War Stories

I Wish the Weekend Would Hurry Up and Get Here

by Dick Arnold


In the 1970s at Eli Lilly, while still pursuing a degree, I worked various jobs in antibiotic production. One job several times a shift consisted of breaking down and putting back together a large 42" filter press. I have always felt that repetitions, two-person tasks like setting a press are an opportunity to really get to know the individual you are working with. During that time, I worked mainly with one guy who I will just call G. (The reason for this pseudonym will become crystal-clear as this yarn unfolds.)

G. was a good guy; conscientious about his work, good family man, and unfailingly polite & proper. Still, I always thought that there was a certain lack of flexibility in his thinking. It wasn't so much that he put people in "boxes," it was more as if once he thought he had an issue nailed-down his mind would not register any conflicting data.

Back then I was very careful as to whom I talked to regarding Vietnam. The war had left a huge bad taste in our country's mouth and many people were having difficulty separating their feelings on the war from their feelings regarding soldiers who served there. Plus, on a personal level there were still some raw nerves; it has only been since the formation of our 35th Infantry Association that I have honestly been able to talk and write about my experiences. Prior, I reserved my true feelings for fellow combat veterans and was cautious with everyone else.

Anyway, G. and I were setting up the press one day when he started talking about his military experiences. Turned out he had used his relationship with a good friend to wrangle an assignment in the Army Reserve and had spent his required six months active duty at a Quartermaster depot in Salt Lake City. I honestly found his commentary interesting, did not begrudge him his Reserve status, and figured he surely understood a little about 'Nam. Brethren, was I ever wrong!

He asked, "Dick weren't you in the infantry in Vietnam?"

"Yes I was."

"Well, when you guys went on maneuvers where did you sleep?"

Now, at the word "maneuvers," I was instantly on guard. For I now knew that I was dealing with the most dangerous of the species -- a civilian REMF. It is all about whether you use it as a noun or a verb. We may have "maneuvered" during fire-fights, but went out on "patrols," "operations," or that militarily-beloved phrase -- "missions." Only National Guard types playing week-end soldier go on "maneuvers." Still, I manfully pressed on.

"Well G., we usually slept on the ground."

"What happened if it rained?"

"We generally got our butts soaked."

"Dick, I've seen pictures of tents over there, didn't you guys use them?"

"G., those were for the guys in the rear, that stuff was too heavy to hump in the field."

"Did you ever get shot at?" (This conversation was going down hill fast.)

"Yes I did."

"Did you shoot back?"

"Sure, that was the fun part of getting shot at." (Trying desperately to diffuse this situation with a little dry humor.)

"Did you ever hit anyone?"

"I sincerely hope so."

At this point he became silent, but I could hear the wheels spinning. He must have had some pre-conceived notions regarding about either what the infantry did over there or the type of person who was involved, and I suspect the latter. Here I was, an otherwise average guy, presenting him with a conflicting idea. However, his database had no room for it, the three Standard Deviation control chart in his mind could not abide this flyer.

Still, I was hardly prepared for his next question. For he asked, so help me General Westmoreland, "Well, what did you guys do on weekends, go back to camp?"

For one of the few times in my life, I was absolutely speechless. Mercifully, I never had to answer for he had a phone call in the office and we never resumed the conversation. However, upon reflection, wouldn't it have been a keen idea?

Here is one possible scenario. It's late on a Friday afternoon deep in the Central Highlands. It has been nip and tuck for awhile but if we can only hold on for a few more minutes -- and then the whistle blows!

"Sorry Charlie, you had us going there but that's the five o'clock whistle; it is time-out until 7:30 Monday morning. And say Charlie, there is an air-strike on the way that we called in BEFORE 5:00 p.m., so best keep your head down for awhile. Under the new "Rules of DIS-engagement," we get to count it."

"What do you mean no one told you about the new rule? Giap and Westy both signed-off on it."

"Why no they don't care what happens to us Privates -- how in the hell do you think they both made General."

"No, I don't know of any cute, young mamasans around here, that damn ambush you sprang probably scared them all off. Besides, it is about too hot for that kind of recreation. Anyway, I would think that a good soldier in the great "Peoples Army" would be spending his weekend writing some of that BS patriotic crap to your beloved Uncle Ho."<

"How's that? Ho Chi Minh is the George Washington of North Vietnam? Now Charlie, please don't believe everything you read in the New York Times. Jane Fonda and Abbie Hoffman may believe it, but most of us think Ho is a decrepit old bastard who oughta shave that sorry excuse for a goatee he keeps trying to grow."

"Touche Charlie, touche! I must admit that LBJ and his family would not win any beauty prizes either. But Charlie, for the record her name is Ladybird, not ladybug."

"What are we doing this weekend? Oh I dunno. We'll probably kick back with a case of cold Ballentine and watch the B-52 strikes go into Laos."

"What's that? Why sure we believe you when you say that you don't have any basecamps over there; but you know those Air Force boys -- they need to justify those big budget requests somehow."

"You have a great weekend too. And say Charlie, you better come back Monday morning with those Ho Chi Minh sandals laced-up tight, cause we are going to get some reinforcements and kick your butts back to Hanoi!"

Maybe G. was on to something after all!