No Mail

Thursday, January 16, 1969

Fernando arrived late from FLC.  We received our dry goods order, and after putting away the provisions, we went to mail call.  Occasionally there would be a day when I didn’t get a letter.  Today was one of those days . . . I received no mail and was worried about Jenny’s flu.

It always bothered me to see the disappointed faces of Marines who didn’t get a letter from home.  Reb had been receiving regular mail from Margaret, and today he got two letters from Australia.  Sumo’s wife sent him a card from Japan, and Fernando received two letters from El Paso.

I considered mail to be private and avoided asking about any information contained in the letters.  On the other hand, if someone shared something, it was OK to comment.  Sumo was more nosy and constantly pried into these personal matters.

One of Reb’s letters was from James (Margaret’s photography student).  It was about their art project, and Sumo pressed Reb for more details.  Reb was abrupt, “It’s private!”

Fernando also had a letter from a female friend.  Sumo said, “Who is she?  What’s her name?”  Fernando blushed and repeated Reb’s words, “It is PRIVADO.”  Sumo responded, “I bet it’s Felina.”

Reb said, “Who is Felina?”  Sumo joked,, “You know . . . Feleena, the Mexican maiden from Rosa’s Cantina.”  We all broke out in laughter and tried to remember the lyrics to the Marty Robbins song, “El Paso.”

This distraction brightened my mood.  I was happy for the mail that was received because it was a morale booster.  Nothing was more important than mail.

Next Edition:  My Last New Moon


Hong Kong Flu

Wednesday, January 15, 1969

Another letter from Jenny arrived, postmarked Friday, January 10th:

“I am really sick.  Mickey and Larry are coming in a few hours to take me to their house in Porterville.  I think I have the Hong Kong flu.”

This news scared me although I was somewhat relieved that she was being cared for by friends.  It was a helpless feeling and complicated by her final exams coming up soon.

Later I talked with Doc Wayne about Jenny having the flu.  He said, “It usually lasts from 2 to 5 days, and she has probably already recovered.  If it was really serious, the Red Cross would have notified you by now.”  I knew he was right, but it didn’t stop me from worrying.

The Hong Kong flu pandemic had swept through South Vietnam; however, most of the American servicemen who contracted it were in the cities of Saigon and Da Nang.  Kilo Battery never had a case of the flu on Hill 65.

Next Edition:  No Mail

Upbeat Message

dai phu
Dai Phu School – Orphanage at Base of Hill 65

Tuesday, January 14, 1969

Firefights in Arizona Territory continued along the river.  It was getting increasingly difficult to sleep through the night, and I would sometimes hang out in the OP to watch the action.

Suddenly green tracers started firing near the orphanage at Dai Phu.  It was a one-way fight, and there was no return fire.  I counted four separate guns (AKs) firing in bursts, and they were advancing on something.  BOOM, BOOM, BOOM . . . three quick blasts (probably claymores) and then a humongous amount of red tracers.  There were more explosions and a steady stream of machine gun fire.  It was quite a show but ended abruptly.

During breakfast a squad of Bravo Company grunts returned from the ambush.  They were pumped up over the “probe.”  Four NVA had been killed, but the Marines took no casualties.  Bambino smiled and nodded to Reb; he looked happy. *  He wasn’t a young kid anymore, and he had a swagger.  His transition from boy to seasoned combat Marine was complete . . . it was as if he had consummated his role in the Corps.

At mail call I received a letter from Jenny, and she was upbeat about the orders to Camp Pendleton.  She was pleased we would be in California and especially about being so close to Laguna Beach.  It was a short note; she was drinking hot lemonade for a sore throat and felt achy.  “Now I’m off to bed early so I can hopefully get better soon.  Love and Kisses.”

* See previous blog, “Bambino” December 10, 1968

Next Edition:  Hong Kong Flu

Changes at Hill 37

Kitchen Workers
Peeling Potatoes in Produce Room

Monday, January 13, 1969

It had been over a month since visiting Staff Sergeant Lopez at the Hill 37 mess hall. *  In an effort to trade the extra immersion water heater, I made the short trip.  The renovations to the Battalion Compound were obvious, and the mess hall there was much improved.  A new GI (trash) house had just been completed and was exactly the same as ours.

Somehow 1/7 had managed to hire four Vietnamese women workers to replace mess duty Marines.  It was a similar situation to our Battalion Mess on Hill 34.  The women were locals from Dai Loc.

