Thursday, July 28, 2011
50th day, July 22
Hi (that’s original)
Got up this morning and went to KP. I was lucky though (despite the fact that I ran into a roll of barbed wire in the dark, and ripped a hole in my pants – and me). I only had to work for the morning meal, then they tore down the mess tent and let me off.
It was really quite amazing – in three hours the whole area was completely torn down and packed and ready to go. The artillery people had quite a complete bunker system, but destroyed it in about an hour. I thought it would take all day. All the sandbags were ripped open and burned, along with all the ammo boxes and everything else that they couldn’t take with them. We tore down all our bunkers and burned everything (so Charlie can’t use anything left behind against us – they’ll make hand grenades out of Coke cans.)
Of course, the whole artillery and security had to be in operation all night, for they had to do all the work the day they moved. The artillery fired all night as usual and we stood guard as usual. It’s funny – at first when one of the guns would shoot, I’d bounce clear off the air mattress, and never sleep. But now it doesn’t even phase me, yet I’ll wake up every time for my guard before they come to get me.
All the guns and heavy stuff were airlifted by Chinook choppers. For about one and a half-hours these monsters were constantly landing and taking off with a load.
They’re about as big as our house, only narrower and twice as tall (maybe a little longer). Those big double blades kick up a 120-mph windstorm when they come in; one blew a loose 155mm round across the road, and a large iron skillet from the mess hall. Another surprised a little kid who got too close and threw him into the rice fields. Didn’t hurt him; just scared the Hell out of him. It served him right though. He was one of many trying to steal food from the pile of supplies the mass hall had ready for pickup.
We ran a column of trucks into Cu Chi and here we are. We’ll stay here tonight and probably tomorrow night, then – what, I don’t know. Looks like that 4-month stay at Sugar Mill turned out to be slightly less than 4 days. That’s the army.
Guess I’ll explain four letters in one day. I’ve been writing every day where possible, but there’s been no place to mail the letters. So, I’ve put the dates on the envelope.
Hope you opened them in the write/right order. I also got an accumulation of mail (for July 18-22) so I have quite a bit of reading and answering to do tonight (8 letters including your latest letters). Tell the Dispatch that the biggest morale factor here is the knowledge that they only have to spend a year over here, then go home. Also the increasing quality of the services in mail, PX facilities, benefits, savings, etc. They almost make it worthwhile. Also, I suppose the fact that now we’re bringing smoke down on Charlie and he’s losing on ever turn adds to it. From what I’ve seen the morale is high, but I will say there is no one who likes it over here. All this about the wounded soldiers in the hospitals wanting to get better – not to go back home but back to the fighting – I just can’t believe unless maybe there was brain damage.
The big thing though is the 1-year limit on your time. You hear it at least ten times a day from ten different guys “I got 232 days left”, or “I got 12 days left” (would you believe I’ve got 315 days left?)
As far as personalities are concerned, it was Jonathan Winters. He was terrific. It they meant military personalities, I’ve met Sgt. Rock and according to him, Sgt. Rock is the only important person in V. N. (Oh, yes, I had a brief indirect encounter with Gen. Westmoreland, but let’s not mention that any more).
My reactions to every and anything, you’re getting every day; at least I’m trying to. That, I can promise you.
I’m glad Marlynn Is having a good time at O. C. [Otterbein College] I was her picture in the P. O. [local newspaper] (Wow – you look like a college girl!) in connection with - ? - ? – something about a rhinoceros (sorry I can’t remember exactly). It brought to mind the fact that I‘ve never seen Marlynn perform in public on stage (sorry, again).
Mother said Marlynn is “growing up so fast”; said she saw her drive into the driveway (well, congratulations, at least you missed the fire plug and birch trees.) and “she looked like she was 23 instead of 16 – gray hairs already. That’s nothing, you looked 19 when you were twelve.
Jere, buddy, you’d better hope you can get to school before you get grabbed – then again they’ll get you when you get out, but maybe this will be over by then. The way it’s going, it could be over before I leave. But as Ho Chi Minh says, “We (NVN) can afford to lose longer than the US can afford to win.” Grim truth.
Yes, I got your butterfly letter – airmail, of course. Also, what cartoon of a duckling? I remember so such animal. Maybe I was asleep too. Too much morphine sulfate?
Back in Charlie, Charlie (radio code for Cu Chi base camp)
P.S. I just had a [light bulb]. In addition to the bad habits, language, etc that we’ve given these people, we’ve made them swindlers, cheats, thieves, etc. They’re also drunks, dope addicts (in the field the beer’s free for GIs) and 75% of the female population from age 12 to 25 are prostitutes. Maybe Jere would like it after all.
51 days, July 23
That’s right, we’re leaving tomorrow; again for about 4 months. This time we’ll be attacked to a group of A. R. V. N. doing, for the first time for this platoon, the platoon’s actual mission – recon. In fact, the lieutenant says he’s never heard of any recon platoon anywhere doing recon until now.
We’re going to an area where no Americans have ever been. The place used to be lousy with VC, but it is generally uninhabited now. We’re supposed to gather intelligence from the area with the help of the ARVN, and National Police, about the area and possible VC left there. We’ll be living in an ARVN compound, I hope, and doing work on jeeps, on foot, and by helicopter. We’ll be on our own. Nobody over us except our own lieutenant – that part should be beautiful; the lieutenant is a great guy and a good officer.
That’s all I know, except they did say that they would try to have mail every-other day, if possible.
We had the day off today, to go to the PX, etc. Just hot and lazy all day. I’m no longer the “new guy” now. Three new guys have been assigned to Recon. They only have a half a month in country, and are going to the field already – guess I was lucky; they didn’t get a waiting period, they went to school the second day they got here.
I should be getting some pictures back soon, which I’ll send home as soon as possible. Also, Dave Ogg is sending my Argus slide camera to me, so now I’ll be able to take pictures out in the field.
