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Chapter One of Potawatomi Tracks
Chapter One: The Ballad of Vietnam
Firebase Ripcord sits on the ridge of a nearby Mountain.
A desolate firebase
that look’s like the brown hump of a buffalo.
The A-Shau valley, the valley of death is not far away.
Over the skies of the South China Sea,
B-52's can be seen going on bombing runs
up to Hanoi in North Vietnam.
The Ho Chi Minh trail is a path of attrition.
It starts in the jungles of North Vietnam
It went down a crooked path through Laos and the A-Shau Valley.
This land of jungles and paddy fields
is where Heaven meets the Earth.
The birth of Ho Chi Minh
in Central Vietnam was under a new Patriot moon.
Ho Chi Minh led a nationalist movement
in a renewed struggle for the land.
The yoke of French colonialism;
was the first obstacle the Vietminh had to overcome.
Then the over-whelming military power of the
United States came next in the great scheme of things.
The build-up of American ground troops
in this jungle war started in 1965.
America supported a corrupt South Vietnamese
Its ARVN divisions didn't want to fight,
The enemy did what ever it took to the win the war.
Like they did against the constant invasions of the
the Mongols and the Japanese.
The Saigon government used repressive ways in the countryside
against the peasants.
The Saigon government would kill the peasants and
their villages and crops.
The North Vietnam communist government stood by
this was going on,
But the Viet-Cong in the South didn't stand by and
watch their people die.
The Viet-cong took their guerrilla war-fare to the Saigon
They forced the hand of the communists in the North,
And that's when United States was drawn into this quagmire.
This war was the longest in the history of America.
It would be a defeat because of mis-guided policies.
When all was said and done,
Over 58,000 Americans died for nothing in Vietnam.
The communist fought for their country and would lose
1.8 million Soldiers in their fight to reunite their
This policy of independence would come to a peak,
When the tanks of the NVA over-ran Saigon in 1975.
I went to the Vietnam War in November of 1969,
President Nixon had his Vietnamization plan under way.
I would not see even one soldier from the South
army in the jungles or in the rear areas.
Two miles from Firebase Ripcord, on a wind-swept hill,
Fallen trees and broken rocks from recent bombings,
cover the side of the hill.
An infantry unit is dug in near the top… this is Hill
The upper command of the 101st put Delta Company…
there as bait for a division of NVA….
Cannon fodder for the NVA.
Our lives would be like the pawns upon a chess board…
To old glory seekers who play war-games from maps…
That cover’s a table in air conditioned rooms at Camp
Vietnamese girls with rice eyes wait on them hand and
Old men plan the war… the young men die.
I was an infantryman that served in this rifle company
on Hill 805.
Under a livid grey sky
it took me half a July morning to dig a fox-hole.
I looked down into the triple-canopy jungle;
the sweat came down my face.
The drops of sweat fall onto my M-16 rifle
and onto the dirty faded jungle fatigues I wore.
I looked back on the past seven months,
I came in country on November 28th 1969,
I dropped out of high school and had volunteered for the two year draft
at the Holton, Kansas draft board.
I had hunted by my Mothers Sha no kwe's house on the
Prairie Band Potawatomi reservation in Kansas.
A war-eagle flew at the edge of the sky.
A vision of blood and war came to me
As I walked through the wooded areas and the gullies
of my rez.
I would come home with small game to skin.
After my mom's suppers I'd watch the CBS evening news,
Walter Cronkite would start the six o’clock evening news
With "In Vietnam today…56 Americans were killed in
action and 148 were wounded."
For the past three years,
The chronicler of these events
saw the tribal members from the Prairie Band Potawatomi reservation going
off to Vietnam.
Joe Hale, who lives across the reservation
served thirteen months in Vietnam,
He was an infantryman in the 1st Marine Division.
He was wounded in action in the mountains near the
Roy Wahquahboshkuk served two tours of duty in
Roy was a tunnel rat during one of those tours of duty.
It take’s courage to go down a tunnel looking for the Vietcong.
Roy came back and was a drill sergeant in the states.
Henry Young, Vernon Shohn and Roy's brother George,
also served with combat units in Vietnam.
They had already proved their courage in the jungles
and the paddy fields of Vietnam.
People ask Native American Veterans:
"Why did you go and serve in Vietnam and fight for a
Country that stole your lands?"
