I excused myself and made my way back to Stony's bunker. Stony was there with several other fellows. Still excited, they were drinking coffee and talking about the attack.

"Want a cup of coffee, Chaplain?”

"Sounds good, thanks." I asked a question to no one particular. "Did any of you know the guys that got wounded?"

"Most of them were from recon platoon," someone said.

"I heard that they got the new Major,” said another.

"I know. We came in together yesterday morning. He seemed like a nice guy."

"Charley don't know nice,” said one of the fellows.

"Chaplain, did you see the bodies of the Dinks, there up at the Artillery area?”

"No, I haven't. How about taking me up there?”

"Sure thing. Let's go. It's light enough now to take some pictures."

I thought to myself, do I really want pictures of anyone dead? Oh, well, I might as well take my camera.

It's very difficult to describe what it was like early that morning. I did take pictures, but one of the GI’s told me the PX would refuse to develop them.

There were three tiny bodies lying next to each other. They looked like teenagers. They had on black pajamas and sandals made from pieces of tires. Their faces were covered with charcoal making them dark black and they wore black bandanas around their heads.

One of the VC was shot in the neck and another in the chest. I could not tell where the other was hit. Jim, it was strange I didn't feel anything. I was sort of numb. I remembered the LRRP’s (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) I saw at Radcliff. I didn't feel hate. I felt like this was some kind of nightmare. They had their weapons lying near them. There were two AK47s, a M16, some machetes and satchel charges that looked like they were wrapped in banana leaves. There was an U.S. Army hand grenade as well.

One of the sergeants handed me an old fashioned grenade, the kind that the Germans used in WWII. It was shaped like a bottle, made out of wood with a steel bottom and a wooden handle. He had disarmed it earlier. “Why not keep it as souvenir of your first night on a firebase.” He laughed. I thanked him and put it in my chaplain’s kit.

The morning light was getting brighter as the smoke and haze had drifted off. I looked around the artillery area. There was a 105 Howitzer; its barrel was peeled back like a banana or a flower that just opened up. It was ripped, from the barrel end right into part of its name, “Blind Faith."

The Artillery commander came up to me. "What do you think Chaplain?”

"Are you going to move these bodies soon?”

"We will just as soon as the chopper gets here. It's on the way," answered the commander.

"I would like to hold Sunday worship service in your area if you don't mind?”

He put his hand up on the barrel, "Blind Faith,” he said. "A great place to hold church." he said with a smile.

I took his picture standing there, holding on to his wounded gun. On my way around the firebase I spoke to several of the troops. They all were thankful it was no worse than it was. When I asked, “How you doing?”

They answered, "Fine, thank God."

A few asked if I was having a service. Several were writing letters home. There was no horse-playing going on; everyone had a serious attitude that morning. A kind of reverence, as though something holy was going on, could be felt. I can't explain it. No one offered high fives. No peace symbols were made with fingers when the men greeted me. One fellow said, "Good thing you were here, Chaplain, or it would have been worse."

He was giving me more credit than I wanted. I came up to Amazing Grace, the second of the three 105 howitzers. Its barrel was also split. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson was sitting on one of the bunkers in the area. "Hi, Chaplain,” he called out.

"Some night," I responded. "Glad you’re all right."

"Only my career is shot to hell,” he retorted.

I didn't respond because I was not sure what he meant. I sat next to him.

"A hell of a way to end my tour,” he went on. "I had a good tour, until this f###-up."

"I'm not certain I understand what you mean," I said.

"Damn, chaplain, I'll be lucky to get a seat on a plane home after this mess. Damn, only one more day and I would have been out of here clean. I can kiss my promotion good-bye. One f### up and I'm dead."

I decided that active listening was called for. I nodded my head and he continued to express his grief over letting down his guard for this one night. It didn't matter that no one was killed except the enemy. The attack happened on his watch. His OER (Officer Efficiency Report) would not come up to standard and would reflect the morning raid. The People's Army of Vietnam, the PAVN, had ruined another commander’s career.

I can't remember what else was said. I remember walking back with him to the TOC. He checked out what was happening with his soldiers along the way. They all smiled. Some smiled and said, "We busted their ass, sir."

He smiled back. "Damn good job, son."

"Sir, I'm going to get back to my hooch and prepare for the service. Is there anything I can do for you, Sir?”

"Nothing now. I appreciate your listening to me. You'll enjoy working with Sterling. He’s a great guy and will be a great commander to work with." He turned and walked slowly away with his shoulders drooping.

I made my way back to Stony’s; I had to get my thoughts together for the morning service.

I turned to my Bible and read from Second Timothy four: "I fought the good fight, I kept the faith, I've finished my race." With that verse, I went up to the artillery area where Blind Faith stood wounded. I didn't preach. We had a discussion of our last night's experience, our fears, our hope and God's amazing grace. There before the Blind Faith howitzer, we reminded each other that our faith was not in cold steel but in God's grace. Our faith was not blind for we were saved by the grace of our merciful God.

