"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, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Friday, January 30, 2015

Old Vets: by Michael Lansford

Michael Lansford 
I have asked myself this question many times --  What is an Old Vet?

What is it that actually defines what an Old Vet is? 

Thousands of us began as fairly innocent young kids, (or men, if you prefer), who were sent off to do unknown things in a world few will ever know.

We became Old Vets long before our time, because we survived all the horrors of war in ways I still find hard to think about, let alone try and explain.

Those of us that survived -- and still survive today -- were already old by the time we were 18, (or whatever age fits).

We came back to a changed world from the one we remembered and longed to come back to. It was a world that had become not only tired of war, but tired of us, as well.

The world didn’t know a thing about the who, the what, or the why, of it all, and we couldn't explain it to them for many reasons. Some people had -- and still have -- closed minds to the cold hard truth of war. Some did try to understand, but we as "Old Vets" couldn't tell anyone anything.  We feared the reality of what society already thought of us.

The irony is, the world still thought of as kids, and we weren't allowed to do certain things, because we weren't "OLD" enough, or mature enough, to make decisions that impacted our lives (as well as those of society). In one respect, we were years ahead of the rest of the world. In yet another, we were years behind.

Nothing like being in combat with the permission and ability to take or save a life, call in air strikes, artillery fire, risk our lives in suicide missions, handle explosives and weapons, live like animals, or worse, and yet back in the world, we weren't even old enough to buy beer.
My biggest issue to this day was being told I couldn’t vote -- I wasn't mature enough to make decisions that affected the future of our country? We were sure old enough to go off to war …

So, we did what we had to do to survive. We withdrew and tried living in what the world perceived to be a normal life with all it had to offer. From where we came from, we never quite seemed to fit in, or adapt, to a changed world. From our viewpoint, we only exchanged one evil for another -- one which was much more dangerous.

A song, a picture, nightmares, sounds, or cross words spoken to and about us, all brought back the reality of our war, so we withdrew even more, some to the point of no return and no escape. Some blocked it out completely, but it was still there -- deep inside it still lurks, always.  Even now, as true Old Vets, we constantly live with our demons.

We were a generation that asked nothing for what we did, and we gave all we had to keep us alive and, in our minds, to keep America safe and free. For us, it was a small price to pay for freedom. Whatever it took, we stepped up and paid that debt in full -- some more than others.

We never failed, backed down, ran, or quit. What we were and are will be with us forever. We were willing to give our lives for our country, our comrades, and everything we considered right, and no one will ever take that away either.

We have survived to be where we are now, and we owe so many for the blessings bestowed on us by family and friends who never gave up on us.

For the most part, we as Old Vets have survivor’s guilt.  I do.  We have questions, too.  Why, how, and what were the ultimate reasons we survived?  There are no answers, just more questions.

At times, being old Vets makes us wonder what if?  What if we didn't come home?  What about those that didn't -- how would their lives have turned out? Would any of them have made a real difference back home?

Most of us can’t, nor will we ever, truly come home. Vietnam will be with us forever, like it or not. We lived it, breathed it, and we remember it, regardless. As long as one Vietnam Vet lives, who we were will never die.

We are truly one, no matter what branch, or where, we served. We are a band of brothers and sisters, just like it has always been said about past Old Vets. What we are in life reflects on who we all were and what we believe in, even to this day.

Michael (lying on belly) Awaiting Medivac after Hamburger Hill
How others see and hear us, shows we are many things they never knew about us and it represents us all, in one way or another.

What they see and read speaks volumes about us. We can't change outsiders’ opinions of us, but we can write the truth and hope they will listen to what we have to say. 

We are who we are and if they only knew we would give our life to save them, they might have a different view of us and our war – a war that made us such Old Vets to begin with.

Only we can know what's inside us from where we came. Some things truly can't be explained. Life isn't always fair, it's just life, and we live it every day, each in their own way.

I hope the next generations are, (and will be), learning more about the horror of war and combat, and how it changes someone from day one, for the rest of their life. Fact is, now days, society is seeing the reality of war, thanks to all the tech things out there. Real war comes face to face with them daily. They get a new look at what all wars really are, just sitting on the sidelines watching.

For us, we didn't necessarily have to be in actual combat, but we still had to show up. There were no timeouts, breaks, days off, or holidays. Combat was 24/7. There was no second place in war.

Being Old Vets, we have traveled many roads in our lives, both good and bad. We still feel we are at war, no matter what is going on. We’re still fighting for benefits that shouldn't ever have been questioned in the first place. We paid our dues and stand to this day by the Oath we took long ago.

Through it all, the only thing we ever wanted when we survived and came back to the world was a simple "Thank You". Money doesn't buy what that means to us -- it never will. The people we owe thanks to are fellow Vets, (past, present, and future), family, friends, our Combat Medics, Medevac's, doctors and nurses, as well as the Donut Dollies, who also showed up to give us hope and helped us remember the world we left behind. Even Bob Hope showed up. Now that's courage to boot.

So from one Old Vet to all my brother and sister Old Vets, I say thank you from the bottom of my Heart. It’s been a long and hard road -- but if any of us could do it differently, would we? As we learned from the generation of WWII Vets, let's hope this next generation will also learn from us ...

Remember, always stand up for what you believe in. Never second guess what you believe, or do, in life. Things don't always go as planned, but staying committed to what you believe in, is worth more than winning at something you don’t. Life doesn't always give you a do-over or re-do, whatever you want to call it. For some of us, we have been blessed with second chances. Learn to make life better, whatever you perceive it to be.

From just one of many "Old Vets",
Michael Lansford
Vietnam '68 - '69

Michael Lansford, an "Old Vet"

Other Articles by Michael Lansford:

“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

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable sharing. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history, sharing the truth about the Vietnam veteran, and what it was like in Our War.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Circle: by Lance Pinamonte

Lance Pinamonte
It was the fall of 1968 when I arrived in country.  I was a kid of barely eighteen.

My new unit was a small slick group of three flight platoons with seven aircraft each. I was assigned a ship within three days of my arrival.

The first thing I noticed was, we were flying a lot more hours than most of the other units around us, over a hundred hours a week on a steady basis. This gave the aircrews very little time off.  We pretty much lived in our aircraft.

I also noticed a group of aircrews that were ... different  They were cooler, kept their aircraft cleaner, took better care of their guns, equipment, and they always volunteered for the dangerous missions. In the early mornings, they would always be on time to the flight line, too.

These guys always wore sunglasses, always spoke with authority, and when everyone did find time off in the evening, they would form their old lawn chairs into a circle in the middle of the field behind the hooches.

I guess the first time I actually met someone from this group, was when he was refusing to fly with a pilot that was clearly still drunk. He did it with all the respect due this pilot's rank. The pilot finally backed down, staggered back to his hooch, and another pilot replaced him.

There was a lot of drinking in off-duty times, and a few of our pilots were flat out drunks. But you didn't see the guys in the circle  staggering back from the EM/NCO club late at night in a drunken state.  It didn't mean that they didn't drink at all, they just didn't care for being out of control.

I had been on my own aircraft for only a week, and the action taken by my door gunner (part of the circle) impressed me. He was full-blooded Indian and he had been in country four tours, three of them as 11B, a grunt.

He outranked me as an E-6, been wounded three times, refused to go back stateside, and he had volunteered to be a Door Gunner. He also called me "Kid".  It wasn't the best of nicknames, but it stuck -- I had been called worse.

Smoking Pot
My curious nature finally peaked.  One night on my way to the EM club, I stopped by the circle and I saw smoke rising from the group.

(Now, I was not ignorant of what was going on -- I knew they were smoking pot).

Everybody in the circle was a little paranoid of my joining this tight-knit group, so the pipes were put out, while they felt me out as either friend, or foe...

Finally, my gunner said, "He's cool guys.  Light up a bowl."

I decided to partake and, as I did, I heard my gunner say, "Now your cool, Kid." and it stuck. From then on, I was known as "Cool Kid" ... and I bought a cheap set of shades the day after.

Fast forward two years ...

