I stayed around his office and met several more chaplains whose names I can’t recall. They gave me some advice about what to expect in Nam.

"Don't take anything from the kids on the street; it might explode in your hand. Keep several extra pair of socks in your chaplain’s kit. Check with the PX every chance you get because they run out of tooth paste, shaving lotion, deodorant and beer the same day it comes in."

All very good advice I was to learn in the short time since I arrived.

The day dragged on with no news about when I could get out to the Fourth Division. That evening after dinner and an old western movie, I hit the sack, after making sure my gear was secured and safely put in my locker.

I felt someone shaking my foot. I woke up to see a sergeant standing over me.

"Wake-up chaplain, you're on the manifest to Pleiku."

"What time is it?" I asked.

"It’s time to move out now. 0130. The bus is out front, waiting to take you to the air field," the sergeant said.

I moved as fast as I could. I couldn't believe we were moving out at this un-godly hour. Holding my AWOL bag and duffel bag, I ran to meet the bus. There were about thirty sleepy soldiers in a formation standing beside an armored bus, waiting to get away from the replacement nightmare.

The sergeant in charge told all the enlisted personnel to turn in their fatigue jacket. "You're in Vietnam now. No need for excess baggage. Chaplain, you paid for yours so you can keep it if you want to."

"Thank you, Sergeant, I'll hang on to it," I said.

He read off each name and destination as we boarded the bus. When I went by the sergeant, I asked if we would get some coffee.

"They have a small canteen at the air field up there," he said. What he didn't say was that it wouldn't open until seven in the morning and we would be long gone.

The C-130 was waiting with its motor running. It ran and ran for over an hour before we were allowed to board. The men were patient and silent. Most of them were catching catnaps while we all waited for the orders to take off. Flying in a C-130 is different from flying in other aircraft. The seats are made of straps and we had to sit side by side as though we were going to bail out. The lights were red and dim and the smell of aviation fuel filled the air.

Finally the pilot arrived from someplace out of the dark. "Y'all ready?" he said as he entered the cockpit and took his place next to the other crew members.

I'm not sure how long we had waited on the ground. The roar of the motor put me to sleep. Suddenly, I felt a jerk. I woke up, thinking we were about to land. The troop next to me, whispered, "Relax, chap, we’re just taking off." I looked at my watch. 0700.

The plane landed at Camp Enari in Pleiku. Camp Enari was named after 1LT Mark Enari, a recipient of the Silver Star. Six of the packs (name for GI’s who were passengers) found out that they were at the wrong location so the sergeant had to make arrangements for them to get back to Bienhoa. In the meantime those young men without field jackets sat shivering in 45-degree weather waiting for their flight south. I was comfortable, but could have used a cup of coffee, but since we landed at 0830 we found out that the canteen was closed for the day for some unmentioned reason.

The 4th Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade, 1/12 Battalion, The Red Warriors had arrived in Pleiku in September 1966. I joined the Army Chaplaincy in September 1966 out of Fresno, California, heeding President Johnson's call to stop the communist aggression from taking over South Vietnam. Now four years later, I was sitting on the 4th Division air base, waiting for transportation to take me to 1/12 - my new assignment.

The 4th Division had been given the mission to secure the II Corps Area the Central Highlands. Some of the Units of the Division were deployed and scattered far to the south below Saigon. For the past four years, the Division area of operation was the western central highlands along the border of Cambodia. They also provided support around the coastal plains near Tuy Hoa. It was an extremely important mission and became increasingly so throughout the four years of fighting.

The area was one of the primary supply and staging areas of the North Vietnamese as they transported material and personnel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Cambodia and then into South Vietnam. One of the primary missions of the 4-Id was to find and eliminate North Vietnamese Army regular units who were operating out of the central highlands as well as to find and destroy the supplies and equipment that were cached in the rugged, under-populated terrain.

Unknown to me and I'm sure many other American soldiers throughout South Vietnam, 1970 was to be the year of draw-down. Plans were afoot to bring the division home by the end of the year. However my main concern now was for a cup of hot coffee and a long nap.