Sunday evening I made my way to Camp Radcliff. The change of command went off without a hitch. Most of the battalion was standing down in place, remaining alert but taking it easy. Lieutenant Colonel Sterling took over the command. After the ceremony he talked to me and asked if I could go to Qui Nhon to check on the nine wounded troops that were dusted off to the hospital. I told him I thought that was a good idea. He said a chopper would pick me up Monday morning at Radcliff. He already called it in. 

"Go back tonight and get ready. My Loach (Light Observation Helicopter) will take you in. I'm coming in Tuesday. I'll see you then. I'm glad you were up here, Chap. The men appreciate your presence." He smiled that little all-telling grin and asked, "What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?”

I just returned the smile, saluted and went to gather my chaplain's kit and ruck and headed to the pad to catch a ride back to Radcliff.

While I was waiting for the command helicopter that is at ready for the CO at a moment's notice, TOP (Sergeant Major) saw me talking to Stony. He came over to say good-bye and to make sure I'd talked to the CO about going to the hospital.
I see you survived your welcome to Firebase Warrior.”

"That was quite a welcome, TOP. You really didn't have to go that far to make me feel welcome. By the way, how are you doing?” I asked.

"My head feels as if I was hit by a mortar, but I'll be ok. He was grinning, but his eyes looked bloodshot and his face seemed much older than it had yesterday.

He came and sat next to me. "Too bad about the Major. I just got word they air-vacced him to Japan. I believe he's on his way home."

"Did you hear about the others?” I asked.

"They took them right down to Qui Nhon. No one got off at Radcliff. As far as I know, they are all doing just fine." He stopped talking for a moment, took a deep breath, lit a cigarette and went on to tell me, "We were lucky. Those were VC regulars, part of the People’s Army of Vietnam, or what we call the PAVN.”

"TOP, who or what are the PAVN’s?” I asked.

"They are regular troops, trained mostly the North, sometimes in China. The little bastards hate Americans as much as they did the French. They hate anyone except for other North Vietnamese." He stopped speaking and took a deep breath. "I take that back." He pulled on the front rim of his helmet. “They don't hate the South Vietnamese, only the rich ones who run the government. They see them as patsies for Europeans, and especially United States." He took a long drag on his cigarette. "In a way, I admire them. They are disciplined, trained and tough as hell. They kicked the sh## out of the French over there at Dein Bien Phu."

I remembered seeing a field of white crosses that looked like a small Arlington, when I flew in the area between Pleiku and Radcliff. The pilot had told me it was a French cemetery.

"How did we get into this mess if the French lost the war?” I asked.

Top went on with his impromptu history lesson. "Truman started helping the French and then subsequent leaders kept adding more and more help. Now, here we are,” he began.

“Johnson, he’s the one who really got us involved. He is the one who really got us f###ed up, by putting so many troops in this god-forsaken place that it will be almost impossible to get out. We have another Korea, only worse, right here in Vietnam.

I interrupted him for second. "That stuff went on back in the fifties. I was just getting out of high school. I don't remember too much about it. I was disappointed that I missed the Korean War and was worried about girls, track and going to college."

"Damn, Chaplain, you wanted to fight in Korea?”

I laughed. "I thought I would like that, but now I know I was just a crazy kid."

"Let me tell you, Korea was a bitch. This-” overlooking the firebase, he went on saying, -"is no picnic either. I’m afraid we’re going to go home with our tails between our legs." He took off his steel pot and ran his hands through what little hair he had.

"I’m sorry. I didn't mean to stop you. You were saying the Sappers came from North Vietnam."

"Not all of them. They get some of the village people to join up and fight. They train them well. Those slimy little bastards up at the artillery pit were VC regulars. Those Sappers are like guerrillas. They're trained in using explosives, ambushing and planting booby traps. They go after helicopters, aircraft, howitzers, mortars, and I guess commanders, when they can. They're the Special Forces in the PAVN. They use kids, women, anyone they can. They don't give a sh## about dying. Did you see those satchel charges, made from banana leaves and gunpowder they captured from us?" He asked.

That filmier sound of a chopper filled the air. Dust was blowing and pieces of paper and junk swelled everywhere. "See you in base camp,” said TOP. "Tell the guys in the hospital to keep their sh## together for me," he said, as I ran to the chopper.

"Will do, TOP, thanks for your help. I couldn't have managed without you." Looking over at Stony who was throwing supplies off the chopper. I yelled, "Stony, thanks for the use of the hooch."

"Any time, Chap,” then he saluted at we began to lift off and slide across the abused firebase.

Jim, this experience has been something else. What I received the last two days as an introduction to the "Field" in Vietnam, I will remember for the rest of my life. I really thought I would be killed in action when it first burst out. This is going to be a long year, yet I hope it passes quickly. I'm trying to put my thoughts down in a journal and in the letters I'm sending to you. I appreciate the opportunity to let my thoughts fly to you, because of my trust in you and your trust in me.

Take care and God bless you and yours. Keep me in your prayers.




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