VIGNETTES VIETNAM (War stories that at least are built around the truth.)

VIGNETTES OTHER (Warrior stories that at least are built around the truth.)

VOICES (Things that need to be said.)
A collection of unedited (well almost) comments, recollections and thoughts from people that were there.

Where appropriate these entries have been linked to the main text.
Speak up, there is room here for more. Comments

NEW GUYS

FNG was a term used to describe Fu..ing New Guy during the Viet Nam war. It was a description for a new replacement who not only looked the part but was totally unprepared for his initial assignment. Combat duty in South East Asia was different from unit to unit and location. The new guy's training was on the job once he got to his unit.
I remember processing out to RVN from Fort Lewis, Washington, in September, 1968. They issued you new jungle fatigues and boots that were bright and shiny. It made you feel as new as you did in reception center, wanting to get your uniform and hair cut so you could some what fit in and not look like a new guy. As my luck had it, I had the opportunity to pull KP and got to see all the veterans getting their first steak dinner in the "world". I was afraid to make eye contact as the vets brought their trays to my KP station. I thought to myself, a year from now I'll be like them, hopefully. The new guy experience seems to follow you though out the army adventure. As soon as your location changes, the being new feeling is again reborn. The first night in country was at Cam Ranh Bay. That was when I heard a veteran PFC make the remark that you FNG's were still shitting stateside chow. Being as new as my uniform, I asked "What is a FNG?" The answer was modified with stupid in front, you stupid Frigging New Guy... At that point I began to hate REMF's, Rear Echelon Mother Fu..kers. The next FNG experience was at Quang Tri Air Base at the 5th replacement detachment. KP again and my first experience at perimeter guard. A week later, I was an FNG again at my unit, it never ends. The highlight was my FNG days was the first night in the bush, Bi Long Valley. I heard what I thought was someone saying F..k you, FU, FU,... I awoke my squad leader and told him I heard gooks. Everyone was alert grabbing grenades moving into fight positions while my squad leader was trying to understand what's going on when he realizes what I heard was a FU Lizard. Two days later I awoke and found a big dead lizard next to my poncho liner. Everyone got a big laugh except me.
The FNG status lasts until the next batch of new guys takes your place. Only then, you are not referred to as "FNG". September, 1969, Fort Lewis, Washington, returnee mess hall, I am eating my first state side steak. I looked up and see a guy doing what I did a year ago. He immediately turned his head when I made eye to eye contact with him. I saw myself again and remembered what it was like to be an FNG. I told him I know what it is like, I pulled KP here a year ago. I handed him my tray and proudly walked out of the mess hall.

Danny L Mathers, Rifleman, B Company, 1/61

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THE HO CHI MINH TUNNEL

Way back when in the spring of 1969, B Company, 1st of the 61st Infantry was on patrol in the scrub hills west of LZ Sharon. My company, commanded by Captain Parika, was sent to patrol an area which was an old fire base in the AO. We had dismounted and were on line looking for something my memory does not recall when suddenly someone stepped into a hole and twisted his ankle. Someone told the platoon leader, SSG Morris, the hole looked like a chimney because of the smoke stains on the walls. We looked around the area and discovered more holes in a linear pattern. This was reported to the company commander who investigated and reported to the battalion commander who reported to the brigade commander who somehow got a general to visit the site. Myself, a up and coming SP4, was involved in digging down to find the source of the shaft. It was speculated that this was an air shaft of a secret underground highway that was located between Dong Ha Mountain and Quang Tri. The rumor was that the gooks were using it to truck supplies to the VC on the coast. That explained the soot on the walls of the air shafts. We dug and dug and would periodically be required to send up a sample of dirt to a Major, the Subject Matter Expert, who would brief the chain of command. Finally we reached what looked like a pipe. Specialist Mendola grabbed the object and suddenly discovered it was a arty smoke round. By the time I climbed out of a twenty foot hole, all the brass was gone. To this day I wonder if there ever was a secret underground highway in the AO.

