The following wasnít intended to be so long when I started. And, Iíve started on it at least twenty times. I think the only way to do it is to give you the history first and then the thoughts. As a matter of fact, the history wonít tell you a 1/10 as much as the thoughts as pertain to the 174th. Again, forgive the length if you get bored, and apologies for it being too short if youíre interested.
I was born in the Deep South Ė of New York City (The Bronx that is) Ė in April of 1947. I lived in the same general area for 17 years. It was the neighborhood that later became rather (in)famous in the movie "Fort Apache: The Bronx." It was a very poor section, except for the fact that the kids that lived there didnít know that. Typical rent was about $50.00 per month for a three bedroom apartment, and your allowance was $1.00 a week if you worked your butt off. I lived with my maternal grandparents as my mother and father had gotten divorced (I guess) sometime during my infancy. In any case, no one ever spoke about her except my grandmother and that seldom. From the time of my earliest memories to the time I was 17, I saw her maybe a dozen times for maybe a few hours each time. My father was eventually a career Army Warrant Officer (not aviation) and I had very little contact with him, and have not heard of or from him since about 1963 or 64.
My grandmother, who was an English citizen, died in 1962 or 63, and I stayed with my grandfather for lack of anyone else to stay with. We never got along, so when I was 17 and my mother established contact again, I wound up moving in with her and two half sisters and a half brother I never really knew before. Her second husband had died some years earlier. Growing up in the poorer areas of New York City taught one to be either strong and tough, or smart. I tried to choose the smart. Rather than fight my way out of a situation, I learned to think and talk my way out of one. To this day I at least subconsciously try to think of angles and advantages in most things. In any case, I survived. I graduated High School in 65 and thereby became the only known member of my family to do so.
In late 1965 It was getting to the point of either enlisting in the service or being drafted. Could not see being infantry Ė nothing personal, but I wouldnít have lasted three days. So I enlisted with the expectations of getting a great bit of training in electronics.
Surprise, surprise, surprise.
I was sent to receive Morse code training, a 17 week course that was pure delight. I couldnít take that very long as, regardless of the various NCOs standing around, I was falling asleep several times a day. I more or less took the repercussions of dropping out willingly, and, after floating around and taking daily work details while awaiting reassignment, I got my orders to go to Fort Rucker and learn aircraft maintenance.
To be honest, this wasnít a hardship as I found it rather interesting, particularly the flights we were taken on and the machine gun training. Well, as interesting as Army stuff can be, anyway. I will admit it was a bit of a culture shock. From seeing the Statue of Liberty several times a week, I felt a little lost being around a town whose major claim to fame was a monument to the boll weevil. (Enterprise, AL for the uninitiated.)
Of course, after training, I wound up in the Nam for a tour from April 1967 to April 1968. It was in the Mekong Delta at a base near the City of Soc Trang. It had to be the strangest assignment I could imagine. The very first thing that happened was that I was let off the courier chopper near airfield ops, all shiny and fresh in my khakis. Two flights of Hueys were returning to base, and the two lead ships collided and crashed about a half mile off. Another Huey was scrambled and I was immediately detailed to go on it and help with the rescue.
Welcome to Vietnam.
A few dead crewmembers whom I never knew, and several seriously hurt. Can remember one of them with either no flesh on a leg below the knee, or some black stuff that might have been flesh at one time. Again, welcome to Vietnam. The khakis were burned by me personally at a later time.
Strange to say, after that, things became almost surreally normal, almost stateside so. The base was apparently a former French Army facility. We even had a swimming pool, though I now wonder at my daring in going in it. Either it was infested by critters or the chemical level of the stuff to kill them was dangerous to human health. The base was one of the best smaller bases I ever encountered in Nam. Concrete buildings for the most part.
The first 9 months or so of the tour were as uneventful as can be imagined. I went downtown to the bars almost every evening. Though I worked in other areas also as a means of keeping busy, I pulled a lot of hours flying in mostly D model Hueys. A lot of ARVN insertions, resupply and so forth. Even flew a lot with some ROK officers, one of whom taught us some martial arts and who rather liked me. Canít figure out that as I was one of his poorest students. I think because I fought dirty.
