Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I am preparing to leave Vietnam - still attempting to sweep out the corners of my mind. However, I have few documenting photos left to illustrate my memories. Just thoughts, wispy memories of things I saw and that will always be there waiting to be conjured up by some déjà vu phrase, smell, or shadow.

I remember receiving myVC Kill Card” upon arriving at Da Nang. Col. Phillips made sure each Security Policeman carried one and could recite it by heart! I think it was pride he tried to instill by insinuating that the SPs were somehow better than the Marines…’cause if the VC got through them…they were dead!

I remember witnessing real missing man” formations of flights coming back from missions north, and how the F-4 engine can be so throttled back that it barely hangs in the air, yet moans the grief felt by its pilots, as it crosses the length of the flight line and then around west so that the sound echoes off Hill 327. It was almost as if the plane itself mourned the lost of its sister ship!

Maybe the next day the normal sounds of the base would be broken by a low flying jubilant pilot who had moments before scored his first, or maybe his fourth MIG! The screaming sound overhead causes you to nearly squat then look skyward as the F-4 pulls straight up at full afterburner, rolls to the right, and disappears above the clouds just as his wingmen fly overhead in a staggered formation. The celebration of proud yells from their ground crews begin just after the event is punctuated by the double clap of the victor breaking the sound barrier on his decent from the clouds.

The entire base stops and revels in the moment…a moment it seemed to share. We had not flown the mission, but we worked on the craft, refueled it, loaded its weapons, and fed the crew, or guarded the plane. It was all our victory!

I remember a proud red-headed pilot with a huge handlebar mustache, that a few hours before had rumbled by my post and saluted me by tapping two gloved fingers to this helmet, but was now sitting with both elbows on the sides of his cockpit, as if he sat on a throne, turning into the revetment area waving to his friends.

He was a flamboyant pilot that I remember personally armed himself, reminiscent of George Patton, with an ivory handled .38! He was Da Nang’s resident “hotshot,” scoring his third before going home.

I remember champagne being waved and a guy with a stencil and a can of red spray paint running out to apply the fourth badge of courage to the side of the F-4. What a glorious day that even I remember with pride!

And so it was – there were good days and there were bad days, but we all made the most of it.

We all fought our own demons of fear and loneliness, but we made it. I do, however, remember an instance that took me to the edge of sanity. I can only think that God pulled me back and changed the situation for me.

There was an inconsiderate pilot, who, I have no doubt saw me, that stopped his F-4 one night just twenty yards from my extreme south end post, that was nothing more than a foxhole, and ran his jet up and down for what seemed like forever. His bright front wheel landing light was on and blazing a hole right through me. I just knew that “Charlie” could see me plainly, and was at the moment ringing my head with crosshairs of his scope. I was getting angrier by the second!

I began to make “turn if off” motions by drawing my hand across my throat, but he ignored me. In reality, he was probably going through countless points on his pre-flight check list, but to me he was doing it on purpose.

My blood pressure rose and my anger heightened until I found myself raising my M-16 and pointing it right at the blinding light! By this time I was screaming for him to “TURN IT OFF YOU SON OF BITCH,” but of course my voice was being drowned by the engine noise.

I remember pulling the slide back on the M-16 and taking aim…I would have fired, I am quite sure, in a few more seconds, had he, for whatever reason, not cut the light.

I sat down on the ring of sandbags and cried from the terror of the moment. It bothered me that I had almost lost it, but mostly if bothered me that it was the first time I had admitted my anxiety on post. All I know is that I wanted to make it home and this “asshole” could have ended it for me…at least in my mind.

Why I wasn’t reported I cannot image, unless of course, he never saw me at all.

I remember not eating or sleeping well during the last 60, then 30 days. It was too close and yet too far away. I became paranoid and would not eat in the cafeteria, for fear the “gooks” would poison me! I ate only beanie weenies, potted meat, or whatever I could buy at the BX…nothing more, and little of that. I arrived weighing around 180 and would arrive home just under 150 – so thin my mom did not recognize me, and swore I had been in a “concentration camp!”

