The Screaming Frog

February 22, 1968

One morning when Papa-San arrived, we were taking a break and chatting over Ca phe.  We heard a loud shrill, “eeeeeah, eeeeeah” coming from the pot shack (dish-washing area).  A frog was stuck in some rock rubble next to the building.  I started to reach down to pick it up, and Papa-San yelled, “NO!”  After clearing away the rocks, we saw a bright green snake engulfing the frog’s legs.

Exposing the snake from the rocks, we could see its full size of about two feet and its yellow bulging eyes.  The fangs were clearly embedded into the frog, and the process of the frog’s death was imminent.

Papa-San waved his stump hand around, lazily distracting the snake.  In a split second he grabbed the snake behind the head with his left hand and held it firmly to the ground.  Getting a solid grip, he calmly walked down the hill toward our perimeter and tossed the snake (still eating the frog) into the barbed wire barrier.  The snake quickly slithered into the loose surface rocks and disappeared.

Hua interpreted Papa-San’s explanation, “The snake will help defend against vermin, rats, mice and other pests.”  It was an interesting view into the Vietnamese culture and their respect for life, a juxtaposing belief that life should be respected . . . even in war.

Next Edition:  The Southern Meal


Battalion Inspection

We had visitors at lunch from Battalion Headquarters.  A Captain and his staff were here to inspect our facilities and make an assessment of our needs (living quarters, showers, mess hall, etc.).

After lunch I was asked to tag along with the team and answer any questions regarding mess hall issues.  I walked them through the large cleared area behind the mess hall and made my case for a new mess deck.  Captain Cavagnol held back and let me sell the idea.  He knew I was asking for a lot, and it was probably more of a wish list.  When the Captain thanked me, I said, “Sir, I’m not finished.”  I led the group to the north end of the mess hall and pointed out another cleared space.  “This is where the cook’s quarters should be.”  I argued that we had to maneuver through a path of triple strand barbed wire in the dark to start breakfast every morning.  To my surprise, he had his team measure the space, and he said, “A 16′ x 16′ tropical hut would fit nicely here.”

That night Cavagnol took me aside and said, “I think you’re going to get your wish, but the Division Engineering Officer would have to approve it first.”  We talked about the logistics of managing a larger facility, and he appreciated my confidence in this project.

Sumo was still concerned about having a private shower, and I assured him it was on my agenda.  We talked about building it next to our new quarters and joked about installing an immersion water heater so we could have hot showers.

Next Edition:  The Screaming Frog

journal feb
Declassified Command Chronology 4th Battalion, 11th Marines – 21 Feb 1030 Hours

Chieu Hoi

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Chieu Hoi leaflet dropped from aircraft over Arizona territory

February 19, 1968

The war around Hill 65 had become quiet.  Sergeant Paige warned me not to let my guard down and said, “The battles ebb and flow.”  Sometimes when you least expect it, all hell breaks loose.  There was no predicting things to come . . . “just try to be as ready as you can.”

Sumo’s stir fry dinner went well, and the Udon noodles were a hit.  The sticky sweet and sour orange shrimp was excellent.  However, we had to ration them to a small portion of three each.

After dinner I set up my chair outside to write Jenny a letter and watch for any action out in Arizona territory.  I noticed some Grunts looking up in the sky and pointing at something.  I was thinking it was a helicopter or a jet, but it was leaflets . . . thousands of them.  They were meant for the NVA/VC and were a form of psychological warfare.  I collected a few and stored them in my box of letters from home.

Leggs came by the hooch and needed another PB&J sandwich so we went to the mess hall for his late dinner.  He gave me an update on the BBQ pit which was complete, except the cooking surface (a diamond shaped steel grill) wasn’t quite ready.

I admired Leggs’ ability to fix mechanical issues.  He was an auto mechanic, welder, carpenter, plumber, heavy equipment operator and inventor.  His military specialty and primary job was keeping all six guns in top working condition . . . his secondary military occupation was tracked vehicle maintenance.  He was a valuable asset to Kilo battery.

Next Edition:  Battalion Inspection

Excerpt from Command Chronology – February 1968 3rd Battalion 7th Marines

Family Traditions

Doc Furman and Doc Driscoll – Playing Horseshoes

February 18, 1968

In the afternoon after cutting New York steaks, Sumo and I watched and listened to the horseshoe tournament taking place below our hooch.  There were teams from the gun crews, corpsmen, motor pool and the administrative team of Top and the battery clerk.  This recreation time was important, and the tournament became a weekly tradition in Kilo battery.

Top asked me to put a steak aside for later in the evening.  After dinner was secure, he showed up with a care package from his wife.  It contained taco shells, refried beans, canned chilis and salsa.  He was from Houston, Texas and wanted to observe his family tradition of cooking Mexican food on Sunday nights.  We set him up and watched as he prepared his Tex-Mex concoction.

As he was eating, the conversation turned to menus, and I expressed frustration with the Ocean Perch we were issued each week for Friday’s dinner meal.  It was a bland tasting fish, and its soft texture didn’t stay together (it was a mess).  Top had a solution, “Serve the fish on the side.”  He suggested the main course should be, “Pinto beans, coleslaw and cornbread.”  Both Sumo and I were skeptical but agreed to give it a try.  Finally Top promised to help sell it as “a true Southern meal.”

