MUSHY'S MOOCHINGS: October 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

DAMN DOG!

The bomb dump at Da Nang was a lonely place, even on day shift. The post I drew the most sat looking back east toward the Airbase, across both runways, where the control tower sat almost directly in front of the post. The posts in the “dump” area were very far apart, and there was no one hooked up to a field phone in this area. All communications was by radio, or face-to-face with either the K-9 troop who came on at dusk, or with the three-man “Area Patrol” that came by to offer lukewarm coffee and companionship once every hour or two.

Once the night came and filled in and expanded the shadows the base lights were about all you could see. Sometimes during the monsoon, the little blue taxiway lights were all you could see in front of you. I remember staring at these lights thinking that if anything got between me and lights I would know it when the light went out. It was a blue fiber of hope that I staked my entire existence on for hours at a time.

I always felt uncomfortable standing inside the little wooden shelter, surrounded on three sides by sandbags stacked hip high, so I often lay in the tall grass about ten yards behind the guard shack. The low advantage silhouetted the shack against what little light there was in the sky and from the base. I would be able to see “them” before “they” saw me I assured myself.

One evening shift, just about an hour after full darkness, I began to relax and stare straight out toward the base. I often sang Righteous Brother songs out loud, without fear of being heard, to pass the time. Then I would take a break and light a cigarette, squatting down inside the shack surrounding to light up and prevent anyone from zeroing in on me. The old superstition of “three on a match” was placed in my head by old British movies I used to watch!

Pulling the comforting smoke deep inside my lungs, I leaned over on the shelf that crossed at the back of the shack and thought of home. I watched the little blue lights, and drew in another deep draw from cupped hands, and exhaled. At times the anxiety of being thousands of miles from home, in a strange land, and in a war zone, gave way to the solace of being alone with my thoughts.

Suddenly it dawned on me that one of the little blue lights had gone out. Strange I thought for about a second, and then it hit me that there must be something between me and the fence. “Got a light buddy!”

Son of bitch,” I shouted!

An unseen dog in the darkness lunged at me, growling, barking, pulling its leash taunt, and attempting to get at me over the top of the sandbags! The shock of his voice and the angry dog drove me backwards as I groped for my M-16, and I struggled to regain my balance. It then came to me that this was the local K-9 handler.

Again I greeted him with “You son of a bitch! Don’t ever walk up on me like that!”

“Oh, sorry man, I just needed a light for my cigarette.”

I nervously reached into my pocket for my lighter, but when I came up over the sandbags and held it out toward the Airman, the dog lunged again! Grrrrrr!”

Get the fuck out’ta here man!” I motioned aggressively with my M-16, almost pointing it at him. He did not say another word, just stomped off into the tall grass and back toward the fence line.

My heart pounded for minutes after he left and I could not relax the rest of the shift, expecting him to return, or the dog to grab me at any moment. I was no longer looking for VC. I was looking for that damn dog!

A few days later, I pulled Area Patrol duty, where I usually rode in the back of the Kaiser Jeep, ready to grab the mounted M-60. I always felt like I was on “The Rat Patrol,” a TV series back in the 60’s, and pictured myself firing the heavy weapon as the jeep rose and became airborne over a sand dune! However, the duty was not that glamorous…mostly helping SPs fill there cup with cold coffee from the stainless thermos that was strapped to the rear of the vehicle.

We also would ride around with several post’s C-Rations on the manifold in order to provide them with a hot meal! At first some exploded, before we learned to put a tiny hold in the cans using our P-38s.

[The photo at right is a self-portrait I made on this post. Note the light green coffee cup…it hung on this ammo pouch for the full year of my tour, never being washed, outside a quick swirl of coffee before filling the cup. The coffee was rarely warmer than air temperature and had a crunch from the sand that got into everything.]

It was during an Area Patrol shift just a few days after the dog incident that our little Jeep pierced the darkness of the bomb dump with its headlights. We rounded one of the high dirt berms and the lights fell upon the K-9 troop that had visited me days earlier. His dog just sat there, ears alert, red tongue out panting, looking at the bright lights excitedly, but not making any attempt to awaken his handler.