About every two weeks, we were mortared or rocketed on Saturday night. We got to the point that we actually took cover in the bunkers before the attack. Like clockwork, believe it or not.
Then, one night we got attacked and it stopped. A few friends and I were looking across the street from our hootch to see what damage was done. And we were hit again. It was the first and only time my legs ever gave out. Some type of shell landed so close to us it blew my helmet off and I can to this day remember the sensation of heat on my face. Neither I or my friend were hurt. He got about a five second head start running for cover before my legs recovered and I beat his sorry butt by about the same five seconds. This was the start of the Tet offensive.
Many war tales were obviously told of Tet, one worse than the other. But I will state that for the next 30 days straight I slept on the side of the runway, leaving to change clothes, try to wash, and make a run to bring food back from the mess hall. I eventually got to take a much delayed R&R to Japan where I wound up sleeping on the floor for a week as the beds were far to soft to rest on. Amazing what one gets used to.
After returning from that tour, I wound up at Hunter Army Airfield where I worked in the Airfield Ops office as a clerk typist in a bird colonelís office. With a little effort on my part to be obnoxious, I was transferred to the POL area where I refueled the choppers at night. One evening I was overcome by the fumes and fell off the running board of the tanker where the fueler normally rode going from one aircraft to another. I wound up with a fracture of the skull, and by the doctorís orders I was transferred to another job. I cannot remember the official name, but I believe it was called Airfield Support.
Among other stuff, I drove the "Follow Me" truck, checked the integrity of the airfield areas and acted as a chauffeur for visiting pilots. Also, driving the only man with a hawk trainer MOS to his house in the middle of the airfield. It was a totally gravy job as I was on 12 hours and off 36, with about 4 hours of work done in my shift. We worked out of the firehouse, and we had the advantage of couches, armchairs and televisions. For reasons that Iíll get to later, this eventually got on my nerves and to avoid possible troubles, and also to try and get out of the Army early, I Ė almost as a lark Ė put in for another tour in Nam.
Thatís how I eventually came to be stationed at Duc Pho and the 174th.
I got there in early February of 1969. As many of you may also have done, I went through a three-day orientation to Nam (at Chu Lai) in which we went through M-16 familiarization, fired the new "bazookas" and so forth. After service in the Delta, the I Corps area came as a surprise. There was actually terrain higher than 10 feet above sea level. For a veteran of almost three years in the Army, I apparently didnít learn. I right away got detailed to work in the orderly room as I could type well. Why I just didnít lie about it, Iíll never know.
I made up my mind in an hour or so that being a clerk typist in a war zone wasnít quite my thing. I didnít want to gun regularly on a Huey as Ė I think Ė I was kind of burned out. Thatís not quite what I mean but I donít know any other words to express it. I had almost no will to do this again. I lost track of the number of clusters for the Air Medal a long time before that. In addition (and apologies to him if he reads this) the First Shirt and I had a chemical problem. He couldnít stand me and the feeling was mutual at the time. At least by this period I had learned how to be moved somewhere else without risking a court martial, and, with one other short lived stop, I wound up in Tech Supply where for the first time in the Service I think I found my level.
By the time I arrived there, I was taking the situation at Duc Pho far more seriously than I had at my base in my previous tour. We were in the middle of nowhere, and I realized that about the only thing separating us from body bags were the choppers Ė more or less. And, they were useless unless they could fly. And I was in the area that got the parts that kept them that way. If anyone remembers me, it
may not have seemed I took the job seriously, but I did. I think all of the guys that worked there did.
I got to know the damned supply system as well as I ever knew anything, and with a lot of inventories, research of parts, various means of getting them and a hell a lot of scrounging missions gladly undertaken by me, we really had a great little operation. I can still remember when I got there, the Sharks particularly were hurting for parts, but after a time I can remember the fly-by of all eight ships trailing red smoke. Call me nuts, but I think all of us were proud at the time.
