Monday, February 26, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

Jim, I finally found some time today to write my thoughts and observations to you. The other day I sent you a letter about the women in Vietnam. In this letter, I'll try to talk about some observation about the men in country.

I returned from Pleiku and dropped off the chapel supplies that Chaplain Honeycutt had asked me to pick up from the Pleiku Chapel. Then Dave and I drove over to our Battalion Headquarters to let them know we had returned. At HQ we found that the Battalion firebase had moved to a new location five miles from Warrior and deeper into the jungle countryside. The HQ company commander told me that the new firebase would be called Tuffy. He also said the men would not be coming back for a stand-down until the firebase was operational.

As I was about to leave the HQ and head back to my hooch, the Sergeant Major who had just come back from the firebase stopped me, "Chaplain, you better get out to Tuffy. The troops are really feeling down. They thought they would be coming back here for a stand-down for at least three days. Now, they have to stay out in the field and build another new firebase. They need a break but the Division told The Old Man that we would have to wait until the new base was set up," he said.

I told Dave to get my gear ready for me and I'd check and see if I could get a chopper out in the evening. As luck would have it, I got ride within the hour. The pilot had me sit up front and wear a helmet with radiophone in it. I felt important; it was the first time I flew up front in the co-pilot’s seat. The pilot and I were able to chat as we flew out to the new firebase, Tuffy.

He said that the new LZ was a "hot LZ,” meaning that the landing zone was apt to receive sniper fire. On our flight out, he pointed out some landmarks to me, a small cluster of straw huts, a brown twisting river and a patch of banana trees that he said belonged to the VC. I didn’t ask him how he knew it belonged to them. He said that we were flying low and hugging the jungle canopy of trees to avoid any quick sniper fire before arriving on the firebase. When we were ten minutes out from the base, he radioed into the TOC to let them know we were about to come in for a landing. The S-3 cleared him to land on the new LZ and for him to alert our door gunners to watch for sniper fire.

As we approached closer to the landing area, the pilot called into the TOC again to let them know he was about to land and what he was carrying. I was surprised as I listened over the chopper radio to hear the pilot call in to the command, “This is T-36 with a re-supply and one pack, The Batman."

Specialist Joe Desart, the S-4, was on the other end of the radio. There was a brief pause and then he came back with, “Say again, over."

"I repeat, I have one Batman,” said the pilot.

The radio was silent for several seconds again. Joe came back over the chopper’s radio, "The Man (meaning the CO) wants to know, what in the hell is a Batman?"

"Skypilot," the pilot said.

"I read you. Tell him to report to the TOC when he arrives," said Joe.

"Roger that. Here we are," said the pilot to me over the headset. Giving me a thumbs up sign as he did a quick turn and approached the LZ, lowering the chopper rather quickly.

Because of the sniper warning, the pilot didn't make a normal pass over the base. Since the base was just getting built and many of the GI's had put up poncho tents and shade while they dug their bunkers, the pilot didn't want to blow them away. Also he said to me as we were going down “that a fast landing and fast get-way might keep Charley from opening up on him.”

I had been in country long enough to know that the enemy had many names. There were the politically correct names used in the Command briefing such as the VC, meaning the Viet Cong. NVA or The North Vietnam Army, they also were called the NVL or the North Vietnam Liberation front. There were other less politically correct names for the enemy such as Charley and Gook or LBs, Those Little Bastards.

We landed, unloaded and the chopper was out without a shot being fired. I ran over to the TOC area to report to the CO.

A firebase in its infancy is a sight to behold. The war won't stop for construction and everyone who is not out in the jungle is working their tails off, building bunkers and setting up fields of fire so they can be secure by nightfall. The Recon Platoon and Bravo companies or Infantry companies or Grunts or Troops, or Blue legs or GI's; what ever you want to call them were units of the 1/12. A company and C company were also out in the bush. They were scouting the area for the sniper who was ruining the day for the battalion as it tried to complete the occupation of it’s new firebase, Tuffy.

Lieutenant Colonel Sterling welcomed me to the area. "What's the weather going to be like?" he asked, giving me his big grin. Then he went on and told me that orders came to move the same morning I left for Pleiku. He didn't see any need for me to get involved the first day, but wanted me out here as much as I could. He promised me again that he would see that I got out to the units in the bush at least once or twice a week. I told him that was fine and then I asked if I could be excused to try and dig a hole for myself for the night. "Of course, maybe you can find someone to move in with. You'll have to help them build a bunker though; most of the troops are still on top of the ground. “They won't get my damn TOC in a hole until tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I'm not going anywhere,” said the CO as I was leaving.

Specialist Joe Desart, the S-4 who operated the command radio, looked up as I was leaving the area. "Say Batman, I got a place started but I can't get away from the horn with the action out in the bush. I started a hole but had to leave it so I could cover the radio.” Pointing eastward he said, “It’s just over there by that tree. Pecker's there now, digging and filling sandbags. If you want to help out, we can make it big enough for three."

"Pecker?” I asked.

"I'm sorry, Captain. I mean Specialist Peter Murphy; he pulls the night shift on the horn," said Joe with a sheepish grin on his bearded face.

"I'll call you Joe, if you'll call me Chaplain or Chap or even Batman."

Joe laughed. "No problem, Chap."

Lieutenant Colonel Sterling heard our conversation. "That will be fine out here, Chaplain, but in base camp you need to stay with the officers. This damn war has some protocol.” He laughed. “By the way, what in the hell was the code word, Batman, all about?"

"I have no idea. That was something the sky man called me," I answered.

Joe was laughing. "I asked the pilot where he came up with Batman and he said he couldn't think of Skypilot at the time, so he said Batman, because the chaplain is always swooping in on the troops to say a prayer."

Sterling smiled, "You better get to digging. There are a couple of hours of daylight left."

I worked my butt off that evening. Pecker and I got the bunker halfway finished. Joe came over a little later and the three of us got with the program. We humped timbers from around the area to put over the hole so we could put sandbags on them for overhead protection when we were finished. Joe insisted that we build a large bunker so the three of us could sleep and play cards and relax under three layers of sandbags. He needed extra room for a radio. If he had a radio in his hooch, he wouldn't have to stay up all night at the TOC. So we worked until chow time and didn’t quite finish. That night I slept under the stars in a large hole with only several timbers overhead, cuddled up in a sleeping bag.

The next morning I got up early, made a canteen of chocolate milk, put in three or four extra cremates and opened a can of peaches from the C rations for breakfast. The mess hall wouldn’t be set up until the evening. The rest of the day, I spent digging and filling sandbags and by the close of day, we had safe and secure hooch with radio and three layers of sandbags overhead. What I didn't expect was that the hooch was not only safe from enemy mortars; it was also an ideal place for a little "pot smoking."

It seemed that Pecker had a little unauthorized habit. Joe said he only smoked a little and he never smoked on duty. I sat down with Pecker and suggested to him that he needed to wait until I went into base camp, or to at least smoke when I was not in the hooch.

"No problem," he said. Then he asked me. "Chap, you won't say anything to the CO, will you?”

"Not unless he asks," I said.

"Thanks, Chap. That's cool."

That evening, HQ at base camp flew in some "hots" (Meals in thermo cans) because the mess hall still wasn't ready to start cooking. Sterling called me up to TOC to eat supper with him. We got to know each other quickly over the short time we were both in country. We shared our families, philosophy and religious view and from time to time, what we thought of the war. He was Protestant, but not of any particular denomination. During our conversation he asked, "How's your bunker coming along. You and the S-4 getting along all right?"

"The bunker’s fine and I like having the radio there. I can keep up with what's going on out in the field." I answered.

"You like that funny weed that Pecker smokes?" he asked with a weary smile.

"I haven't seen him smoking anything but Luck's," I said.

"Now, Chaplain," said the CO, “I know he smokes marijuana, but he and Joe are the best damn troops on this base. I would rather have one or both of them out here with me than any other GI in the Battalion. I know he smokes a little. I told him to keep it to himself or I would bust his ass. They both told me that they only do it a little."

"I haven't had a problem with them smoking," I said.

"Good, just let me know if they get carried away." That was the last word the Colonel said about the matter to me.

After dinner, there were a couple of hours of daylight left. It was a cool evening in the jungle mountains. The sniper had been quiet for the day, so I sat down on the bunker, took out my journal and stationary and continued to put my thoughts down in this letter to you to let you know what was happening to me so far in the war.

[The good thing about waiting thirty years to rewrite this letter is that I can give some data that I didn't have available to me in 1970. When I use statistics in this writing, they are open for criticism as most statistics are. Those who opposed our action in Vietnam had one interruption and those who were pro Vietnam War have their rendition. I will merely provide them as a matter of interest.]

Jim, I can't help but ask myself, "Just what kind of men are in this war?” Some are so young that to call them men is an error in judgment. I was thirty-five by the time I got to Vietnam, so anyone younger is a youngster, a lad, a kid, and many are still teenagers. However, no matter the age, some were reported to be as young 16 years old. A day or two in the bush, out in the jungle or rice patty with a heavy rucksack and a M16 in their hand, trudging hour after hour through monsoons and humidity that suffocates the very air one breathes, made them men. They may cry like a baby. They will do childish things. They have fears, anxiety, anger, hostility, love, commitment, and devotion - all a mark of the solider-man.

They call some of their senior Sergeants, Pop, Big Daddy, Top. The Commanding officers are referred to as the Old man or just The Man. There are titles or names given to the various units within the Army itself. Names for such fighting men are, Blue legs, or Red legs depending whether your Infantry or Artillery. They answer to GI, Dogface, Grunt, Troop, Bushman Specialist, and Sarge, PFC, or Hey You. One wounded man told me that the bullet that wounded him didn't know what color he was, what age he was, what rank he was or what sex he happened to be.

The men and women who were part of the 543,300 in country at the peak of U.S. commitment in Vietnam in 1969 were not all aware of what was happening to themselves or to the United States. The soldiers, who were facing the enemy and dodging the bullets that may be looking for them, were not fearing the political battles that were stirring the inside of the Belt-Way in D.C. The men I lived with on the firebase in the Central Highlands were on a mission. That mission was primarily to stay alive for 365 days and then take the freedom bird home.

They had no idea the war would leave behind such statistics as 58,148 of their fellow soldiers killed in action. When they returned to the homeland and the freedom bird landed in Washington State, they listened to President Nixon's tape recording welcome them home. They had little interest in the statistic that five men killed in Vietnam were only sixteen years old. That the oldest soldier killed was sixty-five years old. When they headed home, they were not aware of the statistics that said 11,465 of their commanders killed in action were less than 20 years old. No one I talked to in December 1970 while I was on my way home, mentioned that the average age of the 11- Bravos killed in Vietnam was 22 years old.

Those KIA’s in Vietnam all seemed to die before their time. There is nothing fair in war. The men and women who die in war are all cheated equally as far as death was concerned. It mattered not to any of us returning home that approximately 70% of those killed in Vietnam were volunteers. None of them that I knew before they were killed joined the military to die. They joined to fight. They joined to avoid the draft. They joined to serve their country. They chose Vietnam rather then Canada or jail. There may be as many reasons for a person to join the military, as are persons. None of them joined to die.

Those 58,148 KIA’s who came into the military understood that they were risking their lives. Most of them I suspect, if we knew their reason for coming into the military, thought that in 365 days they, too, would be hearing President Nixon's recorded voice. "Welcome home, the American people are proud of you for serving your country."

I'm sorry, Jim; I'm getting ahead of myself in this letter. The men I served with in 1970 were a part of the statistics in some way. My observation of these men was limited in scope to the men of the Fourth Infantry Division and Supportive Units in the Central Highlands at An Khe's Camp Radcliff and later at Camp Granite near Qui Nhon Nhon.


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