Finally, the dog decided he had better do something so he barked and scared the K-9 troop awake. He looked in our direction, made a move toward his weapon, that lay beside him in the grass, but then he relaxed, seeming to understand the situation.

Damn dog,” he shouted and jerked hard on the leash. What else could he do – he had been caught asleep on post!

I only felt sorry for the dog that took a hard slap across the top of the head. It was not the dog’s fault at all.

Luckily for the Airman, the staff sergeant with us decided it was not his place to discipline the K-9 troop that was not in his outfit. I guess he figured that if this Airman was that secure, or stupid, he would be caught sooner or later by his own superiors.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

THAT BLOGGER BOND

Met another blogger Friday night – Jerry from “BACK HOME AGAIN!”

Jerry was on his way down to Eric’s, somewhere near Etowah, TN, which is just a few miles southeast of here, to a little “blogger gathering” of some friends he has made over the past couple of years. I could not join them this weekend, so he stopped by Harriman on his way down. I’m sure glad he did. He is really a nice guy.

He was going to party a little with these fine bloggers (others were expected):

Eric - http://www.straightwhiteguy.com
Denny - http://www.grouchyoldcripple.com (who I particularly wanted to meet)
Jimbo - http://www.parkwayreststop.com
Bou - http://www.boudiccasvoice.mu.nu
Erica - http://www.ericasherman.blogspot.com

I got to thinking about it tonight, about how it is really special to meet new friends, especially blogging friends. Think about it - we get to know each other through the parts of their lives we share in our posts, just little snippets that show how we feel about our families and friends, or our pets. You can learn a lot about people that way over the weeks, months, and years you follow their blogs.

Other than face-to-face interaction, blogging is one of the few other ways you can come to understand how a person feels about life. Take for instance FHB. I began to see into his soul, a little at a time, and one day I realized he was a good heart, and before I knew it we were spending time together – almost a week this summer. I knew immediately, upon meeting him, that he was exactly the kind of person I thought he was from his blogging. The entire family enjoyed his visit.

Besides “Fat,” as my family refers to him, and now Jerry, I have also met (in no particular order):

Mark - http://www.blogitude.com/
Les - http://www.lesjones.com/
Lissa - http://www.lissakay.com/
Doug - http://realityme.net/
Rich - http://shotsacrossthebow.com/weblog/
Tish - http://chattiekat.com/
Michael - http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/silence/

I have spoken through the web or on the phone to (in no particular order):

Rebecca - http://goddessville.blogspot.com/
Bruno - http://brunosblusterings.blogspot.com/
Boz - http://bozettetc.blogspot.com/

I correspond several times a year via email with (in no particular order):

David - http://david-mcmahon.blogspot.com/
Pat - http://patsdailyrant.blogspot.com/
Diva - http://sweetdivathoughts.blogspot.com/
Buck - http://exileinportales.blogspot.com/
Lin - http://creekjournal.blogspot.com/
Jose - http://joecoolsblog.blogspot.com/
The Crew - http://rednecksreserve.blogspot.com/
Debbie - http://www.righttruth.typepad.com/
Carol - http://shrinkwrappedscream.blogspot.com/
Dana - http://southerngalgoesnorth.blogspot.com/
Les - http://www.hohmannbecker.com/LesBlog/
Ron - http://rodentia.blogspot.com/
Hillary - http://oneofakindvet.blogspot.com/
MissTrash- http://www.tallahassee.com/legacy/special/blogs/tt/index.html

On top of all these, I read and comment on about 60 other important people’s blogs, and I love them all! We share a special bond. I often pray for these people when they have things going wrong in their lives, and I think they would do the same thing for me. We are a family of bloggers!

