We boarded the plane for Da Nang at 0200 and the pilot announced, “There will be approximately four hours flight time before arriving in country; the temperature is 72 degrees with light rain.”
The stewardesses (Continental Airlines) served petite sweet rolls, cartons of orange juice and coffee. It was dark outside, and little to see except for distant lightning on the horizon.
We landed under an overcast sky and the tarmac was wet, but the rain had stopped. There was a large enclosed structure with one side open. It was the dispatch center, and we all took seats inside on benches. There were announcements regarding transportation to different units, and we waited for our names to be called. A jeep pulled up, and the driver went to the dispatch desk with a document. “Sergeant Garnett” was called, and he got in the jeep and drove off. I was curious and went to the dispatcher and asked, “What’s with the jeep?” He said, “Division Headquarters has the flight manifest and is hand picking their people.” I said, “So this is a good thing?” He shrugged and said, “Could be.”
Another jeep . . . the dispatcher announced, “Sergeant Kysor.” I got in the jeep, and we headed off to Division. There was an odor in the air, and I asked the driver what it was and he answered, “Vietnam.” It was not a good smell; I sensed a combination of muddy rainwater mixed with sewage and moldy composted vegetation.
We pulled into a space marked Force Recon – Snipers. “No way,” I told the driver, “you got the wrong person.” He motioned toward the door of a Quonset hut . . . “tell them.” The red sign with yellow lettering over the door read:
Celer, Silens, Mortalis;
(Swift, Silent, Deadly)
I entered the Quonset hut and was greeted by my old CO, Captain Flowers. He was elated to see me and told me to take a seat. He wanted me to be his clerk/driver and explained the benefits of belonging to this unit. When he finished, I asked him if I had to sign a volunteer statement for this position. He said, “Yes, technically you would be a sniper with your MOS, but you will be here with me.”
I flatly told him No, I didn’t want the position. He was upset with me and said, “You don’t trust me?” I answered, “I do trust you but don’t trust that you will always be here.” His only counter argument was, “So you’d rather be a cook than be here?” I answered, “Yes Sir.” We shook hands and parted ways. The jeep returned me to the dispatch area.
A truck full of young Marines was pulling out; I heard Gaskins yelling and waving, “See you Sarge.” I smiled and waved good-bye. The truck had markings of the 5th Marine Regiment . . . GRUNTS (Infantry).
My name was called along with another Sergeant, and we got into a truck with 11th Marine Regiment markings. I asked the driver, “Who are the 11th Marines?” He answered, “ARTY” (artillery). We stopped at Regimental Headquarters and after checking in, we were assigned to the 4th Battalion. Another jeep took us to Headquarters Battery (4/11).
On the way we passed through a shanty town known as “Dog Patch.” It had a putrid squalor-like stench, and there were ragged kids who were partially dressed and begging. Some of them had open sores; none had shoes. Dog Patch was a relocation center but looked more like a prison camp.
We checked in and were given temporary quarters. The mess hall was open, and we stood in line to have dinner. A big Gunny approached me and said, “Get your chow and join me,” pointing to a table in the corner.