I had gotten myself into some pretty big trouble, (another story, for another day), and I was on my way to another unit, up for a undesirable discharge.

So, I was walking through an administration building in DaNang, looking to report to a Captain there. As I walked into his office, I found said Captain wearing ... shades.  Well, he found me a safe haven for my last 90 days, and an honorable discharge ...

Over the years after that, I abused almost every drug their is, I over-drank, over-smoked, and finally, after sixteen years of abuse, I straightened my act out. But many times I think of those days, all the hard work, the danger ... and the guys in The Circle.

"Cool Kid"

Lance L. Pinamonte
U.S. Army - 1967 to 1970
Crew Chief/Door Gunner
Helicopter Mech.
Champagne Flight

Other Articles by Lance:

“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

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable sharing. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. Only you can write the truth about the Vietnam veteran and Our War -- for America, and for history.

Send it to me in an e-mail and I will be proud to post it for you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Four Months and a Wake Up

Bobby Q

By Bobby Q

(Bobby Quintana-Sena)

This is a short story I wrote when I was in a deep funk and thinking about a couple of guys I saw who were KIA almost 45 years ago in Nam. It happened at Tan Son Nhut on base.

Four Months and a Wake Up

I’ve been here too long and it is time for me to leave – in my mind, at least. I cannot believe I have been here eight months.

I have been here long enough to learn to pray again. I’ve been here long enough to miss my family’s advice, and long enough to know I was not as bright as I thought I was. I always thought knowledge like that was to be acquired when I was in my forties, or even my fifties.

There’s not much here, but close friends, letters from home, care packages, and counting the days … "que lastima".

It had been a cake walk the first two months, just hanging out, getting supplies, doing menial jobs around the base camp, and being a go-for.

The third month, I was assigned to a line unit and I have spent the last two months in the bush. Being scared (terrified) was a daily ritual and I was lucky we were only involved in two firefights.

I got to see my first dead and that is not an experience I would share with anyone, especially when they are American. I never personally met the grunts, but it still hurt, knowing they were as young as I was and that they were going home to unfulfilled dreams and devastated families. That situation is certainly not in my future -- I hope God has better plans for me.

I am from northeast Arizona and we rarely saw rain there. Here, it sees to rain every day. It’s actually quite beautiful and the smell of the trees and plants is real pleasant. The Mekong Delta is actually a beautiful land and the waterways enhance the beauty of it. The only problem is, my feet are always wet and there are not many opportunities to get dry socks to keep your feet dry.

Mekong Delta - Vietnam
The other reality is the constant flares at night and the intermediate mortars, or rockets, that occasionally hit the camp. It makes it hard to sleep when you are not in the field and I have the opportunity to stay in camp for the night.

I usually volunteer for guard duty in the early hours, so I can get some sleep when the sun is coming up. It gives me time to reflect on the world and what I left behind.

Friends I graduated with, went on to college, careers, or they got married and started a family. A few, like me, thought we had a duty to the country and here we are, wishing we were elsewhere.

Today has been just like every other day. We are up for patrol tomorrow and I was thinking about that, when a mortar round went off across the camp. There was no one walking around and only the guard posts were awake, but I got into my bunker, in case the alarm sounded and we got a full-fledged attack.

About twenty minutes later, nothing else happened, so I just sat on the sandbag and waited for the next shoe to fall. It was misty and a little hazy and with the flares in the sky, it almost seemed like I was behind a giant plastic sheet, watching a light show. It was serene and relaxing and, except for my weapon in my hand, I could have been in an auditorium watching a show.

I relaxed and got to thinking about the Fourth of July fireworks at home, when I heard a soft wind and felt a warm breeze across my cheek. Then I heard a soft noise and, at first, I thought maybe a rat had crawled onto the sandbag, but my chest felt wet and so warm.

I started to go into a deep slumber and try as I might, I could not sit up.  As I lay back, I heard some quiet and distant bubbling sounds. The world I was in was such a quiet place; there was no pain, no memories, and just warmness in the air. I just closed my eyes and floated through the scene. God, it was so beautiful.

