February 28, 1970
Dear Chaplain Miller,

Jim, as I promised in my last letter, I’m going to share with you an experience I had at our brigade briefing.  It was more like a stand up comic session that we had last night at a briefing just before dinner.  I believe it was the Brigade Tactical Briefing.  It took place at 1700 though it was scheduled for 1600.  This ritual of evening briefings has a liturgical form all its own.  It's held in a large room that is half screened around the circumference of the room to let the cool night air blow through.  Most of the time there is no such thing as cool night air.  Humid night air would be more like it.  The entire staff turns out for this nightly show, if they are in base camp.  In firebases, similar briefings go on much in the same manner, but a little less formal.

At 1700 hours, the command sergeant major announced, "Gentlemen, the Brigade Commander."  Chairs clang as the men came to attention.  The scuffling was greeted with "Please be seated."  More scuffling as the men began to try and get comfortable in their hard metal fold-up chairs.  The commander was sitting in a soft, leather desk chair up front, facing a set of panoramic maps and briefing charts that his staff had been preparing most of the afternoon. 

"Good evening, Sir!"  A major-type officer addressed the commander.  He picked up a pointer and approached one of the charts.  There were various color dots of round sticker paper all over the charts and maps.  "At spotter number one," he began, as he pointed to the obvious marker, "1013 this morning Charlie Company, first of the fourteenth, spotted two figures, twenty meters to their north.  Coordinates 35642196.  They were wearing black pajamas, rubber tire sandals, pith helmets, carrying AK-47's, pistol belts and American canteens.  Small arms were employed.  M-79’s were also used, along with 82mm mortars.  Artillery was called in; Bravo battery on the firebase expended fifty rounds of 105 mm.  Ten rounds of 155's mm and ten rounds of 175's mm were fired from Camp Radcliff at precisely 1018 hours.  Charlie Company then swept the area with negative findings and therefore it is assumed that the enemy fled in an unknown direction.  Charlie Company will be extracted from their night location at first light or flyable weather, which ever comes first.  There is no trace or any visible means of finding the trail they were on before the skirmish started."

I was sitting in the rear of the room and I heard some sort of grunting eking out of the soft chair, and the briefer shook his head. "Well, Sir, that's way they gave it to me at higher." I couldn't hear what the commander said.  Then much louder, the commander said, "Go on.”  It sounded more like a sigh than a request.  One of the officers sitting behind me whispered, “The old man hates that s##t about going in an unknown direction."

Pointing at marker number two, the briefer continued.  "At this location, right about here," the wooden finger tapped the map.  "Delta Company, first of the twelfth second platoon, came across a small grass hooch.” The commander said something. "No, Sir, it was a grass hooch, not a hooch filled with grass." The audience gave a polite laugh.  The major went on.  "There were no hostile forces in the area.  Upon searching the camp, our men found one AK 47 round, two M-16 cartridges, three pair of black wearing apparel, four pith helmets, five pongee sticks."  The XO piped up, "And a partridge in a pear tree." There was more laughter.  I thought to myself, eight months till Christmas.

The briefing went on for about twenty minutes.  The commander got up to make a few comments. He started by saying, “We need to get out there and get some damn gooks. They can't keep disappearing in an unknown direction.  G##damn it, we bring the whole f##ing war on the heads of two of those little bastards and nothing happens."

Just as he was about finished, a voice from the rear of the room, said, "F### you!"  "F### you!"  “F### you!"  Everyone in the place began to laugh, not just a polite chuckle like they gave to the commander but deep belly laughter.  The commander himself almost got tickled.  "Christ," he says, "We can't even get rid of those damn lizards."  That's right, Jim.  They have a lizard, native to Vietnam that makes a sound that clearly says, "f### you."  I suppose he learned it from the GI’s.  It was the first time I had encountered the infamous Lizard.  The second time was at dinner after the briefing in the MASH Officer’s club.  It seems that these lizards are drawn to the light and speak their mind at what they think about what is happening to their country.

