Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry
from Alan Allen
Rifleman, Fire Team A, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company A
21. BEANS & FRANKS, PEACHES & POUNDCAKE
The best meals you can make out of C-rations, as far as I'm concerned, are beans and franks, and peaches and poundcake.
First, to put an edge on your appetite, walk all day with 40 pounds on your back, a couple grenades on your pack straps, and a bandolier or two of M-60 ammo draped across your shoulders. (And don't forget you're carrying your rifle--or shotgun, in my case--and plenty of ammo for it.
Stroll through the monsoon rains which don't start until about 10 am if you're lucky, stepping on the leeches that swim in the footprints made by the man ahead. Worry about an ambush and furtively glance side to side all day. Or, walk point and strain to see into the foliage ahead; hope to see the next gook before he sees you. Check out the ville and the people in it...try to make sure they're not VC before you enter. By the end of the day you're ready for some good chow.
Take out your stove, which is a half-size, empty can from a previous meal. You've left the bottom in it, but cut most of the top out so heat will get to the can you set on top of the stove. You've also cut holes in the sides of the can so air can come through to feed the fire. Then, if you're lucky enough to have some of the fast-burning stuff, you put a thumb-sized ball of C-4 explosive in the stove. If you're out of C-4, you hope you have some heating-tabs left. If you don't, try to bum some.
Light up your fuel with a cigarette lighter or a match (bum one if you don’t smoke) and heat the beans and franks--after you've put in the desired amount of Louisiana Red Hot or Tabasco, salt and pepper, or whatever spices you've gotten your folks to send from back home. (I'd have given $5 for an Italian pepper back then.) Eat hearty.
Now it's time for my favorite part of the meal, dessert. Use your P-38 to open your peaches and poundcake. Eat the peaches. You can gobble down the peaches if you want, because they're just the lead-in to the main dessert course. Take the poundcake out of its can and push it down into the peach juice. Don't crumble it up first because you'll drop some crumbs--and don't push the whole cake too fast or too far down into the can or you may make some of the peach juice squirt out over the side of the can. Use the plastic spoon the Army thoughtfully supplies with each C-ration meal to tear the cake into crumbles. Stir until the juice and cake is slurry. Drink slowly and with relish, and for God's sake don't let any run between the rim of the can and the corner of your mouth and get away down your chin, because it may be days before you're able to again accumulate the delectable combination of beans, franks, peaches, and poundcake.
If you've been able to do all this in some place where you feel relatively safe, away from the prying eyes of First Sergeant--and after a few tokes on some good Vietnamese gold, so much the better. If you don't come under attack after sundown, or have to go out on an all-night ambush, even better yet--then all you have to do is stand watch for two or three hours and sleep lightly until the sun pops up and starts making things hot and humid again. Then you can start your day all over again--but without the beans, franks, peaches and pound cake to look forward to.
22. AMBUSH WITH DOC NORMAN
I remember my worst ambush mission very well.
Soon after we walked off LZ Gator it began misting rain. This was natural, since it rained about a third of the time I was in-country. We got to the ambush site just at dark, as planned. We decided how to set the L-shaped ambush along the trail. As the squad leader finished giving orders "Doc" Norman sheepishly said, "Say, uh, I forgot my poncho, can somebody share with me?" There was a long silence, too long. And it got even longer. Finally, I volunteered. Did I mention it's usually not smart to volunteer for anything in the Army?
As Doc and I got situated it began to rain harder, and a poncho is a bit too small to provide protection for two. Also, trying to cover up, see our surroundings, and be ready for the ambush, all at the same time, was almost impossible. To improve our chances we somehow got both our heads inside the poncho hood, which allowed us to be mostly covered too, and settled down for the night. It continued to rain, but our body heat kept us warm and relatively dry.
The ground under us was still fairly dry when we first sat down, and
by around 2 a.m. our body heat had warmed and dried it even
more--too well in fact, because the ants we’d moved in with began to
slowly liven up. It was too cool for the ants to get real active,
but fairly often throughout the night one would climb up Doc or me
until it encountered a tight spot, say where a belt held pants tight
against skin, or where pants held tight against a crotch. Thus
frustrated in their wanderings, the ants usually chose to bite or
sting rather than arbitrate--rather like the North Vietnamese around
the table at the
Once Gary Stading and I got to go to the bar at LZ Gator, I guess it was sort of an enlisted mans Club, and it was brand new. Anyway, it had a jukebox and the only song on it I remember was Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I Got Love in My Tummy by the 1910 Fruit Gum Company. Weird what sticks in your head isn't it?
