POPCORN CHARLIE and IRON BUTTERFLY
If you happened to be assigned to a HHQ tank company then any hope of normalcy was out the window. A normal tank company had 17 tanks; HHQ tanks had three. We usually ended up doing a lot of shit details and this particular night was no different. Guard duties on the bunkerline.We were overlooking the Hwy 1 bridge into Quang Tri . Behind our tank was the Seabee asphalt batch plant and the river was to the front of our fire zone.
It was a pretty tranquil evening except for the occasional burst of ARVN gunfire across the river in the “Vil”. They just loved shooting their ammo for no apparent reason, I guess because it was so cool to see the tracers fade into the evening sky.All of my crewmembers were looking forward to getting good nights sleep as we were in the safe confines of Camp Red Devil. Guard duty would be a cinch, as Charlie would be a fool to attack a heavily fortified base camp. Charlie knew it and so did we, maybe some other night, some other LZ, but not tonight; not here.
Usually the first shift would fall around 11 or 12 ,depending on how much weed we would smoke; and last about 2 hours or so and the next guy would take it from there. Our crew would setup their cots behind the tank, and the guy on guard would sit in the cupola with the 50 cal and the 90 mm cannon stuffed with a canister round.We would don our CVC helmet and tune our radio to the specified FREQ. Every hour we would call in a sitrep to the CP. If I remember right I had the second post that night. I was pretty tired and to avoid falling asleep I tuned my radio to the highest frequency on the radio; 75.95.
I’ve never heard anybody recount any stories about that FREQ in any war story I’ve ever read, so I’m going to tell you about it. You see, that was the unauthorized use of an Army radio and frequency. But it was also a Godsend to many of the guys out in the bush on NDPs and troops on guard duty. It was an underground radio station,where guys from different LZs and MOS’s would talk and shoot the shit, listen and play music. There were a couple of guys I would regularly talk to. Super Spoon was a cook from Camp Evans, then there was Puking Buzzard, he was in 101st at Camp Eagle about 30 miles away. I was Purple Haze and there was another guy named Iron Butterfly I used to talk to on a regular basis.It was a given that you didn't discuss what unit you were in, or any kind of information that would give the Gooks a leg up. Just in case Charlie was listening we kept that information out of the conversation.
This one night I was listening to all the guys talk about home and there girlfriends and such, and this weird guy with the handle Popcorn Charlie comes on and tries to interject himself into the conversation .I say weird because you could tell the guy was Asian by his accent alone.Then he started asking questions like what unit were we in and where we were and things any self respecting combatant using an unauthorized frequency wouldn't ask.Well, he could’ve been a Korean but to me he smelled of Num Noc sauce ; kinda Fishy.
I guess I wasn't the only guy thinking that because no one wanted to talk to him. After awhile he just dropped off the FREQ and we didn't hear from him for awhile. I started talking to Iron Butterfly and he mentioned something about Popcorn Charlie and began to reveal his true MOS. He said he was working in Military Intelligence and it was his job to monitor this particular FREQ. I freaked out because I thought he was a regular Joe like the rest of us. As it was,he told me that his superior Oscar 5 wanted to speak to all of us out there in radioland. We listened as Oscar 5 came on and told us that M.I. suspected Popcorn Charlie of being the enemy and that he was trying to milk us for information. He said that even though what we were doing on this FREQ was unauthorized he approved of it for morale reasons, falling short of condoning it all together. He asked all of us on the FREQ to engage Popcorn Charlie in conversation for as long as we could, basically saying that from his end would set a trap.