I hope you noticed my writing is a little bit improved. I think it’s the paper. I just got it today and it has a special sheet with heavy black line so I write straighter and a little clearer maybe.
The thing is I write the same way I talk, too fast and I get mixed up in both, and make mistakes – leaving out letters, adding letters, misspelling, thinking one thing and writing another. At times I’ll make a mistake and cross it out, make the same one again, cross it out, and so on. Or throw the whole page away and start over.
It’s also the way I think my writing – the things I say – is spontaneous. I put the first thing down that comes to mind. If it happens to be the right thing, I can think of a few comments to go along with it; if I’m in the wrong mood, or just happen to put something down that doesn’t ring a bell or something – nothing happens, dull letter. If I try to stop and think what I’m going to say before I write it, I draw a blank.
Everything has to be spontaneous if it doesn’t come to mind instantly it doesn’t have a chance. I often think of something I should have said afterward, but it’s too late. It it’s a real gem, I write it down and save it for some other time, hoping that writing it down will make it stick; I never look at it again, usually.
About the only pre-planning I do is to jot down high points of the day and trust my reactions and comments too memory – it usually turns out pretty good. It isn’t hard, while I write I try to think of what I would say if talking to you in person – anything I ever say is the same way – anything that pops into my weird little mind – and I stress “little”. On the move again, Bob
PS I know this is short but I thought I’d send it so you’d know what’s happening and you’d know why you might not get another for a few days – it might take a while before I can mail any more, but I will write if I can, if I have to summarize two or three days together.
53 day, 25 July ’67
From the Bao Trai Hilton,
We moved out this morning headed for the field once again. Our base of operations was supposed to be Gladys (artillery sight we were securing a few days ago) but the lieutenant didn’t like where they tried to put us – it was as bad as Sugar Mill, only with tents. He said no thank-you and we came to Bao Trai (Bow Try – bow as in bow-wow) where our headquarters were. They gave us a shed for our barracks and now here we are – Bao Trai Hilton. Only thirty steps away from the Bao Trai International Airport.
This place is all right. We’re right inside Bao Trai itself in an ARVN compound. It’s more like a resort area in a way – palm trees and grass, concrete sidewalks, stucco buildings, flush toilets; there’s a garden with picnic tables and umbrellas on a patio outside the club. The club is more than adequate; TV, movies, pool, drinks from Coke to martinis, mixed by real Vietnamese bartenders, and sandwiches, hamburgers, etc.
There’s a girl that comes around every morning and picks up any laundry and sweeps out our hutch. Laundry is one-day service. All this cost 500p a month per man.
Our hutch isn’t really that great. Just a wooden building about 20’x16’. Has a tin roof and concrete floor. The sides are solid about three feet high, then the rest is open up to the roof, “screened-in’ by lattice work. There’s a shelf at one end for the equipment. We’ve got about 18 guys sleeping on the floor on air mattresses. With everybody all sprawled out, it looks like a Civil War field hospital. Nearly everyone has their mosquito net up, and all their clothes, weapons, and equipment hanging on the wall, from the rafters, or on the lattice work.
It’s really nice, though; dry and comfortable. They’re going to let us bring our cots; and foot lockers out soon. The club is open from 12 noon to 12 at night. Only one thing disagreeable with the compound; we’re right beside the helicopter pad. This is bad, not only because of noise, but when they come in and take off, they blow all the clothes, etc., off the lattice.
We’re free to wear just about what we want. Everybody has a hat (similar to mine) and a few have camouflage fatigues to match or contrast. It’ll make quite an interesting group portrait.
If course there’s a catch to all this. Our job is recon. We’re attached to a gung-ho group of ARVNs and American advisors. They move (mostly on foot) quickly and precisely. When they get intelligence reports of VC, they go out, try to find them, and when they do, they drop back and call support. If they don’t find them, they come back in. If they have to fight, they will, but their captain, an American, has priority when calling artillery in. Instead of calling a couple of rounds at a time as is the normal practice, he’ll call in all ten guns, sometimes six round each. Even for 5 or 6 VC, it’s 10 guns, one or two rounds each. They don’t play around.
Most of the time it is find the VC, drop back with as little contact as possible, and call in either artillery or gunships. We’re not to engage them in a firefight while waiting for support unless there’s no other way out. In 9 months since they started this, they’ve either captured or killed 300 or more VC – quite a record for a 20-man platoon! They’re a good group.
Now they’ve got our 26 men plus four gun jeeps, our .50 caliber machine gun on the ¾ ton truck and our 106 jeeps.
We went out this afternoon. They call it humping. We drove sown a deserted road and stopped. Everybody loaded up with grenades and ammo. Everybody had at least 100 rounds of machine gun ammo across his shoulders. We started out across the rice fields in a line, 26 men abreast, 10 meters apart, covers a lot of ground. The ARVNs went ahead of us about a hundred meters in the same type of formation.
Those rice fields are murder. A foot or two of water, on top of six inches to a foot or more of mud. They’re all plowed up and you can’t step without stumbling or tripping over the clods of mud. You can’t see where they are, because they’re under water. You just plod along hoping you hit a good spot each time. With 200 rounds of machine gun ammo, you really sink.. Then you have to pull your feet out each step.. You’re tired in the first 10 minutes.
We humped the paddies for an hour, then came to some hedgerows and thick jungle.
This stuff is impossible to get through. It’s so thick you have to stay within double arms-length of each other to maintain contact. Even then, it’s only voice contact – you can’t see three feet to either direction. The bamboo and thorns cut you to pieces – I ripped a pair of pants so bad they can’t be mended. I might as well rip the other leg and make shorts out of them.
Somehow we made it out of the woods and started across the fields again. Hadn’t gone far before we received two rounds of sniper fire from the wood-line we had just been through. We turned around and went back in and found nothing (except butterflies)
The captain decided to go back in and call it a day. As we left the woods for the last time, we looked back and about a hundred meters to our left we saw a gook casually walking from the wood-line, carrying two baskets on each end of a pole across his shoulders. I’d bet a month’s pay he had been shooting at us a few minutes before.