After the tour was up, I wound up in Fort Lewis where I was separated and flew home to New York. I got a different job with the same company I had worked for before the Army and worked my tail off for a few years, up to 70 hours overtime a week. (It was an industrial
directory publisher) I then worked for another equivalent company for a year before moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to get married and live there. That was in May of 1973.
I worked in various industries in the area for about twenty years in production control. The major problem was that all the damned companies I worked for were on the decline, and I was RIFed several times. One was inevitable. I had two and a half years seniority. The next closest to me had over twenty.
Bye Bye to me.
My wife and I had a son Ė Matthew - born in July of 1980. Things were pretty
normal until 1986 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, which had killed her mother six years previously. Though we never talked about it, we both thought we were going to lose one another, but it never worked out that way. She went through two surgeries and radiation treatment (as well as synthetic marijuana for the nausea) and is now doing better than ever.
The only downside to this was that the doctors told her she would never have another child. And she wanted a daughter. Again, surprise, surprise, surprise. (With apologies to Gomer Pyle.) We now also have a daughter, Tess, who just turned two. The only downside is that my wife resents being taken for her grandmother more than her mother.
Before we had Tess, my wife's career took off like a rocket and she became president of a good-sized credit union. As we wanted to avoid the troubles that we had with our son when we both worked, we decided that I would stay home and raise Tess, and do whatever odd things I could to fill in my time. As a matter of fact, we are still planning for home schooling, to be done by yours truly, until at least the start of the High School level. And maybe beyond that too.
Concerning the other things I do (for business), there is no rhyme or reason. In the past five years, I have: done landscaping work; remodeled basements into rec. rooms; wrote an eight page historical presidential supplement for a newspaper; traded sports memorabilia for indecent amounts of cash; done wedding and wildlife photography; input data for computer conversions; flown across the country on courier work. As a matter of fact, letís end it here. This could go on for many more paragraphs.
My personal loves, other than my family, are baseball (both attending the games Ė Go Brewers! Ė and studying itís history and trivia), reading (my wife and I have about 3,000 books in our libraries. My own tastes run to fantasy, detective fiction, history (mainly Europe from 1866 to now) and Ė please donít laugh Ė astrophysics and particle physics theory), traveling Ė anywhere at any time, nature photography and animal watching, and working on my various collections such as baseball cards, autographed books and so forth.
This is the hard part to write. I was trying for over a month to write something that would make some sense to others concerning this. The only way I could bring rhyme or reason to it was to give you some facts and then these following additions. I donít quite know how I could have integrated them in the proper chronological places. And within this section, a lot of the comments are not in any sequence. The reader can add them up and sort them out if and as he wishes.
---When I joined the Army in 66, it was from the point of view that I was doing something to help my country Ė namely my duty. The background I came from would not have included some of the later war protesters.
---I was disillusioned fairly quickly. A lot of the stuff they were teaching me was being done by people who didnít know even what I knew about the subject/s or were not as proficient as I was in them. For example, I was sent to run around my company area three times at AIT at Fort Rucker as punishment for being a smart-ass. Hardship. I ran cross-country races in high school. And what was the punishment for? A Sgt. misspoke what the name of the principle was in which air passing over a curved surface exerts lift. I had the gall to correct him. I realize now that I was a know-it-all punk, but still the people I had over me did not inspire devotion or trust or confidence.
---Earlier AIT for Morse code involved screaming out the letters and the dits and dahs at the top of your lungs. If you didnít scream in the opinion of the SFC in charge of the class, you were out. He thought I wasnít screaming, so I was out, even though I think I was faster in the fifth or sixth week than you had to be to graduate on the last day. I thought it sucked, but maybe it was the best way to train the most people. Who knows? But it did give me the idea that the Army did not quite know what it was doing.
---I knew something was wrong in my little idealistic brain when I first got to Nam in 67. We deplaned at Tan Son Nhut and were herded to a nearby area where some Vietnamese had a few stands set up. I swear the first words I heard in that country (with the exception of "keep moving" when we got off the jet) were "Hey gook, give me an f-ing soda". Obviously from a person with more time in country than I. Idealism kind of died at that moment.
---I always thought it was bizarre at my base in the Delta. Somehow, with half a million American troops in country, I thought that maybe, just maybe, we all werenít being utilized quite as well as we might have been when we could go downtown six nights out of seven; when there were still repercussions with the natives about some of the early arrivals at the base using Monopoly money and passing it off as MPCs; when a major irritation was running out of developing chemicals in our photo lab we were all permitted to use; and so forth, and so on. I wound up with the feeling if this was going to be like stateside, then letís go stateside. If this was war, letís use out talents and might and get it the hell over with. Well, Tet ended that gravy soon enough. Well, maybe not soon enough.
---Sleeping on a runway for a month was strange. We could see the VC running around a treeline about a thousand yards away, but nobody ever seemed to shoot at them and no effort was ever made (to my knowledge) to get them. Also, there was a tall water-tower on the outskirts of the nearby city. I clearly remember the sniper up there for what seemed like weeks, may his memory be forever damned. It was boggling how much ordnance Ė both Army and Air Force Ė that was expended to get the little SOB, but we never seemed to connect. The next time I had a chance to fly over, the entire area was pockmarked with craters like the surface of the moon. The tower itself was riddled with holes like a Swiss cheese, but the thing remained standing. I still want to talk to the people in charge or training the Air Force pilots in marksmanship: "Guys, you canít shoot."
---Getting to the States after this was like going to another planet. Was delayed going home for three days after going through Oakland as I was adopted by a commune of hippies and they wouldnít let me leave until sufficient partying was done. Worth the delay. Took a 707 from Frisco to New York that had five passengers. We each had our own stewardess, so to speak. (No "Youíre a sexist" remarks for calling them that. Thatís what they were known as at the time.) I was stunned that one could talk to a woman and not have her say to you "Youíre #1 (or #10)". Also, stunned to talk to a woman in a mini-skirt rather than black pajamas. Also stunned to talk to a woman who was pretty.
---Encountered a lot of people during this leave that were involved in anti-war stuff in the colleges. I was more amused at their naivete than angry at them. At least they knew how to throw a party. Oh, hell. One took oneís fun where one could find it. But, not once was I ever asked what it was like in Nam. Not that any of them knew where it was in any case. Too much cannabis clogging their brains. They couldnít see a map, never mind read one.
---I had orders to report to Fort Stewart, which I went to. Was aghast. It seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. Later learned this was correct. I learned from a few guys I met on a bus to the Fort about Hunter AAF, which I had never heard of except in passing. It was IN a major (for that part of the country) city. This was more to my liking. With a little deft work on my part (mainly playing dumb) and some superb timing, as well as luck, I spoke to a guy in the orderly room of my new unit. He wondered what the hell I was doing there as he thought my MOS suited me more for Hunter. Voila. I just took off and reported to Hunter, saying that Fort Stewart said I should be there. They wanted to send me back, but I just claimed that I already spent my money in going from Stewart to Hunter and they could provide transportation. Sunday night (now you get the superb timing) there was nothing, and I knew once you were somewhere, inertia tended to keep you there. I wound up staying. My luck turned sour when I wound up in Airfield Ops as a typist/driver. I remember the colonel having a bad back and needing his driver to be utterly smooth behind the wheel. I was not, and still am not. (Jackrabbit starts.) Now Levine is in POL area. The results of that were told above.
