Gunfighter Alan Allen Stories 11-20


Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry

The Gunfighters


Memories 11-20   

from Alan Allen


Rifleman, Fire Team A, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company A





Early on, one of my favorite--and most irritating--buddies was Ron Bozeman, from Houston. Hyper, as opposed to my laid-back style, we were oil-and-water, but were great friends. Several of us were living in the Houston area, so we traveled together when we had weekends off. One weekend Boze was really on a tear. He wouldn't shut up, and with six of us in the car it became annoying after 75 miles.


Finally, with another 75 miles to go, I bet him $50 he couldn't stand to not say a word the rest of the way.


"You're kidding!," he said.


"No, I'm not, I'm serious," I said.


"Alright, it's a bet," he happily replied.


"Alright, it's a bet, starting r-i-g-h-t NOW!" I said.


The blissful seconds of silence stretched into minutes, then fifteen minutes, then almost an hour. The rest of us actually had some decent conservation. But the closer we came to Houston, the more I worried I became about having to cough up $50, a pretty good sum for a private E-1. Finally, as we were in the suburbs of Houston, and Bozeman was beginning to gloat, albeit silently, about his soon-to-be winnings, I turned to the guy next to me.


The wind was blowing through the windows, making a fair amount of noise, so I cupped my hand to his ear and "whispered" loud enough for Bozeman to hear, "That asshole Bozeman thinks I'm actually going to pay him for keeping quiet!"


Boze immediately yelled out, "You bastard, you..."


And I immediately yelled, "Uh oh, you talked, you lose." Man, he was so pissed he still hasn't paid me.




I put another one over on Bozeman. This one wasn't as clean as the $50 deal, but it was okay. It was the night before we were shipping out to Vietnam and all of Fort Hood was in an uproar. There were small riots, lots of fights, the MPs arrested some guys. A lot of barracks were torn up. Bozeman and I and most of the guys in Company A settled for drinking, smoking pot and hanging around barracks. Bozeman also thought he should practice throwing his knife in case he needed to act like Jim Bowie and throw it at a gook. Of course, I had to butt in.


All the barracks I've ever seen had two doors at least one end, usually at both ends. That's so the line of guys that sleeps on the side of a barrack can exit the door on their side at the same time the other side is exiting through the other door. Bozeman was throwing his knife at one door, since it was the only wooden thing around a knife would stick in (he'd propped the other door open so guys coming in could hopefully see what was happening and not open the knife-target door.


Since I'm a smart-alec asshole, I was making fun of his attempts to stick his knife in the door from about 25 feet. Finally he got sick of it and said, appropriately, "Well, asshole, I guess you can do better?"


"Sure, I said," lying, "I've been throwing knives all my life. I'm one of the best knife throwers in Angelina County."


"Yeah? And you're full of shit, too," he replied "If you're so good, prove it."


"No problem," I said, and stepped up, taking the knife from him.

I tried to judge a bit from having watched Bozeman throw, and flipped the knife toward the door. Lo and behold, the point stuck like it had been driven in with a hammer.


"Luck!," cried Bozeman, "I bet you can't do that again."


"I can do that all night, Bozeman," I said, "get me the knife."


Believe it or not, I stuck the knife again, only this time, not so cleanly.

Boze was incredulous.


"Bullshit, you'll never do it again!," he stammered.


"Okay, one more time, but that's it, I'm not going to fart around sticking a knife all night."


I flipped the knife again, trying to mimic my first throw. The blade barely stuck in the door.


"See," I said, "all night long. If you keep practicing a million years you might be half as good as me some day." And I laid down on my bunk, leaving him to fume in the middle of the barracks isle.


The next day we left for Vietnam. Not long after we got there Bozeman was transferred to Company D, but later came back after Co. A lost so many men we had to be restocked.




We were standing on the dock at Oakland Bay and I was listening to my transistor radio the first time I heard Otis Redding's Dock of the Bay. I wasn't sitting, and it wasn't San Francisco Bay, but for a guy from Allentown, Texas, it was purty neat at the time.


We were waiting to board the USNS Upshur. I don't think a lot of troops went to Vietnam via ship and it was quite an ocean voyage. Twenty-one days of watching guys skate the upper deck on puke, in a high Pacific wind, while trying to projectile vomit into a paper bag can be quite entertaining.


For a change I didn't get KP by alphabetical order because the ship had its own kitchen staff.  But there was no one to clean the latrines, so they choose people to clean those by alphabetical order. Quite a few guys weren't so sick they couldn't make it to the bathroom, but quite a few were so sick they'd make it through the door, but not quite all the way to the commodes. Believe me, latrine duty was quite a trip too.


