“I never want to forget”
I remember when I graduated from AIT at Ft. Ord, California in 1968 and was told I would be leaving for Vietnam in three weeks. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my grandparents or the buddies I grew up with in the neighborhood.
I remember my dad having tears in his eyes as I walked down the ramp to board the airplane that would take me to Oakland where I would wait to be shipped off to my next duty assignment in the Republic of Vietnam. In Oakland most of the hundreds of guys I was staying with in the huge reception station were new recruits just like me. We always wondered what it was going to be like in Vietnam. I went to the chow hall and gave them the coupon I had been given for a free steak dinner. Oddly enough it would be the last steak I would eat for some time.
I remember arriving in Vietnam and landing at Ben Wah AFB. It was hot and muggy and the minute I got off the plane I broke out in a sweat.
I remember attending the morning and afternoon briefings at the bleachers where the NCO would call out the names of the guys that had received their assignments.
I remember wondering where I would be sent. I knew it would be an infantry unit and I knew it would be on the front lines somewhere.
I remember the morning my name was called out and the NCO said I was going to the Wolfhounds; he also said “I feel sorry for you”!
I remember grabbing my duffle bag and walking to the staging area where a deuce and a half truck would take me to the Wolfhound company area in a place called Cu Chi. I dont think I knew I was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, but it really didn’t matter right then, I was trying not to choke on the red dust swirling around my head as the truck sped down the rocky road. Some guys stayed and went to jungle training and booby trap school but the guys going to the wolfhounds had no such luck. Charlie Company had taken a beating and replacements were needed on the double.
I remember feeling vulnerable heading away from the protection of the base without a weapon or any means of defending myself if we were hit by an ambush. Before leaving, the driver told us if we got ambushed lay on the truck bed and pray, because the convoy would not stop. He also told us if the truck hit a mine we probably wouldn’t know it anyway so not to worry about it.
I remember two of the guys with me in the back of the truck were named Ray and Russ. What I didn’t realize then was they would turn out to be my lifelong friends.
I remember getting to Cu Chi and the driver dumped us off in front of Charlie Company. We stood there looking around when a guy came out of the company Quonset hut and walked towards us and yelled at us to give him the orders we had received that morning.
I remember the guy introduced himself as “Teach” and he handed each of us a small black box that contained a Zippo lighter with the Wolfhound insignia and some engraving on it. He said he was giving us the lighter as a memento and also as good luck. I kept my lighter stashed in a safe place because I was starting to think I was going to need some luck to make it out of there in one piece.
I remember Teach telling us that the Wolfhounds were the baddest unit in Nam and that the chances of us making it the whole 12 months were pretty slim. He told us the wolfhound’s had the highest casualty rate in Nam because they were sent in the most dangerous situations. We were told to go to the supply room and ask for a guy named Calvert and he would see that we got a weapon and some ammunition along with a poncho liner, web gear and whatever else had been scrounged from the field.
I remember the sobering feeling when I saw some of the gear had blood stains on it. I rummaged through the stuff until I found gear with no stains.
I remember being issued a new M-16. The armor gave us a bottle of LSA and told us to keep our weapons as clean as possible to avoid having “Jams”. The three of us were assigned to second platoon and we were told to report to platoon sergeant Glover when we got to our new home called Crocket Fire support base.
I remember Russ Brun’s and I were told to build a half round shelter on the perimeter wire. When we got to the wire we noticed there was a Vietamese graveyard located only 25 meters from where we would call home.
I remember seeing a few guys from the second platoon sitting on top of a bunker cleaning their weapons. Most of them were in their army issued olive drab underwear shorts. None of them had shirts on so we couldn’t tell what rank they were.
I remember the first guy I talked to was a guy they called “Big Joe”. He asked me where my hometown was and I told him San Diego, California. He responded by saying your sure your not one of those guys from L.A. are you? He asked me if I had a nick name and I told him I had always been called “Big John” when growing up. He said “well that’s it then, you will be “Big John” here too.
I remember how Joe asked to see the new M-16 I was carrying and how he convinced me that I’d be better off carrying his M-79 grenade launcher and 80 lb rucksack full of M-79 rounds. He said he would be willing to trade me. He also through in a 45 cal. pistol to seal the deal. I never forgot Joe’s generosity that day and I remember mentioning his name under my breath whenever I needed help getting unstuck in a rice paddy or mud hole!