I look forward to meeting other bloggers over the years, and I hope to continue to find that “blogger bond” with them!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DINAH WON’T YOU BLOW

The second time I was under hostile fire was on 3/15/67, as I have stated before, just days before I was to leave for the home. Only 10 rockets hit the base this time, but these came in slowly, walking ever closer to my position, giving me too much time to anticipate the consequences.
They came slowly because they were being guided by a spotter who hung on the fence somewhere, directing the fire closer and closer to the desired target. Someone finally spotted the black-pajamaed guy/gal and requested that they be allowed to fire. The reply was, “Can you see a weapon?” The spotter replied, “No.” So, the return comment was, “Then do not fire!” Thus were the rules of engagement in Vietnam.
Like I wrote before, I dove, headlong, under the first bunk I came to, and lay there shaking. My eyes focused on a large rat shaking and hiding in the far corner under the same bunk! We watched each other cautiously, as the rounds exploded singularly, the “kachunk” “walking” ever closer to where we took shelter. Neither of us dared move until the impacts passed us.
What I did not tell you was what woke me up prior to the incoming rounds - a barrel-chested black staff sergeant singing:
Can't you hear the whistle blowing
Rise up so early in the morn
Can't you hear the captain shouting
Dinah, blow your horn
 
Dinah, won't you blow
Dinah, won't you blow
Dinah, won't you blow your
I do not remember his name, but he was a fun loving guy who was always singing or cracking a joke around the hooch. This particular time he was returning to the hooch, rather wasted, after a late night of card playing and beer drinking. Just as he sang the last “won’t you blow” the first round hit somewhere about a quarter of a mile from our position.
The drunken sergeant literally fell in the hooch, causing the screen door to slam loudly against the first wall locker on the left as he entered.
Damn,” he breathed out, as he was falling to the concrete floor, “somebody don’t like my singin’!
Had the situation not been so serious, the entire hooch would probably have erupted in laughter. As it was, the second round hit as everyone dove beneath their bunks and waited for the next concussion.
Previous to the attack on 2/27/67, the Air Force decided to remove a small unit of men that manned a “small projectile” radar system that sat near the south end of the two runways. Since it had been over a year since the last mortar attack on the base, some “wisenheimer” decided the base no longer needed defending!
However, with the first rocket attack in the books, the Air Force decided that maybe the radar installation needed to remain in service.
Therefore, by the time the forth or fifth round hit Da Nang, the location the projectiles were originating from was radioed to Hill 327 where the Army had a battery of 105 MM guns. Return fire was almost immediate and the sounds were so comforting to us.
Everyone in the hooches began yelling their approval and screaming “Kill’em! Kill the bastards!”
There were a total of 10 rockets that hit the base that night, but once the position came under fire from Hill 327, it ended. Soon “Puff” (the magic dragon – a C-47 equipped with mini-guns and aerial flares was over the area where the VC had staged their attack. The aircraft was equipped with three rotating six barreled mini-guns, reminiscent of the Civil War Gatling guns. These 7.62 mm guns were capable of covering every square foot of a football field with one round, in one minute. Red streams of hot lead rained down on the area as the flares lit the area with their phosphorescent yellow glow.
[Photo at right is of Da Nang Airbase taken from Monkey Mountain. The arrows are pointing to tracer lines coming down from “Puff.” Tracer rounds are placed every 7th round in the mini-gun belts. However, the rate of fire is so fast that there appears to be a solid line coming down from the sky – a long finger of death. You do not want to be on the receiving end!]
[Photo at left is looking across the Da Nang runways toward Hill 327 where the Army “firebase” was located.]
We were going wild with the adrenalin that rushed through our veins and we so desperately wanted revenge for our fallen comrades.
As I sat on the side of my bunk and dabbed at my bleeding knees, I contemplated the realization that I too could kill, given the opportunity. Men do not fight wars for governments. They fight wars for each other, for revenge, to protect those around them. They fight to live and to get back home. They could care less about the politics involved.
Someone began hollering about bleeding from his heel, after stepping on a hot piece of shrapnel, and another had cut his head diving under the bunk, and the sergeant that fell in to the hooch had scraped his elbows. Soon, there were several who headed off to the dispensary.
When these guys returned, they where talking about being put in for Purple Hearts! “Why didn’t you go man? You could have gotten one for those knees!
Somehow, it just did not seem right. I mean, in the war movies they actually got shot or hit with shrapnel, but for scrapping my knees? I lost a little respect for medals that day. Now, when I see a Purple Heart license plate, I wonder if they actually earned it. Well, yes, I suppose they did…they went and served and got shot at, so I suppose that is enough. However, I do not regret not getting a Purple Heart for spending a little quality time with a rat!