On the way back I learned from the lieut. that if you walk in the irrigation ditches in the rice field, it’s easier going. The water’s deeper by a foot, but the dirt underneath is nearly solid – not plowed up like the field itself. Once in a while you’re lucky and can walk a little way on a berm, high and dry.
There are many wells all over the area – dug, used, and abandoned, but still deep and full of water. Usually you can tell them because they are distinctly round and you can avoid them. A few are not so definite. I found one such well when I was jumping off a berm into the fields – right into a well. I never did touch bottom, but somehow managed to keep my head above water and climbed out. It felt good, actually – I was hot, but as the water evaporated I was cool the rest of the way back. That was really and unexpected surprise.
We came to an area with signs posted: “Tu dai”, meaning booby trap area. One boy missed stepping on a booby-trapped hand grenade by about two inches. The medic and I found an uncovered punji pit, about 2 feet cubed, with only two stakes in it.
We passed some old farm huts way out in the middle of nowhere. They had people living in them! VC, no doubt. As we came out of a hedgerow, we were faced with three angry water buffalo. When you see one of these things staring at you, stomping the ground and tossing its head, it looks more like a rhinoceros. They never charged but we were ready with our M-16s on full automatic, our machine guns and M-79s with canister rounds. We could have finished off a whole herd in about two seconds. Only bad part was we had them surrounded as we walked by; it they had moved, we would have shot each other as well as the elephants.
Tonight (and every night) we sleep – no guard. Tomorrow – who knows what? I feel pretty good about the whole thing really. I didn’t think I would. Part of it’s probably the fact we have nice quarters. Getting sniped at doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. In fact, I found myself one of the first going back into the woods after the guy – I don’t know what I was thinking of. The whole way these people operate and think – it’s great to see such confidence; it gives you confidence in yourself – that’s something I’ve never had before. Of course, there’s still the flutterbies,
but I think that’s only natural and healthy. When you stop seeing them and get too confident, that’s when you’re in the most trouble. I don’t know what I’ll feel the first time we get in a firefight. Hope the artillery has plenty or ammo.
I’m finally earning my money, Bob
PS. Copy those phrases I sent and send them back (keep the original cardboard for a souvenir). I forgot to copy them myself.
53 days, 25 July ’67
Mot & Hai
Today was real lazy. We were supposed to go out, so we sat around and waited, but nothing ever happened. I don’t know what to think about this whole situation yet, but I do know that these ARVNs are tough. They were way ahead of us yesterday, and weren’t as confused as we might have been. They work differently that US troops. When the sniper hit us, they dropped back, which is their usual procedure. We went in after him. They thought we were very brave for the; I think we were kinda stupid (although I did it anyway.)
They’ve brought in the news that we are going out tomorrow, at 8:00 – by chopper! There’s a village north of here where they’ve had reports of 7,000 pounds of weapons and ammo, and they have a list of about 8 VC they want captured or killed. Looks like I’ll see some stuff tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
43 days, 15 July ’67
Today as the sun came up, so did the Vietnamese. They get up at sunrise and turn the water buffalo out to the paddies. Weird cows, these buffalo. Big, slow moving hunks of meat – er, smell! They get out in the water and roll around and make the rudest noises. It’s really ridiculous seeing these big hulks being marched down the path by some little 4 foot peanut, with a piece of straw. All the kid does is beat him on the nose to make him turn, go, or stop. Let a GI try that, and he’d get tromped to death.
We had a hot breakfast and then went on to our daytime spot. The engineers are building another road and we sit in our jeeps and watch the paddies for Cong, while the engineers work. We watch the farmer work in the paddies with their buffalo. Women and kids come around to us, selling Cokes and bread. A few have souvenirs and junk jewelry for sale. They stay around constantly and we tease the kids and give them food; some actually speak a little English, if you can get through the accent.
We’re right on the outside of a large dirt area all dug up by the road building equipment – looks like a new housing development instead of a road. The rice paddies are on all four sides. We’re on the edge of the paddies surrounding the construction area.
I don’t know what these people did before the Americans came. All the money I’ve spent today for warm Coke and stale bread – where did they get their money before we came? And their English! If you don’t buy something, they really cuss you out. It’s all in Vietnamese, except for the adjectives that they’ve picked up from the GIs. If some kid doesn’t know any other English word, he still knows enough to cuss you out in your own language. We’ve really brought a lot to these people.
I think I’ve figured out this war, too. The U. S. and the Communists decided to have a war and picked this place because it wasn’t good for anything else – and besides, no one lived there anyway. What a surprise when they found people here.
That’s what the country side looks like. A place constructed solely for the purpose of having wars. It’s perfect – impossible to travel across, hot, wet, dirty, etc. it doesn’t seem that anyone could actually live here all their life. What’s there to do? Get up at dawn, plow the paddies till sundown, and go back to bed, and all you get out of it is enough to barley live on.
That’s why every body’s fighting so hard and refuses to give up - the loser has to take the country – who wants it!?
We got sniped at a few minutes ago (just as I finished the last page). One round hit a tree 3 feet away – three shots all together. I’m on a 106 recoil-less jeep and before we could get the gun set up, one of the M-60 jeeps on the hill behind us opened up on a clump of bamboo about 900 meters out. I don’t know what they hit, but we’ve had no more sniper since then.
A butterfly just flew past, Bob
44 days, July 16
From Uncle Ben’s Plantation. We had some more sniper fire last night. Five rounds at about 10:30 and that was it. No damage done.
We left Gladys – the name of the artillery sight – and went back to Cu Chi to escort the trucks out to the construction site. We were setting up, getting ready for another leisurely afternoon, when we were called to escort some more trucks to another site a few miles down the road.
