"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time. ~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Terror and Hilarity: by Byron Edgington

Warrant Officer 1 B Edgington 3rd from the left
War is filled with opportunities to get yourself killed. 

Sometimes these opportunities arise in seconds, unanticipated, their outcomes something not even Hollywood could manufacture. 

I suppose if I’d died on this mission I never would have felt a thing. It would have been a classic case of one second alive, chuffing one breath out, another in, then zap... I suppose that’s the way it always is. 

It seemed like a routine mission, an easy LZ in a place as serene and green as the bucolic fields of my Ohio childhood. I suppose if I’d been killed that day it would have been as good a place as any to fulfill life’s ultimate function.
The mission was to insert a special operations team onto an LZ in Laos ten kilometers west of Khe Sanh. I was flying lead ship that day. The escort plane marked the LZ for me, and three other Hueys to follow, and then the Air Force ‘covey bird’ zipped away. The marked spot was a half-acre field covered in elephant grass six feet deep. 

My crewchief, Gil, was behind me in the well of the aircraft.  John, the door gunner of whistle fame, was once again on the right side. I briefed them for landing, slid my visor down and entered final approach. Down I went, the LZ a hundred yards ahead. Soon I was over it, and ready to land.

As I hovered above the deep grass, the Huey’s rotorwash blasted it flat. And there he was. Forty feet away, a lone North Vietnamese soldier, gray-green fatigues, jungle hat, as surprised to see me as I him. His AK swiveled up, aimed directly at me. 

The next three seconds were a blur to me then, and they are now. I turned my head slightly left at the anomalous item in my peripheral view and wondered what it was. It was the enemy soldier, of course. 

Then a shriek of M-16 fire exploded directly behind me, and I jerked so hard I locked my inertia reel. Hot rounds snapped out, a burst of six, or perhaps twenty, I cannot say.

The enemy soldier crumpled like a burst balloon, his lifeless body a heap of gray-green camo. His hat flew off. His weapon clattered away. The man was dead. One instant a breath chuffing in, then out, and then...

But I wasn’t dead. Somehow I’d escaped. Not my time? Coincidence? I don’t know. Yet another dodged bullet, this one literal. 

The GI who fired had anticipated the scene. Because of his training, or instinct, or a sixth sense, he knew that the NVA soldier would be there, and before the enemy could pull the trigger, he caught a hail of hot ammo. 

The guy who saved my life leapt off the aircraft and never looked back. I had no chance to say thanks, or ask how did you, or holy crap.

I lifted the collective, took off, and ceded the controls to my rookie right seater. My knees shook like a dog passing busted glass. I remember this part so well that years later I’m still ashamed of myself: I had to fight an urge to laugh. Terror and hilarity. 

It wasn’t the only time in Vietnam that I saw the ugly truth of 'what the hell we were doing there', in the unvarnished part of war that Hollywood won’t touch. 

Friendly and enemy alike, we were just a bunch of kids playing with fire, trying to kill each other, while joking around to get through it, or trying to stay alive, or wondering, who decides? 

That day I was twenty-one years old. The other fellow was as old as he was ever going to get ...

Byron Edgington
Byron Edgington
The SkyWriter

[Excerpt from Chapter 12]
The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life 

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Roger Donlon: Nam Dong, Vietnam

Roger Donlon
Roger Hugh Charles Donlon is a former United States Army officer and the first person to receive the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. 

He was the first member of the U.S. Army Special Forces so honored for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while defending a U.S. military installation against a fierce attack by hostile forces. 

In May 1964, Donlon's team was sent to Vietnam where they established an outpost at Nam Dong, about 15 miles from the border of Laos.

Capt. Donlon was serving as the commanding officer of the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment A-726 at Camp Nam Dong when a reinforced Viet Cong battalion suddenly launched a full-scale, predawn attack on the camp.

During the violent battle that ensued, lasting 5 hours and resulting in heavy casualties on both sides, Capt. Donlon directed the defense operations in the midst of an enemy barrage of mortar shells, falling grenades, and extremely heavy gunfire.

Upon the initial onslaught, he swiftly marshaled his forces and ordered the removal of the needed ammunition from a blazing building.

He then dashed through a hail of small arms and exploding hand grenades to abort a breach of the main gate. En route to this position he detected an enemy demolition team of 3 in the proximity of the main gate and quickly annihilated them.

Although exposed to the intense grenade attack, he then succeeded in reaching a 60mm mortar position despite sustaining a severe stomach wound as he was within 5 yards of the gun pit.

When he discovered that most of the men in this gunpit were also wounded, he completely disregarded his own injury, directed their withdrawal to a location 30 meters away, and again risked his life by remaining behind and covering the movement with the utmost effectiveness.

