The Day I Earned one of These

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2018 by eldorado90

 

pur hrt 7

DUKE BARRETT·THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2018
Imagine if you will, sitting in a field of wheat at dusk, on a farm, on a late summer afternoon somewhere in the Midwest of the United States. What’s that sound? Well, more than likely you hear nothing but the sound of thousands or possibly millions of insects, you know, crickets, cicadas or katydids engaged in a chorus of communication by chirping, singing or whatever an entomologist calls that sound. Obviously, I am not an entomologist but I certainly do recall those soothing vibrations traveling through the air to my audiology canal throughout my many years of life, but nowadays I hear them constantly no matter where I may be, in a field, at home, at the mall, driving, in bed or anytime I’m awake and have for years.

wheat fld

See, although this constant sound has as of yet been diagnosed I believe I have an acute case of tinnitus, possibly, well, more than likely the result of loud guns and rock ‘n’ roll. Oh yeah, another possibility; explosives; especially ones near the head. In this case, I’m talking about a specific percussive moment in the form of an explosion of hot shrapnel to my skull.
I am reminded of a point on spiritually made by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, as I paraphrase a statement of his here “at times people have a spiritual need to share a common experience.” Now, admittedly, Mr. Scorsese was speaking of the “common” experience but my need to share is a moment of a real-life experience, an uncommon one if you will, that occurred on the morning of October 4, 1966, at exactly 2:10 a.m. approximately 20 klicks northwest of Bong Son in the Binh Dinh Province of South Vietnam, ironically an area of the Central Highlands where I had undergone my Baptism under fire in an air-assault into Happy Valley of the previous year when I was a rifleman with A Co. 1/8

On the morning of 3 October, 1966, our platoon, D Co. reconnaissance 1/8 Cavalry-airborne, of the army’s 1st Air Cavalry Division, had just completed an early morning reconnaissance patrol in the hotly contested Binh Dinh Province before being airlifted by choppers to firebase Hereford where we were to await orders for our next assignment. As a platoon of dirty, wet and tired grunts, we’d hoped for some “get-over” duty, you know, like perimeter duty at Hereford.hereford choppers.jpg

Well, what do you know? Shortly after touching down that’s precisely where we went, to the perimeter. It just so happened to be a hot and sunny day and we were all waterlogged from our many days of hot, wet jungle life and took advantage of an opportunity to unpack our equipment which included the likes of ponchos, poncho liners, web belts and the like. The downtime in the sun also would allow for the drying of boots and socks, hell, even our weapons and ammo. Our feet, the ones that go into our wet socks and boots also enjoyed a dry moment in the sun. Life at that current moment seemed pretty damn good but nonetheless, I was suspect. My suspicions were affirmed in no time as the next 16 hours or so turned out to be quite eventful.
Now we weren’t at all careless in our temporary moment of relative comfort which admittedly provided a false sense of security and were well aware of the hostile environment that surrounded us. Taking necessary precautions we set up defensive positions and established lines of fire in our new digs. Like I said, life was good, that is until sniper fire from a distant tree line changed things. At first, it was a mere annoyance as these kill-joys attempted to ruin our moment of leisure but then things got serious when they began laying down heavy sniper fire on our positions. I mean come on, it was broad daylight and who would want to ruin our moment of comfort?

Recon valentine.JPG
Now, us grunts ain’t necessarily referred to as the best and the brightest but we pretty much figured out in a heart-beat that either Charlie, the NVA or a combination thereof had taken issue of our intrusion into the neighborhood. Can’t say as I blame them but all we wanted to do was dry out, maybe eat a hot meal at the firebase mess and get a little rest. The current residents of the neighborhood obviously thought differently and threw a monkey wrench into our plans.
Any soldier out in the bush will tell you that your weapon never leaves your side and by golly that rule was put to the test that day The company was in the midst of rotating many of its veteran personnel stateside and as a result we’d just taken on a lot of newcomers, a.k.a. “cherries.” In other words, we had replacements, some of who were a bit unnerved by the situation. As a senior scout and fire team leader, I was one of the more seasoned troops in the platoon at the time. Not to stress the point or anything but I was eleven months into my one year tour. As a senior scout, I remember yelling out to a few of the confused to grab their weapons and take cover. In doing so those that hadn’t did and sought whatever ever cover.

As part of my seasoning I had previously taken note of a long ditch to my immediate rear and as the enemy rounds started zeroing in on us I sprinted with my trusty M-16 in hand for that ditch. Barefooted with pant legs rolled up, I jumped into the ditch. It turned out that I had taken cover in a ditch/trench that was a depository of human-waste, you know, a latrine for a very nearby village. Up to my ankles in trouble, I do remember being thankful that I had chosen to jump rather than dive.
Now I was angry. It was already hot and humid and I mean hot. Feeling miserable, smelly and ornery, I took aim at the tree line, fired off at least a magazine of rounds in the direction of the trees as did the other platoon members and honestly have no idea of what, if any, damage we may have brought upon the snipers and remember jokingly commenting to my squad that as a result of my excellent marksmanship the sniper fire ceased, which it did. More than likely the shooters just di-di maud out of there. I’m pretty sure some of the new guys believed me but I was kidding. I do a lot of that, you know, B.S. “Cherries,” by the way, are impressionable. Following that brief moment of levity, I climbed out of the ditch, buried my feet and ankles in the sand and then scrubbed the hell out of them with my canteen water. The rest of the day of October 3 and the early morning hours of the 4th proved to be no less eventful.

cav troops 4

Like any other day, we never knew what the future held so it was only apropos that we continued our gypsy lifestyle. Being relieved of perimeter duty that very afternoon we resumed our nomadic modus vivendi and reconned an area in the hills just north of Hereford. The fact that it was now late afternoon dictated that we’d be airlifted rather than hump to our new destination. Somewhere in here lies an idiom, you know “all things being relative” or whatever. See, the destination may be questionable but getting there by chopper plainly beat walking.