I knew I was going home. I had an American flag draped on me and I was at peace with myself. I had done my job and I was with my friends.

[This writing was about PTSD and my wish that I would not make it back from my second tour.  It was written during one of my darker periods. No offense meant to any of my brothers and sisters, but post traumatic stress is a real pain.]
Bobby Q
Also by Bobby Q

That's the Air Force For You ...

“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

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable with. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Superior/Subordinate Relationship: by John McClarren

199th LIB
(A Book Excerpt from Military Life – Service or Career:  A Soldier's Perspective, by John McClarren)

The subject at hand is the subordinate-superior relationship, and I cannot help but use a personal example, because it illustrates perfectly what we’re dealing with.

This one begins with an operation initiated by all the activities going on during the Tet ‘68 offensive in South Vietnam with my unit operating in the surrounding areas of Saigon. It is a situation that could occur anywhere at any time, not at all unique to the war in Vietnam.

The mission of my unit, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB), included guarding the southern approaches to Saigon. My platoon was given an extremely simple and routine mission to patrol and check out activities in the southern outskirts of the city.  We were only to observe what was going on and report what we saw. In that respect, it was more of a reconnaissance mission.

We began our patrol at the southern part of a road leading north into the city. We were to proceed north for a kilometer or so, turn right at a major intersection, continue for approximately another thousand meters and make another right, heading south, and then return to our base of operations. It all sounds pretty simple, right?

I always remember the old Jell-O commercial on television, which ended with, “All that wiggles is not Jell-O.” What a wonderful analogy, the concept of which certainly never occurred to me as a dumb kid.  However, later in life, as a less dumb adult, I have been able to apply that concept to a tremendous number of situations, where things do not turn out how you imagined them to be.

We headed north from our starting point and found that all along the left flank of our designated route, everything seemed quite normal, in that there were normal activities among the people; motor vehicles, mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians all seemed to be moving along and milling about with absolutely nothing interfering with what one might expect on a typical day in Saigon.

We reached the intersection where we were to turn right and head east on the north leg of our route and noticed exactly the same things going on along that segment of the route; nothing out of the ordinary. We were not doing house-to-house searches; we were merely observing all activities along the route, looking for anything that might seem unusual for that area.

We came to the last intersection, where we were to head back south and return to our base camp. After a short distance, it occurred to us that the situation had changed rather remarkably and abruptly. Activity in this area was not only abnormal, but had ceased entirely. All traffic disappeared; no vehicles, no people. There was nothing but an eerie silence.

At this point, I instructed all of my squads to proceed much more slowly and cautiously, looking carefully into every house and building along the way. As we proceeded down the street, we noticed a canal on our left flank.

A hundred meters or so to the south, on the far side of the canal, was a Vietnamese P.F. (Popular Forces) camp. The Popular Forces were similar to our state National Guard forces; citizen soldiers. 

As we continued further, we noticed ahead of us, a barricade across the road. It was composed of a variety of junk, stacked high and wrapped with barbed wire.  We proceeded down the road, closer to the barricade.

The PF soldiers, observing our approach, began to call out to us in broken English from across the canal, “No further, G.I.; beaucoup (always pronounced by the Vietnamese, and American troops bookoo) VC”.  They were giving us warnings that could not have been misunderstood. 

It was very clear to me that there was a whole bunch of bad guys to my front. I had a few options at my disposal, but, silly as it may seem now, I opted for doing things the “right” way.

I brought my company commander up on the radio and requested permission to recon by fire. That merely meant that I wanted to open up with small arms fire, and see what I might receive in return, thereby identifying enemy targets and taking the offensive at that point.

What was the response to my request? “Negative!”

I immediately came back with, “Say again, over.”

“Negative on that request. There may be innocent civilians in the area,” he responded.  

I was dumbfounded. I came back with, “Six (Six being the commander’s designation or call sign), let me make myself perfectly clear. I have friendlies to my left who have told me very clearly that there are Victor Charlies to my front on the other side of the barrier.” (Victor Charlie was the name we always used for Viet Cong or VC).

