Friday, November 17, 2017

Vietnam -- Legacies begin to mature

I'm not one for complaining. Only people with time on their hands have the luxury of doing that.

What I will say is there was no room for a 200 mile per hour brain in a 30 mile per hour state side, just do your time and get out assignment.

So you leave Vietnam with your entire body on 24 hour alert and get assigned to the United States Army Intelligence Center and School. Thrown into a 71T20 MOS -- thank you Craig Geis --you suddenly are forced to stand down, learn a new job and try to understand your reason for having to have a Top Secret Crypto clearance.

The smell of burning human waist is replaced by the scent of female perfume, you hear more women's voices than you have heard in a year in a minute. Your mind sends you flying under the table at the slightest unannounced bang or pop around you. You trust no one.

Not even yourself.

You come back to the states but you're still over there and you have no friends. Everyone thinks your strange. A bit off color. Slightly out in left field. Definitely, a loner.

You are.

You're a Vietnam Vet.

Fresh out of round pegs fitting in square holes. Seeing, smelling and touching more lives and crap in ten minutes than the whole of the soldiers your working with have ever seen or will never see.

You have the right to be strange. You also have the right to learn how to deal with and work on the fact that you're back in the States and in a job position just as challenging as the one you left in Vietnam. You just have to settle down and settle in.

Still, in the back of your mind, there are deep mental wounds that will follow you to the grave.

These soldiers actually slept in beds with springs and a mattress!

You stop asking for the Monday dose of the malaria pill, when you would get assigned a weapon and start marveling at the wide assortment of mess hall food. Life in the Stateside world of the US Army does have its perks and female assets.

But just when you're thinking everything is starting to come together, you get told the US Army Intelligence Center and School is moving from Fort Holabird, MD to Fort Huachuca, AZ.

"Isn't that in the desert?, I asked upon hearing I would be part of the advanced party.

I pictured sand dunes, scorpions and sidewinders.

Later, I would include, copperheads, large centipedes, black widow spiders, and tarantulas.

All my fears were sadly disappointed as I got off the airplane at Tucson International Airport, 

While a desert environment, nothing like the images I had conjured up. And while it seemed a bit out of line, I was glad I brought my sweaters and overcoats with me. The high was 74 in Tucson.  It would be 66 at Fort Huachuca.

Not as cold as it was at Fort Holabird -- that damp cold winter air I grew up in but a dry kind of cold that turned out just as dangerous to be exposed to.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the move was we were taking over an old hospital area where the movie Caption Newman MD was filmed.

Capt. Newman (Gregory Peck) is a kindhearted military psychiatrist who decides whether disturbed soldiers are ready to return to combat in World War II. Of special concern to him are a war hero (Bobby Darin) plagued by guilt for the death of his friend, a commander whose casualties weigh heavily on his conscience and a captain rendered catatonic after hiding in a basement in Nazi Germany for a year. While Newman tries to mend their psyches, he has ethical doubts about returning them to battle.

It had an all star cast including Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson, Bobby Daren and Robert Duvall.
A lot of the illnesses we lump together today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

You can see the entire hospital area from the air in the beginning of the movie.  Sadly, today, the only thing left is the motor pool.  The Army tore the rest of it down.

So there I was staring at another blank slate -- not knowing about the hospital that was once used for a famous movie -- wondering what the rest of my time in the Army would be in this god forsaken place and hoping my epitaph wouldn't find me at Boot Hill by the time it was all over.

You know the strange thing about going with the flow, embracing every job, every detail with a positive attitude, life returns the favor.

In the up coming months, I would meet SP4s with PhDs, and one with a degree in Architecture who advised me to not go into that field because all he could get is a bartender job. And one civilian by the name of Jim Hughes who was a GS13, a good friend and my boss.

I inherited 450 Adler typewriters, took over the job of contracted products such as IBM Selectric typewriters, recorded and maintained all of our spy equipment, running the equipment over for routine maintenance and maintaining our logistical supply room.

How much better can your job get, right?

It got even better -- or worse, depending on your point of view -- and then a lot better.

Joseph Pickard, the architect and I were given a building and told to remodel it. You get two architects together, throw in a LT hell bent on creating tie dies for the windows, you're going to come up with one of the weirdest, coolest buildings.

It was called Country Joe And The Fish. Its walls were black, the ceiling international orange, we decked it out with black lights, used the tops from old foot lockers as ash trays, turned a few upside down and placed some 3/4 inch plywood on the top for a band stage.

We did have a large parachute in the center but the fire marshal told us to take it down. I don't know how the band heard about us but they sent us a plaque.

Now, you're probably wondering who allowed us to do all of this. It was our Battalion CO who was one of the coolest and "hip" men I have ever met in the Army.

One night he decided to have a tell me what is on your mind night. The climax of the night was a PFC who was now working with me who said, "In all honesty, Sir, Not only do I don't want to be here. I hate wearing the uniform."

Well a West Point Officer lost it. "That's it, I can't take this anymore," he yelled, as he flew out of the building as thought shot out of a cannon.

The Colonel waited a minute and then said, "I don't know who that was but he better have a letter of apology or a left of resignation on my desk in the morning."

The men gave the Colonel a standing ovation.

He said three words after that "Settle down, gentlemen." They did and the room got so quite you could have heard a pin drop.

I honestly think, for a lot of the men who had a negative attitude towards the military and their superiors changed dramatically for the good that night.

But a lot of West Point Officers think it was the darkest moment in the history of USAICS.

What was historic was the honorable Stanley Rogers Resor, then Secretary Of Defense visited our building and signed his name in the center of the building.

There are sometimes when I do the craziest, I know it was wrong, things. Like the time I was on KP duty and an E-6 had an emergency and he needed someone to get some money to his wife and he had no transportation. Technically, I didn't either as my CO told me not to drive my motorcycle until I got a valid drivers license. He begged with tears running down his eyes.

I'm a real sap for self destruction. Bottom line, the First Sergeant saw me and, well while I saved the day, I didn't save mine.

One month later, in May, I was promoted to E-5 and I had my motorcycle license.

In June, the school officially came on line and I just bought a brand new 650cc Yamaha. I was really tied of having Harleys blowing past me while I'm red lining a 350cc just to get it up to 65. It was fun blowing Harleys off the line. Sure, they could catch me and still blow past me. I just liked having fun with my Yamaha when the light turned green..

Also, USAICS officially opened its doors to a small group of women with GT scores that passed the top end of my motorcycle -- clocked doing 120 once. I got, how should I say this, intimately cozy with two. One introduced me to the other. That other had a GT Score of 150. I married the one with a GT score of 150. And have been married to her ever since. Her name was Mary Annar Garner.

There were some rocky moments. Like when I was told to report to a mean ass looking E-8 from the Marines who told me to stop dating her or I would be put in orders to Korea. Not kidding.

Or the time two CID men in civilian clothes were sitting in the area where I worked and asked me if I knew PFC Mary Garner. After I said yes, they told me she had gotten beat up and that it was a racial issue and to not retaliate.

I sighed in relief their interest was not with my interest in her but how I would react. "So how bad did she get beat up."

"She's got some bumps and bruises.  Nothing she won't get over in a few days."