---I wound up living in and sharing a one room apartment in a converted garage in Savannah Ė off Reynolds on 52nd St. My friend (who worked in an orderly room) and I did a stupendous amount of partying in Florida, from Jacksonville Beach to Daytona. Had my 68 Firebird 400 and tore up most of the roads within four hundred miles of Hunter. But, the problem was that I was getting too used to this civilian life. I pretty much realized that if I were to spend the remainder of my Army enlistment there, I would wind up in some kind of hell, as the MPs and civilian police would shoot each other for the privilege of shooting me. I was too much of a hell raiser. I thought the only way out of being a civilian trapped in a military body was to get out ASAP. This meant either deserting to Canada or Sweden, or going back to Nam for another tour and an early out. I chose the latter. I tried to time it to have between 150 and 180 days left after this tour, but as you know how fast paperwork travels in the Army, I would up with somewhere in the 40s of days cut.
---Wound up in Chu Lai waiting for assignment. Joke. Went through orientation. Learned about Vietnam. Sure. Learned to fire the M-16. This was after the problems with jamming were supposedly corrected. I fired four magazines. I had three jams. I made a vow never to use one. Fired a LHAW at a barrel. Blew up barrel. Other than that, nothing special. Drank my two beers a night and watched a movie in the bleachers. Also saw stag films for four dollars admission. Run by some sergeant. Yes, Linda Lovelace and a pet were featured.
---Got assigned to LZ Bronco.
Was a little surprised at the location as I thought there was too much hill cover around for the opposition, but what did I know? This photo shows part of the hill rising above the Duc Pho living area. This is not of the 174th living area, but is near the POW compound at the end of Dolphin Park, with southeast resupply in the far-right background.
---I right away was asked if I could type, and when my overly honest conscience told the truth, I was detailed to work in the orderly room. 1st shirt thought I was a slob (probably was, but I got my job done). I knew it wouldnít last. His contempt for me was heightened when some papers were delivered that he couldnít sign for as his clearance wasnít high enough, or so I was told. Donít ask why, but my clearance was Top Secret, so I had to sign for them. Red faced 1st Shirt. Wound up working in the area (forget what it was called) where aircraft maintenance scheduling was done. Lasted a few weeks as to be honest I didnít get what was going on. Never did this work and I remember that the others around me were very experienced and obviously capable. Memories are cloudy, but the guy in charge was a SP5 I remember we called JJ. We were never friends, but I remember that particularly later we totally seemed to understand one another. At least I think so. That was far more than most could say.
---As a last resort, I wound up in Tech Supply where things clicked for me. SP5 Willie Brown was effectively in charge. I totally enjoyed the people I worked with and the work itself. (Yeah, but New York still sounded better) I felt right away it was something I could learn well and quickly and could somehow help to make things run better. I recall far more about the time than I could possibly write about, but I think these few things will give you an idea: We had so many unknown parts that I made it a pet project to go through every manual and identify. Iíll bet not many of you know, but we wound up with a respectable stash (returned through channels) of Mohawk, Caribou and LOH parts. Boggling. I and others worked a hell of a lot on the Kardex records to establish some type of patterns and usages for the parts so that within regulations we could have as much needed stuff on hand as possible when we needed it. (We never could get enough of the Plexiglas cleaning kits, though) We also burned the midnight candles and read manuals for more effective ways of ordering, and believe it nor not, we found some that worked. Amazing what a seemingly minor code on a requisition can do. I also gravitated to scrounging and expediting parts (eventually) and flew to a lot of bases and spoke to a lot of people. Mainly sob stories. They probably thought I was a BS artist (true) but the parts started to flow in. This may be faulty memory, but I seem to remember one time the company was undergoing an inspection. We were the last area on the list and the 174th wasnít doing too hot (on paper, that is). I had just finished a 30 hour renovation of the armaments records. (The armaments materials had just recently been moved in by us and the guy responsible had the records in a shambles. Not his fault. He was new and never was trained). We passed with flying colors. I canít remember names and faces too well, but I do remember we were less than Ĺ of 1% off in value and quantity of parts both. I do also remember Willie (Brown) sending on the Majorís compliments to us. Lousy memory. I canít remember if it was Major Blevins or the previous CO. No matter. The work pattern I established there sort of stayed with me always. I still donít mind 18 hours straight at a job if circumstances are right. (No daughter around)
---I couldnít tell you within three months when it happened, but I do well recall the new maintenance hangar and attached parts warehouse being built. (Someone can correct this, but I think it was the CBs) We had a hand in designing the storage areas of the warehouse and I can recall pissed off maintenance people when we basically shut down for a few days and moved everything. By this time things were running as smooth as silk Ė from our point of view, anyway. We even had a little lounge (party area) built above the office, reached by going to the warehouse and climbing up some shelves. Had many a good rap session up there. At least it was private.
---Can remember going in front of a board for E5, but couldnít possibly pass. Apparently in the supply MOS you had to know both stateside and wartime systems, and I didnít know the non-war time one.
---Again, I canít remember names and faces real well. People came and went. OICs of areas seemed to be in name only in many cases, but I remember very fondly WO L. Rohlfs. I had the chance of flying with him a few times. Good pilot, but I most remember him being a very cool guy. We didnít need him very often, but when we did, he would always try to smooth things over for us and lend whatever aid he could. I have a lot of respect for him, then and now. So nobody gets offended, it doesnít imply I donít remember a lot of other people fondly. No poison pen letters, please.
---I remember two things about my first few weeks at Duc Pho. First, the armorer thought I was crazy because I begged for an M-14 rather than the Mattel gun Ė oops, sorry Ė the M-16. I had to scrounge the magazines at the dump, but I got a dozen or so in great shape with oil and steel wool. Ammo was no problem, obviously, though he was embarrassed that when he told me that they didnít have boxes of 7.62, I replied that Iíll just take apart some belt ammo. Hey, Iím clever, no? Secondly, I felt that I was received very well, or at least indifferently, (other than what I mentioned above) by all the EMs and NCOs. I think it helped that I was in country before, but anyway, the non-new guy treatment afforded me was appreciated.
---The highlight of my tour was one evening when I was covered with dirt and had four days growth of beard (skin infection and a medicís excuse not to shave). There was an A&D ceremony in the movie tent. I was supposed to be ED from it, but someone came running to get me at the warehouse saying I had to be there. Why? After some minutes I and the other awardees were called on stage and I got a long lost air medal I had earned from my first tour that was just then catching up with me. The CO and the 1st shirt shook my hands. To him: "First Sergeant. I now sincerely apologize to you. To you I was a walking and sloppy nightmare. Hey, you were probably right. But at the time I relished the pained look on your face when the medal was pinned on me and you had to shake hands."
---Loved working CQ and waking up the Warrants. Why? You guys had the oddest instructions on the wakeup sheet. "Punch, kick, throw water on" were some of the more COMMON ones. And to the smart-ass who put down "send Ann Margaret" Ė Man, I wish I could have done it for you. Hope she eventually woke you up one morning.
---I can still remember how important music was to many others and me at the time. AF radio was rather tame, but a lot of you had records and tapes sent from the States and I spent many, many enjoyable hours listening and talking with some of you. Many of these hours were spent in the Conexes we had buried by the some of the hootches and reached by wonderfully constructed trap door in rooms, artfully camouflaged by rugs. How about a flash forward? One of you (who?) had a new Judy Collins album called Recollections. I was absolutely spaced out listening to it and fell in love with her. On August 7 of 1995, Judy was making an appearance at a bookstore to talk about and sign her first novel called Shameless. Oh, man, my ultimate lady. She referred to herself as a 50 something old broad. Hey, she looked like a queen in days of yore. She may have looked 55, but what a 55! Within her talk she kept on breaking out in song bits. I was transported back to Duc Pho in an instant. One of the few warm glow moments I had there. When my turn came to get the book signed, I had to thank her for her music and some great nights we had because of her. I told her how some of us loved her because her stuff broke up the flying, the mortars and the monotony. She must have liked the comment because, in addition to signing the book, she told me to give all the people there her absolute best and love if I ever found them, as well as a hug and a kiss on the cheek which I will NOT pass on to anyone when I meet them. The inscription in the book, which she wanted to share with all of you, was "Keep the light burning thru the night."
