February 13, evening
Dear Chaplain Miller,

I am writing this letter from Speedy's bunker. I'm also writing under a single light bulb that gives me the feeling that I'm all alone, like a camper in the woods. I'm not sure where Speedy is, probably out having a beer with some other guys.

The big party is over. It's Sunday evening, almost Valentine’s Day. LTC Anderson is in the process of packing his gear and getting ready to leave the firebase after the ceremony tomorrow morning. My new CO, LTC Sterling, is in control and moved into the TOC.

I believe I closed my last correspondence, as I was about to go to a command banquet in the TOC. What a nice way to start my first field experience in the real war of Vietnam, with steak, wine and if I wanted to, I could have smoked a big cigar.

If it wasn't for the mortar's teams sending up illumination flares and a few explosive rounds just in case Charley was in the area, you might think we were at fancy steak house in San Francisco. Candles lit each table and several “volunteer” enlisted men served table.

When everyone finally arrived and the wine was poured, the new Executive Officer stood to give the first toast for the evening. "I propose a toast to the President of the United States." Everyone took a little sip of wine. Yes, even the Baptist Chaplain. Next came toasts given by other officers. They toasted everyone and everything, from the 4th Division, to the Red Warriors, to our new CO and XO and finally our departing commander, LTC Anderson.
When the last toast was given, the XO called on me to give the invocation. As I stood after the half a dozen or so official toasts, I thought of saying, "I drink to God, who makes it possible for all of us to go home." No guts, no glory. So I said a short prayer of blessing for the food and asked our Lord to bless our troops and officers and especially our departing CO and our new incoming CO.

The steaks were cooked to perfection. The baked potatoes were wonderful, with plenty of chives, cheese and sour cream. There were fresh cooked carrots and a fresh green salad with what the chef called his "house dressing." Wineglasses were never empty.

One of the volunteer GI's, the one I saw rehearsing earlier in the day, was singing folk songs. I wish I had the words to the song he wrote. It sounded like a folk song off of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. I was reminded of the Hippies who came over to the Baptist Seminary I attended in 1961 in Mill Valley, California, and sang their folk songs about "peace or protesting" to the accompaniment of guitars and tambourines.

The only line I can remember from the GI’s song went something like this, "It's raining now, it's snowing now and you know what that means, the lifers want a police-call to clean up the scene." As best I could tell, the officers all laughed and enjoyed it very much.

The SGM next to me seemed to especially get a good laugh out of the entertainment. However, he was a little bombed and forgot that he was a one of the "lifers."
At one point after the cigars were lit (No, Jim, I couldn't handle a cigar on a full stomach, at least that’s what I told the SGM when he offered me one) the SGM leaned over to me and in a slurring voice of over-indulgence said, "It’s the f###ing Navy."

I was taken by surprise, "What Navy?”

"What?" He seemed surprised, that I was surprised.

"The go###mn f###ing Navy caused us to be in this god forsaken country."

I was smiling and looking at the Lieutenant sitting across from him.

"What in the hell does the Navy have to do with our Firebase?" the lieutenant asked the SGM.

"Jesus," said the SGM. "Haven't you f###s heard about the Tonkin Gulf Resolution?"

I thought a moment. Tonkin, yeah, I heard about it in 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson said something about that on TV. The VC attacked our ships in international waters off the coast of Vietnam and he got Congress give him the power to attack and bomb North Vietnam. As I remember, all but two of the congressmen voted to send more troops and spend more money on Vietnam. "I remember hearing something about it a couple years ago,” I said.

"You bet your ass you did," slurred TOP. "Those f###ing chicken s##t sailors couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper sack. Hell, they were whining because they feared for their damn asses. The VC boats were nowhere near their ships; they were running from their own f###ing wakes. I think it was some ship named Maddox or Turner Joy. They were running around in the fog like blind sons of b###hes and cried to Johnson and that gave him an excuse to draft more FNG’s and send them to his war with these go####n Dinks. I tell you, we’re here because the Navy f###ed up."

The top sergeant was getting a little loud, so I suggested that he needed to get back to his bunker before it got too late.

Lieutenant Colonel Sterling stood up and announced that his first order as the new CO was to make sure the perimeter was secure and for the rest of us to get some rest because he was going to hit the ground running after the ceremony tomorrow.

Everyone got up and went to their appointed duties. The Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer went into the tactical operational center (TOC). The Sergeant Major stumbled up the steps and another sergeant helped him toward his hooch. The enlisted volunteers began to clean up the dinning room. I sat by myself thinking about the night. I took a napkin and began to write my thoughts so I wouldn't forget.

Jim, I’m including those thoughts in this letter, just to have a record of that eventful night.

Candlelight flickers low, the candles are almost burned out. The tent walls cast dark shadows across the remnants of barbecued steak, salad and medium dry red wine left in some of the glass goblets. This is a Firebase saying good-by to its battalion commander.

Tables and benches made from ammo boxes are empty now where once sat officers, lifers, listening to folk songs about their need for a police-call. These officers understood better than the grunts that they were indeed 'lifers'. Lifers away from family, Lifers who live with the fear that death might extinguish the life-light of one of his men or himself.

This all happened on a firebase in this strange mountain terrain in the midst of a strange war with an even a stranger atmosphere. I ask myself, "Am I here because the men are here, or because the Navy screwed up?"

Situations like this tonight might bring tears if the men were lesser men. The mood of festivities dissipated as the CO went back to the ugly reality of war. There were still men in the bush, men in harm’s way, and men under the stars. If only the jungle cover would let the stars flicker on the hiding place of these men called grunts that wait in panic for enemy movement in the area.

So another day draws to a strange close. The GI waiters snuffed out the last of the candles. I hear a voice curse in the darkness. I utter a sigh that is a prayer. "See me safely through this night, oh Lord. My family is awaiting my safe return."

I made my way back through the maze of bunkers to Speedy'S place. On this dark and moonless night it was cool and quiet with the exception of an occasional "boom, boom" from the mortars. As I got close to the hooch, a lamination flare went off, giving the base an eerie glow. I slid down into the bunker. I took off my boots and decided to strip to my underwear.

Jim, this one bulb light is getting to my eyes, or it might be the wine. I’ll sign off for now and finish this tomorrow afternoon.

Sincerely yours,



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