I continued with my request. “Now, once again, request permission to recon by fire! Over.”

“Three-six, this is six. I say again, Lieutenant, (a very significant breach in communications security) permission denied! Consider this a direct order. Proceed forward until you make contact. Do you roger that?”

“Affirmative, six, but a couple more requests: Have med-evac on-call, as we will take casualties. Also, request that you, too, be on-call, as I am quite sure we will need assistance. Over.”

“Roger that. Will be ready to assist. Out.”

Well, there I was with a “Direct Order” for what I considered a potential suicide mission from a company commander for whom I had little or no respect (and we were both of the same rank, first lieutenants, he ranking me by about three months).

I then initiated “my plan".  

As soon as I had my first three people across the barrier, all hell broke loose with small arms and automatic weapons fire, grenades and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). All three men who had maneuvered across the barrier were wounded and needed immediate extraction and medical evacuation.

That, however, did not happen immediately. We were all pinned down with little to no ability to move without being cut to pieces.  Somehow, in the midst of all that chaos, we managed to get the wounded to safety and eventually evacuated.

While all this was going on, I was able to return to my company commander by radio, to inform him of the situation. He assured me that he was on his way with the remainder of the company. I waited for a painfully long time while the situation worsened and became critical.

Although some specific details are hazy, somewhere amid all the confusion, during this rather hellacious firefight, an RPG round quickly caught my eye a second before it exploded only three to four feet from me, sending me ten or fifteen feet through the air.

After recovering myself, taking an inventory of all my arms, legs, fingers, and other body parts, I discovered that I miraculously did not have a drop of blood flowing from my body. I was amazed at being unscathed by that one, and continued the mission.

I thanked the Lord for having my guardian angel looking after me once again, as well as those men who were in close proximity to me. It seems like it must have taken a whole legion of guardian angels to look after me while I was over there. 

I was prone to being in the wrong places at the wrong times. It tended to happen quite regularly. At the same time, I have to remind myself that I was the platoon leader, and, as such was, as my old  OCS instructors used to tell us (students), a prime target for enemy fire.

While all this was going on, and I still had neither seen nor heard from my company commander, I was finally able to bring him back up on the “horn” to find out where he was.  Of course, he was pinned down, having run into the main force of the VC element.

In actuality, these bad boys were no longer Viet Cong, who were mainly local guerillas, sympathetic to the North Vietnamese cause; they were NVA regulars. My rescuers had been ambushed and were now immobile!

Needless to say, (but, of course, I’ll say it anyway), I had mixed emotions on that one. The end result was that a tank company came to our rescue and leveled that part of the town with their main guns and 50-caliber machine guns. I am not at all certain of it, but we may well have lost a few “innocent” civilians during that little skirmish.

I learned later that five or six additional infantry battalions, along with the tank company, came to join in the “fun” that day. All of that, and I was not initially allowed to recon by fire. What more can I say?

Well, I can say one more thing. For what turned into a major battle, my platoon and I just happened to be the unit to initiate that whole mess. I could ask, “Why me, Lord?” Then again, I have already said that I had a bad habit of being in the wrong places at the wrong times.

Hey, apparently, it was another victory for our side; so, who should complain? I still do, however, because some of my guys were hurt, and I always hated that part worse than anything else.

Anyway, so much for the relationship between my commander and me. We did not see eye to eye, but I was forced to take his orders, whether I liked it or not. That is the name of the game.

John McClarren - US Army (Retired)
About the Author

John McClarren was born at the end of World War II in San Diego, California.

He is currently living in northern Michigan and retired from everything except writing and substitute teaching. His wife, Debbie, is an active special education teacher. 

John and Debbie raised three boys, two of whom have been on active duty with the US Army and one is a geologist. 

John's Website
John's Facebook Page

Also see John's Other Post:

Military Life - Service or Career

His book is currently available in print and e-book formats.

Published: Createspace Publishing
Paperback and Kindle
224 Pages

John also has a memoir coming out shortly, titled Taking Risks, Defining Life

Besides the first two books, John is working on a humor book that most likely will be titled, Hey, it Wasn't My Fault, and he is also working on a novel.

