War Stories


by Art Hughes


By Art Hughes

This one's a little spooky.

I came home on emergency leave at the end of Tet 68 on a C141 Starlifter. I was still wearing jungle fatigues and even still had some ammo in my pockets.

When I got on the plane it was loaded full with aluminum crates on pallets. I asked the Crew Chief what we were hauling and he said empty ammo crates. I said I had never seen any ammo crates like those and I had seen a lot of ammo crates and flew a lot on C130s and caribous too. He said they weren't allowed to fly back empty and that they had to haul something. I didn't care cause I was downing the first water I'd had in a year that didn't taste like iodine out of their cooler

There was him and me and maybe two other passengers, both Air Force guys. The cargo was so far forward there was only three or four seats that could be folded down. There wasn't enough room for me to stretch out on the floor, I climbed up on the cargo to sleep and wrapped up in one of those moving blanket things. I had to climb up the wall of the plane to get on top of the cargo to get up there. If I'm remembering right there wasn't enough head room to sit up on the top. I don't know what the height of the cargo bay was.

I remember the pallets going way back cause I could see them in the plane's dome lights.

I slept the sleep of a grunt, for hours and hours.

As we were landing in Hawaii I climbed down and the crew chief gave me a weird look, a very weird look and said "did you have a good sleep?" I said yeah and he turned away muttering something about crazy grunts. I thought he meant the noise from the plane's jet engines. I rode that plane to Vandenberg in California and life went on. I never forgot the look on that crew chief's face.

Flash forward to about 1982. I'm combating a bad undiagnosed case of PTSD and watching TV news, some MIA remains from were being shipped back from Vietnam. it was one of those "empty ammo crates" covered with a flag.

I realized instantly. The look on the Crew Chief's face, the end of Tet, pallets of "ammo crates" clear to the roof of the plane end to end so completely. I had to climb on them just to stretch out.

How many coffins can fit on a C141 Starlifter? There were no flags draping anything, and the only honor guard was me blowing z's oblivious to what I was sleeping on. I wondered at the time how many angry ghosts had hopped into me in the 8 or 10 hours I snoozed on them. It was a strange exit from a strange place.

Ponder on that Brothers!