Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry
from Alan Allen
Rifleman, Fire Team A, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company A
31. BRUNNER’S HELMET
One of the strangest incidents to occur in ‘Nam happened while I was on R&R. When I came back 1st Sgt. Rodriguez asked me if I’d go to the hospital shack and visit one of the new guys, Brunner, who’d been wounded. The 1st Sgt. told me the story.
The company had come under attack at dusk and the firefight got so bad that the captain called in naval artillery. Usually we were covered by 105mm Howitzers, but this time the company was so close to the coast there were some much larger naval guns at our disposal.
They passed word around saying when the shells began coming in each GI should lay down with the top of his helmet pointed toward the gooks, and his nose on the ground--the rounds were going to hit close. Brunner, being new, didn’t want to do that...he wanted to watch the fireworks. When the shells began exploding Brunner looked up.
In Basic the Army told us that about the only place on a steel pot (helmet) that will be penetrated by a bullet is the front middle, right where they paint on a lieutenant’s bar. I can’t argue with that, because the piece of shrapnel that smacked Brunner hit his helmet in just that spot. Rodriguez said the fragment, about 5-inches long, 2.75-inches high, and 1-inch wide, came flipping through the air like a thrown knife. It must have weighed at least as much as a quarter-pounder.
When I walked up to Brunner’s bed he was bandaged from the top of his head to his upper lip. His eyes were completely covered, but I could see swelling and the black-and-blue skin all the way down on his lower jaw.
“Brunner, it’s Alan Allen,” I said, “how you feeling man?”
I’ll never forget his response. “Ugh, hey Allen, I feel okay...but I’ve got a bad headache.”
Damn, I bet he did.
After I visited with Brunner, Rodriguez asked me if I wanted to see the helmet. Of course, I did. Rodriguez handed it to me shrapnel-first, so I grabbed the piece of jagged steel. It was like it was welded to the helmet. I took a good grip with both hands, and shook the helmet--which has quite a weight to it. Then I shook it again, harder. There was no movement. It was like the shrapnel and the steel pot had come from the factory together.
It seems the helmet was tough enough that when the forward-end of the shrapnel pushed through, it was made somewhat smoother. So when it shot through Brunner’s forehead and skull and touched the brain, instead of cutting, it simply pushed the cerebrum backward.
We’ll likely never know, because Brunner was sent home, and we've never been able to find him, but I doubt he would ever want to try to watch another shelling by the U.S. Navy.
32. JONES’ CARAMEL
Another guy who owed me big, but paid his debt, is James Randall Jones, born in a holler in the mountains northeast of Marietta, Georgia. Late in our tour I often walked point (which is why I loved the shotgun), and Jones walked it regularly too--both of us having grown up in the woods hunting squirrels and practicing on other non-Gook game.
He was on point one day, crossed a small clearing, walked down into a little creek, and started up the far bank. About the fourth man back in line, I got to the middle of the clearing and looked about 15 yards up the trail past Jones. I saw the barrel of an AK-47 poking out from behind a boulder about the size of the cab on a 1953 Chevy pickup. The barrel was moving slightly, like someone was holding it. The gook hiding there would have had Jones dead to rights in a few more seconds.
I yelled for Jones to stop, that a gook was right in front of him, which, of course, scared the B-Jesus out of him. (Now Jones read the bible at the end of every day, and is a very religious man, so scaring him that bad took some doing.) Down in the creek, Jones couldn't see the gook, but luckily the gook couldn’t see him either--he just couldn't risk moving. Nobody else had seen the AK barrel, so everybody was trying to hide from the gook and locate him at the same time. We also didn’t know if he was alone or with his squad, platoon, company, battalion, or what.
I was actually a bit out of good shotgun range, but I held my 12-gauge on the rock (the barrel had been withdrawn by this time), and was telling the others where the gook was hidden. Suddenly he leaped from behind the boulder and bounded down the hillside through the trees. I fired three times, but evidently missed or was too far. No one else fired a shot.
