"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 2, 2015

The Navy EM Club and the Cattle Car

One Version of a Cattle Car

by Douglas Johnson

There were some moments in the Nam experience that can be reflected on with amusement and most of those moments were tolerated only because we were 19 or 20 and extremely resilient.

When I came down from the Cua Viet and Dong Ha area, we would go to the EM Club run by the Navy. (If you remember, Da Nang was a close city, unlike Saigon).

Most of us were not old enough to vote, and since we were under 21, we had to sit on the near beer side of the EM Club. It was the only alcoholic beverage we were allowed to drink. Only if we were 21 and over could we drink regular beer, or hard liquor. (I’m not sure, but I believe the Army regs were different in I Corp and their EM Clubs).

That just didn’t make sense ... only two days before, we were behind a 50, or tossing grenades. Now we were sitting in the only club we were allowed to go to, sipping on near beer, because the Navy decided we were not old enough to handle hard liquor ….

To liven up the story, when the club closed at 9 p.m., a cattle car was backed up to the door of the EM Club. They ordered everybody out of the club and we left via the door, walked up a ramp, and then they packed us into the cattle car. We had to stand the entire time, since there weren’t any seats in the cattle car.

Now, what you’ve got is a full load of men from age 19 to approximately 22 or 23, who are completely wasted and weaving and bobbing, since the road had numerous curves. (I still believe the driver made the trip even worse by his driving style, just to have his jollies).

Anyway, we had guys who were sick from the motion, occasional fights breaking out, and everyone packed in so tight that the 2 SP's couldn’t even push the crowd out of the way for any crowd control. Now top that off with the heat index making it stifling in there ...

When we woke up the next morning, we swore we would never go back to the Club again. But it was the only game in town, so we were back the next night, but only if we were still in Da Nang.

Another episode about the Navy EM Club in Da Nang and the cattle car express.

I was sleeping on the deck of my boat on the on the Marble Mountain side of Da Nang Bay. We had just come back from the Perfume River/Hue area and we were due to go back up North the next day to Dong Ha.

As I said, I was sleeping on the deck with a poncho liner as my blanket, when I heard a loud scream, "Look out! He has a frozen stick of Bologna!"

I jumped up from my sleeping position to see our Gunner's Mate, a scrapper from some unheard of parish in Louisiana, just as he was delivering a forceful upper cut to the crewman swinging the frozen bologna stick like a club.

The guy’s behavior while swinging the frozen stick of bologna was like a Berserker leading a frontal attack for the Vikings, thus the need of such a forceful action. He went down hard with one punch.

When we went up to him, not only was his mouth bleeding from the punch, but we noticed he had numerous cuts and abrasions on both arms, his legs, torso, and his clothing was torn and tattered.

The next morning when he woke up from his drunken stupor, he was moaning and unable to get up. We had to get him Medevac’d off the boat. He had a fracture of one leg.

One of the crew went over to the hospital in Camp Tien Sha to visit our bologna-wielding attacker later and he got the full story: the attacker was from Iowa and this was his seventh year in the Navy. While he was stationed in Thailand, (I never knew the reason why), he married a Thai woman.

We learned that on the night of the attack, he had just found out that afternoon via a Dear John letter from his wife that she was already married to a Bangkok policeman. She had only married him (our sailor), so she could get extra money. The letter also stated that her Policeman husband wanted an end to this arrangement.

So, to seek cathartic relief from the news, he went to the EM Club and got wasted. Since he was over 21, he could drink hard liquor.

Seems the club had a policy that from 8:00 p.m. until closing time, they would hit a bell and from that point until closing time, all shots were 10 cents. Those over 21 could pull out a one dollar MPC note and have ten shots put in front of them. Now you can understand why the cattle car was like a vomit comet when we were all loaded into it!

In leaving the EM Club, the Iowan bologna-wielding Viking sailor was totally wasted. Now, there were openings on each side of the cattle car and the truck pulling it would only slow down and discharge its passengers at six designated stops along the route.

Our shipmate got in the cattle car and he decided he was going to get off when HE wanted to get off -- and where he wanted to get off was at HIS own designated stop. (God only knows what his thought processes were in that condition), but he stepped off the car while it was still in motion.

When he hit the ground, the speed propelled him off the road and down over a hill, thus the mystery of why he was covered with cuts and abrasions over his entire body was solved. The fracture probably came from the impact of hitting the road when he exited the cattle car.

He never returned to the boat, because his leg was casted. None of us ever heard from him again, except for the one crewman who visited him in the hospital and solved the mystery of his injuries and actions.

I went through small arms fire, rocket attacks, and numerous mine explosions on the Rivers, but that was my first and only attack by a frozen stick of bologna while in Nam ...

Douglas Johnson, M.B.A.
Vietnam 1969 to 1970 - I Corp
Engineman Third Class: U.S. Navy
Navy Boats and Front Gunner

“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.

1 comment:

  1. Look at the positive side of it - Least you had bologna in the Navy


Feel free to comment.