"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



Monday, February 20, 2012

C David Ramsey: Our New Found Wealth

While in Vietnam, the military had a good strategy for our monthly pay. It worked rather well. We got paid a small portion, twice each month, from our regular pay. Then the military sent the remainder back home. In my case, it went to my mother, who then deposited the funds into my savings account.

For security and financial reasons, our country discouraged the use of green back dollars going into Vietnam’s economy. Our government improvised a plan, using MPC, instead of our regular dollars. For those that don’t know, MPC means Military Payment Certificates.
 
We would take our US money and exchange it for the MPC to spend when we went on liberty. The exchange rate changed quite often, allowing some creative GI’s to make a small profit. I forget how much we were allowed each pay period, but I think it was around twenty-five dollars.
 
By the time we bought the essentials: two fifths of whiskey, a carton of Winston’s, and a couple of nights in Da Nang to visit our girl friends, we were understandably broke. For those of us who weren’t Wall Street smart, we had to use other ingenious ideas -- like Bernie Madoff.
 
We noticed the MPC was often changed. This was done to keep the notes from being counterfeited by the Vietnam mobsters. When the military changed the face of the MPC, we only had a short time to spend or exchange the old notes for the new ones. 

One night, during a poker game, we came across an idea that we thought just might work, and it did. What drew our attention to this criminal plan were the bars and shop owners on the back streets who would take the outdated MPC without knowing the MPC had changed. We decided we were going to give our plan a shot.

One of the criminals -- oops, I mean, brothers -- in our group, sent a letter home, asking if they would send a new Milton Bradley Monopoly Game. As you remember, this game comes with brand new play money packed inside, from $1.00 through $500.00 bills, and all neatly wrapped. We knew we could only use the $1.00, $5.00 and the $10.00 bills. The $20.00 MPC bills were not in use at that time.
 
When the Monopoly game arrived, we split the cash and then headed to the back streets of Da Nang. We had to be smooth in our first attempt, but we knew the merchants were also shady.
 
Cotton Cranford was the first to try our new Wall Street Plan. After Cotton went through the expected haggling process, the store owner looked at the note with a surprised look. Cotton assured him it was the new MPC for that week. The store owner gladly took the “new note”. Most proprietors were happy we chose their bar to spend our wealth, especially when we were the only ones there, using the same Milton Bradley money.
 
We became very proficient with this new spending plan, although some would call it a scam, cheating, a swindle or even stealing. (Being one of the culprits, I will refrain from any admission of guilt). I do, however, remember the beer tasting great for some reason.
 
Soon, several men were writing home, requesting a new Monopoly game. All of us knew an end would come one day, which it did. We started seeing pinned up bills at different exchanges, around Da Nang, with phony written on the front.
 
One evening after our squadron CO made his necessary announcements, he ended by saying, “For those using the Monopoly money, it will stop today”. Later the Colonel was overheard telling someone, “Considering everything, it wasn’t a bad idea”.
 
I remember once, the bank told me I had a counterfeit hundred dollar bill. Believe me, it was a sick feeling. It took me over a week to pass that note...

C David Ramsey



“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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Sunday, February 19, 2012

C David Ramsey: The Day I Met Charley

Dave and his Wife
At this time, I can’t remember the entire where to and whereas of the mission we were on that day.

We must have had over a hundred UH34 helicopters lined up on the grass to transport a bunch of Vietnamese troops out of Da Nang that morning.

You could see the fear in the eyes of those young men, as they waited to mount up and fly to some embattled area.

For some reason I wasn’t scheduled to go out that day. I don’t remember why. At my present age, my mind is like a book with a lot of pages missing, like my hair.

The young troops had brought everything they could on this mission; it looked like a huge flea market with all the stuff they were taking. It didn’t take long for the pilots to see this mess. I was drafted to be loadmaster that morning. All they were allowed to take was issued gear, but I found everything from umbrellas to full racks of bananas. They sure didn’t expecting to get hungry on their mission.

I wasn’t making those poor men happy, as I walked down the line, taking away all those comforts of home. Looking back, I wished we had charged a baggage fee like American Air Lines; we could have returned home rich and well tanned.

As I made my way down the line, I saw an officer laughing as he held a rope. At the end of the rope was a large gray monkey, with his arms wrapped around the legs of this Vietnamese warrior. I was handed the rope. I had no idea what I would do with an angry old monkey that had to say goodbye to his better half. The monkey was mad and the man cried. What had I just separated, I don’t even want to know.

I was afraid to get close enough to loosen the rope and I didn’t want him loose dragging that heavy rope tied to his neck. Luckily he followed me back to the tent without chewing my arm off. I don’t think he ever forgot his former soul mate, even though we fed him tons of delicious gourmet C-rations.

For some reason we named the monkey Charley. Charley would sit with his back toward us, looking lonely, staring into space. Something was missing in his life and finally we figured it out.

