Part 3: Did You Get Left Behind Or Were Afraid You Would Be?

Not the best news as I was going to miss a big New Years celebration with my girlfriend, Marilyn Hosbach from East Tawas, Michigan, but to not be at my company when they left would be the same as desertion, which did not have good consequences.

So off I went spending new Years Eve on a jet back to Hawaii that was nearly empty. The only plus was each of us were given a full magnum of champagne since the flight had so few passengers.

The great surprise when arriving at my company, was that I had been transferred to another battalion as just a grenadier. The First Sargent had the last laugh. I now had to face the reality of all the training I had missed. True to my nature, I believed I would find a way to survive, and I’m here writing this story.

Now more than 50 years later things have not changed much. Viet Nam for me was simply not the nightmare so many endured. It was bad enough, but I chose not to focus on that. What was worse than Viet Nam was losing my Dad just a few weeks after getting back in a car wreck. This again only deepened my feelings of abandonment.

He was able to demonstrate his feelings with my three sisters, but never with me. Anger was generally what I created with Dad, but he usually responded in silence. Hugs and terms of endearment were not part of my Dad’s way. He did show it in other ways, but what I craved were the physical. I got neither from my Mother or Father.

My father an I had always had a strained relationship, as I was not the dependable worker or son he would have desired. My Dad was all that and more. While I would haphazardly get things done, it was usually not in a way that pleased my Dad. My greatest challenge was wanting to do things my way, not Dad’s or Mom’s. I’m not sure if I was typical for a teenage boy, but I was definitely irresponsible.

To make matters worse, I tried to cover my tracks with contrived accounts, or in other words mistruths. Commonly known as lies. My acting career started very early in life, as my performances on a daily basis were very convincing. This was good on stage, but not for everyday life.

So after Viet Nam, Dad and I had a new respect and relationship. I was a battle tested veteran, which my Dad was not. While he was part of the reserve forces in Japan during WWII, he never fired a shot. Now he could look at his son as having lived through something he had not. Most active military always ask themselves the questions of, “what if?” So for the first time we saw each other with different eyes and attitudes. Then in a flash he was gone.

I was twenty, and nearly ready to strike out on my own. A few more months in the Army and I was free. Free to continue my survival in life feeling like a stranger.

Part 2:Is Drowning Preferable To Getting Shot In The Jungle?

As I got to feeling better there were forays into town to discover what one of the larger cites was all about. While in a bar, another  young American who was not a soldier, was eating at another table. We struck up a conversation and he explained he was a Merchant Marine contracted out on one of the ships in port.

As we talked the conversation got around to food, and I explained how we had not had real beef in months, but survived on Water Buffalo, and the infamous “C” rations, LRP’s with lots of rice, and whatever care packages arrived from home with treasures like peanut butter or Graham Crackers.

Hearing this, my MM friend invited me out to his ship to have the cook fix me up a full steak dinner with all the trimmings. I couldn’t believe my luck and quickly took him up on his offer before he could change his mind.

He completely lived up to his offer, and the cook was more than happy to delight the likes of a U.S. soldier giving it up in Vietnam. So including some cherry pie for dessert, I was stuffed but overjoyed.

After eating it was suggested we go for a swim in the bay, jumping off the gangplank of the ship. Since I am a decent swimmer in all types of water, I was confident in my ability. So off we went into the water.

At the time the tide was going out and the current was not horribly strong for a good swimmer. So as we decided to head back to the gangplank, I was holding my own but my friend was floundering and going under.

Now we had a real problem, because while I was a strong swimmer, I could not hold on to him and have enough strength to get both of us back to the ship. At this point he tells me he really can’t swim! A Merchant Mariner who can’t swim? How did he ever manage to get aboard a ship?

Since the ship was being unloaded there was hope that someone might hear us yell for help. However the noise of the cranes unloading were enough to drown out our yells. As providence would have it, one of the crew came to the bow for a smoke break and heard us. He threw us a rope and the rest is history.

We were definitely headed out to sea and it was pitch dark at the time. What we didn’t know was a huge rubber bladder used for off-loading oil from tankers was right in our path. We would have come up against it, but who knows what would have happened then.

