“Boom-boom girls, or not, it was no walk in the park. Didn’t take long to grasp, ‘it don’t mean nuthin’. The thousand yard stare was how ya got through it day after fucking day. That was my life, and times in Viet Nam. Okay, it was totally different. You know, to be in a unit like that. Uh, the only thing I can figure that would even come close, would be if you were in the LLRP’s, or the ARPS, or somethin’ like that. You know, if you were in Special Ops. Them guys would’ve had it harder than what we had. That’s, that’s about the only unit that can say that they would’ve possibly had it harder. You know uh, uh, ah, A Shau Valley. I would not want to have been in A Shau Valley, up in I Corps. City of Hue I would not want to have been, cuz I mean, that was hell up there. Um, uh, City of Hue was a big beautiful city when all hell broke up there in ’68. And when it was over, it was a pile of rubble. The entire city. Okay? That’s how it was. Only that’s how it was for me in 1970 in the jungles cuz a lot of times you couldn’t see em. He might be strapped in a tree. Alright. He ain’t comin’ outta that tree, he’s gonna die there. But he’s gonna open up on my ass the first chance he gets with a .51 caliber machine gun. Right. So if somebody don’t get him real quick, somebody else on our side is dead real quick. And I saw that happen. Squadron lost their First Sergeant one night from a guy strapped in a tree with a .51 caliber machine gun. They had set up in the daytime, okay, Squadron had. And that meant that he was already in that tree, and nobody saw him. And as soon as it got dark, he opened up. And one of the guys he killed was the Squadron First Sergeant, who was over the platoon, or the troop of First Sergeants, right. He got took out. And we could see the fire fight from where we were at. We knew that Squadron was gettin’ hit that night. And we were close enough to go on full alert, go full green on everything. Because if they’re that close, if, if they get beat back, what are the chances of them comin’ our way? Or did they already pass us up to get to Squadron, and they’re gonna hit us on the way back? Ya know. So we’d start changin’ Claymore’s, unpluggin’… As soon they got hit, we started unpluggin’ Claymore’s, and settin’ trip flares out in the dark.” Sam was coughing.
“Want some coffee?”
“What?” Sam asked.
“Do you have coffee? I’m gonna go grab me some.” Hollywood repeated.
“Do I have coffee? I have damn little in here, Hollywood. I’ll tell you that.” Sam laughed. “Ya might as well make another pot. We haven’t even discussed Agent Orange, the monkeys, or the fuck you lizards yet. Hey, I’m gonna go toke up while you’re doin’ what yer doin’.” Sam left the garage for several minutes. When Hollywood got back, Sam was already talking to Jeff and Vince with his feet up on the table.
“Okay. The planes are coming to dump the Agent Orange, right. And we’d all be standing on our tanks, or whatever. And here’d come a big old C-130 drop down in to the valley, and he’d just spray Agent Orange, ya know.” Sam rolled his cigarette between his fingers.
“When we deactivated the B26’s, I went to the C-123’s which had multiple roles, and I was grateful that it wasn’t the ranch hands. I ended up on candle light ships kicking flares. We only had a few ranch hands, and they shipped out shortly after I joined the squadron. The way I felt was if we sprayed this shit on trees to kill them, what the hell would it do to our troops? I still can’t look at those ranch hands without getting royally pissed off.” Jeff stated bluntly.