Danny L Mathers, Rifleman, B Company, 1/61
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REAL ANSWERS
or
10 DIVISIONS OF NVA

Sometime back in July 1969 on a 69-day operation we were awoken at "O dark thirty" and told to mount up. The code name of the operation or the details of the mission were nothing more than a "Frag Order". Basically we were told that 10 Divisions of NVA has crossed the DMZ above an old French prison 20 to 30 clicks above Khe Sanh. I remember the XO saying that Intel had picked up their movement from sensors that looked like sugar packets and exploded a radio frequency when stepped on. By the number of packets that had activated it was estimated that the force was around 10 divisions. At the time we were part of a task force that consisted of elements of Mech Infantry, armor & armored cav working around the old Khe Sanh air base and the Lang Ve area conducting search & destroy operations. I remember doing something that was totally horrifying, riding on a track vehicle in the dark to find, fix and engage a superior sized enemy force. Every ass hole was puckered so tight that words were never spoken. Everyone was focused to his own thoughts because we all thought this was it. A reinforced company against 10 divisions of regular army NVA! Are they crazy? We could see the flashes of bombs and feel the rumble of explosions as we moved north on an old unkempt road. We traveled what seemed like for hours until the sun started rising and the tanks on point came to a stopped. Everything mechanical suddenly became quite. Being tired, scared and confused we could see the effects of the "Arc Light" B52s. There were hundreds and hundreds of bomb craters and equal numbers of dead water buffaloes as far as anyone could see. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize there nothing to fear because the 10 divisions were nothing but big dead gray animals. From a trooper point of view, this was a hell of a lot better that cleaning up what was thought to be a major invasion. I am sure that headquarters or higher was not as relieved.
Danny L Mathers, Rifleman, B Company, 1/61

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AFTER 30 YEARS

        Thirty years ago this past October 25th, 1998, I last saw my friend Barney Hyatt. During Operation Rich we were members of the RECON PLATOON, HHC Co, 1/61. Our platoon, led by Lt. Dave Merrell, had been directed to bring relief to the leading company which had been pinned down by heavy automatic fire. Barney had been a few men in front of me and had received a shoulder wound several seconds before I dove into the bomb crater where he was laying in shock.
        We were directed to deploy to a trench line to the right. Hours past by before we came in contact with a Lt. who was shirtless, had a bullet wound through his chest, but had a grenade in both hands. He advised us to run with him to a defensive perimeter that had been set up. This area consisted of several bomb craters containing those who had been wounded and killed. We were informed at this time that our Lt. Merrell and our RTO (Thomas Ray) had both been killed.
        The NVA soldiers were relentless in their attempts to shoot down the med-evac helicopters. After Cobra Gunships were brought in we were finally able to get our dead and wounded out.
        Last year I left a message on "Quigley's Down Under Web Site" saying that I was with Lt. Merrell when he was lost.
        Some fourteen months passed and I received an e-mail from someone who claimed he was in my platoon and was the third man hit that day. He could not remember anyone's name or the names of base camps from which we had operated. His name was not familiar to me and I thought for sure I was dealing with a "wannabe". He indicated in further e-mails that he had discarded all his military records. Finally he sent me a photo that he had sent to a relative. It had been taken in Con Thien. As it transmitted onto my screen the face of my friend unfolded before my eyes. I immediately phoned him to apologize for doubting him. Within a week Barney drove from Lansing, Michigan to my home in Jackson, New Jersey.
        The Internet brought the two of us together after 30 years.

Tom Coopey, Scout, 1/61

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HARD WORK
MY COMBAT LT

I want to tell you about my search for the platoon leader I had in Vietnam. He was the nicest person you would want to meet, even though he was a 2nd LT. He never lost his cool in a firefight or other difficult situations. After his tour, he was going home to become a Baptist Minster, which was his calling. He put up with a lot of army talk, drinking and the stupid dopers while we were in the rear, but had total control in the field and we were by far the best platoon in the battalion. After he served his field duty and made XO, we kind of lost touch and then came Lam Son 719. He was made the 4th Platoon Leader, my platoon, and we were attached to a tank Battalion. He got grazed in the head and had to wait till light to be dusted out.
That was the last I heard of him for 30 years. Last year I got the phone number for CPT Dean, my old Company Commander, and I called him. We had not seen or talked since he was injured at A-4. We spend a wonderful time on the phone, but neither on us could remember LT Roller's first name. His nickname was Butch. Tried for eight months to track him down and finally did. One of the govt. agencies send me a list of four men named Roller and their phone numbers, as soon as I saw Harold, I knew I found my man.
I called the number and got an answering machine and let a brief message. He sent a brief email and called that night. When he got out of the Army, he went to the seminary and was a pastor for a while, before returning to the Army. I asked him what made him start all over and become a pastor. His answer really shows how much he cares. Here is that answer: "The reason I returned to serve as an Army Chaplain is a call from God. I truly believe God wanted me to minister to soldiers. The 26 years I have been a Chaplain has only affirmed that call from God."
He is now Col. Hal Roller and in charge of the Chaplains at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. He has orders to become the Commandant of the Chaplain School at Ft. Jackson, SC. in March 2002. Which as you might know is the home of the 1st BN 61st INF. Talking about coming around full circle.

Randy Jones, Rifleman, 1/61

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LOSSES

The faceless are many and very young,
But I knew a soldier once, and his name was on the tip of my tongue.
And then I sing a song of Death to my fallen friends.
"To this Hell" I sing a song of fallen foes.
I ride the crest on needles and pins,
Just to make my mind unhinge.
To the Death I ride!
To the Death I ride again!

The roar of the engine
The clap of the 50 caliber
Does make the driver standup
On his full body stance;

Then you'll know that
you are near Death's Dance.

December, 1969
Pat Maddalino-A Co 1/61
Rifleman

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MY FRIEND-CHRIS CORDOVA

by Jack Stoddard

This is an extract from a recently published book titled
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO, SEND ME TO VIETNAM?.
If you like first person war stories you will surely enjoy this book. For more information, click HERE

     I really felt lucky to have such a good crew, even if their backgrounds 
were so different. Jim was from New York and had a college degree.  Stick 
was the skinny kid from Detroit who had been raised in the streets of the 
Motor City and then there was Chris who was a small town kid who had never 
ventured far beyond the beautiful mesas of New Mexico. As a tank commander I 
felt blessed when these three men were filtered down through the system and 
finally ended up being assigned to my tank. Jim was the anchor of my crew 
while Chris was the hardest worker. Stick was just Stick.  Always a little 
nervous, but at the same time eager to learn the art of war and always doing 
a good job for me.  When these three guys bonded together I knew that the 
crew of Bravo Two-Two was going to be a good one! We had become an 
unbeatable team.
     I knew Chris Cordova, the driver of our tank, for almost a year. 
He arrived in Vietnam when he was nineteen and we had a party when he 
turned twenty. We had a lot of good times together along with a few bad 
ones. His best friend and running buddy was Jim Tanouse, our gunner on the 
Double Deuce. They were always doing something together. Chris was a young, 
quiet Mexican-American boy and Jim at the age of 23 was the older teacher. 
They both had been drafted so they shared that common bond.  I can remember 
Chris always going to church services as often as he could, even while we 
were in the field. There might have been only two soldiers at the services, 
but one of them was always Chris. I had managed to take good care of my guys 
for the whole year that I was their tank commander.
     Chris had extended for six months in Vietnam so that when he got home 
he would have no duties to perform in the National Guard. People who were 
drafted not only had to go to Vietnam, but they also had to serve with the 
National Guard for a year or two, I donít remember exactly how long. This 
program was new and a lot of the guys were doing it. It meant that Chris 
would now be leaving the ĎNam four months after me.
     I was busy in base camp starting the week long ordeal of out-processing 
to go home, Jim was out of country on R&R in Australia and our platoon was 
preparing to leave Quang-Tri on another support mission. As usual Chris was 
driving the old Double Deuce, Stick was the loader and our newly assigned 
Second Lieutenant would be acting as tank commander for this mission. The 
five tanks of the second platoon, B company would be on a search and destroy 
mission around Alpha Four, our furthest most fire support base which was 
north of Quang Tri. They would be supporting our sister unit, the 1/61st 
Infantry Battalion. 
     I was later told that they had made contact with a platoon of NVA 
(North Vietnamese Army) soldiers. The American soldiers from the 1/61st in 
their ACAVs (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle) had the enemy pinned down in a 
valley while our tanks blocked the exits so they couldnít escape. Soon our 
ACAVs started taking heavy return fire and had to back out of the area while 
at the same time calling in our gun ships for support. Shortly there were 
three Cobra gun ships circling the area. 
     The gun ships started their attack by coming in low from the north 
firing their machine guns until they were on their final approach toward the 
enemy infested pod of jungle that was buried within the heart of the valley.
They then fired a series of rockets toward the target area as the crews of 
the second platoon watched from a safe distance. The tankers cheered as the 
exploding rockets found their mark. But then it happened! For no apparent 
reason the third gun ship made his run from the east end of the valley, 
heading straight in the direction of our own tanks sitting one-hundred yards 
above the target area! The Cobra fired off two rockets, the first one 
landing twenty-feet directly in front of the Double Deuce.  Our new 
lieutenant, who had only seconds before been sitting on the right front 
fender talking with Chris and Doc Brown, our medic, was blown completely 
off the tank! Doc had also been hit by the first rocket and was now laying 
on the ground seriously wounded. 
     About the same time the second rocket found its mark. It exploded upon 
impact and penetrated the hull of the Double Deuce.  It had landed directly 
above Chrisís head and my good friend was killed instantly.  Within moments 
of the second explosion, Stick was already climbing out of the turret and 
heading in the direction of his buddy, but by the time he got there it was 
too late.  All that Stick could do was to sit next to Chris and cry. He was 
still crying when the other troopers of the second platoon finally reached 
them. The lieutenant would recover from his wounds, but Doc would later 
lose his left arm due to this terrible tragedy. 
     For me this was the worst day of my life. I had lost a very special 
friend and I still, to this day, feel that if only I had been there, things 
might have been different. An investigation was launched to determine why or 
how such a terrible mistake had happened. 
     That afternoon I went to the motor pool to clean the blood of my friend 
off my tank. I couldnít and wouldnít let anybody help.  I was the tank 
commander of the Double Deuce and it was my job, my responsibility.
     It took me over two hours to scrub down the entire driverís 
compartment. I still remember that I didnít want anyone to see my tears as 
I tried to erase the memories of what had just happened. Maybe if I scrubbed 
hard enough, Chris would be all right. Iíd never before or since cried so 
hard. There was to be none of the normal joking going around the motor pool 
on this day. Everybody knew and liked Chris.
     Two days later I had to tell Jim when he returned from R&R. It was so 
hard to explain what had happened to his best buddy. We both sat in the dark 
corner of our hooch and cried together. I didnít think I had any tears left. 
The next morning I sat down and wrote a letter to Chris Cordovaís parents 
while at the same time promising myself never to forget him. I even made a 
vow that I would name my next son after him.
     Many years later, in 1990, my second wife, Sue, and I had the first of 
two very special sons, who we named Christopher.  I had finally been able to 
keep my promise from so long ago. Christopher, as well as our second son, 
Billy, was born with a rare, terminal metabolic disorder called Leighís 
Disease. When little Chris was only three-weeks-old, while laying in front 
of me on the floor, he stopped breathing! I was busy watching TV at the time 
and was very surprised at what happened next. I could see my old friend 
Chris standing next to the television and pointing in the direction of my 
son! I was startled to say the least, but I immediately looked down to see 
my boy turning blue. I then gave little Chris CPR and he came around just 
fine.
     While I was busy performing CPR I realized that my son had a guardian 
angel. My dear friend of so long ago had just alerted and helped me save 
Christopherís life. My friend Chris may be gone but he will never be 
forgotten. When itís my turn to enter Fiddlers Green, the final resting 
place for all good tankers, I know my good friend Chris will be waiting for 
me. Heíll be standing there with that shit-eating grin and laughing that 
boyish laugh. Weíll both climb onboard the gleaming Double Deuce and Iíll 
holler out, "Kick her in the ass, Chris, we have a long way to go before it 
gets dark." As the Deuce heads out into the clouds, a fellow trooper will 
holler out, "Hey Guys, look at that crazy chicken on the gun tube!"

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COMING HOME

They left the jungles red with blood, the Daves, the Johns and Toms.
Boarded the Freedom Bird, they were going home again.
Behind them were the horrors, the agony and the fears.
The memories they brought with them, to dim not ore the years.

Anxious hearts were beating fast, as the Freedom Bird touched down.
Home at last or so they thought, but shocked at what they found.
Some came off the plane walking, some on stretchers and wheelchairs.
Nothing had prepared them for the jeers and hate filled stares.

What had they done they thought, as some bowed their head in shame?
They had fought for God and Country, so for what did come this blame.
Incoming spit and rotten eggs hurt worse than wounds their bodies bore.
And all thoughts of Freedom faded as they stepped back on US soil.

Families could not understand why they were not the same.
Some wouldn't even listen, when he would try to explain.
No Welcome Home parades, for the town's people turned away.
For him there was not to be a real Homecoming Day.

They went in all directions, and coped the best they could.
Carrying more guilt and shame than any Veteran should.
They built walls and bunkers so they could be touched no more.
And each night they dreamed and cried and fought a raging war.

For thirty some odd years have passed and wonder where they are?
Some are walking the homeless streets, some in VA mental wards.
Many have died from illness contracted in the Nam.
Some just quit fighting, some pick up a gun.

But by the Grace of God, some found the courage to step out.
"I am a VIET NAM VETERAN, I got the right to be Proud"
Turn away if you must or listen if you will.
I've bore all you threw at me and I am standing still.

Although my steps are weary and my soul is oh so sore,
You can take your blame and guilt, I won't carry it no more.
I'll reach out to my brothers that are still standing all alone,
And by God you can't stop us. One by One We're Coming home.

author-anonymos
submitted by TOMMY DORRIS-5/4 ARTY
Forward Observer
with A Co 1/61

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The Final Inspection

The soldier stood and faced his God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining bright
Just as brightly as his brass
"Step forward now, soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you turned the other cheek?
To my Church have you been true?"
The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
"No Lord I guess I ain't
Because those of us who carry guns
can't always be a saint.
I've had to work most Sundays
and at times my talk was tough,
But, I never took a thing
That wasn't mine to keep...
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills got just too steep,
And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear,
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.
I know I don't deserve a place
Among the people here,
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fears.
If you've a place for me here, Lord,
It needn't be so grand,
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't I'll understand."
There was a silence all around the throne
Where the saints often trod
As the soldier waited quietly,
for the judgment of his God,
"Step forward now, soldier,
You've borne your burdens well,
Come walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in HELL."

author-anonymos
Provided by Walt Bickston, old Pioneer 6, who got it from a young friend who is a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy SEALs.
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A VETERAN DIED TODAY

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
and he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war he had fought in and the deeds that he had done.
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, everyone.
And `tho sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
all his buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tails no longer, for ol' Bob has passed away,
and the world's a little poorer, for a Veteran died today.

No, he won't be mourned by many, just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary, very quiet sort of life.
He held a job and raised a family, quietly going on his way;
and the world won't note his passing; `tho a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
while thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell of their life stories, from the time that they were young,
but the passing of a Veteran, goes unnoticed, and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution, to the welfare of our land,
some jerk who breaks his promise and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow, who in times of war and strife,
goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

The politician's stipend and the style in which he lives,
are sometimes disproportionate, to the services he gives.
While the ordinary Veteran, who offered up his all,
is paid off with a medal and perhaps a pension, small.
It's so easy to forget them, for it is so long ago,
that our Bobs and Jims and Johnnys, went to battle, but we know.
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
who won for us the freedom that our country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
would you really want some cop-out, with his ever waffling stand?
Or would you want a Veteran, who has sworn to defend,
his home, his kin and Country, and would fight until the end?

He was just a common Veteran, and his ranks are growing thin,
but his presence should remind us, we may need his likes again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the Military's part,
is to clean up all the troubles, that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor, while he is here to hear the praise,
then at least let's give him homage, at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline, in the paper that might say:

OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING, FOR A VETERAN DIED TODAY

author-anonymos
Provided by a young officer in the 196th INF BDE. He never served in VIETNAM and never in the 5th DIV but he understands the truth of INFANTRY service.

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A DAY ON THE ROAD

February 23, 1971 started out as a normal day, I was almost at the six month point of my tour of duty in Vietnam. I had been attached to 2nd Platoon C-Troop 3/5 Cavalry for some months as a Forward Observer.
Our mission during Lam Son 719 was to provide security to the Engineers who were building the " Red Devil Highway" from the Rockpile to Khe Sanh, Our jobs consisted of patrols, and mine sweeps of the area in and around the Rockpile.
On that morning we had been assigned to do a mine sweep in the area known as the "Punch Bowl". With us that morning was a civilian reporter named Holger Jensen who was doing a story of the operation. He was riding in the fifth armored personal carrier along with my platoon leader Lt. Joe Megginson, a West Point Graduate, the best officer I have ever served under and our troop commander Captain Carr. I was in the fourth armored personal carrier in the column.
About an hour into the sweep I spotted something along the side of the road. I didn't know quite what it was, I though maybe we had dropped a box of ammunition but wasn't sure. I dismounted to investigate and as the troop commander was there I wore my tin pot and flak jacket. I also brought along my M-60 Machine gun with a 50 round belt just in case. It was a lucky thing that I did because when I parted the bush there I was face to face with a North Vietnamese Army soldier with a RPG pointed right at me, no more that a foot away. I don't know what possessed me at the time but I said "Chieu hoi (Open Arms in Vietnamese means to surrender.) At that point he pulled the trigger (I can still hear that click today.). He was in the process of re-cocking his RPG when I shot him. After shooting him I started firing in the area around him. (I still remember my Lt. Asking "What the hell I thought I was doing".) I was so scared I couldn't even talk, I ran back to my track and grabbed an M-16 and a ammo can that had some grenades in it and went back to engage who ever was out there. By then everyone thought that I had went insane ( I still couldn't talk ) until I pulled the body of the first NVA onto the road. It was at that point that the unit realized that we were in an ambush and by then it was all over. I had killed four enemy soldiers and wounded at least one more who got away. We were lucky that day, for there were no American causalities.
I found out later that I had been put in for the Silver Star for the action.
Towards the end of my tour I was called out in formation and presented with The Silver Star and Purple Heart. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. I still remember the hand shakes and pats on the back as if it was yesterday.

Terry J. Johnson HHB 8/4 Arty. F.O. Team attached 2nd Plt. C Trp. 3/5 Cav.

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VIGNETTES VIETNAM (War stories that at least are built around the truth.)

VIGNETTES OTHER (Warrior stories that at least are built around the truth.)

Return to Appendices

[Index]