We listened to what he said and after he signed off things got crazy. There were probably about 20 guys on the FREQ at that time and as soon as Oscar 5 signed off every swinging dick began calling Popcorn Charlie all at once. You know in retrospect if I was Popcorn Charlie I would’ve been highly suspicious that night. You could hear guys from far away base camps calling because there signal was so weak, and guys close by, running over each other trying to get a hold of him. I was right there with the rest of the guys trying to talk to him. We all talked to him for about 20 minutes, and then the weirdest of all weird things happened. Popcorn Charlie was in mid sentence and in the background you could hear the unmistakable sound of incoming artillery round, then nothing. I mean nothing, zip, nadda. Every body was trying to raise him on the radio but all we got was nothing. Oscar 5 came back on and said to all of us that Popcorn Charlie was no more, they had triangulated his position and dropped a couple of 8 inch HE shells on his NVA ass. Oscar 5 told us what a great bunch of guys we were, yada, yada, yada. I swear this story is true and if this ever gets out into print and one of you guys that were there that night reads it please help me validate it.
SP/4 Guy Leavell aka Purple Haze
HHQ 1/77th Armour
Tank 65 1969-1970
This is the story of Guts who was a community property hound. It was 1970 in Viet Nam when I first saw him. Guts didn't have a master but he had a lot of friends. GI's have many things in common; especially in the hardships of war, but one thing they share is the camaraderie of an animal. Guts was "unofficially" the property of Joe Curilla. Joe was a good soldier attested to by the fact that he quickly made buck sergeant after arriving at our firebase named Charlie-2. I have no idea where Guts came from but he had a lot of endearing traits. He was jet black and very alert, especially when he saw a second lieutenant. There has to be a genetic thread binding the makeup of dogs that tells them that second looies are the enemy. Guts felt so strongly about it that even during a rocket attack by North Vietnamese troops he remain on alert. One of the radio operators, Gary Buff, said that he heard shouts coming from outside the bunker he sought shelter in. Fearing that someone was wounded he went to investigate to see if he could help his fellow GI. On the ground, yelling, kicking and calling for help, was a second lieutenant unhurt except for the fact that Guts had his trousers leg in his tenacious jaws and every time the officer tried to get up guts would pull him down again. Gary came to his rescue and took Guts back down inside of the bunker. I have no idea where the lieutenant went but I assume it was in a hurry.
The nerve center of an Infantry Battalion in combat is the Tactical Operations Center - called the TOC. The units were all directed from this central post and Argo felt that his place in life and war should be here. The bunker was literally carved out of the earth and floor was dirt. To keep the dust down and thereby protect the radios and other sensitive equipment, we sprinkled diesel fuel on the floor. Ecologically this probably wasn't a very good solution but I never heard of anyone dying from it - as opposed to the Agent Orange that was distributed liberally in the area. It did have one casualty however. Guts, when he wasn't busy fighting his own private war with lieutenants would lie on the dirt, diesel-laden floor. That added to the sheen of his black coat but it also had its toll. He contacted an infection in, of all places, his testicles. It was sad because Guts always fancied himself as the supreme lover - truly a stud - and he often proved it whenever he spotted another dog. It didn't have to be a female - just a dog. He was the consummate lothario - developing "leg humping" to a science. He was even known to amorously though unsuccessfully approach some of the Scout Dogs we had working in the area. Because of the infection though the veterinarian decided that Guts would have to be castrated. The end of an era.
I rotated back to the States when my tour was up and recently I discussed Guts with Sergeant Curilla. He said that he didn't know what ever happened to Guts. Vietnamese have a propensity for cooking up a stew like dish that often contained foreign delicacies like dog and cat meat. I really doubt that he would go without a fight - testes or no.
Guts Dog - The Second Year - From the Bill Pandak Diary
I started out in Long Bin, with the 25th Div. I was only there for 2 months in the rear working at a TOC. The 25th stood down and I got my orders to Quang Tri. As I looked around on the wall sized map for Quang Tri, a guy asked what are you looking for? when I told him he said Oh that' waaaay up here. OOOh!! Waaay Up There? Yep! Well, I was on my way. Upon arriving at Quang Tri, they told me I was going to Charlie 2, so I looked on the map and said where is Charlie 2, and some guy said That's waaaay up here! OOOh! WAY UP THERE? Yep! and I was on my way.