Down the runway, a few hundred yards, the Army had a squadron of Huey Helicopters. Someone said they had a smaller red female monkey as a mascot. There it was, and we all agreed. Charley was going to meet a new girl friend.

That afternoon we walked down with Charley and asked the squadron CO if he would allow his monkey to date our monkey. He was lost for words for a second, asking us to repeat ourselves. We then explained the situation as his men started to gather around looking at Charley. He approved, so we walked Charley over, with some bread in his hand, to meet the lady.

All of a sudden the little red female monkey went ballistic. First she made a running attack on Charley; she jumped on his butt, biting as she screamed. Charley’s eyes were bigger than a silver dollar. He yanked the rope out of our hand and started running for his life with Red on his tail.

Nearby was a flag pole and it only took him a second to scale it to the top. Red sat on the ground screaming and showing her teeth. An hour or so passed and Charley was still sitting on his perch, not daring to come down. Finally we realized Charley hated the Marine Corp, the Army and Little Red.

One of the men in the squadron taped a red flare on the end of a mop handle and the CO lifted one of his choppers to the top of the pole. They sprayed Charley with the flare, which frightened him down. Charley hit the ground running, dragging the rope behind, never to return. I can’t really blame him.

All of us pretty much agreed, match making would never be in our future. I do hope Charley found a better life ... and a more gentle lover.

C David Ramsey


“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



Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jesse Gump: Looking For Love

... In All The Wrong Places

It was late in my tour of duty in Vietnam and I was stationed with the Korean 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa. I had never taken an R&R and that bothered my superiors. They ordered me to take an R&R right away. Whether I went someplace in country or out of country wasn’t important, as long as I went somewhere. If I recall correctly, I had ten days of leave. I selected an “in country” R&R and was going to Cam Ranh Bay. I had heard good things about Cam Ranh Bay.

I was to depart for Cam Ranh from Tuy Hoa which meant I had to travel from Ninh Hoa to Tuy Hoa to begin my R&R. It wasn’t far, maybe 100 klicks (kilometers) or so north on Highway 1. I don’t remember how I got to Tuy Hoa but I made it nonetheless.

Somewhere between Ninh Hoa and Tuy Hoa we stopped at a small Korean outpost. I don’t know why we stopped because I never asked. I suspect it was to drop mail or some supplies. A truck was parked just outside the perimeter. In the bed were several dead bodies. They wore no uniforms. Flies swarmed. I remember wanting to look away but my eyes stayed glued to the scene. I wondered if they had been killed in combat or if they had been murdered like the POWs in Ninh Hoa. The image of those dead bodies lingers in my head.

I spent the first night of my R&R sleeping on a vacant bunk in Tuy Hoa. The next morning I was escorted to the air field for my flight to Cam Ranh Bay. There I was introduced to a young Lieutenant who was also going to Cam Ranh for R&R. We were directed to our military plane and we were off for a few days of rest and recuperation. Unfortunately we were put on the wrong plane and we ended up in Nha Trang, less than thirty miles from Ninh Hoa where I had started the previous day.

After asking around we learned that we would have to go back to Tuy Hoa the next day to catch our flight to Cam Ranh. The young Lieutenant was livid. He said that if I wanted to take my R&R in Nha Trang it was okay with him. I was familiar with Nha Trang so I said okay. He went back to Tuy Hoa; I stayed in Nha Trang.

First I went to the bachelor officers’ quarters and caught up with one of the pilots who flew forward air control for the US bombers supporting the Korean infantry based out of Ninh Hoa. His name escapes me but he allowed me to store my rifle in his locker. I knew from past visits to Nha Trang that I wouldn’t need my rifle in the city. I hitched a ride into town with a couple of airmen and headed straight to the La Fregate restaurant. I had eaten there before and the food was good. A very welcome change from kimshi and other strange things the Koreans ate.

Afterwards I stopped at a Vietnamese bar that catered to American servicemen, had a couple of beers, flirted with the bar girls, and then headed back toward the base. Before I got to the main road, a female voice called my name. It was a young woman named Yvonne. I’m sure that wasn’t her real name but that is what she called herself. Yvonne had once been the girlfriend of a marine stationed at my home base in Ninh Hoa. His name was Josh.

Josh had an arrangement with Yvonne. He would give her money each month and when he was in Nha Trang they would have sex. Josh paid money to keep Yvonne for himself and from what I witnessed it worked. I got to know Yvonne when I traveled with Josh and others to pick up white phosphorous rounds for the forward air controllers in Ninh Hoa. Josh had rotated back to the states a couple of months earlier and I hadn’t seen Yvonne since that time. 

In any event I stopped to say hello. Over a couple of drinks we talked about Josh and we talked about Yvonne’s current life. She now had a new boyfriend who was a military policeman. He was good to her but sometimes he got drunk and was physically abusive. Today he had been sent to Saigon for a week and she seemed glad he was gone. I told her about my misadventures with my R&R and she thought it was funny.