There Stading introduced me to Bill Black. Black was in LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols) and asked me how many gooks I'd killed. I had a reputation by then, and evidently Black had heard about me. I told him I wasn't sure, but I thought it was 25. He smiled and said he had 26.
I'm glad I wasn't in LRRPs. They'd chopper you and four or five other guys way out in the boonies somewhere and just drop you off. You'd look a lot and keep movement to a minimum, and mostly at night. Your main objective was to report enemy movement, but you also had plenty of opportunities for combat.
Once at LZ Colt, and after we’d had the wonderful experience of taking our first bath in two weeks in a nearby stream, things got dull. Plus, we stayed there so long we ran out of pot.
We were sitting around one night in the bunker (a fancy one, with two rooms) and some idiot said he’d heard you could smoke the little round pill that comes in a Darvon capsule. I think Darvon is like a really strong Excedrin or aspirin, but I’m not sure--I certainly don’t know back then what the little round ball might be--and still don't.
Anyway, I open a Darvon capsule, keep the little round pill and toss the rest away. I crumble up the pill and mix it in with the tobacco in my pipe, and light up.
I took a big hit and passed the pipe around. For some reason, it hit me really hard, likely because I was known for stupidly taking bigger tokes than most. In just a few minutes I lay down and began listening to the others talk.
Then everyone got up and went into the other room. I lay there for some time, hearing the others murmuring. And then I began listening to my breathing. I don’t know how long I listened, but I began to have an uneasy feeling about my breathing, because I noticed it had stopped.
I wondered what was happening. The no-breathing lasted so long I began to get worried.
Then I began to panic.
Just when I thought I was going to die, one of the guys came back into the room. He gently kicked me in the side and said, “Hey asshole, get up.” His kick made me breathe. I inhaled deeply. I was so relieved I actually said, “Thank you, thank you...you saved my life.”
And I meant it. I think I would have died if he hadn’t kicked me. Needless to say, I never smoked the Darvon pill again.
(From wikipedia.com: Dextropropoxyphene, like codeine, is a weak opioid. Excessive opioid receptor stimulation is responsible for … respiratory depression)
25. STURDAHL’S M-79
Paul Sturdahl, who was from Rhode Island, carried an M-79 Grenade Launcher. The grenade round looks like a huge .22 short bullet, and there also are rounds that have 00 buckshot in them, and I think White Phosphorus (WP or Willy Peter) and CS gas. I carried an M-79 when we first got in-country, but got rid of it as soon as I could. I thought they were pretty useless, although I did kill my first gook with one. Luckily I was able to trade it for a Stevens 12-gauge, 5-shot, pump shotgun, which was a great weapon for walking point.
Anyway, one day we were crossing a huge rice paddy by walking a wide berm used for carts. It seemed to be a safe area, but about one-third of the way across we heard the unmistakable sound of an M-79. The gooks had M-79s, which they’d taken off dead GIs, so everyone dove off the berm and into the muddy paddy---everyone that is, except Sturdahl.
“Dang, I thought the safety was on,” he said as I looked up at him. “Sorry.” Needless to say, we gave him a lot of shit over that fuckup.
26. MAYBE GAY GRUNT GETS HITCHED
Rumors began going around about one of our guys (we'll call him "PJ") putting the sex move on other guys. One night we moved onto a mountain and into a Montagnard camp. (Montagnards are an ethnic population made up of some 60 groups of highlanders or mountain dwellers in Southeast Asia.)
It was after dark when we trudged into their camp, and the Montagnards were there to guard us, so we didn't have to dig foxholes. They told us to just lie down and go to sleep. As I lay down I noticed "PJ" was laying down about three feet away.
I awoke late that night and was looking at the stars when "PJ" rolled over and up against me. I rolled away a few feet and that was all that happened that night.
The other members of our squad soon decided something had to be done. Our squad leader somehow worked it so "PJ" became the RTO (radio carrier and operator) for Lt. Wendover. The RTOs job was to stay right with the Platoon Leader at all times. In just a day or two "PJ" was transferred back to base camp to be a cook's helper.
It was weeks before we were sent back to base camp, but when I went through the chow line I looked for "PJ". He wasn't there dishing out food, but Lemon (lee mon), a black guy who'd somehow gotten out of the boonies to a cooking job was. When he filled my tray I asked about "PJ".