Jones came by my foxhole that evening and offered me a cube of caramel candy.
I asked, "Is this for saving your life?"
"Yep," he said.
So I said, "Okay, we'll call it even."
went to the Marietta area
and visited Jones, Charlie Brown and Jerry Baynes about 1981.
Charlie drove me up to Jones' because he said I'd never find it on
my own, and I wouldn't have. Jones has an idyllic home way back in
his holler high in the mountains. He still wears a soft hat tilted
back on his head with the chin strap around his neck. His pretty
young wife was working in the garden with a sun
Jones strummed his guitar and sang a bit of She's Long Gone Now by Hank Williams, Sr., which he often sang in 'Nam and became one of my favorite country tunes. I'm a little eclectic. I alternated between drinking whiskey and listing to Jones sing Hank, Sr., and smoking dope and asking Bruce Metz to sing The End by The Doors.
33. GIANT GOOK
We very seldom got to stay at a forward fire base, which is an landing zone out in the boonies, but which has sandbag bunkers, usually an artillery company, and is relatively safe--with concertina wire, claymores, trip flares, etc. around the perimeter. Even less often did we get to go back to our base of operations, which at first was LZ Gator, then later was LZ Bayonet.
Regardless, one time we were back at Gator and a few guys wanted to go into Chu Lai, so I tagged along. We hitched a ride on a Deuce-and-a-Half truck, and as I recall there was Stading, Carter, Boetsch, T.J. Williams, and me. We went to Chu Lai and farted around, drank some beer, saw some ROKs (Republic of Korea soldiers), and had what passes for a good time in Vietnam.
While there we saw a strange sight. We were walking down the street, standing tall above the little people, with bicycles, Mopeds and Vietnamese streaming by on all sides. We could see over all their heads, and it was a small sea of humanity. Then I spied a gook on a bicycle, head and shoulders above the rest. I point him out to the guys, and when he gets close we see a gook that's very close to seven feet tall. A monster compared to his countrymen. Maybe he was an ethnic Noung (one of the Chinese people who have been living in Vietnam for generations), I don't know. But he really stood out in a crowd. Hell, he would have stood out in a crowd in
34. MP WANTS MY SHOTGUN
On our way south, back to base camp, we came to the fork in the
road. Highway 1 went on down the coast, but the road to LZ Gator
split to the right. In the middle of the fork was a spit-shined MP,
standing on a little box, whistle in his mouth, uniform starched and
pressed, and directing traffic. He looked real
I was dawdling along as usual, and the others were 30 yards ahead when I came to the road less traveled. The MP saw me and yelled, "Hey, wait up soldier." So I stopped. He trotted over, which was impressive in that heat.
"Where'd you get that shotgun?" he asked.
"I was issued it," I said.
"By the Army?" he said, with a surprised look. His question didn't
surprise me, since I'd heard shotguns were against the
"Yeah," I said.
By this time my buddies had stopped, seen what was happening and were heading back.
The MP asked to look at my shotgun and I handed it to him. He turned it over a time or two, and I saw him look at the serial number. "Uh-Oh," I thought.
"If you were issued this weapon, what's the serial number?" he asked.
Now in the States, you'd better know the serial number of your weapon, just like you'd better know your induction number. But like I've said, in Vietnam, especially if you're a frontline grunt, things are different.
"I don't know," I said, "I think it's something like 5043450." I said those numerals because I had looked at the serial number several times before; I'd just never had to memorize them. Since I'd carried that damn shotgun for miles, cleaned it, and slept with it most nights, it would have been difficult NOT to have seen the serial number. Also, there are instances when there's not much to do but stare at shit like serial numbers on your gun.
"That's pretty close," he said, "maybe it is your weapon."
"You're goddam right it's his," interrupted T.J. "So what?"
The MP looked up from the shotgun to see he was closely surrounded by four guys who didn't look as easy as me.
"It's his," said Carter, "give it back to 'im."