Things could have been worse for sure but because it was already late in the day we lucked out with chopper insertions into the hills. This quick mode of transportation allowed us time to set up our ambush before dark. Our platoon leader, Lt. Salazar, thought it best that we get to a mapped trail on even higher ground and following a quick chow break our three squads embarked on a vigorous climb up the nearby hillside to the well-used, low vegetated trail overlooking the northern edges of the Binh Dinh province.

up hill
Lt. Salazar and battalion made the call to set up our position and in doing so we positioned the platoon, setting up from right to left on a rather straight part of said trail. Again, taking necessary precautions we set out claymore anti-personnel mines, cleared fields of fire and settled into two-man positions for the evening with my team was on the far right facing the trail. 3rd squad covered the middle, facing the same direction and my best buddy, Sergeant Bishop, had 1st squad on the far left facing the trail as well. Lt. Salazar set up the Command Post with his radioman, medic and Sergeants MacDonald and Musial in the center rear where they monitored the squads. So as to not spread out to thin we were in close proximity to each other. An interesting sidebar to this story is that politically, all these years later, I’m on the left and Bishop, well, he’s on the right. And you know what, we still love each other. Aa a matter of fact, I was his best man and we converse many times a year.
Any of you grunts reading this are keenly aware of the standard operating sleep procedures, (SOP) of two on and two off. Well, pretty self-explanatory, right? Two man positions alternating two hours of guard followed by two hours of sleep and believe me it only takes a matter of seconds once you close your eyes after a day of humping to slip into a state of unconsciousness. Strenuous exercise damn well guarantees it. One rule of thumb, however, is that if you are currently staffed with newbies, a.k.a.” cherries,” you do wake-up occasionally to make sure your partner is awake.
So we started our routine guard duty shifts shortly after dark. I remember it being a rather pleasant evening, a bit cooler that night, no rain and a dry earth to lay our weary bodies on for some intense slumber. My position buddy that night was a young trooper, a new guy named Steven King. Steve was good, apt and a quick learner and I certainly felt at ease with his abilities as a guard partner. We were high on a hill and as previously stated the ground was rock-like, provided little vegetation and the fact that we’d arrived shortly before dusk made us reluctant to dig for sound reasons. Fashioning available cover we made the best of the situation and got our rest on.

claymore
Now I don’t remember exactly what time it got dark all these years later but I would venture to say that as we were on a mountain top we had many more minutes of daylight than those evening spent under the gloomy triple canopy of a dense jungle where it could get pitch black quite early. I’d venture to say we went dark at about 6:00 pm; grunt field life, early to bed, early to rise. I remember clear as a bell that King woke me at 2:00 am sharp to start my watch and he immediately fell asleep leaving me to dream and wonder about life back in the world while being ever vigilant.
I just happened to look at my watch at exactly 2:10 a.m. when I heard voices, loud voices, speaking Vietnamese. As stated in a previous writing, to me that sound is reminiscent of a rubber ball bouncing on a tin roof. You know, like boing, boing, boing. See, at that point in my young life, I had excellent hearing, right? I mean if I had not, I would have been classified 4-F and would’ve missed all of the action. Anyhow, I immediately and quietly awoke King motioning for him to be quiet and listen. I then crawled to the positions of my team on my right and left, warning them as well. The guys on the left passed it on as I crawled back to my position being certain that the entire platoon was now well aware of the seriousness of the situation.
When executing an ambush you prefer the approaching body of the target, be they mounted or walking, to be well into the kill zone before striking so as not to let any or many get away. In this case, they happened to be walking and their apparent lack of noise discipline not only warned me of the impending arrival but also to assess the size of the group. I made a guesstimate of no more than a squad, eight to ten guys, maybe a dozen, enabling me to make the call as when to strike.

At this point of my tour, this wasn’t my first action but remember again asking God for forgiveness for what we were about to do. You know, the kill or be killed thing is for real but one can’t help but feel something unnatural about the whole thing. I mean, come on, talk about conflict. My Catholicism taught me killing to be a Mortal Sin and my Government/Military trained me to do exactly that, to kill, and I did. It is one of the most intense moments of life one can experience, being on the cusp of taking one’s life coupled with the guilt that such an experience may bring. Adding to the conflict is that it can be a rush. Kind of fucked up, know what I mean? These poor bastards headed our way had no earthly idea that their time on this planet had reached its expiration date.

