War Stories

March 3rd 1967

by Dave Crocker Sr.

Army 50th Anniversary, March 3, 1967

It is hard to believe that it has been fifty years since I got up early in order to catch a Greyhound Bus headed for Houston, TX with plans to catch a standby flight on Delta Airlines.

The plan was to catch the same plane that would be headed for Detroit after a short stop in Louisiana.

I still get a chuckle when I think of the expressions on the faces of my AIT classmates as we deplaned from the plane that they were waiting to board. Friendly birdies and loud cheers bid us farewell as our names were sounded to re-board ahead of them.

When we arrived in Detroit everyone had the same question, how was your first plane ride? All of the guys with me responded with great, wonderful, etc., but my response was, I really couldn't tell you as I was too busy praying. I had a terrible headache and the girl next to me offered a pill, possibly aspirin but I knew enough to not accept a pill from a perfect stranger. She tried to assure me that it wasn't some sort of drug but I wasn't taking any chances. More than likely she meant well. Amazing how the headache disappeared once I was on the ground again.

The ride from Detroit to Port Huron was quite quiet as one would expect as the storm was about to start.

The next day, Saturday March 4th I went about trying to confirm yea or nay as to all the rumors that had been floating around.

Many times a good friend won't tell you the real truth as they don't want to see you hurting so it took some prodding to get the real truth as to what was going on while I was away.

It didn't take long and everyone was confirming what I had heard and finally came her admittance.

I knew that I was going to have to act fast if I was going to get anything done while I was home on a 22 day leave.

Monday morning I saw a lawyer and assured him that Circuit Court Judge Stanley C Schlee would hear my case. Judge Schlee and his brother Ralph (Detective with St Clair County Sheriff) were childhood friends of my Mom and Dad so we knew he wouldn't hesitate to hear my case, especially since my Dad had already told him I was heading for Vietnam at the end of the month.

After Judge Schlee heard me plead my case he also took a sworn affidavit from me to serve in my absence at the final disposition that would take place 90 days later.

I hadn't known before that he was a 1st Sgt in WWII and that he knew exactly what I was going through and what I was headed into.

He said I'd have to wait till the papers were served and surprised when I said I had a friend that was authorized and had already agreed to serve them.

The next day, March 7, 1967 I had a mutual friend of ours who was the Port Huron Township Constable, serve the papers. She had said she wouldn't accept any papers from the Sheriff Dept. so she was caught off guard when Tom handed her an envelope. She didn't realize that Tom could serve papers too.

The 22 day leave went by rather fast and we picked up Andy Cutcher and headed for Detroit.

The American Airlines Astro Jet was much bigger than the plane we rode home from Fort Polk.

My aunt Helen lived in Palo Alto near San Francisco and was waiting for us at the airport.

Any fear I had of flying took a back seat to her driving. She had bifocal glasses, not just one bifocal but at least six or seven all around her lenses. I swear I never understood how she could see anything at all. As we headed down one of the on ramps to the expressway she accelerated as if she was on the drag strip.

She never looked left, she never looked right but just shot out into the traffic as Andy Cutcher and I hung for our dear lives and looked at each other with amazement.

We arrived a couple days prior to our actual reporting date so Aunt Helen and Uncle Vern put us up for a couple days.

My cousin Terry was about 15 years old but knew San Francisco like the back of his hand so we rented a brand new 1967 Chevy Camaro Convertible and toured the town.

We just had to see this Haight Ashbury area that was making all the news.

Finally the day came and we headed for Fort Ord to wait for our deployment papers to Vietnam.

Once at Fort Ord we were met by thousands of GI's who were waiting for their names to show up on a deployment roster.

We were warned to not be in a hurry and to expect at least a couple days. Same old thing, hurry up and wait!

Each morning there was a formation to see who was leaving on the next buses for the airport. Then there would be work details and hundreds of guys would be picked to do whatever they needed to have done. The rest would be free till the next day.

On the first morning we noticed that many of the guys that were picked for details would enter the buildings in the front door but would immediately go straight through the building and out the opposite door.

The next morning I asked one guy that I had seen make that quick exit what was going on? He informed me that they had been doing that every day that they were there and that with so many guys there was no way they could tell if you were picked for a detail or not.

Needless to say all the guys from Port Huron followed after that. We'd go into San Francisco for the day and just shop around. We had a blast at driving the new car dealers crazy by kicking tires and getting in and out of all those neat little high dollar sports cars and limousines.

We must have opened the hoods and trunks of a hundred sports cars and many more doors as we all piled into those expensive cars. I am sure they were happy when we left.

One day went by, then two three and four. We were already getting tired of the cots and the open air refugee type accommodations in the warehouses.

Everyone had already been assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry Division at Fort Polk so we all had the 1st Cavalry patches (a large yellow patch with a black stripe and a horse) sewn onto our uniforms. For me the 1st Cavalry assignment would be short lived.

Finally, after being at Fort Ord for a week we received our orders and we'd be heading to the airport (Travis Air Force Base) the next day.

Trying to find a vacant phone booth to call home and let everyone know that we were finally on our way was our next challenge.

Everyone was concerned as to whether we'd be flying on a commercial aircraft or military aircraft. The cheers went up when we pulled up beside a United Airlines Jet.

We boarded the plane and the stewardesses on the plane were young and attractive. Very attractive I might add, and they could not have been more cordial.

They knew where we were headed and were just the opposite of the young demonstrators on the streets in San Francisco.

The plane lifted off and almost immediately we were over water and the instructions for life preservers and life jackets was being announced over the intercom.

I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't scared, really scared. By now it was dark but I could still see the water.

There were two movies, The Glass Bottom Boat and another that I have forgotten. They rotated the two movies between the front and rear sections as well as a number of music channels on the intercom.

I listened to mostly Hawaiian Music the whole trip and that probably is the reason I don't remember the second movie.

We arrived in Honolulu at about three in the morning their time with a very humid 70+ degrees.

The Army issued us winter weight Dress Khakis (the required attire for travel to Vietnam) back at Fort Knox so it didn't take long to feel the heat. It still felt much better than those cold damp nights in San Francisco and the frigid cold of Port Huron but we wondered why they issued us winter weight Khakis and summer weight Dress Greens.

The Dress Greens would remain in our duffle bags till we returned a year later.

The refueling layover in Hawaii took about an hour and then we were off to Wake Island.

From Wake Island it was on to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and our luxury plane ride was over as we boarded an Air Force C141 cargo plane for the remainder of our trip to Vietnam.

We couldn't get on that plane fast enough as the heat had climbed up drastically and we were in those winter weight Khakis.

In this plane for whatever reason the seats were mounted backwards and that was another new experience added to my list.

I have to admit, the military coffee on that plane was the best since I was on CQ in basic training back at Ft Knox.

A few hours out of Vietnam it was announced that the 25th Infantry Division had sustained many casualties and wasin need of replacement personnel so many of us who were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division would be reassigned to the 25th Infantry Division as soon as we arrived in Vietnam.

Things are beginning to look a little dimmer!