"He's killed more people than you've got friends," said T.J. (I'll never forget that one.)
The MP handed me back the shotgun.
He didn't run back, but he got on his little box right quick and started directing traffic. I saw him look at us again out of the corner of his eye. I guess he was used to giving shit to some rear echelon guys, but wasn't used to grunts coming at him right out of the boonies.
35. GRENADE BED AND BLOWN SHITTER
LZ Center just seemed a magnet for weird shit. The first time we climbed that mountain there was nothing there. The next time the Army had constructed most of LZ Center, including some bunkers and a command post with radio capability, and had flown in some artillery. I say some bunkers, because we got to build the rest.
About the fourth time we went to Center I think it was by chopper, because we arrived after dark. We stumbled around the side of the mountain, dropping guys off at each bunker, 'til my bunch found ours. We couldn't shine a light of course, so we bedded down as best we could. Someone before us had laid artillery-round boxes down as a floor, so we lay on that and went to sleep, taking turns at watch.
The next morning we woke at daylight and I rolled up my camo blanket, which was usually all we had to sleep with, unless it was raining and/or cold, then we'd use a poncho.
Always lucky, I'd had to sleep on a big crack between two ammo boxes. The crack was so big I saw a grenade had fallen down in it and was lying in the dirt. I picked it up.
That's when I noticed the pin had come out of one side of the handle, and was barely hanging in the other side. I'd been lying right on top of it all night.
Besides bedding, we also sometimes used ammo boxes to make a shitter at the LZs. One would suffice, but two boxes made a more comfortable “commode”. We had one out on the side of the mountain, in open sight of anyone who cared to look, but with a beautiful view of a mountain valley to the west where you could do your business while watching some fantastic sunsets.
One night we were up late, probably smoking pot, and someone accidentally sat on the trigger to a claymore mine. I’m glad I wasn’t taking a shit at the time, because the guy who made the shitter, and the guy who’d set out the claymore, evidently didn’t coordinate their actions. The mine blew the shitter to bits.
Of course, everyone in our bunker immediately thought we were under attack, and everyone on the LZ soon thought the same thing--and we were all on high alert until dawn. We didn’t realize what had happened until one of the guys went to take a morning crap. We admitted what happened only to a select few.
36. "ZERO" NAPS
One of the least-liked of the original guys in Alpha Company was a
very short, very black African-American (we'll call him "Zero"). At
first he just wasn't very likeable. I'm not sure how it happened,
but a certain incident sure made "Zero" a
We were moving through elephant grass about seven-feet tall. There were a few scattered trees here and there about 12-15 feet high. You couldn't see 10 feet in front of you, and it would have been very difficult to cut through the grass, so we were following a trail. I'm glad I was not on point that day. It was not a good situation for a point man. Everyone knew the additional danger, so we were all extra quiet, talking little, and in hushed tones.
At noon we stopped for a quick bite. You're always tired, so everybody drops their packs, eats, and tries to rest. The trail is so narrow you have to push yourself a hole back into the grass a bit to get room to stretch out.
"Zero" went to sleep.
"Zero" did not wake up when we quietly moved out. And no one woke him.
A few minutes later we're several hundred yards down the trail. I hear words being passed up the line.
"Has anyone seen 'Zero'? Pass it up". I pass it up. Seconds later, about the time the words would reach the captain, we come to a halt.
In just a bit we hear three rounds fired in the distance, back from where we've come. We drop our packs and imagine being completely alone in a "free-fire zone" in the middle of Vietnam. Then there are three more shots, closer.
There's a growing sound of movement in the grass.
"Zero" actually bursts out into a small opening, arms wind milling, eyes wide and, I swear, his face the color of cigarette ashes. I've never seen anyone so scared in my life--including NVA soldiers I've captured during a firefight.
From that day on "Zero" was much friendlier and a lot less militant. But being left alone in the middle of a hostile nowhere must have really made an impression. It wasn’t too long after that "Zero" got sick and tired of being in the ‘Nam. He also thought that because the M-16 bullet looked small, that it wouldn’t make too big a hole in his foot. He found out different, but he did get to leave Vietnam.
37. LITTLE OLD LADY
We’d been in an area with lots of VC and NVA for awhile, and I was on point walking through some napalmed forest when I saw a couple of hooches. I circled around a bit, and walked up to find a gook with his back to me, staring off toward my back trail. I eased up within about 20 yards, which would give me time to shoot a few times before he could get out of shotgun range.
I said, “Hey motherfucker,” but I doubt he made the translation. He was about as surprised as Sandlin was when his .45 fired. We took the gook prisoner and approached the hooches. We found a woman and a couple of kids. I think the guy had been forced to work for the enemy at times, because he had strap-scars on his shoulders, but it looked like they were mostly just a family trying to get by.
One of the guys told me there was someone in a bunker who wouldn’t come out. I walked over, looked down the entrance hole into a bunker about 10’x10’x10’, and sure enough, I saw the shadow of someone moving down there.
“Hey Allen, should I throw a grenade down there?” someone asked.
“No, let’s just pop a smoke in there...they’ll have to come out pretty quick.”
He popped a pink smoke and pretty soon we heard coughing. I stupidly stood in front of the entrance, about five feet from it, with my shotgun at the ready.
Out climbed a really old lady--she must have been 80 if a day. Tears were streaming from her eyes, and she was coughing, but fine. I still wonder why she wouldn’t come out when we called her.
38. THE CO AND THE AK-47
After 1st Platoon’s initial medic, Robert “Doc” Norman, left, we got
another good medic, Steve “Doc” Finton. (I guess every medic in the
Army is called Doc.) Doc Finton wore glasses, was tall, slender and
had bright red hair. He was from
Doc Finton rotated out of the field, and was replaced by another “Doc”. For the life of me I cannot remember his name, but he was small, and had black hair and an olive complexion. The guy seemed young, even by our standards, but we immediately knew the big difference between us was that he wasn’t carrying a weapon. Our new medic was a conscientious objector. (C.O. usually stands for Commanding Officer, but not in this case.)
Although I didn’t really get to know him, he seemed like a very
The new Doc hadn’t been with us long when he found himself in the middle of his first firefight. It was a good one because none of our guys were hurt, but it was scary, with a lot of bullets popping by, and the sound of automatic weapons firing.
Sometimes toward the end of the shooting I noticed Doc was carrying an AK-47 he’d taken off a dead gook. I was surprised, and kinda smirked at the sight, but I was secretly a little disappointed in the guy. But the next day I saw he’d forsaken the gun and was back to being a C.O.
I saw him in several more firefights, and I think he stuck by his principles for his entire tour. You’ve got to admire a guy that will do that while rounds are popping overhead.
Gary Alan Stading (Orange, CA) was my best friend. I can still see him licking the cocoa off his plastic spoon in great satisfaction, and smacking his lips, in the sputtering light of a heating tab. He loved life. He turned me on to my first joint and we saw Raquel Welch in the movie, 1,000,000 Years B.C, while stoned. It was at the drive-in in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood.
For seven months, up until he died, everytime I walked point (and I walked point a lot), he was right behind me. It was April 25, 1968, and a VC had been dogging us most of the day. He'd shot an M-79 grenade round or two at us already. We pulled up on top of a small hill and stopped for lunch. Stading sat on a paddy ledge on the hill, with his feet down on the next ledge. I sat on his right, and Carter on his left, all shoulder-to-shoulder. We hadn’t finished eating when something exploded immediately in front of Gary.
All three of us were blown into the ledge area our feet had been in; Carter came crawling over me, knees and elbows, and I sat up looking for Gary. He was unconscious, with a small hole over his left eye, in the lower part of his forehead. A bit of bluish-pink meat bulged out of it. Another medic came over and we opened up Gary's shirt. There were two holes in his left chest, one about the size of a pencil, and the other about the size of my little finger. The larger one was slurping air in and out--what they call a sucking chest wound.