“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

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable sharing. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history, sharing the truth about the Vietnam veteran, and what it was like in Our War.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Vietnam Vet Recipes: Breakfast Pizza

Frank Fox's Breakfast Pizza

by Frank Fox

I saw where someone had added a recipe for one of my favorites, Spanish Chicken & Rice!

Did you know that many of the things we like for breakfast can be put on a pizza crust found in your market, or grocery store?

It can compete with breakfast tacos, and it's all on one slice. It can be good any time of the day.

Here is my recipe for Breakfast Pizza:

Breakfast Pizza

*  One 12 inch commercial pizza crust -- lightly coat it with olive oil for a crisper crust.

*  Cover the crust with a spicy tomato sauce, like a picante sauce, or just a regular tomato sauce. Garlic powder can then be sprinkled over the sauce.

*  Scramble some eggs, or if you prefer it to be healthy, you can use egg beaters to go along with the zero cholesterol crust. Cook enough eggs to cover the crust, or as much of it as you like. Season the eggs to your taste.

*  Add your favorite meat topping:  ground sausage, chorizo, bacon, little smokies, Canadian bacon, or anything else you desire.

*  Add some Veggies: onion, jalapeno peppers, mushrooms, black olives, or cilantro, and maybe even add some hash brown potatoes.

*  Cheeses: top with whatever kind you like -- the world is your oyster!

Combine all the ingredients just like you would a regular pizza. It is best if you have one of those special round cooking stones. The crust becomes even crisper that way.

*  Set oven temp as directed for the pizza crust. Everything else should be cooked. Heat until all the ingredients are hot and bubbling.


“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

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you want to share. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history.

Send it to me in an e-mail and I will be proud to post it for you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

No Contact with Kilo 9

Russell (Russ) Wallace and "Tusky"

 by Russell (Russ) Wallace

Tracer rounds originating on Kilo 9 split the growing darkness and got the attention of the sentries in their towers.

“Bravo 2 to Base.”

“Go ahead Bravo 2, this is Base.”

“Shots have been fired on Kilo 9. There are outgoing tracer rounds.”

“10-4. Base to Kilo 9.”
.... (no answer) ....

“Base to Kilo 9.”
..... (no answer) ....

“No contact with Kilo 9.”

It was a very hot and humid August night at Phan Rang Air Force Base. The K-9 units were called to work early this night. Both the Early Flight and Late Flight stood guard mount together.

We were told the name of the North Vietnamese sapper unit which was going to attack us. We were told that the radio net was being jammed and we were only to check our radio if we thought it might have a problem. It was our routine to do a radio check as we were posted. This served two purposes; it let our Operations Center know we were posted, as well as insured the radio worked.

The Early Flight, which normally posted just after dark, was posting before dark. The Late Flight, which normally posted two hours after the Early Flight, began posting as soon as the trucks returned to the kennels.

I was on the Early Flight and assigned to Kilo 9. As instructed, I did not check my radio after being posted, because I was receiving all the radio chatter. It was just a little after 1930 hours and I passed the gate guard as I walked down towards the fence line. At 7:30, the double-gated entrance was locked and unmanned overnight. I had about 200 yards of perimeter to patrol, so I made a sweep of the area and it was secure.

Feeling happy and safe, I sat down on a rock and plugged my ear plug into my pocket transistor radio and tuned in the oldies on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Then, something I had never done before. I plugged an ear plug into my walkie-talkie, so I could still hear the radio transmissions. I felt good.  Both radios were working, not blaring, giving away my position.

I stood, and noticed Tusky was alerting towards the gate and the road towards the Strip, a village that had sprung up close to the base to service the needs of the off-duty personnel. I could hear the sounds of merriment wafting in on the gentle breeze.

I thought to myself, Tusky, you silly dog.  I can hear those sounds. too. They are nothing. True, the noises I heard were nothing, but the noises Tusky was alerting to were something. He had picked up the sounds and perhaps the scent of some people coming up the road towards the base.

The sky was barely light, still outlining the tree tops, but the tree line was plunged into total darkness. I was 30 feet from the gate and I could not see it. But I could hear the sounds of people approaching the gates, even though I could not see them.

It was time to call in my dog’s alert. I should have believed him from the start. He was trained to see, hear, and smell things my senses could not discern. He did his job, so I had to catch up and do mine, by calling in the evolving situation on my radio. I called it in and received a 10-4 from Base.

Little did I know, Base did not receive my transmission.  The 10-4 I heard was for someone else’s radio transmission.

I did not hear control dispatch the Security Alert Team for my back up, because they had not done so. I did not notice the omission, because I was busy focusing on what was happening right in front of me, about 40 feet away.

The men I still could not see were shouting and rattling the gates. It was an Asian language, and I remembered the briefing at guard mount about the sapper unit that was expected to attack us. We had been told that sapper units would probably be high on something which would help them overcome their fear of the dogs guarding the perimeter. These men had no fear of my dog who was being very vocal.

I found a huge rock to crouch behind just off to one side of the road. I still did not know how many men were out there in the darkness. I felt protected, and then they started climbing the first of two gates. I needed to inform the Control Center of the changing situation.
“Kilo 9 to Base.”
... (no response) ... 
“Kilo 9 to Base.”
... (no response) ... 
“Kilo 9 to Bravo 1.”
... (no response) ... 
“Kilo 9 to Bravo 2.”
... (no response).
The men climbed the first gate and were crossing the ten feet of open space to get to the second gate. The huge rock I was crouched behind shrank to the size of a pea in my mind. I ran back 30 yards and found a rock that was twelve feet high and had a shear edge like the corner of a house. My dog was barking out of control, his adrenaline rush probably comparable to mine.

I refocused on the sounds in front of me. The men were shouting and shaking the chain link gate. Then they started climbing the last gate. I tried my radio again, but first I pulled out the ear plug. It did not matter that it would blast out radio transmissions, because my dog was louder than the radio.

I tried calling Base and the two towers that were close to me, but the ear plug was not the problem. They still did not receive my transmissions. My radio’s battery was strong enough to receive, but not strong enough to transmit. A simple radio check would have resolved that when I was posted. I could not worry about that, because there was an unknown number of men walking up the road towards me.

Suddenly, two silhouettes appeared in the middle of the road. I gave them an order to halt and they did not. My dog was barking like crazy and jumping around wanting to get to them. My warning shot was straight at them. I continued firing and they both fell. Then one of them jumped up and ran for cover, and I shot twice more at him. He fell in the ditch at the side of the road.

I thought, how many others made it to cover in the rocks? I ran from my position and took up another defensive position further up the road. Tusky had calmed down and was not barking.

The tower guard called in the shots fired and Control tried to reach me. I tried to answer, but I could not. I heard Base dispatch the Security Alert Team and then I shut off my useless radio. The base went from Yellow to Red Alert.

I finally had time to breathe and think. My dog was calm, but alert. I began wondering how many men were part of this penetration attempt. One man was lying in the ditch moaning, the other was babbling something, probably giving information to his comrades who had made it to cover in the rocks.

I wondered how many times I had fired and how many rounds I had left. I was carrying a CAR-15 with 18 rounds in the magazine. I was firing it one-handed, like a pistol on semi-automatic.  But what if someone charges me from the rocks and I run out of ammo?

 I unclipped Tusky’s leash and took hold of his collar. He was easy to control, because he had calmed down. If I run out of ammo, I could let Tusky go and hopefully get my magazine changed while the person struggled with an 80-pound attack dog.

All stayed quiet. Two dog men from the Late Flight were posted at the perimeter road and shouted out to me as they approached. I was never so glad to see two guys as I was right then.

The supervisor for the Late Flight showed up next. He drove his jeep with its lights on right down to where the South Korean non-commissioned officer was lying in the road. Fortunately for him it was not an attempted penetration of the base by a North Vietnamese sapper unit.

Two South Koreans were late returning from the bars and whore houses of the Strip. The Korean compound had a curfew of 7:00 PM, the airbase, a curfew of 7:30 PM, and the two Koreans arrived at the gates at 7:45 PM.