With the combined thrill of puke, seasickness, and latrine duty, for the first seven days all I could eat was apples. I could only get three a day, unless I could get somebody to give me theirs...and quite a few of the seasick did NOT want their apples. I never threw up, but I certainly felt like it, and I think the apples were very helpful.


The ship's bunks were stacked five high and if the guy above you farted you could hear it and smell it through the canvas. To conserve water they allowed us a shower twice during the 21-day trip, so it didn't really matter much whether someone farted or not.


Two weeks later it got so boring there were five of us who had dibs on reading Doug Chase's copy of Valley of the Dolls, as soon as he was through with it. We were all on deck the day he was reading the last page. We were actually sitting in a row on his right, in the order of the dib. When he got to the ending, which is quite a shocker, he stood up, said "Well shit," and threw the book over the rail. He narrowly escaped getting his ass whipped by those waiting in line.


(Chase was from upstate New York, but moved to California about 1970; we're still trying to locate him)


It was a year before I got another chance to read that book. It was several more years before I got around to actually reading it, but when I got to the end I felt the same way Chase did.




I was in Vietnam about eight months, from October 1967 to May 28, 1968. It seemed like a lot longer to me.


(In 2001, six people were sitting around the pool at a reunion of what's left of Company A. There were five veterans, and the wife of a veteran. She asked, "Was the fighting really that bad? How many of you were wounded?" I replied, "Well, let's see, 'Chunky' (John Carlson, on my left) has three Purple Hearts, and I have three," I asked the guy to my right he said he had two, and the next guy had one. The last guy said he was lucky enough to have none. And I'd say that's a fair sampling. A lot more men of the original Alpha Company have Purple Hearts than don't.)


Our first sight of Vietnam was around Da Nang. We off-loaded at the Marine base there and being "in country" didn't seem so bad. The Marines gave us all we wanted to eat. They even had ice cream. During the rest of my eight months I saw ice cream once, and the Army had let it melt into a warm foamy substance. Don't get me wrong, I was glad to have the stuff. It was a good change of pace from C-rations.




After the military, as a freshman at Texas A&M, I skipped orientation. Having gone through Army's version of orientation for Vietnam I really didn't see any need to attend any sort of orientation given by any type of organization, military, governmental or otherwise, ever again.


Although, some of the Vietnam orientation activities were actually kind of fun. I think I was the only one in our battalion to lead a squad through the booby-trap exercise without getting pretend blown-up. I had a need to be a soldier that protected his buddies, and keeping some from getting pretend blown-up made my chest stick out.


The most amazing part of this Vietnam orientation came in the form of a speech given by an African-American master-sergeant. He made Jimmy Swaggert seem a tongue-tied stutterer with a speech impediment. I don't know what the Army was paying him, but it was too little. He was good. In fact, he was much, much better than good.


I don't know why, but about halfway through his spiel I happened to look around. I think it was because I actually felt the enormous anger in the room. Almost everyone was caught up by this guy's fervor. I'd never seen a group (at least 150) so captivated, and I've never seen such a thing since. By the time he was through haranguing us, and regaling us with the atrocities committed on American soldiers by those filthy VC, Viet Cong, Victor Charlie, Charlie, Gooks, Dinks, and NVA (North Vietnamese Army), even my best friend Stading--that sweet, mild-mannered, pot smoking, laid back, California surfer--was grinding his teeth and ready to go out and kill some Cong.


The reaction from that group of young men was something to see. And when I first mentioned my observation right after the speech, no one even understood what I was talking about. It was unsettling to say the least. I've been leery of being swept up by a cause or a charismatic personality ever since. Mass hysteria, and that's what he created, is scary.


16.  DUC PHO


After orientation they loaded us on an LST, a vessel evidently designed by the same person who dreamed up matchboxes. Ours smelled of diesel and rode rough on the South China Sea. We were glad to get to Duc Pho (duck foe) even if the Army was back in charge and there was no ice cream.


Three exciting things happened while we were at Duc Pho.


First, we made a sweep of an area near the sea and actually saw two guys running from us. At the time we were certain they were enemy troops armed to the hilt.


Second, a troop of local baboons (real ones) sometimes threw rocks at us. It was impossible to get a bead on one of the critters with your rifle, cause they were too quick, but a couple of them could have pitched for the Yankees. The baboons were one of the few big mammals we saw in Vietnam besides people. 