I got to C2 and the S3 Sgt told my that I would be working at the TOC and my living bunker was over there, "Just put your gear by the door, don't go down cause they have a dog", and he'd take me down in the bunker later. Well I like dogs so I figured I'd go on down. About three steps down the stairs, I heard this tremendous growl and then I looked down and saw nothing but TEETH. So I backed off and went back to the TOC leaving my gear by the entrance like I was told. Later after being taken down and settling in, I became the "owner" of the dog we called Gus. There is a picture of him (I think that's him) on the website titled "Gutsdog" I'm sure that is Gus. He was one hell of a dog. He knew all of us who lived there by our footsteps coming down the stairs.
Well, just a week or so before the club incident (a rocket hit the NCO club), there was a ceremony to give a Silver Star to a guy named Tom Koslowski, and during the ceremony, we started to take rockets. Well, everyone started running for the closest bunkers, and about 8 or 9 guys hit our door. As they ran down the stairs, Gus hit the floor and as the top few guys were trying to get down the stairs, the bottom few guys were trying to get out. It was one really funny site to see.
Anyway, when the 5th stood down, we were worried about Gus, What would happen to him. By then the First Sgt had made pretty good friends with Gus and he said that he would take him home with him. "Nobody is telling a First Sgt he can't take a dog" he said. About July 23d or so, I watched the First Sgt get on the plane with Gus. Don't know what happened after that, but Gus - Gutsdog was in good hands and anyone who knew him should know that at least he was not abandoned in I corps.
The first haircut I got in Viet Nam was somewhat of a surprise. The company had just returned from the jungle in the Bilong Valley to LZ Sharon. We were going through the typical post mission activities, cleaning weapons, exchanging ammunition and grenades and doing other details as required. SSG Morris, third platoon leader, directed the platoon to line up at the orderly room hooch for haircuts. We all lumber over and got in line behind a few guys left from second platoon. To my surprise the barber was a Vietnamese. He was using mechanical clippers that worked like scissors but had a clipper head. I thought to myself, "What is he doing here?" but quickly realized the army does not have a MOS for barbers. I guess it was a good way for the commander to get us to hate the enemy even more. The aftermath of the experience was a hundred or more pissed off troops. The haircut was definitely nothing to write home about. The event was forgotten after beers and the evening party. As always, the 61st Infantry never spent more than two days in the rear. The next day we off to Qua Viet to patrol the beach for hide sites and to protect the navy base at night. During the day, the company would get on line and would probe the sand along the beach with a M16 cleaning rods feeling for concealed bunkers. Gooks used the bunkers when infiltrating from the north and would use them to hide in during the day. Whenever something hard was felt, you would probe around to determine if it was one and then locate cover. Once the cover was opened, the command "Lau De" was given to come out. If there was no response, then the next step was drop either a frag grenade or a Willie Pete inside to destroy it. It seemed we found two to three empty bunkers every day. This particular bunker had an occupant. He quickly rose from the hatch of the bunker hands extended and suddenly to everyone's surprise. "It the frigging barber". Needless to say he got the worst spontaneous ass whipping of his life before being rescued by the platoon leader. Imagine what a bad haircut to an 18 to 22 year old means. He may or may not have been the barber but he sure as hell looked like him.
I do not remember anymore haircuts after that one.
Danny L Mathers
Gooks in the Canopy
Any good combat tested 11B can appreciate the experience and the attributes of 2LT's. 3rd Platoon, B 1/61, had a LT who was mission oriented and aggressive. His name was 2LT Wxxx. He was a good junior officer but had the difficult task of leading three to six months Viet Nam veterans, 18 to 20 years old, who knew everything about everything and nothing about mortality. We accepted the new LT with reservation and caution that was typical of a line unit. He was given the respect worthy of a 2LT but nothing more.
