Sumo and I attended the Sunday briefing, and the horseshoe tournament was at the top of the agenda. It had been a busy week for the gun crews with the Operation Rock fire missions. There was still some tension about the rocket attack at Headquarters Battery and the loss of Sergeant Major Hodal. *
As brunch was winding down, a convoy from Da Nang arrived with Gunny Sampson and our new cook. I took the new arrival to Top Culverhouse for the administrative check-in. I didn’t know where he would bunk and asked Sergeant Paige for suggestions. Sergeant Paige said, “Right here,” pointing to his cot in our hooch. He explained the hooch was scheduled to be torn down and he would have to move anyway. I wanted to talk with him about it, but he was collecting his gear and moving closer to FDC where he worked. I felt bad, but Paige was right to make the move now.
Back at the mess hall I joined Sumo and Gunny Sampson cutting steaks. Sampson had heard about the Sunday BBQ and wanted to see for himself . . . Marines cooking their own steaks. He had brought eight sets of tongs and two long-handled forks.
The new cook joined us and had promptly been named “REB” by the battery Gunny. Reb was a PFC and had graduated from a 30-day cook school in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. His hometown was in nearby Charlotte. After cutting the steaks, Sumo and I helped Reb get settled into our hooch before dinner.
Sampson had been training him for ten days, and the rocket attack had shaken Reb’s nerves. Only five days in country and he had already witnessed a Sergeant Major in a body bag, along with other staff NCO medevacs. We tried to reassure Reb, but Hill 65 wasn’t exactly a paradise.
The BBQ was crazy as ever with billowing smoke and everyone bragging about their cooking skills. We introduced Reb to Kilo battery, and he enjoyed the welcome. Gunny Sampson was stunned by the party atmosphere and told me, “Keep this routine going as long as you can.”
I stayed late in the mess hall, making sure everything was cleaned up. Cobby hung out as well, and we helped Top Culverhouse with his Sunday Tex-Mex tradition. Gunny Sampson sat with us in the glow of a beautiful sunset, and we all talked about the importance of traditions.
I made my way back to the hooch in the dark and entered the magic of flickering candlelight. Sumo was writing a letter, and Reb was sleeping under a Confederate flag. It was something I would have to get used to.