This was the incident that could have spelled my end just as easily as a bullet, an infected punji stick, a booby-trapped unexploded motor round, a fatal bite from a two step mamba, a foolish encounter with a King Cobra (another story) or backwater malaria.

So, is drowning preferable to getting shot in the jungle? I guess you could say it depends on the other choices.

Is Drowning Preferable To Getting Shot In The Jungle?

You may ask if there’s a choice? If you ask Uncle Sam, that answer is a most emphatic “NO!” One of the more well known sayings in the military is, “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do or die.” Several variations of this are out there, but the original came from the well known “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

While enduring a gigantic boil on my right wrist while in the jungles of Viet Nam, we were faced with a river crossing. Ropes were strung and repelling hooks were a standard issue item for all of us, for just such occasions.

We were also headed for a Med Evac area so that a few of us could go back to base camp for some medical attention. One of those had fallen down a ravine and seriously injured his hip. Apparently in the process his carabiner had been lost. So there was a quandary as to how he was going to get across, as no one was willing to give up their hook.

Along came Alan (me) who fancied himself some sort of he-man, and was willing to arm and leg it over without the aid of the hook. Me who has a huge boil on his wrist, disabling the same which was of no use.

So off I go just as planned, with all my pack, gear, and grenade launcher slung on my back. With my leg hooked over the rope and using forearms to inch across the rope. All was going fine until at the lowest dip of the rope, my helmet got caught in the water, quickly filling and pulling with all the force of the river’s current. Enough so that my grip on the rope was not as great as all the other weight pulling against me, and into the river I went with 60+ pounds of gear, clothing, helmet and all.

Were it not for a determined effort and decent swimming skills that led to the river’s bank, this could have been a shorter story. Emerging from the water soaking wet and somewhat less enthusiastic than when I went in, there was now more reason to understand why SOP emphatically instructed to NEVER give up your hook!

But this isn’t the story in reference from the title.

Getting Malaria was no walk in the park, and generally not a big issue as long as the anti-Malaria pills were taken on a regular basis as instructed. Getting lax was almost guaranteed to end up with the fever, yellow eyes and skin, and a trip to the Malaria ward area which would usually last at least a month for recovery. I had my turn twice, and the first is the one of this story.

This particular ward was located in a nearby city called Ahn Khe, which was a port city in South Vietnam. The security was very lax at this particular ward, as they also were a Med Evac Center for the field hospitals sending in severely wounded or DOA’s. So there was far more attention given to the incoming Hueys with their loads of bodies. On many occasions I was part of the crew helping to bring in the mangled soldiers with hopes of seeing them survive.

(to be continued)

Part 2: Did You Get Left Behind Or Afraid You Would Be?

My time in Hawaii began in February of 1965. At that time Viet Nam was in the news, and there was plenty of speculation as to what the U.S. military would do, other than sending “Advisors” to assist the South Vietnamese Army.

Still, this mindset proved to my advantage during a pitched fire-fight. Machine gunners and grenadiers were the first targets of the enemy because of the fire power we could put out. Sending a high explosive round at the onset of an ambush has a pretty intimidating effect on the enemy. It sure made me a target which during one of my first “fire fights,” one drugged up Viet Cong that charged my position later regretted it with his life.

The Army never had the effect my parents had hoped in teaching me to be obedient, responsible and part of a team. All through my three year enlistment the determined independence never changed, and I always managed to find a way to survive.

When going through Basic Training I lucked out and got sent to drivers school. With a military drivers license I was exempt from many of the training exercises, and this continued in my advanced training.

When sent to my duty station in Hawaii, as  a driver I was assigned to the transportation pool. Unlike before, I was now responsible for light maintenance on my truck. Included in those duties was washing, cleaning the engine, greasing, checking the oil, and whatever the sargent in charge could come up with as a form of harassment. This was not my idea of what I wanted to spend the next 30 months doing.

I discovered by accident that the mail clerk, Joey Rosen by name, in our headquarters company was getting ready to finish his tour of duty, and a replacement would be needed. We had become friends and I asked him to help me get his position which he did. As a mail clerk the day was laid back and easy, which was not a good thing for me.