"Gentlemen, I can assure you that while I am sorry that she got beat up and I will be with her after work, I have no interest in any kind of retaliation."

"That's all we wanted to hear."

Next thing I know, I'm on orders to go to Korea. We had two options.  Get married or get married after I got back from Korean.

We got married.

Remember the PFC I told you about who didn't want to wear his uniform? He was my best man and the girl who worked for me, SP4 Shelly Dillon, she was the best women. We got married on August 27th, 1970. The same day a rather famous Photo-journalist died: Margaret Bourke-White.

A name and a reputation I learned about after I left the military in 1979 which we both paralleled with some eerie similarities.

Anyway, for then next couple of weeks after getting married, I leaned out the 450 Adler typewriters to 10 and I donated some of my black and whites images of some cacti to the school library.


When Richard Nixon decided to shorten my time in my service contract from May 1st to December 1st, with only 60 days left, the Army decided that I needed to train my replacements.

That's right, that is a s at the end of the word.

A Lt took over the job of contracted products such as IBM Selectric typewriters

An E-6  was tasked with the job maintaining our logistical supply room.

An E-5 recorded and maintained all of our spy equipment

An E-4 took on running the equipment over for routine maintenance

As for me, I was given a Soldiers medal.


Want to know what I missed the most?  The whine of the Cobra turbine, the throaty sound the Cobra makes in the sky, the scream of rockets, and the resulting thunder generated by the explosions of the rockets as the reach their target.

Well Fort Hucahuca means thunder mountain. So, I guess a got a slice of what I missed. 

Anyway, as I said earlier, the strange thing about going with the flow, embracing every job, every detail with a positive attitude, life returns the favor.

 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Vietman -- Hospital Ship Sanctuary: There are some things you can't forget

Most of us who went to Nam pretty much figured out we weren't in front of our TVs watching John Wayne getting reincarnated, The Lieutenant or Sergent or for that matter any show where the hero somehow manages to show up all clean, in one piece and just hankering for another peacemaker 12 noon showdown.

Took one filled body bag, the destruction of 122 rocket or the smell of freshly spilled blood to slap you in the face with the facts of war. Glory flew away like the parrot did in Pirates of the Caribbean  in the face of oblivion crying out "Abandon Ship".  The echo went on for a good 30 seconds as it faded in the safety and tranquility of the cloaking mist.

It got replaced with a full tank of survival. I don't think Steven King could conjure up a script of his worst nightmares to equal what some of us saw or lived through over there. None of us expected to live, all of us expected to die. There was no in between.

But for a lot of us who didn't have an 11B target attached to our backs, who didn't have to carry a radio while on patrol -- even bigger target in bright colors --, being in the larger areas such as Camp Eagle and supporting our infantry counterparts kept most of us out of harms way from enemy face to face combat and gunfire.

We just had to deal with enemy 122mm and 140mm rockets, their mortar rounds and our own psychopaths  who used marijuana as their drug of choice and would kill you without hesitation if you looked at them sideways.

So being a non-drinker or a marijuana user, you were pretty much a loner. Weave into this time spent playing ping pong with the bored officers, running around the flight line until 2am and making coffee and you pretty much have my daily routine.

Almost.

Add, to this my daily duties of helping to rebuild our unit after May3rd and I've pretty much covered the basics.

One thing I left out. I have a lazy left eye. And it turned in when I was tired. While it kept me from guard duty while doing my special assignment, it raised eyebrows when I was transferred over to headquarters as the Battalion Stringer.

So the powers to be decided that I should see an Ophthalmologist to decide whether or not I was legally safe to perform guard duty with technically one eye.

So, I was told to report to the Medivac pad and fly out on the chopper at 9am.

SANCTUARY

This is an image of the ship:




This is what it looked like to land on the back end of it.

 

 

The Sanctuary rotated between stations, such as Da Nang, Phu Bai, Chu Lai, and Dong Ha. The ship was close to Phu Bai on the day I was flown out to it.

Keep in mind that this ship was a Navy ship and its primary mission was to support the Marines. Not sure when that started including Army.

Anyway, you could actually feel the tension as we got close to the Sanctuary and asked for permission to land. And I think you can appreciate why.  The ship was long meaning swells could bring the back end of the landing pad up and down by 10 feet without warning.

So you didn't want to hover long above the platform.

Also a bit unnerving is to have sailors crouched behind metal protection while holding fire extinguishers.

Since we didn't have any wounded, we were instructed to evac the chopper as swiftly as possible and  do the same between the chopper and the ships entrance way.

WELCOME TO THE HALL OF HELL

For me, this experience was like a living oxymoron. Here I was on a hospital ship -- with no combat related wounds, who works for a Battalion whose sole purpose is to kill the enemy within 5 meters of our friendly forces -- whose sole mission is to save lives.

I really felt out of place. Really, really, badly out of place.

A few moments later after sitting down an orderly comes along and asks why you are there and for papers. About the same time you want to go to the bathroom, the alarms go off.

There is a rush of humanity to helipad. Like a tide going out, they come back in with a gurney, the ARVN officer and an American Officer talking to him in Vietnamese.

He died a few minutes later. They pulled the blood colored sheet over his head.

Later, an American soldier was wheel chaired past us, was taken down the hallway and was clearly drugged into senselessness stupor. A few minutes later coming from the direction where he was taken, wailing screams of pain and anguish sent chills down my spine. Like the pain I felt when I broke my arm in three different places.

I can only summarize that he was told of the extent of his injuries. The half blown off foot was one of them.

After a while, we were told about the mess hall (which I'm sure, that's not what it is called on a Navy ship or maybe it is) and that we would be processed through after that.

I don't think any of us were hungry after what we just went through. I just asked where I could go to the bathroom and grabbed some coffee at the mess hall.      

When it was my time, an orderly came to me and told me to follow him.  We walked through an open bay where men were recovering from their wounds.  I saw men with chunks of skin missing and lots of bloody bandages. Many had smiles on their faces as they were glad to be alive -- and probably still high from the drugs given to them to overcome their pain.

The ritual of seeing the Ophthalmologist was one I was familiar with. Eye drops, eye chart, which lens is better, this one or this one or this one?

So much a routine I could do it myself.

The Ophthalmologist comes in, flips through the charts and says, "I see you have amblyopic left eye.

"Yes, sir. I was diagnosed with it at the age of 6. When I get tired, it turns in. I've learned to live with it."

"Well, apparently, the Army hasn't. How well did you shoot in basic?"

"Sir, Sharpshooter with the M16, Marksman with the M14."

"Okay, so I'm going to approve you for guard duty. How would you like 20/50 in your left eye and learn how to strengthen your muscles so it doesn't cross in?"

So, he ordered me a pair of prismatic lenses to help the two eyes work together and told me about some exercises I could do to strengthen the muscles.

I was never so happy to get off that ship!


TWO DAYS LATER

So, I'm out in evening formation for guard duty. Both Headquarters and B Battery soldiers were in that formation and so, the guys frm B Battery started ribbing me about whether or not I had a bolt in my rifle.

12 midnight and we're given the green light for what we call a mad minute. We were allowed to fire our rifles. The wind was blowing over the B Battery soldiers. One of my rounds accidentally went through the CS gas container in front of me and it was white phosphorous tipped tracer round.

