Memories from Nam
I'm sure it's just my medications acting up again, but lately I've been having a lot of flashbacks from Nam. Of course, I was never in Vietnam myself, so I have to borrow other peoples' flashbacks. It's really embarrassing.
I can remember it so clearly now. It's almost as if I imagined the whole thing only yesterday.
It was the summer of '62. During the Tetley Offensive I think. We were camped at Phnom Duc Le Mai Bien Trang Phu, which was on the mainland about two hundred clicks east of Saigon and thirty clicks north of Easter Island. Alfalfa and Charlie Companies were out on patrol, so when Intelligence caught wind of an upcoming enemy offensive, my outfit, Bravado Company, was sent out on recon.
Bravado Company on night manuevers
I spotted my platoon sergeant coming out of the Chow Hall and we walked together towards the flightline.
"Are we going to be allowed to win this time, Sarge?" I asked.
"Nope!" he said with a smile, and slapped me on the back in a friendly manner.
We met up with the rest of the company on the pad and piled into the chopper. It was a really tight squeeze, trying to get all forty men in the company onto that one helicopter, since it was only designed to hold about eight guys at a time. You could fit twelve guys in the cabin if everybody held their breath, but that was hard to do in combat conditions, and there was always some guy who insisted on holding his luggage in his lap instead of stowing it in the overhead baggage compartments. We always ended up trying to cram two squads into the cabin, the third squad had to hang on to the skids and engine housing, and the fourth squad had to hold on to the tail.
There were basically three types of Huey helicopters in Nam, "gunships", "medevacs", and "slicks". As the name implies, the "gunships" were equipped with missile pods and machineguns mounted on the outside of the fuselage. The "medevac" Hueys had stretchers mounted outside the fuselage above the skids so that wounded soldiers could be evacuated directly from the field. The "slicks" on the other hand were painted with a real slippery high-gloss lacquer and then covered with bacon grease. I don't know whose idea that was, probably some genius back in Washington, but it didn't make sense to any of us at the time. It made it really hard for those poor guys in Fourth Squad.
I asked the Lieutenant why we couldn't get more helicopters, or just get a bigger helicopter that would have room for the whole company inside the cabin. He told me to shut up and quit whining, so I fragged him and kicked him out of the cabin. He didn't fall very far of course, because the chopper couldn't get off the ground with all those guys hanging on to it.
Since the choppers couldn't lift off when we were all loaded up, we learned from experience how to push the chopper along the ground. We could actually get a pretty good speed going downhill, although the rice paddies were always a bit of a problem. After a couple of hours of pushing, we were getting into "Indian country". We called it "Indian country," because it resembled the Madhya Pradesh region of India near Bhopal and Jabalpur. I didn't see the resemblence myself, I thought it looked more like the southern coastal region closer to Madras or Pondicherry, or maybe Ceylon, but that's neither here nor there. We could always tell when we were getting close to the Viet Cong, or Victor Hugo as we liked to call them, because the enemy would start singing Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" when we got close. Hugo was a good singer too, that made it all the more spooky.
We never should have let Private Schultz drive the chopper. We had a real hard time explaining to the company commander how Schultzie managed to land the Huey on top of that lamp post.
A couple of hours later the situation was getting tense and everyone was getting nervous. The helicopter was starting to get low on fuel and only had enough gas for about another hours' worth of pushing. The lieutenant, who was still sore at me for fragging him and throwing him out of the chopper, asked me to hand over the inflight magazine. Then we heard it. About a hundred yards in front us, deep in the bush, someone was singing a Doors tune. Victor Hugo!
Right then everybody started getting real scared. Some of the guys wanted to sing a Marvin Gaye song while some of the others wanted to do a Rolling Stones tune. I slipped a fresh clip out of my ammo belt, tapped it against my helmet to knock the dust off it, and slipped it into my bazooka and pulled back the cocking lever.
"D-I-S-R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that's what y'all mean to me," I began singing, and fired off a whole magazine of bazooka rounds into the bush. The lieutenant grabbed the radio and started screaming into it, calling for an "Arc Light" strike. That's when a bunch of B-52's (we called the B-52's "BUFF", because they were quite muscular and well-toned) would fly over and drop a bunch of propaganda leaflets on the enemy position.
I don't remember too much after that. I know a box of propaganda leaflets hit me in the back and set off some mortar rounds I had in my pocket, then everything went blank. When I woke up I was on a medevac Huey on my way back to Saigon. The other wounded guys in the chopper were singing Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" as we circled over the battlefield. A group of Victor Hugo waved at us as we passed over, yelled something about wanting us to stop shooting their water buffalo, and we waved back.
When I got back to "the world", people in the airport were shouting at me and spitting on me and calling me "baby stroller". Even today, I still lie awake at night, hearing the "swoosh swoosh swoosh" of the rotor blades overhead as we pushed the Huey through the jungle, thinking about all those buddies who never made it back because they couldn't hang on to the tail section. If only the politicians back in Washington had allowed us to use our own bacon grease... if only...
The content on this page was written in 2003
Last updated: June 11, 2016