In what seemed to be an eternity I lay there in wait, in the prone, my M-16 locked and loaded, cradled to my midsection, claymore handle in hand as adrenaline pumped through my being like electricity through a wet and frayed power line. I suppressed my nerves so as not to betray our stealth in the interim before unleashing our deadly assault on the unsuspecting.
When I deemed it proper to strike, I compressed the handle in my hand, immediately rolled to my side with my weapon, rolled back to the prone, aimed my rifle and opened up. I remember a string of explosions that lit the night sky accompanied the deafening sound of small arms fire, and then bam! I felt the sting of white-hot metal to the left side of my head. The force of the projectile threw me yards, in which direction I do not know but remember feeling as though a power-hitter had taken a spiked ball bat to the side of my head.
I immediately felt warm blood running down my face and called out “I’ve been hit.” In the bat of an eye, no pun intended, I felt the grasp of someone’s hands around my ankles dragging me back to the command post. The hands belonged to our platoon leader, Lt. Salazar. The platoon medic immediately dressed my wound, a piece of shrapnel that had lodged in my upper left cheek and jaw bone, missing my left temple by no more than an inch.

oct 4 starfire
In my life before conscription, I was a musician, a drummer in a rock band in the Chicagoland area and admittedly vain, a trait shared by many of my paratrooper friends. Feeling the sting of the shrapnel to my head and warm blood running down my face gave me pause for concern. “Hey man, how do I look? I play in a band so how’s my face, I mean do I look alright?” I was assured that I looked fine, still ugly but no apparent damage to my face. Combat humor; so reassuring.

In our brief firefight two guys from my fire-team, King and Wilks were wounded as well. A wound to the hand and one to the arm respectively but it had not been determined the cause of their wounds, bullets or shrapnel. I suspect shrapnel since explosions were plentiful that early a.m. As the fireworks ceased the platoon withdrew from the ambush site to an even higher ground to regroup, observe and tend to the wounded. It soon became apparent that we had been successful in inflicting serious damage on the unsuspecting as nothing but total silence emitted from the previously contested ground. At this time the Lieutenant felt the area secure enough to call for a medevac evacuation of the WIA’s.
Infantrymen of the Vietnam War, a.k.a. grunts, ground-pounders, dogfaces and some with even sexier monikers such as rangers and recondos etc. etc. all share one common veneration; the utmost respect for helicopter pilots and their crews be they transport slicks, resupply, gunships or medevac’s a.k.a. “dust-offs” I remember vividly watching our air ambulance/medevac approach the LZ shining a bright light momentarily to illuminate a potentially perilous touch-down on the hilltop, not knowing if the light would draw gunfire or not. These pilots and crew are an unbelievable group of selfless individuals not unlike combat medics.medevac chopp

On the ground for but a brief moment, the medevac loaded and lifted the wounded off the LZ into the night sky and relative safety provided by the skin of the flying machine, bound for a combat field hospital. Looking out at the countryside, hilltops and distant lights of Bong Son I was overcome with the emotion of the moment. Although the ambush and ensuing firefight was short-lived, it was intense. We took the lives of other combatants, who like us, were fighting for their lives. At the same time, however, King, Wilks and I were on our way to the safety of the rear as our brothers were left to deal with the aftermath. I believe guilt to be a common traveler of combatants and it too hitched a ride that evening with us grunts.
Upon arrival at the hospital, we were treated and tagged as walking-wounded. Good fortune had accompanied the three us that day as not one of us had been seriously wounded. No mangled limbs nor internal wounds or anything of that nature but my good friend King would not be so lucky in the near future having been one of seven KIA’s from our recon platoon on Valentine’s Day of 67.King and Duke 85th (2)

Awaiting transfer to the 85th Evacuation Hospital the three of us grabbed some hot chow and explored the immediate area of the compound. Standing near a tent full of seriously wounded patients, it started to rain like hell accompanied by wind gusts of equal proportion causing it to rain sideways. The mini hurricane was battering a seriously wounded enemy combatant whose bed was in an extreme corner of the tent when a well-meaning humanitarian, actually a US Army doctor, called out for one of the three of us to address the issue by pulling down a large tent flap so as to shield that patient from the elements. We declined with a rude vocalized comeback and walked away. Not a particularly proud moment of mine but considering all that had taken place, an understandable one. I’d like to believe that if I were confronted with the same set of circumstances today I’d behave differently.
In the early afternoon of October 4, the three of us were airlifted to the 85th Evac in Qui Nhon by a medevac ship from the 1st Cav’s 15th medical battalion, the same outfit that transported us off the hilltop only hours before. Upon arrival to the 85th, I was looked at by a surgeon, treated, X-rayed, given clean hospital garb, assigned to a ward and given a bed. Wow, life was good again. Suffering a head wound I was billeted with likewise troops, many far more seriously wounded than me and some, like me, not so bad. I like to say that that by nature, given a large Irish skull, one that’s hard as a rock, that shrapnel didn’t stand a chance. Had it hit me in a more vulnerable place like say, my temple, which it almost did, things would have been quite a bit more serious. I am thankful, that’s for sure.
As a result of my wound, I suffer from sensory neuritis which causes numbing, stinging, pain and sensitivity in an area near and around the wound. The surgeon asked me if I desired to have the shrapnel removed which in turn could cut my jaw muscles and nerves resulting in the likely possibility of an abnormality in my appearance. The alternative, leave it be, live with the pain and as an added bonus, the remote possibility one day a piece of shrapnel could slip into my bloodstream and kill me by stroke or heart attack. Again, being vain, I chose the latter but I do live with constant pain which only hurts when I think about it, like right now. Hey, and I’m still alive. Mind over matter, know what I mean?hosp

I found life at the 85th Evac to be sweet in my two-week stay. I mean, hey, it beats the bush by miles. Look, we had armed forces television in the wards and I remember being blown away by watching my first ever episode of “Batman” as I’d never seen anything like it at the time. We actually had three hot meals a day, slept in covered shelters and a dry bed.

