"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, December 14, 2010

Richard Schwartz: Lighthearted Look

This comes to us from Richard Schwartz, a regular contributor here at Memoirs. His easy style of writing makes it so easy to understand and share in his experiences. Richard, your thoughts are always welcome here...

Richard Schwartz
CJ -
Many of the thoughts on Memoirs From Nam are serious, so I thought I would write about some of the more humorous things that happened during my 18 month army career. ~ Richard

Training and Stuff

I wasn't in good physical condition when I reported for basic training, unless it was the kind of physical condition that was needed to drive to the book store to get another book. In fact, before the Army, when I got the feeling that I should exercise, I usually laid down until the feeling passed. Four weeks into basic training, however, I had lost 25 pounds and could actually run a mile without feeling like I would die at any moment.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at Ft. Polk, I had to wait two weeks for my basic training class to begin. We were kept busy by doing lawn maintenance and painting chores interspersed with short hikes. I was getting bored out of my mind by the end of the 1st week. This caused me to learn an important lesson. Never let your complaints be overheard by a Sargent!

We had just received our uniforms and boots. A Sargent overheard me complaining about the boring work we were doing. He asked if I had been to college (Yes!) and if I would like to volunteer to help with a problem he had. I enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. “Follow me,” he told me.

As we walked, he asked what my major was in college. “Mathematics,“ I proudly replied.

“That's perfect for this assignment,” he told me, “and it may take a couple of days to complete.”

We walked to an area next to the company headquarters building. There were eight of my fellow inductees standing there. The Sargent asked them to line up in a straight line, and they lined up in a fairly straight line. “Okay raise you left hand,” he commanded them.

A flurry of left and right hands went up in the air which started alternating as the men looked at each other figuring the guy next to them probably knew which one was left. “Okay quit flapping your arms!” said the Sargent.

The Sargent turned to me and asked, “Okay College man can you see the problem?”

I could, and I figured that within an hour I would have this worked out. Two hours later, the Sargent came by and saw that I had made almost no progress. He gave me $2.00 and told me to run up to the PX and buy 2 lipsticks. Upon my return he took one of the lipsticks and wrote an “L” of the left hand of each of my students and told them that they couldn't wash it off until every one of them knew left from right. To my surprise this was an absolute nightmare for the men.
“If one of my friends from back home saw me with lipstick on my hand like this I would die of shame - but not before my friends died of laughter,” they told me.

A couple of hours later, the Sargent came by again and I could demonstrate some progress. If I lifted my right arm as I faced them and told them to lift their right arm, they mostly raised their left arm. “Not bad,” he told me. He turned to the men and said, “Okay now listen up. Right Face!”

A few turned right and a few turned left but at least two did a complete 360. The Sargent turned back to me and said, “Keep going son.”

“Yes Sargent,” I replied.

That evening, I noticed two of the men I was working with were working very hard shining their boots until they shined like patent leather. I asked why they were working so hard on their boots. “The Army done give me my first pair of new shoes,” came the smiling reply.

“Hell, the Army done give me the first set of new clothes I ever done had!” the other one said with obvious pride in his voice. They were both from the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. Two of the nicest people I ever met.

By the end of the next day, I could demonstrate to the Sargent that all eight men knew their left hand from their right and could follow right and left face commands. “Ready for Basic training!” he exclaimed. The men thanked me for helping them and said if I ever needed some help they would be right there to assist me. That was not just idle talk.

A month later on a long hike the heavy set man walking next to me twisted his ankle and fell. As I helped him get his rather substantial bulk on his feet again, I asked him if I should ask about him riding in a Jeep the rest of the hike. He said no, that he wanted to finish like every one else. I got under his left arm to try to take some of the weight off his injured ankle.
After about 100 yards, I was sweating profusely when, without any prompting from me, my left-right buddies came up and took turns with me helping our fellow soldier complete the hike.

A few weeks later,we were sleeping in tents and I was having a terrible time getting enough sleep. That led to another lesson – Never open your mouth without thinking, even if you're going to tell the truth. I was about halfway down a column of 100 men and in the outside right hand side of the column. We seemed to have been walking for the longest time when the column turned left. I kept going and tumbled into a ditch on the side of the road. A Sargent came running over and, as I was getting to my feet, he asked me, “What happened to you?”