Noticing that his team sergeant was unable to evacuate the gun pit he crawled toward him and, while dragging the fallen soldier out of the gunpit, an enemy mortar exploded and inflicted a wound in Capt. Donlon's left shoulder. Although suffering from multiple wounds, he carried the abandoned 60mm mortar weapon to a new location 30 meters away where he found 3 wounded defenders.

After administering first aid and encouragement to these men, he left the weapon with them, headed toward another position, and retrieved a 57mm recoilless rifle.

Then with great courage and coolness under fire, he returned to the abandoned gun pit, evacuated ammunition for the 2 weapons, and while crawling and dragging the urgently needed ammunition, received a third wound on his leg by an enemy hand grenade.

Despite his critical physical condition, he again crawled 175 meters to an 81mm mortar position and directed firing operations which protected the seriously threatened east sector of the camp.

He then moved to an eastern 60mm mortar position and upon determining that the vicious enemy assault had weakened, crawled back to the gun pit with the 60mm mortar, set it up for defensive operations, and turned it over to 2 defenders with minor wounds.

Without hesitation, he left this sheltered position, and moved from position to position around the beleaguered perimeter while hurling hand grenades at the enemy and inspiring his men to superhuman effort.

As he bravely continued to move around the perimeter, a mortar shell exploded, wounding him in the face and body.

As the long awaited daylight brought defeat to the enemy forces and their retreat back to the jungle leaving behind 54 of their dead, many weapons, and grenades, Capt. Donlon immediately reorganized his defenses and administered first aid to the wounded.

His dynamic leadership, fortitude, and valiant efforts inspired not only the American personnel but the friendly Vietnamese defenders as well and resulted in the successful defense of the camp. Capt. Donlon's extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Biography of Roger Hugh Charles Donlon

Medal of Honor Ceremony, December 5, 1964 (Donlon on right, at attention)
Donlon was born January 30, 1934, in Saugerties, New York, the eighth child of ten. He attended the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University for a year.

He joined the United States Air Force in 1953 and was admitted to West Point in 1955, but resigned for personal reasons. 

He re-enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1958, went to Officer Candidate School, and served as a General's aide. 

In August 1963, he joined the Special Forces. Donlon later retired at the rank of Colonel.

Donlon was later awarded the key to the city of Lexington, Kentucky by mayor Fred Fugazzi on June 28, 1965.

He has written two books about his experiences in the Vietnam War. They are Outpost of Freedom and Beyond Nam Dong. He currently lives in Kansas with his wife Norma and children.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Remember, Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog.  Feel free to write about anything you want to share.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Scouts, Dogs, and Booby Traps

Dog Handler - Vietnam War

by Tony Chliek

Many times when we went out on patrols from FSB STUART, a Kit Carson scout led our patrols. 

Kit Carson scouts are former Viet Cong or North Vietnamese soldiers that were our guides and interpreters. 

The scouts walked point with one or two of the regular point men and because of his first hand knowledge of enemy tactics, he was able to locate mines, booby traps, ambushes and snipers long before we ever could.

Other times, a dog handler and his German Shepherd would accompany us on patrols. 

The dog was great because he could smell trouble, literally. He could pick up the scent of the enemy and lead us right to them. We captured numerous VC because of both the Kit Carson scout and the dog.

One day we were patrolling through a heavily wooded area around a village and the Kit Carson found a suspected VC hiding. He gave up without any difficulty. We made him walk point with the Kit Carson and our point man. 

We figured if he lead us into an ambush, he would be the first to go. As we walked along, the VC started pointing out a lot of freshly dug punji pits right on the trail we were following. (Maybe he knew where they were because he dug them).

Punji Pit Trap - Vietnam War
Punji pits like the ones he uncovered are extremely nasty booby traps. The simplest pit type was a hole about 20 to 30cm deep. 

The floor of this trap was then set with punji stakes, which could easily pierce the canvas and leather jungle boot. 

For added misery the spikes could be smeared with poison or human excrement to induce blood poisoning, or worse. 

There were many variations, which allowed the spikes to attack the sides of the leg. This was particularly favored after the introduction of the reinforced-soled jungle boot.

On another patrol one day, I stepped into a small punji pit. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack because I knew exactly what had happened. Fortunately, the bamboo stakes were old and rotted so they just crumbled when my foot and leg hit them. I didn't even get a splinter.

Another booby trap I encountered was a trip wire. Trip wires were connected to all types of booby traps like the hand grenade in the picture below.

Trip Wire Booby Trap
One day we were dropped off in the Ho Bo Woods for a “Reconnaissance In Force” (RIF) patrol with one other company. Enemy activity had been spotted so we were sent there to see if we could find them.

Ho Bo Woods weren't exactly what you would call woods any more. The area used to be a stronghold for the VC and NVA so the woods had actually been leveled to eliminate hiding places.

While patrolling the area, my foot got caught on something. I looked down and saw it tangled in a wire. I froze and called out that I was tangled in a trip wire. 

