"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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Michael Van Strien: The Wild Jungle

I'm proud to again introduce my friend, Michael Van Strien (3/17/49). During 1970, he served with the 101st Airborne Division's 34th Public Information Department (PID) as a combat correspondent. He was stationed in Phu Bai in Northern I Corps, which is approximately twenty-five miles from the DMZ.

Michael has been happily married for twenty-seven years. He and his wife, Jackie, have one son, Micah. He has a B.S. and an M.S. in Communication Theory from Illinois State University, and an A.A. in Speech and Drama. Michael is an Associate Professor of Speech and has taught at Richland Community College, Decatur, Illinois, and Tri-County Technical College, Pendleton, South Carolina. He was also the Director of Forensics (Competitive Speech) at both schools. In 1989, they won the National Tournament for Small Schools.

Michael Van Strien's Memories from Nam
“The ‘Wild’ Jungle”
by Michael Van Strien

It was June, 1970, and our Lieutenant just stepped out of the daily meeting at Battalion Headquarters. He was steaming down the hallway, while we were all waiting in the office of the 34th Public Information Detachment of the 101st Airborne Division in Phu Bai, Northern ‘I’ Corps, in South Vietnam.

As the Lt. rolled into the press office, he seemed agitated as he bellowed out, “Ya’ll are going out this time and the General wants some good stuff.”

Phil, a likable guy from Raleigh, North Carolina, yelled out, “Oh damn! I’m so used to reporting crap!”

The Lt. didn’t seem amused as he told us to sit down, shut up, and listen to our assignments. “Phil, just for that smart mouth, you’ll be going out with the D Company 2/327th for the next two weeks. They’ll be leaving for the A Shau in two hours!”

Now the A Shau was just about THE most foreboding and dangerous place in all of ‘I Corps.’ In fact, in our hooch, we had a great aerial shot of the "Valley" with the following quote in large letters: “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.”

Anybody, grunt or not, who got assigned to the "Valley" took everything VERY seriously, because one mistake could be your last. So, Phil got his rucksack situated, cleaned his M-16, and then headed out to the Heli-pad. He gave his orders to the First Lt. of the 1st Platoon of the D Company 2/327th “No Slack” Battalion. Everyone boarded their birds and they were off to the Valley.

After two days of humping up and down the very thick triple canopy jungle, there had been no incidents. After having a brief breakfast of C-rations and then walking a couple of miles, it had become time for Phil to ... take care of "nature’s business". In the jungle where there were people who want to kill you, even going to the bathroom took “the Army way” of getting it done, and you REALLY found out who your friends were. You see, you had to get a ‘friend’ to step away from the squad's position, go with you into the brush, and then he guarded you while you took care of business.

So, there squatted Phil with his olive drab fatigues down around his knees. Now, picture his friend who stood idly by --- on guard. All of a sudden, the man on guard got this terrified look on his face and his body became frozen. He didn’t say a word. He just slowly turned and ran off, back toward the platoon.

Well, as you might imagine, poor Phil was squatting there in this precarious position thinking that the entire Vietnamese Army was right behind him with their weapons pointed at him … NOT! Slowly, Phil turned his head to get a quick look. Just fifteen feet to his rear (literally) was a tiger -- and this was a LARGE tiger! Once Phil fixed his eye on the tiger and it focused on him, it began a deep, low, guttural growl. Phil no longer had to go to the bathroom! In that one instant, Phil had to determine what the hell he was going to do. You see---his M-16 was leaning against a tree a couple of feet from him, and the platoon was about twenty feet away along with his not-so-good guard. His mind quickly made up, he decided to grab his pants and RUN for it. Just as he grabbed his waist band to haul it north, he heard gun fire. It was three guys from the platoon -- his bare ass was saved! Whew!

Turns out, one of the guys from the platoon was a hunter from Montana, so he skinned the tiger and rolled the meat up in plastic. He said it was good eating (yuck). They measured the tiger from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose --- it was fifteen feet! Now THAT is a Tiger Tail/Tale for a Screaming Eagle … No Slack!

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