A/7/17 at Phan Rang...
There I was, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual. It was in the heart of the sweltering jungles of Vietnam, or perhaps off to one side a bit, at Phan Rang, pleasant weather, open vegetation, short drive from the beach, down where the cool hills surrender to the first warm rice paddies.
And the war raged in deadly fury, although not at the moment of the morning's command decisions by a young lieutenant. I ambled out to the flight line, enjoying another sunny morning, stopping to carefully examine and select the brightest small red flower from among those growing wild around the maintenance shack, and carefully put it in the band of my black Air Cav Stetson hat. Did that fresh bright red flower look great against that black hat every morning, or what? Well, with a noisy Huey following you wherever you drive through the sky, camouflage is not a priority.
That was pretty much the command decision of the day for a lieutenant helicopter driver in the local Area of Operations. The rest of the day was just driving a helicopter through the sky so some poor sad insecure little mental midget back in Washington DC could act like a tough guy, rhetorically fabricating the illusion that he was standing up to those damn commies, or whatever the current enemy was called. Napolean's boys did the same thing to feed his childish ego. The game will not change until humans learn the utility of their mind. You can fill in the current names from the news, and the next one's.
Of course there were dangers in this game. Phan Thiet, the nuc maum capital of Vietnam, was not far south of Phan Rang, and too often we had to go chase illusions, albeit illusions with guns, through the woods down there. We also chased harmless local peasants attempting to eek out a living collecting wild fruit in the forest, but decreed to be the commie enemy because they couldn't afford to pay off the local military commander. Seventeen miles out of Phan Thiet, at 3,000 feet above ground level, anticipating the worst, both drivers gripped the controls and braced themselves. The rotors cut into the wall of nuc maum smell. The paint on the helicopter curled at the rivets. Putrid is a polite description. Retching is common. For those few reading this, who were not there, nuc maum is fish guts which are fermented, otherwise described as rotted, in open vats on hot sunny days, for many days, then mixed with more water and a dash of salt. While the faint may rightfully vomit, we more cultured gourmets, as well as fellow Rangers, savor the superlative flavor that a few molecules of nuc maum imparts to fine Asian cuisine.
Then came Christmas of 71, at Phan Rang, and I was disappointed to learn that it would likely not be a white Christmas. As a kid back on the farm, along about Christmas time we took the old Willy's jeep up in the hills of central Washington until we got stuck in the snow, to get a Christmas Tree. With no snow in II Corps, this annual responsibility would be easier. At the time we had a little thing going in the hills around Dalat, something to do with the ongoing pissing contest I think. Dalat nestles among beautiful pine forest hills with a fresh aroma of Christmas trees. The perfect Christmas tree was no problem. We filled the Huey with the one's we wanted, on account as we had some Snakes in the air to discourage any objections by the local forest rangers in black uniforms.
But everyone knows that the Christmas tree stand is always a pain in the ass, fiddle-farting with boards and nails, or cheap gimmicky commercial stands that always fall over. The Chinese not only made perfect Christmas tree stands for their troops and allies, but distributed them even to remote cave storage facilities. We found one such facility on a forested ridge top where we were playing those days. The facility proprietor and his staff had di di moued upon our arrival, for some odd reason relating to a fear of Snakes I think. I was the highest ranking expendable on the ground for that adventure, so I selected the large model of the forest green colored, heavy round command detonated Christmas tree stand, with a large center primer hole that fit the tree trunk I selected for my hootch. Worked perfect, and despite my temptation to launch the tree into orbit after Christmas, I think I gave the stand to the armorer, much to his amusement. I recommend the Chinese mines for their diverse utility.
