Tuesday, April 30, 1968
On the way to Da Nang we passed a long column of Marines from India Company. They were patrolling the road from Dai Loc to Hill 65 and were spread out for over a mile. I noticed the machine gunners carrying their heavy load of ammo and thought how young they looked. I watched for Captain Robb but never saw him.
The daily ordeal of changing my dressing was getting easier. The worst part of the burn was on my palm below the thumb, and Lieutenant Clark tried to keep my hand in a cupped position. Exerting any pressure with my hand was painful so I would try to protect it by holding it close to my body.
We made our rounds at FLC and were able to get extra cases of fresh oranges. Any type of fresh fruit was a bonus as the troops would take it to their quarters to consume, and there would be no mess for us to clean up. Oranges were also a hot commodity in Da Nang, and vendors were willing to trade goods for the opportunity to have fresh fruit.
There was a vendor who sold ordinary generic bamboo chopsticks in bulk (bundles of 25 sets). I told Wilson to stop at this street vendor and asked the young girl if she would trade oranges for chopsticks. She offered five bundles of chopsticks for a case of oranges. I opened a case and cut an orange in half with my pocket knife. Giving her the orange, I offered the case to her for ten bundles. She shared the orange with a Mama-San, and they agreed to the ten-bundle trade.
As we drove off, Wilson said, “What the hell are you going to do with 250 chopsticks?” I told him they would be BBQ shish kabobs later in the week. Wilson enjoyed the trips to FLC, and we became good friends. He had already received two Purple Hearts . . . one more and he would rotate out of country. Wilson grew up in Compton, California, and we shared some hometown stories about the Los Angeles area. He was an L.A. Rams fan and idolized Rosie Greer and Lamar Lundy, two of the famous “Fearsome Foursome.”
Hill 65 was teeming with activity when we arrived. India Company was at full strength, and we would be feeding 400 Marines per meal. Sumo had already made the adjustment in portions and changed the menu to Pot Roast with potatoes, carrots and peas. The Rainbow Jello was a surprise to troops coming off C-Rats, and they enjoyed a hot meal with a cool dessert.
Captain Robb came to the chow line, and everyone became silent. His troops stepped back to let him through the line, and he went into the officers’ mess. No words were exchanged, and their faces were somber; it was clear they didn’t like him. I noticed Lance Corporal Murphy * in the chow line (he looked older now) and asked him, “How you guys doing?” Murphy shook his head and said, “Not here.” I nodded, understanding.
Later after dinner I was in my chair outside our hooch, scratching a letter to Jenny, and Murphy showed up. He related to me that Captain Robb was an “Ass” and “full of petty shit.” I tried to change the subject and asked Murphy about his new daughter. He shared a photo, and I told him she was a beautiful baby. The conversation was awkward; something was different. After Murphy left, Sumo and I agreed that he had changed. It was as if he had hardened and had probably seen too much combat – another reminder to stay clear of relationships with Grunts.
* See previous “Stewart Rotates to CONUS” blog (January 24, 1968)
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