Fat Albert

In Vietnam, I had a unit Commander that was called Fat Albert for good reason.  Most of us had heard Bill Cosby do the voice of a guy who's bulk caused lots of problems.  He was probably closer to 30 so he was probably about 10 years older than most of us.  After eating all that good chow in Vietnam (C-Rations and good in the same sentence Dennis?) he was also about 100 to 150 lbs. heavier.   If you look at pictures of the kids in Vietnam, the word Skinny comes to mind.

At my Vietnam Weight of about 165

In a firing Battery of a Howitzer battalion, the Battery Commander has a pretty important job selecting the layout of the guns and the support sections (Ash and trash as we called it)  In Vietnam once we were on a Fire Base, the unit XO pretty much ran the place and the Battery commander has a tough job making sure the mail got delivered.  Normally the Commander and the First sergeant had a tent that hosted the nightly poker games and where a lot of smoking and joking went on. 

As Fat Albert went, he was pretty much useless as teats on a boar hog but he stayed out of the way for the most part and left me and my top Gun Sergeants alone.  Generally one or the other of us was out on the gun line at all times.  Our jobs were to make sure that they knew what the hell to do and where to do it.  Typical of any unit that was not the Boy Scouts (They have adult Leaders) there was a constant need to keep the place policed up as trash and helicopters are a bad combination. 

During my year in Vietnam, I spent a lot of time out with the Infantry and slept on the ground a lot.  During my time out there, I never had an air mattress that was good at holding air all night.  The closest one I had was when we were at LZ Mary Lou and a mortar round hit right by the door to our bunker.  Everyone but me was wounded a little.  That was not true of my brand new air mattress.  Even with a roll of duct tape applied all over it, it leaked.  At least I had a cot and wasn't directly on the ground.

On a trip through Pleiku, I went to the supply room and  begged for an air mattress that would hold air.  The Supply Sergeant went over to the shelves and took out a brand new one that was still in the plastic wrapper.  I don't remember the exact price I paid but I think it involves a case or beer or a quart of something.  I was the proud owner of an air mattress that actually held air and didn't involve blowing it up two or three times during the night.  When someone would be blowing up their air mattress, all sorts of rude comments would always come their way. 

Back to the Firing Battery.  I was the unit XO and had been in the Fire Direction center where I met an still had a lot of friends.  On guy, the team called him Twiggy because he was so skinny and short.  I think his real name was Terwigeler, but after almost 50 years, it could have been anything.   He had been in Vietnam almost as long as I had and never had an air mattress that held air.  When he heard that I had an R&R, he begged me to let him have the use of mine while I was gone.  After careful discussion of the rules which included a daily airing out in the sun and a weekly wash, we struck a deal on the use of the mattress in my absence.

I had an in country R&R and went to Cameron Bay.  As soon as I arrived there, I found out that there was a plane for Hawaii that had lots of empty seats on it.  The clerk asked me if I wanted to go there rather than sitting around the beach and drinking beer in Vietnam.  Long story short, I was on the next plane to Hawaii.  I will leave out the incriminating details.  And I will damn sure tell you that there was never one thought about that stupid air mattress when I got to spend 5 days and six nights in a real bed with my wife. 

When I got back to the Firing Battery, I had lots of tales to tell and the air mattress did not cross my mind until late in the day.  I didn't think it would hurt to wait until the next morning to get it back.  When I went over to the Fire Direction Center, I saw Twiggy slipping out the back door and hollered to have him stop.  He did and said he would go get the air mattress.  It was clearly flat as a flitter and the end of the mattress seam was busted. Right in the middle of that poor mattress was the dusty footprint of a size 15 boot. There was no fixing that mattress.

The story went that one afternoon, Twiggy was taking the mattress out to let it get some air and dry off and just as he went out the bunker door, a mortar round hit on the other side of the fire base.  Fat Albert the Battery Commander was near the door and he rushed in to get out of danger.  It mattered not that Twiggy was in the doorway holding that air mattress.  Fat Albert planted on of his size 15 boots on the combination of Twiggy and the mattress.  Boom went the seam and Fat Albert fell down thinking he was hit.  When the laughter died down, it was clear that the effective bursting radius of an air mattress was zero meters and all was well.   There was perhaps a little leakage on the front of Fat Albert's pants but no brown stains on the backside. 

The sad end of this was that for my last month in Vietnam, I did not have an air mattress but I did have good thoughts of my time in Hawaii and promise of good times coming soon.  A little later on that day, I got a call from Base Camp that wanted to know if I wanted to stay in Vietnam and extra 60 days and go home without serving at a State Side base of just a little over 120 days.  Take me home Country Road.   This story is brought to you by Twiggy and fat Albert and that air mattress that sacrificed its life to make this story possible.  Happy Memorial Day...


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