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Saturday, August 24, 2013

You Are What The Army Needs You To Be.


     Sometimes fate gets in the way of life.  Things happen we have no plan for but when the door is opened we go through it not realizing it may change our whole life.  I got into trucking in Vietnam when I was running from God.  I volunteered for Vietnam to escape from what I thought God was going to do.  I had a dream and thought the end of the world was going to come in the spring of 1967.  My volunteering was suppose too make that not happen somehow.  God was going to say to himself.  Hey Ric is going to Vietnam, guess I better put all my plans for creation on hold till he gets back.  I did end up going back almost two years later but that is another story. God does have a since of humor I found out.  I returned two years later on April Fool's Day.

     In April I found out I was to leave for Vietnam the 20th of June.  On the 5th of June the Israeli Six Day War broke out and all of the airborne units in Germany went on alert.  If Israel started losing the U.S. was going to back them up.  I had been through several Rig Outs (preparing all the equipment for a parachute drop) in my first two years in the Army.  My job was packing parachutes and rigging supplies for airdrop.  The Eight Division geared up quick and tried to cram months of door to door training into a couple of days.  We knew it was serious when they started issuing the soldiers a basic load of live ammo.  That did not worry me I had seen it happen before.  What finally told me this was no joke and that it was real was when they sent us blood plasma to rig for a parachute drop.

        Some of the units we rigged first were moved to the flight line at Rhein-Main and from the stories we got they took off and went all the ways to Turkey.  There they sat under the wings of the planes for a couple days waiting  for things to develop.  Israel kicked butt and did not need our troops for backup.  So the units reboarded the planes and flew back.  We learned something else from the process.  Switzerland, Austria, East Germany and France would not allow our planes to overfly their territory en route to the Middle East.  Our planes had to fly around France down to Spain and then head east.  That added a lot of hours to the flight.

      My view on the situation was a little different than most people I imagine.  I thought great, I volunteer to go to Vietnam and God decides to end the world before I even get to go.  Well the war ended in six days with Israel kicking butt.
We could take some lessons from them.  After 9/11 we should have told Russia, China and India we are going to nuke the side of the mountain where these jerks are hiding.  Russia would probably have given us the nuke after their experience in the area.  It was a mountain hillside in the middle of nowhere.  It definitely would have made a statement.  We would not have had to hunt for al Qaida for the last twelve years.  The rest of the world would have known we meant business and delivered them to us.

Getting back on track I got to Vietnam on 2nd of July 1967.  Then when I did get there none of the units I went to needed me.  They were all over strength and did not have much to do.  We sling loaded supplies as there were no major airborne operations going on in Vietnam.  We even made a training jump which they wanted to classify as a combat jump.  The whole drop zone was secure before we even took off.  The only Combat jump in Vietnam was made by the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

        After the practice jump the Air Force needed people to guard some water pumps that pumped water back to the airbase so they could take showers and do their laundry.  They were in a completely different war than us.  We had outhouses and gravity feed showers that came out of tanks that were filled with cold water from a truck.  Getting a hot shower was a matter of timing.  The sun would heat it.  Then it would get scalding and you could not stand it.  When they refilled it, it would be about right.  Then it would run out again and be dark and it was cold showers or nothing.

        The Republic of Korea forces, or as we called them Roks, left to go home. The Roks would leave by boat and they would all go home for thirty to forty five days and then come back.  To replace them the Air Force asked the Army to supply guards.  All the excess guys in my unit who had a secondary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) in the combat arms was drafted to go.  Thirty five of us ended up living in sand bag bunkers for ninety days.  The Army decided we were doing such a good job they sent the Roks to secure bridges and escort convoys.

         The Army decided we needed new bunkers and we started building a new perimeter of seven bunkers and a command bunker.  Each bunker required forty five hundred sand bags.  We also built a two story command bunker in the center of the new compound and it took almost eleven thousand sand bags.  Believe me that is a lot of sandbags.  We adapted quickly and got a routine going that made it almost a pleasure to be stationed there.  The picture below was where I lived for almost seventy days.

                     Home Sweet Home for 90 days of my life

       We would get up and have breakfast at seven.  From seven till eleven we filled sandbags.  Then at eleven we went swimming in the river.  That is where the pumps got their water from to pump five miles to the air base.  Lunch was from eleven thirty to twelve thirty and then back to filling sandbags.  We filled bags till four or four-thirty and then went swimming again.  The swimming was a blessing. The water was just right and it got rid of the sand that got into everything.

        We never did get attacked, but one night a couple trip flares went off and a one sided firefight erupted.  We had a machine gun and a grenade launcher on each bunker.  We also had a mortar pit in the middle of the compound.  I forgot all those sandbags for the mortar pit and the ammo bunker.  We also had direct fire artillery support from the main base several miles away.  In the morning we found we had killed seven water buffalo’s.  Speculation was that Charlie was testing our defenses.  They never attacked us so I guess we passed the test.  Really Charlie didn’t have to attack us.  Every couple days they would blow a hole in the pipeline somewhere between us and the main base.  It accomplished the same thing at a lot less risk to them.

      A couple of months into it Charley blew a dam on the river about thirty miles away up in the mountains.  We had not finished our new bunkers but we had to move.  The river came up quick and in just a couple hours our old bunkers were covered by ten feet of water.  We got out our guns, ammo and some personal effects.  We had to move most of it on air mattresses as the river continued to rise.  We had to blow all the claymores in place and our booby traps blew up on their own.  Needless to say it put a little pressure on our schedule to speed things up.

     At the end of ninety days the Army moved us back to base and started using soldiers who had been wounded on line and that could not handle the walking to take our place.  Don’t know if it is true, but supposedly sixty days after we left the water point was over run and most of the guys on duty were killed.  Like I said that is hear say.   When we returned to main base they shipped most of us to Cam Ranh Bay and filled out the Rigger units stationed there.  Again we were excess baggage and a couple of us got sent TDY (temporary duty) to a transportation unit to drive trucks.  The fact we did not know how to drive a truck was a mute-point.  Over next ninety days or so I became a truck driver. 

      My training consisted of making a figure eight around base with and empty trailer and never going over about ten miles per hour.  When I asked how you went faster the Sgt. Said shift the lever on the floor and shift all the gears again.  I had till next morning to figure how to hook up to a trailer.  We took two milk runs to Nha Trang.  Out in the morning and back late in the day.  The third day I was hooked up to a load of bombs and it was learn as you go.

The rest of this story is on my blog titled “How Not to Go Down a Hill, Vietnam it is dated 12 April 2012.    The point of this story is to fill in the gap between when I got to Vietnam and when I started driving a truck.  I am putting it altogether in a book which hopefully someday I will finish.  Hope you enjoyed it.  You have a good story I would love to read or hear it.  Enclose it in the body of an E-mail and send to me at

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