I didn’t realize how much time had passed until I looked at my watch. It was late and there was no way I could make it back to the base before curfew. Yvonne said I could stay at her house for the night if I wanted. Considering that curfew was only minutes away, staying at Yvonne’s for the night seemed like a good idea. I gave her money for beer and food and then spent the night with Yvonne. Actually I spent the next three nights with Yvonne and her friends. It was all good.

Then on the fourth night everything changed. Yvonne and I were asleep when we were awakened by a loud knock at her door. I was groggy and not thinking clearly. “It’s my boyfriend,” she said. “He’s home early. I can’t let him know you are here. He’s very jealous and carries a pistol. He could be dangerous.” She pointed toward a small dresser that had a mirrored closet door on the left side. “Get in there.”

I did as I was told and she threw my boots and clothes in with me. The closet was barely big enough to cram myself inside. I heard her open the room door and talk to her MP boyfriend. I couldn’t hear all of their words but I understood that she was bribing him away from her house with an offer of cold beer. Apparently it worked because suddenly there was silence.

The cramped closet quickly became a torture chamber. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wondered how long the oxygen would last. My body was taking up most of the space in the closet and there was little room for air. Minutes ticked past as I decided what to do. I had images of her MP boyfriend pointing his weapon at me, and pulling the trigger because I was with his girlfriend. This wasn’t how R&R was supposed to be.

Then I heard a noise in the room. I just knew it was Yvonne’s boyfriend. There was going to be a confrontation and I was unarmed. At that instant I knew how the Korean POWs in Ninh Hoa felt. I was going to die, but not in combat.

In a moment the closet door came open and my heart stopped. I looked up expecting to see a .45 pistol pointed at my head. Instead there stood an old Vietnamese man waving frantically for me to follow him. As I extracted myself from the cramped closet my left knee banged hard against the door and it fell from its hinges. It hit the floor with a loud crash and the mirror shattered. I held onto my boots and fatigues and ran through the doorway and away from Yvonne’s house. Behind me I heard a man yelling in American English and Yvonne shouting in her pidgin English. A shot rang out as I darted down a side street and then everything became deathly quiet. The only noise was my heavy breathing and my heart pounding. I put on my clothes and spent the night hiding from the friendly patrols as well as the Viet Cong that roamed the less glamorous parts of the city.

The next morning I caught a ride back to my post in Ninh Hoa. There I was greeted with a message that I had taken my R&R at an unauthorized location and I was confined to my base for two weeks. I didn’t care.

I don’t know if the shot I’d heard that night was meant for me, or Yvonne, or for no one, but before I rotated back to the US I returned to Nha Trang to make sure Yvonne was okay. She no longer lived in her house and her friends I’d met during my R&R were no longer neighbors. I never found if she was alive and well or if she was dead. There was no closure to the events of that night. Someday I’ll return to Nha Trang. Perhaps I will learn what happened that night; or maybe not. I only know I have to try. It’s something I have to do. For me, going back to Vietnam has become an obsession.

Jesse



“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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Friday, February 17, 2012

C David Ramsey: A Day At The Beach: Vietnam

If our lifestyle today came close to what we lived in Vietnam in the 60’s, we would be escorted to the nearest AA office for counseling and supervision. 

Drinking was an important part of our life in Vietnam; of course our work came first. I guess you could say we were trained in the art of beer.  Drink was the accepted thing to do while in country. 

One morning, several of us had time off, so we planned a trip to our semi-private beach. At least we thought it was our beach.  The Air Force at Da Nang first established it as their playground. It was a beautiful place, white sand and warm blue waters. We never gave a second thought that we were in a war zone when we swam at Red Beach. 

The night before, we drove down the tarmac to “scrounge” a few fire extinguishers to chill the beer. Let me explain the meaning of scrounge; if an individual took something for himself, it was stealing.  If he took it to be used by the squadron, it was scrounging. 

When we arrived at the beach we would dig a small hole, line it with a poncho, put the beer in the hole and spray the fire extinguishers over the beer. The stuff in the extinguisher would help cool our beer down to a reasonable degree, or close enough. It wasn’t as good as ice, but you must remember, ice had the same value as gold in Vietnam. 

When we walked down the long trail to the beach, we could see several big ships just off shore. There were big ships, small ships and a ton of landing crafts circling just off shore. We had no idea what was happening, besides we had a greater priority -- get the beer cool. Remember this was early, somewhere around 7:00, and we had been awake for several hours, waiting for our day to relax in the sand. 

The beer we had selected was a vintage choice. There is nothing like aged Pabst Blue Ribbon or Schlitz Beer, stored in some forgotten military warehouse until scum forms in the bottom of the can. Milwaukee would soon be proud as our church keys punched holes in those rusty tin cans. No Sir, no pop tops in those days that might break a finger nail. 