To hear what an actual rocket attack on DaNang sounded like, go here: http://youtu.be/T5K7UFimao4http://youtu.be/T5K7UFimao4

FALL, BEER, AND PIZZA


Ron and I made the Cades Cove, Parson Branch Road, Highway 129, and Foothills Parkway loop Monday. You have to go into Cades Cove, pass the settlement rest stop area, and turn off on the Parson Branch Road to make the trek we made. The road had been closed for a long time, but now looks really good. The park has spent a large amount of money on repairing the washed out sections and the large rock they hauled in might prevent the damage from ever occurring again.

It was about four miles in, or about half way, that we pulled over at the Gregory Bald and Hannah Mountain Trail heads to stretch our legs. This area seems to be the high point of the road trip and the colors there were better than expected. Here are a few shots, but you can see more on my Flickr page.

The eight mile road ends at Highway 129, about halfway down the famous “Tail of the Dragon”, where motorcyclist and sports car enthusiast come to test their skills on 318 curves in a short 11 miles! It has gotten so bad there of late that the Tennessee Highway Patrol has threatened to close it down! Here is just one reason why!

We made a quick stop at the Calderwood Dam overlook, before winding our way down to the Foothills Parkway.

From there, we made our way back through Townsend and on into Maryville, where we stopped at Uno’s Chicago Grill to take on food and beer! Look at this Shroom® Deep Dish with chicken and spinach! And, the Uno Amber Ale®, which is brewed especially for Uno by Samuel Adams, is wonderful!

It was our first outing since Ron returned from a visit with his brother in California and since I had been sick. It was good to get out and stretch my taste buds again!

Monday, October 22, 2007

REMEMBERING SUSIE


Susie (not her real name) was a Vietnamese teenager, maybe eighteen, or nineteen, living in the worst conditions imaginable. She lived in a two-room shack assembled from debris discarded by the United States Air Force at Da Nang Airbase. A few pieces of plywood stuck up and covered by corrugated tin covering a dirt floor, her parents, a grandmother, and three siblings.
They all survived on what Susie made turning tricks for the Air Force, Army, and Marines that were stationed in the area. Susie was probably cute by Vietnamese standards, but it would be hard to see, even if a GI took the time to look at her for other purposes. She wore dirty shiny black silk pants with a flower pattern top that loosely covered her unwashed skinny body. The only thing attracting any GI was her large breast, full of milk for her six-month-old baby. They moved back and forth as she walked around in front of customers negotiating her “boom boom” price.
Fy dolla or cartn of Salam!” she insisted, while the GI tried and tried to get her to lower her price. The cost of her dignity was so low, you could by Salem or Kools at the BX for $2.50, but she had many mouths to feed.
Susie sat down in a chair facing the fire in the middle of the largest room and folded her arms across her chest, resolute that was her bottom “dolla!” The big guy from Georgia stood behind her, unzipped his pants, and began playing with himself while he continued to try and talk her down.
Susie did not know what he was doing until the instant something hot and sticky hit her in the back of the head. Jumping up and turning in his direction she flailed his hard chest and defending arms for all she was worth, but only succeeded in making him laugh. He turned and ran out of the hooch and into the darkness, heading back toward the guarded entrance of the airbase.
Susie cried and cussed the GI at the top of her lungs and the little ones moved closer to their grandmother. “He numba 10,000! He dinky-dao Merican!”
She left the room and I eased out the door feeling very ashamed to be an American. I was also not able to grasp how a woman could lower herself to turning tricks, or cleaning up in shower rooms full of naked GI’s, but America has never had to suffer such a degrading thing as having your country be at war on its own soil and be occupied by a foreign country. I suppose we all would do what we had to do to feed our children, but God help us, Americans would find it very difficult to transition into that mode.
I visited Susie sometime later and went through the motions of loosing my virginity! Yes, nineteen, remember I was too busy partying with the guys, but I knew the moves, just had never done the deed completely.
I handed her a carton of Salem cigarettes and she led me into a tiny room with a piece of thin cloth for a door. There on a ragged dirty little bed she striped down and laid full out before me, doing “come here” motions with each hand at the end of outstretched arms.
I dropped my pants to my knees, unbuttoned my shirt, and walked to the edge of the bed.
You were always ready to run, so you never got completely undressed. Sometimes little kids who were part of the ruse would come running in after the money or cigarettes had been handed over and yell out, “MP come, MP come!”
GI’s would scatter like chickens from a fox and their money or cigarettes were gone without anything in return.
I remember one unfortunate fellow high-tailed it out of Susie’s and, in the dark, made the mistake of dashing into a little shed out back. He knew immediately, but much too late, that the little shack was actually an open trench outhouse!
Sometimes the MP’s did come, and this area was off limits, so you ran and hid without knowing if it was real or not.
However, this time Susie and I were alone, so to speak, separated from her family by a flimsy piece of cotton. In these situations, there is no kissing, there is no feeling around, or fooling with foreplay of any kind. You simply crawled on and got it over in as dignified a manner as you possibly could. There is no great conquest there, no feeling of nailing a prime piece of ass, just a little more than old-fashioned manual masturbation!
You pull up your pants sheepishly, flinging your condom to the corner, as she wipes herself on a rag that has served its purpose countless times before you. You are just the next “john” and the very next one is waiting impatiently on the other side of the cloth door.
I came back once more, but could only muster a request for oral sex. Remembering the dirty imprint of her body on my chest had ruined any further intercourse for me. However, the BJ did little for me and so, I returned to the base and to masturbation for the remainder of my tour.
On February 27, 1967, a round of fifty 122mm rockets, earmarked for the airbase, overshot us, for the most part, and hit this little shanty village. Susie and her family were all killed instantly from the Katyusha rocket’s fragmentation, or so we heard.

