar attacks and remove the thorn in his side? Liver had to wonder why the Captain would put such a low ranking individual in charge of an important and dangerous detail. This job would normally fall on a buck sergeant or squad leader at a minimum.
K and the 1st platoon are in high spirits, once again, Liver provides the day's comic relief. As it works out, all is for the best. The platoon is yukking it up about how the earth shook under their feet and Liver got his moment in the candy store. Of course, he took full advantage, gorging himself on high explosives.
April Fools Day 1970
Now in the last month of Liver's 4 year tour, there comes a new twist. A Troop is assigned a combat assault mission high in the Le Phong forrest. Troopers are dismounted from their vehicles and put on helicopters as infantry. Not a popular assignment in the 1st platoon as many of them are short-timers now and flat do not like the idea, but, orders are orders.
Fortunately, no contact was made, it was an interesting walk in the park. The only notable incident was a large herd of baboons crashing through the trees above the platoon, their blood curdling screams had troopers locked and loaded in the middle of the night. It was a learning experience; one is feeling vulnerable with no heavy metal to get behind and only the few rounds of amunition one can carry. Happily, the Troop does not make contact.
Liver has two weeks left in the Army when he is called to the Captain's hooch. "What now?" The question on his mind as he ducks through the door. K is there, standing to one side, snickering. A glance at a stonefaced lieutenant tells him nothing. Another quick look back at K, Liver can see, he is on the verge of busting a gut.
Lastly his eyes meet the Captain's; in that instant, a rifle is flying at him from his desk. Liver reflexively catches the weapon. It is surprisingly light in weight with its wire stock. "You want it? It's an AR-15, state of the art." "Sure!" His unthinking response. Liver toys with the weapon under the gaze of the Captain, K and the lieutenant. It has gone quiet, Liver is completely engaged with this rifle he has only heard about. These are found exclusively in the elite domain of the Special Forces and the like.
"Join my LRRP (long range recon patrol) team, and its yours." The rifle is back in the air, Liver is out the door by the time the Captain catches it. "Ha! Two weeks left in the Army, left in Nam, and he expects I'm going to volunteer to go into the jungle lookin' for a gunfight!? He must think I'm a total fool!"
"How big a screw-up ya gotta be, before they don't want ya?" A lighthearted Liver bounces back to his tank. He had held to his personal oath made four years ago, after the moment at the induction center when "Group 3" was sent into the Marines. "They have my body, they'll never get my mind."
March 31st, the first platoon is tasked with a convoy escort south. Before reaching Song Mao where Liver will sign out of A Troop and turn in his M16, the platoon must head back north. Liver says his goodbyes to his friends and makes a special stop at K's tank. K jokes "Liver, or whatever the fuck your name is, you better stay in the Army, you'll never make it on the outside." Liver laughs it off and shakes his friend's hand, "thanks for keeping us safe sarge." With that, Liver jumps in a truck and takes his first steps toward freedom.
A Troop's 3rd platoon is tasked with guarding the squadron ammo dump. The Captain is here as well. K and the 1st platoon are headed back to join with the 2nd platoon at the mineral spring. Liver arrives late in the evening, he will have his orders signed by the Captain and head for squadron headquarters in the morning where he will meet with the Commanding Officer, then take a chopper to Cam Rahn Bay.
There are a knot of troopers sitting on top of a tank stationed at the SW corner of the dump. Liver joins the merry band, drinking beer, smoking, joking and generally have a good time on another beautiful evening in South Vietnam. When the troopers understand Liver is on his way out of the Army, the party ratchets up.
About midnight the party is going strong, the turret is packed with guys down below and all over the top. A mile or so off, straight out from their position a MACV (South Vietnamese Army) compound begins taking mortar rounds. The tank is perfectly positioned to watch the deadly fireworks.
The gathering atop the tank is still going strong as the attack builds with the MACV compound returning fire, their tracers streaming out of the compound. There comes a point when one particularly observant individual pipes up saying "those rounds are getting closer." This opens up an argument instantly, many of the troopers call "BS" on the observation. In the next moment, a volley hits just outside the concertina wire. The troopers scatter instantly, Liver jumps off the tank, running along the ammo dump berm to the opposite end. His M16 is in a mortar track there where he threw his duffel bag for the night.
He has just begun to sprint when the mortars come in on target. There are explosions all around him as he races for the track, there are troopers running in every direction for their vehicles or a bunker. An air burst which seems so close he could touch it, explodes; he does not hear it, just the white flash catches his eye. He does not break stride, he makes it to the track unscathed, climbs over the side and drops in, landing on a pile of troopers covering up in there.
The volley walks over the perimeter, then walks back. The track shakes violently with a direct hit, however the round causes no injuries inside. When there is a lull, Liver and another trooper on top of the pile jump up for a look. The track is parked next to the ammo dump berm.
Immediately on the other side of the berm, a small fire has started. Liver and the other trooper grab fire extinguishers, hop out of the track and attack the fire from the top of the berm. It is the only fire in the dump, the two troopers almost have the fire out when the black powder stored with the mortar rounds ignites, shooting a hot flame out of the box with an extended, loud "whoosh." The letters "WP" (white phosphorous) are stamped on the side of the box. Liver yells to the other trooper "Willy Peter! The dumps going up, get outa' here!" The fellow hesitates, then sees his extiguisher is having no effect, the black powder has taken hold. He does not hesitate long. The two retreat to the track where they holler for everyone to get out and get to a bunker, "The dump's goin' up!"
The troopers abandon the track, running across the perimeter under a fresh volley of mortar rounds. Liver follows, he does not know where the bunker is, he just follows the small group through the mayhem.
They run forty yards or more and duck into a sandbagged culvert. The bunker is crammed tight with troopers, Liver is very lucky to get in. He is the last one in the hole, allowing him a clear view of the dump and the fire on the other side of the berm.
The fire has grown in strength, flames are rising six or more feet above the berm. Someone passes their M16 up the line, Liver alone has the ability to deal with any threat to the bunker on this end, should the attackers breach the wire. As the fire grows, he sees two individuals run from a small structure toward the fire with extinguishers. They jump up on top of the berm where Liver and the other trooper had just been. Before they can have any effect at all, there is a tremendous explosion. He sees the two troopers fifteen feet in the air, silhouetted in the fireball. They land almost halfway to his position. Amazingly, one individual pops up and takes off at a dead run for a track. The second individual does not move.
Liver passes the rifle back to the guy next to him as he breaks out of the bunker, running with everything he's got to get to the second person. The mortars have stopped, but the ammo dump has turned into a volcano. Liver sees both his feet go out in front of him, he feels a searing, slashing pain across his neck and lands, flat on his back. His eyes focus on a thin guy wire, he had run straight into and it had caught him right across the neck. He recovers, instantly back on his feet. The dump is blowing its heart out when Liver gets to the individual lying motionless on the ground.
He grabs an arm, pulling it aound his neck to roll the body up and start dragging for the bunker. The hard yank on the arm wakes the fellow up; the two are face to face, eye to eye, and for just a moment, freeze. It's the Captain! "Are you OK?!" Liver screams, "Ya! Get outa' here!" Liver bolts for the bunker, the Captain for his track. Liver only gets a few yards when he sees his feet out in front of him again. Again he lands on his back, the neck is slashed for a second time. He pops right to his feet cursing hell out of that wire.
The dump is fully involved with everything going off as Liver races back to the bunker. Shrapnel is blowing out of the dump in every direction. The moment Liver reaches the bunker he takes a hit in the knee from a 90mm shard. The cannister goes bouncing away clanging into other metal that is laying everywhere now.
"It was the fuckin' Captain!" Liver hollers to no one in particular. He pushes in tight to the next trooper who hands him the rifle. Liver laughs "They're not comin' in that gawddam wire now!"
"I think that was the supply sergeant that was with him." Liver reports down the culvert what had just happened. He breaks into a chant "four fuckin' days, four fuckin' days, I can't fuckin' believe it! Four fuckin' days, four fuckin' days!
The dump is deafening. Chunks of metal, large and small are raining down outside their protective culvert. Massive explosions, flashes of light and tracers shooting off in all directions, the intensity continues to grow. Liver sticks his head out at intervals for a quick peek, he cannot help himself. His stream of reports is mostly "Godammits! Fucks! Shits! And four fuck'n days, four fuckin' days! The chant dominates the reports.
Liver removes his shirt, making a bandage to dress the knee. The troopers sit through the night while the dump blows. After a couple hours of daylight the explosions start dying off. It is noon before the troopers can emerge safely, even though the explosions have ceased, small arms rounds are still cooking off. The ground is burnt, the scene, otherworldly.
First thing out of the bunker, Liver walks to the track where he left his gear. The track is still smoldering, it has been blown to pieces. He is lucky to find an M16 barrel which he picks up to turn in as his own, he really doesn't know or care. The Army is fussy about turning in your weapon, this barrel will have to do.