As we sat back sipping on our warm beer, we saw the landing crafts starting to get into formation and heading toward our beach party. We still had no idea what would soon happen, so we decided to stay and enjoy the moment. The first craft broke through, the door made a splash then a group of Marines with full battle gear made an assault on the beach not far from us. They fanned out in perfect order, taking position up and down the beach. No artillery rounds were fired  and neither did the Marines as they came on shore.  Had I been a VC, I would have gotten the hell out of Dodge.  This was an awesome, frightening sight. 

We stood there in our cut off jeans with beer in hand, astounded by what we were witnessing. Hollywood will never produce a scene as glorious as the one we were watching. Few orders were given during that operation, because each Marine knew in advance what he was to do and perfectly performed his task.  I picked up a beer from our poncho cooler and offered it to one of the Marines.  He replied, “No thank you Sir."  I think that was the only time in the Marine Corp I was called Sir.  It was a feel good moment. 

Come to find out, we were not the only people on the beach on March 8, 1965. Down the beach a few hundred yards, reporters had gathered, aided by Vietnamese women with flowered leis which they placed on the necks of a few Marines. Some were holding up signs to welcome our troops ashore. I later found out all this celebration pissed off General Westmoreland.  He didn’t appreciate a good party. 

Our presence on the beach, with cut off jeans and warm beer soon became the topic of a few ranking officers.  We decided it was best for us to leave Red Beach that morning. We were Marines.  We didn’t need that beach to finish that nice aged beer, we could improvise. Later that evening, we safely returned to Dogpatch -- all the beer was gone. I can’t remember if we ever returned to that beach.  It was really nice up there.

C David Ramsey


“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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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesse Gump: Enemy Mine

While stationed with the Korean 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa, South Vietnam, we paid for locals to come on base to wash our clothes and other odd jobs. One of the hired workers assigned to me was a young Vietnamese girl named Tai. She was seventeen years old. Over time Tai and I became good friends. She had taken great pains (and patience) to teach me Vietnamese words whenever I asked. Eventually, I came to believe I loved her. Then one day she stopped coming to work and another woman, an older lady, took her place. I didn’t know why or if there was any reason at all.

Weeks later, just before I rotated back to the states, I received a message from Tai. She knew I was leaving soon and she wanted me to come to her village to say goodbye.

The next day I made the two mile walk down Highway One and along the flooded rice paddies into the small town of Ninh Hoa. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to find Tai, but it turned out not to be a problem. Obviously I had been watched from the moment I stepped foot inside the village because Tai met me before I'd gone fifty feet past the first dismal hut.

Her smile said she was happy to see me. My own smile reflected hers. She was careful not to touch me as she led me toward her home where she lived with her family. The house was as poor as the rest in the village. Its construction was a mix of small bricks, woven bamboo, and rusting sheets of corrugated tin.

Tai motioned me through the doorway. Inside was as rustic as out. Short bamboo platforms perched above a dirt floor strategically covered with straw mats. She slipped off her flip-flops, but I kept my boots in place. She pointed toward one of the raised platforms and I sat.

"I needed to see you," she said in a hushed tone. "I have things I must tell you."

"Why did you stop working at the base?" I interrupted. "I worried that I'd insulted you or somehow made you angry."

She put her hand on mine. "I'm not angry. I asked you to come here so I can tell you the truth about me before you go home."

I glanced around the room and noticed for the first time that we were completely alone. And it was quiet, as if the world outside had suddenly stopped moving. "I'm leaving next week."

"Yes, I know." She reached inside her pants pocket and then held out her closed hand. "I want to give you something."

By reflex I held out my hand. She opened her slender fingers and dropped a thin gold ring into my palm. I looked at the ring and then back to her face. "I don't understand."

"You're a nice man and have a good heart. I want you to always remember me because I love you."

An odd feeling coursed through my body and jolted against my brain. It was a heady mixture of elation, depression, and tense desperation. Sensible responses eluded me. "I love you, too. I'll come back for you."

She smiled and kissed me softly on the cheek. "That's not possible. There are things you don't know about me."

I struggled to make sense of her statement. "What do you mean?"

She took a breath as if to brace herself. "Do you remember meeting my uncle?" (This is another story altogether.)

"No, I've never met any of your family."

"Do you remember the evening when you and your friend stopped for beer at the village just south of here? Some men were there eating. Vietnamese men."

I did remember. Having beer with the enemy is not an experience easily forgotten. I nodded.

"The man who waved when you left was my uncle. If it'd been anyone but you, he would have killed them."

My muscles tightened as the meaning registered in my head. "You mean your uncle is Viet Cong?"

She avoided the question. "Do remember the times I asked you to buy me soap for my laundry and aspirin for my headaches?"

The feeling that I was about to hear something I didn't want to hear flooded my senses. I nodded again.

"It wasn't for me. It was for my uncle and his friends. I'm a VC sympathizer."

Even though I'd seen it coming, the shock of her words caused me to stand. "I should go. Suddenly I feel very uncomfortable."