On the base, and just one hooch south of mine lived Airmen Fuller and Jones. They received their wounds at the same moment.
  • Gary Leroy Fuller - The Plains, Ohio – Married - 22 Years Old (Vietnam War Memorial Panel 15E Row 105)
  • Robert Henry Osborn Jones - Arlington, Virginia – Single - 21 Years Old (Vietnam War Memorial Panel 15E – Row 106)

Both died on February 27, 1967 at Da Nang Airbase, South Vietnam during an early morning Katyusha rocket attack on the base. Fuller died as he sat up startled in his bunk from another explosion that occurred just half a second prior to the one he never heard. Shrapnel caught the young man in the jugular and he almost surely died instantly. Airman Jones was wounded running for a bunker, catching shrapnel from the same rocket in his lower body. He died minutes later on a hospital ship in the China Sea.
In the dayroom, the next evening, where we gathered for what would now be called psychological counseling, we raised our warm Black Labels in honor of our fallen comrades, and, those of us that knew her, in “Susie’s honor!”
War is hell on many fronts! 

To hear the rocket attack, go here: http://youtu.be/T5K7UFimao4 

Sunday, October 21, 2007

FALL IN EAST TENNESSEE

Ron and I are going to the Smokys tomorrow in hopes of capturing some of the fall colors. The colors are not expected to be as beautiful as usual since we are about thirteen inches below normal in rainfall this year. However, at certain times the light is just right, like this twilight shot across my backyard and out over the lake. However, during the full light of day, the colors are not as pronounced.

Here is a Smoky Mountain webcam that will let you watch the progression of colors as the days grow shorter. Note, there are other webcams at the bottom right that you can visit. I really look forward to looking at the snow later this fall.

In further pursuit of those colors, is a planned trip in a few weeks to this webcam! It is possible the colors will be gone by the time we arrive, but the six of us (Ron/Neena, Gary/Charlotte, and Judy/Mushy) have always wanted to go, so we are soon off on another adventure!

Anyway, this is just a portion of the beautiful East Tennessee area. We love this area, and it is just pure divine intervention that brought me here. Thank you God.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

TENNESSEE LOST, BUT I WON!

We visited Princess Lily today while the Tennessee/Alabama game fumbled on disgracefully in the background! (Check out the crossed feet!)

We got to watch her eat, which did not seem to bother her in the least! She eats “green beans and carrots!” Heck, I do not think Corey did that until after his twenty-first birthday. I can see him huffing up and disagreeing with me now!

Lily is beginning to look like a beautiful little girl now…the baby stage is almost over. I have always wanted to freeze, or at least slow down the growth of babies and puppies. Haven’t you?

