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
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