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.




Blogger Templates by Blog Forum