Recon Teams Extracted

Tuesday, April 23, 1968

recon teams
Three Recon Teams Arriving at Hill 65 from Charlie Ridge

Doc Driscoll took the small dog to Dai Phu in the morning.  Hua went with him to interpret, and Driscoll seemed satisfied the dog was in good hands.  He had gotten attached to the puppy and was upset with Lieutenant Martin; we all agreed it seemed unfair.  In retrospect, I think we had enough trouble in this country without taking on more responsibilities for pets.  It was common to see small children managing water buffalo or herding ducks, but these had a purpose and were cherished as work animals (ducks were used to keep rice paddies free of snails and other pests).

A helicopter dropped off some recon Marines at our LZ, and they wandered down to the mess hall looking for a meal (they were all Sergeants).  One of them approached me and asked if they could get some food, and I offered them an array of Reb’s doughnuts and coffee.  As they were eating, I could see they were talking about me so I went over to see what was up.  “You’re the Sergeant from El Toro who taught us about reading wind mirage.” *  I didn’t recognize any of them, but I smiled, “How’s that working for you?”

Recon’s job was to avoid contact and observe enemy movements.  They quickly learned the sniper rifles were of little use, and they all carried M-16’s.  I asked them about Captain Flowers. **  He had returned to Quantico after setting up the sniper unit.  Their new CO was a no-nonsense Major from Intelligence.

I was thankful I hadn’t accepted Flowers’ offer to be his driver and clerk.  I might have ended up on Charlie Ridge, packing a spotting scope or radio.  I asked how their current mission turned out, and they said, “This valley is crawling with NVA.”

* See previous “Sniper School blog

** See previous “In Country” blog (January 7, 1968)

Next Edition:  “FIRE!”

Big KIA Fire Mission

Doc Driscoll Giving Dog a Bath – Hill 65

Monday, April 22, 1968

Doc Driscoll, our younger Corpsman, came back from Da Nang with a dog.  He said he bought it in a market for a dollar and was saving it from being roasted for a Vietnamese dinner.  I had heard these stories but didn’t know if they were true.  I asked Mama-San if it was true, and she took it personally and said, “NO, No, no, I never eat dog.”  She was emotional about this issue, and my question upset her.

Later when talking with Papa-San over Caphe, *  I asked him about dogs being cooked, and he avoided answering.  I think it probably did happen, but it was considered a taboo.  The Vietnamese diet didn’t contain much meat.  There were pigs, chickens and ducks being sold live at the market.  From my observations, the majority of food exchanged at the market was rice and vegetables.

That afternoon Doc Driscoll was told, “the dog can’t stay.”  Lieutenant Martin said the dog was a security risk and needed to be gone by noon tomorrow.  Doc asked me for advice on how to get rid of the dog, and I suggested taking it to Dai Phu at the base of our hill.  “Give it to the kids” was my recommendation.

At sunset Kilo battery had a large fire mission.  The rounds were targeted to the southwest about three miles away, and with the sun below the horizon, we could see them detonate close to the river.  We could hear cheering from the Exec Pit, and learned of the surveillance confirmation  . . . 17 enemy KIA, caught crossing the river into Arizona territory.

* See previous “Papa-San” blog (January 20, 1968)

April 22
Command Chronology April 22, 1968 – Kilo battery 4/11

Next Edition:  Recon Teams Extracted

“Wall Flowers”

Sunday, April 21, 1968

During our afternoon “cook-your-own-steak” BBQ, Sergeant Paige was in the mess deck finishing his dinner and motioned for me to join him.  I sat across from him, and he divulged some communications which had come through the Comm Center.  New recon inserts * (two-man Force Recon teams) had been deployed all along “Charlie Ridge” to our west.  There were new teams:  Lamb Chops, Wall Flowers and Birth Control.  They were reporting reconnaissance of increased enemy activity and platoon-sized movements.

Paige was getting short and was scheduled to depart for CONUS in early May, and I asked him, “Maybe you’re getting short-timer jitters?”  He shook his head negatively, “No, this is some bad shit.”  I had always trusted Paige and knew he wouldn’t mislead me about something like this.

He was finishing his dessert and said, “What’s in this bread pudding?”  I answered, “left-over doughnuts.”  He had never given us a compliment but said, “This is some good shit!”  I remember thinking, “bad shit — good shit,” there’s probably a song in this conversation.  Paige was a loner, living in his own world in FDC; he was a math whiz and a master with his slide rule.

After showering I sat watching the war, and it seemed like a quiet night.  There were a few illumination flares but no tracers.  The Grunts had superstitions about the new moon, but it was a week away.  Sometimes I over-analyzed the war, but something was different.  Maybe it was me getting R&R jitters.  Today was Jenny’s birthday, and I wondered how she was celebrating.

* See previous “Watching the War” blog (January 29, 1968)

Next Edition:  Big KIA Fire Mission

11th Marines XO Inspection

Saturday April 20, 1968

During lunch we had visitors.  The Executive Officer of the 11th Marines was on Hill 65 to inspect Kilo battery.  Lieutenant Colonel Stevens went through the chow line with Captain Cavagnol and Major Catoe.  Sumo and I were nervous but trying to play it cool.  The Colonel looked at me and said, “Are you Ptomaine?”  I was surprised and answered, “Yes Sir, that’s my nickname.”  Stevens then gave me a compliment, “From the stories I’ve heard, you’ve been mislabeled.”  I responded, “Aye Sir, I think it was meant for morale.”  He smiled and said, “You’re a good sport.”

