"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

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.


  1. Jeff Yarger jryarger062@gmail.comJanuary 29, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    This behavior was not at all uncommon with troops that returned to rear bases at night. It was one of the survivial techniques used to push the dangers, fear and pain from one's mind, if only breifly.
    The inherent problem of this, was that each of those repressed memories shelved in the recesses one's mind might lay dormant for years before leaching back into back into the consciousness mind. Then years later, when least expecting it, these memories would rear their ugly heads, just as real as the day they were repressed.
    This behavior was almost an intrinsic instinct for GIs. We we're young and not accustomed to the terrors of war. Most had never been in much more a shoving match before Vietnam. Then, upon being thrust into the realities of war, this allowed a release of sorts, so we were less likley to be to be reliving yesterday's terrors, while trying to survive the present day.
    The downside was that most these repressed feelings would live in our subconscious, only to surface at some later date to be dealt with again.

  2. All excellent points, Jeff, and I agree. Thank you sincerely for your thoughts.

    I feel every time we write about one of these repressed memories, whether here on the blog, or just on a piece of paper where we can read it privately and then throw it away, whether we are aware of it, or not, we are facing the memory head-on, as well as the feelings we suppressed surrounding it.

    It isn't easy, but each time we allow ourselves to feel, we heal a little bit more. Feeling Brings Healing ...

  3. Lance you may have run into my brother. He spent two years in Vietnam as a Crew Chief/Door Gunner with the 1st Air/Cav. He was there 1966 through 1968. A model Army soldier, went by the name of "Bear." He even got stuck in a Green Beret camp, that got over run.

    Then the worm turned, (he had an addictive personality), and got attached to smoking marijuana. Trouble is Uncle Sam didn't mind you lighting up while you were in Vietnam, but when you could get on a plane and be in the states in less than a day, there you were, home with a habit. He was caught with a rolled smoke in his pocket at Fort Benning.

    Two tours of Vietnam, second enlistment, and they give him a BCD with the state side ZERO tolerance policy. It was ok in Vietnam, but coming back stateside, you are a bad boy.

    A lot of men (not all men) in Vietnam used marijuana to make it through the year. It took the edge off, and helped push back some of the things you could see daily.

    I may have related this a while back, if it's a redundant repeat, I apologize. I never needed drugs, I did use some alcohol while in the service, but never had a drinking problem either. I can drink with you till dawn, or not touch it for years.

    I do remember one night saying I would stop by the EM club one evening in the E-4 and above section. We started drinking mixed drinks with a beer in between. As time went by, it got late.

    I went up for a round and the lady tending bar said "You are doing pretty good",

    "Thank you ma'am but why?"

    "You have drank this whole bottle of Gin by yourself, with a beer between every drink".

    We closed the place, and I marched my fellow Corpsman to the barracks. When we got to our deck of course lights were out, but I had to hurdle the large G.I. cans.

    I caught the last one with my toe and it made a racket. Someone said, "Fox go to bed."

    Of course I say, "Make me go to bed." Nothing happened, and it got quiet.

    In the morning I remembered what it was like to be under a roof with a drunk stepfather, and many nights having to sleep in the car with my brother and sisters, because the drunk had the house. I publicly apologized to everyone the next morning and was sincere.

    When I was discharged at Treasure Island, San Francisco weed was everywhere. But it was easy to get weed downtown, in 1968. --Frank Fox


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