“Of course. They told us, ‘It’s no harm to you. What it is, it kills off the foliage. Makes the roads wider, and they can’t ambush us as easy.’ And then that night, you hear trees fallin’ over, right? Because the soil has gone from nice rich black dirt, to just like, you know… You’d scoop it up, it would be rich black dirt. By mornin’ it’d be just like sand. Nothin’ was growin’ there. You know, and to this day, nothin’ grows there. Okay. And they’re tellin’ us, it ain’t gonna hurt us, right. But all the goddam monkeys are dead, that are in the trees, that are sleepin’ in the trees that night. Right. Monkeys were our friends, right? Where we were at we had a lot of monkeys. Monkeys get real quiet at night, right? They’re sleepin’, they’re groomin’ each other, and shit like that. Uh, if monkeys start gettin’ fidgety, edgy or whatever, you’d hear guys racking them .50’s back. Cuz you know they’re comin’. They’re comin’ down the trail, the monkeys have heard ’em before you did. We had a dog from Cambodia, Captain America. Captain America would always sit on the bow at night. With Roy, er, uh Lonnie at night, he’d always sit down there cuz there was more room on the front deck. And he’d lay there you know and he’d be sleepin’, he’d be catchin’ a nap. It’d be hot, it’d be 95 degrees at night. You know, still hotter than hell. Four of us might be pulled off of a trail, right. Uh, uh doin’ night ambush. You know, cuz we got shit set up. And that little frickin’ pup, he’d lift his little head up, alright, and he’d start growlin’ real easy. The dog would start growling, right, real, real easy. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t growl real deep. Lonnie would be sittin’ in his drivers seat, and he’d have his lid off, ’n he’s listenin’ to his stereo down in there real easy. And Captain starts growlin’ right, the monkeys are gettin’ edgy, I’m sittin’ up on the TC’s hatch, I’ve got my CV helmet on alright, and uh, it’s got commo in it, right. You can talk to squadron. You can talk to the helicopters, you can talk to your own guys, right? And uh, so Lonnie puts his CV helmet on, he says, uh, ‘Captain’s growlin’. I said, ‘Okay, pass the word’. Ya know, so every body starts sendin’ sit-reps, ya know, cha chu – cha chu chu, on their uh head sets. You hear everybody’s ready. You hear turret power, and the green lights. And uh, sure enough, here they’d come, man. Cuz the monkeys would get more and more rattled, and Captain would get more and more rattled. You’d be up on that…”
“He knew what was comin’.”
“Yeah, he knew they were comin’ down the trail.”
“But, he knew what was coming, too.”
“Oh, yeah he knew what was comin’. Oh, yeah, cause his ass, by then he’d done jumped inside. Okay, he’s got…”
“He says, ‘I ain’t got no gun!’.” Jeff laughed.
“Nope.” Sam nodded, and agreed. “Most of the time Lonnie would grab him you know and slide him… He’d tell me, ‘Move the turret, you know at 3 o’clock’. And that way he could slide Captain back through a door into the turret. And uh, he would just stay down there durin’ the fire fight, or the ambush, or whatever was goin’ on. He knew, man. He, he just knew. He was a good little guard dog. But it was always them monkeys, or the fuck you lizards. They had a lizard over there, right. And at night, that’s the only time you heard em. Cuz that’s when they were out, and they said, fuh-cue, fuh-cue, fuh-cue! It was their mating call, or what ever in the hell it was. Well, they’d be doin’ that, right.”
“Right!” Jeff laughed recalling an incident. “Those fuh-cue lizards usually live in the trees. But, we were one of the lucky ones that had one living in the eaves of our hooch. They’re mean little bastards that will take on anything smaller than they are. Heard they could take off fingertips if they bite, and if they latch on, look out! Sometimes the only way you can get them off is to pry open their jaws, or dunk them in water so they let go to breathe. After a long day at work, followed by a few beers, Don and I stumbled into the hallway of the hooch, only to be confronted by one of those colorful little monsters damn near fifteen inches long, which seemed to be daring us to take it on. I couldn’t scare it off, and didn’t care to try grabbing it, so my roomie offered the use of a golf club. I didn’t want to hurt it, so I used the golf club to nudge it toward the door. That didn’t work! Using it’s sticky feet, and strong jaws, it clung to the head of the golf club. Even a vigorous shake couldn’t get it off, so I carried club and lizard outdoors, and did a good imitation of a golf swing. That did the trick, and it landed somewhere out in the grass.”
“Golf clubs? Ya bunch uh REMF’s! We’re out in the jungle playin’ war, and you Air Farse… What uh ya call ’em Hollywood? Airedale’s? …yer out there on the golf course chasin’ lizards with sticks!”