They should answer "We went to defend our homeland
and protect our Nation…it was our duty."
My wish about going to Vietnam turned true real fast.
After only five and half months in the military,
I was leaving the Oakland Army base on a 727.
That plane made brief stops in Alaska and Japan.
After twenty two hours in the air…
The plane descends through the clouds
Cam Ranh Bay appeared down below.
That plane roared onto the airstrip in Cam Ranh Bay.
Cam Ranh Bay has one of the finest natural
harbors in the entire world;
A bay of deep blue-green waters,
surrounded by endless sand and mountains.
There were 500,000 Troops in Vietnam in 1969.
Only 50,000 were in the Infantry units out in the bush.
450,000 troops were in the rear areas in a supporting
The Creator gave out all the easy parts to the guys in the
The over-whelming heat welcomed me,
As I went into the hanger in my new jungle fatigues,
Vets were heading for their freedom bird and one said in
passing "It's all over but the crying."
We checked into the Cam Ranh Bay replacement center,
Greenbacks were a much sought after item
on the black market,
so we had to exchange our American money
for Military Payment Certificates (MPC).
After I was assigned a bunk in the transient barracks
I stood in the chow-line, hungry and suffering from jet-lag.
A slow day of details and formations followed…
Then my orders came down,
My orders said I was assigned to the 101st Airborne
way up in the north.
Some guys said we were assigned to the 100 and worst.
After boarding a C-130 troop carrier plane,
It took us from the heat of the south to the monsoon
season that was raging in the north.
That troop carrier plane landed in the dead of night
on the Phu Bai airstrip.
A truck took us to the Replacement center in Phu Bai.
All the troops assigned to infantry units were sent up
Highway One on an army truck,
To Camp Evans for Proficiency Training.
Highway One hugs the coast from Saigon to China
That truck took us through ancient Vietnamese villages,
It went through the old imperial city of Hue:
Once one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The little children there in Hue ran up to the truck,
Some had blue eyes;
others had hair that looked like the
hair on a buffalo,
The sins of the fathers were the sins of abandonment.
An old peasant farmer in a big cone hat was on the side
Of the road taking his water buffalo to toil in the rice
In the adjacent hillside the tombs of past Vietminh
could be seen… a reminder of the fate of us all.
An army truck took us through the gates of Camp
They assigned us a bunk in the transient hooch.
That is where I first met my friend Richard Trujillo.
Richard came over and said:
"What's your name and where are ya from?"
I said "I am from Kansas and my name is Larry Mitchell."
"I am from Phoenix, Arizona and the name is Richard
(Richard Trujillo would spend thirty years in the Army
and retire a First Sergeant.)
There were seven of us new guys that went through the
refresher training at Camp Evans;
The Camp Evan's training area was down in the
Jungle-covered mountains could be seen in the distant.
We received training on weapons we would use in
We learned some of the history of Vietnam,
We watched a demonstration of a sapper going through
wires without setting off any trip flares.
The only fun was when we repelled out of a helicopter,
Out in the boondocks, we never had to repel out of any
On that last day five of us were assigned to Delta
One black guy named Riley went to Alpha Company,
His company would be called hard luck Alpha:
We'd always hear stories about Alpha Company…
about all their firefights,
about their killed in action.
Riley survived his year in ‘nam…
That was saying a lot considering the company he was in.
Another black guy that took refresher training was
to Bravo Company and he made it through his year
Five of us new guys were assigned to Delta Company,
There were two country boys from Georgia,
You got the impression they grew up together;
One was named Kimsey and the other Kinsey
(Kimsey would die two years after leaving Vietnam…
talk about a tragedy.)
The other guy assigned to our company was a black
draftee named Taylor, he was from D.C.
Taylor was a great guy to know and he too was able to go
back to D.C.
When we were out in the bush Taylor would say:
"Today we are gonna hump for a big ass."
I was unable to figure out exactly what he meant by that.
Yea! The third squad was a regular melting pot.
That first night in Camp Evans
A rear echelon sergeant assigned me to guard duty.
It was in all night pouring rain my guard duty went
it was in a bunker with sandbags piled high.
In the monsoon rains that night…
For the first time the blues crept into my life and as
went by that depression never went away.
My depression was born in the monsoon season of
O the melancholia days and nights of the monsoon
In that bunker; in rain water that went up to our knees,
My new jungle boots stayed wet as I pulled guard duty.
Our peripheral vision saw sheets of rain turn horizontal,
I swore, the gooks wouldn't go out in those kinda of conditions.
But we had to do our duty:
We didn't want to be caught sleeping on the job.
Our four days of training came to an end in the rear,
All of us loaded up our rucksacks with our gear.
We went out to the helicopter pad and waited…
leaning back on our rucksacks,
Until the choppers came and flew us over the lowlands
out to the Mountains.
On our first day out in the bush,
we came under fire.
Richard and I both hit the ground when the firing
In that firefight the point man, whose name was Giles,
came upon two NVA soldiers walking down the trail…
Those NVA soldiers acted like they were out for a walk in
New York City on a sunny day in June…
They had their AK-47's slung over their shoulders;
Their careless ways would turn into a dirge song.
Our point man killed one NVA soldier,
The other one left a blood trail through the jungle.
We all walked past the dead NVA soldier's body,
He lay on the side of the trail; he was dressed all in
black…as the rain fell on his body.
Some infantry units in the nam would go through the
jungles making enough noise to wake the dead.
The officers made everyone in our company keep it down.
That probably saved more lives than we will ever know.
I had gone through the monsoon season in the Quang
Nothing can compare to the misery of sleeping in the
All night the rain would fall…
There was almost perpetuity to the rains.
I said to myself "This rain can't last forever."
My feet would get white from being wet all the
time: this was called emersion foot.
The leeches crawled on my arms,
They would fill up with my blood;
I'd have to burn them off with a cigarette,
Then the little bloodsuckers would fall off into the jungle.
Jungle rot appeared on my arms,
You get jungle rot from being wet all the time.
Those visible scars would stay upon my arms through
On the times we got mail on the re-supply helicopters,
Richard would let me read the letters from his girlfriend
back in the world: that was kinda cool.
He really loved his girlfriend.
One time a guy from our platoon went back to the rear
For the Bob Hope Christmas show at Phu Bai…
He came back and told everyone Bob Hope was really
He said when Bob Hope first came out…
He said "Back in the United States, the country is
behind you guys 50%."
Bob Hope will always be the one and only true American Icon.
I dwelled upon the time…
I was wounded that April 18, 1970,
We started to set up camp for the night,
When the NVA started to mortar us, they knew exactly
where we were situated
When the first mortar round hit the ground,
I dove towards the trees,
But it wasn't soon enough, because when the second
mortar round came in…
The shrapnel ended up in my back and arm.
I touched my back and my hand was full of blood.
My blood poured all over my jungle fatigues and my arm
The thought of losing my arm crossed my mind…
Thankfully that wasn't the case.
The medic in our company told our Company
Two of us needed to go back to the rear hospital,
So the CO called in a medivac helicopter,
The medivac helicopter came out to get me and the other guy
That had been wounded in the same attack,
The pilots on that medivac couldn't land the helicopter
because of the triple-canopy jungle.
So they put a jungle penetrater down through the trees,
Once on it, the NVA opened up upon the medivac
That helicopter dragged us through the treetops,
AK-47's bullets were flying right by us…
I never held a guy so hard before,
‘cos down below us was a deep valley in the jungle,
It would have been all over if those Ak-47 bullets had taken down
When the medivac helicopter got some distance from
there…the door gunners pulled us in.
We made it back to the rear hospital,
There were bullet holes in the side of the helicopter.
A medic escorted us into a bunker near the
and a field doctor took out the shrapnel…
He said you are lucky…I agreed with the Doc…
I was in the rear for three days or so to recover.
Once the doctor took out the shrapnel in my left
back…I was almost good as new.
During the past seven months in the 'nam,
There was a lot of racial conflict in the rear areas
between whites and blacks.
The black guys walked around in large groups…
They met other blacks and did the black power
White officers lurking around with nothing to do,
would get angry at those kinda scenes…
Those blacks got disciplined for petty shit like that.
It's said that when the Martin Luther King Jr.
There were crosses burning in Cam Ranh Bay and
Confederate flags were flying in Da Nang.
Some hootches in Camp Eagle were all black,
whites were unwelcome there;
Then two or three hootches down from there was an all
White hooch with confederate flags hanging on the walls.
It was a self-imposed segregation much like in a prison…
Blacks hang around with blacks,
Whites hang around with whites,
And I hung around with the Mexican guys.
In some infantry units the blacks refused to go out
to the bush.
The white officers sometimes had to look the other way,
Sometimes they had to let things slide…
They couldn't send everyone to the LBJ ranch near
That is the Long Binh Jail (the stockade).
There was fragging, beatings, and other confrontations
going on between blacks and whites.
It got worse as the war dragged on;
I came to the conclusion that… it was safer out in the
Out in the boonies…it was the same mud, the same blood.
I was on a work detail when I was recovering,
I was getting on this truck and in the back
an Indian guy was sitting there…
The guy looked like a Potawatomi.
"When I first saw you getting on the truck,
I thought you looked like a Potawatomi."
He said "My name is Allen Hale and I am from
Topeka, Kansas."…talk about a small world!
I had been in country only four months,
I had been wounded in action and nearly killed.
They sent me back out to the boonies and I was
humping…like nothing even happened.
The Quang Tri Province is near the DMZ;
The demilitarized zone is a no mans land,
Where the ghosts of NVA soldiers remain
forever to haunt the land,
and the flowers of heaven
grow upon the ground.
My rifle company got into firefights every now and then.
Once the platoon ahead of us came under fire,
They took some casualties and we were sent up there to
When we got there the firefight was over,
Firefights in the ‘nam never lasted long,
But in that short amount of time…
The NVA had killed four of our people.
My platoon sergeant told me to take one of the bodies
The hill to be evacuated,
As I came upon the body, it turned out to be an Indian
guy from the second platoon,
His name was Jay Muncey,
he was from out Nevada way.
I carried him on my back down the hill
to the helicopter landing area.
They loaded his body on the medivac helicopter,
I thought of Muncey's family and how they would take
There would be profound grief in his family;
We want our children to bury us, not the other way
The night fell on the jungle.
I had made a mistake months earlier
of re-enlisting for three years…
Gung Ho or just plain crazy…you take your pick...
I was home-sick, under a cloud of depression,
for the rez.
It was a mistake that would always haunt me.
There was no good reason for reenlisting in the army;
I didn't have any plans on staying in the army.
That time, an army truck took me to the airport down to Da Nang,
While waiting in that God forsaken airport,
I went into the restroom and while using the
bathroom… my eyes traveled up the wall…
Graffiti consumed the whole wall…
The GI's that passed through that restroom had quite the
There was one saying that stood out
“Fighting for Peace, is like Fucking for Virginity.”
that was so true.
I left the war-zone from Da Nang… for thirty days of
A reenlistment bonus burned a hole in my pocket.
A whole suitcase of 'nam weed could have been taken
Just think how popular I could have been with the rez
I bought a car, a car my brother Eddie totaled on my
return to the nam,
We partied till it was my time to go back to Vietnam.
Upon my return to the boonies
the monsoon season was over,
The hot season had come to the north.
The skies were full of gun ships and helicopters,
Our search and destroy missions picked up.
I caught a re-supply helicopter out to Firebase Bastogne…
That was the firebase closest to my unit out in the
I waited for another helicopter to take me out to
my company out in the bush.
While on that firebase we got mortared,
It was dangerous on those firebases in the Northern I Corp area,
The NVA could zero in upon the firebase's position and
their mortars thump.
I caught the next helicopter out to my unit,
At least out in the bush you can move around and not be
one position all the time.
That is till we got to Hill 805.
My friend, Richard Trujillo was like a brother to me.
During the few times we were in the rear for stand-
We would walk in between the hootches and we would
From other infantry units and they always talked
Richard would say "He's an Indio."
And they would say "O He looks like a Chicano!"
I drank with Richard at the enlisted men's club till
The enlisted men's club was just another hooch,
Except it had a bar in it
With tables and stools at the bar.
The jukebox would play tunes like "Proud Mary."
and "The Tracks of my Tears."
It was a bar that looked like any dive you might find in
on the plains of Kansas.
That bar would be off-limits during the day,
Then around five it would slowly start to fill up,
It would stay open till about one in the morning.
Beers in the EM would cost fifteen cents,
A pack of cigarettes cost the same.
At a table with our buddies,
We would laugh all through the night.
We'd never once think about dying or the harsh
out in the boonies.
I wrote letters to my mom during my tour of duty in
The letters to my mother are not the descriptive
masterpieces you will find in books on war…
They were just letters telling my mom how much
I loved her and how much I missed her.
On this night …ten thousand miles for home.
I hoped like hell I would see my family again.
The guys in our platoon kept saying
They had a bad feeling…
About the hill we were on,
Maybe there was something to those feelings.
Up to this time, our rifle battalion was always on search
and destroys missions,
We always hunted the NVA,
and now they were hunting us.
Our company was up on hill 805;
Our company was bait for the NVA.
The upper command of the 101st think
That if a few thousand NVA attack us in one area…
They could be more easily destroyed.
That kinda of thinking was a real shame…
and was kinda shocking to know we were so expendable.
They said we were sent to hill 805 to support Firebase
The first night on hill 805, no one thought of going to
Fear had a contagious hold over this hill…
Like the clouds hanging on the top of the mountains,
we humped up and down.
The NVA attacked us about midnight…
It seemed like all hell broke loose.
The NVA sent a barrage of RPG's at us… huge explosions
hit everywhere it seemed…
Maybe our side of the hill saved all the lives in our
Because it went down a sheer cliff,
That huge rock would have been hard to come up.
None of us were able to think about sleep or of hunger.
This was the first serious all-night fighting most of us
The NVA sent fear throughout our unit.
My squad was on the north side of hill 805;
We were under attack all that night.
Cobra gun-ships came in the night sky and put down
constant fire on the NVA,
The red tracers were like a long death beam from the
They would make their dives, unloading their rockets first
Then they would circle around and dive again using their
They would do this till they ran out of ammunition.
One of the things that stood out about nam was the
impressive courage of the helicopter pilots.
All those pilots deserved the Silver Star or something for
When daybreak came,
There was no changing of the guards,
No quitting time for the graveyard shift,
It was business as usual.
The medivac helicopters came in and took out the
During the night we didn't suffer any killed in action.
Our platoon spent the day,
trying to get an hour or two of sleep.
Our squad dug our foxholes deeper,
We put concertina wire around the hill,
Set out more claymore mines,
And for sure we cleaned our weapons.
We all knew the NVA would attack us when night fell
Our platoon sergeant ordered some of us to go down the
of the hill on patrol and look for dead bodies,
All we found were blood trails going into the jungle.
The NVA liked to drag their dead away,
Just so they could demoralize us with no body counts.
It was demoralizing to know we killed a few of them,
But there were no bodies on the ground to count.
The night came again,
The winds were howling and it grew cold.
NVA sappers crawled up the side of the hill and got
within striking distance of us.
Sapper units were attached to the NVA infantry units
They are specially trained for weeks,
A sapper could go through just about any kind of wire
go around any kind of obstacle.
When we had refresher training at Camp Evans,
We saw how good that one sapper was about getting
through the wires.
But this time around… one of them set off a trip wire.
Hill 805 exploded with incoming and out-going fire.
We set off our claymore mines,
One of the sappers got behind a rock;
He killed five Americans before someone finally got him.
One of those killed in action was this kid from Chicago;
He had married a Thai Girl when he was on R&R,
After that I think it’s bad luck to go over to Thailand
looking for a wife.
I got caught up in all the superstitions of the 'nam.
Take for example; when we lit up a cigarette
We would never take the third light…
that was bad luck.
On the second night the firefights went on till about
By that time my M-16 has grown red hot in my hands.
We don't know why they stopped attacking us.
It was like catching your breath.
Over the jungle, the South China Sea could be seen,
Countless stars are in the night sky,
It seems almost peaceful… Vietnam has so much beauty
and all these people know is war.
There was one time we went through a village…
Some of the Vietnamese people came up to us and they
would say "Boom Boom GI?"
We'd say "No way Mama san."
We had heard all the stories of those Vietnamese ladies of
Having razor blades up you know where and we'd said no
One villager said to me "Same, Same."
Maybe there was a lot of veracity in those two words,
The Vietnamese fought for their country and their way of
life against overwhelming odds.
Going through my basic training out in the boondocks
at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri,
And my advanced infantry training in Fort Gordon
All I heard from the Drill sergeants was what the gooks
would do to us when we got to Vietnam…
The Drill sergeants said "Fight the Communists over in
'nam or fight them on the streets of Topeka."
Stop the spread of communism!
