The Mad Frag
We were choppered into an area that soon came to be known as Mortar Valley. The very first night we were there around dusk, Dogget and myself were just finishing the setup of trip flares and claymores when we heard the familiar “thump, thump” sound that only mortars put out. We started running and shouting “INCOMING”. Luck was on our side as we took no casualties. Unbeknown to me that night, the shit hit the proverbial fan. The night fell and all seemed quiet as I wandered in and out of those alert dozes when suddenly a flare blazed up and ignited the sky. What we saw below us was a flurry of VC or NVA advancing on our location with heavy arms. Explosions that seemed to appear out of thin air began to rock their position and they began to withdraw in the confusion. It was as if the clouds rained bombs rather than rain. I realized that it was one of ours throwing grenades as if he was a man possessed.
It was Torres raining that thunder of grenades. We had learned to throw the grenades as opposed to using gun-fire to avoid giving away our position. We lived to fight another day and it was only proper that Torres from then on be known as “MadFrag” Torres. After a few days in that position, we moved out. I should say up. We ascended hill “1382” which in actuality was more of a mountain. This mountain contained the NVA, our target. As time went by on this cloud-shrouded mountain, we made many friends including ticks the size of grapes; leaches the size of your thumb, flying monkeys; and bugs that I have never seen before and hopefully never will again.
We located caches of food and weapons. After a week or so, we started our trek down the mountain and right back into mortar valley. Needless to say that I was not happy about this and what it may bring. My feelings weren’t for not. Before we could secure our position, we were hit from the north, east, and west of our camp. The NVA were walking those mortars into us. They got as close as 30 to 50 meters and as quick as it began, it suddenly ceased. Either they were out of range or they ran out of ammo. I will never know for sure, but I am thankful it did end because we had no defense.
Sunflower Seeds and the Mother-in-Law
Mother-in-Laws, you either love’m or hate’m, right, well I happen to love mine. She always had a smile on her face, always glad to see you and would never say a disparaging word about anyone. She loved animals, especially her dogs and cats pets. She once told me that animals were put here to be loved, and to give love. With that said, I will begin my little tale……………
I grew up in So. California near Huntington “Surf City” Beach. I loved the beach and I became an avid surfer. Spending untold hours in the water waiting for the perfect wave can be quite boring. To pass the time in between sets I would pack my cheeks, like a chipmunk would with nut’s, only mine were filled with sunflower seeds. I became well adapt at cracking and eating them without the use of my hands. They actually became my favorite food group. It seemed that I always had a mouthful. Spitting the empty shells everywhere. In school from home room, to gym class, to watching TV. and going to the movies. They were always with me. As you can tell, I do enjoy the little morsels. Now too the heart of the subject……Like some of you, I spent some time in “The Pearl of South East Asia” ( Vietnam ) with the 173rd Airborne. And like anyone, being so far away from home, missing grandmothers apple pie and my own bed, I had a craving for, naturally, for sunflower seeds!!!! You all remember the “Goodie Box”!!! That package arriving from “The World” with all the little treats. No mater who received one, we all shared. It was a little piece of home in a box. So one day I sat down and wrote my wife, Margie, and told her of my wishes. Please send me some packages of Kool-Aid, a couple bottles of Tabasco Sauce, candy bars, and of course, a few bags of “David and Sons” sunflower seeds. Can you see where this is going??? Margie, being the good woman she is, responded to my request without hesitation. With the help of her mother, they went to work putting together all the little goodies that I asked for. They threw in everything but the kitchen sink, Milk-Duds, Snickers, Kool-Aid, home made cookies etc. As Margie was adding the main addition to my “Goodie Box”, “David and Sons” Sunflower Seeds, my Mother-in-Law stopped her and said “what are you doing!!!?? You can’t send those things to Johnny, (she always called me Johnny). Margie replied, “why, he loves eating them” My Mother-in-Law promptly answered with a straight face and said “He will leave a trail and those bad guys will follow the empty shells to his camp!! ” You just got to love her, and I do…..
The platoon had been moving slowly down the blue line all morning. The PFC felt alert and strong, the rucksack was no longer so much a burden as a part of him. He intently scanned the far bank of the small mountain stream to his left. He had learned long ago not to day dream, but he could not help being amazed at the absence of trout. He had bathed, shaved and drank from these cold, clear, bubbling creeks for month’s now. He had turned over rocks and noticed the abundant insect larvae, seen the chubs and shiners, but never a single trout.