We got as far as one little village and were told to wait there, the trucks would go on alone and we would meet them again when they came back. We set up under a tree and played with the kids and relaxed all day – the only GIs in sight – waiting. Four little peanuts crawled under our poncho-tent with us and stayed until we left. We gave them C-rations and tried to understand what they were saying, but never could. One wanted a cigarette; he was no older than 4 or 5 and the only English he knew was “cigarette” – like I said, we’ve given a lot to these people.
We were called at 4:00 to come back to the pits; the dump trucks we were waiting for had returned 2 hrs. ago by a different road.
We went back to Gladys for the night – nothing happened all night. I even got some sleep for a change. Usually I had to sleep on the hood or in a seat with a poncho over me to keep me dry. Not too comfortable., not too much sleep.
Last night, however, I was put on a 106 gun jeep. We draped ponchos over the barrel of the gun and thus made a tent covering the whole jeep. One man slept across the hood while I slept across the seats. Very dry and very comfortable compared to the other two nights. Of course, if we had to fire the thing, it would have taken an hour to uncover it.
45 days, July 17
They asked who wanted to go back to base camp today, and I jumped up immediately. Every day they let 5 or 6 people go in for the afternoon to clean up, get their laundry, etc.
I went in and laid around all afternoon. At about 3:00 the rest of the people came in with the news that we were going to spend the night in camp and then go out to a different area for as long as 3 or 4 months.
It might not be too bad, though – they say we’ll be right outside a Special Forces camp with access to a PX, Service Club, and hot showers. Can it be true? Also we’ll probably be in bunkers or hutches, so it’ll probably be like right here. Of course, all our work will be in the jeeps mostly – convoy security – no walking through rice paddies and swamps and mud. There’s supposed to be an artillery sight where we’re going. At night we’ll pull guard around that.
There are six new guys in our hutch, but we kicked them out for tonight. They’ll be in recon when they finish their school (they’re going now, no month waiting like me.) There are 9 guys going back to the world in October, and the new people will replace six of them. They were quite surprised when we came storming in, throwing their stuff off our beds, and telling them to get out of our hutch. Nice welcome for the replacements but after all they were just put there because we were out and there was no other place for them (I don’t know where they will sleep tonight but they’re gone.) We’d been sleeping in jeeps the past 3 nights and wanted our beds back. It’s only fair.
46 days, July 18
All packed and ready for a long stay in the Boondocks; we left base camp escorting a convoy to an airstrip, which I hadn’t know existed. In fact, we drove by it at least 2 times a day while we were going to Gladys, and the ‘Pits”.
Today, however, we took 10 truckloads of line troops out there where they were loaded in about 20 choppers and then flown off to God knows where. After that, we went to Sugar Mill and picked up 2 more truck loads and escorted them back to the air strip. Then we returned to Sugar Mill to set up our camp. All this took about 8 hrs, or all morning and about half the afternoon.
Now we’re in, or rather just outside, a compound known as Sugar Mill. Named simply because it’s a small village centered around a large sugar mill. I don’t know the actual name of the village.
Tonight we sleep in jeeps on the edge of the road; that is if the kids ever go away. Tomorrow we set up our permanent positions. I don’t know where they’ll be, but I don’t see any hutches.
47 days, 19 July ’67
I’m about out of salutations, so, “Hi”
I was right, there are no hutches; in fact there isn’t much of anything. Here’s the picture: we’re about 20 miles away from Cu Chi base camp. To get here, we came thru Cu Chi, plus 2 other fairly good-sized towns, and about 3 or 4 smaller ones (some you can’t tell whether it’s a village or a group of hutches).
One of the villages, Biel Trai, I believe, is only about a mile or so away. It’s one of the larger ones, about the size of Cu Chi. It’s built on stilts, right at the water’s edge. It’s typical of such villages – grass huts about a foot apart, all the same drab brown color. In fact, the whole place is dirty brown – no color at all. All along the river are the houses and fishing nets held out over the water by two poles coming from each side of the river. They’re not stretched clear across, but work more like a dipper. They are supported by poles at all four corners, and are lowered and raised to trap the fish. Many of the villagers fish from bong treacherous looking canoes, made from what appears to be hollowed out logs. At every hutch, there are at least 2 naked kids swimming in their front yard.
I haven’t been inside Sugar Mill yet, but they say it’s pretty nice. The Special Forces troops have added quite a few luxury items. (Fluorescent street lights!) From the outside it looks like a normal village, except for the large smokestack of the sugar mill itself, and the red tile roofs of the Special Forces area, and of course, the street lights.
Along the road, for about 300 meters or so, is the artillery location. Actually, the road has been widened and the guns are set right on the hard ground, with still enough room for the gooks to ride their Lambrettas and for the Army’s trucks. On the other side of the is our location, providing rear security for the artillery.
[Notation that all the following material is “printable”]
Wait till I tell you about our new home. We’re right in the middle of a buffalo field. It’s not a rice paddy, but it’s almost as bad – worse, maybe. The jeeps barely made it out to the bunkers. I don’t know what will happen when we have to get them out. It’s about 100 meters from the road to my bunker, and water and/or mud ankle to knee deep all the way. In fact, you can’t go two steps past the bunker, in any direction, without getting water over the top of your boots. I’ve heard of moats, but his is ridiculous. At least King Arthur had a drawbridge.
The bunkers are about six feet square, and 4½ feet high – on the outside. They’re made from sandbags and artillery shell casings. We’ve draped our shelter halves and extra ponchos over the bunker, and out to the rear to make a lean-to to sleep under. The bunker has only room for one man plus the equipment (Starlight scope, machine uh, ammo, cases or beer and Coke, cooler, etc.).
It’s one muddy mess. Every time we leave the bunker, we have to get soaked at the feet – glad I brought extra socks and an extra pair of boots; tell Mother to send me my spare feet; I think she knows what I mean. I’ll try to send some pictures of this place if I can borrow a 35 mm camera.