The new immersion water heater was an easy sell to Lopez; he needed it to sanitize the trash cans so we made a trade.  Lopez exchanged four new fiberglass chairs for the water heater.

Back on Hill 65 we assembled the bucket-seat chairs and presented them to Gunny Pavelcek for use in the new club.  To our surprise, the Gunny was hesitant . . . the chairs were pink and didn’t fit the proper image of a staff club.  Top Culverhouse solved the problem by suggesting camouflage seat covers be made from poncho liners.

Mama-San agreed to have the seat covers sewn in Dai Loc by a seamstress.  The arrangements were made, and the covers would be ready in a week.

* See previous blog, “Staff Sergeant Lopez” December 3, 1968

Next Edition:  Upbeat Message




Sunday, January 12, 1969

Cutting steaks from the New York strip loins was a time consuming task.  The first step was to sharpen our knives and use a leather strop to put a final edge on the blade before starting.  We developed our own style which focused on cutting off most of the fat and making each steak uniform in size.  Waste was never an issue.

This batch of loins had an extended “tail” of meat which we trimmed off and cut into portions for Swiss steak.  Sumo pounded a seasoned flour into the beef with a metal meat mallet.  The result was tenderized meat with a glue-like coating.

These tenderized steaks were braised and placed into roasting pans with sliced onions between layers.  The final step was to cover the browned meat with beef broth and slow cook for two hours.  Sumo’s secret ingredient of the broth was dark brewed coffee.  He claimed the enzymes in the coffee made the meat more tender.

As we prepared for the Steak BBQ, cement steps were being poured in the new staff club.  Reb had constructed the wooden forms and was directing the work.  It was funny to watch a Lance Corporal giving orders to a bunch of Sergeants.  They were all doing the heavy jobs and sweating while Reb guided their efforts.

The Swiss steak was a hit.  It was easier to eat than a BBQ’d steak and more flavorful.  Sumo was an excellent cook, and he taught me more than I ever learned in Steward School.

Next Edition:  Changes at Hill 37

Fernando’s R&R Scheduled

View from the Southern End of Hill 65 – Photo by Navy Corpsman Buzz Baviello – 1970

Saturday, January 11, 1969

The southern-most OP on Hill 65 overlooked the big bend in the Vu Gia River.  The distance from the OP to the river bank was less than 200 yards, and debris was spotted tangled in the shoals.  Bravo Company sent out a patrol to investigate the flotsam.

The partially submerged sam-pan contained three dead NVA and an 82mm mortar.  Marines from the patrol said, “The gooks in the boat were boys (about 15 years old) who were wearing brand-new gear.”  An Amtrac was sent to recover the equipment, and the bodies were left on the side of the road for the locals to contend with (there was a graveyard nearby).

Fernando returned from FLC with our supplies and the mailbag.  I got a letter from Jenny; she was back in Fresno with three weeks of college left.

The big news was that Fernando’s request for R&R in Hawaii was approved for mid-February.  Almost everyone choosing Hawaii for R&R was either married or engaged.  Fernando chose Hawaii in order to be with his parents again.  They had never had a vacation and were excited to join their son in Hawaii.  Other family members would run the restaurant in El Paso during their absence. *  R&R would have a different meaning for Fernando, and I admired him for his intentions.

* See previous blog, “Fernando Arrives” August 4, 1968

Next Edition:  Steps





River Traffic



Friday, January 10, 1969

Construction of the staff club continued, and Gunny Pavelcek didn’t take any short cuts.  Three of the interior walls were cut into the slope of the hill so there was no need for sandbagging.  The dirt walls would be framed with wooden 2″ X 4″s and vertically paneled with ammo box slats.  This was tedious work (breaking down the boxes), but Reb promised the outcome would be much more aesthetically pleasing.

Enemy activity was increasing across the river in Arizona Territory.  We watched the firefights at night, and much of the action was along the river, especially near the CAP units.  River traffic increased as the NVA tried to move men and supplies toward Da Nang.  Recon units (using starlight scopes) called in fire missions on the VC boats.  Pre-set coordinates of the river positions were deadly on these targets.

Newly-planted rice fields were emerging, and the countryside was in a transition from the golden harvest colors to a green landscape of lush growth.  Dozens of fields were flooded, and the young rice shoots were pushed into the fertile mud.

Command Chronology – Kilo 4/11 – January 1969

Next Edition:  Fernando’s R&R Scheduled