Last days in the Field and a Little More
by Chuck Cooper
My Last Days in the Field and a Little More
B 1/35h 1967-1968
The year was cycling through. They were starting to rotate the old timers out and bring in new troops. We tried to show them how to go on patrol, and give them words of advice.
If there is no banana tree next to the trail, don't step on the banana leaf. Nothing we said or did would have been enough.
Then, one day they called out three names. Mine was one of them. We climbed aboard the gunship. Al Oliver was in the middle, Ratcliff was on the right, I was on the left. We lifted off and it suddenly hit me. It was over. I had got up every morning for most of the year, knowing today I was going to get it. I was sure I was going to catch one right between the eyes. Now it was over and the best they could do was put an eight-inch scar on my leg. It's hard to describe the feeling. It wasn't relief or happy. The only word that comes close is empty. For a couple of seconds it felt like I wasn't even there. That's as close to nirvana as I will ever get.
Then, I thought about Jim and Jerry being turned into rags, the first month in the field. Yes, I heard the story. I thought about Greg Johnson stepping on a mine with less than a month to go. They were three buddies of mine from Delta Company. Seems like Delta hit mines and booby traps every time they went out. I thought about Fisher. he died that day instead of me. Nothing was supposed to be happening that day. How should I feel about that? I didn't know then and I don't know now. I thought about Mills. He died before we even got to Vietnam. He slipped in a puddle of beer at white beach and broke his leg. I had gone up to the stretcher as they carried him out of the EM club. I asked, What are you doing? he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Later we heard he had died. How do you die from a broken leg? Years later I wondered if his name should be on the wall. I guess it didn't count if you died in transit to Vietnam; you had to have one foot on the ground before they killed you to qualify. Ok, their rules, they didn't bury you any deeper. Anyway, the moment passed.
I started to take stock of what was going on. I had climbed aboard the gunship with my claymore bag full of m16 magazines. I should have handed them out at the LZ. I didn't think of that. Climbing aboard without it would have been like leaving one of my boots behind. I had a grenade with the spoon twisted around the strap. There was a crack half way across the spoon on the wrong side of the pin. I had been meaning to get rid of it, but I never got around to it. I didn't think the gunship crew would be happy if I tossed a live grenade overboard. Ok, I will worry about it later.
When we landed at Hensel airfield, it was getting dark. The road was closed. We could not get to bravo barracks until the next day. The gunship crew split. Ok, they had done their job. I thought we would just spend the night in one of the bunkers, but, when Ratcliff had been on R & R he had met some members of a communication center they had here. It was worth a try. We walked over to their compound. It looked like mountain of sandbags with a forest of antennae. Wow! They invited us in. First they took us to their orderly room. They had us clear our m16s. They put the rifles in a rack and the ammo and my claymore bag in a safe with a big dial on the front. Seemed a little strange, but, ok. Next they showed us three bunks we could use. They even gave us some MPC to buy dinner at their EM club thank you. They were going to have a stripper for tonight's entertainment. Sounded good so far. And they had hot showers. Al and Ratcliff headed for the EM club to get something to eat. I wasn't hungry so I headed for the showers. It was packed. There must have been twenty men in there, but at the far end was one open shower. Ok, I kicked off my boots, threw my fatigues against the wall, grabbed my towel and headed for the open shower. Someone had left a bar of soap on the ledge. Thank you.
I got wet and lathered up. The lather turned brick red. I rinsed off and turned around. There was a stream of red muddy water running the entire length of their shower. Everyone was staring at it. I just laughed, lathered up again, and stood under the hot water with my eyes closed. When I opened my eyes and turned around, everyone had left. I was alone in the shower. Wow! Am I that scary? I dried off, I thought about rinsing out the fatigues, but, why bother. I got dressed and headed for the EM club.
I bought a beer and joined Al and Ratcliff. We waited for the show to begin. The opening act was a member of the kitchen staff running down a very large rat with his bare hands. They both ran passed our table. I decided against having any of that night's stew. Then the stripper came out. She looked outstanding. This was before silicon. I'm pretty sure she was Vietnamese. I just wish someone had swept off the stage before she began. The red dirt sticking to her oiled body when she did the roll around on the floor bit didn't add that much to her act. It didn't take that much away, she didn't go all the way but she got a big round of applause. The next day they gave us back our rifles but kept all the ammo. I wasn't happy about that, but ok, the grenade is their problem now.
We hitched a ride to bravo barracks. The old timers were starting to gather for the trip back to the world. Ron Hopkins was still there. He had left two weeks earlier, they had messed up his paperwork. Now, he was saying minus nine days and a wake up. I made the rounds to the other company barracks trying to find some buddies from Tiger land. I found some and heard about others. We traded mailing addresses, no e-mails back then. None of us ever wrote. The paperwork cleared and it was time to head home.
First stop was Cam-Rahn Bay they had a hamburger stand there. I ordered two cheese burgers, a large order of fries and a large soda. I was able to eat half of one burger, three or four fries and I was too full to finish my drink. Wow! Things have changed. Next stop was LAX.
The anti-war movement was going full steam. No one spit on me. That must be an urban legend. If someone had actually spit on a returning GI or Marine, things would have gotten real animated in a hurry. A couple of folks did flash me the peace sign. I had no idea what that meant. To me it was the old WW2 V for victory sign. I wasn't sure whom they were wishing the victory on, but it was a good guess it wasn't ours. The country was in the middle of a recession, good luck finding a job. And women's lib was starting up. American women had decided they didn't like men, anymore. I went to visit a young woman I had been going with on and off in high school. She said a few things I didn't appreciate. I haven't seen her in forty- five years. This is also when mail order brides were becoming popular. If American women were through with men, then there were plenty of foreign women eager to marry an American. I had a buddy who married a woman from the Philippines. He assured me this was the way to go. He had never been happier, his life was now complete. Then, the next month the rest of her family moved in, including her two teenaged sons. And I thought I would hold off on that. I'll end the story here. For everyone who made it back, welcome home. I have nothing but respect for all of you.
Chuck cooper B-1-35
1967 to 1968