Next Edition:  Chieu Hoi

Top Culverhouse and Corporal Hernandez


Special Deliveries

February 17, 1968

Top Culverhouse joined our endeavor to be properly supplied with food.  He told me his plan to share the food allotment journal with Gunny Sampson in Battalion Headquarters.  It was an unofficial mission, and no officers were aware of the situation (Top believed they would complicate matters).

He rode the convoy to Da Nang promising to make a stop at the surplus food dock in FLC.  He was also training a truck driver (PFC Wilson) to stop at this dock on the daily administrative mail run.  Anything extra would help our predicament.

Meanwhile, Hill 37 mess hall continued to short our supplies.  The India Company Sergeant who was interested in the food allotment met us as we arrived back from the supply run and asked, “Did you get the chocolate milk?”  I answered, “No, and he wouldn’t give us evaporated milk for hot chocolate either.”  Angrily he said, “I’ll do what I can.”

Later in the afternoon Top returned from Da Nang with a case of fresh bell peppers and large bags of onions and celery.  Gunny Sampson sent two cases of dehydrated shrimp along with a message, “Help is on the way.”

Sumo was excited about the extra ingredients and was planning a classic Japanese stir fry for Monday night.  During his training in the Sumo kitchen in Iwakuni Japan, he learned to make Udon noodles and they were a major part of his menu plan.*

The Sergeant from India Company came in toward the end of dinner and announced his acquisition of 10 cases of chocolate milk.  He had threatened to complain about the shortage issue to the Sergeant Major of 3/7.  The Mess Sergeant at Hill 37 also gave him two cases of evaporated milk.

It was a good day for the Hill 65 mess hall, but I knew the root of the problem was having to depend on another unit to supply us.  The “Help is on the way” message from Gunny Sampson intrigued me . . . right now we just needed another cook.

*  See previous “Sumo” blog

Next Edition:  Family Traditions


February 16, 1968

Papa-San always came straight to the mess hall in the mornings for his Ca phe.*  Usually we were cleaning up after breakfast, and he would sit outside and sip from his tin cup.  He arrived before the other Vietnamese because he rode his bike up the 300 yard dirt road to the mess hall (all the others walked).

I noticed his bicycle had a derailleur and a double chain ring which allowed him to climb the hill.  Papa-San saw me looking over his bike and he said, “French.”  The vintage bicycle was an aqua color and had chrome fenders.  There was a metal badge on the front labeled Helyett.  It was obviously a high quality bike for its time.  Attached over the rear fender was a woven basket which held all his barber tools.

As we drank our Ca phe and talked (Hua would interpret), Papa-San told me of a French officer who brought the bicycle to Vietnam and rode the dirt roads.  Papa-San cleaned the bike after the rides and kept it in good condition.  When the French left Vitenam, the officer gifted the Helyett to Papa-San . . . it was about 20 years old.

Papa-San’s style of riding was different.  He leaned forward with his forearms resting on the hand grips, and his left hand gripped the stump of his right wrist.  I asked him if he rode this way for stability, and he said, “No want VC to see hand.”  Hua explained the missing hand marked him as an enemy of the NVA/VC.

When we finished our chat, I stood up and saluted Papa-San French style (palm facing out).  He accepted my salute by bowing to me.  We enjoyed talking, and our curious friendship was developing.

*  See previous “Papa-San” blog

Next Edition:  Special Deliveries

Murphy Joins India Company

February 15, 1968

Sumo took the short trip to Hill 37 to receive our food allotment.  The Mess Sergeant was angry about us recording the allotment and again refused to sign the clipboard.  A new Marine from India Company who was hitching a ride back to Hill 65 asked, “What is the big deal?”  Sumo, looking at the Mess Sergeant said, “This turd is shorting the food allotment for your Company.”  The Sergeant was furious, but Sumo stood his ground and challenged him, “Go ahead and report me TURD.”  Interestingly, we never heard any repercussions from this incident.

The word spread quickly through India Company of Sumo’s disrespectful interaction, and we made it clear that the Mess Sergeant at Hill 37 was skimming food from our allotment.  One of India’s Sergeants wanted to know, “What exactly is it they are shorting us?”  I answered, “Every unit is issued cartons of chocolate milk once a week, and ours is being distributed to troops at Hill 37.”  He acknowledged, “Yeah, I wondered about that.”  I told him it was much bigger than just chocolate milk, and he nodded, understanding.

Murphy’s time on mess duty was up, and we wished him well.  He was going to join India’s 1st Platoon at An Hoa, just south of Arizona territory.  As a parting gift, we gave him a case of apple juice to share with his new platoon.  I knew they would return to Hill 65.

As I was watching the war in Arizona, Sumo joined me and confessed about losing his temper.  He was surprised I already knew about it.  I explained my own experiences of being a hothead and how I believed it had diminishing returns.  Both of us agreed, we had been dealt a bad hand on this issue, and our best strategy would be to lay low and wait for the right opportunity.  In the meantime, we would improvise and do the best with what we had.

We watched the full moon rise over the mountains east of Dai Loc.  The valley was beautiful by moonlight, and the river sparkled as it flowed slowly into the night.  We slept soundly with no incoming.

Next Edition:  Helyett