---How did we ever learn to distinguish between that damned artillery firing over our heads and incoming? It got to the point that I didnít wake up for the 155s.
--- I was crazy. Looking at some of my slides by holding them up to the light (projector went south long ago) I marvel that I didnít have the 1/25 of the brains God gave me. Stood out in the open with the camera on a tripod and caught a lot of Spooky firing, action over the village, and the damned flare dump going up in light and smoke a short distance away.
---Two other things I remember well. And for which I never expressed thanks at the time. I really enjoyed the breakup of the monotony that the live shows provided. Two in particular I recall were an Australian rock group (great looking blonde backup singer) and a Filipino group. Both were in the movie tent. Also, I was (and am) a habitual reader. I loved the cartons of books that were sent to us and were piled up in the mailroom for the taking. I can recall waiting a few days to let others have their pick and reading the remnants AND keeping a lot of them. Probably still have a hundred paperbacks from then to this day. Never wrote to the folks sending them, for which Iím sorry and to whom I now offer great thanks.
---Reading through some of the other memoirs and looking at the pictures on the 174th site, I cannot figure out why the buildings differ from my memory, but the damned exact taste of the food still lingers. And the memory of the free packs of cigarettes on the mess line. And the crappy PX. We were lucky to get film, if I recall. Also, I read many references to Mt. Bronco. Obviously know what it is, but I can recall only referring to it as "the hill". Peculiarity: Only rarely left the company area except to fly. I donít remember hardly any of the rest of the base. Perhaps a cocoon?
---Australian R&R in December of 1969. Great fun and I to this day remember the Aussies fondly. Is it coincidence that one of people I like best in the world is an Aussie with whom I have been trading baseball stuff and letters and grief with for a few years and whom Iíve never actually met? They really treated the plane full of soldiers I was on like visiting family. I think it was needed by all of us, or most anyway. Back home it was the time a lot of folks were calling the Army criminals and baby killers. Well, excuse me, no oneís perfect, OK?
---Fear? I had to learn real quickly during my first tour to cover this. It wasnít real respected to have a case of nerves. I got to be real good at this, - I donít even think I was scared that much, though I must have been - at the cost of having mainly casual relations with the people I knew. Other than the near hit I told about above, the only time I can recall being consciously scared was on my flight from Duc Pho to Chu Lai to be processed through battalion on my way home. I have no idea what ship I was on, but I remember when we got fairly close to Chu Lai, some crewmember or another noticed a shark in the water not too far away from some Vietnamese fishing boats. The to me ever-hated pilot had to spiral down and make several passes while the gunners had a field day. Why this bothered me Iíll never know, but I got real nauseous and was saying over and over to myself "Iím almost home, why do I have to die doing this sót?"
---I think this suppression of emotion stuff I mentioned just above was one of the reasons I had not, until recently, tried to get in touch with any of the 174th vets. You can believe it or not, but there had to have been an awful lot of liking and respect I had for many of you, but at the time I just wanted to forget about the whole thing and get on with life. I probably even promised many of you to stay in touch, but to be honest I tried for the longest time to forget you. And it worked very well for quite awhile. The memory is so bad now that I can remember a few specific names and faces like it was yesterday, but for the most part I can only remember the times a lot of us had together. I canít yet recall the specifics of who you were. One more thing why I thought my 174th tenure was a major deal for me. I did far more action crap the 1st tour. But I can remember very few good feelings from that unit, and to be honest have no great desire to get in touch with anyone. The fondest memories I have from that tour was bellying up to the bar and having a mixed drink with Colonel Maggie (of course, Martha Raye) Could well have lived without eating at the same table as Creighton Abrams or attending an A&D ceremony in which William Westmoreland presided. Yeah, I have snapshots of those guys. Somehow I know that the service with the 174th was far more significant than the previous tour. By far more guys with their heads screwed on right.
---Never made much of a connection with any other vets. We welcomed each other back, and meant it, but . . . I think you have to have gone through the exact same stuff at the same place to have the real connection. At least for me. Iíve never met most of the 174th Assn. Members, but in my mind I have more in common with a guy that was there a year before or after me than with a guy from another base whom I personally know well. Sounds screwy.