"Do you hate me?" The pleading in her voice and on her face was clear.

At that moment I didn't know what I felt. She had lied to me to help her uncle and their friends – my enemies. Yet if not for her and her uncle, I would be dead. Except for the lies she had never hurt me, and she said she loved me. She had given me a gold ring so I would never forget her. In a moment my thoughts coalesced into a response. "I could never hate you, Tai. I will keep this ring so I'll never forget you."

"You should go. Everyone in Ninh Hoa will wonder why we've been alone for so long."

It occurred to me that she had taken her own risks by inviting me to her home. "Yes, I know."

The village came back to life when I stepped outside. People talked and children played and motorcycles putted. I looked back at Tai. Tears glistened her face. My eyes watered, too.

"I will pray for you," she said.

"And I for you." I pointed at my rifle and my army clothes. "Maybe someday these will be gone and we can be best of friends, or the best of lovers."

Tai smiled. "I would like that." She turned and went back inside.

A small crowd of Vietnamese children had gathered in the street. I touched the pockets of my fatigues but they were empty. I walked to the small shop at the corner and spend every last piece of MPC in my wallet on local sweets and candy. The kids had a feast as they followed me to the edge of the village.

I walked back along the rice paddies to the base. I never said anything about Tai or her uncle. The following Wednesday I rotated back to the states.



“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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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jesse Gump: Death of Vietcong POWs

So, what was so special about Vietnam? For starters we were in a war where our enemy rarely wore a uniform. You couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad. The farmer you waved to this morning could be the man who would plant a landmine or fire a mortar round that night. Worse, reports said the VC used kids and women as weapons. I never witnessed that, but the rumors kept me on guard, especially with the kids. Mostly they only wanted candy or to steal your watch or wallet, but any one of them could have been a carrier of death. War is often boring, but being in a war zone is always stressful – even on the best of days.

I don’t remember the exact date the following event took place, but it was approximately six months into my military service in Vietnam. As mentioned in a previous article, I was stationed with the Korean 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa. That night I was performing field illumination (searchlight) for perimeter security. At approximately midnight, flares went off along our east perimeter which bordered Route 1. I assumed some VC had been spotted near the perimeter so I asked the Korean lieutenant on duty if they needed me to provide illumination in any particular area. He talked on his radio for a couple of minutes (in Korean). When he finished, I was told to go to the northern gate on the east perimeter. I was to pick up his superior (a Korean colonel) on the way. Five minutes later, with the Korean colonel as my passenger, we exited the base and headed toward Route 1. As we drove, the Colonel told me some Viet Cong prisoners had escaped but the Korean troops had trapped them.

An abandoned Vietnamese house sat 100 meters or so outside of our perimeter. There I was ordered to stop and shine my searchlight on the house. I did as I was told. I had a great view of the house and surrounding area, but I saw no VC in or near the house. It looked deserted. At that moment all hell broke loose. The abandoned house was hit with a barrage from small-arms, machine guns, and grenades. It went on for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was probably less than two minutes. If there were any weapons fired from inside the abandoned house, I never saw it.

Suddenly the fusillade stopped and only smoke and dust filled the air. Korean infantrymen appeared from their cover and headed away from the house.

“Turn off the light and go back inside the base,” the Colonel ordered.

“Aren’t you going to make sure there are no injured prisoners?” I asked.

“They are dead,” he answered and pointed toward the gate. “Go now.”

As I drove, I realized I had just witnessed cold-hearted (if not cold-blooded) murder. The escaped Viet Cong POWs clearly had no weapons. Yes, they were escaped prisoners of war, but they could have been recaptured easily. Instead they were exterminated like rats.

I dropped the ROK colonel at the tactical operations center and went back to my post on the hill. I spent the rest of the night replaying the event in my head. Even today I replay that event. I sometimes wonder if there was anyone in the house besides the escaped Viet Cong. The house is not far from the rice fields farmed by the villagers of Ninh Hoa. I had seen workers near the abandoned house during the daytime but I had never seen any lights there at night. Is it possible that rice field laborers sometimes slept there? I don’t know, but the question still torments my thoughts.

I was a witness to murder, but there was no one to tell. It was Korean soldiers who did the killing of unarmed men, not American soldiers. The Koreans were known to be ruthless when it came to the enemy. But they took good care of me and some had become my friends. My direct command was in Tuy Hoa and not on the base where I was stationed. I rationalized it was none of my business. It was easier to simply stay quiet and not tell anyone. Actually, I don’t think anyone would have cared anyway. Even today I feel strange just talking about it in this article. Memories of the episode haunt me more often than they should. I guess they always will.

Jesse

“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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Monday, February 13, 2012

David Ramsey: 333 Beer and Keys

Where Did he Get the Key?