To remind me of my good fortune I have seared into my memory the events of one day as I wandered the compound and found myself at the helipad where the wounded were brought in. A medevac had just landed, medical personnel ran with a gurney from the facility to the chopper to aid a seriously wounded 1st Cav sergeant who was obviously in shock. He was asking about his wounds and the condition of his legs. Both legs were blown off, one at the knee and the other was torn off even higher. The poor guy was also wounded in the face and upper body and was in a state of delirium as the medics who met the chopper consoled him as best they could and assured him everything was fine. I never did find out the fate of the sergeant, whether he lived or died but realized the insignificance of my wound and have been forever grateful. I did and do hope he survived and went home to live a good life.
During my hospital stay I was awarded a Purple Heart at bedside by an officer, just like in the movies and my doctor, who accompanied the presenter, said “son, your warfighting days are over. You’ll be going home real soon,” or something to that effect. Hey, alright, things were looking up. I mean my Deros date, that’s the date when you complete your one year tour, was only weeks away. I’d be getting discharged from the hospital any day now and on my way back to base camp and then on my way home or as we referred to it in Nam, “back the world.” Man o man: don’t get no better than that.
Well, you know, disappointment is a factor in life and dealing with it builds character or at least that’s what they say. Imagine my disappointment when I found out following my discharge from the hospital upon my return to base camp that I was actually not be going home but instead rejoining my unit up even farther north of Bong Son. I wrote a piece dealing with this exact episode: check it out @ https://www.facebook.com/notes/duke-barrett/leaving-on-a-jet-plane/10208155400388548/ .
As much as I may have wanted to see my friends again this bit of news came as a letdown, to put it mildly. I let it be known to the XO that the doctor at the hospital said my fighting days were over and I would be going home since I was within days of my tour completion. Battalion would have none of that so once again I saddled-up, got my M-16 from the armory, boarded a chopper and was off to another in country adventure but only for a short time.Duke Louis T Bird (147x424)
In early November of that year, my tour had come to a well-deserved end and I rotated back to the states for reassignment to the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C. following some annual leave and a 30 day Delay En Route. I served another six months of time at Bragg, all the time preparing for another tour in Nam, making a dozen or more jumps and living outdoors in the elements for many a day and night. As enjoyable as army life was I decided to let it go and returned home to resume the decadent lifestyle of a rock ‘n’ roll musician.
Returning to my hometown is when I first discovered I may have an audio issue as a result of loud guns, explosions, and my wound. Wow, what’s that? The ear directly above my wound had taken on a flutter of sorts when exposed to loud sounds and noise. Annoying as hell is the best way to describe it. Up to that time, I never realized that I had any audio issues because I still could hear pretty well but through the years the fluttering and ringing have only become more severe. Could it be a coincidence?
More than likely not and I’ve finally scheduled a hearing examination next month and we’ll see what the experts say. As far as my sensory neuritis goes, well I have been and am still dealing with the repercussions of that wound but considering what is and could’ve been I’m in a good place; a really good place.

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The Wall Of Broken Dreams——Book Trailer

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2014 by eldorado90

internet archives footage, personal stills and subtitles of content and reviews make up this brief book trailer for my novel “The Wall Of Broken Dreams.” Accompanying music is provided by by Hank Rice and the Starfires.

The Wall Of Broken Dreams

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2014 by eldorado90

Book trailer for my novel “The Wall Of Broken Dreams.”
The video contains actual combat footage from the Vietnam War, still photos, subtitles of story content and book review quotes.
The video is accompanied by an instrumental titled “Hand Full of Blood” which was recorded by Hank Rice And The Starfires.” I also played drums on this recording way back in 1963.

Oh What a Night (A Room with a View)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 21, 2012 by eldorado90

