Big Whoopee

Flying Crane bringing Joes and makin' Dust
Huey on helicopter pad

Chonook w/100 rounds and powder
Back in the late 60's, the Military was pushing to build up the "Boots on the Ground" strength in Vietnam to over 500,000. That was what General Westmorland said was the price to win the war. As we all know, there was never a number that would win the war once it was decided that the war was to be fought entirely in South Vietnam. We fought the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong to death in the south. After TET 68, we had the enemy on the run and could have won the war had we been willing to go on the offense. After we withdrew from the active battles in 1972, we were unwilling to go back in and re-join the fight and the North Vietnamese claimed a victory. Don't let any of the revisionists tell you that the Military lost that war, we all did for Political reasons.
Where I wanted to go with this was that the price of having so many soldiers in combat was that there just weren't enough of them to entirely fill the needs in our units. Instant access to the numbers was solved by Project McNamara or McNamara's Project 100,000. Someone finally decided that a hundred thousand of the category 3, or slightly lower intelligence soldiers would fill out our strength and because most of these guys would only serve as Privates and at best Specialist 4's, their lack of ablilty would not inhibit our efforts. In 1967, these draftees began to filter into the Army as Ammo handlers, truck drivers, grunts and Combat Engineers (Spelled with a shovel not heavy machinery).
One of these mental giants showed up in my battery in 1968 and immediately the guys started calling him "Big Whoopee" or Whoop for short. When something really intelligent or erudite was said he would say "Well Big Whoopee." Somewhere there is a football team that could use him as a defensive lineman as he was about 5 foot 8 and 250 lbs. He could also double as a tackling dummy but he would probably hurt too many teammates. His lack of intellect was made up for by his strength. He was a walking testament to leadership. On his own, he would not start any task but once started, he was the last man standing. Perhaps there was enough smarts to know when he was given the most menial tasks, but once properly instructed, he would finish most jobs with relish. There was one problem that his section Sergeant soon found out and that was that Whoop would stay at the old job site at the end of the project unless properly relieved. Not a major hurdle but waiting for a helicopter by the Helicopter Pad all day and night wasn't a good use of time.
Almost all of the guys on the guns hated for the Ammo resupply choppers to come in. Mostly in our 155 unit it was one of those flying cranes (CH-54's) and they could carry four or five hundred rounds at a time. That meant that if there were 10 guys on the detail, they would have to each hand carry 50 rounds at approximately 100 lbs each from the pad over to the guns. On a hot day in Vietnam, you almost can't drink enough water to match the sweat. Most of the guys could/would carry one round at a time and it was backbreaking work.
One day, Whoop claimed that he had hurt his shoulder and could not carry any more of "Those Damned Joe's" (Projectiles, 155mm High Explosive). He nursed that excuse for about 24 hours and it took a trick to get him back on duty. One of the other cannon crewmen said he could carry two projectiles at a time and he bet no one else in the section could. The projectiles came from the factory with a nose plug that had a carrying loop built in. If you had strong fingers, you could get two or three fingers in that loop and carry one with one hand. Most of us couldn't in a normal situation. Whoop. not to be outdone said he could carry four, no sweat. They went back outside and each member of the section tried one in each hand. Only a couple of them could do it. True to his word, Whoop just stuck his fingers in the loops of four rounds and picked them up off the ground. Someone said can you lift them up to shoulder height? He did and that ended the sick call excuse for the remainder of that tour.
During the monsoon season, it would rain day and night without a let up. If a unit was in contact, we would fire for them until they said stop. If you have ever seen a howitzer fire on TV, you would know that the force of the blast would put a lot of weight on the spades on the legs or trails of the howitzer and if the ground was wet it would really bury the spades down in the mud. After one hot contact mission, we awoke to find one howitzer had buried the spades in a big old mud hole. We dug that gun out and filled the hole with mud. There just wasn't gravel to do a proper job. Later on that day we got a fire mission and Whoop grabbed the lifting handle on one trail and began to help shift the gun. When he stepped in the mud hole, he began to be forced down in the mud. He hollered, "Help me, this thing is going to drown me in the mud!" I think he would have hung on to that trail and be forced down in the mud had one of the guys not told him to "let go of that damned trail." I think the sound of "Help Me, help me" was heard around the battery for at least a week. Always followed by laughter I might add.
A couple of weeks later, a strange helicopter landed at our fire base. No, it wasn't a strange helicopter but not one that normally came to our firebase. The only passenger was a Sergeant Major from one of the 4th Division units. I happened to be out by the pad when it arrived and I walked over to meet it. The Sergeant Major that got off what was obviously a command bird (clean and shiny) said he was "Private Johnson's" father and wondered if he could pay him a visit. I had no clue who he was talking about and shouted over to the guns to have them tell PVT Johnson to report over to the pad. Someone hollered back and said, "Which one, the black one or the white one?" "The Black One" the SGM Hollered back. Once I saw who his son was, it was pretty obvious that whoopee was built like his dad. Here came Whoopee at a dead run and picked up the Sergeant Major and lifted him over his head. Then came what would have been a crushing hug and tears from Whoop that he was sure glad to see his father. I left them to visit and finally after an hour or so, Whoop came over and said his dad wanted to talk to me.
When I got back over to the Helicopter pad, the SGM asked me to try to get Whoop through the rest of his tour without him going back to LBJ. LBJ was the Long Bin Jail where GI's served their jail time for minor infractions. It seems that Whoopee liked to smoke a little dope and at least out in the field his supply was very limited. Time in jail didn't count as time in the Nam and Whoop had already been in 'Nam over a year. I spoke with the other leaders in the unit and worked hard to keep Whoop on the straight and narrow for the rest of his tour. To the best of my knowledge, he at least left our unit on the way home. If he got there, I never knew.
I guess life is a lot like that. You will have some young men and women that will do their job to the best of their ability and then you have some that just don't know any better. At least Whoopee had a good attitude and smiled at good jokes. I wish him well where ever he is.
MUD (Ret)


  1. Ever think about making a photo journal online with these. They are a unique insight of the war.

  2. I have them all saved and some day will put them in a journal in by date order.