Tia had to work, but we decided to visit Corey and Lily for the first half, which meant “nap time” for her. I got in the mood myself and went home and kicked back in the recliner and dosed until my Uncle Tom called me from Alabama. He was disappointed, I think, that I did not seem to care that Tennessee was losing the game.

I hope they have a ‘house cleaning’ myself,” I said!

Lily does not get to sample “adult food,” as a matter of fact; I think her first birthday cake was the first sugar she had ever tasted!

Today, you could see her watching us enjoy the chips and chili queso Corey made…I felt a little sorry for her, but hey, if she does not grow up to look like her Papaw that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

There is nothing like flying military to get the real feel and sounds of flying. There is nothing between you and noisy hydraulic systems that move at the slightest command from the pilot’s controls. The rush of air and engine noise combined with the high-pitched sounds of these systems make flying a totally new experience. It also makes it very hard to carry on a conversation or to stay awake - all that humming, whining, and roar makes your eyes very heavy.

In 1966, a noisy, but reliable, C-130 Hercules, carried me from Tan Son Nhut Airbase, near Saigon, on a 2 hour flight to my home for the next year at Da Nang Airbase. Fear of the unknown kept me awake for most of the trip, but the mechanics of the flight soon began to work on my eyes. I fought desperately to keep my head up right and back against the black interlaced nylon straps of military seating.

Suddenly, I felt something against my right shoulder - it was a head! There was a young South Vietnamese soldier relaxing himself against me. What was this? How dare he? I nudged the short green fatigue dressed troop with my elbow, only causing him to readjust his position. A second more forceful and well-placed jab caused him to open his eyes and look puzzled up at me. He then just leaned to the opposite side, rested himself on the shoulder of another Vietnamese troop, and was soon fast asleep. I could not understand this familiarity. Were they all gay?

I looked around the cramped fuselage to see if any of my friends had seen this act of defiance, and noticed that several of the Vietnamese troops were lounging comfortably, not only on each other’s shoulders, but some actually had their heads in a friend’s lap. I was too perturbed to go to sleep now! I was afraid of what might be on my shoulder or worst yet, in my lap, when I woke up!

I did not understand the cultural difference until years later, but even then, I noticed that none of the American troops on that flight took such liberties. Nobody, not even an American, better lay his head on my shoulder! This was the “John Wayne” attitude of us American Dudes!

It was simply the American “bubble.” We do not like people to get into our face or invade our space. It is ours and we do not take kindly to anyone stepping over that imaginary line. Some boundaries extend further than others do, and part of good interpersonal skills is being able to determine to what extent someone is approachable. However, here in America, men, “real men” do not take naps with their heads on each other’s shoulders or in their laps.

It rather depends on the relationship. Naturally, if men are with their significant other, that happens to be another man, maybe - depending on how comfortable they feel out in public. However, this kind of relaxed posture is normally reserved for men and their young sons, or maybe a brother in certain circumstances, but it is out of the question with total strangers.

Women do rest against each other, but it is usually a sister or a close girlfriend. However, the general rule here in America is “don’t lean on the bubble, ‘cause if it burst, I’m go’na be all over you!

Those young Vietnamese boys did not think a thing about what they were doing. They had not grown up with a John Wayne complex. They were secure in their masculinity and touching was a way of comforting themselves in hard times.

There are times in battle when a buddy will hold a buddy and comfort him when he’s wounded, but the embrace under these circumstances becomes mutually beneficial - both embrace their immortality. They are facing the fear of dying - one suspecting his wounds to be fatal, the other knowing but for the Grace of God, it could have been him.

However, what about before going to the battle, or during the battle, is that different? The comfort of knowing someone else was feeling fear might help us get through the ordeal. It would have been nice to feel someone else’s leg shaking next to yours while taking cover in a foxhole. Could we have not dealt with the horrors and uncertainties of war with just a little “bubble bursting”?

Sometimes Americans let down their guard. After victory in war or sports, they will jump around and hug each other. The adrenaline pumping through their veins momentarily makes it okay to invade the bubble space and let down the guard. Nevertheless, for the most part, it is hard to find this interaction outside the family unit.