A jeep pulled up and a sergeant reported to the fellow in charge. "Sorry about the canteen,” he said. "We had a little trouble around the perimeter last night and everything is f###ed up. They should be down here in an hour or so." My ride to Division HQ arrived at the same time they opened the canteen. I had to put my coffee break on hold for a little while longer.

Jim, would you believe my driver dropped me off at the 4th Division Replacement Company? Another replacement company! I was told that I would have to take two weeks of special Vietnam combat training before I would be allowed to join up with the Red Warriors.

As hungry as I was, I called the Division Chaplain's Office. The Chaplain was not in as yet, but his assistant assured me that I was at the right place. Every new person had to take the training as part of his or her in-processing. Even Chaplains needed to know how to kill VC. He didn't say that but I thought that's what he was getting at.

After making the call to the Division Chaplain’s Office, I tried to find some breakfast for the troops and myself, but I was told that the mess hall was closed. It closed after 0800 hours.

I reported in to the new replacement company and told them I needed to see the Division Chaplain. They pointed out his office on a large map of Camp Enari hanging on the HQ wall. It was one of the hundred or so buildings that housed the Division and the 2nd Brigade and other attached units. Although a hot and humid typical afternoon of Central Highland weather, I looked forward to the two-mile walk to the Division Chaplain’s office.

When I arrived, Col. Chaplain Kelly greeted me. "Congratulations. Don. You’re on the Major's list."

"Thanks. The chaplain at Bienhoa told me, when I met him," I said.

"It won't affect your assignment. I was able to place you with the 1/12. They will be getting a new CO in February. A friend of yours, LTC Noble –(I believe you were his battalion chaplain in Okinawa) said you wanted to be assigned to the Infantry. The 4th Infantry is one of the best."

"So I've been told," I said. "Let me ask you, sir, do I have to go through that special combat training at the Replacement Company?”

He gave a big grin. Jim, he has biggest teeth I have ever seen. "I'm afraid so. It’s all part of in-processing for the 4th. The General wants all officers to go through the program and evaluate it to see if it is appropriate. It's his new project. I'm sure it will be helpful to you and that you’ll find it appropriate."

I didn't say what I was thinking, but replied instead, "Maybe you can get me out early. I understand Chaplain Iverson, whom I'm replacing is due to DOURS this week, and I would like a chance to meet with him before he leaves."

"He's a great chaplain. I hope you meet him before he leaves. I'll see what I can do about shortening your time at the replacement company."

"Thank you, sir."

Well, Jim, to make a long story come to it’s ending, I finally made it to my unit. That is, I met my CO today. The training at Division was phony. I took training in Okinawa that the Green Berets gave and that was far superior. Chaplain Kelly was able to get me out of the second week of training. I did meet Chaplain Iverson; in fact, I stayed in his hooch for a couple of weeks before my company moved to Camp Radcliff. My experience in Enari and Iverson's hooch is something I'll share later on.

It took me a while to finally get out into the field and to this firebase; today is my first day and will be my first night in the field. I met my outgoing and incoming commanders this afternoon. I had my first field service and now I’m waiting for a change of command party in the middle of the Vietnam jungle. What a war!



I finished writing my letter to Jim. I got up, put my journal aside and headed down to the TOC. The sun was almost gone, only a red glow came over the mountains. It was beginning to cool off and the air was fresh and crisp.

When I got to the TOC, I noticed some changes. A large tent was erected in between the two-conx hooches. The sides were rolled up to let the air flow through. I saw eight or nine tables with white tablecloths set up with plates, silver and wine and water glasses.

An enlisted GI sat at the back table tuning a guitar. Two half-barrel BBQ grills with bright red coals smoked. A few officers I hadn't met yet milled about. The SGM came up behind me and said, "Come on, Chaplain, let’s go on down and join the party." He was wearing a clean set of fatigues, his boots had a fresh spit shine, but his breath told me he had a head start on the festivities.


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