That’s what I’d really like to do; just travel around and photograph all the different villages and rice fields, etc, and especially the people here. Everywhere you go you see so many different types, all are generally the same, but yet each one has something unique. The children especially would make a whole year’s worth of pictures; some are ugly, dirty, and obnoxious, but still make good subject matter for a camera. Others are cute, or pitiful (some of the older ones are downright cute) and some have a look of amazement, or joy, or sorrow when they see us go by in our jeeps. They run after us, shouting something in what could be Greek for all I know, holding out their hands; the friendly ones in a salute or wave, the thankful ones in a victory “V”, and the hungry ones palms up for food.
I’d love to be able to go out and talk to these people (if I could) and find out how they live, and what they think – about everything (I sound like Mother, now).
It’s rather confusing; at times I feel this way about them, and at times – like when I first walked out to our bunker – I think that none of this is really worth it, living and sometimes dying, and fighting for this shriveled up, wasted land and its shriveled up worthless people - trying to give them freedom and democracy - something they wouldn’t recognize if you shove it under their noses, much less know what to do with it.
Oh well, I’m here, the water buffalo are about 10 feet away eating grass and scaring the Hell out of the frogs. I’d throw something at them, but they might charge and wreck my tent; - and me. A helicopter flew over here today at about 10 feet off the ground and did wreck the tent – blew it half way across the field (seems something happened like this once before.)
There’s a pig in the village that comes out and chases cars – like a dog. What a stupid place to live in.
48 days, July 20
We ran a convoy back to Cu Chi today. What made it interesting were the two armed choppers, which flew right alongside us as extra security. At times they flew figure 8s, up and down the line switching from one side to the other. All this time they stayed at tree-top level.
How could I forget? This was supposed to come first. They received an intelligence report that we were supposed to be hit by battalion size force of VC last night; this meant double guard, half the sleep, and still no VC (thank goodness).
We were laying barbed wire today also in waist deep water – you couldn’t even see the wire half the time. Some kids came out to watch us – in a boat. I picked up a leech – of all things – on my leg. He was just a little feller, and we burned him off with a cigarette and pipe smoke. The medic poured about a half bottle of iodine on the hole and gave me two pills. I wonder if the leech was rabid? We had to throw him away – he was under the legal limit.
There’s a rumor going around now that we’ll be leaving here in 3 days for God knows where. I don’t know if I want to now. This afternoon we made the bunker livable and I made a walkway through the water out of ammo boxes so we won’t get wet feet as much.
I went inside Sugar Mill today and took a shower – boy, did I need that! They have a shower room at the sugar mill itself; imagine a real shower, no straight pipes, with a steady stream that beats you to death.
Then I went to the club and had a couple of Cokes and watched Perry Mason. The club isn’t much. It’s in an old French type building, and will only hold about 15 people in the chairs and at the bar (only one room to it). They have quite a display of VC weapons on the wall behind the bar, along with some pages from a few American magazines (no, not “Newsweek”). The wall is alive with lizards – yes, lizards. There were about 10 little 3-inch lizards clinging to the walls and ceiling, catching bugs. At first, I thought they were plastic, then stuffed, then one ran the length of the wall and ruined a fly – my God! They’re real!
49 days, 21 July ’67
Double guard again last night – mortars and about 5 million VC expected, they way they talked. Nothing happened. I wish we’d see at least a rabid buffalo, to make losing all this sleep worthwhile.
I made friends with a little boy today, named Ho Van Hai – almost sounds Dutch. I had him write a few of the sayings GIs use to talk with the people here. On the cardboard (which I found on the ground by the bunker). The written part is his own writing; the printing is mine. Things like chou hoi, xin loi, chieu hoi, that I wrote to see if I had guessed their spelling right. In case you can’t make out the original:
Chou hoi (joy hoy) – slang, I think. No one really seems to know what it means. Most often used when a good looking girl walks by, or when you see something you like (I’m almost afraid to find out what it means).
Xin loi (sin loy) Literally means, “sorry about that”.
Chieu hoi (chew hoy) Open arms program for defecting VC
Di di mao (almost as it looks – dee dee mow) Use this to get rid of kids – means go away, scram, beat it, split the scene, kid (even worked on a water buffalo once)
Cau cu (boo coo) Many, much, too much. Handy for buying in the villages.
Yeu co dau (would you believe – Dinky dow) The “y” is a “d”, means crazy or sick in the head.
Now let’s see if you studied well. Here’s a GI buying a hat in Cu Chi.
“Chou hoi: How much you sell hat?”
“Xin loi, man; cau cu piaster, yeu dau cu hey co dau. Didi mao!”
“GI cau cu cheapskate.”
“Hey! You VC?”
“Me no VC, me chieu hie.”
In the picture, the little Ho Van Hai is in the middle. The others are, l to r, another little kid that spoke fairly decent English – never did get his name. Roy Raye from somewhere in Mississippi, Hai, Bobby Vance from Oklahoma, and in the rear? Oh, that’s a machine gun mount. The bunkers in the background are the nice ones the artillery people live in. The one you can see way back out in the field just over the corner of the tent at the right is the kind we have – nice isn’t it. The picture was treated, so it might yellow soon.
It’s true – we’re leaving tomorrow for Du Cau (du kwa). All the guys have been there before (that’s where they were when I arrived) and they’re dancing for joy. They say it’s like R&R. Better than some posts back in the States. Water faucets, heated showers, flush toilets, paved roads, and sidewalks; it also sounds too good to be true. What we’re doing is moving there with the artillery. The artillery has been firing support for the 5th Mechanized Infantry, but as the 5th Mech. moves farther out, they have moved out of the range of the guns. The guns have to go to Du Cau which is closer (and drier, I hope).