Each night during our first tour in Vietnam, it was common practice to make sure your Brothers close to you were accounted for. It wasn’t a roll call, actually, just a common courtesy to make sure we didn’t have someone missing, which could have easily happened. There were a lot of distractions close to Dogpatch, from drinking, to inexpensive romance just outside the guard shack or, even worse, captured by the VC.
 
The most common of them was getting drunk downtown and missing the returning truck and then having to get a ride back to base. Even if this happened, the taxi or rickshaw driver could not get past the guard at the gate and this would leave the disabled solder out a mile or so, trying to find his way back home.

Vietnam had this not-so-wonderful beer called Ba Ba Ba, or 333 Beer. It was so cheap, with a few dongs you could buy enough to last for weeks. Rumor was, that one of its finer ingredients was formaldehyde (ch2o), well known in the embalming business.

With this, the poor Marine would get lost in his pilgrimage back to camp. When this happened (not if/but when) it would send the camp into a panic. That’s why we were under strong suggestion not to go alone down into Danang, but to have several drinking buddies by our side.

Let’s get back to formaldehyde and the chemical makeup of the brain. Without getting too scientific, too much of the chemical, formaldehyde (ch20), for some reason, reverses evolution. A person maxed out with this (let’s call formaldehyde, stuff) stuff causes a new unidentifiable language. It sounds as if the person has been beamed up with Scotty to some far away galaxy like Uranus and now speaks Uranium.
 
After a few, not so cold Ba Ba Ba’s, the wobbling GI would have the strength of the Hulk. Not only was his communication gone, but I have also seen several of his Brothers back away from trying to restrain him, because it makes the GI "bullet proof". I don’t know if it was the look on his face, or him beating on his chest while stuff drooled from his mouth, but it caused his Brothers in Arms to back away.
 
I had an up-close on this one night, as we were accounting for each other. This particular night, our hydraulic man was missing. (Let’s call him Joe). 

“Has anyone seen Joe?”

“I saw him two hours ago down on the flight line.” 

“Was he ok?”

“Not really sure, ya want to go check?” 

During this volley of questions, in the distance we could hear a helicopter turning up its engine. Now remember, this was around 10 o’clock at night and this drew some unwanted attention. By the time we got to the flight line, we had several vehicles following along. When we arrived, we could see a bunch of empty 333 Beer cans all around a running helicopter with “Joe” ready to fly out. 

I heard someone ask, “Where did he get the key”? Most of us laughed, because the choppers we had didn’t have keys. That’s why you never saw a pilot walking around with a bunch of keys hooked to his belt.
 
An angry ranking officer realized what was happening and he starts to talk Joe out of the chopper. The first thing Joe said was, “I’m going home”. It took about an hour of persuading Joe that he couldn’t fly that thing 8,280 miles back home. Anyway, Joe wasn’t even a pilot; he was just an E4, a young man filled to the brim with formaldehyde, who just wanted to go home that night.
 
The next day, Joe got a nice lecture on drinking and flying. Thankfully, Joe decided never to drink again. Yep, lot of distractions around Dogpatch. Oh, and be sure you hide those keys ...

C David Ramsey


“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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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jesse Gump: Coming Home

Home from Vietnam

During my time in Vietnam I was shot at by snipers, mortared by VC, I found booby-traps on base, and I learned that “helping my Vietnamese civilian friends” actually meant "aiding the enemy". I was a country boy who just happened to end up in the middle of a war zone.

I survived fourteen months in Vietnam.  Twelve of them were with the Korean infantry. A lot of men died in Vietnam, but I survived. I was prepared to die, but I didn’t.  Was it luck? Fate? I don’t know, but I survived and I feel guilty. That sounds insane but I feel guilty nonetheless. Maybe I am insane.

There were no fanfares or welcome back ceremonies when I returned from Vietnam. I came home to a world where my peers thought I was a fool. Among other things, I was called a baby-killer. How ridiculous is that? I never killed a baby in my life. I tried to join the VFW but was denied status as a foreign war veteran. Some asshole at the VFW made a comment that Vietnam vets were nothing but a bunch of losers. I didn’t join the VFW until thirty years after I returned from Vietnam.

Even my home state of Pennsylvania seemed to have a problem with me coming home. At the time, PA was giving vets from their state some small reward/compensation for their tour of duty in Vietnam. It was a pittance but I applied anyway. I was denied because I was inducted in Virginia instead of Pennsylvania. I grew up in Spraggs, PA and went to high school in Waynesburg, PA. I went to electronics school in Pittsburgh, PA. I was drafted out of Waynesburg. PA. You don’t get more Pennsylvanian that that, but I guess it doesn’t really count. The money was inconsequential, but the lack of recognition was not.

When I returned to my old computer repair job at Honeywell in Washington DC, I was treated like the red-haired stepchild. I wasn’t sent back to school to refresh my skills (which were then nearly two years old). Instead, I was relegated to the mundane duties of cleaning and polishing. I learned quickly that Vietnam vets were not highly regarded, so I stopped talking about my time in Vietnam -- not just with my fellow workers, but also with my peers. I had some trouble adjusting to civilian life and turned heavily to alcohol and drugs. After an episode that ended with me spending a night in jail, my fiancĂ©e gave me an ultimatum: Marry her or get out of her life. We got married. She is a saint and I credit her with saving me from self-destruction.

