Nearly all veterans have their KP stories and I am no
exception. The duty roster for KP always went by alphabetical order so every
duty station I went to I was always first-up. True to form, my second day in
basic training I had KP. Now, all tasks of KP were not created equal; there
were DRO (Dining Room Orderly), Outside Man (which was the best when the
weather was good), regular KP (where you peeled the potatoes and served the
food), and something called "Pot and Pan Man" or "Back Sink
Man"(washing the very large pots and pans used for cooking). Not knowing
any better and wanting to avoid peeling spuds, I volunteered for "Pot and
Now, being exposed to serious
on both sides of the family, I was used to seeing large cooking containers.
However, nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience. The
cookingware pieces were absolutely HUGE and were a struggle to man-handle into
the sink and wash. You would just get through cleaning-up from one meal when
the cooks would start grabbing them for the next one.
Anyhow, at about 2:00 in the afternoon the mess
sergeant came back and said, "Give me a #7 pot." Now veterans from
my era will tell you that with few exceptions, all supply and mess sergeants
were alcoholics. This diminutive Puerto Rican staring at me with a baleful eye
met that prerequisite, in addition to being mean as a snake. I had not the
foggiest notion what a #7 pot was and told him so in the best
militarily-correct language I could muster. At that, he flew into a rage
screaming "G-- D-----, where does the Army find these idiots they are
sending me?", reached into my clean stack (by now about eight feet high),
and jerked out his #7 pot sending pots and pans cascading down on me, the
sink, and the floor. After which of course he made me wash everyone single one
The upside of this is now I am at ease whether I am
talking to a PFC, General, or VIP because after you have had a short, drunk,
mess sergeant screaming at you over his precious "G-- D--- #7 pot"
every other discussion is a piece of cake.
After returning from Vietnam in May '68, I had six
months of active service left. I enjoyed a 30-day leave and then reported to
Fort Hood, Texas. Fort Hood is located about halfway between Waco and Austin.
This part of central Texas is hot, dusty, devoid of any redeeming features
that I could see, and made one wonder why anyone would have died at the Alamo
arguing over it. The battalion I was assigned to was about three-fourths
Vietnam infantry veterans; I honestly believe the Army wasn't sure what to do
with us, as they assigned us to an armor unit which few of us knew anything
Now our 30-days' leave was a good decompression tool;
though honestly some of the guys were still a bit pressurized from the Vietnam
experience. At any rate, we certainly were not good garrison troops; we bent
if not broke every rule we could; were generally irreverent; and certainly
were major pains-in-the-butt for the brass.
My friend Sgt. Huff was a good example. A draftee
like myself and in the Army less then two years, he was staff sergeant E-6 due
to stellar leadership qualities in Vietnam. He even was our acting platoon
sergeant for awhile which would eventually lead to his downfall. Killeen was
the small town right outside Ford Hood and was typical of such towns near Army
bases; every other business was a laundry or a pawnshop and everyone was
itching to take a poor GI's money. One bright Texas morning several of us,
including Sgt. Huff, returned from a night of debauchery where the drink had
flowed freely—just in time for reveille. Traditionally at reveille an
officer would stand in front and each platoon would report to him; customary
replies being "all present and accounted for sir," or some
militarily acceptable explanation if anyone was missing. When it came his turn
on this memorable morning, Sgt. Huff uttered the following immortal phrase:
"One in Killeen, one in the latrine, and one I ain't never seen!"
Shortly thereafter E-6 Huff became E-5 Huff.
Toward the end of the summer some bright person in
Washington came up with a brilliant idea—why don't we use these bored,
energetic veterans for riot control? In the turmoil after Dr. King's
assassination there had been several race riots that summer and the antiwar
demonstrators were beginning to be active. Most localities either used the
police or National Guard with uneven results; the police were too aggressive
(witness the '68 National Democratic Convention at Chicago) and the Guard were
not sure how to react (witness Kent State). The logic with us was here are a
bunch of guys used to handling weapons in tense situations; they are veterans
and if they beat-up a bunch of bearded college kids who would complain? The
only problem I could see was, yes we were used to being in stressful
situations, but we often relieved that stress by quickly pulling the trigger
and I wasn't sure that was what the country needed.
Anyhow, the Pentagon sent out a one-star general to
canvass the troops and see if it was feasible. When he came to Fort Hood, they
herded us all into the Post Gym to hear his spiel. He started off with the
usual duty, honor, country stuff and then got to the brass tacks; "Now
men, you would have to show restraint in these situations. The rioters
(demonstrators were more accurate but anything over five people was a riot in
LBJ's eyes) will try to taunt you and some even throw bags of human feces or
urine at you." At that point a strapping, good-old-boy from the hills of
Tennessee slowly raised his hand, "General, sir, if any of them-thar
rioters throw a bag of piss at me I'm going to kill the sum-bitch." The
general looked at him intently for a few seconds, then said, "Thank you
for your frank comments soldier. ATTENHUT! Dismissed!"
Folks, that was last we heard about riot control!
TALL TALE #4:
"IN THE REAR WITH THE GEAR,
THE SGT. MAJOR,
AND THE BEER"
(Author’s note: I do not want
anyone to take exception to my use of "REMF" This is especially true
of any Arty/TOC readers. Truly, we all were a team—it took everyone pulling
in the same direction. However, with the infantry’s warrior spirit at the
point of the spear—it was very easy to relieve stress by poking fun at
anyone who was not a Grunt. Plus, these writings were originally aimed at a
civilian audience where I work……………Sincerely, Dick.)