We were serving grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with macaroni & cheese and canned pears.  It was our first attempt with the “Rainbow Jello” on the condiment bar.  Reb made the Jello thick and cut the four flavors into one-inch cubes.  The consistency was dense, almost rubbery (it took a minute to melt in your mouth), and you could stick a fork in it.  Jello was a big hit because it was cold, and everyone was laughing at the jiggling on their tray.  It was unique!

The weather was getting warmer, and during our afternoon breaks, I sat in my folding chair in skivvies, trying to get a tan for R&R in Hawaii.  Everyone was told to dye their underwear green before going to Vietnam so now, here I was, tanning in green boxers.  Papa-San smiled and said I was “Dinky Dau” (to be crazy).

Command Chronologies Kilo battery 4/11 – April 1968

Next Edition:  “Wall Flowers”

Blog Feedback

Present Day – This is where we first kissed in Laguna Beach.

We have been writing this blog since October 31 (Halloween) and have received feedback from many of our readers.  Overwhelmingly, the majority of the positive response is about the images and photography we have published.  The most common question has been:  “How do you remember all these details?”

In response to the photos . . . It was a hobby, and I’m amazed the Kodak pictures have lasted this long.  I tried to photo-shop a few of them, but decided (early on) to publish them as they are, for authenticity.  Most of the remaining photos are black and white as I was trying to save money.

As far as remembering all the details . . . I don’t.  The Command Chronologies (daily journals) from the war have been declassified and are stored in a database at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.  These monthly unit journals are available for anyone to download (free).  Sometimes a log entry will help me recall the date of an event, and I’ll fill in the blanks with dialog as I remember it.  Some incidents are burned into my memory and are impossible to forget.

This blog is a story of the circumstances and experiences of “Our” tour.  For me, it has become more of a love story.  Reliving this part of our lives (Vietnam) through the blog has brought Jenny and me closer together, and on several occasions the memories have caused tears . . . the separation was difficult for both of us.

Thank you for the feedback – we enjoy hearing from you.  At some point someone may say, “TMI” . . . Jenny is my editor, and she tries to keep the blog under control!

Next Edition:  11th Marines XO Inspection

Force Logistics Command (FLC)

Wednesday, April 17, 1968

We arrived at 4/11 Headquarters before lunch, and Gunny Sampson issued me some inventory/order forms to place my order for the weekly dry goods.  The supplies Reb requested were on the list so I included them, along with cases of cake mix and pie fillings we had never seen before.

PFC Wilson drove the short trip to FLC, and although Da Nang was busy with traffic, the trip took less than 20 minutes.  We stopped at the dry goods loading zone, and I took our order into the dispatcher’s office.  They were expecting us and confirmed we were to start receiving a regular allotment tomorrow.  I was about to leave when a Sergeant asked if we had a thermal container for ice.  Since I answered in the negative, he issued me a chit for an ice box.  Then Wilson drove to the ice house, and we acquired the container which fit tightly, filling half the trailer.  I asked if we could receive ice today, and we were issued three 100-lb. blocks.

We ate lunch at Battalion Headquarters and then picked up the red nylon mailbag from the office, as Major Catoe pulled up in his Jeep.  He had gone to Hill 37 and issued notice of the change to draw our own food directly from FLC.  When he complained to their Adjutant about the missing Virginia hams for Easter, they claimed it was a misunderstanding and gave him two cases of canned Dubuque ham as a substitute.  We transferred the cases of ham to our new ice chest and headed back to Hill 65 on Convoy Road.

Command Chronology – Kilo 4/11 April 1968

Next Edition:  Blog Feedback

Robb Joins Troops in the Field

Tuesday, April 15, 1968

The Gunny’s work party completed the job of weatherizing the walk-in.  Reb was busy making a storage shelf inside the reefer unit.  The dimensions of this shelf were very specific, 60″ long and 15″ wide, and he was using his cake pans for measurement.  I didn’t question his work – he would tell me soon enough.

We were informed that Captain Robb had joined two of his platoons in the field, and the third platoon remained on Hill 65 as their CP (command post).  From our point of view, it was fewer mouths to feed and less mess to clean up.  Lieutenant Nowicki was now in charge of the India Company detail on Hill 65, and they provided security.

Later the Admin truck returned from Da Nang, and Top Culverhouse gave me a heads-up; Major Catoe was planning to visit Hill 37 tomorrow to inform them of Kilo battery’s intention to obtain supplies directly from FLC.  Culverhouse instructed me to consult with Gunny Sampson at Battalion Headquarters and place an order for the weekly dry goods we would receive on Thursday.

In the early evening I was relaxing in my chair and writing a letter when Reb approached me with a request.  He wanted me to add flavorings to the order:  maple, lemon, almond, vanilla and four cases of Jello (red, orange, yellow and green).  I confirmed I would include these items and asked if any of this had to do with the shelf he’d built.  He blushed and said, “Yes, the shelf will hold four cake pans of Jello,” and he could cross stack them four high (16 pans in all).  He called it “Rainbow Jello.”  After Reb left, Sumo came out of the hooch behind me . . . he had overheard our conversation, and we shared a good laugh.

Next Edition:  Force Logistics Command (FLC)