I had arrived in Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive. I returned home just in time for Woodstock and major anti-war protests in DC. My generation was no longer my generation. They had no empathy for my Vietnam experience. To the contrary, they had much distain for it. Needless to say, I developed few friendships of any substance. As the years passed, I developed business relationships, but there is a gaping hole in my life that can never be recovered.

Vietnam changed me and my life and it wasn’t for the better. When I went, I was drafted, I didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, or anything else like that, yet I returned home with those habits and more. I’ve had recurring bouts of depression and believed I would die young. I spent most of my life feeling like I was living in a fog and out of touch with reality. The final kick in the ass was that I came home after being exposed to agent-orange and developed ischemic heart disease. What a great welcome home gift.

During the last two years, I’ve had more people welcome me home from Vietnam and thank me for my service than I had in the previous forty years. It is very much appreciated but, at times, it seems to have come years too late. Funny thing is that I feel a large part of me never came home.

*****

This "Coming Home" piece sounds like I'm whining. Actually I'm not whining. I don't even like whiners. I'm simply stating what I experienced and how I felt. Thanks for understanding.

Jesse

“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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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jesse Gump: Going to Vietnam



This article today comes from a friend that I know from the Vietnam Veterans group I belong to on LinkedIn, Jesse Gump.

Welcome to Memoirs, Jesse.  Thank you for your thoughts, your service, and Welcome Home.






Dear CJ, 
Recently, I saw your posts on Veterans Watchdog and your request for memoirs from Vietnam vets. I am a Vietnam vet and I have some stories to tell.  

Like you, I am an author. My novels are set in Thailand and were written while working on a long term construction project in the late 1990s J. F. Gump Novels

Also like you, I have lived all over the place, but I currently live in PA about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Thank you for the work you are doing with, and for, Vietnam vets.
Sincerely,
Jesse (J. F.) Gump


Going to Vietnam
by Jesse (J. F.) Gump

Before I was drafted into the Army, I had completed a rigorous electronics course in Pittsburgh, PA, received a 1st Class FCC license with a radar endorsement, had six months of computer science training by Honeywell, and four months of experience repairing and maintaining mainframe computers at government installations in Washington, DC. I thought I was the perfect candidate for computer operations at any government or military facility. But I was a draftee and, in the military’s infinite wisdom, they sent me to Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Polk, LA. To say I was shocked by my military assignment would be an understatement.

My thirty day leave before deployment to Vietnam was one of the most stressful periods of my life. My mother had moved to Florida when I started my electronics training in Pittsburgh. By the time I got out of AIT, she was living in Overland Park, KS. I came down with the flu in my last week of AIT and was sick during most of my visit with my mother.

After Kansas, I went to Pennsylvania to visit my sister and my girlfriend (now my wife). Everywhere I went, people treated me as if I would never return from Vietnam. One person even wished me to die in Vietnam. It was crazy. I went to Vietnam knowing I wouldn’t come home alive. Clearly I didn’t die, but at the time, I was convinced my return trip would be in a body-bag.

I don’t recall the exact date I arrived in Vietnam, but I’m sure my DD-214 has it listed. I only know it was December of 1967. After spending a couple of weeks filling sandbags at Bien Hoa (near Saigon), I was transferred north to Da Nang. There my MOS was switched from straight infantry to field illumination. A short time later, I was sent to Qui Nhon and then Tuy Hoa, where I stayed a week or so before being assigned to the Korean 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa. My first few weeks in Vietnam are a total blur.

To the best of my recollection I wasn’t given any indoctrination to “living with the Koreans”. That’s probably because no one knew anything about where I was being sent, or because they simply didn’t care. In either case, I was dumped in Ninh Hoa with the Korean infantry. I arrived in Ninh Hoa a couple of weeks before the Tet Offensive in 1968. The mortars and an unsuccessful VC attack on our perimeter were my official, though belated, welcome to Vietnam.

My life in Vietnam was completely different from anything I had ever experienced. Not only was I living in a war zone where people wanted to kill me, but I was stationed with Koreans who looked suspiciously like the Viet Cong. The heat and the odors of Vietnam were alien to my previous life in the US. There was constant firing by a Korean artillery unit not far from my quarters and, when it was quiet, it was as disconcerting as when it was firing. I learned to tell the difference from out-going rounds, out-going duds, and incoming mortar fire.

Being in field illumination, most of my work was at night. I got to watch the frequent firefights between the Korean troops and the VC/NVA. Daytime sleeping in Vietnam was difficult at best. The heat was the worst. I bought a fan which helped some, but not much. I spent most of my time in Vietnam on less than five hours sleep per day and that wasn’t uninterrupted sleep. By the time I rotated back to the States I was physically and mentally exhausted.

