Time: May, 1970
Place: Happy Valley, South Vietnam
We continued to fight the jungle and the VC, plus we did a lot of walking and climbing up and down hills. It was a very physically demanding experience. You never really ever got dry because it was so hot and humid and you were always sweating. There were times that you did not see the sun because of the denseness of the jungle. I remember one day when we were short on food and water because our supplies were pretty much gone. We came upon a mud puddle that a couple hundred people had just walked through. My canteens were empty and I was thirsty. There were no other choices left for me to do so I took my canteens and filled them up with really muddy water! The thought of being back home and how good we had it just being poor, but this was a different situation. The water was a necessity, so I did what had to be done. I put “4” iodine tablets in each canteen because it was believed that plenty of bad stuff was in there, too. When you are thirsty, the water tastes just fine.
We were climbing up the side of a mountain (at least a big hill) and I was becoming totally exhausted. L/Cpl Bloom was right behind me and he, too, was beat. We decided to take a short break and we sat down to try and relax a little. I leaned against a large boulder just to try and get some rest and catch my breath. We were there a few moments and I realized something that has stayed with me the rest of my life. While we were resting, the ARVN just walked by us. They didn’t look at us and they just kept going and they would have left us and thought nothing about it. It became clear right then and there that if we did not get off our butts and move forward, we would be left behind. I have never forgotten that feeling and I have tried to use that feeling to help manage my life. No one is going to live your life for you. You have to take care of yourself. If you quit, then you will lose.
We finally got to the top of this high hill and the word came down that we would be setting up a base of operations there. I was a little concerned because we had been out about five days and we were told that it was just a five day operation. According to my calculations, we should be leaving. Well, things weren’t meant to be as we were told. We had not prepared for a lengthy stay in the jungle. We were going to be given the opportunity to live off the land. I grew up being a hunter and fisherman, but not in an environment where the prey might be bigger than you were and there were bad guys that were hunting you.
L/Cpl Bloom and I realized this hilltop was not a really conducive location for us to find any kind of shelter or protection. The ARVN chose to make camp here though. That was the most strategic decision they had made to date even though it was not clear how they made it. The problem was that there was absolutely no cover to protect or defend your position. It was barren ground with no living trees or natural cover. It was suspected that this hill top was a victim of Agent Orange at one time or another. We ended up putting our poncho liners together and rolling logs at each end so as to make us feel we had something to hide behind in case we got attacked. We both knew that we were just doing “feel good” things because it would do little to give us any kind of cover.
Our immediate concern was food and water and other basic supplies. We ran out of the food we brought for the original 5 days. We got word that we would be re-supplied with the needed items. ARVN choppers flew over and threw out a variety of things. We were given a case of “45-1” pound packages of instant rice grown in Louisiana! Think about that for a moment. We may have been in the rice capital of the world for all we knew and we were given instant rice from Louisiana!! L/Cpl. Bloom and I created a number of very unique ways to eat rice. I have successfully outgrown all those nightmares and have forgotten everything we tried. Besides, it is doubtful if most people would believe us anyway.
The rest of the time on this hill was fairly uneventful. We coordinated artillery fire for all the operations that went out from the base camp. One day, one of the patrols ran into a large enemy force and there was a need for close air support. The ARVN made contact with some other ARVN air group and they came in flying “sky raiders” for support. It was our first experience with a prop plane as opposed to a attack jet. They were really loud and slow, but they were able to come in very close. One flew over the topographical crest of our hill and you could see the pilot quite clearly. He was really trying to give close air support and that was impressive.
We got word that we were going to be replaced by another Marine artillery forward observer team. Needless to say, we were pleased. I had contracted some kind of skin infection had covered a large part of my body. I was dirty and sweating all the time so it was becoming out of control. Our clothes had pretty much rotted away and we were ready to get back to the safety of a Marine combat base. When the replacement chopper came in, my heart was pounding. It was very exciting to know that this assignment was ending. We had little time to talk with my replacement so I had written a few notes and suggestions to give him. I actually felt sorry for him knowing what he was going to get to experience.
We flew back to An Hoa. When we jumped off that chopper, I had a feeling that is hard to put into words. I was back with Marines that I knew I could depend on. I had a feeling of accomplishment that actually exceeded the feeling when I arrived back in the states. Our ordeal with the ARVN was over with and we had survived. It felt great!
I told L/Cpl Bloom that we were going to take a couple days off from the war and just try to clean up and relax a little. I went to take a shower and survey some of my clothes and equipment. Two things became immediately apparent. The first was that I had lost all my tan that I had. I did not realize that you could sweat out a tan. Secondly, the infection was really out of control and it needed to get it attended to. When I was cleaning my gear, I washed out my canteens and it was really a sight to see the muddy water being washed out of them. It took me several rinses to get most of the mud out. All of my clothes needed to be thrown away.
The next thing I know I was on my way to Da Nang to see a doctor. The doctor put me in the hospital for 10 days while they tried to find out the cause of my infection and find an appropriate cure.
There are things in that jungle penicillin just could not cure. However the fighting spirit of a United States Marine eats jungle rot and drinks mud so we were never hungry or thirsty for very long.