I'm enclosing a news article from the Stars and Strips newspaper as verification that I'm not just pulling your leg.  I'll quote it in this letter as well, even though I don't have a date that the article was printed.  Father Taddy was the priest that wanted the lizard avenged.


Camp Radcliff, Vietnam (Special)--A 2nd Brigade chaplain assistant is trying to put his outdoorsman's skill to work on a somewhat embarrassing problem at the 4th Inf. Div.'s Highlander Chapel.

The nemesis in this case was the infamous Vietnamese "Insulting Lizard" who lurks in every nook, cranny and bush in Camp Radcliff and emits his limited vocabulary.  From dusk to dark, the lizard would interrupt chapel business nightly with its own version of fire and brimstone.

"It got to be annoying," said Spec 5 Tom Wagner.  "That kind of racket is just not right for our atmosphere here" (at the Highlander Chapel), he explained.

Wagner thought the best way to cope with his antagonist would be to trap and then relocate the noisy reptile.  So he scrounged a few simple materials and began construction of an "Insulting Lizard Trap."

"I used to trap beaver back in Minnesota just for fun.  I'd turn them loose after I caught them,” said Wagner.  In no time, Wagner had finished his trap, made from a few boards, some screening and a coat hanger.  The lizard trap was equipped with a trap door that is triggered by pressure put on the bait hook.  His next problem was how to bait the trap.  The lizard is still on the loose around the Highlander Chapel, still insulting everything in earshot.  Wagner is still trying to come up with a sure-fire lure for the lizard.

The "Insulting Lizard" referred to in the above article was the same species that interrupted the Command Briefing and the same one who, after eating hot cigarettes, expressed his true feeling about the ugly Americans in his country.




February 27, 1970

Dear Chaplain Miller,

This is a continuing part of a very long section about the men in Vietnam. I know I had some flashbacks to the men I worked with in Okinawa. For the most part, they appear to be the same, except the GI's here are in a real war. When I came into Camp Radcliff this morning, I saw one of these men of the bush heading to the chopper pad on his way out to the field. I noticed from a distance that his rucksack must have weighted over 70 pounds. His back was bent over and he was moving or plodding slowly. As he got closer, I could see the sweat running off his face. On closer look, I saw why he was laboring with his load. Strapped under his rucksack was a case of beer. When he looked up and saw me, his free hand gave me the "V" salute. He had his M16 in his right hand. His eyes gave me a big, white-eyed smile and his white teeth were shining out from his dark lips.

"Hi, Chaplain," he called out. "Everything ok out at Tuffy?" he asked, but really not expecting an answer.

"They're getting ready to move, I think. But we still have some mopping up to do." I answered.

"They called me out today, ain't that a bitch?" he responded to my answer.

"You might say that," I laughed as we passed.

As I came up to him, I could read his helmet. Over here, helmets are sort of a billboard for the advertisement of what the wearer is trying to say. This GI had a peace symbol on the front of his steel pot; printed on the washed out camouflage canvas cover in black ink. On the right side there were a couple of cigarettes stuck in the headband and an image of a man and a woman in the act of intercourse. As I was passing him, I looked back and on the backside of the helmet what I saw in bold black lettering was "John 3:16." I was tempted to ask him what he had on the other side of his helmet but I kept on heading back to my hooch.

When I got back to the Headquarters Orderly room, I stopped in to see what had been going on while I was in the field. They told me that Dave called and said he was at the Brigade Chapel, that they called a mandatory meeting of the chaplain's assistants. He told the NCOIC to tell me that Chaplain Honeycutt told him he had to come and that I could get back some other way. I had to laugh. Dave was so conscientious and a very good assistant.

It truly was a blessing to have men working with you that were self-motivated. I did not have to give him a list of things to do when I was in the field. And when I got back,there would be typed letters ready for my signature and appointments scheduled for troops who wanted to talk to me. When he knew I was coming in, my ice chest would be full of iced cokes. Dave was good soldier who was always ready to go to the field if needed. It was indeed a pleasure to have such a competent person around.