The column came to a silent halt, two meter spacing maintained. The troop in front of the PFC turned to his right and whispered to take a break while the point team checked out an intersecting trail. He turned to his left, passed the message back, looked sharply at a spot beside the trail and swung his ruck quietly down on that spot, sat on the sack, pulled out a can of peaches he had been saving and opened it without ever looking away from the far creek bank. The Platoon Sergeant moved up from his position near the rear of the column and whispered that he wanted to check out the other side of the creek and that the PFC would come with him. The PFC drank off the peach juice and followed the sergeant across the stream and up the bank. A few more steps and they found themselves in a Viet Cong base camp that appeared abandoned for about a week. The jungle ground vegetation was still trampled flat, twisted vines that had been used as hammock ties still attached to the trees. The PFC stood watch in the center of the camp as the sergeant explored the area.
When the sergeant found the kitchen area with it’s clever underground chimneys to absorb and dissipate the cooking smoke, the PFC entered a small brushy area that had not been cleared. There was a little curved path into the brushy area. Watching for trip wires and dug up spots he took a few steps. He noticed the whitened stake and the hard stare of deep set eyes at the same moment. He jolted backwards tripping on vines as his right thumb jabbed for, and missed, the M-16 safety, pulling uselessly on the trigger as the muzzle swept up the stake to the white unmoving face. The jungle brush stopped his fall and pushed him back upright. He looked into the cold stare of death, close enough to reach out and touch.
He stood a moment to calm his breathing, almost enjoying, this time, the heartbeat hammering in his ears. The skin of the head on a stake had pulled back from the face, giving the skull a grinning expression as if it were laughing at the PFC’s sudden fright. Could it be a POW, an MIA? The delicate cheekbones, small brow ridges, and short straight black hair clearly indicated it was an Oriental. There was a small pile of black cloth at the base of the stake, perhaps there would be dog tags or even a wallet. He tugged gently at the cloth and was startled again when two huge iridescent beetles ran out. They scampered across the leaf litter, their carapaces flashing crimson and lime and blue in the sunbeams. The PFC went back to the sergeant who was still happily exploring the kitchen area. Speaking aloud he said Sarge, we got to get back, they will be moving out soon. This time the PFC led the way. He sat back on his rucksack , finished the peaches, and lit a damp, bent Marlboro. As he smoked his gaze wandered from the bank to the dancing water. Looking through the water to the clean gravel bed, he dreamt of Brook Trout flashing in the sunbeams.
Just Another Day On OP
One day, ( when I was a young buck and new In Country ) my company was humping into and through the bush, somewhere in the central highlands. When an air strike was called in by another unit close to us. Our C.O. radioed to tell me ( I was running a point team at the time ) to immediately stop what we were doing and put out some OPs, and then stand ready to intercept. So, me and another guy were put on OP (observation post).
It was a hot day, ( as I learned there would be many more ). Where we were, the landscape was thick with elephant grass and bamboo. There was no one going to come through with out making enough noise to wake the dead, so we both thought.
We must have been there for hours in the sun, just the two of us, talking some, back and forth. Between the two of us, knowing nothing was going to be able to make it through that thick bamboo without us hearing, or so we thought.
But then, we heard it, a noise fairly quiet, but a distinct enough sounded, like one person, may be two. Then it became a little louder and harder. We had no radio, hell, everyone knew no one could come through our position. But this noise, it grew steadily louder and louder. We are about to shit our pants wondering how many “baddies” were coming our way.
Afraid to move, we laid back on our rucksacks. The noise now was almost like a party was going on without music or voices only the sound of people running or the sound of horses at a race track coming right at us. Rifles ready, and on full auto, ready to light them up when, here they came, thousand’s of them, maybe a million’s of these long legged spiders, fleeing the napalm strike about a klick away. Like a huge blanket, they came over us. There one minute, gone the next, like they were never there. Yep over run by daddy long legged spiders, made enough noise for us both to think our time had come.
My Recon Platoon was immediately west of the Tuy Hoa rice bowl, in the foothill mountains. We had to cross a saddle ridge from one hilltop to another about a half a half mile away, traveling south. The saddle was about 3 feet wide with a trail worn into the middle. On both sides of the saddle was an extremely steep drop off, where a troop would roll a quarter mile before being stopped in a rocky bottom. To our left, east, we could see all the way to the South China Sea.
There was a steady 60 mph wind coming from off the ocean, whipping up a major sandstorm that obscured Tuy Hoa City and our Battalion base camp. We laughed that the REMF’s were caught in a sandstorm, in Vietnam of all places.
As the wind reached the saddle it was funneled upward and accelerated to about 90 mph. As we took a break and contemplated the crossing it became not so funny, looking like we would be blown right off the narrow ridge. The Point and his Slack man started down cautiously, at first looking like they were going to drop to their hands and knees and crawl across. But then they
gained confidence and leaned way left, into the wind. As they reached the bottom of the saddle they broke into a long stride lope. As they started up the other side of the saddle they began to run as fast as if they had no load. I was utterly perplexed at how this was possible.
When it got to be my turn the answer soon became clear. The wind began to lift the weight of the ruck and by the time I got to the bottom and started back up the ruck started to act like a sail, it was necessary only to lean into it far enough so each foot would land squarely on the trail, and let the wind do all thework, exhilarating!
Flying high into Vietnam in a Continental 707, wondering vaguely why no fighter escort, wondering how anyplace can be so brilliantly green, noticing at first that you can see no sign of war. Descending to 5,000 feet, and seeing a pillar of smoke rising as high as the plane, then, having seen the one pillar, seeing that there is a dozen of them, thinking “oh-oh”. At maybe 3,000 feet seeing the rice paddies and the little villages all tightly packed in a defensive posture. Then the fish ponds became apparent, hundreds upon thousands of perfectly round fish ponds, some all alone, others in lines and sprays, some blue, many brown, a few milky colored.
The Buck Sergeant sitting next to me was returning for a second tour and did not seem pleased by that, taciturn and silent he was. As we descended he began to wake and swear softly to himself. I said, hey Sarge, “how come they got so many fish ponds all over the place”? He said “what the hell you jabbering about now”?
He leans over me, takes a quick look, sits back and says, “bomb craters”, he did not even bother to add “DF Cherry”. Then I could see it properly, that the “fish ponds” in their streaks and sprays encroached upon the neatly contoured paddy dikes and the villages.
The Goodie Box
Okay, we all know some officers aren’t all there, but mine was family ( my father ) that messed me over somewhat. Now, as for most of us, when we got a letter asking us if we needed anything. We hoped that a package of “KOOL-AID” was in it, you know, to take away the nasty water taste.
So, once when I wrote my dad, (he was a officer still in reserves and Lt. Colonel ) I asked him to please send a package of “KOOL-AID” in his next letter. In his next letter, he asked my “WHY” when he wrote back . Why else, the water tasted worst than sewer water and we had to use an assortment of pills for Malaria and what not. So once again wrote back telling him so. So like John “JD” Schellers’ story, when we were in an area where we could receive mail, here came what I thought was a package that I figured had the “Kool-Aid” in it that I could share with everyone. But no, the officer that my father is, reared it’s ugly head. You see, my father wasn’t content sending me one or two packages of “Kool-Aid”, he had to send just a bit more, so he wouldn’t have to do it again. Yep, that’s my dad. The “Goodie Box” contained enough “Kool-Aid” for the whole damn brigade, it was a case. Can you imagine humping that up and down the central highland mountains and through the bush. I guess he thought that would make me happy, little did he know, that stuff weighted. The good thing is, it had a great assortment of flavors.
The bad thing was, it was “UNSWEETENED”. Where in gods name were we going to find enough sugar for this stuff. May be we could hump a 55 gal. drum of sugar with us. So, all I could do was open it and throw it away, being the good soldier not to leave to “bad guys” and being the good son, I never told my dad how he gave of us a good laugh. I always thought, how funny it was, thinking it was a goodie box and it was nothing more than a case of unsweetened KOOL-AID………..
I was third back from the point team. The trail went thru a small clearing just ahead. We paused while point snuck to the edge of the clearing. Immediately he fired a controlled burst of 3 or 4, followed by a spray till the mag was empty.
I moved to the right edge of the trail so I could see what was going on, and have room to fire. A huge black bird was flying out of the clearing. I could see just the right wing and it seemed about six feet long. It reminded me of the time I was walking in the woods and spooked a Great Horned Owl, thinking, how could such a huge bird find room to fly thru thick woods.
We moved up and secured the clearing. The point man was still in the same spot, but sitting down. He had the expression of a five year old trying to be a big boy and not cry. He was saying, It was a VC standing right in the middle of the clearing and I got him for sure. I said, it wasn’t a VC, it was a huge black bird, I saw it. Then he did start sobbing, saying it was a VC, that he saw the bullets impact on his shirt, but then he turned into a huge black bird and flew away.
First and Last
I was still E-4 then, so listen up to a true story of a grunt in Nam okay. I don’t remember who I was hooked up with that night in Nam, but buddied up with this guy, so we hooked our ponchos together for a little extra shelter. Our guard duty shift’s were over and we were in the rear type area, you know, firebase something, something. He had some “Smoke,” anyways being good Airborne Troops and not wanting to waste anything in Nam, we smoked it. But if you’ve never partaken of “Nam Smoke” then this might not make sense to anyone who reads this.