One bright a sunny afternoon in March, 1969, while doing a daylight screening operations in the vicinity of Camp Eagle, he decided to pull a platoon ambush on a trail junction in a area we had not patrolled. The platoon sergeant, SSG Morris, who was the best platoon sergeant in the 5th Infantry Division, tried to persuade the LT to do something different. However, the LT full of piss & vinegar, directed we go forth and do good. We humped about 9 or 10 clicks in triple canopy to a trail junction he had picked out on a map. Just about the time it was getting dark, the point made contact. The fire was heavy. In a split second we thought we had engaged a superior force and began to withdraw back the way we came. It seemed the gooks were on our ass and we continue until it was dark.
3rd platoon settled on a small hill and began to dig fighting positions and prepare for the worst. I remember being scared shitless and waiting for the worst to happen. Suddenly, things were hitting everyone, sticks, rocks and what ever. Everyone thought the gooks were probing us and trying to fix and locate our positions. Me and everyone else in the platoon, except SSG Morris, stayed up all night scared, fingers and hands on weapons waiting for what came next. The light of the morning came filtering through the jungle to reveal the enemy was a bunch of rock apes who had the ass because we were in their AO. Needless to say, we lost the pissing contest and gave up the space in a "New York Second".
LT Wxxx learned a valuable lesson that day:
"YOUR PLATOON SERGEANT MIGHT KNOW MORE THAN YOU DO!"
Danny L Mathers
EVERYTHING HAS A PRICE
After our tracks arrived at Wunder Beach, they started moving us further north. One of the first missions we were given was to run escort with the Marine flatbeds that were bringing supplies from Dong Ha to the main base at Quang Tri. Seems they were getting the hell knocked out of them at night. We would run down in pairs of tracks with the marines in between but not necessarily within eye shot.
By this time we had been in country about a month & unless you passed a momma son on the road selling our beer for 100 Pi, you were out of luck. Well, this one young really scared marine driver approached one of our TC's at Dong Ha & asked if we could lead his truck down the road with an APC in front & one following. Said he had seen several of his buddies buy it with RPG's. Naturally our Sgt. advised him that we could not afford him this luxury. He asked to talk to our Lt. and explained that should his wish come true 20 cases of soda & 10 cases of "BEER" would fall off the truck. This Gentleman made his safest trip between Dong Ha & Quang Tri that night.
The mud at A4 had no respect for anyone. It clung to the COL's boots as quickly as it did to the boots of a PFC. One day, the BN SGT MAJ, who had little use for a "butter ball" LT even if he was the Flame Platoon Leader, was escorting me to the Flame CP. This was not a friendly walk, I am sure he was going to chew us out for something we probably deserved.
The SGT MAJ, as always, was perfectly turned out with spit shined boots and sharply creased and starched fatigues. As we picked our way along the tank trail some mortar rounds began to land nearby. The SGT MAJ dove head first into the ditch along the side of the trail. No fool I, it was the center of the road for me. Most of us knew that it had been raining for at least a month, it was A 4 remember, and the ditches were not neat places to be. All of them were at least 4 feet deep in liquid mud and offered little protection from incoming. After the SGT MAJ climbed out of the mud bath I hid my smirk while he read me the riot act about secrecy, the fate of the free world & my ass, and several other things if I ever mentioned what had happened.
I have no idea how he ever got his fatigues and boots clean. I suspect he burned them and started all over with new gear. In any case he never suggested we walk the trail together again. But no matter, I was so impressed with his threats that this story has been hidden in the mud until today.
SHIT BURNING DETAIL
In the early day of 1969 the 61st Infantry was billeted on LZ Sharon. It was more or less a firebase that housed two infantry battalions, the 61stand the 11th and a company of 105mm SP. It was basically a mound of reddirt and clay that rested at the edge of the scrublands with a small village on the east. Out to the west was the Bi Long Valley ridge, which Dong Ha Mountain could be seen at the north end of the jungle line. Wewere housed in wooded frame bunkhouses with tin roofs and sand bags stacked about four feet high all around the structures. Showers were made of 55-gallon fuel drums with a showerhead at the bottom of the barrel. Toilets were three to four seat outhouses, which the crap was depositedinto the same drums except, cut in half and placed under the seat tocatch the excrement. Piss tube were usually stationed close to theouthouses. These were 105mm artillery canisters that were buried in theground and filled with pea gravel. These were the urinals of LZ Sharon.My first day on the LZ I smelled something sickeningly sweat, something Ihad never experienced and is still hard to describe. The next day I wasto discover first hand the source of the strange smell. I remember an ancient looking E6 that grabbed me and another FNG and said that we were going to get a class on burning shit. He took us over to one of the out houses, opened up a lid on the back and pulled out a half 55 gal drum and dragged it away from the shit house about 50 feet away. He then motioned for my buddy and me to do the same. My first thought was with my bare hands! There’s shit and piss all over the barrel. The SSG patience quickly wore off and he yelled for me to garb the damn drum. After dragging and gagging the half drum that was damn full of crab I was not ready for the next step of Shit Burning 101. The sergeant poured about a gallon of 30-weight oil into the drum and started mixing it into the disgusting mixture. Next he added about a half gallon of gasoline and lit the pot. “Okay men” your turn. I never made it past the third stir. I started puking in which it made the sergeant sick. He called me something like sorry ass and told me to get the hell away. Later, I learned to fill sandbags. My shit burning detail card was burned that day.
Danny L Mathers
People often ask me how did I move from platoon leader to XO of HHC so quickly. I really think it was the result of my professional handling of the BN's first MPC conversion. (For those of you that came later MPCs were a sort of "funny money" used by the US in Vietnam instead of greenbacks. The idea was to stop black markets and control the piastre exchange rate. Sometime in '69 I think the whole idea was canned but in '68 it was in full swing. And to make it even more complicated with no notice the MPCs were changed to a different pattern so as to invalidate those that had gotten to the Vietnamese black market.)
For us the surprise conversion occurred one day before the start of Operation Rich. As the Flame tracks were not part of the Operation the BN CO made me the BN MPC Conversion Officer. My job was to contact everyone in the BN and collect their MPCs. I was to log in the sums by name and then carry all the funny money to Red Devil where it would be exchanged for a different pattern for return to the original owners. I ran all over A4 and C2 and wherever else troops of the BN were collecting and writing names. By the time I finished Operation Rich was started and all helicopters were committed....so they just gave me a jeep to use to get to Red Devil. I piled all the MPCs in a rubber sack, grabbed my 16 & web gear and headed south to Cam LO. Walked across the pontoon bridge, (the bridge was under repair and vehicles could not cross) and heel and toed it to route 9. The first vehicle that came by was a Vietnamese bus, so I jumped on and rode to Dong Ha. From there I caught a truck to Red Devil.
The MPs at the front gate went berserk. A Conversion Officer at the gate with no guard and no official orders. They hustled me to the Provo Marshal where my records were clean and my assignment verified, then to Finance. I turned in the MPCs and the rosters and 1/61 was certified correct for MPC conversion. However the BN procedures were not those established by BDE and there were some irate staff officers when I departed the area. I caught a flight back to A4 that night and was put in charge of the A4 perimeter from south gate east around to NE sector where the dusters were.
Shortly there after I went on emergency leave to CONUS, and upon my return to 1/61 was assigned the duty of XO. There are those that say this new assignment was directly linked to the MPC conversion flap and XO of HHC was the place where I could do the BN the least harm during the remainder of my tour. No one ever said a word to me about the conversion flap but I do know the S1 did a lot of explaining to higher about his Conversion Plan.
THE SWIMMING POOL
One afternoon in the spring of '70 I had flown back to Camp Red Devil for a meeting. Afterwards I borrowed a jeep and went to the PX. On the way back I saw the Special Service area had erected an above ground swimming pool. A SWIMMING POOL! You got to be kidding. Really was a swimming pool. I stopped and the Special Service girl was so proud of her new addition. She explained the rules to me, must take a shower (shower?), must be clean shaven and must have neat swimming trunks (Say what?). If you violate the rules no swimming for a week. Nothing was too good for the boys at Red Devil but don't forget the rules. Enough is enough. I get on the radio to the BN S3. "Is the Hook still working resupply at A-4? It is? Good. Load a platoon up and send them to me. I will guide the bird in when I see it." The bird lands and about 20 troopers unload. "There is the pool. Skinny dipping time. Last one in is chicken." The Special Service girl about had a heart attack. Last seen she was speeding away in her jeep to find the CG. After a half hour or so the Hook returned, the troops loaded up and laughed all the way back to A-4. Never heard a word about it from the CG. Or anyone else at Red Devil. War in the rear area was hell.
SGT. FORD'S BIRTHDAY
I had the jump CP track (old 66), the Asst. S 3, the OPS NCO Don Treadwell, the track driver (Randy) and my radio operator SGT. Mike Ford with me. We had pulled inside A Company's NDP for the night and were about ready to sack out when the NVA hit the perimeter. One of the first rounds fired was an RPG and it took out a tank on the perimeter line. SGT Treadwell realized a hole in the line was not good so he had Randy move our M113 next to the dead tank. I got on the 50 cal but after about 10 rounds it quit firing. Head space was not my bag so I yelled for an M 16. Sgt. Ford is in the cargo hatch with his rifle and we blast away. In a lull in the shooting Ford yells over to me "Today is my birthday". For some reason I thought that was funny and got to giggling so hard that SGT. Treadwell thought I was hit. Then he started laughing and the whole thing became a great joke. Luckily there was a Spooky in the area and he responded to the S 3's call. When he came on station and started doing his thing the fight was quickly over. Sgt. Ford allowed those were the best fireworks he had ever had at a birthday party.
KILL THE RAT
One night I was in the sleeping bunker at C-2 working on papers. Late and quiet so I could read and write almost like I was in an office. Out of nowhere there is the loudest explosion I ever want to hear. After I get up from behind the desk who should I see, holding a smoking 45, but the XO. "What the hell is going on. Are you trying to make sure I write a good report?' "No, not at all. But you have to understand, there was a rat trying to drag away my new pair of boots" he said. Did not hit the rat but if the rat was as scared as I, he will never come back to C-2.
NAVY PROTECT or CUA VIET BEACH PARTY - TWO VIEWS - OR FOR ONCE SOMETHING DEVIOUS WORKED
View One (TF 1/61 Commander)
Always made it a point on Thursdays to visit the guard platoon TF 1/61 provided Cua Viet . And to chat up the Navy Commodore (Fancy title for Navy 06 in command) who was in charge of the little Navy base on the beach. I would visit on Thursday because the officers mess always served lobster and steak for lunch on Thursdays. Chat up the Commodore with stories about the NVA plan to raid his base for the medical supplies in his aid station. That kept him spooked and he kept requesting a platoon of troops to guard the perimeter. Troops swam in the sea, sunbathed during the day and slept in covered bunkers at night. And ate US Navy "A" ration chow. Hell of a deal.
View Two (Tank Commander - attached to TF 1/61)
After about 6 months in-country I was starting to get the picture on how my Company of tanks rotated in the Quang-Tri area. We would spend about a month at A-4, a month at C-2, and then go back to Quan-Tri to pull maintenance on our M48A3s. We almost always worked with the 1/61 in AO Orange and our tactics were mostly to work in platoon strength to support a company of 161. But every once in a while we got to go to Cua Viet in company strength to guard the Navy base perimeter. These Navy guys thought they had the worst duty in the Nam and I guess from a Navy point of view they were really out in the "boonies". We knew better. There must have been 3 to 4 clicks of white sand extending in from the South China sea and to the South there was solid beach. To the North was the river so their chance of being hit by anything more than a little incoming were virtually nil. We would guard their perimeter at night and scout around their base during the day. At night we could see out over about 200 yards of sand and it was always harder to stay awake on guard duty when you knew nothing was going to happen. This whole feeling of safety had an almost giddy effect on the guys. Needless to say, we partied a lot. The Navy food was excellent and anyone seeing a tank going flat out down the beach with waves crashing on the side and guys jumping into the ocean would know how much fun we were having. Our First Sgt. would have beer helicoptered into us while we were on patrol at the beach and basically we had a big beach party when we went there.
Then, in the Fall of 70, we got word that the Navy was pulling out and our Company was going to Cua Viet and guard their perimeter as they packed up. We were elated and I think our tanks made record time crossing the Quang-Tri bridge. (Anyone that crossed that bridge in an M48A3 knows what I mean). When we got there the Navy guys were packing up and loading LST's with their gear and it took them about 2 weeks to clear out. The fortunate part of their move for us was they couldn't take all their possessions with them. Those of you who were at Cua Viet know that the Navy guys lived with all the creature comforts. They had full mattresses with springs, refrigerators, lockers, and even window air conditioners. Well--- After much negotiating and some trading of "genuine war booty" the Navy was ready to leave and we were set to go back to Quang-Tri. If you've ever seen the movie "The Grapes Of Wrath" you know what we looked like going back to Camp Red Devil. On the back deck of every tank was strapped down mattresses, refrigerators and every other creature comfort we could trade for or outright steal. We really did look like a bunch of "Okie"' traveling West. We ended up calling it "The Great Migration" and C Company 1/77 had all the best "shit" back at Qaung-Tri. It was the best of times --- the worst of times.
Bob Hawke 2nd Plt. C Co. 1/77 1970.
When I first arrived at Camp Red Devil I tried to buy a watch at the PX. Wanted one of those big, fancy Seiko's with a calendar and automatic winding and alarm bell. They were out of stock but if I would pay now, they would order and send it to me. OK. Couple of months later a LOH pilot dropped of a package from the PX, my fancy watch with all the bells and whistles. Not more than a week later, while I am hiking with B Co in flat lands west of C2, a HUEY lands and out hops the Deputy Brigade Cmdr. With him is a LTC that was a stranger to me. The DBC introduces me to LTC (blank) and tells me he is the BDE Chaplain. The HUEY does not shut down so I figure this is going to be a quick visit. And it was. It seems the chaplain is going home in two days and although he too order a super Seiko watch it had not come in to the PX. Could he have mine and when his arrived I could have his. Why not? Bob Spencer always knew what time it was and he would help me when asked. So I gave the chaplain my new watch and they rapidly departed. Never had seen the Brigade Chaplain before and never saw him again. (And that's OK because Chaplain Captain Jack Dougherty was the best chaplain in VIETNAM and he was in 1/61.) Never saw the watch again either. Finally bought another one in Da Nang when I was on my way home.
Unknown to me, when the wild and wonderful BN medic pulled out the piece of frag from my leg, the BN XO saved it. When I was due to go home he and some others, with great good humor, presented me with a plaque. On the plaque was an engraved plate saying "Presented by the Commanding Officer of the 27th NVA REGT." And neatly wired to the plaque was the infamous 82mm mortar fragment. Ho, HO, Ha, HA. I chucked it into my carry on bag and forgot it. Then in Da Nang I go through the MP checkpoint at the airport. One of the army's finest MPs asks, "Do I have anything to declare?" Not me, I am clean. He dumps my carry on bag, never trust a LTC of Infantry, and there is the plaque. "What's this?" he asks. I tell him the story. He asks do I have an export permit for the frag in that it clearly is part of an enemy weapon. Is this a joke? No joke. No paper, no frag. With a pair of side cutters he cuts off the frag, throws it into a waste box and tells me I can repack my bag and proceed to my aircraft. I can raise hell and maybe get my frag back and for sure miss my airplane or I can bite my tongue and make it out of there. Not a hard choice. Goodbye VIETNAM. I do love all MPs. But some need help.
LAMP FOR THE CG
Not everybody knew it but BG Burke's favorite gift to visiting VIPs was a chrome plated and polished NVA potato masher hand grenade. Whenever 1/61 had a contact it seemed the first call I got was from the CG's aide to inquire if we captured any grenades and where were they and how soon would he receive them? This got to be a problem and the SGTS MAJOR allowed a little sarcasm might get the message to the CG.