Vince smiled. “Good thing Michelle isn’t out here to hear you guys talking about lizards! Those fuh-cue lizards are called Tokay; the Thai name for them sounds more like ‘took-keh’. The smaller ones, about four, or five inches long are called something like ‘ching-jok’, they’re found both inside and outside of buildings. They were well tolerated by the locals because they eat copious numbers of insects, especially mosquitoes. But, those friggin’ things cost me home cooked meals, and plenty of good lovin’ while I was in country.”
“Oh geezzz guys! Now we gotta listen to the poor Colonel whinin’ ’bout him not gettin’ gourmet meals, and bed service. What next, there was a pea under the Colonel’s mattress?”
Jeff didn’t know how his dad was going to react the ribbing, but it didn’t take long to learn the old man fit right in. Obviously during previous conversations, before Jeff came home, Vince had earned their respect.
“About three weeks after arriving in Bangkok, I was staying at a fairly old hotel while house hunting. The restaurant was separate from the main building. That was very common in older Thai construction, to keep some of the heat and smell away from bedrooms. It was open on one end, where it faced the swimming pool.”
“A swimmin’ pool even? Hey, ya know we uh had waterfalls, ’nd streams for fun, ’n personal hygiene. Some didn’t even have snakes in ’em! See we were lucky. Ya know, we didn’t have none uh that nasty chlorine tuh mess up our hair.” Sam shook his pony tail.
“Now don’t go feeling too sorry for him Sam,” Hank came in and pulled up a chair. “Being stuck in the jungle, you didn’t know that all us Air Force personnel got department store make-overs when we got back.”
Once the laughter calmed down, Vince continued with his story. “We were sitting at a table having lunch on a Sunday afternoon, chatting with a few of the troops there on R & R. My wife had just arrived in the wee hours that morning. A number of the small ‘ching-jok’ were chirping as they chased insects. Two of them got into a little squabble, and went racing across the ceiling. At a very in-opportune time, one lost its grip, and landed right in the middle of Michelle’s soup bowl. She jumped up, screamed, and went running out. They never saw her again! I ran into them a couple of days later. When they asked about her, I told them she had caught the next flight out, going back to the US, after having been in-country only a short while more than twenty four hours.”
“The military didn’t want us out of the jungle. We knew the sound and we knew the smell, right. Ya know, we could read the jungle like some could uh, uh read uh, a book. Them guys would be goin’ fuh-cue, fuh-cue, fuh-cue, you know. And then all of a sudden, them lizards get quiet. Well, then you knew. Somethin’s disturbed them lizards. Okay, them lizards got real quiet, real fast… That means they’re right on top of them goddam lizards. So get ready. We’re gonna rock ’n roll. Sure as shit, man first thing out of the goddam jungle would be a RPG, ya know. Whoosh. Here we go again. It was always scary when there were only like three or four of you on a night ambush patrol, you didn’t have all seven vehicles. You know the rest would be at the rear, or they would be set up somewhere else, to catch em goin’ another way. I was uh, I felt insecure when there was like three of us backed up to a bluff, ya know. Waitin’ on ’em, and hope to God that they’d hit a trip, and not catch it. Ya know if they’d catch it, then they’d be more cautious. Ya know. Hope to God they wouldn’t catch that trip. Then, boom! that goes off. You know right where they’re at, and then you just whack ’em. Cuz you can turn a turret on a tank real fast. I don’t care if the barrel is facing at twelve o’clock, and it goes off at seven o’clock you can swing around real quick, and let a main gun round go fast. Used to hate that, they’d come up to us and tell us, okay you guys, we’re gonna do a night ambush, we’re gonna send three of you over here, and four of you over there… Man don’t be breakin’ up the seven, you need the seven together. You don’t need the seven split up. Cuz if the one, er, if the three get hit real hard, the four can’t get to ’em in time. Ya know and tanks are hard to move at night, when there ain’t no moon. You know, you don’t have bright ass headlights and tail lights. They are very hard to move, so you can’t move real fast to get to help your buddies. By the time you get there, it’s usually too late anyway.”