The medic put a piece of tape on the sucking chest wound while I held Gary in my arms. We loaded him on a chopper and he was MedEvaced away to die.
I hated each death of every buddy, but the pain I felt in my heart when Stading died was a real, physical pain. I believe it took some years off my life it hurt so bad.
I had some shrapnel in my side and Baynes had a shrapnel cut on his shoulder, so they choppered us to LZ Center later for some medical care. We told Lt. Wendover how Stading was hit. (Wendy and Stading had gone to high school together, and were on the track team.) We stayed one night, and then they sent us back into the boonies.
The gooks had killed Gary and I figured they owed me. We had talked many times about how we'd have to put up with all this crap, but live through it and make it home. Now I wanted to kill a lot more of them. I was pissed, and that emotion supported me for a time, but after Hill 352 (Nui Hoac Ridge), where I did get to kill a bunch, the anger wore off. It was replaced by an emotion I hadn’t felt in a long time...fear.
After Stading died, I wanted Jerry Baynes of Marietta, GA, as my backup man when I was on point. He was even better than Stading; he saved my life at least once, and on May 28, 1968, Baynes killed the NVA soldier that gave me my third Purple Heart. I think he was pissed too.
But the night after Stading got killed, when Baynes and I got to stay on LZ Center, was lucky for us, 'cause the company got hit pretty good that night. Here's what I was told about that.
40. NIGHT ATTACK
Well after dark a gook out in front of 1st platoon (my platoon) tripped a trip-flare. Our guys opened up with rifle and machine gun fire and the gooks pulled back. When the flare went out they came creeping back. When they got within grenade-throwing range they threw one or two. If one of our guys fired a rifle the light from the muzzle gave away his position and the gooks would concentrate their grenades there--so our guys quit firing and began relying on grenades also.
It became a cat-and-mouse, wait-and-see contest. Be quiet. Try to hear movement or see something. Toss a grenade if you do, but don't hit a tree with it or it might bounce back. Don't make any stupid mistakes. As the night wore on, Sgt. Hall, who up to that time hadn't been all that useful or respected, crawled over to other parts of the company perimeter to get more grenades, since 1st platoon was running low. The company evidently had more grenades than the gooks had, and with individual foxholes were better protected, so we won that round. Sgt. Hall gained a lot of respect that night, and from what I could tell he felt a lot better about himself too.
He was an E-6 and one of the older sergeants, probably in his mid-30s--whereas most of us were 19 to 21. Earlier on Hall seemed more scared than the younger guys, at all times. (Of course, that probably just meant he was more mature.) He certainly wasn't the worst of our older sergeants. We had a couple of real duds.
One day someone in his squad noticed Hall was in the habit of walking with his M-16 balanced on his canteen, with the selector switch on full-automatic. Walking down a trail like that, with guys in front, rifle barrel swinging back and forth, branches slapping near the trigger, was stupid--not to mention extremely dangerous. Of course, Irv "Biker" Carter, a private at the time--and fairly new to the platoon, wasn't going to stand for that shit, so he put his nose on Hall's nose the next day and told him what's what. Hall never did it again.
In Vietnam, when it came down to the nut-cutting, it really didn't matter a whole lot what your rank was if you were in the bush. I got treated like shit in the states, and Hall was one of the sergeants that treated me like a private. But in the boonies he'd sometimes come up and ask me--in a very polite manner--if I'd walk point for his squad that day. He asked because he knew I was a good point man, and he asked politely because rank didn't matter in the boonies. He could have ordered me to, but he knew I'd tell him to kiss my ass.
Like I said, the longer Hall stayed in Vietnam the better he did, and the more we liked and respected him. It's also easy to understand fear in Vietnam and cut a man some slack...you just can't cut any slack on stupid stuff.
©2007 by Alan Allen, All Rights Reserved