Sunday, December 25, 2011

Revised:"What War Is and Does to People:'The Girl I met on Christmas Day’ Dan Nang 1968."

Saturday, December 26, 2009
What War Is and Does to People:'The Girl I met on Christmas Day’ Dan Nang 1968.
This was originally a letter sent to my
son, Kyle, and then, my daughter, Nora.
I've added to it since, and will more as it
will be part of a novel.

I was trying to explain why I was not an ordinary
father with a 9-5 job, career etc...much of the terror,
trauma, and grief was and had to be suppressed at the
time...because I had a bigger concern...just surviving
that night. I never heard from them...

It's only later when we return that it comes over us.
For me, it meant drinking as much as I could, and any
drugs I could take during my first 2 1/2 years back to
shut out the thought,images, pain and hurt.

Each Christmas is harder to survive in a way because
I landed in Da Nang, VietNam on Christmas Day 1968
at about 2-3 am...and if you read far enough below
you will read of 'The Girl I met on Christmas Day’
Dan Nang 1968.

But, this year I started writing about it. I felt so
fucked up in pain that at some point i took a pen into
my hand.

What she did...without ever speaking a word was to show me
what war is and does to people. She took this hard marine and
ripped his heart out and humanized him! I think of her, and have
never forgotten her.

I came to Vietnam with Marine Corps training that taught me to hate.
But, I left her feeling awful...and feeling love for her and also, hurt,
pain, and the beginnings of a new awakening.

What War Is and Does to People:

Dear Kyle and Nora,

It was 40 years since (now 43 years) I was in Vietnam as a young boy of 18. I was
a Marine Corps 'grunt' (a rifleman). This Christmas will be 41 years.
The first time I was 18 and 4 months when I was medivaced from a place
of terror. I felt guilty for leaving my platoon, and especially, Chief,
my team leader and a Seminole Indian who had saved my life at least once.

I was walking point , but as I made it to the top of the hill I
stopped. I felt uncomfortable with the layout. The hill was a
large area with chest high grass, and surrounded by trees. I felt
inside somewhere that this could be it for me. I didn't think that
I could turn around and say I got a bad feeling about this...can we
go back to the fire base? No, I was there. I was a FNG (fucking new
guy) walking point.

But, before I could take another step my Chief, (Paul Bowers) my team
leader stopped me. I really think that it was for Chief to take a look
for himself. If i fucked up and stepped on a landmine it would not be
just my life. He saved many lives by stopping me.

He turned his back to the hill, and told me if you see anything don't
look directly at it, or they may open up on us if they think you've
seen them...or words to that effect. He had me look at him and said
not to look at the hill, then he told me that there may be something
at 1 o'clock, or between 1 and 2 o'clock. his neck was 12 o'clock.

I turned my head to my left away from the hill, and smiled like we were
sharing a something funny, but my right eye was looking over the spot, and
I had a sinking feeling in my heart or stomach...and nodded.

I was waiting for Chief to get back into his spot when I was told to 'freeze'.
Chief came back, and motioned me to step back. He carefully went through
the bushes, and vines I’d been pushing through, and showed me a green vine
that was flat against my chest. It was a trip wire. He had it between his
thumb and forefinger. My next half-step and I’d been blown to bits by an
anti-tank mine on one side of me and an anti-personnel mine on the other side.

It would've taken 8-12 men dead and wounded. My own death was one thing,
but I would've felt awful to have caused the death of others. If we were ambushed
as well, then much of the platoon would be gone. That’s how sharp Chief and
aware of everything around him, and why he was important to the platoon. He
came up; took a look, and remembered something that wasn't right and came
back. I and others are alive as a result.

Bobby traps, particularly, the 'bouncing betty' killed more US troops than
anything else.

It was a special to see Paul (Chief) laugh or smile, or share good moments with him.
He saved my life, and I learned to watched for everything in a way I hadn't
before that. And, I had been very alert and aware.

Weeks later, our platoon (about 45 men) were used as bait for a battalion
of NVA (North Vietnamese Army regulars). We were put in a small
abandoned Marine fire base. Hall, a state (high school) wrestling champion
came up to me and patted me on my right shoulder and said, (I thought)
'Are you okay?' And I said 'ya, i'm just getting my gear; i'm doing the
first watch.’

