Oh No, Another War Story
Once Upon a Time, if you don’t like this beginning for a short war story, tough Shiskies. The other day I was at the VA for my annual visit and ran into a Vietnam Veteran that was even wearing a hat that said Vietnam Veteran and one of those T-Shirts that says MIA’s are gone but not forgotten. I kind of expected him to act a little militant but I guess at the VA one’s attitude about serving isn’t worn on your sleeve. Kind of like a gun fighter in the old west, there will always be someone that has had a worse experience than yours. Most of us from that war are just starting to lose track of small things and we no longer worry that people will think we are “Making Stuff Up.” After all, it is a war story isn’t it? They are generally collections of places; faces and events told so many times that fact and fiction are so blended in to the storyteller’s craft that no one could ever decipher the reality form the fiction.
The guy I ran in to and I talked about the tough side of war and somehow the subject of the smell of Vietnam came up. In addition to having the war suck, Vietnam stank. If you went in to any of the markets, the first smell was of a boat dock in the middle of summer. It was a collection of minnows, fish guts and water pumped out of bilges that hung in the air. You could see the piles of dried fish there in the market and people actually would come up and eat one of the dried smelly things to make sure they were fresh? You can imagine that with a place that had a monsoon season, the smell of rotting is just a part of your day. I’m sure that having about a half a million unwashed US soldiers there didn’t make it much better.
I told my new buddy that I had sent a roll of film home to the wife to have her develop. She sent me one of the pictures back to me and wondered what the smoke was from? It was the smoke of diesel as they burned the shitters each day. One poor soldier had the latrine duty and his job was to burn the crap each day. He said that on one trip to the rear area he somehow got hooked into being the NCOIC of one of those details. He said it was kind of neat to have three or four guys and to go around to all the latrines on the big base camp. The even gave him a ¾ ton truck to haul the gas cans. He was free to go anywhere and he visited no only the PX but the nearby airbase that had an honest to god drive in with ice cream and hamburgers. He said that most of the guys in and around the big base camps were on foot most of the time and having a vehicle was a blessing.
We talked a little about friends we knew that had gone back to Vietnam in just the past few years. Many of them find the country changed and the landscape little different. The people there are pretty much just trying to make a living and seemed pleased to meet new people much like the people here in the USA. He did note that a lot of the old military bases are now just an overgrown area and the junk pickers didn’t leave much of value after we left. Our buildings were for the most part just 2X4’s and tin and most of that got scavenged or salvaged and is gone. When we were there, you saw a lot of small hooches in the villages near military bases with C-Ration boxes as the siding. He said most of that got replaces with the tin off our old buildings. He said there were a lot of Military museum but it gave our returning soldiers the willies to realize that the enemy depicted in the photographs were our guys.
I would someday like to visit more of the world outside the USA but there are still quite a few places here in America I want to see. Think that Yellowstone is on our schedule for this summer and there is still the Arches in Southwest Colorado on my list. Oddly enough, Death Valley is also on my list but that is a winter trip for sure. But, back to my war story, it is way too easy when making this stuff up to distract myself and get off topic.
My VA Buddy and I were in the same area near Pleiku, but with entirely different units. Pleiku was on the plains but near the mountains of the Central Highlands. I was in an Artillery Group that provided support to whatever combat units were in the area. He was in the 4th Infantry Division. It was kind of neat to be able to go into a town and the 4th Division MP’s would just leave us alone. One of the towns I would want to see is Kontum, along the river and about 50 miles north of Pleiku. Before TET in 68, it had been a very pretty town and the old buildings were spectacular. After TET there were many places where the tanks had shot through the walls and left cancer looking scars. I wonder if they kept some of the holes as a kind of symbol of what war brought to their country.
All you have to do is to visit any of the VA’s in any major city to see the scars left on the faces of our young men and women. I am blessed that I can write about my wartime experiences without being sucked back into the quicksand of war. One of the young soldiers that I sent to Desert Storm came home with a blinding flash of the obvious, “Hey Colonel, you know that war is one damned good place to get your ass killed?” Yep that about sums it up for me and for now the end.