Now you figured the guys would back up, since there was the possibility of an explosion, but no, a couple of guys immediately came over to check it out. They followed the wire and discovered that it wasn’t connected to anything.  It was probably an old trip wire, or maybe a piece of wire that was just lying around. I spent a lot of time looking down after that.

Another day we were patrolling around one of the villages close to our FSB. We were walking on the berm that separated the rice paddies like the guys in the picture.

All of a sudden I dropped straight down into a hole in the water that was over my head. Since I was carrying all that equipment, I sunk like a rock. 

Walking the Berm
I reached up to try and grab something to pull myself out and someone grabbed my hands and pulled me up. My head went right back into my helmet which had been floating on the surface of the water. 

With some help, I was able to climb back out of the hole. 

It seemed I had fallen into a small well that was overgrown with the grasses that grew on the berms. Since it was overgrown, I just didn’t see it. 

This incident got quite a laugh from everyone ...

About Tony Chliek:

Tony Chliek
I was drafted into the United States Army on May 6, 1968 at the ripe old age of 19 years, 6 months and 2 days. 

Government policy at the time was to draft all men into the military at 19 ½ years of age if they hadn’t already joined, or had a deferment of some kind. 

I almost joined earlier that year, but backed out to take my chances with the draft. Well, that was it, I became the property of the United States Army.  

I graduated from AIT with the rank of PFC, issued my orders for Vietnam.

I was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi. After that week at Cu Chi, I was assigned to the 2nd platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 12 Infantry, 25th Infantry Division; B 2/12.

Also by Tony Chliek:

A Hot LZ

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Add your opinion, thought, or comment, about this post. You are also invited to write about anything you want to share. Send it to me in an e-mail and I will be proud to post it for you.

Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Letter to ISIS and Islamic Extremists: by Nick Powers

Photo credit: AmericanLivewire.com

[Reprinted from article on BizPacReview, August 22, 2014, by Michael Kirk]

An Iraq War Marine Corps veteran sent an unmistakable message this week, via social media, to the “cowardly” Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East: 

“You attack us and there will be no mercy. We will bring the righteous hand of God down upon you and crush you.” --Nick Powers

The powerful post has gone viral and was reportedly written by Nick Powers, identified as a Marine vet who served in Iraq, by American Live Wire, in response to the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

“To all you ignorant Islamic extremist f**ks. 
As I sit here constantly hearing and watching you execute innocent men, women, and children in the Middle East, I chuckle. Why do I chuckle you may ask? Well let me explain something to you cowardice fools who think you are so tough behind all your propaganda videos. 
You are scaring a population that doesn’t know how to fight; you’re bullying the weak. You say Islam is the religion of peace, but since when does terrorizing the innocent and beheading men, women, and children constitute peace? WTF? 
But keep in mind, what did Saddam’s troops do when we came rolling into town? They surrendered, twice… So all your empty threats of coming to America and raising your flag over the White House amuse me more than any of you sick, sadistic bastards could ever imagine or comprehend. 
In 2012, there were about 21.2 million veterans in the United States. Do you understand what that means? Let me break it down for you. 
That means there are literally millions of disgruntled, dysfunctional, pissed off veterans who have been dealing with years of abuse from their government stabbing them in the backs and having to watch their friends die because you Islamic extremist idiots can’t seem to act like normal human beings and stop terrorism and the violence. 
It’s one thing to take over an Islamic state, but if my memory serves me correctly, I’m pretty sure we plowed through Fallujah in 4 days. Better yet, it took us about month to control your entire country. 
At this point, with 13+ years of war under our belts, how long do you think it would take us to do it all over again? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one. 
Do you really think you stand a chance on US soil? Do you really think it would be smart to poke that bear? Remember, never bite the hand that feeds you. Remember we are armed to the teeth in the US and I can promise you this… the Geneva Conventions will not apply to you. You attack us and there will be no mercy. 
We will bring the righteous hand of God down upon you and crush you. The ball is in your court now ISIS. We are more than ready to arrange a so called “meeting” with your 72 virgins and send you to your “prophet” Mohamed.” 
- Nick Powers

UPDATE: "To all who read this and assume this is against all Muslims, I am sorry you are too blind to read, this isn’t against Muslims in general. If you feel otherwise I suggest you look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself one question, am I an extremist? 
You say Islam is the religion of peace, since when does terrorizing the innocent (beheading women and children, wtf?) mean peace? This is directed at all extremist, if this offends/makes you angry or think I am racist you are are probably an extremist…" -- Nick Powers

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Add your opinion, thought, or comment, about this post. You are also invited to write about anything you want to share. Send it to me in an e-mail and I will be proud to post it for you.

Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Monsoon Delight: by Loyd Cates

Monsoon Season During Vietnam War

This is the peak of the monsoon season in South Vietnam. It is miserable in the jungle.

