MUSHY'S MOOCHINGS: SWEEPING OUT THE CORNERS OF MY MIND - 1

Monday, November 26, 2007

SWEEPING OUT THE CORNERS OF MY MIND - 1

It is hard for me to come to terms with the fact that it has been over forty-one years since I left Vietnam (at this writing – Nov. ’07). If I may borrow a few lines from Bob Seger:

Twenty(forty)years now
Where'd they go?
twenty (forty)years
I don't know
sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they've gone

And sometimes late at night
When I'm bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin' a ghostly white
And I recall

When I think back over all that has happened since then, I start to realize, at least a little of where the time has gone. There sure has been a lot of water over the proverbial dam, but damn how quickly it flowed.

I am preparing to leave Vietnam now, although, something inside me is not quite ready to give it up. Oh, I longed, back then, for that day to come, like an inmate awaits his freedom, but now, there is a lump deep within, and I cannot put my finger on it.

So, before my last post on the subject, I am attempting to sweep out the corners of my mind where something might be hidden, something yet untold, but do not get your hopes up that you will find something written within this post that is awe inspiring, or that a secret will finally be revealed – I am afraid that will not happen. However, let us continue to walk down this path and see what happens.

The very first time I came “under fire” was not from Viet Cong or from North Vietnamese Regulars. Nope, it was from the South Vietnamese Army!

On March 10, 1966, South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky removed LtGen. Nguyen Chanh Thi from his position as ARVN I Corps commander. As a result, there were a series of strikes and much political unrest especially within I Corps which saw a succession of I Corps commanders well into June of 1966. Much of the heaviest unrest was in the Da Nang sector.

Ky saw himself as a hotshot air force pilot and this unrest pitted him against Colonel Dam Quang Yeu who lead a large army contingent near Da Nang. Therefore, it was the South Vietnamese Air Force against the South Vietnamese Army for about three days.

Things almost escalated out of hand, as evidenced by this article in the April 22, 1966 issue of Time Magazine.

What the history books do not tell is that shots were actually fired!

I remember standing post in the Alpha Area, south end of the airbase, and watched A-1A Skyraiders rollover, dive, and strafe army positions between the base and the city of Da Nang over this little political disagreement. The grrrrrooowll of the radial engine in a power dive, punctuated by the deep rattle of its four 20mm cannons was very frightening, especially to a young troop just fresh off the plane!

The Vietnamese Army returned fire with either tank or cannon fire (it was never clear to me), which meant they were firing straight up into the air with the airbase as the unintentional target!

I watched as one of the Area Patrols high-tailed it past my post and on down past the last revetments at the extreme south end of the base. I got word through the field phone, again from Boyce, who was working the switchboard that particular shift, that a tank or artillery shell had landed just feet from one of our post. The shell was a “dud” (unexploded), but when the Security Policeman turned and saw the shell sticking in the ground just feet from him, he passed out cold! Hell, who could blame him?

Then there were the two nights I pulled Area Patrol in the “bomb dump” and had to deploy on what was reported by the South Vietnamese as “intruders!”

In the first deployment I was designated as the “high eyes” for the mission into the area suspected of being infiltrated. I pulled myself up through the tall grass to the top of one of the dirt berms, which covered an explosive vault, and hunched over trying to sneak along unseen, and watching ahead of the route being traveled by the six-man team below. Without prior warning, someone popped a hand flare that lit the area and exposing my position on top. One of the Security Policeman and two of the South Vietnamese guards quickly swung their “locked and loaded” weapons on me. There was no doubt in my mind that they were going to fire on me!

I hit the grass and before I could stop myself rolled all the way down the berm and lay at their feet. There were a few seconds of fright that crossed their face, as they realized they had almost shot a “friendly,” before everyone broke down laughing. Damn it, I was so pissed! In the beginning, my mind had seen this whole operation as my “John Wayne” moment – something to tell the grandkids. Instead, here I lay the object of a joke! I wanted to kill them all! How could they be so damn stupid,” I thought?

I do not think it was more than a week later that I understood. This time, someone else, unbeknownst to me, was deployed to the high line, while I inched along in the dark, safety off, selector on full-auto, finger along the trigger guard, waiting to encounter my worst nightmare. When suddenly someone near me popped off a flare, I caught the figure of a man, a Vietnamese troop at that, out of the corner of my eye. I came up, finger on the trigger, and aimed square in the middle of his chest! Damn! It was close, but I suddenly realized the real stupid one was the NCO who had failed to let everyone know his plan of action.

These were the things that I thought about as I sat in the hooch, or outside in the fresh air, before reporting to Guard Mount. What would the shift bring? What would the night bring? How many days remaining?

It begins to weigh heavily on you as the days, nights, and shifts go by. The closer you get to that “short” date, the more you worry, become paranoid, and begin to analyze everything. The first days are long and hard on you because it is new and scary, but as you become experience they drop off one by one until one day you realize you only have a hundred days left.

As you visit Ms. FIGMO and begin marking off the days, they again slow down. Every minute is an hour, every day a month, and every month a year – or so it seems.

So that was what was in one corner – no, it was not much, but something is still hiding, something wants to be found.

I think it is just that it was so long ago, so deep into my youth, so entwined in my conscious and subconscious that the experience will never let me go. It will always be there. It will be in that next hot humid day, in the next mortar shots for the next Fourth of July fireworks show, in the slamming of a trunk, or in that next sixties song. It will always be with me, and I don’t really care.

The lump leaps to my throat when least expected - the playing of the National Anthem, watching war footage or movies, hearing the brave words of heroes about losing friends, when visiting The Wall, in my grand babies’ eyes, a lyric from a country song, and hell yes, even when I read my own posts. There it is again.