I got lazy, allowing my irresponsible nature to get the best of me, letting things get out of hand. The First Sargent took immediate action and showed his disgust with me by sending me to the Recon Platoon. These guys did nothing everyday but play the enemy for the various training exercises involving the entire Battalion. As such they were constantly dirty, and spent their time cleaning their gear and uniforms.

Since my musical talent was a matter of record, when I arrived in Hawaii, I was offered the opportunity to join the Division chorus and/or the Battalion band. I had interviewed with the band director and was offered a spot if interested. The most interesting part of the band was they enjoyed an 18 hour “special duty,” which meant that the only time the company they belonged to had any authority over them was when they were asleep!

As soon as I received orders to go to the Recon Platoon I went to see the band director and ask if there was an opening for a drummer. There was! I immediately accepted the position, dodging the First Sargent’s attempt to basically punish my irresponsibility in the mail room, and succeeding in antagonizing him even more.

Once again I had survived an unpleasant situation. Because of this “special duty” designation, which was strongly enforced, there was more training missed. A fact that at the time seemed unimportant. That came to an end about 6 months later.

My time in Hawaii began in February of 1965. At that time Viet Nam was in the news, and there was plenty of speculation as to what the U.S. military would do, other than sending “Advisors” to assist the South Vietnamese Army.

By November, the rumors were hot and heavy that my unit, the 25th Infantry Division, would be heading in that direction. Getting this information pretty much fist hand, I managed to get a 30 day leave approved just before Christmas. While visiting a girlfriend in Michigan a few days before New Years, my Dad called with the news I was being ordered back to Hawaii in preparation to go to Viet Nam.

(to be continued)655

Did You Get Left Behind Or Were Afraid You Would Be?

As an eight year old, if your parents threatened you with being left at an orphanage because you didn’t behave well enough, and even went to the extent of driving to the orphanage, what would that do to your sense of well being?

At that young and tender age when I was easily impressed with what seemed real, such an event did occur. Add to that the absence of my father during the Korean Conflict, and these events left me with a fairly severe case of abandonment issues.

The times I was to go someplace where others were providing the transportation, if they were one minute late I began to get this empty feeling that I was going to be left, because I was not as worthy or deserving as others that might be going.

This was not isolated. The memory is still vivid in my mind as a teenager in high school, a particular basketball game was happening at a nearby town about 10 miles away.

I got a ride with some “friends” to the away game, only to be told that there was no room for me on the return. I ended up running all the way home. Being a cross country runner really made enduring the distance fairly easy. It took about 90 minutes, but the feeling of accomplishment far overcame any disappointment. I could tell those creeps that I got home just fine in spite of their lack of consideration. Who needed them!

While all that was true, it didn’t do much for my sense of self worth or those feelings of abandonment. It did help to create in me the beginnings of survivorship, that no matter what the circumstances I would find a way to make it. This has lasted to this day, as I find it difficult to rely on others.

It is a control issue. Trusting others with my well being simply has not proven to be to my benefit. Is it my behavior that creates the problem, perhaps by openly showing my lack of trust in others? A clear demonstration that I will trust my ability to do what needs to be done for my benefit? The fact that I am not a “team player.”

This was perhaps most pronounced in Viet Nam. We were instructed never to have a round loaded in the chamber of our weapons. This meant if we were fired on by the enemy, we first had to load that round in order to return fire. Those split seconds could spell the difference between life and death, at least in my mind. I did not comply!

I carried a grenade launcher and a .45 cal. pistol. There was a round in the chamber of both weapons at all times. The grenade launcher had two different rounds that could be used. One was a “shotgun” round. Another was the “high explosive” which could be devastating with a killing radius of 20 meters. The saving grace was that it had to travel 15 meters before it would detonate.

Because of my rebelliousness, on two different occasions a “shot” round went off, fortunately both times while pointed in the air. Since there was only a “woosh” sound, it drew no attention from anyone.

On a third occasion I had my 45 pointed at the head of a friend while waiting for Huey’s to unload new troops. I was sure I did NOT have a round in the chamber and told my buddy.

At the last second I turned the pistol away from his head and pulled the trigger, listening to the explosive report of a fired shot! Neither of us were impressed with what could of happened. Fortunately for me the Huey’s drowned out the sound of the shot.

(to be continued)626