About this time every year, an ever-increasingly smaller cohort of my generation think back and reflect on the consequences of war-any war. Was it worth it? Did we win? Did we kill more of them than they did of us? In the end, after it’s all over, does it matter? In most respects, no. Fifty years later, all I miss is the camaraderie of being blood brothers united in agreement we were being led by clueless idiots. Well, that and I miss access to explosives. I miss shaving off Semtex from Claymores with my prized survival knife and heating up my c rats. I miss the music of a Pig chewing up the jungle in front of me. I miss things I can no longer remember… and probably for a good reason. This is how a lot of Vietnam Vets live life now.
It’s not a bad life. We have grandkids if we’re lucky. Or, like one of my close friends I’ve met since I returned, you don’t because you went through about six wives in ten years and they never hung around long enough to get knocked up. Smart they were. Yesssssssssss. Be careful. Some of them show up 50 years later and wanna play house again.
I started counting how many of us true Boots on the ground (BOTG) remained using goggle™ back in 2008. The accepted number was 850,000 of us left. I checked in again around 2012. In spite a number of funerals I’d attended, I found out we were either multiplying like rabbits or someone was bullshitting us. As my daddy once said, bullshit is nothing more than chewed grass. Ditto the number in 2016 and 2018. I figured everyone else had some killer Mojo and had managed to stay healthy. I’m batting about 3/10.
I do note, after searching again several minutes ago that the number had sunk to 610,000 in 2019. Seems they use some fancy metrics here. 1954 to 1975 might be a credible time frame but 1/9/1962 to 5/7/1975 is the more preferred yardstick in my book. And it should include all the folks that served over the fence. Using that metric might describe more closely how many true “Vietnam War” Vets with real red clay between their toes (and jungle rot) are still here today. But maybe not. There are those who need valor. They need to belong. Newsflash. By just enlisting, or, for those less fortunate, drafted, you served your country. Who could be disappointed with a NDSM?
Some immediately take offense when I pull out the tape measure. I respect everyone who signed up to serve. I mean that sincerely. Realistically though, a much smaller number can, and should, claim true boots on the ground. And of that number, I suspect far fewer than 610,000 are still vertical. Keep in mind that horde of lifers who command us. They’re gone-and if not, they must live in Chicago. Folks there never die. Again, who really cares at this point? Well, a few. I watched a Vet lay into another one at a VFW NRA gun raffle/dinner back in 2018. Seems he felt being in Germany was equally as dangerous as red boots and entitled him to the moniker of a genuine Vietnam War Vet. I would have inserted “era” right after War to avoid confusion. Are they counting how many times they were ‘wounded’ by VD?
I selected England as my first choice of assignment. Spain and Italy were second and third. I drew Udorn adjacent to Nong Khai and the beautiful Mekong River at first. Then some AF Intel weenie discovered I spoke French. Laos wasn’t a whole lot different than Vietnam. You just rarely ran into guys who spoke English. Or French for that matter. Thai seemed to be the most frequent lingua franca. Imagine blasting (90 kts.) down Route 7 heading east and broadcasting over a microphone to convince Pathet Lao troops to surrender. That was Tuesdays and Thursdays. They called me the Chieu Hoi Boy. Judging by the way the slopes responded with SKS fire, it had to be taken as an emphatic ‘no.’ Fuggem if they couldn’t take a joke. I’d just shoot back. After about a dozen missions, I got pissed. I had the crew chiefs take the side door off and started packing a Thumper. Sometimes you have to enunciate your philosophy of peace with an exclamation point. There’s nothing like 40 mike-mike HE for emphasis.
I’ve laughed long and hard when an ‘era’ Vet wishes he could have been there. Nobody sane would ever wish for that. I remember my pilot discussing a mission off the mike as we returned to Long Tieng one evening. His drift was that no one got medals for strafing elephants-even if you got secondary explosions off the munitions they were packing. He explained it didn’t “play well in Peoria” when we submitted our after-action BDAs to our ‘Controlled American Source’ boss. The preferred term was camouflaged jeeps or, if you must, grey jeeps. Wars are funny. They won’t let you tell the truth. Now, no one can stand to hear the truth.
I remember the Sunday after I snagged a Swedish K for my personal firearm out of the old Jap hanger/warehouse down in Udorn. I went down to a creek nearby with a fifth of Jack Daniels and a couple of our AirAm crew chiefs. We were having a gay old time taking swigs and skipping 9 mils off the water when the ominous sound of Hueys (plural) began. Sensing something was amiss, we decided to get back inside the wire pronto. Believe it or not, the gunships lit up that stretch downstream with rockets and Pigs for five minutes. The body count, which was always the metric of success, was 8 and three POWs. Shut the front door. Were they counting monkeys? I struggle to this day to picture a monkey with his hands held high in surrender. I think that’s when I decided statistics could be fudged but is one of the fonder memories.
In fact, animals played a great part of our life up country. Not so much grey jeeps but pig and chicken deliveries on USAID contracts. They were great crowd pleasers when you kicked them out of the Porter from 100 feet up. Pork. It’s what’s for dinner. The chickens had a far higher survival rate from altitude. Brings a whole new meaning to DoorDash® or Grubhub© fifty years later, huh? Incomingggggg.
My attorney friend and mentor, Bob Walsh sent me this link today. He must share the same feelings I do about this time of year. It was 8 years before I found out he was an Eleven Bravo with a CIB. 173rd Airborne. Go figure. The meek among men roar the loudest when called to.
Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
They send you down to war
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
They only answer, “More, more, more”
I told you several months ago I’d share my proprietary MacGyver information on Bottle Rockets. Remember them? What? No one shared the military art form with you? Okay stay with me. You take off one (1) of the plastique charges located above the fins of a 60mm mortar. Remember, just one-not all three. Three is right out. Set it aside. They looked like 1 ½” by 1 ½” inch chunks of plastique stitched together in packs of 5 very thin sheets. Take a c-rats can (large) and cut a piece about 4″X4″ out of the side wall metal and carefully flatten it out. Pick up a 2-foot chunk of baling wire from a mortar crate.
Hold the PE down in the middle and fold the c-rats can in half, keeping the PE in one lower quadrant. Insert the bailing wire down the middle and fold in half one last time capturing the baling wire firmly. About dark, sashay over to a campfire and throw it in like a spear with the wire end in first. It usually stuck and held over the flames. Eventually, it would heat up and take off . They weren’t terribly aerodynamic and they were known to cause nasty wounds. What the hey- this was good for a PH. As I say, there are a lot of things I miss.
I reckon I better shut up before I find someone who ended up wearing one of my inventions.