The Green Line

March 30th, 2005

March 30th, 2005

After the disaster at LZ Bird we only had two companies at “combat efficiency”, A and B company were still in good shape. C company (mine) had been decimated. After Bird we were moved back to the base camp of the Cav at An Khe. This was a sprawling base in the middle of the central highlands.

There was one distinguishing mark to the base. There was one mountain just on the edge of the base. It was called Hon Kon mountain and right on one side of it from the top of the mountain to about midway down the mountain was a huge 1st Cav patch in living color. Rumor had it that it irritated Ho Chi Mihn so much he swore to eat dinner off the patch. This was probably the safest place in the central highlands. This was gravy duty.

They would rotate batallions in periodically to guard the perimeter of the base camp. After the beating we took on Bird the decision was made to bring the batallion back to An Khe to set up on the green line. The green line was the name we called the perimeter of Camp Radcliff, the 1st Cav’s base camp. The actual perimeter had bunkers and towers set up with an permanent M-60 machine gun position very close together. This was the place my life with the 1st Cav began what seemed like years ago although it had only been about 4 1/2 months. We had 4 – 5 man positions because we were reinforced by the REMF’s that happened to draw guard duty that day. That gave us an opportunity to sit back and relax a little.

On the first night back when we reached the batallion area there were several jeep trailors filled with iced down beer. Most of it was Carling Black Label, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Schlitz but who cared, it was ice cold beer. We certainly made the best of it. I remember the next morning there were people lying all over the ground. I don’t think anyone made it back to a bunk that night. We just passed out where we fell. We had just lost a lot of good men and the beer somehow numbed a person. We simply didn’t think about all the men we had lost in the last 4 1/2 months. It was part of war. When people are shooting someone is going to die. That’s just a fact of life. It may seem callous but when it happened nothing was ever said but all the thoughts were “better thee than me”. It was an unwritten rule that these kind of things were seldom mentioned.

When the sun came up we all had passes to go into An Khe which meant “Sin City”. We all got up, went to supply to get new jungle fatigues then signed out at the orderly room to go to town. On the way out the door there were several boxes of condoms and we all took a couple on the way out. We kind of grouped up in groups of 3-5 (usually your squad members). This was our day. No guard duty, just fun. We never really had to walk anywhere. When we hit the dirt road just off the company area a deuce and a half woud stop and tell us to hop in. They always drove to the gate to let us out. From there we were on our own. We walked around town for about a half hour but we all knew we weren’t shopping or taking in the sights. We were just waiting for someone to mention “Sin City”. Once that happened we headed straight down to the road entering “Sin City”

Now, “Sin City” was actually an army run whorehouse. There was constintina wire around all the bars. The bars were all set up in a rectangle each attached to the other. In the middle of this rectangle was a smaller rectangle of bars set up the same way. It was there for one purpose only. For the GI’s to blow off some steam and have a little “fun”. The minute you walked into one of the bars you were damned near attacked by young ladies who took you to the bar so you could get a beer for a quarter. They never let you drink over one beer though before they brought up their purpose. It was always “you number 1 GI, you boom boom 200P” Number 1 was great, number 10 meant you sucked. And of course I think we all know what the “boom boom” was. 200P meant 200 Piasters which translated into two dollars (not bad). They then grabbed you by the arm to take you back to a room behind the bar to consumate the transaction. When you were finished they took you back to the bar and had you sit down so they could then fill your belly with beer and move on to a new GI that just walked in the door. I don’t think there was a much “love” involved here. You could stay there as long as you and your money held out but when the sun was going down the MP’s at the gate ran everyone out. Charlie would slip into An Khe at night and you didn’t want to get caught in An Khe at night. It was almost the same as a death warrant.

But that went on for the first day you were there. Then it was back to guarding the base camp and running patrols outside the perimeter at night. About every 3-4 days you would get a pass into town to take care of more business. If you were lucky you would draw partol duty on the An Khe side of the Green Line. We would set up behind “Sin City” for the night and the girls would come out to us. Charlie didn’t mess with us if we were in 5-10 man patrols so we went whoring at night if we had that partol.

That was about the way your break went. When I was in country we only went in to base camp one time. The rest of he time the best we could hope for was a forward supply base. We sat around the green line playing cards, going to town, and standing guard at night. We just enjoyed the break while waiting for replacements to fill our ranks to make us operational.

We stayed in for almost three weeks then command decided it was time for us to go back to the bush. The company was loaded down with young green replacements. I was an old veteran by that time (right, 19 years old and an old veteran, is there something wrong with this picture?). But we all loaded on to an army Caribou and were flown to LZ English, the forward supply area for the Cav. From there we were sent to the chopper pad to be lifted back into the bush and you’ll never guess where they took us, to the end of the Kim Son valley. Bird had been abandoned by that time but our area of operations was the mountains at the end of the valley. We patrolled that area for a couple of weeks still running into a few stragglers left behind by the 22nd NVA who we promptly dispatched with extreme prejudice.

