07 April 2010


Mike, Tom, Jerry Ayers and I finally got our orders to depart Vietnam “on or about 12 December 1969.” As near as we could determine, we were the last to leave country of the 142 lieutenants who arrived on 20 December 1968. Then, about 1 December, my relief came aboard. Tom Pottenger and Mike Koch also had reliefs who were anxious to get to work in their new assignments. That worked for us.

The next night, I sent Sayne and another Marine down to the LZ to guard the pre-staged supplies for the battalion. We had been getting reports that the supplies were being “rat-f_____d” by the LZ personnel, i.e., someone was opening cases of C-rats and removing the more desirable meals and taking other goodies, such as SPs.

We were hit at about 2100. I grabbed my rifle and headed for the LZ to make sure my Marines were OK. They were, but I was dinged in the helmet and flak jacket by some shrapnel.

When I got back, my relief, a Captain, dressed me down but good. He reminded me that I had only a week and a half to go and that he would have to write the letter if I did something stupid and got myself killed. I was ordered to stand down.

One of the advantages of being assigned as a pay officer was the opportunity to go to Danang to pay hospitalized troops. Among the “sights” in Danang was the Freedom Hill Post Exchange, which rivaled many PX’s then extant in the US. Having a captive audience (no malls in Danang, boys and girls), many merchants opened “stores” in Vietnam.

The Big Three auto makers had kiosks outside the Exchange where a Marine could purchase a car to be picked up at home on his return. They hired “round eyes” to man the sales booths—young American women who, back home, might not have gotten a casual glance from a hormoned up teenager, but who, in Vietnam, were goddesses. I suspect that the sales in a week paid for one of the girls for a couple of months.

Every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine was issued a “ration card” which had to be presented at the time of purchase. Rationing was designed to slow down resales to the black market. Among other things, officers and Staff NCOs were allowed a ration of six quarts of alcohol per month. Of course, those in the bush were not buying or using alcohol, but the folks back at An Hoa did occasionally consume adult beverages.

Before heading to Danang, pay officers would collect ration cards and take orders. The prices were incredible, even in those days. As I recall, a quart of Chivas Regal went for three bucks. It was not uncommon for a pay officer to return from Danang with 18 to 24 bottles of hooch.

So, after my tail chewing by the Captain, I began to join Mike and Tom in a nightly “celebration.”

Our routine was to eat supper at the mess hall and then retire down to the Charlie Company sea bag tent for the evening. The sea bag tent was the storage point for the sea bags that the troops had brought in country—holding their stateside utilities, leather boots, summer service C uniform (for R & R) and other sundry clothing and equipment they did not want or could not use in the field. There were probably 200 sea bags stacked in the tent.

We would begin drinking shortly after 1800 and would continue until sleep overtook us. We would either sleep on top of the stacked sea bags, or we would stumble back to our respective bunkers. One "morning after," Mike showed up with cuts all over his arms. He had gotten a little off course on his walk back to his hooch and had fallen into some concertina barbed wire. Tom and I were sympathetic and supportive. Yes we were!

One night, I got back to the S-4 bunker in time to catch the end of the night’s cockroach races. The cockroaches in that part of the world grow to over an inch in length. The interior wooden walls of our bunker were streaked with spray painted trails resulting from our efforts to corral champion roaches. Someone would spot a roach crawling across the wall. He would grab a can of spray paint from the paint locker and begin to paint the bug. Roaches do not like to be painted, and they would scurry across the walls, leaving a winding path that Bil Keane would have been proud of.

We also had a large circle painted on the deck. Different colored roaches would be dropped at the center and the race would begin. The first to leave the circle was the winner and got to race again. The losers were squashed. As I write this, it sounds gross and not particularly exciting, but in country, it was the acme of sport. I had a yellow roach that won 10 straight races. I was sorry to step on him when he finally lost, but rules are rules.

One night just three or four days before we left, I returned to the S-4 bunker from our cocktail hour. It was about 2200 and it was raining. My boots were muddy and I was a bit unsteady. Suddenly, a large, pregnant rat scurried across the deck.

Someone called “Rat,” and I whipped out my K-Bar combat knife and dove for the beast. I missed, but managed to cut deep into my left wrist. Someone put a battle dressing on the wound and I was driven down to Battalion Aid Station 1/5. The duty Corpsman had been with Charlie Company and had given me my shots earlier that day. He looked at the cut and announced that it would take a couple of stitches to close it up. “I can give you something to numb it, Lieutenant, but it will be four sticks to deaden it and four sticks to sew it. What do you want?”

“Aw, hell, Doc, I’m already a little numb. Just sew the damn’d thing up.” Big mistake on my part.

The first stitch went in just fine. So did the first half of the second, but on the way out, the needle hit a nerve. My penance, I presume.

The rat was not seen again—probably off telling all the other rats about the idiot with the knife.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

No comments: