This isn’t on my list. I was not an active participant, but an observer. It’s something that sticks with me even today, both the humorous and the parts left unsaid.
When I finished up my time in the regular army, I still had a two year commitment. I decided to spend my time in the reserve and make some extra money, as long as I didn’t have any problems like I did with my last section sergeant while I was stationed in Turkey [see the M-O-U-S-E story]. If that happened, my plan was to go into the IRR and since we were still fighting the Cold War, I was secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get sent to some rat hole overseas as an augmentee. I ended up spending one year of that time in a signal detachment.
In my duty section we had a host of Vietnam vets. Two of the sergeant first classes were always trying to one-up the other on how bad they had had it over in Nam. Back then one of them had been infantry, the other an MP. They both would be out of place today. The grunt’s hair was always just a little too long and the MP was always just a little too fat. He certainly wouldn’t have made weight or passed the tape test in today’s anorexic-army. Their BDUs always looked like they had slept in them too.
When we had our class-A uniform inspection, neither one wore all of their medals, and yet, they both had a chest full. And the scars to back them up. In spite of corrective surgery, the grunt had some “holy shit!” scars on his face.
On one occasion, the MP was complaining about pulling guard duty in the central highlands on a tower with a searchlight, at which the grunt said, “Search lights? You had search lights? We had to stumble around in the dark!”
The MP continued, “We had to turn them off every few minutes because the moths and mosquitoes would get so thick, you couldn’t see a thing. Of course, the reply was, “You had moths? We didn’t have moths! They didn’t give us anything!”
The talk went on to how their hooches were set up. They had to dig bunkers, lay tree trunks, crates and pallets as roofs, and line everything with sandbags to protect themselves from mortar and rocket attacks. They leaked like sieves when it rained and always had puddles in them. The MP was mad because at night, the times when he wasn’t on duty, he would get bitten by rats that came out and ran through the hooches. He got the same sort of reply, “Rats? You had rats? We didn’t have rats! Rats are almost rabbits! I had to live on C-rats!”
Then the grunt started talking about his experiences and there was some turn-about. One time they were on a patrol in the Mekong delta and he was sitting on top of the M-113 armored personnel carrier. Before he could get any further the MP said, “You had ARMORED personnel carriers? All we had were Jeeps!”
The grunt continued, “And then we rolled over a remote controlled anti-tank mine, and I got blown off out into the rice paddy. Luckily it was still flooded.” The MP said, “You win.”
The grunt told us of how he laid there, his breath knocked out of him, a bunch of cuts and bruises, but otherwise unhurt, his lower body in the water, and watched the tracers fly over him. After a while he watched the TAC air drop napalm on the VC off a ways in a line of trees. He explained that as long as the VC thought he was dead, they weren’t going to waste any ammo on him, and he was in no hurry to die, so he just laid back and watched the fight.
He said that was the second time something like that had happened. The first time he had shot up out of the commander’s hatch like a jack-in-the-box, but that’s all he would say about that one. From the look on his face, I got the feeling his buddies died that day.
And that was my signal career in the reserve: establish our comm nets and then listen to the Nam vets compare notes for the weekend. Most of it was funny stuff about the scams they pulled on other units and the Air Force, but all of it was memorable. These guys had been through some extreme situations, but I was always struck about how the were never like Hollywood’s version of the Vietnam Vet. They were well-adjusted, didn’t act like deranged B-movie ax murderers, and were funny as hell. At 1700 on Sunday, our weekend drill was over much too quickly.
Damn, I miss those days. And those guys.