[Tomorrow: "Coming Home from Vietnam", also by Jesse Gump]


“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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Friday, February 10, 2012

C. David Ramsey: Dogpatch

This came to me today in an email from C. David Ramsey, who was a Marine in Vietnam.  I know Dave from the Vietnam Veterans page on Facebook.  Please join me and welcome him to Memoirs ... thank you C. David Ramsey for your service and for sharing this memory.  Welcome Home, soldier.

Dave Ramsey
It was just a couple hours flying time until we landed at Danang. It was a good flight, no turbulence, plus it was nice and cool inside that plane.

As soon as we touched down, everyone started gathering their sea bags, and getting in line to see Vietnam. When the door opened, a rush of hot air filled the cabin and the heat only got worse as we got out and stepped on the tarmac. Everyone was soaked with sweat. None of us had ever been in that much heat and humidity, at least not me. It made several knees buckle, even though we were Marines.

I remember every person took a moment to look out toward those beautiful mountains that laid just north of Danang. Soon we got into a convoy of deuce and half trucks and drove a couple of miles over some red, bumpy roads to a place called Dogpatch.

The buildings we were to stay in had been built several years prior by the French when they fought in Vietnam. Each of us set up our bunks, then we hung up the most important thing we would ever own, a mosquito net. Even though we were in a war zone everything had to be in it's proper place.

As we hung our rifles on the bunks, we started asking where we could find the ammo. To our surprise, no ammo had made it to Dogpatch. A few hours later, beside one of the out buildings, I found one 7.62 round, plus a rusty old machete. I was young, only 19, but I started to have a not so good feeling about being in Vietnam. There we were in a war ravaged country and I had one (1) bullet.

Every time I see the Andy of Mayberry and Barney Fife, I think back to those three days of having only one bullet. We were a Marine Helicopter Group and I had one round to stop the "Spread of Communism".

I have no idea how many Viet Cong or NVA troops were looking down on our little hamlet called Dogpatch, but I am thankful they didn't give us a housewarming party during those three days.

For some strange reason, different songs earmark the events in my past life. The song by the Animals marks those three days of June in 1964, "We Got To Get Out Of This Place -- If It's The Last Thing We Ever Do" ...

Thank You.
C David Ramsey

Facebook Vietnam Veterans


“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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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vietnam Vets, Speak Out

I've written before about a group I belong to on LinkedIn.  It's appropriately called Vietnam Veterans.  There are some wonderful people there and a lot of interesting articles have been posted, which help me very much.

The other day I posted a link in the group to a couple of articles I wrote for Veterans Watchdog.   I hoped that possibly, by sharing my articles about losing my husband, Douglas Kempf, in Vietnam, it would help others to also write about their own experiences.  It is my belief and my experience that by writing about it, it brings a cleansing and an eventual healing.

Today, one of the veterans from the group posted a heartfelt comment on my post at LinkedIn.  It underscores everything all Vietnam veterans share and hold inside, even now, nearly half a century later.  I would like to share that exchange with you today between myself and a friend from LinkedIn's Vietnam Veterans Group, Lenny Yanchar.

Lenny:  As a Nam vet who has kept quiet for the most part, and who took five years of going to the wall before he could make it all the way down, I for one, believe (because my grandson keeps asking).  We need to share what we remember so no one has to go through what some of us did. I thank God that Americans, in general, are supporting our vets of today, even if they are against the war, (except for a few, who I stay away from because of a fear of what I might say or do).

As far as family, even some of us who came back hurt them and they carried the scars of the war and some of us did not understand until it was too late.  CJ please keep posting because if it helps you, it helps all of us.

My reply: Thank you, Lenny, for responding.

Writing articles for online Veteran sites and my own blog, Memoirs From Nam, has helped me deal with the pain of losing Doug in Vietnam -- they're feelings that have been buried for nearly fifty years and, each time I take a memory and write about it, it brings it out into the light where I have to face it and can begin to heal.

I wish more veterans could and would write about their experiences -- I can't begin to express how much it helps to write it all down. I don't know, it's cleansing somehow, facing it, feeling it, and then to see it through your own words. If I had a penny for every tear I first shed writing about it, there would be an awesome high pile -- and then if I had another penny for the tears I shed after reading what I wrote, I can count on one hand those pennies from new tears.

Once again, I invite everyone here to write something, anything -- just one memory, or one experience about your time in Nam. Submit it to me for Memoirs From Nam. Please. It would be such an honor for me to post it and it would help you immeasurably. Trust me, I know it's hard to write about pain. Think of the number of fellow veterans you would be helping to heal, as well, when they read and relate to your words.

Welcome Home.
 
My warmest regards and respect,
CJ Parrish (Kempf) Heck

Memoirs from Nam:
http://memoirsfromnam.blogspot.com


“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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