Hdqs Co 1st SGT presented BG BURKE with a NVA flag in a rather tacky frame (See "More Pictures" section) in the hope he would give us a break on hand grenades. Did not work. We decide to try again and this time make it really tacky. Chinese Claymore for the base. 82mm mortar shell for the body. NVA jungle helmet for the shade. A light bulb holder with switch and light bulb my wife mailed me and we had the tackiest desk lamp known to man. Presented it to the CG. No change in the demand for hand grenades. We gave up and tried to keep filling his requests. Some years later I was invited to Major General Burke's home for drinks. When I was introduced to his wife I saw a rather hard glint in her eyes. Later that night she trapped me and read me the riot act. That is the tackiest lamp in the world but my husband loves it and will not let me throw it away. At least she understood. Clearly he didn't. Or maybe he did.
An up and coming reporter made an extended stay at C-2. He went on patrol with A Co, on ambush with B Co, on a sweep with C Co and even made an insertion with a Ranger team. One day he told me he had a problem that maybe I could solve. It seemed that no matter what he did he had the feeling the troops were laughing at him. Hard as he tried he felt he was not accepted by them.
I took a few minutes to explain that he really never would be accepted until he passed the 1/61 initiation test. "Tell me what it is, I am ready to try anything," he replied. "Well OK Dan, it really is very simple. Here in this part of VIETNAM there lives one of the most dangerous snakes in the world. It is a cousin of the Coral Snake and its name is the Orange Bamboo Viper. The initiation is that you must kill one with your bare hands. Believe me when I say the snake is deadly. We lose people to it frequently. And we report them as killed in action so no one will know what really happened", I explained to him.
"Tell me what to do" he said. "No big deal." I replied. "First you must find the correct snake. The Orange Bamboo Viper is about 3 feet long and has orange and brown stripes around all its body. When you see one you grab it by its tail with your left hand and wrap your right hand around its body. Then you slide you right hand forward until you reach its head. With a flick of your thumb you can break the snake's skull and it dies. Do that, bring back the carcass and you will be accepted as one of us." "I will do it," he cried and went away.
The next day, about noon, who should come into the TOC but our intrepid reporter. He looked like hell. Fatigues all torn, hands and face bloody with scratches and what looked like a gigantic bite on his shoulder. The aid station sent over a medic and while he was being patched up he told his story.
"I did what you told me and early this morning I saw an Orange Bamboo Viper near the trash dump. I crawled through the grass until I was behind him, grabbed his tail in my left hand, wrapped my right hand around his body, slid my hand forward, flicked my thumb and .....have you ever shoved your thumb up a tiger's ass?"
(This did not really happen, I just chucked it in to see if anyone is awake.)
I remember long ago, sometime back in September 1968 at Ft Lewis, Washington, I was processing out to Vietnam. The first night I arrived I was issued the usual, sheets, blankets & pillow case and given explicit orders not to venture out of the area. The next day we, about 200 soldiers, were sent to the supply to receive our clothing issue for Vietnam. We were provided 4 set of jungle fatigues, OD T-shirts, towels, wash clothes, underwear, socks and a packing list to take for deployment. One item on the packing list that caught my attention was one each, field jacket. I thought to myself, what in the hell do I need a field jacket in Vietnam. It is a hot tropical country where there is nothing but jungle. At least that is what I was taught during Basic and AIT.
September, 1968, hot & dry. December, 1968, wet & cool. Thank God someone in this crazy army had the foresight to make an ignorant 18 year old take a cold weather issue item to the big jungle across the big pond. The movie "Forest Gump" described the monsoon rains as little drops, big fat drops, drops that came from the side and drops that came from the below. The rain would soak every thing you had eventually. It just took a couple of weeks. However, the movie did not indicate how we froze our asses off in good old Vietnam. I have told stories to people who were not there how cold I felt. They would say, sure, but I knew they did not believe me. If you don't believe what I say, then you weren't there.
Danny L Mathers
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