All was not always so harmonious. There was the matter of the homeopathic therapies administered for stress mitigation during the psychological trauma of war, to say nothing of healing and closure for routine boredom. Unversed in such medically induced permutations of the human mind, the commanders called them, drugs, and were trained to scowl at their mention. Well, imagine my dilemma, fresh off a small farm and a small conservative college out in the middle of eastern Washington wheat fields. I showed up at A Troop, with nothing more than a TV image of the adventure, and Army lies in my mind. The commander recognized a gullible lieutenant when he saw one. He checked off the list of my extra duties like a monsoon mid-day downpour. Somewhere in that list was, drug counsellor.
I saw a drug once, on a TV show. What was I going to do, clueless about drugs, thrown into the middle of heavily armed, drug crazed, war hardened soldiers facing the deadly enemy every day and without the slightest discernable use for a lieutenant from the farm, especially one who didn't even know where to get some smack, or what it looked like? Well, it is just flat remarkable what a person can do with plain old down on the farm, truth, something no government dolt will ever comprehend as long as the word, government, exists and attracts victims. And therefore things worked out rather well, so well that other unit drug counsellors asked why I was so successful. I was never able to convey to them the concept of, truth. They couldn't believe it, much to my amusement.
And so therefore, on one of the days I got to make the run up to Cam Rahn Bay, among other things I was given a bunch of mail to deliver to my drug rehab chaps in the detox center on the south beach of the post. All well and good. Up at the post we finished the other paperwork of the war, such as it was, and I couldn't find a jeep to expropriate to run the mail down to my vacationers. So we pulled pitch, and I just figured I would land beside the detox center on the way south, and walk the mail in. Wouldn't you know it, the place was a maze of hootches and overhead wires, with no place for a Huey to land. Well, that is, no place except inside the walled detox compound, on the volley ball court. Hey, I was raised on the farm. I learned to be practical, not military. I landed in the compound. It was a little tight, but the druggies playing volley ball figured it out right away and just got out of the way, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show. Fact is there was a lot of cheering, amid a bit of dirt being blow around of course. My guys figured it out and came over to the bird, and I handed them their mail. But about that time the commander of the guarded compound came storming out there in a swirl of dust that rivaled the best effort of a Chinook on a hot LZ. He first secured one vital item of data, my name. From his perspective the compound had just been overrun by VC with a helicopter full of drugs being shovelled out to the troops. Somewhere in what I obviously didn't hear was what could have been an order to immediately shut down for a complete search, as I was hastily pulling pitch amid the confusion, noise and cloud of dirt blown into the only face still trying to stand there shouting orders at my Huey. The mail must get through to the troops, and then the war must be fought. Sacrifices must be made.
It was my good fortune to get the desirable Cam Rahn run a few days later. The usual paperwork exchange was made, to keep the international bickering-game on schedule. We were departing the post HQ when a stern-looking officer hastily came down the hall and asked if we were from A Troop. His first clue was our black Calvary hats and yellow silk scarves with the A/7/17 CAV embroidery. Upon our polite verification, he handed me a thick envelope with instructions to hand-deliver it to the A Troop commander. No problem.
Shortly thereafter, up at altitude over the bay, I examined the contents of the envelope to insure that it was not a VC booby trap, of course. My duty was to protect the unit commander. Imagine my amusement. It was an official, highly signed reprimand against one Lieutenant helicopter driver who had willfully, and with negligent disregard for at least the world, violated what in the description sounded like at least the nuclear missile launch codes for the western world, blah, blah, etcetera, perpetrated by helicopter assault at the Cam Rahn Bay Drug Detoxification Center. The envelope contained the original, and each of dozens of copies numbered on the distribution list, which the A Troop commander was being ordered to distribute all the way to the Pentagon, and perhaps the Kremlin, if not Hanoi as well.
I verified the number of copies against the distribution list the moment before we hit turbulence so violent it shook the entire stack of papers out of my hand, at the open door, before we reached the south end of the bay. I remember looking down to see a pod of seven large whales in the light green water of the bay, rolling in echelon. Beautiful. Of course the papers disappeared behind the helicopter in an instant, but I had already forgotten them.