As soon as Dad gets home and sends me my old camera, I’ve decided to shoot a whole roll on each; kids, ARVNs – I’ve never seen to of these guys in the same uniform; they’re all real characters – then villages, farms, including buffalo, and the adults and the elderly people. Believe me, there’s enough material over here and so many different people that I could shoot 3 rolls on each subject (maybe I will). I could shoot only what I do over here, but I’d rather take pictures of Viet Nam and not the war in Viet Nam. In other words, I just want pictures of what’s interesting and what I want to remember.
I have just come back from the club. Yes, the lizards are still there. They’re like the ones you by at the sate Fair. And change color to match their surroundings. (OK I’ll try it – tell me if I’m right – chamealian).
The place is about the size of your living room and dining room put together. A bar at one end, Coke and beer – no one serves it, you go up to the cooler and take what you want and drop your money in the can – and chairs along the three other walls with the TV on the bar.
This “never happened” last night, but last night the commander of the artillery unit (Killer 9-9) made quite a few calls on his radio. Every time he transmitted, the picture would change to a negative (from black and white to white and black) and you could hear only “Killer four seven, this Killer niner niner. Over.”
He finally made contact and we had to listen to everything he said (you couldn’t hear the other “Killer”) while Bil Cosby and Robert Culp changed races on “I Spy”.
All Charley would have to do is watch TV to know what Killer niner niner is going to do. Wonderful security.
Well, I’ve done it again – said all I was going to say except |good-bye” and left with a whole page to do it.
B o b (in huge letters, scrawled over onto the back of page, with flourish at end
Friday, July 15, 2011
37 days, 9 July, ’67
Dear Mom S. [Singleton]
School finally got interesting today. We had a whole morning devoted to mines and booby traps.
First there was a class on all the different types American and V.C. , explosive and not explosive. Charlie makes mines out of coke cans, c-ration cans; anything GIs throw away. Also they take dud mortar rounds or bombs and rig them to explode. Anything is booby-trapped it seems. It makes you feel very unsafe.
We went through a jungle path, which was heavily booby-trapped (simulated of course). All kinds of trip wires hooked to grenades, bombs, flares, overhead spikes; anything explosive. There were several very obvious punji pits and foot spikes. The grenades were loud, but that’s all and the pits were not hidden at all, and clear off the trail. It was a very interesting and almost frightening walk through the jungle. Frightening when you think that in the field they’re real.
I could describe some of these, but there are so many it would take 10 pages. They had a display of several non-explosive traps that I intend to take pictures of and send home with a description of each.
In the afternoon, we had a review of map reading and the art of calling in artillery fire. I had both of these in A. I. T. but I think I learned more about them in these 3 hours than I did in all of A. I. T. I learned an interesting fact – the guns that go off behind us all the time can shoot accurately anywhere up to 33 miles. Also that when Charlie gets the first rounds of artillery, he can’t take it and he leaves; so artillery does have a definite value.
We had an hour and a half on the Claymore mine. They look like a Polaroid camera when the camera is closed, only curved slightly. They have a sight on top and are about the same size. They can be aimed like a gun and are very effective. They are full of 120 steel balls of buckshot. And spread for 50 meters at 50 meters. Anything within this spread is dead. Anything beyond is wounded or killed.
They can be command detonated electrically, or trip detonated. The only trouble is that Charlie sometimes sneaks up and turns them around toward you and then either makes noise so you’ll set it off, or he’ll use a battery and set it off himself. Ouch!
We use them on ambushes and bunker line mostly. Sometimes they’re set up in a ring around your position so Charlie can’t get in from any direction.
Tonight we had a rather worthless class on convoy procedure. But then we got to use the infra-red scopes, similar to the ones we had on our track at Knox. They enable you to see for short distances at night, but Charlie could pick up the light himself with his infra-red scope and detect your position. They also have a large scope that fits right on the M-16, called the Starlight. This thing is fabulous! It throws out no light at all, but rather magnifies the existing light electronically.
On a bright night you can see for 500 meters; on a rainy night it can drop to 50 meters. You can’t’ distinguish colors - everything is green – you can duplicate it with a color TV. Other than that everything is bright as day, but it gives off no light - it’s amazing. After this we had a captured V. C. propaganda film showing the V. C. winning the war. It was really funny. One scene showed them getting artillery, mortars, and air fire as they walked along a trail. They kept walking – smiling all the way – with bombs dropping all around - but none of them fell. Next they overran an American (supposed) position and blew up a tank (Russian, but with a US star on it). It was an insult on one’s intelligence, but they showed it to their troops so they will gain morale.
So much for school. The rain is getting pretty regular now, like it’s supposed to. Sunny in the morning and early afternoon. At about 3:00 it pours for a half hour, and then drizzles until about 8 or 9 that evening. By 11:00 the stars are out. It comes in about 10 minutes and goes slowly. It also has bred quite a crop of mosquitoes, so the malaria pill becomes even more important. They refer to it as “the pill”. Once a week on the same day of the week (Monday) you take “the pill”. Just like in the world – you’d better take your “pill” or you’ll get in trouble.
We got a new guy form Michigan in Recon – he’s going to school with me now. He’s been to Newberry and Luce County, Petoskey and Bay View/Harbor Springs, and he’d familiar with Highway 23 – Bay City, Alpena, Harrisville, Roger City, Cheboygan, and, on the other side Charlevoix, etc.
One question – (Dad) what is the name of that river that connect the two big lakes? I think it goes from Lake Charlevoix to some other lake (Huron?). We were going to canoe from lake to lake, but never did. All the big cabin cruisers go on the river to get between the lakes. I don’t know if it’s a great lake or not. We cross the river when we take the 4-lane home, I believe.
One closing note. I sent one of the guys down to the PX to get a roll of film. I never get to go anymore because of school. I told him to get one roll of 20 exposures. He hot 2 rolls of 36 exp. Guess I’ll be shooting some pictures for a while. Watch the birdie, Bob
PS. Sorry my writing bothers you. It’s hard to write sitting on a bed.