But, then Hall said 'your okay.' and patted me on the shoulder. I looked at him,
and he tapped my radio, stood in front of me, and said there were three on that
(the radio) before you. I was the platoon Sgt’s radioman). Plus there was a guy
from Vegas (I think) who got shot up bad when he was the radioman...then
there were three in the 4-5 months he was in the hospital, and

I had transferred from Fox 2/3 2cn Battalion (Batt) 3rd Marines (regiment)
because 2nd Platoon golf 2/3 had 'lost' a radioman and needed another.
"Vagas" never spoke to me that I can remembered. He nodded to me. Daily,
the main radioman for the LT was friendly if I asked for, or about anything,
but later I realized that to them and some others I was just a "DEAD MAN WALKING" who didn´t know it and hadn´t fallen ...yet.

Hall was just telling me you're okay and you've been okay(and LUCKY-mine).
I really respected him. He had a good sense of humor, was strong, and
Always made people laugh and was good even nice to this F-cking New
Guy FNG. It meant that there was some talk of me:-) I couldn't have
asked to be placed with a better group of Marines, or fellas than those
in the second platoon of Golf Co.

Then, and this is what happens in war...a terrible irony…he pointed to
all the firing pins from hand grenades scattered around and told me not
to touch them. He said they’re dangerous. He said that it’s safe to pick
them up one side, he picked one up (it was dusk) to show me he said, but if you
pick up the wrong side your own body heat is enough to set off the charge.
And then, his hand opened up in front of me from the explosion, and he was
screaming and screaming. It looked as if someone took a knife and sliced his
hand open.

With explosions or see the results and then hear the noise.
There was a loud explosion after I was looking at his hand, and blood flying
both ways. He was in immense pain, shock. I was in shock and have never
forgotten that night.

I've always felt bad that if he hadn't been nice to me...

About a week or less from my being medivaced (seizure and dysentery)
to the USA we landed on a ridge (Co Ca Va?) in the A Shau valley;
the ‘ Valley of Death ’. It was Fire Support Base (FSB) Cunningham;
the HQ for Operation Dewey Canyon I.

Being a radioman is one of the most dangerous jobs; (a snipers
delight). They could ambush a platoon, but if just one man
survived he could call in air strikes within 10 minutes. So they go
for the radio first, and the platoon is a bit f-cked. Someone (Hall?)
explained this to me after I survived a month (as radioman) and snipers.

When word got out that we were replacing Mike Co., 3/9 (3rd Battalion
9th Marine regiment) it had a chilling effect. 1/9 (1st Battalion 9th Marines
was known as 'The Walking Dead'- a casualty rate over 90% dead, wounded,
and missing...93.?% of every 100 young boys like me...year in and year out...
every year of that war. War is criminal. I had hoped to join them...was I daft.

But, even 3/9 meant bad, bad shit was going to happen. The Ninth 9th Marines
meant only one thing: 'heavy combat' and casualties like not seen before. We missed
the main attack (below) 'Sapper Attack in the A Shau During the Vietnam War'

But we were replacing the men who had endured that assault-to rub out
the base, plus nightly sapper attacks…night terror. Sappers were four men
teams with explosives in their backpacks, and plenty of hand grenades to
toss into other holes. They were brave men trying to rid their country of
foreign the Vietnamese people had for thousands of years.

Our first night we(Chief and I) were sent to a share a bunker with some
(grunts) from Mike 3/9; they were leaving the next morning. After we had
made the introductions...some men started to cry; and these were tough
marines...who had been exposed to too much night terror. They said the
things like...'we're all gonna be die'. ´They said they get in every night.´

I had no idea of what they were saying. Is he talking about a ground attack?
I had not even thought, nor probably heard about 'sappers.' They said sappers
get in every night...we're gonna die. Chief immediately grabbed one covered his mouth and told them to 'shut the fuck up' etc. It was a powerful lesson for

As he did this we suddenly heard loud screams from beyond the perimiter
wire. They were silenced immediately by a very loud explosion, and then, there
were no more screams. The other men started to break down, and the first one said
'See, that's the fourth LP in a row. An LP is a listening post, and on that ridge
it was four men. With that explosion the total went to 16. 4 men each night for four
nights. North Vietnamese Army Regular (NVA) sappers had crawled up on the LP and one
sapper sacrificed his life to blow four Marines away.

The men started to sob again and Chief drew his knife. I got in front of another Marine and drew my K-Bar (combat knife) and stood in front of the other Marine.
He probably had much more time in Vietnam than me, and it felt strange to be
doing this. They don't teach these things in boot camp and infintry training.

When they quieted down, Chief took me away from that fortified bunker and went pointed to two
small three foot deep holes forward of all the bunkers with no sandbags or
any protection, and right out in the open. He got in front of me; our faces
weren´t far apart, and as he pointed to the hole that was to be mine that night he
said 'will watch each other each other's back. We'll be okay, (as he pointed to the bunker we just left) he said but we got to get away from that' (panicking-mine).
And we were. We survived a scary night.

I trusted Chief, and would have followed him in any situation.

The next morning, Mike 3/9 were gone. That night our company,
Golf 2/3 were facing what had terrorized the men from Mike 3/9. Of the
three platoons in the company, ours, the second platoon, had to send
out the first LP. Everyone was nervous because by then we knew what had
happened to the other LP's/ It came down to our squad and then, our four
man fire team-Chief’s. But, Chief had a plan to make sure that we didn’t
get blown away. I wasn't surprised that Chief was chosen to take out the
first fire team!

I thought that Chief stood the best chance in the whole company. I'm just
glad that I was with him. In 2010 he joked me that he just thought that "they
(command) were trying to get me killed."

Chief's plan was simple, yet like everything he did...he had put a lot
of thought into it...and that night, Chief wasn't exactly leading the
cream of the Corps (myself included--still green;-) men he could have,
but he made it work.

The plan was this: if we try to stay out all night...we'll be dead.
They'll-the NVA creep up on us like they did the other LP's. We were
going to have to be faster, and sharper. the others were blown away within
an hour or two.

When we heard movement...even before they could get within hand grenade
of us...I would notify our LT (Lieutenant) that we had contact and were
going to toss hand grenades to break contact,and come back into the
perimeter...this is how it´s done...the grenades allow for...time and cover...
That night it wasn´t when we heard contact, but when we thought we heard contact?
They were there, we didn´t know how close...but we're alive.

But, the brass didn't want us to come in. When I called in-radio-to the CP
they said we need more information on how many there are, the direction
of attack know the types of things that would get us blown to bits
if we stayed out all night like they wanted us too. I whispered to the next man
what was said, and it was passed to Chief. Chief and I leaned forward, and
looked at each other. Chief shook his head back N forth "NO!' a few times,
and made a sign with his hand and that was good enough for me, and I went
to squelch on the radio. This meant that I could not talk (make verbal someone is to close:-) And, I could only use (key)
my handset.

We had tossed our frags (grenades) in front of us, to give us time and cover
to get back into the perimeter. I was the the last one out-position, I was
'Tail End Charlie. And when I got up I realized that they were closer
than we thought. As I got up to run I heard noise to my right and almost
right rear and saw someone in the darkness...where we hadn't thrown frags.
I was terrified that they had gotten so close. I sprayed a burst emptying my magazine. I was more than nervous...'scared shitless' is the word.

I ran forward through the zig-zag like coils of concertina wire, whilst
looking behind me for anyone who wasn't supposed to be there. I was last.
I was changing the magazine in my rifle while listening for the sound of a 'frag'(hand grenade)dropping near me(theirs-none). I was trying to catch up
with the others. As I came through the last twist and turn of the wire all
hell broke loose. I thought that the NVA had opened fire on the hill, or had
launched a ground attack, and ours were returning fire.

As we came through the wire,someone set off a trip flare, and we were
visible to all. We came the shortest way...across our kill zone, and
were almost cut to pieces by our own machine guns, and every trigger happy
grunt(or as we say 'every swinging dick with a rifle.') I had radioed in,
but no one had told the fellas we were on our way.

We almost got torn to shreds; the bullets were all around me, and I was about
to drop to the ground to my right when bullets tore up the earth; I was terrified.

I went towards my left but bullets sent wood, rocks and everything flying all around me on my left and just above where my head would land. I saw the others looking at me like ´What the Fuck are you doing standing?´ But, I was the only standing target...and they were zeroing in on me.I was terrified, fell in place
and screamed into the radio. We survived; Chief’s plan worked. God bless Chief.

When someone asks me how I survived I say I know there is a God because I
can't understand the times I was almost been killed and Chief wasn't there:-)

Secondly, Chief handled everything that God was far too busy at the moment!
And, that was a lot!!

Third, I was lucky.