I swear I thought the United States was in Vietnam,
Because we were there defending that Coca Cola plant in
It was four and half months of constantly dehumanizing
Vietnamese people…calling them gooks all the time.
That was a way of making killing easy when you got to
As dawn breaks over the jungle and we look around…
We see guys from other platoons sitting down with that
old timeless thousand yard stare…
The stare that was in every war since the beginning of time.
My eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and from all
dust that sweeps over hill 805.
The third day the resupply helicopters came in,
We get enough ammunition to get us through the night.
The third day was like the day before;
Some of us were sent down the side of the hill to check
if any bodies were lying around.
Four NVA soldiers are left out upon the killing ground…
Their comrades didn't have the time to drag them away.
One body was bigger than the rest and someone said that
he was a Chinese soldier,
I don't know if that was true or not.
I hated to go out on those patrols;
It was like we were sitting ducks or something.
They didn't hit us in the daytime…
They waited till the night came.
We took turns trying to sleep for a couple of hours;
It was hard to sleep because of the heat.
It was in July and the summer is the hottest time in
summer temperatures always hover over 100 degrees.
This heat kicks us all over when we have to hump up
I played football for three straight years in high school
So I was in half-decent shape.
The third night the attack started in the middle of the
and again it is a sapper that trips a wire.
Our unit sends down a rain of bullets and grenades upon
The sappers that were in the wire.
Our fire didn't let up all night long.
The cobra gun ships give us support throughout the
An NVA squad was shooting a 51 caliber machine gun at
from a nearby ridge…
That is until the Cobra gun ships zeroed in on it,
51 caliber bullets are the length of a finger…
So it was a good thing for us that machine gun was
One guy in the second platoon got badly wounded
A medivac helicopter was sent for;
The medivac helicopter started to go around in circles
for awhile, because of the high winds…
When the winds died down a little,
Two of our medics put the wounded soldier
Upon a basket the chopper sent down,
The NVA opened up on the helicopter and killed the guy.
That is after the medics did everything they could to keep
One medic was giving him CPR and was getting nothing
a mouth full of blood.
About three that night the firefights stopped and
the silence of the grave comes over the hill.
It stayed that way till about four and then the NVA
up again on Hill 805.
That second firefight didn't last that long
It was good things…all of us were low on ammunition.
They say the NVA could have over run us that night.
That thought sent a chill down all of us.
The next day they sent out a patrol
The patrol finds the dead sapper that had killed five
They said his body was bloating up, out in the sun.
The dead sapper had his arm lying next to his body;
A grenade went off
As he was trying to throw it back at us.
A lingering smell of decomposing flesh stayed in the air.
The supply helicopters came in with more
ammunition which we badly needed,
The NVA watched from the jungle,
They saw our causalities being medevacked out.
The fourth and fifth nights were a repeat of the
other nights: all nights of fighting.
After the fifth night of fighting the orders,
came down from the higher ups to leave Hill 805.
Staff Sergeant Dotson, who was on his second tour of
Told me to go with this other squad as we left the hill;
Meanwhile my squad went down ahead of us.
It was during a break when a Kit Carson scout;
(A NVA solider that defected to our side.)
Pulled a grenade out and killed himself and killed two of
One of them was Wilfred Warner, who had walked point
with me: we had taken turns walking point.
I was supposed to be by his side,
But fate decided it wasn't my time to go.
The squad I was in walked past Warner lying there
I could not even recognize him; his body was so blown
They said he died on the way back to the rear,
But I don't think that was the case.
No one knew why that Kit Carson scout killed himself;
Some said he was afraid that we all were going to get
overrun by the NVA…
He was afraid of what the NVA was going to do to him.
Someone else said that Warner was giving the Kit Carson
scout a hard time,
The scout was falling back and Warner told him if he
stay up with us; He was going to leave him for the
Warner was only nineteen years old,
When his life was cut short,
I thought of him as a friend…
I'd say to him "Come on Warner let’s go drink."
We got drunk a handful of times at the enlisted
men's club in the rear…
Richard and I would sit around the table drinking with
We would be laughing all evening long.
I always wished I could have gone and met his family,
You know tell them I served with
their son in Vietnam
And he was my friend.
That scene upon a desolate hillside in Southeast Asia…
would always haunt me in my nightmares.
The guilt was always there hanging like a dark cloud…
Maybe I could have prevented Warner's death.
My company went back to the rear for a stand down.
I walked past the first sergeant, he didn't say anything.
The officers in our company were put in for the Silver
for their actions and for their risks on hill 805.
The risks the rest of us took didn't mean anything at all,
Our company had eleven Americans killed in action,
And fifty-six were wounded
On and around hill 805.
Hill 805 was like a metaphor for the whole Vietnam
We fought for territory, we lost our people left and
right and then we leave… It was all for nothing.
After a couple of days in the rear,
The division sent us to China Beach
by the South China Sea,
The 101st called it Eagle beach, for a stand down.
Those ole generals and colonels thought we deserved a
Our company would be at Eagle beach for four days.
We went to the enlisted men's club on the beach and
drank till closing time to try and forget the past week.
That is where we heard the rumors of Firebase Ripcord;
They said it had gotten overran by the NVA.
They were saying the NVA the next morning were drying
their laundry on the firebase,
As the B-52s dropped their bombs.
That is what we heard over beers we were drinking…
The day was spent laying on the beach and
swimming in the South China Sea.
The sea water healed all the jungle rot we had on us.
A pale moon rises above the sea…
black clouds pass in front of it,
Down the beach Little Miss Vietnamese whore is
charging twenty dollars a pop.
VD it's a risk a GI takes as they go down that beach
down past the dunes.
One night a movie is showing in an outdoor theater;
It is Truman Capote’s "In Cold Blood."
It's about the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas.
And someone says "Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!"
We didn't take the time to watch the movie.
I was on my way to the EM club with Richard,
where we drank till closing time again.
All good things must come to an end.
We had to go back to the bush and go on search and
destroy missions again in the mountains.
Some guys in our platoon called these search and destroy
missions: search and avoid missions.
Life in the bush was a harsh existence…
Our company was always transported by helicopters;
Sometimes we went into hot landing zones,
We would come under attack by the NVA.
These were called combat assaults.
I must have seen about forty or fifty combat assaults,
For every twenty or so you are supposed to get an air
During one combat assault Richard got wounded in a
He caught a bullet in the leg and was taken back to the
Richard said later he was at the field hospital in Phu Bai;
He said there were GI's at that hospital
That had arms and legs blown off…
Others laid there with bloody bandages over their faces.
After about six days Richard was back out in the
Apparently that bullet didn't go that far into his leg.
If they didn't need bodies so badly out in the field,
Maybe he could have stayed in the rear a little longer.
In my year in the Nam,
I earned the Combat Infantry Badge,
The Purple Heart, the Vietnam Service Medal,
The Vietnam Campaign Medal…
The Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal,
and back in the states…
I had the National Defense Medal bestowed upon me.
All those medals go with the territory.
There was a time in my early months in nam
The thought of extending for six months was there.
But as time went by… there was too much death…
There was too much dying around me.
Vietnam was too dangerous to stay.
I didn't want to go home in a body bag, and be put six
under the ground,
I didn't want an American flag put upon my coffin just
The oppressive heat and humidity was suffocating…
When we had to hump up the mountains with all the
we had on…
That gear weighted between sixty to eighty pounds.
It was torture when we had to cut a trail in front of us…
You could walk right into an ambush,
The worst thing was coming under attack at any
We had to take salt tablets and Malaria tablets daily.
After a long day of humping the boonies…
We would set up camp for the night…after guard duty
We hoped for at least six hours of sleep.
Leading men into battle…walking point
Is something some of us had to do at some point in our
tour of duty.
I was put on point for about four or five months.
During that time I almost drowned,
It was during the monsoon season.
That incident happened while walking slack for, Warner, the point-
I followed Warner step for step across the river,
The river pulled me under, and my gear
and I went to the bottom like a rock.
The water line was a light from near the bottom.
My eighty pounds of gear wouldn't come off.
I came up once and was gasping for air and then went
back down again… It seemed like forever,
before I was able to rip off my gear.
My M-16 was lost in the fast moving river.
On the shore while gasping for air
I felt like nobody did anything to help me.
That is what always stayed in my memory.
After six months into my tour of duty in nam…
They threw someone else up there.
During my time of walking point… I was fortunate
not to have met any NVA soldiers on the trails.
Or tripped any booby traps
Or stepped on any pungee sticks…
On those many trails of death that wound through the jungles.