17 comments:

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Reading this, I'm flashing on the images of war that I've seen in shows like Band of Brothers. Those guys saw people screw up and lives wasted, but they also got to experience a sense of accomplishment, like they were doing their job well and doing something important.

People were dying for a good cause, even if it was only to support their buddies. All you had to look forward to was surviving and going home. That's totally fucked up. Nobody should ever have to fight a war that way. I mean, every war has had moments like the ones you talk about, but that's all you had. That sucks.

I'm proud as hell of you man. You talk about missing out on your John Wayne moment, but you're John Wayne to me. I understand why this stuff is central to your life, but really it's only the preamble to a larger life well lived. The people who surround you now with love should be evidence of that.

I want to read about the man that walked away from this war and used the experience to fuel his desire to build a life for himself. The way I look at it, as you peal off the last strip on Mrs. FIGMO and get on that plane, your life story is really just beginning. I can't wait to read that stuff.

I'm glad you've made it through all that stupid crap, and worked it out in your head so that you're able to lay it out here for an innocent pup like me.

I'm always learnin' when I come here. Thanks for that.

By the way, I walked in on a few of my colleagues, vets, who were laughing and telling stories about the war. They talked about the month before they went home and their PCOD. You remember that? I laughed my ass off.

Buck Pennington said...

The lump leaps to my throat when least expected...

Well, now. I'm pretty familiar with that sort of feeling.

Great post, Mushy.

FHB: I remember the PCOD very well...from numerous TDYs all over SEA during the mid-70s. And "Burn-out kits," too, distributed by the medics to those guys that just couldn't ummm... hold it. Another "you hadda be there" sort of moment.

Ann said...

This post is well written and interesting to read. I'm so happy to find a new pop stand! And thank you for adding A Nice Place In The Sun to your blogroll. I'm going to add Mushy's Moochings as well. I love your blog title. It's great...

Ann

Suldog said...

Mushy:

I'm just back from vacation, so I'll print out everything I missed and read off-line. Excellent, as usual, I'm sure, and I'm looking forward to it.

david mcmahon said...

Mushy, sir,

You do us proud. So VERY proud.

pat houseworth said...

gOOd Post there Air Cop Buddy......you can always say you were there and gone before Housewoth even had his ears wetted.....I was just out of High School and sewing my oats in 67.....but my time was coming....

June 69-June 70...and it seems like only yesterday.

BRUNO said...

For me, it's that damned "wop-wop" of a helicopters' rotors that I still cringe at. And just every now and then, some damned smell, from outta nowhere. And, yes---that damned humidity....

Nope. Sorry. Ain't gonna start it---this is YOUR blog!

And I'm damned proud to admit that I visit it, before my OWN...!!!

Lin said...

Mushy, I bet a lot of guys can relate to what you have just said in a most beautiful way.
You might have a talk with Red some day. He's kind of devoted himself to lessening the painful part of the memories for himself and others who have gone through unimaginable war experiences.

Mushy said...

FHB - Ah geeze...I ain't no John Wayne!

Buck - Thanks man for your visit!

Ann - Thanks my newest visitor.

Sul - You are like me...don't feel really back until I've caught up. I'm glad you think me worthy.

David - I'm proud you keep coming back...thanks.

Pat - Yep, they just kept going and they are still going today, just a different location, but the same ol' feelings.

Bruno - You can rave on here anytime and I'm proud to count you as a friend.

Lin - What little I went through emotionally was nothing compared to the guys in the bush...I probably would have never made my first day or night out there. Tell Red I'm fine...just putting it down in hopes that some stupid Congressman might chance by and get a little idea what their decisions put on the youth of America.

I love you guys...you make my world totally sane!

DrowseyMonkey said...

You look like just a boy in that picture...that's a bit shocking to be honest. Excellent post and very well written.

David Sullivan said...

"The closer you get to that “short” date, the more you worry, become paranoid, and begin to analyze everything."

This reminds me of that scene in Jaws when Quint is describing how anxiety ridden his last minutes were when waiting to be hoisted up from shark infested waters after surviving a week on the open ocean after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Oh hell, John Wayne wasn't even John Wayne, but you know what I mean.

Olga, the Traveling Bra said...

I have 2 lumps in my, er, throat.
Seriously Mushy - that is another well written post - thank you so
much for sharing your memories with us.

karoline said...

ahhhyess..what a wonderful post...lumps in ones throat..yes..i have those too...sweeping out the corners isn't always an easy thing to do..but it is a good thing..perhaps more of us need to sweep...thankyou for sharing such a personal story..

k:))

Divalicious said...

You know, I will never understand the fear, hell the sheer terror, that not only you must have experienced.

I have been so sheltered and sheilded from the impact of war and all of the heartache, sorrow, worry, anger and raw emotion that can come for a lifetime of those who lived it.

I'm transported into another time here on your page. I find myself overwhelmed with emotions and my heart reaching out to young Mushy as if it was today, not 41 years ago.

You are a good man, with an awesome ability to convey your thoughts and experiences to all of us.

San said...

I came over from David's place. Glad I did. Thanks for the post.

Cookie..... said...

Mushy...GREAT read Mate! I can tell from reading all the comments that a good many folks are relatin to ya and whatcha write...includin this here old Seabee....

Thanks for stoppin by my place and leavin a comment or two...I appreciate your patronage and input...

I gotta get your link into my blogroll if'n ya don't mind....I know I have a quite a few readers who'd enjoy yur posts and writings...