They weren't happy with me.

Few weeks later, they got back at me by firing an M79 CS gas round at me. And I almost got an article 15 for destruction of government property.

Is there such as thing as an accidentally with prejudice?    



AN INTERESTING READ

Below is a from this PDF. from the nurses who were on board the Hospital Ship Sanctuary. For all of those who were on that ship, I salute you all.



USS SANCTUARY (AH-17)
 The SANCTUARY was the second hospital ship recommissioned for Vietnam service

SANCTUARY arrived on station in April 1967 with 29 nurses assigned and served in this capacity until November 1972.

If the American people could only have experienced what it felt like to be present when
our young men were dying, they would not have to ask me - should you have gone to Vietnam?

To be the last human being to whisper some words of comfort into their ear, the last one
to touch their cold hand or wipe their forehead, was a privilege afforded to
me.

(Juel A. Loughney, USS SANCTUARY, March 1968-1969)

The Blood of Heroes I cared for each as though my brother.
No time to cry, must tend to another, and another.
Time has passed
I still recall
your courage,
your struggle and
your fall.
Rest in peace, your war now done
How brief your life—as the setting sun
(Helen DeCrane Roth, USS SANCTUARY, 1968)

We cleared out several surgical wards to make room for an influx of troops with malaria.
These men had fevers up to 106...the ship was on "shower hours" for water conservation.
The corps men found a wrench so we could turn on the showers to cool them
off
(Jane McGrath Bolduc, USS SANCTUARY, 1968-1969)

U.S. Navy Support Activity,Da Nang, South Vietnam

The first Navy nurses reported to the station hospital at Da Nang in August 1967 which was
to become the largest combat casualty treatment facility in the world with 600 beds
and admissions of 63,000 patients. The Da Nang hospital was turned over to the Army
in May 1970.

My year at NSA Da Nang taught me much about people. I remember the bravery and endurance of the wounded and the concern for their Marine “buddies”. In pre-op many would ask about members of their platoon and were they OK? I think we care-givers: corpsmen, doctors, and nurses were able to work so well under adverse conditions because of support from and concern for one another. So many times that support was in the form of being a good listener. I am proud to have served in Vietnam. That tour was the most difficult and the most rewarding in my nursing career.
(Florence Beatty, Da Nang, February 1968-1969)


Outside the Combat Zone the care-givers continued their work. Once stabilized the most
seriously wounded were flown to hospitals in the Far East and at home in the U.S. Our
story continues.

I was overseas at Naval Hospital Guam in 1966-1968. My most vivid memories are
threefold...caring for the massive numbers of patients...so many facing bleak challenge in their future...the hospital corpsmen, getting them ready for Fleet Medical School and then on to Vietnam, with their high morbidity and mortality rates. And the most traumatic of all the long suppressed dread accompanying the duty of my husband, a Marine stationed at Da Nang during the Tet offensive and how I would tell our
sons if something happened to their father.

While you think you have dealt with all those dreadful feelings-mine were triggered again and all came roaring back when we deployed a thousand Navy nurses to the Persian Gulf, the largest number since the second World War. And finally after what seemed forever getting all one thousand safely back home. Each subsequent experience of war can become more devastating and there is a cumulative price that one
can pay for the rest of their lives.
(Mary Fields Hall, Director, Navy Nurse Corps, 1987-1991)


I was a “novice” nurse when sent to US Naval Hospital,Yokosuka, Japan in April 1968. Our patients, mostly Marines and Navy hospital corpsmen, were “fresh from the field.” They’d been triaged and initially treated, but were generally a day from the horror. When I think of those two years in Japan,

I remember all those young men - thousands of them - rows and rows in perfectly lined-up beds on open wards - serious, sad, scared...desperate...eyes - some to recover and return to "Nam", more evac’d to the States, once stabilized - many never to recover - the open wounds that defy description - how could they survive those wounds?

I remember - the 19 year old triple amputee who planned to be a sculptor - before the war - before he lost both arms and a leg
I remember - the smell of Pseudomonas
I remember - the pain of dressing changes
I remember - the cries in the night
I remember - their nightmares...their memories...memories
they often couldn’t describe - only their tears told

During those 2 years I learned the senselessness of war and understood the loss of innocence of all who were there - who listened, who cared.
(Mariann Stratton, NH Yokosuka, April 1968-70, Director, Navy Nurse Corps, 1991-Present)

When I think of Vietnam, I immediately remember being a young LTJG to care for the POWs upon their return. Privileged to be one who helped fill in the "information gaps " and listening as these men described their lives and existence for the past 57 years. Their tears of joy and sadness; their fears of the past and hopes for the future; their need for comfort and support!
(Mary Houser, NH Portsmouth, VA, 1973
T


 


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Vietnam -- Retirement humor

Some humorous thoughts:

You know you're really old when a 1 Star General looks like a kid from your high school year book.

It isn't bad being 68. I just wish I had planned things out past that really old age of 30.

If you think wages in Nam was bad, try living off of Social Security.

We are officially not on borrowed time anymore. We bankrupted that sucker.

You know you've done gone over the hill when people call up asking where to send the flowers.

When the joystick replaces the cyclic, you're cursing aloud as you crash the chopper for the 1,000,000 time, and the game comes up with a flashing congratulations screen announcing "WOW, You've smashed up more chopper that we can count!", you might want to try something less damaging to that male ego.

When a 1,000 piece puzzle takes a day for you to figure out how to unpack it, get the candy out and promise them candy if they finish it for you.  Just remember, to keep the last piece for yourself.
That way, you can eat the candy and honestly say you finished the puzzle yourself.

When the grand kids ask you what you did in Vietnam, ask them what they did in their mother's womb. Then, take pictures of their facial expressions.

You know your getting old when your Social Security number is the first on the last list still alive.








Friday, November 10, 2017

Vietnam -- You have to die to get better.

While working in Lake Charles, LA at the CITGO Refinery on a turn around -- that when we go out to rebuild a unit so that it can be run to the ground by the company only to be rebuilt over and over again -- I over heard some CAJUN's talking colorfully about their youthful past.

They were talking about sneaking out behind the shed drinking warm beer and chitlins and just how sick they got from the aftermath. As usual one was besting the other on the amount of warm brew and pork skins. Well, when one realized the other had bested him on torquing up the amount of dumb ass, he asked just how sick he got and the other said:

"Son, I had to get better to die."

The beauty of being a writer is the one liners one gets from people is we get one liners from real people that are so cool, interesting and amazingly useful that you couldn't make them up on your own if you tried.

That one topped my list. Not because it came from a Cajun but because it can be applied to almost any dare devil exploit one could possible conjure up today and in the past as a fixed point on anyone's time line.

It is like saying "A fate worse than death" or "Give me liberty or Give me death" and then taking the person up on the literal death plenty side of the equation to see just how far that got the speaker of such sayings besides being bagged and tagged for the 6 foot under inevitability.

Seriously, it is tons of fun for a writer to have the grey matter concoction of a motive to run head on into fate. Like the F-4. It really doesn't take a lot of brain power to realize the purpose and design of the jet fighters at 500 miles per hour is not to fly into highly reinforced concrete.


