Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 26, 2003.

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    J. Wilborn
    Posts: 40
    (2/8/01 5:01:46 pm)
    It was early spring 1967. Idaho Falls, Idaho is lovely in
    the spring. I and my
    crew of three fellow instructors were at the Naval and
    Marine Corp Reserve
    Training Center teaching NBC warfare classes. Our home base
    was in southern
    California and we were on what was called TAD or
    TDY-(temporary additional
    duty). The military is renouned for shorting meanings with
    letters--acronyms I
    believe it's called. Another such term was to enter my life
    I'd never heard of
    before---the troops who had heard of the term before
    referred to it or them as
    Instead of the Western Union messenger bringing the WE
    INFORM YOU news from the Department of Defense, the CAO or
    representive would go to the next of kins home with the
    heartbreaking news.
    Such a mind-numbing event had occured in a tiny little coal
    mining town in
    West Virginia--a local son, who had been a career Navy man,
    had been killed in
    action in Vietnam. However things are meant to
    happen--whatever is meant to
    be--I was cought up in that tragedy--the wife of that
    deceased Navy man had
    requested via the CAO that I accompany her husband home for
    internment in
    their family cemetery. She and her husband had visited our
    home prior to
    Christmas 1966--he had orders to go to Vietnam. I had known
    him since l952
    when we were helping to build an airbase down in the
    Philippine Islands--he
    was my buddy--my friend. The call from the CAO went out to
    my base
    Commanding Officer, who in turn called Idaho Falls where I
    was teaching. In
    some manner, these military functions are budgeted for--I
    was already on a
    per-diem allowance so the authorization was given for my
    orders to be modified.
    The Skipper simply inquired "Wilborn, are you 'geared' for
    this--any uniform
    that may be needed--dress blues w/grey gloves, service dress
    khakis or
    whites--are you ready"? I assured my CO that I was all set
    in that way, but I
    had never been called on to do this type duty. He assured me
    that he never had
    to do those type calls in all his service years. The reserve
    center cut my order
    modifications, one of the crew drove me to the airport and I
    was on my way to
    West Virgina. I arrived in Charleston, West Virgina that
    evening--the duty
    driver from the Reserve Center was awaiting my arrival--he
    drove me to a
    motel located next door to the Center. Next morning early I
    met with the
    Centers Commanding Officer--he offered the use of his Navy
    vehicle which I
    accepted. The CAO and I spoke on the phone--he gave me
    directions on how to
    get to the tiny town of Salem, West Virgina and who I would
    contact upon my
    arrival. He used the term "play it by ear" when I expressed
    one feeling of
    insecurity after another--but that was pretty much what
    every one had told
    me--"play it by ear". May I return tomorrow to tell you
    things that happened--I
    hear we are supposed to keep our posts shortened and
    abbreviated. I feel deeply
    it is a story worth telling. Wilborn sends.

    From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES--. John Wilborn
    kdialup147.phnx.uswest.net Mon Sep 11 05:27:45 I knew they
    were military
    orders, plain and simple. The modification of my original
    orders had taken me
    from a teaching assignment in Idaho Falls, to another
    assignment in the far off
    state of West Virginia. That assignment was referred to
    simply as
    ACCOMPANING. Only short minutes earlier I had spoken on the
    phone to a
    man with an unusual handle if you will--THE COW. The cow was
    the acronym
    directions for driving to his location from the Charleston
    Naval & Marine Corp
    facility where I had picked up a Navy sedan for my use in
    was to meet this person called The Cow in Clarksburg, West
    Virginia and from
    there we would 'play it by ear'. Damn, everyone said that--I
    was depending on
    someone for directions in this new task and everyone told me
    that--'we'll play it
    by ear'. The early morning drive was pleasant and
    uneventful--I suppose the
    thoughts of Donnie and his wife Thelma were more than I
    should have. The
    childless couple had visited my home in California the
    previous winter--around
    Christmas time as I recall. Donniehad been attending a Navy
    Class and now had
    orders to Vietnam--Thelma was going back to her family in
    West Virginia while
    he was gone. Donnie and I had gone back a long ways--both of
    us had been mere
    teen age NAVY SEABEES, when during th Korean war, we had
    helped shovel
    an entire mountain out in to the salty depths of Subic Bay
    down in the
    Philippine Islands. Of course, we didn't stay in touch that
    much--just doesn't
    work that way in the military, but along the way we'd 'bump
    heads'--in Rhode
    Island, I was on instructor duty and Donnie was preparing to
    go down to the ice
    (Antartica) and winter over--I tought Donnie and his group a
    class on fuel oil
    burner operation and repair. Yes, there were other
    times--one time I was
    hauling left over constuction supplies from Port Lyautey,
    Morocco up to Rota,
    Spain and run into Donnie. But directions had taken a
    different turn--Donnie
    was killed in action very near the demiliitarized zone in
    Vietnam--a place called
    Con Thien. As I drove, a thousand scenirios played across my
    mind--they said it
    was rockets--I hadn't been to Vietnam yet so that weapon
    system had no
    meaning for me--. I thought about how I had been brought
    into this
    ACCOMPANING assignment--maybe they had asked the next of
    kin, that
    being Donnie's wife Thelma, about a buddy or a friend to
    help out during this
    terible time and that was how I had been designated. The
    trip to Clarksburg
    was where I would begin getting help with this 'play it by
    ear' thing. A small
    well laid out town--lots of church steeples--a mixture of
    brick and wood
    homes--lots of corrugated metal roofs on the houses--nothing
    seemed new like
    in California--all the metal roofs seemed rusty--lots of
    weeds--no well
    maintained lawns. The address I was given turned out to be a
    church--The Cow
    was an older minister--maybe a World war II vet--he reminded
    me of Gary
    Cooper--long, sad face--black suit with a vest and string
    tie. Was this going to
    be the key person to help me 'play it by ear'--. It was easy
    for me to call him
    Chaplain--he was still in the Army Reserves--he was as
    comfortable as could be
    with a simple title of Chief for addressing me. By mid
    afternoon a plan had
    developed--Donnie's remains would be arriving at Dover,
    Delaware sometime
    that evening. The chaplain told me we would be at the Army's
    they had logistic set-ups and plans in place for
    that seemingly over-used term 'play it by ear' so easily. In
    fact, once he told me
    that my role in the scheme of things was a figurehead--for
    the family--for them.
    I took a degree of solace when he mentioned the family. I
    had not even met with
    them yet--how in the world would I 'play that by ear'? (more
    Wilborn sends. Subject: From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED
    John Wilborn kdialup95.phnx.uswest.net Tue Sep 12 04:58:12 I
    had been
    calling him CHAPLAIN every since our meeting and
    occasionally, Mr.
    Scoggins, for he wore that nametag on his jacket. He had
    been right--I was just
    a figurehead--things were working themselves through in
    their own good
    time--and fast time at that. The CAO(CASUALTY
    OFFICER), Mr. Scoggins had rec'd. notification that Donnie's
    remains would
    be arriving at Dover, Delaware for transhipment to Miller's
    Funeral Home in
    Clarksburg, West Virginia. He had assured me that my
    responsibilities of
    ACCOMPANYING did not entail traveling with the shipment. He
    had done
    this often enough so he should know--I felt relieved.
    Donnie's family did not
    have a telephone so the Chaplain simply suggested driving to
    their home that
    evening, unannounced. The very small village of Salem, west
    Virginia was to be
    our destination--the home of Donnie's parents and his wife
    Thelma. The reason
    for the trip was two fold--first, the CAO would update them
    as to the current
    status of Donnie and secondly I was to meet with Thelma and
    be introduced to
    Donnie' Mom and Dad. So often folks from the South are
    depicted by
    cartoonists as lowly characters-- rude jokes, or rowdy
    behaviour seems to be the
    theme for their poking fun. That evening when Mr. Scoggins
    introduced me to
    the family, I was amazed at their strength and graciousness.
    Thelma was as I
    remembered her when she and Donnie had visited our home in
    California less
    than a year ago--she thanked me for being able to come--she
    said Donnie had
    spoke of our friendship often. Quiet and refined
    people--years of hard work had
    bent their backs and knurled their hands but their spirts
    were in place and alive
    and well. Donnie's Dad told us he had been busy throughout
    the day plowing
    garden spots for local residents. He told us about OLD
    CHARLIE--with all the
    hurt that poor man had in his heart for loosing his son on
    the field of battle, he
    told us smilingly about Old Charlie. Old Charlie was a mule.
    He used Old
    Charlie to plow small garden spots where tractors could not
    get into because of
    obstructions, fences, or other conditions. He said some of
    the residents had the
    same garden spots for more than a hundred years--and I
    remember him
    chuckling when he said he hadn't been plowing them that long
    though. I
    remember how they were dressed that evening--Thelma and her
    were in dark dresses--the Mom had a flowered apron over her
    dress--she had
    served us coffee as we visited--the old plowman had on
    striped bibb overalls--a
    blue chambray shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat,
    and a leather watch
    fob hanging out of the chest pocket. He politey asked the
    Chaplain to say a
    prayer before we left--he took the big old pocket watch out
    of his pocket,
    snapped the cover open and laid it on the oil-cloth covered
    table. Following the
    benediction and a few spoken pleasantries the CAO and I
    departed for
    Clarksburg--I had accepted Mr. Scoggins invitation to stay
    in the church
    rectory. The following morning a messenger from Miller's
    Funeral Home
    delivered the news that Donnie's body had arrived during the
    night. Strange
    today, I had not heard the expression of "we'll play it by
    ear"--I think that was
    replaced by the prayer that the Chaplain had invoked at
    Donnie's parents the
    night before, "Dear Lord--we beseech you". Wilborn sends.

    From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES John Wilborn
    kdialup142.phnx.uswest.net Thu Sep 14 05:34:53 Even though I
    had been
    staying at the rectory with Chaplain Scoggins, we did not
    see much of one
    another. He was the CAO (CASUALTY AFFAIRS OFFICER)for a
    large area
    around Clarksburg, West Virginia. The much smaller town of
    Salem was where
    Donnie's family lived. My duty was listed as
    ACCOMPANYING--at some point
    in time following their notifiction that Donnie had been
    killed in action in
    Vietnam, Donnie's wife Thelma had requested me to accompany
    the remains. I
    had seen Mr. Scoggins, the CAO, that morning and we were
    scheduled to have
    lunch in Clarksburg Thursday. The purposeof the meeting was
    for him to fill
    me in on the details that had developed. It was good to see
    Scoggins--his out and about on his missions of mercy or
    whatever. Over lunch
    he informed me that the services for Donnie would be at
    sunrise the next
    morning--Donnie's family, primarily his dad was very
    forceful in the arranging
    according to Mr. Scoggins--something to do with Scottish
    rites--. There was to
    be no volley of shots fired--only a three man military
    contigent was to be used
    and that was for the flag folding--the flag was to be
    presented to Donnie's
    Mother instead of Thelma, Donnie's wife. All the pall
    bearers was to be clan
    --my eyes must have popped open on that word of clan for Mr.
    S. assured me it
    was a Scottish term--. At their meeting house--that's what
    thet called their
    church, all the activities that were to carried out was
    family and clan. The
    following morning I drove to Salem--a tiny little burg and
    it was not difficult to
    locate the meeting house. Hanging kerosene lamps provided
    illumination--a big,
    pot-bellied, wood burning stove provided warmth in the cool
    chill of the spring
    morning. A big black smoke pipe extended straight up to and
    through the
    slanted roof. Donnie's flag draped casket was up front near
    the pulpit--some of
    the wooden pews were already occupied--I was dressed in my
    Navy dress
    blues--grey gloves, and I felt overdressed as I looked
    around. Folks were dressed
    in their work clothes--many men were wearing bibb
    overalls--and a kind of dark
    jacket or coat with no collar. The women were mostly in dark
    dresses --some
    with shawls over their shoulders. I noticed there was no
    sign at all of weeping or
    catterwalling I normally associate that with funerals. I set
    down in the rear near
    to the Chaplain Scoggins--he had told me the meeting house
    had their own
    deacon-priest to conduct Donnie's services. He mentioned
    also that the hearse
    from the funeral home would not be used--and when the flag
    was folded and
    presented to Donnie's Mom, another banner if was called
    would be placed over
    the casket. A tap on my shoulder by a person who must have
    been serving as an
    usher, requested that I go up and sit with Donnie's family.
    Thelma smiled when
    I set down near her--.The services were more of a
    testimonial than typical
    conducting by the deacon--he sit up on the stage near the
    pulpit and things just
    kind of developed. Donnie's Dad spoke of his son--what a
    good boy he had
    been--another big raw-boned man stood and spoke--only the
    men it seemed--a
    scattering of testamonials here and there--old and young. I
    looked over toward
    Thelma--she nooded her head and I used that occasion to
    stand and offer up
    words for my friend. I introduced myself and mentioned ever
    so briefly that
    Donnie and I had served together many times--that Donnie had
    performed well
    in the service of his country and he had been rewarded with
    many positions of
    responsibility--that I would miss him and the Navy would
    miss him. The deacon
    spoke and offered up a prayer--the flag detail performed and
    presented the
    national ensign to Donnie's Mother and they departed the
    meeting house. Two
    older men, one carrying a white, rolled up cloth, approached
    the casket. Very
    reverently they unrolled what seemed to be a flag. It was a
    rectangular cloth
    with a dark colored cross extending the entire length and
    breadth. They draped
    it over the casket in the same manner as the American Flag
    had been displayed
    earlier. Mr. Scoggins had mentioned that only the family and
    clan men were
    permitted at the grave site--the women would go at daylight
    the following
    morning to decorate the grave with flowers and memoribilia.
    The pall bearer
    arranged themselves around the coffin and carried it out to
    the waiting hearse.
    The hearse was a steel wheeled wagon--(probably the same one
    as Donnie's Dad
    hauled his garden plows on)and it reminded me of the baggage
    carts one used
    to see around railroad depots. The pall bearers carefully
    positioned the casket
    on the wagon and with a piece of white rope, secured it in
    place. The mule, Old
    Charlie, the one Donnie's Dad plowed gardens with seemed
    another hauling job for an old farm mule. The morning sun
    had risen as the
    funeral possession of male family and clan members trudged
    slowly away
    toward the family cemetery. Mr. Scoggins had mentioned that
    the family
    cemetery had been there more than one hundred years--he said
    some of the live
    oak trees and weeping willows there were as large as he'd
    ever seen--and he
    commented how green the grass was. I recall in my minds eye,
    that final view
    before I departed the tiny town that was my friends
    home--thirty or forty
    men--most wearing their everyday work clothes, following
    behind an old plow
    mule being led by Donnie's Dad, pulling an old steel wheeled
    wagon that held
    the coffin of his son, covered with a white flag with a
    cross of some sort off to
    Donnie's green, green grass of home. Wilborn sends.