Now, it was night time and after partaking of this “smoke” we got the munchies, and not being in the States, no markets for that old “Ding Dong” rush, so we did the next best thing and opened up some of our C – rations and scarfed down some good “old” crackers and peanut butter with jam. Then having filled up our little tummy’s, we went to sleep like babies. After a while, I remember waking up and my “tent partner,” who was also awake because we were covered in ants, all over us, we jumped up, beating ourselves to get those ants off of us. They were eating the crumbs, must have finished those, because they were now eating on us. Had to strip our clothes off because by this time, we were covered with the little critter’s. Then, without making any noise had to move our “hooch” to an area the ants weren’t in.
If anyone heard us, well, they never said anything. but man eat up good by those ant’s. So moral is if you did “Smoke” in the Nam, hopefully you never did it like I did. I never “smoked” in my “house” over there again. Thing was, both of us got bit so bad, never wanted to deal with those ant’s again. This is an honest to goodness grunt tale. “Lewis Bremer”
For at least a month after “TET” we couldn’t find an enemy troop anywhere, not a recently abandoned base camp, not a Ho Chi Minh sandal footprint, not even a booby trap. We spent much of a week climbing one mountain range, sliding back down the other side, only to start climbing the next one. As we neared the top of one mountain the huge trees began to thin out and we felt a cool breeze of fresh air.
Another hundred meters and we broke out into a high plateau, an honest to goodness tall grass prairie. There was sunshine and butterflies and songbirds. I wish I had had the wit to turn to the troop behind me and say “Toto, I think we are back in Kansas now”. We moved well out into the prairie to where some rock outcrops afforded us a commanding view for miles around. We sent out patrols for a kilometer in each direction. They could find no sign of enemy activity, no indication that there had ever even been a human being there before.
The next day we got a re supply, new ordinance, clean fatigues, new boots, hot chow, mail with CARE packages, enough water to scrub down, and a backlog of cold beer. That evening we kicked back and watched a fine sunset. My Squad Leader, Cliff the Mormon, looked around, laughed and said “I would bring my Grandmother for a picnic out here”.
A real kiss goodnight, Vietnam style
Hey brothers glad to see you home. My name is is Gary-Sergeant Rice 173rd Combat Eng demo spec. On one of my times with the 2/503d C & D company. I had a very enlighten experience one night after a long day making our way toward Hill 875. We made camp and got ready for the next day.
As night came we all settled down, well as much as you could in the jungle. I remember I had taken time to make sure all things were within a arms reach to get, backpack, rifle etc. and off to sleep I went. It was 10 o’clock and darkkkkkkkk. All of a sudden I was awake, waded eyed and ready, but then I realized there was no incoming or shots and no one else was moving but me. I sat up and looked around knowing something was wrong. Then I realized that I had awaken to something in my mouth. I reach to my tongue and at first I just felt something sticky and wet. I knew from the feel of it that is was blood. I reach back to my tongue and felt something on my tongue and took my fingers got a hold and pulled a nice FAT LEECH from my mouth, Viet Nam kiss goodnight.
Welcome home brothers and sisters
Sergeant Gary Rice
Combat Eng 173rd Demo
( March 67—-Nov 68 )
5 O’Clock Charlie
The brand new Artillery Captain was showing the General his perfectly designed Fire Support Base late one afternoon. The General noticed that the Artillerymen were putting on their flack jackets and steel pots and moving into position near their guns, behind the sandbag revetments-like-wise the Grunts were getting their helmets on and moving into their bunkers and perimeter trench lines. He was used to that, thought little of it, the word spreads that the General has landed and the Troops naturally straighten up their act.
Suddenly the General hears the familiar whip-crack sound of a half dozen full auto AK rounds snapping by. Having been a Grunt himself in the Huetgen Forest, and a Company Commander at the Chosin Reservoir, he takes the dive. Just as he slams into the red clay mud he sees out of the corner of his eye that one of the rounds is a green tracer, and that it is flying about 20 meters above the FSB. As he is snaking his way behind the nearest bunker he sees that the Grunts are taking off their helmets and getting out of
the trenches. The Artillerymen are getting the hot flack jackets off and going back to their card games and cooking. The
Captain is babbling something about being sorry. He gets up, digging a gob of clay from under his belt buckle, his tailored and starched fatigues dripping red mud says, “What in Blue Blazes Hell is going on here Captain, I mean Lieutenant!!!” The recently demoted Lt is still trying to stammer out an apology: “I’m sorry, S…S…SIR! I should have warned you, I forgot. That’s just 5 o’clock Charlie, he does that every day.” “Well, since you know when and where he will be, why in Mother’s Holy Name don’t you order the Infantry Captain to send a Squad down there and kill the SOB?” “W…W…We thought about that Sir, but we figured that if we do that, they might replace him with somebody who knows how to shoot.”