38 day, 10 July ’67
The Bird of Paradise sends his blessing. Would you believe it dropped to about 75 degrees this morning and I nearly froze. Really, at 75 it really seemed cold after 90-100 at times.
I had my eye appointment this morning. Three hours of testing, I’ve never seen such a thorough eye exam. The exam was ordered by the Division Surgeon General upon request from Gen. Westmoreland (Mom’s letter, again). It was a “Special interest inquiry” as to how bad my eyes were, was I qualified for my duties, and did I have the required pairs of glasses. Conclusions: bad, yes, and no. I have no trouble besides my near-sightedness; everything else – color, depth perception, etc. – is normal and about normal (with glasses).
The doctor went to great lengths to look up the regulations concerning eyes and combat. The old regulations – the ones on my physical – were based on 20/200 being the maximum uncorrected vision safe for combat; the new regs raised this to 20/400 – mine exactly. It is required, however, that I have at least two pairs of correct glasses, therefore he ordered a pair of regular glasses plus a pair of prescription sunglasses, which I should get in a couple of weeks.
So now I know where I stand in that department. I guess her letter did some good after all. A complete report is being sent to her concerning my reason for waiting for school and eyes, etc. Of course I missed the morning section of school but this afternoon we fired the M-16 again on the assault course. Mine jammed up – this time a cartridge stuck in the chamber. Don’t worry, it didn’t blow up and there was nobody shooting back.
On the way back from the range we saw an expended artillery cartridge which had lodged in a tree in one of the fruit orchards around here. Sort of a cartridge in a pear tree.
I was finally able to get to the PX this afternoon. My old watch has stopped completely now – probably the battery, or worse. So I bought a $10 Timex calendar watch. I have my beautiful Bulova, but I don’t want to wear it over here in the rain, etc., so I got the Timex for here and I’ll send the old one and my good one home. If the Timex can last a year over here, they can use it on a TV commercial.
39 days, 11 July, ’67 – 6 months in, 18 to go
The butterflies helped me usher in my 6-month anniversary last night. The platoon came in for the night (went out again this morning) and discovered that three of their lockers had been forced. One radio - $50, one tape recorder - $30, some bedding, and $20’s worth of canned goods. With a $90 camera around, you can understand the butterflies.
After I shoot the roll inside the camera now, I’m going to send it and the watches ($40) home. That means no camera for R&R (Hong Kong) or anymore of this wonderful country. Xin loi (sorry about that).
School today? Ambush formations, defensive positions, and night firing. Again, helpful review from A. I. T.
One new gadget, though. A device that is planted in the ground, about the size of a drinking glass (small size – maybe a juice glass) with a wire going back about 300 meters or so to your defensive or ambush position and attached to a little box, which will take four of the devices. They sense the vibrations on the ground of people or animals walking anywhere within 50 meters of it. With this and the Starlight scope, I don’ see how anybody could surprise you. They say you can tell the difference between an animal and a human by the sound of 4 feet moving fast, and light compared to 2 moving slow but heavy. They demonstrated with a dog and a man at 300 m. Really amazing! Each step makes a sound like static on a radio. When nothing moves, it’s silent.
I got the Sports Car Graphic today. Thanks so much. That’s a great issue, color pics and all. Also the first time I’ve seen what they’re racing in ’67. I’m glad you’re thinking about me.
40 days, 12 July ’67
We learned more about ambush and recon patrols this morning and how to set them up. This afternoon we learned how to break an ambush, should we be caught in one.
Two dog handlers from the Scout Dog Platoon gave a talk on the value of the scout dogs. You’re not going to believe all this, but I swear it’s all true – no exaggeration. These dogs (German Shepherds; beautiful) are trained for about 30 weeks total – 20 months in the world, 10 over here. They use them for detecting ambushes, booby traps, anything out to the front or sides that shouldn’t be there – Charlie, for example. They’re here for the duration, or until they die, are killed, or are too old to function. So far, in 19 months, they haven’t had any killed.
What’s so unbelievable about the? Nothing! Now try this. The dog they had for demonstration named Remos, had 3 Purple Hearts (wounds received as result of hostile action) the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantry Badge (awarded to infantry men after completing so many ambushes, patrols, etc.). These were awarded the dog, now, not the handler. The Bronze Star was for one time when he sniffed out booby-traps and discovered a battalion of VC waiting for a company of GIs. As a result, artillery fire was called in on the VC and a disaster was averted, and there were 195 or so VC killed and 3 Americans wounded. Remos got a small piece of shrapnel in his leg. (This is just what I’ve been told; how true it is I don’t know, but he does have a Bronze Star).
If a dog is wounded, they will call in a “dust-off” medical chopper for evacuation. If there is a critical GI and a critical dog, the GI goes first priority. However, if the GI is only slightly wounded but still has to be taken back, and the dog is critical, the dog has first priority!
They have 2 dogs in the hospital now, recovering from wounds and while they’re there, they are donating blood for other wounded dogs!
They told us of one time they know of that a dog made a mistake in another unit. He sniffed out a grenade booby-trap due to the human smell left on it, and pulled his handler over to it and tried to take it in his mouth. The thing went off and ruined his whole day.
In addition to the scout dogs, they have one attack dog. He has metal caps for his teeth – sharpened periodically – and can kill a man in 4 seconds! He’s friendly to only 2 people; his handler and the platoon sergeant. He’s used for frightening the captured VC into talking a lot of the time.
The school has been great so far. The instructors (all but two) are excellent, which in itself, is unusual for the army. Not only do they know their subjects thoroughly, but they are well practiced in getting the point across and presenting the material. The lessons are well planned, in addition to the instructor’s own personal experiences in the field (and some of the lessons learned for other’s mistakes.)