Monsoon Delight

by Loyd Cates

The rain is relentless day after day
Nothing you do keeps the ringworm away
Jungle rot eats at your crotch
All you can do is scratch and watch

You share your blood with the devious leech
They affix themselves where you can’t reach
While those nasty bastards suck you dry
The relentless rain conceals the sky

Just trying to eat becomes a chore
Go away rain, you relentless whore
The water flows like a flooded creek
I ain’t slept in a friggin’ week

Rusty gear will get you killed
Cleaning your rifle becomes a skill
But you better do it if you want to live
You only have one life to give

Big assed mosquitoes have one hell of a bite
They swarm your body both day and night
You do what you can just to endure
But they are a plague, that’s for damn sure

No matter how wet it’s always hot
This humid air is thick as snot
I am sick of this rain but it don’t matter
The mosquitoes and leeches just keep getting fatter

One of these days I will board that jet
Never again will my ass be wet
This relentless rain, months of it
Monsoon rain, I’m sick of this shit.

SSG Cates RVN '69-'70
199th Light Infantry Brigade D5/12

Also by Loyd Cates:

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Add your opinion, thought, or comment, about this post. You are also invited to write about anything you want to share. Send it to me in an e-mail and I will be proud to post it for you.

Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Maybe Tomorrow: by Loyd Cates

Vietnam Vet Reading a Letter From Home

Perhaps the most overlooked wound of war is a broken heart. 

We all lived for the day we would return to "the world" to be reunited with our spouse or girlfriend, families and life-long friends. It motivated us, we dreamed about it, and it gave us a reason to survive.

I suspect most of us knew someone who received a "Dear John" letter during his tour. 
I can't imagine what goes on inside the mind of a young man whose entire world is turned upside down by a few written words from the person he lived for. 

I have often wondered what happened to these men. I suspect the majority found someone else and moved on with their lives. 

But what becomes of a man whose world was suspended many years ago, and yet he still lives? 

Maybe Tomorrow

A fragile high school yearbook 
and two fading pictures 
is all that remains. 
These are my treasures 
and most valuable possessions. 
Each day they become more cherished. 

Some would say I am approaching 
the “winter of my life”, but truthfully, 
that began the day you said goodbye. 

On the very last page of the yearbook 
is a long and lovely affirmation 
professing your love for me 
and acknowledging mine for you. 
I can recite it word for word 
yet I often read it aloud 
while pretending 
we are speaking face to face. 

My love is so intense 
I do not hear your words, 
I only delight in your presence.

I have no sense of where you are, 
what you do, or if you are content. 
I realize, I do not have the right 
to know these things, 
but my heart never asks 
for permission to wonder. 
Broken hearts are rebellious. 

As I lazily doze 
in my old threadbare chair, 
I am pleasingly disturbed 
by a waft of your sweet scent 
as it floats on a gentle breeze
outside my window. 
I recognize it without doubt 
and it is like candy to a child.

My memory whispers your name 
and my soul is comforted 
by your presence. 
Yes, it is only a dream, 
but it is mine. 
I cling to it with all I have 
and all I am.

Your image comes into focus 
and I am mesmerized. 
You are even more beautiful than yesterday. 
We touch and I am overcome 
with a serenity that warms my body 
and brings comfort to my marrow. 
My world is absolute 
and my prayers answered. 

Is it possible I am conscious? 
Is this bona fide? 

No, it is all as empty as my arms. 
I must dream harder tomorrow 
and I will.

Each day I waken 
to the Wilderness that is my heart 
and I hope, pray and sometimes mourn. 
And then I do it again tomorrow 
and tomorrow 
and tomorrow.
My need for you grows stronger each day 
but age weakens me and I often tire. 
I will continue my quest 
until my parting breath 
because I must. 
I simply must. 

If I had the opportunity 
to strike a Devil’s bargain 
I would seize it 
like a starving wolf to a bone.

After so many years, 
my thoughts debate my memory 
as to the sound of your voice, 
the softness of your skin, 
or even the sparkle in your eyes. 
I can recall the way you made me feel 
as if it was this morning, 
because it was.

Can one so old remember 
the passion of innocent love 
and youthful wonderment? 
I can, or else I am daft. 
After so many years 
and so many dreams 
I am sometimes confused. 

I will investigate no further today 
as I am tired 
and my mind is teeming 
with pleasing thoughts 
that need not be disturbed. 

And if there is another tomorrow, 
there is another dream 
and that is my deliverance 
Loyd Cates
and my salvation.

SSG Cates RVN '69-'70
199th Light Infantry Brigade

Also by Loyd Cates:

Memorial Day: by Loyd Cates

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Add your opinion, thought, or comment, about this post. You are also invited to write about anything you want to share. Send it to me in an e-mail and I will be proud to post it for you.

Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog.