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"The days are long the years are short" (Gretchen Rubin)

The plane ride to Vietnam was on a Northwest Airlines. Everybody sounded like they were going on vacation. As the plane descended you can feel the silence and trepidation. Once the plane lands a voice comes over the PA “Stay seated until told otherwise” as the plane door opens the temperature goes from 74 degrees to a sweltering over a 100 in moments. It’s going to be a hot year. 

25th infantry: One of our first missions a priest/minister has an informal mass. I figure some extra religion at the moment could help, but half way through the service he states "let us defeat the enemy and it occurs to me…” what if the VC has a priest saying the same prayer? I could be in real trouble!

Did you know that water rises in rice paddies? When you’re sleeping on a dike and water surrounds you in the middle of the night and you’re told “pack-up your gear leave the claymore mines, we’ll come back for them later” you realize there is a lot more to learn, I can’t remember what happened afterwards but that was part of the learning curve for our new Lieutenant and us as grunts.

The existence in the jungle is 80% boredom 20% horror.

I hate the sound and looks of an AK-47. It was the Vietcong’s weapon.

The first time we got shot at I knew it was an AK-47 it had a ping metallic sound, as I looked up to see where the shots came from two bullets flew close to my head piercing the air as they flew by. I knew then someone had their sights on me and I just laid down my head and rolled over two feet.

If you could forget you for a moment that you were in a combat zone the jungle is beautiful, filled with unique plants, trees elephant grass snakes and spiders of all sizes, mealy bugs so small I thought they were the flower of the plant.

We were crossing a 20-30 foot wide stream about 5 feet deep. Fast running water has a way of eroding the bottom sediment when people start walking through it. The first 5-6 guys crossed as I stood guard.

When my turn came up I kept my radio hand piece and my M16 above my head, but now the stream was closer to 6 feet deep in the center and I’m only 5’6. We had stoic American Indian, Ken Stone who often carried a rope with him and he lassoed me on the first try.

I appreciated the help until I got to the muddy shore and he decided to pull me through the last 10 feet through the mud. I was on my knees by then covered in mud. I was angry, but everybody was standing there laughing so hard you could have heard it a mile away. I saw the humor and I accepted the fact everybody had a good laugh at my expense and made us part of one team. 

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” Voltaire. At 19 I don’t think the word Karma was in my vocabulary.

Soldiers and civilians standing on a bridge.
A U.S. soldier standing in the foreground, river and boats in the background.
A muddy boot and pant leg, rice paddies in the background.

Our platoon sergeant said we were setting up an ambush on a slope overlooking a stream and he stated it was considered a Vietcong strong hold. After three-four hours someone down the line light up a cigarette and shortly afterward I could hear a Vietnamese voice and I could tell our sergeant was preparing to “light up” the whole stream.

What bothered me was it was two voices in a delightful conversation, I became more guarded not because it could be the enemy but the realization that they weren’t. Through the jungle foliage I could barely make out a white shirt and a women’s silk Vietnamese dress sitting in a small longboat and I said in a loud voice “I’m not doing this” as the boat swept by, the women was laughing in a light voice. I’ve often thought of those two. The children and grandchildren that came into their lives without ever realizing how close to death they came.

The platoon leader was not happy with me. I felt a certain satisfaction of not going against orders but doing the right thing. 

When I got to experience our first kill at first I was almost excited expecting to find a 19 year old Vietnamese instead the VC was in his 50’s and he had big “farmer” hands from working hard all his life. My perspective changed that very moment.

The midnight ambush goes wrong.

We located ourselves on a rice paddy dike about 400-600 feet from Cpt. Olsen’s platoon.

We were was asleep when I woke up to the loud explosion from a claymore mine. You can only wait to see or hear if the enemy is approaching you. Nothing moved and then I heard Captain Olsen yell “I need some volunteers over here.” Our platoon leader said to stay put so not to give up our location.


The next day we got word that we had three killed by one of our own claymores, no names are given until we returned to Cu Chi and a memorial service.

Our three Chieu hoi’s had been with us from the time I came into the unit and I trusted them because they had our backs when it counted (and went fishing with a grenade from a bridge and showing me the hot peppers growing in the jungle that I added to my C-rations.)

Our three Chieu hoi’s had been with us from the time I came into the unit and I trusted them because they had our backs when it counted (and went fishing with a grenade from a bridge and showing me the hot peppers growing in the jungle that I added to my C-rations.)

We walked into a brand new bunker complex deep in the jungle surrounded by elephant grass. Nobody home, no one ever lived there. Vacant. We walked into the elephant grass about 6 feet high and my sergeant found a small walking path, I followed about 4 to 5 feet behind him.

I had been an RTO (Radio operator with PRC-25 radio strapped on my back) for several weeks since the last guy got malaria. We walked slowly for about 5 minutes. He then stated he had found a trip wire, he looked to the right and I glanced to the left. I could see a small red piece of plastic with the wire as he leaned down to touch the wire…

I woke up looking at the blue sky thinking I was in heaven but then as I tried to roll over I felt my rut sack on my back. The elephant grass had been cleared down to the black soil for several feet each way and there in the middle laid our Sgt. 

Still clutching his M-16, the ammo clip had blown to pieces in the weapon. His face was a gun metal gray both eyes pushed in with just two red dots exposed. Most of his arm was shredded.

I can remember thinking “I hope he’s dead” because he’s in real bad shape. I got over him and told him to hang on…

"You’re Ok Sgt. your OK, you’re going home” What else can you say? I didn’t realize it just then but I couldn’t hear anything because of the blast.

I called command for a Medivac and an officer on the other end told me I needed to get our lieutenant to make the call. I lost it. The expletives came out my mouth and I was asked: “do you know who you’re talking to”? I answered …”you come out here and find his arm and his eyes because I can’t find them”. We had a well-deserved stand down days later. 

Picture of two U.S. vets. One wears a "Class of 68 Vietnam" shirt, the other is missing an arm from the elbow down.

One morning while on a mission we were told the 25th Infantry Division was being deactivated and everyone would be assigned to different units and I was going home.

I got to Chicago around mid-night and my best friend Marty and his two sisters picked me up at the airport. Driving down a busy street I saw a man lying on the sidewalk I yelled at Marty “to stop the car. Stop the car.” He responded “he’s a bum, man” and everyone laughed except me. They couldn’t understand.

U.S. soldier wearing sunglasses, holding up a piece of shrapnel for the camera.

Biographical Details

Primary Location During Vietnam: Nhơn Trạch District, Vietnam Vietnam location marker

Story Subject: Military Service

Military Branch: U.S. Army

Dates of Service: 1968 - 1971

Unit: 25th Infantry Delta 2/12 & 101st Airborne

Specialty: 11B10

Story Themes: 101st Airborne Division, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 25th Infantry, Army, C-Rations, Dassel, Death and Loss, Dissent, First Impressions, John Mares, Look, Physical Wounds, Relationships, Religion, Shortimer, Shortimer Calendar, Terrain

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