There is one thing I don’t understand which happened today. At the bleachers there is a notched board nailed between 2 trees for a weapons rack. When we come in each day, we stand our M-16s against the board and sit in the bleachers for our class. What I don’t understand is: The school commander chewed out the instructor because the weapons were not stacked neatly and were not stacked in a particular uniform manner, and were scatted all over the rack and not in one section!
I want to know where is there any sense in such things in Vietnam. This fool of a Captain didn’t just mention this to the sarge – he raised hell about it for 15 minutes during one of our breaks. I don’t feel that there’s a necessary place for such ridiculous discipline (I call it plain old harassment). These guys are doing a fine job and they get yelled at for not stacking the weapons neatly. That’s something you’d expect at Ft. Knox where they have nothing better to do, but here . .
It’s senseless, Bob (so am I, come to think of it)
41 days, 13 July ’67
Dear Mom Singleton,
The last day of school was devoted entirely to ambush patrols including a whole afternoon to a simulated patrol – in the rain (yech). Did I tell you? One of our instructors looks like Don Ameche – Mother’s favorite.
It’s all over now and it was well worth it. Only trouble is I imagine I’ll be going to the field soon (yech twice).
I got back from school today and found they had torn down the K. P. girls’ hutch and our theater – with a bulldozer. In the process they took out our bridge across the drainage ditch in our backyard. Now you take your life in your hands going out to the little house at night.
I got your letter tonight. (Sorry, I dropped it in a puddle and it was hard to read). I did get the part about someone wanting to put these in the Dispatch. This brought to mind the bit about not printing any of these. I’ve thought a little more about that since I talked with the Captain. It’s true Mother wrote her letter out of a misunderstanding and a concern for her son. Most people might take it in a different way; that is, some things that happen over here might upset them, but not enough to write letters. (I don’t know what upset Mom in the first place). Then again, a few might have sons over here and misread these things and start bothering the Brass again. If they use my name, I’m in trouble again. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? Something about my waiting for a school, which might save my skin out in the field, seemed to bother Mother, why I don’t know. (Also my eyes). No telling what someone else might say about that or something else.
If I can trust your judgment not to submit parts that might bother people to the point of complaining to the top. I never planned to write anything like that, and I don’t think I have, and I don’t in the future, but people are funny. So how can I tell what will disturb them and what won’t? It bothers me a little knowing that something like this could happen again, especially when the Brass find out the complainer read this letter in the paper. All they’d have to go on is what the person said and I’d have to explain everything again.
Nothing bad has happened to me yet. I didn’t think so anyway. And Mother wrote anyway, so what will happen if something unpleasant happens and I write about it? I know Mom won’t do anything again, but someone else might.
If you just print whatever you feel is humorous, etc., go ahead. I just hope everyone understands the humor and doesn’t take things too seriously.
I could stop writing honestly, telling everything that happens and satirizing here and there, but that wouldn’t be fair to you or my parents. As far as I’m concerned, these are meant for you people. I promised to do it, so I’m not going to start being serious and patriotic to the point of writing on red, white, and blue paper, and making everything sound rosy and pleasant, and saying untrue things just so someone reading them in the paper will like them. They’re going to have to read what I see and do.
I’d better drop this before I confuse your all together.
I just noticed that a thumbtack has fallen out of Marlynn’s picture. I can’t find it and I have no more! Hold on, Marlynn, you still have one in the top. That’ll have to do until I can get some more.
42 days, 14 July ’67
As I write this, I’m preparing to go to the field. We’ll be out until Oct. 31, supposedly This means the mail might be slow coming for a while, but I imagine then it comes to you it will be interesting. Don’t stop writing though; they being mail out to the field for us. Don’t know exactly what they’re doing, but they say it’s nothing much.
Butterflies around here again, but in a way, I’m glad to be doing something, maybe the time will speed up a little.
I sent my watch and camera today. Should be home in a week or so. (Hope Dad doesn’t break it).
We got mortared last night – maybe you heard about it on the news. The rounds (18 of ‘em) hit in another area, but we could see the flashes and one fire and feel the ground shake. We were hit twice, 10:00 and 11:30. Got up, gut dressed, put on the steel pot, ran out to the bunker, realized they’re not shooting at us, and went back to bed – still wearing boots and steel pot [helmet].
If you heard about it, don’t worry. It was a good 5 blocks away from us, and the 15 guys who got wounded didn’t include me, or anyone I know. I just hope that’s as close as I get to a mortar attack.
Two guys that left for home this morning were celebrating their last night with one of their buddies in the area hit. They were walking back when the mortars hit – one 30 ft. away from them. Talk about somebody that was shook up!
More about today – tomorrow, Bob
Part 2 – First trips into the Field
42 days, 14 July ’67
From the field. We left base camp at 3:30, and headed out toward Cu Chi. What a ride! Going down these muddy rough roads at about 60 mph, weaving in and out of motorcycles, Lambrettas, and water buffalo carts. Holes – mud holes – about 2 feet deep at 60 mph, you go up and the jeep’s not there when you come back down. I don’t know why they were going so fast – maybe if we hit a mine we might get past the force of the blast?
I guess I’ve described the villages already – Cu Chi is the same as the others. The country side, though, I had never seen before. For as far as you can see – nothing but rice paddies and a few grass huts scattered about with a dirt road weaving off toward the tree line. The paddies are squared off like a waffle, with berms or dikes, which provide a path for the farmer to walk on going out to the fields.
The people living in the country live in grass huts, much like the one I drew. Only their buffalo, pigs, and what have you live in the same hut with them. Usually the huts are on an island of dirt, with water and mud all around as a yard.
We went to an artillery camp and went out in front of the guns and provided security (otherwise known as guard) all night. Here they had their tents on floats made out of ammunition boxes; the whole camp was in the middle of the paddies – a circle of 105 mm guns, and 40 mm tanks, plus barbed wire and our M-60 machine guns and 106 mm recoil-less rifles. Nothing happened all night, not even any rain. A good thing – we slept in the jeep and on the hood with nothing but ponchos and air mattresses.