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(8/23/01 5:35:04 pm)
You could sense the tension and the anxiety in the air--you could feel it on your skin--in your
bowels--- that scrotum twisting sensation that things needed to be structured and that
someone needed to ‘get-in-charge of this cluster jerk’.
This was the third time, in as many days, that this group of mixed service troops had boarded
the large military aircraft. If those transiting personnel were observant enough, they could tell
it was the same aircraft, the same flight crew, the same lashed down cargo, and mostly the
same people that had boarded each of the three previous days. One could pick out those
personnel who had probably been to Vietnam before, and were returning from R&R or
emergency leaves from stateside. Whatever the reason, those were the people who seemed
more willing to accept the ‘hurry-up and wait’ SNAFU, whereby others including myself, were
anxious to get this show on the road--to get to the final destination, be it good, bad, or ugly.
It was early January, 1968, and this C-130 flight that was originating at the DaNang Air Base,
was heading up north with stops at Phu Bai and on further north to Dong Ha. The TET Offensive
was raging across the length and breadth of the northern areas known as I Corps. There was
an expression coined and repeated by most of the troops, “BEANS AND BULLETS IN--BODIES
OUT”. I remember my shock and concern that first day upon arriving in DaNang, when I had
seen many silver bright caskets waiting for shipment out. I was told later that the color of the
tags that flipped and jerked in the breeze, meant something or other. It was a foreboding and
a sobering event for everyone. Someone attempted an ill-timed joke about the caskets and a
crisp, “knock it off you ass-hole” sounded loud and clear so that everyone, regardless of rank
or rate could hear the remark and keep a civil tongue in their head.
I noticed the heavy set navyman again today as I had on the other days. He was dressed in
Navy green utilities every time I had seen him on the previous days. He wore collor devices
denoting he was a petty officer second class, and the medical caduceous device of a navy
hospital corpsmen. I was attired in my service dress khaki uniform. This day the big, rotund
corpsman spoke to me with a friendly “good morning Senior Chief---where are you bound
for”? I returned the man’s friendly salutation and remarked I was heading for DongHa to join
up with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Five. “Well Senior, what do ya know---that’s my
outfit”, he exclaimed excitedly, “I been down here to DaNang to observe a religious ceremony
and now I’m trying to get back---ya sure look young to be a Senior Chief”. The big man had a
good sense of timng, even though I felt he was just stroking the dog.
Suddenly I could feel the throttling up of the aircrafts engines and sense the foward movement
of the large craft. More power applied and faster movement foward. The flight crew buckled
themselves into the webbed harness seats and now the big ungainly 130 was bolting ahead,
almost like a horse out of the gate. Perhaps this would be a real and true, go-for-it today.
Maybe the up country bombardment and hostilities had lifted so we could get where we were
going. I looked over at my newly introduced shipmate and he looked back but it was as if he
didn’t see me. Could it be this big fellow was frightened of flying. The tower must have given
this much delayed ‘bird’ the thumbs- up high sign, for without any hesitation, the big aircraft
seemed to leap abruptly from fast taxi mode to real fast ‘bend you over in your seat’ takeoff,
and in no time, the large craft was airborne.
The pilot masterfully swung the ponderous plane out over the South China Sea and I heard
some one of the crew mention to escape possible ground fire. I knew sure as hell now, that
these were words and phrases that I would have to begin using in my conversation. Within
hours however, other words would come to be used and would take on a whole new
meaning of their own for me. “INCOMING” screamed from deep in the bowels through a
throat that was so constricted with fear, that it would be hard to breathe. Or the statement of
fact, “HOLY SHIT, THAT WAS CLOSE”, sounded as if a joke when repeated to a buddy later, but
when that statement was uttered during a rocket attack, you wanted the whole world to know
just how close!!! “SUMBITCH IS STILL HOTTER THAN A FIRECRACKER” as you flick the fragmented
hunk of sharpnel away from you--a possible keepsake that you shouldn’t have glombed onto
so quickly--- your fingers seared by that ugly shard that had it hit you---well that’s all they would
have written and then they’d have sent your saddle home.
I think it was called Camp Evans, but not sure, and it was at Phu Bai where it was almost just a
‘slow down and jump out’ for the troops getting off there. The C-130 continued on to Dong
Ha where I believe that was just to be a turn-around also. When we all deplaned, it was like a
Chinese fire-drill and there was not much encouragement to look back. We had been told
not to worry about our seabags and duffels as that gear would be transported for us at our
various camps.
During the TET OFFENSIVE, which continued for most of the deployment, I would be assigned
as the S-2 Senior Chief (Intell & Training) for the battalion. The Corpsman, who I and everyone
else called Doc, and who had ridden the plane with me up from DaNang, would come
around to my office a lot. My S-2 yeoman, Jimmy Walker and Doc were good friends, both
being from California. Jimmy was from Bakersfield and Doc was from Brentwood. Doc was
Jewish and Jimmy was Southern Baptist, however their differences turned out to be their
strenghts. Jimmy was a classic, ‘squared-away’ American bluejacket with everything fitting
and looking nice, whereby Doc was extremely overweight and physically uncoordinated to a
laughable degree. On the Doc’s green utilitiy uniforms, the laundry had to sew a big v-shaped
gussett into the waist of Doc’s trousers---actually the Doc was pear-shaped---he had overly
large feet and walked with his feet splayed out at a 45 degree angle--kinda made slapping
noises on the deck when he took steps. Doc used to bring stuff over to the S-2 and share it with
us--things his Mother had sent--mostly things with Hebrew labels on them---and he’d go by the
galley and get thermos jugs full of ‘panther-piss’ --that’s what he called the Kool Aid.
I had been aboard about three months when Doc ‘made-his-bones’ out near the Rock Pile
and Camp Carrol near CaLu. Doc had been assigned as the corpsman for a convoy of
materials and supplies offloaded at the Cua Viet River wharf and being transported overland.
I wasn’t there to observe the ambush, but the AAR’s filled in the details and were eventually
used as documentations to get Doc awarded the Bronze Star for bravery under fire. One little
Steelworker striker that was wounded by B-40 frags, told and retold the story of Doc and how
Doc had been like a man possessed as he worked the wounded and even directed
counter-fire. The more often Daniel’s told the story about Doc, the more profound the facts of
the combat action. But isn’t that the way legends become as they do---you hear them often
enough, and though you weren’t there to eye-ball them, you record them in your minds eye
and legends they stay.
Doc, you may have not cut a very military figure in your doctored-up up uniform, but you sure
made a story for the Seabees to often repeat about you. What the hell did you ever do with
your life Doc---do you recall those times also--everytime you swig that red ‘panther-piss’ Doc,
do you think about those days so long ago---lots of us have tried to forget, but we can’t ever
put it all away---if we don’t think about it when we are awake, it sure comes galloping through
our troubled dreams. Wilborn sends
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