Oh What a Night
(A Room with a View)
by Duke Barrett
Bong Son, Vietnam-1966
At approximately 3 PM on yet another hot and humid September day, the 2nd squad of the reconnaissance platoons 8th cavalry, 1st airborne brigade, left our firebase and headed down a steep heavily forested hillside to set up an ambush. The mission? To kill bad guys I suppose. As a Specialist Fourth Class I wasn’t privy to much information. The one thing I did know, it was dead on monsoon season and we’d be sleeping out in the rain again.
At the firebase the platoon had been temporarily assigned a secure location, secure for a recon platoon that is. Perched high on a hill many klicks north of scenic downtown Bong Son, we provided perimeter security for an artillery battery. Unfortunately the high elevation of our position brought us even closer to an unforgiving sun. The poncho liners hung over our dug in positions mitigated the sun’s glare but failed to ameliorate an overabundance of mosquitoes and humidity.
Making sure we didn’t get too comfortable in our new digs, battalion hierarchy found something useful for us to do. Conduct another patrol. Wow, how’d they come up with that idea? It must have been at least twenty-four hours since our last patrol. They definitely had an imagination deficit, or so it seemed. I guess it must have been put away in a lock-box somewhere. Battalion would order up a patrol, we’d saddle- up
Redundancy and boredom were an ever-present problem because at times it seemed like all you did was follow the guy in front of you, who followed the guy in front of him, who was following orders from somebody who told him what to do. To stay sharp we had to fight off the cobwebs that tried to form in our mind. Aw, to daydream.
Sergeant Bishop was the patrol leader that afternoon as our squad of eight paratroopers descended down the hillside cutting, dicing and slicing our way into an even denser triple canopied covered valley.
We stopped to take a break at dusk. It seemed to turn from dusk to dark in a matter of seconds in the belly of the beast, the jungle. We’d stopped alongside, not on, but alongside a trail, a rather wide trail, to take a much-needed break. A good recon team almost never took the trail. Besides, that’d be too damn easy. We walked off of the damn things. Kept us alive.
At that point Sergeant Bishop checked his map to find out where the hell we were and then confirmed our position by radio with battalion. Hungry as hell, we broke out the c-rats and sat down in a tight circle perimeter on an already wet jungle turf for supper.
With our p38’s in hand, aka can openers, the feast was on. The menu consisted of ham and lima beans, ham and eggs chopped, chipped beef and other culinary specialties. These mouth-savoring entrees were only to be followed up with a small can of warm fruit. That and a canteen full of warm iodine tablet tasting water made one wonder what more could life possibly offer?
Stomachs filled, it was back to business. Following a short after-dinner stroll, we’d apparently reached our objective; a well-used trail, a possible corridor for enemy troops. The mission, to watch and listen for enemy movement and if possible, kill ‘em. Just as I thought, great!
We set up fields of fire on a steep embankment overlooking the trail by clearing the lanes of dense foliage, set up claymore mines to our immediate front and then settled into two-man positions for another comfy evening. You couldn’t beat these accommodations with a stick. Well-concealed only yards up and off of the trail, we followed strict noise discipline. Faces painted and dressed to the teeth in the latest camouflage look, we blended right into the terrain. Quiet as the surrounding greenery and ready for some shuteye, we followed the standard sleep and guard duty schedule of two hours on, two hours off, per individual.
Battalion, we’ve got a problem; our sleeping arrangements. See, that steep embankment wasn’t conducive for a good nights sleep. Oh well, who’s complaining? Gotta make the best of it. Battalion wouldn’t have cared any damn way.
Lying back on the wet ground, we swatted away mosquitoes and stared up at the pitch-black tripled canopied ceiling as we awaited our prey. Couldn’t see a damned thing. It was black as the ace of spades, certainly not a room with a view. Extremely uncomfortable, we longed to be in the comforts of that dug in foxhole back on the mountain’s top. You know that saying, “you don’t know what you got till its gone?” Sho ‘nuf is true. A little sun, no matter how hot, sounded pretty good. Lord only knows what was crawling around us. Compared to where we were, that firebase seemed like a Holiday Inn.
Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did. Damn rain, and lots of it. After all it was monsoon season and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint. All of a sudden the thought of lying on your back on the wet ground, on a steep embankment, sounded pretty good. See, that was before the rain started. It rained so hard it became impossible to lie down without feeling you were being waterboarded. To make things worse we started to involuntarily slide down the embankment toward the trail and literally dug in our heels to stop our forward motion over the claymore mines that we’d so carefully positioned.
Try as we may, it became more than an effort to keep from being washed down the embankment. In our haste to stop our downward motion we were forced to grab onto available vines and branches, all the while hoping to God that no one would accidentally squeeze one of the mine handles by mistake, causing a premature explosion. The mission, like us recondos was in peril. Virtually blinded by the dark and with no idea of how long the intense rain would continue to fall, things couldn’t have gone more swimmingly, so to speak. The only thing we could do was hold on, onto anything that is with the exception of those claymore handles.
Fearing the deluge could have swept us onto the trail, we became nostalgic for the immediate past. The reason? The trail, that big trail we fought so hard not to be swept onto, had taken on a new life. Real life, that is. Life in the form of troops, wet enemy troops, like hundreds of live, wet enemy troops.
Outnumbered approximately a hundred to one, our options became limited. We held on for dear life and selfishly prayed for our own survival as an enemy company, if not regiment, passed by only a few feet from our sixteen wet feet. I prayed to God that we didn’t have a hero amongst us who felt it his patriotic duty to “open-up” on the enemy. He or She apparently answered my prayers. Not a shot was fired in anger, or fear for that matter. Hell, the weapons were so waterlogged they probably wouldn’t have fired any damn way.
In the dead of night, the only thing we feared was fear itself. Well, fear and the hundreds of passing disgruntled enemy soldiers. The only thing we could see were the moving vines and branches pushed aside by the heavily armed, water-logged alien beings to our immediate front. The fact that we were damn near on top of them, or possibly right under their feet, damn near speed bumps, proved to me beyond a doubt that they were about as anxious to confront us, as we were they. Misery loves company.
For more than an hour, possibly two, or what seemed like an eternity, the enemy passed by, all the time unaware of our existence. I am certain that we, the recon team, invented “stealth” that soggy evening. The sound of the pouring rain fortunately drowned (no pun intended) out any sounds one with normal hearing would’ve been able to hear. To insure our well-being we turned off our radio, clamped our mouths shut so as not to hear our teeth chatter and prayed our hearts wouldn’t rip right out of our new fashionable but yet functional tropical jungle fatigue shirts.
Mercifully, dawn arrived right on time. In what could very well have been the longest night of our lives, mine for certain; proof of the existence of a large enemy force had been left behind. The trail, covered with hundreds of footprints, discarded wrappers, cigarette butts, human waste and trampled foliage, bore witness to what we almost saw.
Relieved and happy to be alive, we turned on our PRC-25 radio and called in our sit-rep. Oh, and by the way, our painted faces were damn near lily-white by early morn. Aw, you just can’t beat a good shower. They’re really refreshing. Know what I’m saying?
Following a thorough recon of the immediate area, we again broke for a meal and a smoke. Those that did smoke lit up to settle frayed nerves. After consuming more tasty c-rats and some now lukewarm water, we took a new look at our even newer lease on life. We then climbed back to the mountaintop to the Holiday Inn where one could see life from rooms with a view, for a well-deserved rest.

The Good Old days? “It’s All Good!”

Posted in Nostalgia, Vetnam veteran Authors/musicians, Vietnam vet authors and musicians, Vietnam Vets, Vietnam Vets and Authors, Vietnam War on July 6, 2010 by eldorado90

               The Good Old Days?      “It’s All Good”!

 

As the years go by many of us old troopers long for days of old. Many a day I hear, overhear or engage in conversations of those days when we were young and in the military. A trying time for many of us for sure. Inevitably someone labels said days as the good old days. My question; why do we refer to those days as the good old days? Were they? Well, yes and no. I’ll offer a suggestion as to why we believe they were and why they may not have been all that they’ve been cracked up to be.

Do we really long for the days of basic training where we got up at ungodly hours of the AM only to be harassed? Well, not me. Do we really long for the days we left the comfy confines of our bedrooms at home in order to sleep in an uncomfortable bunk bed in an old dilapidated wooden firetrap with forty or fifty other guy. Well once again, not me. Do you long for mystery meals that were passed off as breakfast, lunch and dinner in the mess halls? I hate to be repetitive, but you know, not me. Wait! How could I have forgotten? KP. Good God almighty! Literally peeling potatoes, cleaning grease traps and washing dishes, pots and pans in the wee hours of the morning, all the while being given the evil eye by an overweight E-5 or E-6. I mean these mess hall NCOs never met a mystery meal they didn’t eat. Ya, they were the good old days all right.

But hey, think back, it only got better. How about the barracks latrine? Need I say more? I didn’t think so. Depending on your training posts and time of year, there just wasn’t anything better than standing in formation as you waited and waited, braving the elements for times that seemed to have no end. Ya, the good old days.

Sleep, you know, that pleasure of life experienced as a child, an adolescent or a teen. Who knew that according to the Unpublished Military Doctrine of Sleep, that one of the most important aspect of a teen’s life, sleep, was overrated? Don’t need no stinking sleep. It’s good to walk around in a daze for the first thirty to forty minutes of the early morn. Builds character, right? Ya, those were the good old days.

Now, the PT, that’s physical conditioning for you civilian types. I’m all for it. At the time of my induction I happened to be in shape. Obviously I was young and somewhat athletic. As a result of my conditioning I had no trouble with PT and it certainly enhanced my ability to navigate difficult terrain as an Army “paratrooper/grunt” both in Vietnam and stateside. On the other hand if one was overweight, non-athletic or in just plain lousy shape, PT proved to be difficult and cadre made life absolutely miserable for them no matter how noble the reasoning. I would be willing to wager that few of these unconditioned souls at most, if any, remember those days as the good old days.

Once you completed your basic training you were presented with the opportunity to travel this great nation of ours en route to yet another training facility. If you were of a certain skin complexion, in the South of our country where numerous military installations were and are, while in-transit you could legally be relegated to specified restrooms, water fountains and lunch areas. I mean can you imagine being on your way to or coming home from a new assignment, Vietnam, or anywhere for that matter and having to deal with that nonsense? So I ask, were those the good old days? I don’t think so and I can damn well guarantee that anyone who dealt with such situations has a different take on this subject.

No, in many respects those weren’t really the good old days. Those were the young days of our lives, our youth. That in large part helped make them good. The days when our bodies and minds were ripe for any and all stimuli be it good or bad. I believe that when we long for the good old days what we really are longing for is our youth and subconsciously the innocence that was stolen from us in those days and since. I mean look at the popularity of “oldies but goodies” radio stations or “retro” Camaros. These are but two examples of good things that come to mind. It goes without saying that many days and many things were good but there were also plenty of bad things in the, you know, good old days.

If you really think about it, the good days are the days we are alive. The days we see our spouses, kids, grandkids and friends. The days both present and past that aren’t filled with strife, conflict or Heaven forbid, tragedy. We miss fond thoughts of a time in our lives when we were in our formative years. We are nostalgic. Most people are and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s romanticism with the past. A time in our lives when we had not yet become so troubled with financial woes, politics, relationships or life in general.

In reality, the good old days can be yesterday or today. Sure we have problems, but most of us have a pretty decent life in spite of the onset of ailments. Nowadays some of us have bad knees, feet, backs, arthritis or other health issue. In the good old days those ailments were for older folks like our parents, relatives and their friends. Not us, we were young and tough and could lick anything they threw at us. How the hell did we become them?

 We complained a lot about lack of sleep, KP, harassment and all other aspects of that, dare I overstate, traumatic experience? Okay, I overstated it. Anyways, that’s how we survived it. Complaining has its place. The American Soldier, Sailor Airman and Marine are natural complainers. I know I am. I still complain, ask my wife.

 When I look in the mirror I see a weathered and worn face with the absence of hair follicles on the top of my head, gray stubble on my chin and face and the telling eyes of one who has seen things that prove not all days of old were good. Let’s hope that the life changing experiences we’ve seen and done in the good old days, to include the Vietnam experience, were educational, built character and helped to make us a better person. I sure hope so. Having said that I would only be kidding myself if I truly believed that all of those days were good. It’s kind of like making lemonade out of lemons, or whatever that analogy is.

As I sit here and rant, the arthritis in my hands and right foot are a bit of a nuisance. I watch what I eat so as not to raise my cholesterol and blood pressure. I wrestle everyday and have for many a year with a temper that occasionally flies out of control. At present I’m ahead on points. I’m also nostalgic for my younger mind and body but wouldn’t trade my wife, kids and grandkids to get either.  One more thing, I sleep less than I used to. Hey, maybe the Army was right. Sleep is overrated.

In today’s jargon “It’s all good!” is a frequently used response to the question of “ how you doing?”  I like that answer and find it to be quite descriptive. In my mind it more or less qualifies the good with the bad.  I believe it’s fair to say that these are good days, certainly not all that good, but you know, not all that bad. If you were to ask me “how am I  doing?”  I’d have to say, “It’s all good!”

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Memories of my Induction

Posted in Vetnam veteran Authors/musicians, Vietnam Vets, Vietnam Vets and Authors, Vietnam War with tags , , on June 25, 2010 by eldorado90

 

In the spring of 1965 rumor had it that the draft was going to get all of us no-account punks who roamed the streets, off of the streets of the factory town I grew up in, Kenosha, Wisconsin. Well they weren’t just whistling Dixie. The good old US of A went and got itself  militarily involved in some God forsaken place in Southeast Asia known as Vietnam, and needed bodies, young male bodies, and I qualified. I received my “Greetings” (draft notice) letter from Uncle Sam in April of 1965  and was instructed to report at 6:00 AM, June 17th, 1965, to the local draft board at the KYF buliding, also known as the Kenosh Youth Foundation, downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin. Being quite familiar with the location, I had no problem finding it since I was once a member of the Kenosha Evening News Golden Gloves Boxing team in 1962 and 1964 and our training facilities were in the basement of the KYF.

            So after a series of goodbye parties, hugs and kisses from my family and a thought to be romantic farewell from my fiancé, myself and a host of other conscripts who’d been rounded up off the streets of Kenosha, reluctantly reported in the early AM to the KYF for the purpose of induction into the armed forces of the United States. On that morning of the seventeenth of June, 1965 we boarded a Milwaukee bound bus that would take us to the official Southern Wisconsin Induction Center for our physical, and if healthy, our formal induction ceremony. Well as luck would have it, I was fit as a horse, a small horse but nonetheless fit. They wanted me; they really, really wanted me.

 Nothing terribly remarkable had yet happened that day and before I knew it, I had been sworn in as a Private in the U.S. Army. Terrific! Shortly after the swearing in all volunteers and draftees were bussed to the train station in downtown Milwaukee where we caught a train that took us Southbound to Louisville, Kentucky, twenty miles from our final destination of Fort Knox, Kentucky. Talk about whistling Dixie.

            Within a short time I came to realize my life had changed, and not for the better. Chaperoned by MP’s, we weren’t afforded many liberties, and as a free spirit I found this aspect troubling. As we passed through the cities of Chicago, Illinois and Indianapolis, Indiana, it became apparent from our assigned seating arrangements that we’d only be afforded a passing glance of what the cities had to offer its visitors. It had also become apparent to me that we weren’t visitors who were passing through, but instead, cargo. That’s right, just United States Military cargo, in assigned seating, passing through. Apparently the possibility of conscripts going AWOL was a concern for those in charge. The MP’s kept a tight leash on us.

            At approximately 9:00 PM that evening, our group of soldiers to be arrived at the train station in Louisville, Kentucky, where we were met by a few surly and burly NCOs  from the Fort Knox training center, our destination. An astute observer, hell, even a moron could tell immediately that these guys weren’t all that friendly. The welcoming staff of non-coms unsmilingly guided us toward awaiting Greyhound busses for transfer to Fort Knox. In the late PM of the seventeenth, we finally arrived at our destination, the infamous army basic training center. Terrific.  Up to that point, all in all, things had proven to be a bit unpleasant, but uneventful.

It was at the moment of arrival at Fort Knox for us new guys that our lives were changed forever. Not to be left to wonder, we were greeted by a handful of informative but snarling, screaming DI’s who excitedly fell into character the moment the busses arrived. The DI’s paced back and forth, like hungry lions in a cage, in wait at the bus stop, so all on board could see. Anxious as any thespian whoever longed for the curtain to rise, these anxious DI’s couldn’t wait to perform their tough guy, tough love role and cherished every moment of their performance. I’d like to say the same, but can’t.

Once we disembarked our more than comfortable mode of transportation, the Greyhound, unaware it was to be our last comfortable moment for some time, the DI’s started to scream at the top of their lungs. Without seeming to care they abused their vocal cords and voice box to the point of hoarseness.  Bulging veins in their necks testified to the damage being done by expanding thrice their normal size. Smokey the Bear DI hats were fully tilted to a point where the brims balanced on their noses, only enhancing the intimidation effect.

