CALM BEFORE THE STORM
I was able to be home for almost forty days on leave before I had to report for duty at Ft Lewis, Washington. I got paid before I left Ft Leonard Wood. The pay clerk gave me the advice to buy my airline ticket to Seattle/Ft Lewis before I spent all the money. I took the advice and bought my ticket the first day. I knew to the minute when I was leaving the entire time I was home.
I made an agreement with a friend to carry me to Love Field in Dallas. I did not want my family to be there to see the look on my face or any emotion as I boarded the plane. As the departure day neared the reality of what was about to happen began to soak in. It was on my mind all day every day.
Sometime in late August (I don’t remember the exact date) I said goodbye to family at home. Jackie Jackson took me to the airport. The flight was uneventful. I do remember the pilot announcing we were flying over the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even try to look. I was homesick, lonely, and scared.
I arrived at SeaTac Airport and caught a shuttle to Ft Lewis. After about two days of waiting several busloads of soldiers were bussed to McCord Air Force Base to catch the flight to Vietnam. We landed in Alaska to refuel. Then the long leg of the trip, about twelve hours, to Japan where we refueled again. The last leg of the flight was a short one to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.
No one had told us what to expect when we landed. I was thinking would we be shot at getting off the plane. Cam Ranh Bay was very hot but it was on the beach of the South China Sea. The sand was pure white and the water was clear blue, however, we did not have time or the will to enjoy it. The days there were busy doing paper work and getting outfitted for our assignment. I do remember late in the evening looking inland and seeing what I thought were thunder clouds. At least that what it would be if I was in Texas. It turned out that I showed my flatlander background. The “thunder clouds” were mountains where the coastal plain rises.
I was assigned to the Fourth Division at Camp Enari near Pleiku in the central highlands. I did not know anything about the reputation of any of the units and I did not know the strategic location of the Fourth Division’s area of operations but I soon found out.
The central highlands are just what it implies—mountains. And not just mountains but mountains covered with triple canopy jungle. I was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Brigade (C/1/22). The day I reported to C Company in the field it was raining. I should say that Vietnam has two seasons—wet and dry. During wet season it rains and rains and rains. The first morning I was with C Company we packed and changed locations. My initiation was marching under full pack in the rain up and down steep hill sides. I was in great physical condition but I was struggling. I would have been soaked with sweat if I hadn’t been drenched by the rain. After a few days this became routine.
One reminder of Vietnam was the red dirt. During monsoon season it was a sloppy mess. The red mud was everywhere and there was no way to get it off. In the dry season the red dirt made clouds of dust that got into everything. If a helicopter landed the dust from the prop wash was blinding. We were assigned convoy security a couple of times. When we got to the end of the trip everyone was covered from head to toe. When we were on firebase security we would wash but no sooner had we cleaned up than the wind would blow the dust right back on. There was no relief.
Charlie Company stayed in the boonies about three weeks out of every month. We ate C rations that were dated for WWII. We didn’t bathe for weeks at a time and kept the same clothes on round the clock for days. If we camped near a stream we would bathe but that wasn’t very often.
We were in jungle much of the time that was so dense that objects just a few feet away were impossible to see. The enemy could be very close without detection. There were trails laced throughout the area that led from village to village. However, the trails were dangerous because of the threat of ambushes. This was the war from early September until early October.
I did not see many unusual animals but the jungle had many. I saw huge scorpions four inches or more in length. Snakes were huge and small. There were cobras, pythons, and the dreaded Bamboo Viper. The Bamboo Viper was a small snake but his venom would kill a man quickly. It was called the two-step Viper. Rumors of Tigers were common. There are several stories of Tigers killing soldiers. Much of the area we patrolled is now a protected area for Tigers. I still have scars around the top of where my boots from leaches. In the swampy damp areas leaches were common. They would be attached before you knew they were a problem. There were several ways to get a leach off from spraying them with mosquito repellant to holding a lit cigarette close to them until they released. Monkeys were very common. Some of the guys at the firebase had monkeys as pets. Birds of all shapes and sized were always around. The jungles were usually noisy with birds chirping and monkeys chattering. If we went into an area that was very quiet it set off an alarm to those experienced in the jungle.
Continue to Chapter 6