I also did not sleep well, lightly if anything. It was paranoia at its worst.

MONDAY…I do survive…at least physically!


Lin said...

Mushy, whoooohooo, watching the F-4 with you gave me the goose bumps! Fabulous ring side seat - thank you!

Sarge Charlie said...

"I am preparing to leave Vietnam - still attempting to sweep out the corners of my mind."

I have thought of doing that but it always seems to pop up again. It will be swept from my mind when I am no longer vertical.

Suldog said...

Just riveting stuff, Mushy. I'm continually amazed at how you rachet up the emotions each time.

By the way, good luck to your Vols Saturday. I'll be rooting for my BC Eagles. Slight chance we'll meet in a bowl - you never know. Not probable - especially if we both win - but...

pat houseworth said...

I'm one of those rare breeds that would have stayed for my final two years, Nam duty, at least to me, was superior to stateside....but being a resident trouble maker who hated taking orders is probably one reason for this former sky cop, to say that. My mom would have freaked out if I had stayed, so I came home and froze my ass and mind in Rome, New York, my final 21 months.

As for respect I had it for almost all pilots...except at Nha Trang, where I used to drive those pompus assed Army Warrent Officers(Air Force didn't have them in my days) nuts....used to fake salute them, jut to get them to cussed out more than once.

Cookie..... said...

Hey brother was an Air Force pilot that flew one of those F-4 Phantoms. Retired a Full Bird in 90 and has since past on. Who knows, y'all mighta even met him...

I'll be back mate...great blog!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Loved the stuff about the F-4s. Nothing sounds or looks like one of those. And I'd bet that one guy never saw you, but you never know. Pilots can be real pricks. I know. My dad was one. Like I said before, it really sucks that you guys never really felt like you were accomplishing anything, other than surviving. At least that's the feel I get from reading these.

Divalicious said...

Wow. I still stand in awe.

Cookie..... said...

BTW Mushy....something I meant to say in a previous comment "Welcome Home Mate".....

Buck Pennington said...

Your red-headed mustachioed fighter pilot sounds a lot like Gen. Robin Olds. But since Olds was stationed in Ubon (Thailand), it probably wasn't. Nonetheless, Gen Olds, who died this past June, started that whole "handlebar" thing and was more than a hero and role-model for his fellow pilots. Us enlisted guys loved him, too.

Olga, the Traveling Bra said...

Powerful stuff Mushy. I just cannot image enduring what you went through...but I love reading your stories. Thanks again for sharing.

Mushy said...

Sarge - It'll will only leave us then!

Sul - I'm disappointed in the Vols over all season, but I guess I can't complain. Good luck to BC!

Cookie - Glad you come by and build up my ego...thanks for the kind words. I think I have you linked on both sites now.

Buck - I tried to pin down which pilot it was from the records, but none seem to fit the bill. Olds' squadron was sent to Vietnam and some to Da Nang, but he was there at a later time than me. I know I remember this one bird having at least 3 kills, but I could not match it to the records online.

Olg and Lin - Two of my favorite gals...please keep blowing in my ear!

BRUNO said...

Good thing we BOTH weren't in-country at the same time! I'd have gladly let a few slip through, just to keep you in practice!

And I envied troops with CLEAN fatigues---I think the Marines packed-'em in mud before issue, just to keep us humbled...!

(Yeah, I'm runnin' late! I had "things" to take care of!)

Mushy said...

Better late than never Bruno!

Not a Granny said...

Thank you Mushy for telling these stories. More need to be told. Thank you for serving our country.

I found you from a comment at divalicious...I remember Sambos, in Washington State.

Miss Trashahassee said...

I cannot imagine how this was for you. You can describe it in writing, and it sounds horrible, but I'm sure it felt to you 10000 times worse than what I can even think of from reading your words.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

awesome post Mushy...I don't know how you and the others did it...hats off to you and all who served...

Mushy said...

Oh boy, I've got me a new "granny!"

Ms. Trash - I love your new look!

Nascar - Me either. Thanks.