This is an F-4 Phantom.



This is a F-4 Phantom on drugs

I was going to say that it doesn't take a rocket scientist -- but in truth, I think it did.

Total structural failure results when the physical energy of an equal and opposite reaction is not absorbed fast enough by the object to maintain is integrity at 500 miles per hour while hitting a solid wall.  The result being: the hardware becoming vaporware.
  
And you thought only software could be called vaporware.


By the way, the second link goes into a myth busters segment that shows a high speed projectile slicing through a car.  And for a split second, the car just sits there cut in half. Then the energy of the projectile is seen being absorbed by the vehicle.

The massive energy exerted into it and through it, the vehicle starts to move in a vaporizing fashion and in the same direction of projectile that went through it. Interestingly enough, there were more pieces of the car left than there was of the F-4.

These crash tests are aimed to make sense of deadly impacts.  If not make you laugh hysterically as the laws of physics get proven true.

Imagine an F-4 made out of rubber. There still would be no resemblance of what it was after hitting wall at 500 miles per hour especially if it is still being driven into the wall by an engine hell bent on vaporization. Even rubber would super heat and be vaporized.


So what's the point?

Bullets are aimed to kill. Bullets are dispatched from a gun at the speed of sound.  That's faster than 500 miles per hour. These small but deadly projectiles are directed with extreme prejudice at a human body.  While that body might be moving at the moment the bullet leaves the gun, it will probably stop upon impact.

Still, that's not my point.

Human beings are not designed to have any kind of flesh destructive objects pointed at us and used to inflict bodily damage. Chemicals or fires out at the refinery can be just as dangerous and just as deadly.   

We do live in a world of hazards. There is no getting around that. But sometimes, we get reckless, toy around with the notion that we can cheat death by making decisions which have unwanted consequences.

But sometimes, too, we have no control over the outcome of our decisions that we make. We are lied to, make commitments based on a full spectrum of data that could help make the right choice obvious, and just plain committed to learning the hard way.

Living based solely on passions, emotions or stimulus and response patterns can put a spin on life as being mystical and fill one with a sense of self worth and purpose with destiny.

The truth is, none of this is true.

The reality of life is the continuum of your life, your children's lives and their children. To make them feel safe and, to pardon the use of a star trek quote, live long and prosper.

The problem is two fold for a lot of us Vietnam Vets, we haven't been able to move past the war.

Not so much on the basis of mental anguish but because no matter what we have tried to do, most of us are finding out that we gave up a retirement check from the rich so they could get richer and we're now forced to live solely on social security therefore be poorer than dirt.

I and a whole bunch of other soldiers from that era have never owned a house, got anything from the GI Bill and haven't capitalized on a retirement paycheck from Uncle Sam for exposure Agent Orange, Post Dramatic Stress or anything.else that could be justified as a pension from the military.

Why haven't we?  Are we too proud, too worried to be turned down, never had the down payment to own a home?

I don't think thjat's the problem. I think it is because we were forced at an early age to work for the man because one of the two parents responsible for being there fore the baseball games and such was  being totally irresponsible and we were programmed to fill in the monetary gap. Many of us, were also physically and sexually abused.

Hard to build male individuality when the people who could have helped you do more did the reverse.

Hopefully, you're starting to see where I'm going here. And just as hopefully, you'll also understand.

It isn't our ability to do what we have to do to make the best years of our lives better, we don't know the real truth or the steps to take to get there.

Also, a lot of us Vets who could have gotten a lot more out of life wound up being married to the sum of our worst fears and the willingness to not become the leader of the house.

Not the women's fault as much as our own for one very important reason: we didn't know how to deal with women who love to drown your aspirations with their guilt trips.

And let's face it, if the true sense of purpose in life and married and have children isn't it also the responsible thing to make sure they were raised better than we were and better to deal with the morons we had?

A kind of mirror, mirror on the wall. We were hoping for commotion instead we got emotional baggage. It is the moment when you wake up and realize the the better half is you not knowing how to take charge of all the little things which make your life happy and meaningful and then taking responsibility for it that you realize your worst enemy isn't your wife but you. That's when all of the chaos and the child like behavior you have learned to live with becomes the enemy. That's when you stop looking for orders from someone else and learn to take the bull by the horns.

That's when you stop being a mentally wounded soldier of misfortune and start building your own Rendezvous With Destiny.

That's when you can say, "You had to get better to die."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Vietnam -- It was my evil twin

The one thing you get to know as fact when you're on everyone's radar is that it isn't what you do that people remember, it is what you did not do or got caught doing it wrong.

On one hand, you can't say, "the devil made me do it" or "it was my evil twin" when you get caught with your pants down. On the other hand, you can't be perfect either. You can make mistakes and you can have your bad days.

Problem is, you can get remembered more for your mistakes than for all the positive things you've ever done for them.

Why am I pointing this out?

Because of all the positive things I did for the 4/77th, none of my efforts ever got recognized. No letters of appreciation, no Army Accommodation Medals, no Air Medals,  and no hand shakes for a job well done.


Vietnam, the one place where stand up and be recognized, valor, bravery and going beyond the call of duty totally was not normal; failed me. 

Sure, SFC Valentine and I had our moments, yes, I was once told by our Battery XO to slow down while driving through the Battery area. 

But how does that equate to diminished or lack luster recognition for basically saving the unit from not being combat ready, racking up tons of hours on the flight line without being told to from 8am to 2am every day, 7 days a week and dealing with anguished officers or rebuilding our entire unit? 

It doesn't.

When I got involved as a stringer for the battalion, I got them publicity in Stars and Stripes, Army Times and Rendezvous With Destiny Magazine.

Again, no recognition for doing this in 90 days.

Compare this to the following:

Between 1974 and 1975, while working for the 2/17th Cavalry, I got published in the Fort Campbell Courier, Army Times, Clarksville Leaf Chronicle and Hopkinsville New Era

This netted me a Commander's certificate and an Army Accommodation Medal.

In 1976, while assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, I supported the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault with pictures that got published in the Fort Campbell Courier as well as other national and international publications and was put in for an impact Army Accommodation Medal but was turned down by the 3rd Infantry division because I just got one.

Between 1976 and 1977, while assigned to the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, I got the unit publicity in Army Aviation Magazine, EurArmy Magazine, Soldiers Magazine and others.  I also got the unit on American ABC News.

That netted me another Army Accommodation Medal.

In 1978, while assigned to the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault, I supported the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault with pictures that were used by MG John M. Brandenburg for his after action report on the Task Force 229th role in the 1978 REFORGER Exercise.

That netted me a personal letter of recognition MG John M. Brandenburg himself.

Funny thing about all of this, the one person who could have done something is still alive today. 
   



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vietnam -- According to this, we are all dead

Sometimes what I'm about to add to this blog just cracks me up.


Since I and a lot of other fellow 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Officers and enlisted are still alive in 2017, the generalization of the attrition rate really doesn't make much sense.

First off, anyone serving time in Vietnam between 1968 and 1972 was most likely between 19 and 22.Which means that roughly 75% of the soldiers were in the baby boomers age bracket.