The Captain's signature on his rotation orders is Liver's next stop. The sounds of a raging battle surround him as he crosses back toward the small cement structure he had seen the Captain and supply sergeant run from when they attempted to extinguish the fire. He looks over toward the Captain's track and back at the dump. "Damn! They got blown all the way over here?! That's thirty goddamn yards! Those guys almost got blown right to the bunker!"
Liver finds the Captain at a desk with the supply sergeant standing at his side. These two look terrible. They are haggard, subdued and barely acknowledge him as he presents his orders. The Captain takes the orders, scribbles a quick signature and shoves them back to Liver without looking up.
Liver offers his hand for a shake, the Captain makes no attempt to respond. A blank, glazed eye stare is the best he can muster. The supply sergeant, obviously unsettled by the lack of a response reaches out, grabs the hand saying "Liver, you're alright in my book," his eyes are sincere. Liver shakes his hand with a firm squeeze, "thanks sarge, take care of yourself." The two had always been friends. One of the first things learned in the Army, the supply sergeant and the cook are a couple of the most important individuals in the Troop. Staying tight with these guys invariably pays dividends.
Liver takes the lack of response from the Captain personally, a hurtful rebuke of the events of the night. He is taken aback, caught in that narrow space between dissapointment and anger. With a second heartfelt shake of the sergeants hand he turns his back on the Captain, he does not salute, he just walks away.
There is a war on, the reality slaps his face when he walks into the wasteland. Troopers are saddling up. Small rounds are still cooking off in the dump, helicopter gunships race overhead, machine gunfire rattles and the main guns of the tanks are booming away.
Liver hops on a tank as it is headed out the gate. He must make his way to Headquarters which is in a perimeter on the other side of Song Mao villiage from the ammo dump. The tank heads down the road. It does not go far before it stops at a crossroad. The tank commander, a nice young fellow tells Liver he must get off here. "We're headed for the fight, sorry."
Liver obliges by jumping off the tank with a wave, "thanks, be careful guys." The tank rumbles off leaving Liver standing in the road, the barrel of a rifle in his hand. His shirt bandage is soaked and dirty, his head still rings with the incessant pounding it suffered last night. He starts out at a brisk pace until he reaches the edge of the villiage where he slows down.
There is gunfire aplenty, and close, yet he can do nothing but walk straight through the middle of the village. He can see the Headquarters perimeter a couple hundred yards beyond the far edge of the villiage. He is on his guard, ready to dash for cover instantly in any direction. His urge is to run like hell, but he fights it off in favor of staying calm and observant.
Liver makes it to the far end of the village. As he passes the last house, a lady runs out the front door with something wrapped in paper, she comes straight at Liver, tossing the package in the ditch behind him, Liver bolts! Straight down the road about twenty yards. When it doesn't explode, he slows back to his careful walk. The next moment, there is terror.
Two red flares shoot up from the center of the perimeter, the signal, the enemy has penetrated the wire. It is the order to take cover; the perimeter will be fired on by our own forces. Liver is in the middle of the kill zone outside the wire. The next instant, his peripheal vision catches two dots in the sky off to his right. Adrenalin has him over his top speed as fifty caliber bullets tear up the ground all around him. The sprint takes him through the front gate where he immediatly ducks into a bunker. He has no idea how he got through that hail of bullets.
The bunker is occupied by a lone lieutenant who had ducked in here when the red flares went up. "You look like shit, soldier. I saw you out there, that was a damn fine run!" "Ya, been a long night, I was in the ammo dump, I'm goin' home today." "Damn, your goin' home today?!" "Ya, first that lady throws a grenade at me, but it didn't explode, then them fuckin' jets strafed me." "Grenade? What lady?" "Oh, a gal ran out of the last house at the end of the villiage and tossed one in the ditch behind me, I ran like hell."
"Jump in that jeep and we'll find that grenade, can't leave it lying around." "Shit" Liver thinks, but he says nothing. The lieutenant is right, the damn thing could still kill someone, most likely a child that finds it. "Looks like you're bleeding, I'll take you to the medics after we deal with the grenade."
The officer takes the wheel and barrels out the front gate, back the way Liver had come. On approaching the village, Liver points out the grenade, lying in the ditch wrapped in paper. The lieutenant hops out with his M16, liver stays put in the passenger seat, he wants no part of it. The M16 is used as a probe to open the wrapping. "Kitchen scraps, let's get back."
"Sorry about that, guess I'm still rattled." "So you were in the ammo dump? I guess you don't look so bad after all." Liver laughs at the remark, the lieutenant then steps on the gas saying "let's get you to the medics."