A major misconception with
regards to Vietnam is that everyone who served there saw some
"action." Not so. In fact, the vast majority probably never heard a
shot fired in anger (unfortunately, some of the most outrageous war stories
heard in bars, VFW's, and American Legions will come from these types). In a
war without any real front-lines, no place was truly safe, but clearly some
places were much safer than others.
Because we chose to fight the
war with all the high-tech gadgetry and logistical support our industrial
might could churn-out, it was inevitable that it would take a lot of guys in
the rear to support one grunt in the field. The ratio was about 7:1. That’s
right, at the height of our commitment we had 550,000 troops in Vietnam, but
only about 80,000 were truly "foxhole soldiers."
Despite the widely-held belief
that us Grunts were mere cannon fodder, there were in fact special
characteristics that caused one to be placed in the "Queen of
Battle" The two-day long battery of tests we took when first entering the
Army was suppose to highlight such traits. Not that we were smarter then
others, and for sure some folks ended up with us that probably should not
have. Still and all, those of us in the "bush" took an almost
perverse pride in our warrior status. We were real, live, By God Infantry and
we never let the guys in the rear forget it, nor missed an opportunity to tell
them what sorry excuses for soldiers they truly were.
Now some of the rear units,
like the artillery and the combat engineers, had it worse than others; but
when it came to insults we tended to lump them all together. We treated them
with disdain and, like all front-line soldiers in all wars, blamed them
rightly or wrongly for any misfortune that befell us. They took the heat for:
late mail, or no mail; no hot chow, or cold by the time it arrived; artillery
and air strikes that fell closer to us than the enemy; writing-up BS medals
for undeserving officers; often almost criminally inaccurate
"intelligence" ("Kemo Sabe, I see many hoof prints going in but
none coming out"); procuring war booty that was sent to the rear when it
was often our blood that had captured it; and so on and so forth.
We spent many hours inventing
catchy names for them but our standard ones were: "non-essential
personnel," "clerks and jerks," "chair-borne
strangers" (a negative spin-off of Airborne Rangers), and our favorite,
"REMF's" (rear-echelon MF’s and I'll let you guess at the missing
Late in my tour it was decided
to move our battalion across country to Kontum in the Central Highlands where
the rest of the 4th Division was operating.. During the post-Tet
fighting we had been assigned to guard a key bridge at Bong Son on coastal
Highway 1. This bridge was so key that General Westmoreland had allegedly
stated that if the VC managed to blow it up there had damn well better be a
couple of infantry Companies go down with it. We were choppered into Phu Cat,
an Air Force base on the South China Sea, from there we were going to catch a
C-130 to Kontum.
Well, the plane was late and it
was blazing hot beside the runway. Now a GI is nothing, if not
upwardly-mobile. If he is in the sun, he'll find the shade; if you leave him
in the shade long enough, he'll build a hooch and take a nap; if you let the
kids sell him Cokes, he'll shortly be looking for the cold beer and the party
girls. We were no exception. About 15 of us managed to find the terminal and,
with a great clanking of packs, helmets and weapons, went in for a look-see.
The place was air-conditioned and we allowed as how this was a great place to
spend the rest of the war, so we flopped down and made ourselves at home.
After a few minutes I noticed
that the Air Force guys were looking at us kind of strange. I then realized
that we were among some hard-core REMF's and we were probably the first
real-live grunts they had seen. Now, just coming in from the field we were
muddy, needed shaves, maybe smelled a little, and, as usual, were
armed-to-the-teeth—the M-16's and the machine guns, the bandoliers of
ammunition and the grenades slung Pancho Villa-style across our chests, the
helmets with graffiti all over them. When you went around like that daily it
became second nature, you developed certain nonchalance, and you forgot how
you must look to "normal" people.
After a few minutes of staring
at us like we were exotic animals in a zoo—they came over and started some
dialogue. Though we hadn’t had too many chances to impress such folks, we
did have some standard lines stockpiled for just such an opportunity. Thus a
typical conversation: ("AFG" equals Air Force Guy, "SG"
equals Smelly Grunt)
AFG, "So you guys have
actually seen some fighting?"
SG, "I guess you could say
that; at least judging by the racket of the AK-47s"
AFG, "All these weapons
and stuff you are carrying; do you ever actually use it all?"
SG, "Only once in a great
AFG, "Then why carry it
SG, "Well, it is a
About then, the sergeant in
charge of the terminal ambled over and said, "If any of you men want to
shave and wash-up we have a bathroom." Now, he didn't say it in a
friendly way or even in a militarily-authoritative way; it was more of a
contemptible "Why are you despicable grunts sullying my spit-shined
terminal?" As could have been predicted, his offer met with a crescendo
of hoots and hisses along with such remarks as "Hey Sarge, come over here
and wash THIS" and, strictly for dramatic effect of course, a couple of
the guys loudly chambered a round into their M-16's. Somehow sensing he was
not universally admired, he beat a hasty retreat back behind his desk and did
not bother us again.
The plane never did arrive and
we spent the night at the enlisted men barracks. They turned out to be nice
guys and what a set up they had! Brick barracks with hot and cold running
water, a huge outdoor movie screen, and they served us steaks and beer. We
entertained them with a few war stories, they described their jobs loading the
bombs or working on the planes—it was a nice respite from our usual rigors.
The next morning it was on to
Kontum and the real war, but before we left I asked one of them, "Do you
guys ever see any action here?" He pointed about 500 yards down the road
and said, "Why yes, a mortar round landed there about a month ago."
I didn't reply but thought to myself: "The VC mortarman that let that one
fly was surely drunk or stoned 'cause there was for sure nothing worth hitting