Some Americans were not so lucky when they walked
The food we ate in the boonies was mostly C rations;
I never minded eating that stuff,
Albeit the boonierat diet did get kind of old after
On occasion we got to eat some hot food they brought
out to us on helicopters.
On those times they also brought us clean uniforms.
We'd go days and days without taking a bath.
That must have attracted all the mosquitoes that buzzed
around us all the time.
Many of those nights… I longed for a bed to sleep in;
and dreams came to me about home.
Back in the world, my brother Gary had gotten married
to a gal on our reservation.
They had two daughters, the younger girl they called
She was named after our friend Martin Jim.
Martin went to Vietnam and after only eight days in
He was killed in action…
His name is on a black granite wall in D.C.
Martin thought so much of my brother Gary,
That he named Gary his Beneficiary on his army life
Gary gave the $15,000 from the Army… to Martin’s
After about a month in the bush after the stand down,
My orders came down for R&R in Bangkok…
Richard's orders came down the same time
So we went down to Da Nang to catch a plane to
Once we landed in the Bangkok airport, we went to an
Orientation center for a briefing
We made a selection of a hotel, and then they put us
bus to our hotel in downtown Bangkok.
In Bangkok there was a soft bed to sleep on…
Cheeseburgers… bars with a woman at every table,
Soldiers crying in their beer, smoke got in your eyes,
Thai weed is for the taking and smoking.
It was really nice to sleep in a bed again,
and have a pillow and sheets.
I spent six nights and seven days there…
I was like a drunken sailor,
I threw away $650.00 in those days and nights.
I woke up one of those mornings and went down to eat in
the hotel café.
I ordered this one breakfast, it was two fried eggs on rice,
That breakfast was as good as they come.
The hotel switchboard managed to get me through to
I was able to talk to my mom for a few minutes,
I called her collect.
All through my life, I always got comfort from my mom.
This time I needed comfort and strength…
Because I didn't want to go back to Vietnam,
That place was full of death and dangerous as hell.
It was tough going back to Vietnam,
The plane left the Bangkok airport and flew us back to
Once back in nam…I found myself short sixty days.
When someone gets close to their Deros,
That is the…Date of Expected Return from Overseas.
They were short-timers and people said I'm short…
Five days and then I am going back to the world.
We went back to the bush and suffered with everyone
Each passing day was one less day in the nam.
I didn't have to walk point anymore…
I was walking near the back of the squad.
I must have had about a week and half to go, when our
company came to the rear for a stand-down.
Richard and I of course went out drinking at the EM
I get so drunk that night…
I wanted to fight Richard…
While there were no blows exchanged,
My friend never talked to me again…
Of all the mistakes in my life, this is the worst one I made.
I felt bad about this all through my life.
perhaps in a way I could not say goodbye to Richard.
My orders came down and I was assigned to Germany.
I was holding those orders in my hands and a bad
premonition comes over me,
That bad feeling passed after a few moments.
But those orders really bummed me out.
Stateside duty was never in the cards for me.
I am standing there in Bien Hoa, with the guys I came
country with… we had all made it.
O November of 1970 came rolling around
And my tour of duty was over in the 'nam,
Where the Americans won all the battles
But still lost the war…
I had survived when so many others hadn't
But it would carry a heavy price with it,
I would carry invisible wounds
That would always haunt me throughout my life.
On the bus ride to our freedom bird,
An Indian guy in front of the bus yells out the window
"Short." to some passing GI's,
I laughed. I thought that was kinda funny.
I boarded my freedom bird and flew through the sky,
The troops before us went through the processing line.
Some guy behind the counter would look at the orders
The guy was holding in his hand…
He would see that the NamVet had a Purple Heart
He then would toss the Purple Heart upon the desk;
He wouldn't even bother to hand it to the guy.
When I went through there… they ran out of medals.
I didn't know it then,
But I carried Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with me
As I stepped off that freedom bird in Seattle…
PTSD would be some heavy luggage to carry around.
There was no anti-war demonstrators in the
At home there was no welcome parade for me on Main
There was no healing ceremony waiting for me out on the
No one said thank you
For your sacrifices and for serving in Vietnam.
There was no congratulation’s, no celebrations,
No admiration or adoration from our nation…
Gratitude would elude my generation that served in
There would be a lot of condemnation,
A lot of discrimination, a lot of victimization,
On the great Turtle Island
For the warriors that fought for their country.