Wednesday, August 7, 1968
It was Reb’s turn to accompany Fernando to Da Nang. He needed to pick up his khaki uniform at Freedom Hill and finalize plans for his R&R to Australia.
Sumo and I were preparing lunch when we heard a loud droning sound and went outside to see what it was. A flight of three large aircraft were flying low in formation over Arizona Territory. They appeared to be “crop dusting” as they sprayed a swath of fine mist across the valley floor.
Sumo commented, “This is the second spraying.” The first had taken place when I was in Thuong Duc. The spray was an herbicide which would defoliate forested areas used for concealment. It would also deny the enemy’s ability to grow crops in the free fire zone. I wanted to take a photo, but the flight was over before I could retrieve my camera.
The mist hung in the air for a short time and drifted toward the river before dissipating. I thought of my grandfather dusting his apple tree * when I was a young boy. He covered his face with a bandanna and said it was unhealthy to breathe the yellow spray. He died from a lung disease we thought was associated with asbestos in the Naval Shipyards where he worked during WWII.
The Admin run returned, and Reb went straight to bed to catch some sleep before starting his night shift. We let him snooze until after dinner.
A new platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Hale, from India Company asked if he could use the mess deck for training. I told him yes and suggested some refreshments for his class. He accepted the offer of coffee and cookies.
Setting up the trays of snacks and coffee for Lieutenant Hale’s group, I listened in on the meeting. His platoon had lost two Marines to explosive devices on Route 4 this week. The road mines had become a critical hazard in their patrols, and he wanted to change the way the road was swept. “Walk the shoulder, stay off the road, be alert, and don’t be tempted to take the easy route.”
Hale was new in country (one week) and had good intentions. These Marines were hardcore grunts. Their instincts were honed to a sharp unconscious vision with every step they took. This lecture would not change the way these guys did business . . . they were survivors. Lieutenant Hale would eventually develop his own skills if he lasted long enough, and I hoped he would.
* See previous blog, “The Apple Tree” December 1967
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