Friday, June 21, 1968
Captain Cavagnol asked the Gunny to have the battery compound policed (cleaned up). All wooden pallets, crates and material for a campfire were set aside. We all knew he had a surprise up his sleeve, and as usual it would involve morale.
Finally after sunset a campfire was built, and everyone gathered around. It was just like a summer YMCA camp. It started with a corny skit. A galvanized tub of water was brought to the fire, and Lieutenant Grant knelt before it . . . ready for “Baptism.” Cavagnol dunked Grant’s head in the water for ten seconds, pulled him out and said, “Do you believe?” Grant replied, “No Sir.” Everyone was laughing as the Lieutenant was submerged again. He was pulled out of the water and asked a second time, “Do you believe?” The baptismal candidate gasped, “Sir, No Sir.”
As the skit continued, Grant took a deep breath and was again dunked. He was under water for a long time . . . bubbles were coming up, and his head shot out of the water. “YES SIR, I BELIEVE!” Cavagnol asked, “What do you believe?” The Lieutenant answered, “Sir, I believe you are trying to drown me.” It was classic camp entertainment, and everyone clapped for the performance.
It was now time for the announcements. Tomorrow a convoy from Hill 65 would bring mail and resupply us with a full 500-gallon water buffalo. This in itself boosted our morale, but then Cavagnol added: the “Mayor” (village chief) of Thuong Duc has challenged us to a volleyball game. There will be a potluck picnic, and we will share food with them.
In a serious closing to this announcement, he said, “We will let them win the volleyball game and be good sports about it.”
Next Edition: Convoy Surprise
Thursday June 20, 1968
Since the 26th Marines took over operations in the Thuong Duc area (the day after I arrived), Kilo battery had very few fire missions. We could see the action in the hills and mountains to the north (especially at night), but they weren’t calling in fire missions. We did fire sporadic rounds throughout the night, but they were preplanned H&I fire.
My sleep patterns changed in Thuong Duc, and I rarely slept more than three hours at a time. From 2000 to 2300 was my primary sleep. At midnight I was designated as the northern perimeter LP until 0400, and we used a “wired” phone connected to the CP to communicate.
The late watch was relaxing, and I was comfortably reclined in my fighting hole/hooch. The moonlight was bright enough to view the fields and landscape in front of me. I heard a long ShhhhhhH passing overhead and a series of loud booms in the distance. I thought it was some sort of BIG artillery. I usually slept, after being relieved, from 0400 to just after sunrise.
While I ate breakfast, the Mama-San showed up in the flooded plot with bundles of rice seedlings. She started planting them by hand and stooped, constantly pushing the short stems into the mud. She planted in perfectly straight rows and slogged her way back and forth across the paddy.
Captain Cavagnol announced that the noises we’d heard overhead during the night were gliding bombs from B-52’s. They were targeting a suspected infiltration route. After making my morning rounds of the perimeter wire, I sat with Doc Furman in the med tent, trying to stay out of the sun. The Mama-San continued planting rice in the 100-degree heat. It was exhausting just watching her.
After bathing in the river, I took another 2-hour nap before dinner. Mama-San was almost finished planting and continued until after sunset. It was a 13-hour day for her to plant the field.
Next Edition: The Campfire
Wednesday, June 19, 1968
Doc Furman and I ate lunch together in the medical tent. We sat side by side on one of the cots, facing out toward the rice fields. The tent flaps were rolled up to allow air circulation.
Our conversation was about how differently people react to injuries. One with a minor shrapnel wound in the arm cried in pain, and another with a gaping hole in the throat would stay calm. Also there was Corporal Diaz with a serious head wound saying, “Bring me my guitar.” Furman summed it up as “Survival of the Fittest.” He considered it a Darwinian thing.
I was eating cold Beans and Weenies out of the can and said, “Hey look!” There was a large brownish red caterpillar inching its way along in front of us. Suddenly a purple florescent wasp swooped down and attacked the woolly worm. The wasp instantly won the battle and was holding on to its prey with a death grip. Doc said, “There it is, Survival of the Fittest.” We were both mesmerized by this life and death struggle when out from under a cot leaped a frog. Its tongue shot out and consumed the wasp and caterpillar.
Furman and I finished our lunch in silence (no one would believe this story). I picked up the frog and tossed it into the rice paddy. Furman said, “Why did you do that?” I answered, “It don’t mean nuthin.”
I went to the river to take a cool dip. As I walked onto the beach, one of the peepers started waving her arms and calling out. A Marine in the water said, “Hey Sarge, she’s talking to you.” I walked over to the bamboo, and she handed me a bar of homemade soap. I took it and asked, “Ten (your name)?” She answered, “Trinh.” I thanked her (cam on) and gave her a nodding smile of friendship. Trinh smiled back and made a quick bow . . . we were now friends.
The soap had an earthy fragrance (pungent, like Bay leaves). I washed with my back to the peepers and didn’t lose my grip on this soap.
Next Edition: Transplanting Rice Seedlings
Tuesday, June 18, 1968
Every morning the trash was taken to our small dump site and burned. Excess powder from our artillery was used to light the fire. The powder looked like alfalfa pellets (rabbit food) and would burn off in a quick flash of bright intense flame. It was like lighting fireworks in the street.
I got the idea to use the pellets for heating C-rats. I buried a small engineer stake flush into the ground and filled the curved depression with a handful of powder. My first attempt was a half canteen cup of water, and it worked; the water was hot in a few seconds. I stirred in a packet of hot cocoa powder and had to wait for it to cool before drinking.
This new development made cooking easier. The quantity of powder used could be tailored to the size of the container, and multiple cans could be heated simultaneously. Soon after, everyone in the battery was sharing engineer stakes as cook stoves.
The fields to the north of my hooch were planted with manioc, a tuber similar to a sweet potato. One patch of ground was fallow, and a Vietnamese woman was preparing the soil with a long-handled hoe. It was close to our wire perimeter, about 25 yards out. She had been working on this area for a few days and now was releasing water from a canal to flood the plot.
Captain Cavagnol explained that she was preparing to plant a late rice crop. It would be harvested in October or November. Rice plantings were staggered, and harvest season was spread over months.
My dinner was Ham and Muthers. I split the contents into two batches and added a can of “pimento cheese spread” to one and “caraway cheese spread” to the other. Both recipes were good with the steaming hot white bread. I named the meal “Cheesy Muthers.”
Next Edition: Survival of the Fittest