From there we went back and forth among the mountains and valley’s to the west of Bon Song because there was a lot of enemy activity in that area. We found it everywhere. We hit the booby traps again and found signs of Charlie all over the area. We ran into small elements but nothing big. When you run into a lot of small elements like that it tells you they are gathering for a fight somewhere. We did our best to disrupt them but simply didn’t succeed.

One night while we were set up on top of a mountain over looking LZ English, the forward supply area, the “secure area” I was on guard facing the LZ. Suddenly all hell broke loose on English. They were being hit by sappers. A sapper was like the suicide bomber the middle east uses. They would strap explosives to their bodies and attempt to destroy our supplies. They hit the POL (fuel dump), the ammo dump, the chopper pad, and the hospital. The whole place was making a spectacular show for us but we were too far away to even think about helping. What was kind of sad and made you feel so callous was the talk going around the perimeter was “it’s about time you REMF’s got into the war”. I mean, men were dying and that was what we thought. Of course I don’t think anyone really meant it but it seemed to distance the death and destruction from a man’s mind since we couldn’t help.

I actually ran into a man that was on English that night. It was simply by chance. When I was transferred to Indiana and I was going around meeting the people in the plant I ran into a laminator operator that was in the Cav. We talked a little bit and he told me he was a clerk typist on English when they got hit that night. I thought, well hell, then told him we were watching from a mountain top. He knew what we were thinking because he asked me if we got a kick out of watching them have to do some fighting? He knew because boonie rats were a different kind of animal than a clerk typist of a cook or any other job like that. We did get along very well though. It’s called comradship, it was still there after all those years.

During the months of January and February of ‘67 we stayed in the same areas but spent a little more time down in the plains and checking out villages. Charlie was on the move and he wanted Bihn Dihn Province. We were determined he wasn’t going to have it. One thing we did notice was booby traps became much more numerous along the mountain trails but the strange thing was we began to notice more booby traps in village areas. The rice paddies were still full of water because of the wet season so we were running into them on rice paddy dikes more frequently. This was early ‘67 and Charlie was building up for something. We ran into more and more larger elements, usually platoon size which told us they were gathering for a fight somewhere. Some of the other brigades were hitting some major firefights. We were usually air lifted in to help them out. Just the sight of the sky black with choppers would cause Charlie to break off he fight and live to fight another day.

By this time it was near the end of March and I was looking forward to my R&R to Japan coming up the first week of April. All I was doing at that time was trying to stay alive and counting the days until I climbed on the plane to Japan.

Unseen Enemy

March 18th, 2005

March 18th, 2005

Among the various other enemies the grunts had to face was disease. We had to combat the mosquitos because they carried malaria. We had to deal with leeches and intestinal worms just like dogs get. We had to worry about immersion foot, crotch rot, ringworms and just about every other kind of nasty things in the jungles. There were snakes, rats the size of cats, and other various sorts of jungle animals. One thing I never did see was a tiger (thank God for that). I honestly don’t know of anyone or have heard of anyone that actually saw a tiger in the bush.

In early November 1966 I was out on a platoon patrol in the mountains. I hadn’t been feeling too hot to begin with for a couple days. While out on patrol I began to get extremely weak. The platoon took a break for me to rest for a few minutes. When they got up to move back out I was lying on the ground shivering and shaking. Doc Word came back to check me because I couldn’t get up. He put his hand on my forehead and called the platoon leader back to my position immediately. As soon as the platoon leader got back there I was just about out of it. The last thing I remembered was Doc Word on the radio calling for an immediate medevac. I remember being placed on a makeshift litter made from panchos and rifles and being picked up. After that I simply passed completely out. As I was told later they carried me down to an LZ they could get a chopper in to picke me up and medevaced me to LZ English, the Cav’s forward support base. The next thing I remember was a huge shock to my body. The batallion surgeon had placed me in a rubber lined tub filled with ice, water, and alcohol. I remember trying to get out of that cold and there were four men holding me down in the tub. I remember the medic telling me I couldn’t get out until my fever was under control. It took about an hour to get my fever down to between 102 and 103. Apparently my fever was close to 105 when they got me off the chopper. That’s almost brain damage temp. It was malaria. There are simply times the daily and weekly pills can’t stop it.

Once they got my fever managable they put me on a chopper to go to the 6th Convalscent Center at Cam Rhan Bay. I stayed in one of the wards (wooden buildings with wood half way up and screen the other half) for about a week taking daily quinine to kill the malaria germ. After I had been there for about a week I remember opening my eyes while they were putting me on a litter and take me to an air conditioned Quonset hut across the compound. My fever had spiked up to 104 and they had to get it down until it stabalized. It took about 5 days for the ice baths, air conditioning, and quinine to stabalize. I was then moved over to the 2nd stage of the recovery area where I stayed for about another 4 days. Then I moved into the 3rd stage for a week before They were ready to turn me loose.