However, one of my claims to fame is that I am one of the few--maybe the only American--to have successfully gone squirrel hunting in Vietnam with a shotgun.


I got one about 13 miles west of Tam Ky. It looked about like an East Texas fox squirrel, but its belly was a redder orange. I hated to waste a 00 (double-ought) buckshot shell on it, and the captain got pissed 'cause of the noise, but I got one. I planned on eating it that evening. I gutted and skinned it, and wrapped it in something, but after I'd carried it all day in my pack it was getting a little ripe.


Squirrel stew sure would have been a nice change from our usual culinary delights (see story on Vietnam military cuisine).


We also got in trouble for raising a Texas flag on our platoon bunker at Duc Pho.




After Duc Pho we moved to Landing Zone (LZ) Gator, our main base camp for most of my stay. We also visited LZs Colt, Ross, Baldy, Center, Chippewa, and others, including LZ 410 on the way to Da Nang for Tet. But usually we stayed in the boonies (i.e. boondocks) and camped out. We walked forever. We didn't have much combat the first couple of months, mostly VC snipers. They were terrible shots, but, on the other hand, we could never catch or shoot them. Usually we never even saw them.


The VC were South Vietnamese who were opposed to the South Vietnamese government and U.S. involvement, and normally didn't operate in larger groups like the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) sometimes did.


Gator, right next to the ville of Nuoc Mou, was our home base for several months, and then the home-base moved to LZ Bayonet, which was closer to Chu Lai. We seldom got to visit any fortified LZ, or stay at one very long, and we got to see home-base even less. I remember being there about four or five times in eight months.


18.  NEW YEAR’S EVE 1967


We got to spend Christmas and New Years at Gator, maybe because there was a "truce", but to our squad’s surprise Sgt. Van Horn came by right before dark New Year’s Eve and told us we were going on ambush that night. I guess there was a curfew and we were going to do our part to enforce it.


But shit! I didn't think anyone was going out, so I was already both drunk and stoned. I think me and Stading had gone over to “The Green Man” (so-called because he was a Meth freak) and I smoked some hash for the first time. When we saddled up Van Horn told me to take point. I remember trying to walk off Gator without falling down. Luckily I didn’t lead us into trouble. That was a bad ambush mission, but not my worst.




Eating was always either a chore (not so difficult to fix, just difficult to eat) or a problem in Nam. Usually we had C-rations which, if we hadn’t had to carry them every where we went, weren't too bad if you had enough Louisiana Red Hot or Tabasco.


After LBJ quit bombing the North we often could supplement our Cs with rice we took off the NVA soldiers we killed. (Thanks again, LBJ.)


One time, when we had bridge-guarding duty on Highway 1 near the coast Van Horn bought a galvanized trashcan half full of shrimp. We boiled them in the can with some pepper, salt and stuff we scrounged. Nobody got ptomaine and it was good.


Another time I was in the tiny hamlet of Nuoc Mou, and saw a guy eating what looked like dried noodles. Then I looked closer at what he’d just picked up with his chop sticks. It was the head of a small perch, eyes intact, and when he bit part of it off he made a surprisingly crunchy and tasty sound. He looked like it was delicious, but I didn’t try any, though offered.




At a nasty little LZ named Colt, we once were stuck for about a week. It was dull, boring and very hot and dry. The fuck-you lizards spoke directly to me every night. Every day this little barefooted gook kid, no more than five, would walk by outside the concertina wire, trip flares and claymore mines, and try to sell us canned cokes.


He'd say, "Hey GI, you buy Coca-Cola?"


Sometimes we'd ignore him, but usually someone would say, "How much?"


He'd say, "One dolla."


We'd say, "To much."


Seeing no sale, he'd immediately segway into, "Hey, you chop-chop me baby-san, GI?" (Meaning would we give him some food?) It was too much trouble to mess with trying to get food to him past the concertina wire and other stuff, which must have stretched out away from our bunkers 30 or 40 yards, so we'd ignore him, or say no.


But after several days in LZ Colt one of the guys was in a bad mood. The kid went through his spiel and the guy muttered, "Yeah, here's some food you little bastard!" And he went over to the heap where we'd tossed all the yucky stuff, picked out a can of ham and lima beans, and threw it so hard it actually made it over the wire, flares and claymores.


The kid hot-footed it over to the can, picked it up, turned it right-side up and looked at it. Now I KNOW he couldn't read English, but he recognized the can as being ham and lima beans. He yelled, "You numba fuckin ten GI," and threw it back at the guy. The kid was really pissed. It gave us a good laugh everytime someone brought it up.


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