Thursday, May 16, 1968
My first night back was a mental adjustment (Room 323 to 4/11). I got up early, went to breakfast and joined Gunny Sampson at his corner table (office). We exchanged some small talk about R&R before he asked the question, “Are you interested in working here at Headquarters with me?” I inquired, “How would that work?” He explained about the good job Sumo was doing in my absence and that his (Sampson’s) assistant was rotating back to CONUS in June. I thought about the offer and said, “No offense, but I’ve become attached to Kilo battery.” The Gunny smiled, understanding.
When the Dispensary opened, I reported to Lieutenant Clark and showed off my newly-healed hand. After telling him about the seawater treatments, his evaluation was, “a lucky outcome.” I also showed him the cocoa butter-coconut oil lotion I was using, and he said, “OK, but stay out of the sun” (not possible in Vietnam).
The ADMIN truck (with Wilson driving) showed up, and we headed to FLC. The weekly dry goods order had been placed, and it was a big load. I was curious about receiving two cases of whole yellow hominy and thought Sumo must be trying something new.
After getting the mailbag, we traveled on Convoy Road toward Dai Loc. We were temporarily delayed by a funeral procession with three caskets. I had seen these processions before, and the participants wore white formal attire (not black, like Americans). There was always a lot of incense. I heard the smoke was used to mask the odor of the dead body but also had religious significance.
When unloading the supplies, I noted Sumo was missing. Reb came out of the galley to help and said, “Sumo is at Papa-San’s funeral.” I listened in stunned silence as Reb explained how Papa-San’s sampan (floating home) took a direct hit from an 82mm mortar. It killed him and his two teenage daughters. A contingent of Marines from Kilo battery was at the funeral with Captain Cavagnol. Also, Reverend Starling had been flown in to participate in the the Christian service.
This news hit me hard, and it took some time to recover from the shock. This unpretentious nice old man was another victim of the war . . . as were his innocent young daughters. I was outraged and heartbroken.
The Marines from the funeral returned before sunset and recalled the details of the “feast,” honoring the dead. Sumo was never close to Papa-San but seemed upset by the event. I watched the sun set over Arizona territory from my folding chair . . . illumination rounds, tracers, Snoopy and flashes from explosions in the night. All I could think was, “This is insane!”
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