Remember the first time we (as American men) saw the AFL teams holding hands in the huddle! It was shocking to most viewers. What? Are they gay or something? They’ll never win the Super Bowl! Maybe that was why it took “Joe Willie” and the AFL so long to overcome the NFL!

Think of the how much coaching (or maybe it was pleading) it must have taken to get those big ol’ boys to reach through their bubbles and touch each other on American prime time TV. In fact, you still do not see much of that today.

There were two times that I wished I could have been like those Vietnamese soldiers.

The first time was on 2/27/67, I had just returned to my hut when the first of 56 122mm rockets slammed into the Airbase. It was the first time the VC used rockets against Da Nang. The missiles were fired almost simultaneously and when they hit the base it sounded as if only 4 or 5 had impacted. However, when the holes were counted, 56 had hit, taking out 13 aircraft and killing 11 GIs base-wide, 2 were from the Security Police Squadron!

The second time was on 3/15/67, just days before I was to leave for the home. Only 10 rockets hit the base this time, but these came in slowly, walking ever closer to my position, giving me too much time to anticipate the consequences of “being short!”

I dove, headlong, under the first bunk I came to, and lay there shaking. My eyes soon focused on a large rat shaking and hiding in the far corner under the same bunk! We watched each other cautiously, as the rounds exploded singularly, the “kachunk
“walking” ever closer to where we took shelter. Neither of us dared move until the impacts passed us.

The fear in me rose, as the explosions got closer and closer. I began to feel my legs shaking. The worst part of an incoming large projectile attack is waiting for the rounds to approach and pass you. You keep waiting for the next one to hit you dead center. Even though the attack may not be over for the guy on down range, for the moment the war has passed you by - you have survived and immediately began to relax. It would have been so comforting, had someone been there under that bunk with me. Maybe we could have just let our legs touch and shake together. If it had just been that and nothing more, I would have been less scared - just to share the fear.

Anyway, as the next round passed over us, the rat ran away. We had been spared, and he knew it too. I often wonder if it would have let me touch it during those frightening moments. It almost seemed it wanted me to.

How comforting we could be to one another, but we are afraid we will look gay or weak. We need to break some bubbles and let people know we care. We need to greet each other after long absences with sincere embraces. Life is so short and fragile. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, and it is a shame to let friends pass on without them knowing you really cared for them and appreciated that they shared your life.

The answer to Cain’s question to God in Genesis is yes, we are our brother’s keeper. We are to comfort anyone in times of trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4). It takes a real man to deflate his bubble and comfort his fellowman.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

THANK GOD SHE’S BACK!

Judy returned home late Sunday night and I was so happy. I have been sick since last Sunday and that made me miss her even more. I used to think I wanted her to go first so she wouldn’t be lonely, but I’ve changed my mind, I want to go first! She has her daughter and granddaughter, her sisters, and me, well, I have a lot less. Sorry, I’m just feeling sorry for myself I suppose. As soon as I shake this cough, I’ll be okay!

Anyway, they talked like they had a ball on the Carnival ship The Valor, sailing around the eastern Caribbean for seven days. First stop was the Bahamas, the St. Thomas, and then St. Maarten or Martin (St. Maarten is the Dutch side of the island and St. Martin is the French side of the island).

It seems they thoroughly enjoyed Senor Frogs where they apparently don’t check ID cards!

I also heard that my Katie Bug, and her best friend Sarah, visited a nude beach on the French side (naturally) of St. Martin. Did they join in the freedom of the beach…they won’t say. However, from the photos it seems the girls did a lot of bikini-prancing around the ship looking for boys!

The sleeping arrangements were a little more complicated than my Gatlinburg weekend – Mike, a friend of Tracy and Eddie’s stayed in their room, while Sarah bunked with Judy and Katie. Even with balcony rooms, that sounds a tight to me!

Apparently the food on the ship was not as good as it was on previous cruises, but I don’t think anyone lost any weight!

Anyway, she’s home and I’m very, very happy!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

MEETING MS. FIGMO

March 12, 1966 was almost ending as the Pan Am pilot announced our steep approach to Tan Son Nhut Airbase just outside Saigon, South Vietnam. We had completed the last leg of the journey after a brief layover in Guam. The civilian “champagne flight” was held there due to an earlier Viet-Cong mortar and “sapper” attack on the large airbase. Laughter from the last round of drinks quickly ended as the engines throttled back and the flaps dropped and slowed the planes descent. What was it all about? We were fresh from the comforts of America, and most of all, the peace and security. We had no idea what to expect.