Unfortunately I told him the truth, “I must have fallen asleep, Sargent.”


His face was getting red and he was so agitated I thought he would have a heart attack right there. Also the quote above is quite sanitized as in reality the Sargent repeatedly told me that my family lineage was suspect, that he was certain that my brains (if I had any) were in my posterior area, and that I was the dumbest (4 letter work meaning sexual intercourse) that he had ever encountered.

A few months into basic training, we had our first inspection. Men who got excellent marks on their inspection would get an overnight pass to get off the base for a day. The guy that I shared a bunk with and I stayed up all Friday night to make sure everything was perfect. We even went out and bought new toothbrushes to put in our lockers. We made up our bunks so tight you could bounce a quarter off them. We were READY.

As the Sargent came down the line, I heard him pointing out things that other soldiers had done incorrectly that I knew we had done correctly. When he got to my bunk he was quiet for quite a while as looked over my gear. That pass was just a moment away I remember thinking. And then he picked up my NEW toothbrush. “This is dirty,” he told me with a huge grin on his face. I couldn't believe it! He held up my toothbrush and, sure enough, there was dust in the hole at the bottom of the toothbrush. My buddy and I got passes but we were so tired from staying awake on Friday night that we just slept away our time off base.

I enjoyed the shooting ranges. I had many years of experience with pistols and rifles before I got in the Army. On one of our first range exercises, I was doing awfully well when one of our drill Sargents asked if I would go down to the end of the line and help one of the guys who was having a terrible time trying to hit anything. “He seems to be doing just what I tell him but he rarely hits the target,” the Sargent told me, “see if you can see what he's doing wrong while I work with some of the other men.”

I walked down to the end of the range and tried to work with the guy. No luck. He would hit the target about 1 out of every 7 shots. I noticed that he was squinting a lot. I asked if he wore glasses when he was a civilian.

“Hell no,” he angrily replied. “I ain't defective.”

I asked him to read the sign that was near us. It had 4 lines of 12 inch high block letters on it and was about 15 yards away. “I can't read that sign cause them letters is moving too dang much.” Two days later, he was one of the best shots on the range with his new glasses. He did admit that his eyes were defective but insisted in a rather loud and forceful manner that “nothin' else about me is defective.”

At one point, we were told to hike out of the jungle to a main road where a truck would pick us up to move us to a new location. We hiked like mad men hacking our way through the thick jungle to get to that road. It took three strength-sapping days to get there. We were absolutely exhausted by the time we arrived at the road. We radioed that we were ready to be picked up and were told that trucks would be there the next day.

The next day we were told that the trucks would be there the next day. After a week of this, a helicopter was sent out to bring us more food. All the next week we were told that the trucks would be there the next day. Finally the trucks arrived. We loaded on the trucks and they drove us about 2 miles down the road and stopped. That was our new location.

When in Vietnam, we often had little to do during the daytime. Sometimes we would walk down to the village open air market to see what they had for sale. The villagers were often cooking different things and some of the fragrances weren't too nice. In fact, sometimes when the wind was coming at us from the direction of the market, we would just turn around and go back to our day position.

We were warned repeatedly not to eat things from the local market. One of my platoon mates violated that rule. About an hour after he ate something from the village market, he walked away from our day position as he felt a bout of diarrhea coming on. He dropped his pants and as soon as he squatted down he started vomiting as well.

A little Vietnamese boy of about 8 years was standing next to me observing this awful sight.
He grabbed my arm. With the sound of his voice indicating absolute astonishment and with his eyes open as wide as can be, he yelled at me, “LOOK MAN, HE COMING OUT HIS BOTH ENDS!”

Ah yes. We Americans were a talented lot!

"Per correr migliori acque alza le vele ormai la navicella del mio ingegno che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele."

[For better waters that are heading with the wind, My ship of genius now shakes out her sail, And leaves the ocean of despair behind.]
Opening lines of Dante's Il Purgatorio, Dorothy L. Sayers Translation

Richard A. Schwartz
Iterative Anvil Technology
27708 246th Ave SE
Maple Valley, Wa. 98038

Thank you, Richard.  Welcome Home. ~CJ

“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

1 comment:

  1. [from my email]

    Now I know why you became a legal clerk in Nam...........lol.
    Craig Latham


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