The 390 per day figure 

The rest we WWII and Korean War Veterans who needed 20 to 30 years in service before they could retire. These professionals would be pretty much dead by now. They would be 88, 89, 90, 91 and 92.
relative to the 20 year old in 1969, 1970, 1071 and 1972.

With the average lifespan of a male being 74, when the 2009 figures were compiled, the age range for them would have been 80, 81, 82, 83 and 84. In other words, they were pretty much dead between 1989 and 2009.


2,709,918
   677,454    92 per day 
2,032,364.   24 per day

So why is 390 wrong.  Well, if you take 9,087,000 and divide that by 2709819 you would get 3.36 and multiply 92 * 3.36 you get 309.

Do the same for 24 * 3.36  and you get 80.64 or 81. Add 309 to 81 and you get 390.

 





Monday, November 6, 2017

Vietnam -- Three incidents that were totally true and totally not made up

If you were to ask me what three incidents really did happen that aren't made up three come quickly to mind.

THE DAY TWO PILOTS WERE SAVED FROM SURE DEATH BY HOLDING ON TO THE ROCKET PODS AND SKIDS

This happened either the last week in March or the first week in April, 1970.

Sometime between 9am and 11am, Warrant Officer Joe Maxsom had what we helicopter mechanics call an idiot light came on basically saying that he had no oil pressure. Which equates to a transmission seizure and the helicopter taking all the flight characteristics of a rock.

Generally speaking, if oil temp doesn't show an increase in temperature, then the chances are good the idiot light has, once again, proven its name.

At this point, the Tactical Operations Officer advised Maxsom that it was up to him to decide what to do next but strongly suggested to bring the Cobra back to our pad.

Maxsom decided to land the Cobra in an open area he thought was his best option.

Warrant Officer Fredrick Cappo was in the second Cobra and was able to see clearly what was going on.  As soon as the Cobra landed, it started taking heavy enemy fire.

He called it in, landed beside the crippled Cobra, and the two pilots jumped on the skids of Cappo's Cobra and were flown out of the hostile area on the rocket pods and skid.

Meanwhile, back at the pad, we had officers and enlisted racing to their Cobras for a chance of some enemy kills and to blow up the stricken Cobra.

Warrant Officer Cappo dropped the two pilots off in a safe location and returned to engage the enemy.
A medevac picked up the two pilots of the downed Cobra and brought them home to our pad.

THE DAY A COBRA CRASHED, RETURNED TO BASE AND LANDED WITHOUT SKIDS  
 Up at Camp Evens an AH-IG Cobra had taken off on a fire mission and began its firing run. When the pilot pulled up on the collective, it didn't respond. Apparently, someone forgot to remove a pair of pliers and it jammed between the swash plate and the scissors and sleeve assembly.

Upon hitting the ground the pliers removed itself from the cobra -- as did the skids -- and the pilot regained control.

Rocket boxes were placed under the Cobra and the Cobra landed on the boxes. It is unclear how the top heavy Cobra was stabilized so that it didn't just fall to one side or the other. But no other incidents related to the incident were recorded.

SO WHY ARE YOU WHISPERING?

Believe me, I couldn't make this one up if I tried. Although a couple of journalists have tried to place this incident at a later time, the fact is, this incident happened while I was still with B Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery.

I also wrote it up as one of my very first stories I did as a stringer for the Battalion. And, it is totally true.

Apparently some ARVNS -- those are the Vietnamese friendlies -- observed some -- 208 -- NVA --enemy soldiers -- take shelter in some empty huts. Hearing one of our Cobras they talked to the pilots which I could hear with my radio.  Unfortunately, I couldn't hear the  ground chatter. 

The key response that got me back in the jeep and head for all sorts of euphoric chaos was a question the pilot asked: "Why are you whispering?"

When that pilot started whispering back I was gone.

I think everything that was flyable was up in the air that day and us guys on the ground were running back and forth across the flight line to keep the Cobras armed with plenty of rockets.  Some of the Cobras weren't from B Battery, too.

With the ARVNS on the ground, we were able to get an accurate kill count.  The tally was 208 with no friendlies killed.  

A hell of a day.




Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vietnam -- The Legand Of Craig Geis


When ordinary people are put into unusual situations and they and everyone around them survive, we call that camaraderie. When exceptional people are put into dire circumstances and everyone around them survive, we call that good leadership.

But when one person takes action -- risking life, limb and career progression for the good of everyone else despite the outcome on the person taking the action -- the impact of those actions change lives. We call that heroism.

Craig Geis took it to the next level.

How?

Because, despite our differences in rank, upbringing and passion driven survival instincts, we were both hell bent on making the impossible happen.

Okay, so you're probably thinking, alright mister ego riding writer of this praise of Craig Geis, aren't you implying that the two of you are equal as one?

No. Which is why I've decided to add this additional information to point out the distinct differences.

Think of our "relationship" as me being a professional tackle who does his best job at protecting the quarterback. Who gets the glory for the touchdowns?  The quarterback.

The famous MASH also had a character albeit fiction performing role. Radar was similar in many ways to my role as the clerk who kept the quirky officers and the Army system running smoothly despite the discord among the players.

But when someone mentions MASH, Hawk Eye or Hot Lips comes quickly to mind.     

Unfortunately, stereotypes are also a form of prejudice. Things like rank, how many awards you have won, how much time in service, whether or nor you fit into a group smoothly and conditions such as whether or not you play into social expectations all fit into one concept.

So, when you don't fit into the mold, you find similar souls with similar conditions and you do your best to fit in.And I can tell you right now, if you had a GT score of over 100 and you have already been in the business of managing a flying club in High School, you have no business being an enlisted man or women.

Especially, when you organized a 30 person flight from Moorestown, NJ to Lock Haven, PA in private airplanes so that they could be given a tour of Piper Aircraft by Bill Piper Senior himself.

I still had to spend $120 of my own money to get the last three up there and Bill Piper was right, it did take an entire year of planning and, yes, it still tried to unravel at the end.

So, ya, I had my glory moments but, now, I'm thrown into a world of organized chaos where I have to play the game of being an enlisted. So, I got over it...for a while.

Then there are those who -- for want of a better way to describe it -- are driven by their genes.  And that's where this story begins. The place where I or the gentleman I'm about to introduce you to got away with making the impossible, possible the insane, sane and the unbelievable, believable.

Why?

Because we are doers. Screw politics. Screw the system. Let's get the job done and go home in one piece.

We don't look pretty on TV or try to get credit for things we didn't do. But we do go above beyond the "what is expected of us" and we pray those around us don't sense our objectives before we got to "borrowed time" or the finish line.

Yes, I knew I was an enlisted soldier.  Yes, I knew I had to play that position. No, it didn't mean that I was going to play it forever or after work hours no one cared about what I did or how I did it.

I had room to do what I wanted to do. That is what keep me going. All I really cared about. Craig Geis had a career. I had an expiration - term of service (ETS). So the overtime I did on the flight line at night, as much as it sounds in-congress, provided me with a sense of pleasure out of doing so.

I just didn't realize just how much the night time playing field was going to so important for both myself and Craig Geis and the future roles fate would have us working together in. We were players playing for keeps.

So hopefully, from all of what I just said, you know that my role was far different than his. And that what I'm going to cover from now on is only how we reacted to the events which we found ourselves in survival mode. Craig Geis the quarterback, me being a lineman.


One last thought before going into what really did happen. I have been a bit eerie about openning up and talking much about these incidents and not for the reasons you might think.  Not because I was afraid of him or anything like that. But because the situations, as incredible as some might sound, did happen and they might have generated the wrong kind of image for both him and myself.


His nickname in Nam was "The Animal". How that nick name came about, I have no idea. But from my point of view, I didn't want to find out either.

We enlisted folks didn't come up with official nicknames for the officers. These were generally ordained by fellow officers. What I do know about him as an officer and a friend is that I would following him through hell and back without question.

Between meeting him in March of 1970 and today, this one tall man, now bald headed hunk of a guy  has had more impact on me and my life than even my mother and father. He is a man of integrity and a man who wears his passion and his beliefs like body armor.


THE EVENTS THAT LED TO US MEETING FOR THE FIRST TIME

Basically, the story starts off like this:

  1. I hate being lied to
  2. I hate being told you are trained to do a job but can be assigned anywhere
  3. I hate being told while you are trained to be a Cobra mechanic, there's none to work on so your going to work on big fat ugly slicks or wash jeeps or mix kerosene with human waste and light it because you spoke out of hand.

I had the worse plate of pissed off you could have and there was no cure. At least, that was what I thought at the time.  

So, I told my mother about washing trucks -- during the monsoon season -- and not having any work as a Cobra mechanic on Cobra helicopters.

I was just complaining to my mom...or so I thought. That letter went from my mother to my father to Congress and to the Pentagon and back down the chain of command. I was told to go find a job with a Cobra unit.

Guess my dad kind of  forgot to mention the John Clark was in our family tree (Lewis and Clark). 


But the part about the congressional, that didn't happen until a AH-1G Cobra actually did come to A Company, 5th Transportation with the results of a sudden stoppage and hard landing. On top of that,
there were only two of us qualified to work on it. Me and E-5 who was on special assignment.
 
For me, this was my chance to prove my skills as a helicopter mechanic and completely rebuild a AH-1G Cobra from the ground up on my own. So between me and TI-Joe -- that's what we called him -- I wrote up all the things need to be replaced and rebuilt it.  Had some help from hydraulics and prop and rotor. 

Replaced the tail section, engine, transmission, Swash Plate, Scissors and Selve assembly, the lolly pops and performed all of the nuts and bolts replacements by the book. TI-Joe signed off on everything including my safety wiring (which I'm pretty terrible at).

Took the entire slick crew an entire three days to go back over and look for problems. They found none. This got me a lot of respect from A Company, 5th Trans.  Something that would help me later on. But more importantly,impressed he heck out of an E-8 by the name of Sergeant Solomon who begged me to stay and he would let me work on anything I wanted to work on.

I felt like a pissed off E-7 by the name of Sergeant Valentine -- still talking stink about my encounter with an IBM punch card reader -- that basically ate the 21 punch cards like breakfast cereal -- was a historical disaster. 

What I didn't realize at the time -- despite the fact that I proved my ability to literally rebuild a Cobra from the ground up -- that same certain E-7 was to transfer over to the same unit I, too, was about to become part of.

This particular E-7 was the reason why I decided to transfer in the first place.

Had I known this, I most likely would have taken up Master Sergeant Salomon's pleading request for me to stay.

As a mechanic, yeah, I am that good.

I actually watched that AH-IG Cobra come over to the refueling point for refueling. The perfection left me in awe and amazement.

As a helper in the computer area, I crashed and burned.

But, then, there would be no story here and besides, life probably would not have been so much fun!

So, I arrive, get assigned a hooch and go to formation the next morning. To my rather shocked surprise, there he -- SFC Valentine! -- was and there I was assigned to trash truck detail for an undisclosed and much undesirable length of time.

Do you know how much C-4 the infantry soldiers threw away!!!? I figured if the stuff compacted together in large wad of C-4, there would be a crater in the ground 5 feet deep and 20 feet across!

And that was just one day!

Despite the fact that one of the prettiest French\Vietnamese girls I had ever seen was between me and the driver -- I even entertained taking that beauty home with me -- it was the fact that what I had just accomplished with a Cobra and the look of amazement on Sergeant Soloman had on his face, I knew I had to talk to someone about a course correction on my career.

So, I talked to LT Craig Geis.

He was taller than most officers in our Battery. And he listened to my story.  Little did he or I realize it at the time -- regardless of what our true intentions were -- him wanting a desk jokey for his operations section and me wanting a Crewchief job -- I doubt very seriously that either one of us had any idea as to what April of 1970 to July of 1970 had in store for either one of us.

We did, in fact, have an uncharted and certainly not planned Rendezvous With Destiny.

While that sounds quite dramatic, the story lines about to follow are as true as I can make them.

And we both didn't have much of a choice in what was about to expire.

SECOND WEEK IN APRIL

This was actually a pivot point. The Army sent down orders to change the split cone tail rotor bearings on our AH-1G Cobras to a modified solid version of the bearings. These failed and everyone had to go back to the originals.  Only problem is, there wasn't enough of them to go around. 


In order for us to be combat ready, we had to have enough AH-1G Cobras flyable.  We were one short. There was a bit of convincing on my part that I knew where I could find a pair despite the fact that there weren't any around.

"Okay," began Lt Craig Geis, "Take the jeep and get us this pair you claim you can get but don't come back if you can't."

What they didn't know is another fellow helicopter mechanic who worked on slicks had a pair of Cobra push pull bearings in his pocket. And when I asked him why he was carrying around Cobra bearings instead of Huey bearings, he said, "Because someday, someone might need them."

Either this guy was a Soothe Sayer or he knew something was coming that I didn't know about.  Either way, I got them from him.  

Well, I did come back and with a pair of AH-1G split cone tail rotor bearings. You should have seen the look on their faces. I'd pay a thousand bucks for that one image!

BEFORE GOING ON R&R

I was tasked by LT Craig Geis to polish off the white paint from a 17 pound 2.75 inch white phosphorus round that would be used to celebrate the 200,000 round fired in Vietnam.

This was one I had a bit of fun with SFC Valentine. He came into the hooch where I was working on this round, remarked on how well it looked and asked how many times I had turned it. Knowing that after 230 turns in the same direction --I always went back and forth --, I said, "I don't know Sergeant Valentine. I stopped counting after 230.

It was the second time I've seen a man turn pasty white and the first time I saw one walk slowly backwards and out of my site.

The day before I left, the round was spray painted with the numbers, put into its container and placed in the back of our hanger.

3 MAY

Coming back from R&R in Japan, as the C-130 turned over Camp Eagle on final, I looked down in horror at the mess that used to be B Battery. There was nothing but total destruction on and around our El Toro pad.

No hanger, no choppers, smoke coming out of our Tactical Operations Center. My mind instantly went into guilty mode.  I honestly believed I was responsible for the mess I saw below because my round actually did blow up in the back of the hanger.

I was half temped to stay on the C-130.

As it turned out Charlie Con was responsible for the mayhem.  And I was about to become responsible for rebuilding it. LT Craig Geis gave me a jeep, a PR77 radio with an antenna on it, handed me a CEOI and told me to "Beg, borrow and steal anything you can find that will get us back up and functional...NOW!"

4 MAY

I'm over at A Company, 5th Trans supply with a laundry list of parts and supplies we desperately need to start the rebuilding when I hear Divarty sending us a Fire Mission, we all looked surprised. I believe one of the people in the supply area remarked, "This is crazy, You guys are officially stood down."

And as my butt was in motion towards my jeep, I said, "Yeah, I know."

Two minute later, on an ink black Pad, you could see men running and people yelling. LT. Jeffery Johns had already fired up the turbine and was off the ground in seconds without a front seat.

CPT Winfrey yelled at me to help get his front seat into the other Cobra. I remember telling him that I would buy him a Coke when he got back, saw him smile, closed the pilot's canopy window and got out of the way.

I went back over to A Company, 5th Trans and thought nothing but my parts and supplies until I heard LT Jeffery John's voice over the radio. I went down to Da Nang with this gentleman and we talked back and forth.  I also went over to the Air Force building where is father worked and pretty much could sense when something was wrong.  He sounded pretty shook up.

I headed back to  the flight line.

I have a tendency to not knock on doors.  Especially when its supposed to be our Tactical Operations Center. What I saw were men in tears and our CO talking to Johns. The CO yelled "Get him out of here."

I left on my on and LT Craig Geis followed.

"I take it you know what happened, " he began.  "Are you okay?"

I sighed, "Under the circumstances,  a bit numb but okay,"

"Good," he continued, "I am giving you a direct order to get LT Johns down in one piece, wait for him to turn off the engine and if he begins filling out paperwork, get him out of the helicopter by force if you have to and get him over to our medial dispensary, wait on him and bring him back."

"Yes sir."

"Your call sign is 13ECHO."

Well, I did get him down and he really got mad when I threatened to pull him out of the chopper and he yelled at me to and from the medial dispensary.

LT Geis greeted me after I brought LT Johns back. He said, "Go get some sleep, I'll tell Sergeant Valentine to not bother you in the morning."

If you have never been dead asleep and someone kicks the crap out of your cot, you can pretty well imagine my mental condition when I'm staring at a PFC with a killer look.

"Sergeant Valentine wants you up at his formation now."

As my wife can tell you, I am in no mood to be talked to for the first ten minutes after I wake up.

This was no exception. In fact, this was beyond no exception.

"Tell Sergeant Valentine to go get F***ed."

Wasn't a good career move on my part.

With the Adrenalin kicked in to overdrive, I could hear SFC Valentine say, "He said WHAT???" With everyone in formation laughing.

He turned around as I approached and said, "You go report to the First Sergeant, I'm going to have you Court Martialed."

That didn't exactly work out for him. First Sergeant listened to SFC Valentine, then looked at me. Told SFC Valentine to get out of his office.  Then turned his stare at me, "PFC and future SP4 Edwards, I know what you did last night. They are putting you in for some awards. But you ever tell one of my senior NCOs to  go get F***ed again and your a** is mine. Get out of my orderly room.

I never did see those awards he was talking about.  But not getting Court Martialed was good enough.

5 MAY

"PFC future SP4 Edwards how is your rapport with A Company, 5th Trans?" asked LT Craig Geis.

"Well, they like my war stories and I'm still remembered as the Cobra mechanic who rebuilt a Cobra all on his own. What do you want to me to do?"

"Take these been bag landing lights over there and get permission to land a section there. Once done, drive back over here and I'll get the Cobras in the air. Do what you did with LT Johns and guide them in.  Bring them back over here."

"Yes Sir"

19 MAY

"SP4 Edwards"

"Yes, sir"

"You are to take our 2 minute section over to B Troop, 2/17th Cavalry.  If the Operations Officer gives you any push back, you tell the Operations Officer that you have been given a direct order from DIVARTY to land them there. Bring the pilots back here after they have shut down and the blades are tied down."

I never bothered to ask if these direct orders were a bluff or not.

"Yes sir."

Well, I think his response was, "You aren't landing those Cobras over here, We don't want incoming on our pad."

I then told him about the direct order from Divarty and that got the approval. I then talked the pilots down to my location by blinking my lights and brought the pilots back over to our pad.

MIDDLE OF JUNE

After weeks and weeks of finding parts, supplies and all the Army paperwork to get us back up and totally operational, Lt Craig Geis after seeing a couple of our Cobra pilots fly their choppers like they were landing fixed wing planes, he decided that both he and I needed to go to A Company, 5th Trans for a seek and find heavy duty skid pads.

The mission was simple enough: I kept the supply personnel busy while LT Craig Geis was in the back of the supply room quietly procuring the extra duty skid pads.

This proved to be anything but quietly procuring. A rather loud commotion was heard -- guess they didn't nick name him "Animal" for nothing.

To wit I remarked, "Damn monkeys".

That made the supply personnel laugh and none of them got up to find out what the commotion was. I then did a bit of wheeling and dealing and put the pads in the back seat of the jeep.

I picked up Lt. Craig Geis on the far side of the building and gave him a look that said my thoughts of that really went well.

"Sir, look in the back seat."

Once while trying down one of our 2 minute section Cobras, I noticed that the engine would turn along with the direction I pulled the rotor blade.  Normally, the two should be free wheeling, so it concerned me.

"Sir, I'm not sure this is normal." And I showed him what was happening when I went back and forth with the rotor blade.

"Looks normal to me," he said and then looked at the engine. Something I hadn't seen. One of the exhaust stationary blades was missing. The engine had FOD or foreign object damage.



Driving CPT Denny Kramp and LT Craig Geis over to Eagle Beach was like driving two kids willing to bash each other with the combat helmets. I could help laughing.

To wit, CPT Kramp said, "You keep your eyes on the road, soldier."

I could have charged admission the two were totally hilarious.

To earn an air medal, you had to log 25 hours of flight time. So, we were volunteered to take flights with various sundry missions. I went up in an OH-6 and the pilot in command told me he was going to Firebase T Bone. After landing at T Bone, the pilot realized he landed on a hot LZ and said something about "coming" and in a blink of an eye, he was gone.

I'm sitting in a chopper at flight idle while watching white puffs of smoke going up and wasn't sure what was going on.

The pilot and the ARVNs had a good laugh at me sitting in the chopper. After he buckled back in and plugged back in his mike, "Didn't you hear what I said?"

"No sir."

"I said incoming."

Today, thinking back at that moment, all I had to do is cut my finger on a piece of metal and I would have been awarded a Purple Heart.

"Oh," I said, "that's what those white puffs of smoke were from."

LT Craig Geis asked me to create a hydraulic replacement line for one the took a bullet and then fly up to Quang Tri and replace the line. We supported Command and Control North (CCN) there and it was the first time I was that far north. Took all of about 15 minutes to replace the line and we were headed back home.
 

END OF JUNE

The only thing left to do is help finish off the new hanger with the Sea Bees and then organize the areas where we will be performing the work.

We have a new Transportation CO who replaced CPT Denny Kramp. The new CO asked my what my job was and I told him what I had been doing. Looking over at LT Craig Geis, he asked if we really needed me to perform that task any longer and Lt Craig Geis looked at me with that look that said it was time to move on.

RIPCORD, WHY ARE YOU WHISPERING, INCOMING, AND MY NEW ASSIGNMENT

So, LT Craig Geis suggested that I become the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery (AFA) stringer.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

I didn't know F Stop from shutter speed. So, I borrowed an ASHI Pentax book from CW2 Fred Capo and started my career as a writer and photographer from there. I don't think Fred ever got his book back although our paths crossed once at the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division and again at Fort Campbell when we were assigned to the 2/17th Cavalry.

Feeling guilty about the book, I gave Fred my coveted AH-IG Cobra tie that Bell Helicopter (TEXTRON) gave me for all the work I had done as a writer and photographer. Without his book, my photography work may not have been as quick to turn from unpublished to published.

Meanwhile back at Camp Eagle. We had a few things to worry about:

One, we were about to support one of the last US Army conflicts in the history of the Vietnam War.

Two, in doing so, we were about to get some unwanted feedback from Charlie Con.

Three, I was about to get assigned to Headquarters Company, 4/77th as the battalion stringer...whatever that meant.


RIPCORD 

At this point, our unit was totally ready and capable of supporting any mission requiring up close and personal artillery support any of our troops and the ARVNS needed on the ground. 


We had no idea that what took two gusty soldiers two months to rebuild would also be tested on one of the biggest, baddest confrontations between the The United States and the NVA.

The evacuation of Firebase Ripcord had us scrambling for almost an entire month. The Battalion had 36 AH-1G Cobra helicopters -- we owned 12 of them and between the 19th of July to the 23rd of July our Cobras were there doing what we were designed to do and we were doing what had to do, non-stop:

Provide our friendly forces within 10 to 15 meters worth of sure kill protection.

For us, the war was on!


WHY ARE YOU WHISPERING?

I was back over at A Company, 5th Trans closing the books so to speak when I heard one of our pilots having a conversation with some ARVNs on the ground. It went something like this:

"Roger, understand you have an estimated 208 enemy soldiers held up in straw huts out in front of you. Please identify yourself.

"Roger, will verify who you say you are. "

"Roger, we're confirming that right now. Why are you whispering?"

Replying back in a likewise whisper. "Roger, is this better? Can you still here me?"

Want to bet where I was in less than 2 minutes?  Below is an image taken that day:



Lt Craig Geis had this incredible knack for pulling his little 8mm camera and taking images when no one was looking. The picture above was one of those moments. Aside from me running back and forth with rockets in my hand, this image also shows what I believe was the Battalion Commander about to replace one of the pilots.

It is not very often that we have a fire mission where literally every helicopter is on station.  But if you look around from where this image was taken, there isn't a Cobra one on the pad.

We got a confirmed kill count of 208 NVA. One of the largest single day kill count for our Battalion through the Vietnam War and this was added to the total kill count of 418 during the siege for Firebase Ripcord.

INCOMING

Around 2pm I headed over to the Recreational Services Photo Lab. I had some black and whites I wanted to develop. As I walked over to the Photo Lab, I saw an officer walking along the the tar paper covered pallets and yelled to him if it was okay to take his picture. He stopped, put his hands on his hips and waited for me to take his picture. I developed that image and then realized who it was.

It was General Sidney B Berry.

A General I would soon get to know very personally.

I finished up my development and printing and began the mile trek back over to my unit. It was around 5pm and I heard a familiar sound of incoming rockets. But these didn't come close to landing inside Camp Eagle.

Never-he-less, the sirens went off and I started running back over to the unit.

I found LT Craig Geis honking his horn at an empty hootch..

"Sir, I'm right here."

"Where the hell have you been? Your supposed to be driving me around the inside perimeter."

Like I know when the NVA. I ran inside the hooch and grabbed my TA 50 gear. LT Craig Geis drove me around and not the other way. I think he was trying to embarrass me.

After he calmed down, "Sir, I don't think those were the last of the incoming rounds. This just doesn't make any sense. Not only did they over shoot Camp Eagle almost any time we've gotten attacked, it was early in the morning or between 2 and 3 in the afternoon."

"I'll keep the jeep over in front of my hooch just in case you are right."

Just about 9pm, thee rounds came in. I waited until for almost a solid 3 minutes before lurching out the door and running over to the jeep.

Know that saying that it is the one you don't see or hear that kills you? Well, I almost didn't hear the last one come in. Saw the red flash and felt the heat. It hit just behind one of out Cobras. Knocked my on my butt.

This time I was in the jeep waiting for him. LT Craig Geis came out of his hooch with his sleeping bag over his head.  "Man that was close, where did it hit."

"Sir, I'll show you exactly where it hit."

A few minutes later, I did. Warrant Officer Joe Maxim was shoveling dirt on the JP4 when our CO cam out and asked where that last round hit. We pointed to the hole and as he smelled the JP4, he went from smile to rage, threw down his helmet and shouted some expletives that Charlie Con could have heard six clicks away.

Two days later, the stricken Cobra was sling loaded off of our pad.  LT Craig Geis asked me to get him a white smoke grenade.  I came back with an incendiary. He wasn't too pleased with my humor.

On the day I transferred, the CO called me and LT Craig Geis into his office and pulled out a cigar box. Stamped on the top of the box was B BATTERY'S FIRST AID KIT FOR AH-G COBRAS.

I started cracking up. Both looked at me as to ask what was so funny. And I said, "Sorry Sirs, but after all that we have gone through, a bit of humor just hits the spot."

The laughter got louder from all of us.

It climaxed with me saying, "Okay, so where's the paper clips?"

After regaining my composure, I stood at attention, saluted and said, "Sirs, it has been a pleasure working with you."

They saluted me back and I left the COs office.

That was also the last I saw of LT Craig Geis in country.

LOOKING BACK

When you are young, there's two things true that I think we all are guilty of.  We want to believe we have some sort of control over our futures and we absolutely take things more seriously than we should.

This is from Craig's article:  A view from an Officer's perspective:

On assignment day everyone went to a big board and looked for their name and the unit they were going to.   

You could hear people saying, “Oh, no not that unit, Wait there must be a mistake.   

I was told I would be going to the First Calvary Division but my name was on the 101st Airborne Division list.   

A young Private First Class (PFC) came out and said “Everyone shut up, the Army doesn’t make mistakes so pack up your gear and get on the truck marked with your unit.”  

I found out I was going to B/4/77 ARA located in Northern I Corps at Camp Eagle. I got in a jeep because I was alone and boarded a C-130 transport and flew from Saigon to Phu Bai Airfield.  

Me, in Craig's shoes, I would of told that jerky PFC off and forced him to recognize my rank with a sir. Damn bean counters.

But that's not why I added this piece of his story with his. I did this because it shows I was not the only one who was promised one thing and when the disappointment if the lie is realized, you find yourself accepting the truth:

In the Army regardless of rank, they can do anything they want and you can't do a damn thing about it.

The strange thing about acceptance of unexpected fate, you've got no where to go but up and become a force to be reckoned with. That's the way I see Craig Geis: A legend in his own time.

POST VIETNAM NOTE


  
This is a picture of me and my daughter in front of an Apache.  She is a Material Science Engineer and worked for Boeing in Mesa, AZ. She also worked on the Dream Liner up in Redmond, WA.