Again, there was Chief and my own good instincts…which were constantly
honed and corrected by Chief

On night after Mike 3/9 was gone we had our own sapper attacks; they
must start about 2:30 am because i'm always awake then and till later...
daylight. Chief and I had the bunker on the extreme flank. The night´s
darkness was pierced by the screams of the two men from the next bunker. They
came running towards us screaming hysterically ‘The gooks are all around
us ...we’re gonna get killed.’

Chief and I each grabbed one, (I was following Chief's lead from the first
night)and covered their mouths. I put the flat handle of my K-Bar against
the back of the neck of my man so he couldn't move. Then I put my K-Bar to
his throat. In his eyes I saw sheer terror that I remember to this day.
I kept looking over my man's shoulder, and all around me.

Chief whispered 'Shut the fuck up. Get back into your
hole. Keep your head down, and your eyes and ears open.' And, for
good measure, Chief added 'and don't bring them over here.'

I had also run my knife down the man's throat to his chest and I gave
him a look that was meant to scare him as much as what had just
terrorized him. I was scared too, but knew that panic is deadly.

They ran back. We evacuated our bunker; everyone knew it by then,
and Chief said something to the effect that we could only use our
knives and hand grenades from here on in. The flash of a rifle would
give our position away.

After a few minutes a sapper made it into their bunker and began
knifing them to keep them there until his satchel detonated. We
listened to them scream and scream in agony and terror of their
last seconds (6-7) of their lives…They were fifty feet away…begging
and one cried aloud ‘Oh God’ just before the explosion. It was awful.

I was standing behind a massive tree and a single tear wnet down from my left eye, but I got over their deaths in a snap of my fingers. I was worried that the
sounds might mask someone approaching us. I was 110% adrenalin.
All they had to do was get within hand grenade range. And I was worried about tigers. They´re better hunters.

Later that morning my platoon Sgt. said ‘we got two new men coming in
on the copter, and we don’t want them seeing it (the bunker) like that. I
nodded and took the rags, and went in to clean it up. My training hadn't
taught me how to clean up the exploded remains of marines...From the top
of the bunker to the dirt floor and on every wall and crevice was
blood, bits of flesh, bone and whatever. I almost cracked. It was horrible.

Most of all, God, I didn’t want another Marine to see me crying…so I
stuffed it. At one point I said to myself 'You can't do this. You can't do
this(cry). So, I stuffed way down, but have cried many times since leaving
that hill.

I have since felt that on the Judgement Day even if Allah-God himself, and those
two men come over to me and smile and say it's okay now...I will always feel like shit for what happened that night..and I know that we had no other choice.

The rags were too small, and their blood and whatever got on my hands,
and I ran out of the bunker and wiped my hands in the dirt. War can make
someone superstitious. Stuff got on my clothes, hair, and then the rags were
soaked...that's when it got to me, plus it seemed like i didn't know how to do
it...and I just wanted to be done.

The medivac copter that took me out set down at another firebase for 10
minutes...and in an 'Irish mist' I sat there counting body bags stacked like
cordwood on the tarmac. I stopped at 240.

The screams of those two men, and the terror and pain are with me
every day...even on Christmas eve and Day.

I am just giving you this so you know what I experienced, and why I was
not the ordinary guy with a 9-5, and got down. War is horrible and
criminal. It scars deeply within as surely as it does on the outside.

But my real purpose is also to tell you of an incident that preceded
all the terror and death(even before I touched a rifle)...and humanized
my heart and soul. I am speaking of...

'The Girl I met on Christmas Day’ Dan Nang 1968
I landed in Da Nang early on Christmas morning...2-3am. Later
I would fly north to Dong Ha, and then by truck to Quang Tri to
join the 3rd Marines.

We were taken into Da Nang city briefly after being warned that
begging children might steal. We came upon a group of 30-40
such children.. I had some money to give and sweets.

At first it felt good to give to people in need, but I felt bad that they
had to beg...why? And why aren't they being fed by the military
(my first awaking that things weren't right).

Almost all were under 10, but some had amputations, shrapnel
damage and more. Most were okay, but this was what this hard
marine so eager for combat saw on his first day in Viet Nam .

But, I felt someone's presence at the back of the group. I knew
she was looking at me, and when I looked up I saw a lovely girl
of between 11-13. She looked right into my eyes (softly) for a bit, then
lowered (bowed) her head. But, by then she had torn my heart out.

She did not hold her hand out like the others. I think she felt different...not
as young as the others)...and marred

She raised her head again, made eye contact...kept it for a bit and
lowered her head again. I waded through the crowd till I stood in front
of her and she raised her head again and we looked at each other. I took
her hand and gave her whatever money I could get, and disguised it to
seem like I was just giving her sweets. I didn’t care if I had any money
left after giving to her.

We both nodded to each other, and I know I was holding back tears.
We shared a special and poignant moment in space and time that I
will never forget.

You see this beautiful Vietnamese girl had no right eye and, had minimal
treatment because she didn't wear an American uniform! But she was a
beautiful young girl. And, it is that young girl, and her soulful look, and
her situation that has been with me ever since.

Da Nang did not have an eye hospital until 1998. Plenty of money for war,
but not for people.

I know she appreciated whatever I gave her, but it felt inadequate to me.

She was marred; not even a patch, but I could see the whole her, and
my heart ached(s) for her. Ive' always wondered what became of her?
I would have food, water, medical care, but she?

It is those things-what happens to children, old people, and especially
(young girls and women, homes, families, villes, cultures, societies, and
also, to other Marines blown to bits, maimed, traumatized for a fucking
medal that hurts and causes pain most every day of my life.

Those of us who survived had to fight our own government for recognition
that their wounds/conditions merited treatment. But,the children of Vietnam
Afghanistan, Iraq or any country America wages war upon...have to fend
for theirselves.

But she is 'The Girl I Met on Christmas Day 1968’ ' or 'The Christmas Girl'
and she can make me cry easy...when I think of her.

War is a criminal enterprise!Or, as Major-General Smedley D. Butler said,
'War is a Racket'.

Vietnam is over there, but the war is still inside. All of the hurt you see or
feel and suppress at the feel later when you are home...and forever.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I closed my facebook and twitter accounts yesterday

I closed my facebook and twitter accounts yesterday.
December is the hardest month for me...I landed in
Vietnam on Christmas Day.

Monday, December 20, 2010
'The Girl I Met On Christmas Day 1968-DaNang’ Revisited
December 20, 2010

Tues. 26, January 2010

Saturday, December 26, 2009
What War Is and Does to People:'The Girl I met on Christmas Day’
Dan Nang 1968.

I´m divorced and am exiled or shunned from my children.
One never talks to me, the other was kinder, but there is no
meaningful relationship, or healthy contact between us.

It´s not their´s the stuff they´ve heard
from my ex, and her family...the awful things someone
can do or say after a separation and divorce.

I thought things would be different; I was a counselor,
but I under-estimated the wrath a person can have when they
feel their partner took their love away. No matter what she has
said or told the children I have the bitter letters from her.
Love just died.

When two people get divorced one isn´t supposed to try
and get the children to ´effectively´ divorce their father.
But, that is what it´s like.

To have children and be ignored by them is hard...
very, very hard.

From December through February is the hardest from my
time in Vietnam.´The Girl I Met On Christmas Day 1968-DaNang’
tugs at my heart. I try to make it through each day in December.
Each day gets harder and harder.

I´m struggling in hostels mostly.
I have to constantly search for cheaper ones, and I´ve
been looking for an apartment. I´ve nothing yet.

No place feels like home to me. There is none. I have no
home, nor family... and I´m tired of searching and looking
and wonder if I´ll end up buying a sleeping bag...for financial
reasons. But, I don´t ever, ever want to do that.

I had a bad accident on November 18th...and know something
is wrong with my wrist and forearm. I had a bad head injury,
and it took almost 8 days before I realized what a whack I
took hitting the floor. is hard...i´m just trying to get by...
I came to a wall...and couldn´t go on doing Twitter...
I hardly used facebook...

If I have a seizure or am in the hospital for an
accident, or anything I don´t want anyone in my
immediate or family of origin to be notified or
let in to see me.

I was the only one with my mother when she was in
the hospital and know from my time with her and also
being with people in Vietnam and hospitals during the
war that what is most important is to have people around
you who love or care for you...not there out of a sense
of obligation...or having to be there.

If ever like that I don´t want people
in to see me because they feel obligated.

When I hear from my children it´s just out of feeling they
have to, and it hurts....I´ve been carrying a lot of pain
from Vietnam...but I was a wonderful, good and loving father
to them and at one time they loved me.

I´m just at a low point...I feel empty inside...dead...almost
the way i felt when i came back from Vietnam. i´ll be okay

Vietnam, Vietnam and Vietnam...and having a family, but being alone