Liver is let out at a heavily sandbagged bunker. "Have a safe trip home," with that the lieutenant drives off. Inside the bunker is a beehive of activity. Two rows of beds, most with IV's hanging close by. Nurses, medics and doctors tend the wounded. Liver sees a friend he recognizes from the 2nd platoon. He walks over, takes his hand and hears what its like to have your track hit by a B-40 rocket. The fellow had a lot of shrapnel wounds, but the nurse assured me he was going to be fine.
Liver is put in a chair where the shirt is unrapped from the knee, the wound cleaned and bandaged properly. Once cleared with a doctors signature on his rotation papers, he heads for the squadron armory to turn in the barrel of his weapon. He receives a scowl from the armorer and a "what am I supposed to do with this? Where's the rest of it?" Liver's temper takes hold, he is about to jump over the counter and punch this guy out. The sergeant must have seen there was going to be trouble and backed down with a "you were in the ammo dump huh?" "Ya, I lost everything. The place is blown to shit." "Jesus, we watched it all night." With that, Liver's weapon, or somebody's weapon, is turned in and his rotation papers get another signature.
Liver wastes no time, he heads straight to the Squadron Commander's office for his last signature. The Colonel greets Liver, with "you were in the ammo dump last night." "Yes sir." "We lost Red Stemper in there last night." "I did not know that sir." Liver was taken by shock, "Red" that freckle faced kid he had on patrol did not survive the night. "I'm very sorry to hear this sir, I knew Red pretty good for the short time he's been here." Liver could see, the Colonel is affected by the loss of a trooper who he referred to by his nickname. The two share in the sadness.
After a brief silence, the Colonel reaches out his hand, "you've got a chopper to catch son." "Yes sir, thank you sir." His rotation papers signed, Liver takes his leave with a salute to the gentleman and makes his way to the chopper pad.
Cobra Gunships, Huey's and Loach's are landing, being reloaded and taking off. The crews are doing their job while sporadic small arms fire has them hitting the deck then jumping back up to continue the work. Cobra's are strafing right outside the wire a few hundred yards.
Liver dashes up to every chopper that lands, but is having no luck catching a ride. They are all actively engaged in the fight. After a half dozen attempts he runs up to a Loach and the pilot signals him to climb aboard. A huge relief to strap himself in the tiny chopper. The chopper lifts off heading north for Cam Rahn Bay. After only ten minutes in the air, the co-pilot signals the pilot, pointing at the ground. The pilot banks the chopper hard left, circling a green patch of heavy growth.
The co-pilot has a map and is reading coordinates into his microphone. Liver then realizes that the co-pilot is actually a colonel commanding an artillery battery. Below them a volley of shells slams into the ground, just outside the patch of green. The colonel adjusts the coordinates, the next volley lands squarely on the green patch.
To Liver's horror, there are uniformed NVA (North Vietnamese Army) pouring out of the cover they are under, running out into the open, shooting at the Loach. The gunner opens up, returning fire. Liver is puckered. His mind is reeling, afraid a bullet through the bottom of the chopper will take him out at any second. What a way to go, with a bullet in the ass.
A third volley crashes into the green patch, the gunner continues to exchange fire until the colonel signals to the north. At this point the machine gun goes silent and to Liver's relief, the chopper is back on course for Cam Rahn Bay.
The chopper lands at Cam Rahn AFB, Liver makes tracks for the office where the last of his paperwork for rotation will be completed. At the desk of a spec. 4 (specialist 4th class)he is informed that he has been reported MIA (missing in action) and on the list for his parents to be notified. "Damn! You're lucky the letter hasn't been sent yet. I've stricken you from the list. Congratulations, you can go home now!"
April 3rd, Liver is in Ft. Lewis, Wasington where he is told he is being held back until his paperwork is completed. Liver goes ballistic in the office and is thrown out. He makes one call to his mother, she makes one call to Lloyd Meeds, the Representative to Congress from her district, in Washington D.C. The following morning Liver arrives in the office for the second time. He can feel the eyes of anger on him as he enters the room. The occupants are all in their dress greens, preparing to stand inspection. Mr. Meeds has worked his magic. Liver's documents are waiting for him, he collects his "DD214" (separation papers) and walks out the door, a civilian.
In Memory of Phillip "Red" Jon Stemper
WALL NAME PHILIP J STEMPER
PANEL / LINE 12W/75
DATE OF BIRTH 02/24/1949
CASUALTY PROVINCE BINH THUAN
DATE OF CASUALTY 04/01/1970
HOME OF RECORD LOCKPORT
COUNTY OF RECORD Niagara County
BRANCH OF SERVICE ARMY
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