“Were there tensions between the troops? Like, um, did everybody get along? There was a Mexican and a Puerto Rican in my squadron. Sounds like a joke, but it wasn’t. It got pretty tense for a few minutes. The PR kept hammering on the Mexican one night about them being natural enemies. Taco calmly told him, ‘I’m not here to fight with you. Ya wanna fight, go fight with the VC. That’s what we’re here for.’”
“Yeah, I’m sittin’ on a stump, right, or a tree that’s knocked over, it’s mail call, and uh, there’s me and Chad, and a FNG, and we’re, we’re readin’ our mail. Chad was in a different Troop, but he got there same time as I did, both of us, but that was the only time that uh, we ever got together. Right? When his Troop and X Troop got together. That one time in that whole year. And uh, there’s a commotion, and it’s Double Deuce, it’s the driver of double deuce, he’s an E4 and he’s got a, a American grease gun, .45 caliber, and he’s got 30 rounds in it. And he’s lookin’ at the Platoon Sergeant who is a hopeless drunk, not our good Platoon Sergeant, the one we got later, the one that burned up my .50. And he says, ‘We’re about to change the war.’ He says, ‘The old ones are gonna start dying’. Now the, the Platoon Sergeant’s got an M16, at his side, right, and Double Deuce has got this grease gun, I mean he’s, he’s poised and ready, he’s gonna take ’im out. And I see the Platoon Sergeant barrel that gun, and they’re startin’ to come up, arguing and shit. I’m lookin’ at this FNG and says, ‘Whatever you do, do not move,’ I says, ‘Cuz if you set him off, and Double Deuce opens up, the three of us are gonna die right here.’ Cuz we’re right behind ’im. Right, I mean Double Deuce is right there where that plaque is, and the Platoon Sergeant’s right on the other side standin’ on a vehicle. And they’re both about this far away from openin’ up on each other. Well, the TC on double deuce comes over, him and one of the .60 gunners, they come over, and grab Double Deuce, and they haul his ass out. So everybody takes a sigh of relief. Right? And then that night, the only time we had been together that year, Chad catches one in the stomach. Alright, and as we’re takin’ him out to the helicopter, the dust off, uh, he’s talkin’ to me, right, we’re talkin’. I’m sayin’, ‘You’re gonna be fine, you know, you’re gonna be alright, there ain’t gonna be no problem.’ And uh, in the mornin’ the Captain comes up to me, and he says, ‘Your buddy didn’t make it.’ And I’m like, you know, ‘What?’ I says, ‘I was talkin’ to him when we put him on the helicopter. He was fine.’ He says, ‘He didn’t make it, man.’ He says, ‘He was gut shot. All his intestines were all ripped apart. He was all full of shit and everything, and uh there was nothin’ they could do for him. He died on the helicopter before he ever got to Long Binh.’ I was like, ‘You gotta be shittin’ me, man.’ He was a good guy, too. A really good guy. We’d gone through Fort Knox together, ya know, Basic, AIT, NCO School, Leadership Preparation School. We’d been through all of it together. And just on the night when we all hook up, he ends up gettin’ whacked. Again, angel on my shoulder. Made it again. I swear, I’m just the luckiest bastard in the world. But a lot of it has to do with I’ve calmed down so much now. I just don’t let things upset me anymore. Life’s…”
“You were pretty hot headed, when you first started to work for me.” Jeff recalled Sam roaring off on his Harley on several occasions.
“Yeah, oh yeah. I was real hot headed. Got me in a lot of trouble. As it did a lot of Veterans comin’ home. Got ’em in a lot of trouble. And now its, the way to look at it now is, nothin’, nothin’ is that important that it’s gotta cost you a lock up. There’s nothin’ that important. Just do, do your thing in life as long as you’ve got, and try to do the best you can as long as you’ve got, and then die.”
Everyone was quiet.
Sam spoke, reflectively, “Ya know. It was a wild time. It was the wild, wild, west. What can ya say? First you live it, and then you learn from it. How’s that? But it takes you years, to learn from it, to learn that you don’t want boys in wars being blown to shit. Right? You know, you know what war is?”
“It’s a failure of diplomacy. That’s the only way to define war. Two people make a war. And everybody else suffers.”