Both Koreans lived. They were sent to do two years hard labor in a Korean prison. I had fired 8 rounds and hit each of them twice. I found that out, during my four-hour investigation by the Korean Military Police.  I had to explain to them exactly what happened and I made sure my explanation was in line with the MACV Rules of Engagement.

If I had shot the unarmed Koreans when they were outside the fence, I would have been the one going to jail. I could only shoot at them if they shot at me first, or if I saw them setting up a crew-served weapon to be used against the base. I did my job, scared as I was.

Well they did not shoot at me, so that took me to the next scenario: penetration of the base. But I still do not have the authority to shoot them. I must give them two verbal warnings. Well, I gave them one verbal warning in Vietnamese and English -- I figured my dog barking was an even bigger halt command than my verbal one.

That did not stop them, so I gave them a warning shot -- I just did not tell the Koreans that it was straight at them. I again figured that Tusky’s bark was as much a warning shot as a shot from my gun. The two Koreans knew they were crossing a secure post and failed to halt.

The Koreans, as they interrogated me, asked a couple of interesting questions. First, “Why didn’t I tell them to halt in Korean as well?”

Let’s see, I thought it was an attack by a North Vietnamese sapper unit. Why would I even think it might be Koreans? Besides, I was so frightened, I could not remember the Korean word for halt.

Second, they asked me if I walked over and shot the guy lying in the ditch, because he was shot once through the back.

Well, he turned his back on me when he was running for the rocks and I fired twice at him. Not an easy shot, shooting one-handed from the hip, while your dog is jumping around trying to get to the guy. But they already knew the answer. All of my casings were in the one spot where I stood and fired.

After I spent four hours giving my statement and a signed, handwritten, report to the Koreans, the U.S. Air Force spent three and a half hours interrogating me. There is nothing worse than putting your life on the line and watching the justice system decide whether you acted properly, or not.

That incident had to be one of the most frightening things to happen in my life. An almost equally frightening event occurred two nights later. The Koreans I shot belonged to a White Horse Division artillery battery.

The following night, I did not go to post, because I was up all day being investigated for any wrongdoing by the Koreans and the U.S. Air Force. I had the night off. The post I should have been on was shelled short by the Koreans. Occasionally, they do make an error in their co-ordinates.

The second night after the incident, I was back on duty protecting the base from intruders who wanted to blow up our planes and I was taking cover from the artillery rounds which shelled my post short for the second night in a row.

As was normal, I heard the howitzers firing, but unlike normal, they were not hitting a point 1500 meters, or more, off base. The three rounds were whistling in on my position. It was too late to get to a bunker, by the time I realized I was the target.

I hit the ground and tried to pull my dog down -- he wanted to stand up and howl at the whistling. We survived unscathed as the shrapnel whooshed over our heads. I could hear it pepper the tin that surrounded the sandbags in the tower close to my position.

The tower guard did not have time to get to his bunker. He ducked behind the sandbagged walls of the tower and escaped injury.

Our Operations Officer visited the Koreans the next day and told them, "Once might be a mistake, but twice is not."  He let it be known that it must not happen again. Thankfully it stopped.

My wife and I are campers. There is a firing range just over the hill from the campsite our trailer is on. I guess hearing shots being fired can trigger long hidden memories.

One evening, I had the most frightening nightmare I have ever had. I dreamed we were sitting in front of our fire pit enjoying a drink, when some rounds started whistling in on top of us. My struggle was not to get my dog down, but to convince my wife to get out of her chair and lie prone.

I awoke before it concluded, but it seemed as real as the event in Nam. I was shaken and did not sleep well that night. Every now and then, I get a crazy dream like that. I am thankful it does not happen often.

Russell (Russ) Wallace
USAF - Security Police
Sentry Dog Handler
Vietnam - February 1968 to February 1969

Author Note:  Memoirs From Nam inspired me to write this story about an event that happened in Nam. I was further inspired to begin my own blog, writing about my life, while I was in the U.S. Air Force.

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“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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