I know I started this letter off by talking about the "Men" in Vietnam. As I began to write and get into this chapter, I began to realize that almost all of the chapters written throughout my eleven months were about the men in Vietnam. So I'll bring this portion to a close, knowing full well that the men in Vietnam could be the second title for this book as I talk about blind faith. After all they are the reason for my being here in the first place.

Jim, my eyes are telling me to quit writing for a while and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day. Tonight I can cross off another day in Vietnam on my short timer's calendar. It's a little depressing to do that so early in my tour, because I can see how far I have to go before I can call myself a short-timer. December is such a long way from February.

Good morning Jim, I'm continuing the letter from yesterday. I woke up at three in the morning. I stared into the darkness. Couldn't sleep. I sat up, reached into the ice chest and put a piece of ice in my mouth. I could hear the distant booming noise coming from the perimeter of Radcliff, where they intermediately sent illumination flares into the night. I thought it strange, that I was able to sleep in the field but had difficulty when I got back to base. I'll stop in and see Doc Gold tomorrow; maybe he can give me something.

I got up and opened the door to my hooch. It was pitch black out. You could see some security light across the area. I turned on my light; it is amazing what a light bulb can do to brighten an old tin wall inside small hooch. I opened my journal and started to put down my morning thoughts.

I guess I'll begin with where I stopped in my letter to you last night. That was a long letter I finished before going out last night. Let me see where to begin? I left the HQ and went over to my hooch.

I had moved out of my tent and made my home and office in an unused tin arms shack. It stood alone, outside the mess hall. It was about the size of a small camper trailer. It was ten feet long and six or seven feet wide. I talked the XO into letting me have it since the tent was getting shaggy and was in the middle of the enlisted barracks. He agreed, so Dave and I moved my cot into one side and a field desk in the other and two folding chairs. While I was out in the field the week before, Dave had piled up a large stack of Styrofoam box liners, from field hot boxes next to the door. They were about an inch and a half thick. He left a note saying these might be good insulation materials for the inside of the hooch.

Dave showed up before the mess hall opened for breakfast. He told me that the mandatory meeting was a ridiculous waste of time. The class was a training class on how an altar was to be set up and what vestments needed to go on the rack for the priest. It was his way of apologizing for not picking me up yesterday.

I told him about my experience with Pecker and Joe out at the firebase. He said that more and more troops were using drugs in base camp. That sometimes, the barracks were so fouled up with marijuana smoke that he had to get out so he wouldn't get high on second hand smoke. I told him that when I'm in the field, he might want to start staying in the hooch. We'll call it the Chaplain's office. That way it would not offend the officers who believe in separation of officers and enlisted quarters. Dave laughed at that, but thanked me and started to attach the styrofoam liner to the inside of the office.

It took most of the day to finish the task of lining the new chaplain's office, but it was well worth it. With the old fan I kept from my trip to Pleiku last month, the office was quite comfortable. The mess hall helped shade the building most of the time.

Honeycutt called me and told me I was expected to be at the Brigade briefing at 1600 hours at the HQ. I ragged him about scarfing up Dave for the assistant's meeting in the afternoon, leaving me to walk back from the chopper pad. He laughed, and like a good Baptist, blamed the Division Catholic Chaplain who called the meeting. It seemed that at one of the masses at Division, the assistant that was usually present for the mass was in the field, so a Protestant's assistant covered for him and didn't know where to begin. Thus a refresher course on setting up for a mass was given to all the division assistants. Before he hung up, he told me that Chaplain Bridgman asked him to ask me to give him a call if I came in today.

I called Hugh and we set up a dinner date after the evening briefing. We went to dinner at the officer's club at the MASH unit. We had rib eye steaks and were entertained by lizards that were attracted by the lights in the patio. Some of the other officer's would take a lighted cigarette and give it to a lizard. The lizards were about a foot long. It would take the cigarette and start chewing down to the lit end. When it got to the red-hot end, it would let out a yelp and run back up the tree and start nagging.

At this point in my journal writing, I decided to write a letter to you, Jim, about the briefing I had been in the night before. The lizard was the highlight of the briefing. For now I'll sign off and start a new letter about the lizard that interrupted a command briefing.




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