Intimidation ruled. Proverbial chickens with their heads cut off came to mind as the intimidated green recruits tripped and stumbled, try as they may to obey the command of the screaming heads, to make a straight-line formation. The voluminous, vocally enhanced cadre bestowed thought to be humorous names upon the new recruits, like “f*^*-up,” “s**^-head,” “s_*^ for brains,” “lard-ass,” “maggot” and “faggot,” to name some of the not so clever monikers used by the intimidators. It became clear as a bell to those with half a brain why these guys were in the military and not writing for the “Tonight Show.”

With order attained and the tripping brought to an acceptable level, we marched off to supply where we were issued brand new army threads, also known as fatigues. No military themed wardrobe would’ve been complete without matching hats, socks, underwear and boots, and to top off this smart new ensemble, a matching duffle bag to put the crap in. Clothed to the teeth, we were then marched off to our new housing facilities, also known as barracks, where we were assigned sleeping quarters. In the Vietnam-era, army barracks were state of the art facilities, nineteenth century state of the art that is. Long, narrow, yellow wooden firetraps with two lines of double bunk beds covered by extremely thin mattresses.

  It was now a little after midnight; in fact it was now June 18th. Thinking to myself, wow, what a long day a long day! Time sure does fly. Funky and unappealing as the sleeping arrangements were they looked awfully good to a weary bunch of conscripts and volunteers. Following a little more harassment from the cadre, we were finally allowed to get some much-needed sleep. Around 12:30 am on the eighteenth, we put those weary bodies to bed. No sooner did my head hit the pillow and I was out like a light. Bad analogy. It couldn’t have been but 3:15 am, less than three hours since I laid my weary but fit army body down, only to be rudely awakened by a blinking, unshaded 100-watt light bulb directly over my head. That, coupled with the annoyingly loud voice of one of our DI’s, screaming for us to, “rise and shine, ladies,” caused me to think, oh-my-God!

 The humor was killing me. Well, that and the fact that I’d only slept about two hours and forty-five minutes. It wasn’t the longest day of my life, but the shortest night of my life. Come to think of it, I guess you could say it was the first of many to come of the “longest” days and “shortest” nights of my life.

 

Memorial Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 4, 2010 by eldorado90

Patriotism and Politics
On this most sacred of federal holidays, Memorial Day, we take time to honor “The Fallen” of
all of our wars. It is a day set aside to pay tribute to those who had made “ The Supreme
Sacrifice”, not to recreate or shop.
In May of 1868, General John Logan, General of the Grand Army of the Republic, placed
flowers at the graves of both Union and confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. As
one would expect, this act was not without controversy. By 1890, this ceremony was followed by
all Northern states, but met with resistance from the Southern states. Whatever would we do if
we could not politicize things of this nature? Memorial Day was not to be about division, but
rather reconciliation.
For many a year to follow, May 30 was recognized as “Decoration Day.” In 1971 Congress
passed the National Holiday Act, bringing us the three-day weekend and the out door barbecue.
My point here is not to give a history lesson, but to discuss “Patriotism” and what exactly do we
believe constitutes it.
On this day, a most sacred day for us combat veterans, I involuntarily revisit the past. Years ago,
in Vietnam, 1966 to be exact, a dear friend of mine, a Sergeant Bishop and I engaged in a heated
argument over which of the two of us were more patriotic; Bishop, a volunteer or myself, a
draftee. What a stupid argument. Not only was it a dumb thing to argue about but also to make it
even more ridiculous was the fact that we had it out in the jungle for all of mankind, animals,
insects, snakes, God, and the VC to hear.
Since those days of old, Bishop and I have shared many a laugh in regard to said argument. As a
draftee, I obviously was the true patriot. After all, I could have gotten a deferment or gone to
Canada. I didn’t, I was there in the Nam. How much more patriotic than that can you get? He on
the other hand wanted to be there. Temporary insanity I guess. Case closed.
I KID! Honestly. How ridiculous of a conclusion could that be? Which brings me to my point.
The things I see and hear by the politicians and pundits on television and radio lead me to believe
that some of these people think they have a lock on the true definition of patriotism. This is
nothing more than pure politics and stupidity and to that I say “BS”.
Patriotism should be measured by a different yardstick than anything imperical. It is too
complicated and emotional of an issue emotional to defined in a simplistic term. Inevitably
patriotism becomes a political issue.
Those who served prison time for their anti-war beliefs were as patriotic as any one who got a
questionable medical or student deferment. I would argue that they were even more patriotic.
They believed that to participate in war was wrong for America and were willing to pay a price
for it. Many a citizen in the Vietnam-era thought of them as cowards. How could that be more
cowardly than a self-serving deferment on the guise of an asthmatic condition or another year of
school? You hear what I’m saying?
On a certain day in Vietnam, as Bishop and I lay there ducking hostile machine-gun fire, we
shared a laugh about that patriotism argument that we had. We concluded that we were both
patriotic, or stupid, or maybe both.
So in conclusion, I’d say that patriotism comes in many a form. Obviously not every one who
received a deferment for whatever reason was trying to beat the system, though many were.
Patriotism can be and is expressed in many ways. No one has a lock on patriotism or its
definition. I doubt that many of those who’ve made the “Supreme Sacrifice” gave a damn about
what we nowadays refer to as red America or a blue America or for that matter, a South
America. They died for America period. That’s it, be it in vain or not.
Beware of charlatans who define patriotism in a simplistic way. Let us not politicize this issue or
be so quick to judge. God bless them all.
Duke Barrett