Sumo told me not to get up because he had planned a special breakfast. The cooks and mess men usually ate before the chow line opened at 0530, and I joined them for my final meal on Hill 65. The menu was SOS (hamburger meat gravy) on fresh biscuits with eggs to order. Everyone had a big laugh about “Ptomaine’s favorite meal.”
After chow, I went to the hooch to gather my gear as Reb was going to bed. In an effort to dissuade him from his unlawful scheme, I started a conversation. “Looking over your shoulder the rest of your life will be miserable.” I explained how I understood his need to get back with Margaret; however, it didn’t make sense why he would put the person he loved in jeopardy. Reb was silent, but he listened. “Play it straight, be patient and you two will live a happy life together. Don’t do this to her; you should honor her brother.”
We patted each other on the back and he said, “Thanks Sarge.” I left the hooch for the last time and headed up the hill wearing my helmet and flak jacket with M-16 in hand.
Fernando drove his truck to the Exec Pit, and we started loading. A sick Marine with a fever rode in the cab so the BAS would be our first stop. As I lifted myself up to the bed of the truck, someone grabbed my leg and pulled me down . . . it was Mama-San, and she was wailing “YOU NO CAN GO.”
Marines were trying to pull her off me and I said, “STOP, leave her alone.” I held her and said, “It’s OK, I will come back.” Her dark eyes were filled with pools of tears as she repeated my words, “You come back?” I looked her straight in the face and said, “YES.” Hua stood beside her, crying (he knew I was lying).
The trip to Headquarters Battery on Hill 34 was uneventful. Fernando waited while I turned in my M-16 and 782 gear. I received my official orders and got in the truck. Next stop was the Division Dispersing Office. After exchanging my MPC for greenbacks, I walked to the Dental Clinic where I got my teeth cleaned.
I hitched a ride to Four Corners and waited for the Admin truck to return from FLC. It was dry goods delivery day, and the truck was loaded with provisions for the week. Fernando dropped me off at Headquarters, and we wished each other luck as he headed back toward Convoy Road.
I was covered with dust and needed a shower so I went to the cooks’ hooch. I was undressed and wrapped in a towel when Mai (now a hooch maid) came in and asked if I needed anything. “No, thank you.” I stuffed my wallet in my shaving kit and went to the shower to rinse off the dust. When I returned to the hooch and got dressed, my watch was missing (I had left it on the cot with my clothes).
The watch was now worthless except for sentimental value. Jenny had given it to me as a Christmas gift. * It was my fault for leaving it out, but thankfully my wallet was safe.
The Headquarters Jeep driver dropped me at the Transient Center. Handlers checked everyone in, and we were briefed to stay put until 0400. Then we would be transported to our flight ramp. It was a tense night, and few of us slept.
* See previous blog, “A Trip to the PX” late December 1967