---Towards the end, I volunteered (will I never learn) to ride shotgun on the truck taking the edible garbage to Duc Pho. Saw a lawn almost covered with pieces of bread drying in the sun. What it means to me, Iíll never know, but I can never shake the image. Haunting. Any ideas, Freud?
---Also towards the end, I remember working in the office one day. One of the Dolphin ships was being rolled out of the hangar having completed some maintenance. We got word that some chopper was down and there was nobody else but us to get the crew. WO Rohlfs had me grab a helmet and a spare M-60 and we (cannot remember the other gunner or pilot) went about 30 miles (?) out of LZ Bronco. Got the crew and three or four infantry guys that were in the area and returned to Bronco. Most people were on the floor as Ė I think Ė the passenger seats were not yet reinstalled. Have no idea where this was, but a good portion of the trip back was low leveling along some damned river. I will to this day swear that some of the trees on the banks were far higher than the main rotor blades. Scared the hell out of one of the infantry guys. When we landed to top of the fuel cells, he was white faced and trembling. Probably the one thing that made me stand tallest that tour. By that time in my life, and though it scares me to death today to think this, it was routine. God, I was sick.
---Partied very hearty at Chu Lai on my way to Cam Ranh and home. To Stan: what was that stuff you gave me? That Led Zeppelin album sure sounded far f---ing out that night. At Cam Ranh, there were three delightful days standing formations and waiting for your name to be called. Thatís OK. I won two straight jackpots on the slots at an EM club and took a new 8mm camera and a superb telephoto lens home.
---To kind of wind this down, for the next several years I jumped into decadent civilian life head first. I wonít say I was convinced by the anti-war people, but one learned to not speak of some things if one wanted to get along. I tried the hardest I could to forget the Army experience, and Ė very foolishly on my part Ė that included all of the people. Some years ago I was tired of the BS. While Vietnam didnít create me, in many respects I am who I am because of what happened there. Why hide it? Why be ashamed? Iím certainly not Ė at least anymore. By this time, though, my forgetting things worked too well. Names are almost all gone. And, of a lot of the memories that remain, they tend to become unreal. I had thought if I canít remember the name of the guy I bunked with, how can I remember this other stuff in such detail? Well, apparently I do and Iíve stopped trying to figure out why. It took me a surfing expedition of the 174th web site to reestablish some few of the names, but I do remember Donald Selky and Donald Contarina, both of whom never made it home except in spirit. And, the bottom line may be if I wanted to forget the 174, why did I take such care of the stuff I took home with me? I still have my peace sign necklace.
I still have several pieces of shrapnel that took out a good portion of the hootch nearest the movie tent and Mount Bronco. And I still have all the slides I took. And I still have my certificate of service signed by Major Blevins Ė framed and behind my shoulder as I write this. So, to all of the 174th people who read this Ė if you got this far Ė I truly appreciated having served with you and took/take great pride in having been a part of you. As a whole, I think you were the best bunch of people I ever knew.
--I know I said the above would be the last thing, but thought of the odd circumstance in which I came across the 174th site in the first place. My Aussie friend, mentioned above, is a amateur military historian of sorts. Knows a lot about hardware and equipment. He had a question for me one day as to how the 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron came to inherit the sharkís teeth. I hadnít known that they had and told him that my old unit (of which he knew nothing) was the rightful inheritor of the mouth and teeth, or so I was told when I got there. I promised to research the point and as I was progressing nowhere, and was even preparing a research request for the Air Force Museum, I decided to shoot low rather than high. I had been trying to find internet references about the 174th and some of itís people for years, but I must have been looking in the wrong places as I came across nothing except obscure references in documents and TOs. I decided to use a new search engine I found out about and specifically put in "174th Assault Helicopter Company" Hey, it worked. After all, I wrote this, didnít I?
Welcome home to one and all.