Sunday, October 27, 1968
After 25 days of living in the mud on Hill 52, our gun crews returned home to the Hill 65 compound. The experience had taken its toll, and the faces of these young Marines made me realize how lucky we cooks were to be living in our “posh” hooch with a hot shower.
The Steak BBQ was extended for an hour, and we secured at dusk. Sergeant Bivens grabbed me in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. He was built like Rosie Grier, defensive tackle of the L.A. Rams, who was always smiling. “We missed you Ptomaine.” I could tell he wasn’t joking; life on Hill 52 had been miserable.
The logistics of continuing to supply Hill 52 was a nightmare for the upper command. The amount of resources used to keep the roads open was a strain, and supply by helicopter was limited because of weather. In the end, this strategic location was abandoned . . . again.
Captain Smotherman lost a lot of weight, and he looked gaunt. The stress of leading a unit in such poor conditions took a physical toll on him. As he entered the Officers mess, he noticed the “Share Center” and picked up a TIME magazine. After eating his dinner, he commented on the way out saying, “Good stuff Sergeant Kysor.” He still had the magazine and promised to return it in the morning.
Gunny Pavelcek asked for another stuffed potato and invited me to join with the other section heads in his hooch at 1900. We rarely got together as a group, and this invitation seemed ominous.
We gathered in the “Staff Hooch” and were offered cold beer. It was an informal meeting, and the Gunny shared some souvenirs from the Maui Peak Operation. An AK-47 was passed around, and I marveled at its craftsmanship and basic design. I asked permission to break it down, and the Gunny said, “You can try.”
It was a simple task, and the stock swiveled loose from the barrel assembly. The bolt fell out at an odd angle, and I noted it was machined of a high grade nickel. The overall condition of the rifle was new. The weapon had been retrieved from the NVA who were killed by a fire mission. Pavelcek said, “It was discovered next to a young boy, maybe 15 years old.”
This was who we were fighting. These new NVA recruits were school kids who had been indoctrinated into the cause of the war. Infantry training was “on the job” by our standards. They were caught in the open, and our 155 rounds were deadly.
Top Culverhouse announced we would continue to meet every Sunday night in their hooch and keep the communication fluent.
Next Edition: Smotherman Contributes