In this compound were a bunch of ROK Marines (Republic of Korea) recovering also. Funny thing about those Koreans. Most of them were queer as a three dollar bill. Asians in that part of the world pay no attention to it. It is simply a way of life for them. Of course the American GI’s frowned on the practice to say the least. In the 3rd stage area they were mixed in with the Americans but they were on one end of the building. During the night you could hear the pitter patter of their feet moving from bed to bed on that end of the building. Once in a while they would venture down to the American end of the building. Needless to say we frowned on that. I can remember hearing one moving down the middle of the aisle at about 1 AM. Then I felt some weight on the end of my bunk. Needless to say I spent the rest of the night outside in the sand. I was out of that building in a hurry.

The next day I asked to be returned to my unit because you sure didn’t want to start a fight with one of those ROK’s. They were bad asses. The following day Sgt Pieffier came down in one of our batallion choppers to take me back to our unit. I could have jumped a transport Caribou out of there but for some reason my platoon leader wanted me back as quickly as possible. That wasn’t normal. Had I been a screw up they would have left me to my own devices to get back but Pieffier told me the CO thought I was a good man and wanted me back because apparently I had left a hole in the platoon because I handled the M-79 pretty well. I felt good about that. When I got back to the unit I found I was no longer a PFC (E-3) . I was now a Spec 4 (E-4). I had been promoted in three months which wasn’t too bad.

Malaria was common among the grunts due to the conditions we were in all the time.

That wasn’t the only thing that got me. I had ringworms all over my body once. The only thing you could do for them was take some kind of pill the batallion surgeon sent out for me and try to stay as clean as possible (yeah, right). That was even more common than malaria. I also contracted hookworms once. They are ingested. There were three of us that got them at that time because we were sharing the same can of C’s. They sent us back to English to knock them out. It only took three days. I do remember one hell of a buzz. The medic gave me foru horse capsules to take as soon as I laid down on my bunk. About 10 minutes later I remember seeing his face looking down at me asking if I was feeling the medicine yet. I remember the big smile on his face when he looked at me and said “yup, they’re working”. Hell, I couldn’t move or talk. I was wasted so bad I didn’t even know or care where I was. I can’t even remember the drug but it sure as hell made you hallucinate like crazy. But the fun only lasted for that night. Two nights later I was back humping the boonies.

Then there were the critters and I mean nasty critters. We were set up in a cane field just out side a village one night and I was off guard trying to get some sleep. I heard this horrible rukus coming through the cane field and raised up to grab my weapon because the first thing you think is Charlie penetrated the perimeter. When I raised my head up something hit me like a ton of bricks. I mean, it rang my bell. I heard the next position (M-60) open up on something in front of it. I just dropped my head back down because I felt like Cassius Clay had just hit me with a hard right. I rubbed my cheek and felt something wet. I reached for my field dressing to clean my face off and laid down to go back to sleep. The next morning we were getting our rucksacks packed and Doc Word walked over to me with a big smile on his face and told me to bend over. I thought “what the hell”. Doc told me to feel my face. I had three scratches on my cheek . He said bend over so I did and he gave me a tetnus shot on the spot and grabbed my arm to take me to the next position. Right in front of it was the biggest damned rat I had ever seen. That was what had laid me out running through the cane field. Of course everyone got a kick out of that and didn’t let me forget that incident for a couple months.

The leeches were nasty little critters. When you walked through a rice paddy or across a slow moving stream you would invariably pick up some unwanted guests that wanted to ride on you. When we would take a break or set up for the night you would take a cigarette or some skeeter repellant and knock the little creatures off because they would dig into your skin and you would leave part of them in your skin if you just pulled them off so you had to knock them off with a smoke or bug juice.

Snakes were another problem. We were setting up to take a day’s break from humping in a small three hooch area in the middle of some dry rice paddies. I was getting ready to take a well deserved nap on my air mattress (they were like gold, the only way you got an air mattress was one someone that had one got hit and was medevaced out). We had an Australian reporter humping with us for a couple days. Just as I laid down on my nice comfortable air mattress he brought a machete down across the end of it. I was torqued because he cut my air mattress to shreads. I jumped up and was ready to deck him and he had his hand held up so I didn’t hit him. He then reached down and lifted up part of a snake about 8 inches long. I then thanked him. It was a bamboo pit viper, commonly called a two stepper. He bites you and within two steps you are dead. Nasty little critter.

Another time we were set up on a forward fire support base and Doc was over in the headquarters bunker. Eddie Harris stuck his head in my bunker and said to come on because I had to see this. Doc had killed a 6-7 foot King Cobra in their bunker. There were four of them standing there getting their picture taken holding the snake.

Needless to say, there were many other things we had to fight beside Charlie. The environment was a big obstacle to overcome. Elephant grass would cut the dickens out of you. Wait a minute vines (thorns) would scratch your legs all to hell as you tried to fight your way through them. Sometimes the vegetation was so thick men would have to take turns on point hacking through the jungle making a trail with a machete.

Many different kinds of enemies in the jungle besides man and we had to cope with them all.