A shiver ran up my spine as uncertainty tightened its grip on me. Anxiety quickly turned to fear as the base came into view off the right wing. Black columns of smoke rose from burning JP4 jet-fuel tanks and a few aircraft along a flight line. This is war, and it ain’t a movie? This was real and I was about to step foot into it! This was the reality and the reality was that I had just begun a yearlong tour. This was only day one.

When you depart, go quickly to the wall of the terminal building, and stay close to it until safely inside,” the pilot announced, “Don’t let anyone take your baggage. Carry it yourself. These “comforting words” introduced us to Vietnam.

As we all looked out at the rising ground below, we all wished we could be children once more and just hold someone’s supporting hand - but no! We were America’s finest fighting men and we had to act our age and show none of the fear inside. We did pretty well at showing an age older than our years, but fear was staring back at us in every civilian face.

With the muggy air in my face and pilot’s words repeating themselves in my head, I headed for the terminal wall. No sooner than I had touched the tarmac, than a strange accented voice shouted above the noise of the flight line, “Carry you bag mista?” I felt a tug and looked down. A strangely dressed little dark skinned, dark haired, slant-eyed, boy was attempting to take my bag.

NO!” I shouted out of fear, and jerked the bag away. He looked puzzled at me for a short moment and then passed on by and repeated the words to the next troop. I kept hearing “no” as I hurried on for the sanctuary of the terminal.

The place was like an old Bogart movie, dimly light, very old, very dirty, and worst of all, very foreign. Even though most of the arriving troops were in civilian clothes, you could spot us a mile away, with our short haircuts and green, black, and blue duffel bags closely guarded by our sides. We out numbered the little locals running around shouting things we could not understand, in some ugly sounding language, but somehow they seemed to have the upper hand. I felt vulnerable. They stared right though you. Almost in hate, it seemed. Didn’t they know I didn’t want to be there...and not just the terminal - Vietnam!

That night I lay awake in my “transit hut” bunk listening to the sounds of Tan Son Nhut running. I could hear the jets, choppers, and planes taking off and landing, and voices that seemed to know their place in the distance. How do they know what to do? Who is running all this? When will someone tell me what to do? The anxiety prevailed for 3 days until my military flight left for Da Nang.

During one of these long nights an older troop, at least he looked older, it could have been from his experience and not his chronological age, came in from a night of reveling in celebration of his going home, and woke me from a light sleep. SHORT! SHORT! FIGMO! FIGMO, you poor sons-of-bitches!

Three of his rebel rousing confederates rather sloppily helped him into his bunk and left him to mumble himself off to sleep. I’m short by God...FIGMO...hmmmmmm...”, and soon he was out.

I awoke the next morning to the word “short” again. What’s this ‘short’ and ‘figmo’ crap we heard last night,” one of the new guys was asking the older troop? The obviously excited Airman looked up from the duffel bag he was packing and opened his locker.

Green weenies...meet Miss FIGMO!” Stuck to the door was a fairly well drawn naked woman. Ain’t she beautiful? ‘Course she’s more beautiful colored in than she is like this,” he said, handing out copies of the drawing. FIGMO means ‘fuck it, I got my orders’!

Miss FIGMO was sectioned off into 100 little numbered squares, with the last and smallest numbers ending up...well, you know where number 1 ended up. Each day, after you get down to 100 days left, you shade in a number and then you know how many days you got left in this hell-hole!” he explained. That’s gettin’ short, weenies! And I’m very short,” he said leaning over and coloring in numeral Uno. I’m goin’ home today fellows, so good luck, ‘cause I’M SHORT,” he bellowed!

Later as I sat alone on my bunk, I looked over the calendar and thought how nice it would be just to have 100 days left, but the harsh reality rushed over me that I had 264 left, before I could color my first square! My God, have mercy on me...there’s so many left!” I folded Miss FIGMO and put her in my bag, and forgot about her for almost 9 months. However, we would become very close one day from my daily visits to her alter.