"Man, you hadn't heard?" he said? "He's left."
That kinda stunned me, cause you couldn't just up and leave Vietnam when you took the notion. The Army frowned on that. So, I caught up with Lemon later and asked him. "At first," he said, "he just went to the local ville (Nuoc Mou) a day or two a week. Then it became every day...then one day he didn't come back for a whole night. A few days later he came in, packed up some of his stuff and went to the ville for good. He hasn't been back since.
"We heard," Lemon continued, "that he married a gook girl about 14 years old. And I guess he did, 'cause every once in awhile we see him and a girl riding up and down the road on a Moped. He's even wearing black pajamas."
My last wound sent me home and for years I wondered about "PJ". Since almost all of us went over together, most of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade went home about the same time. Did someone go down and tell "PJ" his time was up, that it was time to go home? Did he decide to go back on his own?
I didn't find out until 32 years later that he made it back home. I don't know how he did it, but he did. I haven't been able to get him to respond to my attempts to contact him. I'll bet $50 bucks that "PJ" is married, has a couple of kids and is living happily ever after.
Like I said, when you're in Vietnam it's different. Then you go back to the world and you can be sorta normal again.
Just as I wondered about "PJ" getting home, I wondered about "Salt" and "Pepper”. I read once or twice in the Stars and Stripes newspaper about a white guy and a black guy who either defected or were captured and brainwashed or something. Regardless, they crossed over. They actually fought against U.S. soldiers, leading groups of VC against us in combat. I wonder if they were killed or if they came back?
Bobby Garwood, a marine private, with free run of some prisoner of war camps in South Vietnam, translating for the commander, spying on and questioning U.S. prisoners and working to brainwash them, came back. Frank Anton's book, Why Didn't You Get Me Out?, tells about Garwood and prisoners of war in South Vietnam camps. It's worth a read just to pick out some of the unanswered questions the war in Vietnam has left us.
29. THANKS LBJ (WITH SARCASM)
I guess it was right before Christmas of 1967, and I'm too lazy to research it, when Lyndon Johnson, that "great American," decided to quit bombing North Vietnam in honor of Jesus' birthday or something. His dumbass actions are directly responsible for many of my friends being shot all to hell, and for me being permanently crippled and in constant pain.
Johnson was born about 50 miles from where I live today. Every time I think of that big-eared bastard I want to puke, and I hate to drive through Johnson City, whose citizens actually changed its name from something else to that. To make it worse, every time I drive from Wimberley to Blanco, I have to stop at a "T" on a county road that has a billboard directly across from the stop sign that says, "Blanco County, Home of Lyndon Baines Johnson, A Great American!" My only hope is the sign falls down soon, and my hopes are high, because the paint is peeling and it's starting to sag a bit.
30. R & R
I finally got my one and only R&R (Rest & Relaxation), which was an out-of-country R&R, and took it in Hawaii with my wife. It was right after the Lo Giang ambush, so it could as easily have been Recovery and Resurrection. I remember wanting to just stay in the hotel room and order room service, but Susan finally insisted we go out.
Simply put, I was amazed. People everywhere were having fun. They were eating good food and laughing and talking and smiling. They were at ease. I was astonished. I’d been so immersed in search-and-destroy that I’d forgotten people could be civilized.
It also scared me to death to be in our rental car going over 30 miles per hour. There were just too many cars and too many people close-by to drive so fast. The only vehicle I’d ridden in months was a chopper or a Deuce-and-a-Half (2.5-ton) truck which seemed a lot safer than the little rental. But it was worth the scare to see the waves off North Shore, which Stading and I had talked about, because that California boy loved surfing. We lucked out and got there during a bad storm that made the waves so huge no one would venture out; the surf was awesome. Stading would have been thrilled.
(Stading went to Australia with another single guy from our company and had a great time surfing there. He also said the Australians were wonderful people. After a couple of days there he met an older couple and they invited both the guys to spend the rest of their R&R in their house, rent-free.)
One night Susan and I went to the movies and saw Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, which immediately became my all-time favorite. For at least five minutes after we walked out of the theater I couldn’t talk because the good guy had won in the end and Katharine Ross loved him despite all. I was completely choked up; and to this day I won’t watch that movie, because I know it won’t affect me the way it did then.
©2007 by Alan Allen, All Rights Reserved