There were times when I am sure my parents would not have recognized me. A naive teenager from middle class suburbia, set down in the middle of a situation where there were no rules. It is not that I ever really drank much, a cold beer on a hot dusty day, and there were a lot of those. It was also not that I frequented the houses of ill repute that flourished there. Well actually I lived in them as often as I could; I just did not sample the wares.. all that much. My feeling about being there was one of excitement and hoplessness. The country, the culture and the people were beautiful. The war was not. We were told we were fighting communism. For a time I believed that, though I did not see any real immediate objectives.
The first phase of my time in country was as the prescribed load list (PLL) clerk. Which was supply clerk in the motor pool, truck parts and supplies. Not a bad job. Our company, the 572nd transportation co, was called the Gypsy Bandits. As PLL clerk, I was one of the bandits. There are a number of ways of getting supplies in the army. One was filling out the individual log book for each truck indicating what part was needed for that truck. Then submitting requests to all the proper places, waiting for parts to arrive, going to each location for what that unit is responsible for, often having to take the old part to exchange. Coming back and filling out each log book for the parts received and getting them to the mechanics, telling them which truck an individual part was for. Meanwhile the mechanic has truck 8 in for a lot of work but you don't have the hydrovac for truck 8 you have the hudrovac for truck 23. Every one is impatient, inconvenienced and unhappy. The alternative is sit down once a week put a lot of stuff in each trucks log book. Then go out and steal a lot of parts so there are always enough for any circumstance. This is much easier, everyone is happy, and I don't have a problem when I get caught in town, "Just picking up a few things". Life was good and this went on for months till one day when I got caught in Saigon. This was serious enough that the CO had to do something. I got an article 15, worse than a ticket, not so bad as a court martial, and punishment, which was not for stealing but for getting caught. Oh well nothing good lasts forever.
The second phase of my time in Viet nam was driving a tractor trailer. I was told if I got in this truck, drove over to Bien Hoa, through town, turned around and came back, and did not kill anyone I would have my license. Easy enough, I didn't even injure anyone and I had my license. I was now a trucker. As part of the punishment I was on Tay Ninh. This was punishment because it was usually a one day trip. Up at four AM and down to the motor pool. Get your truck and go get a trailer. Trailers were at the trailer transfer pool (TTP). This was a real treat at 4:30, in the dark, half asleep. There is a procedure for hooking up a trailer. First, back up till your fifth wheel touches the skid plate of the trailer, next get out and hook up your air lines. Then get in the truck and set the trailer brakes. Now all you have to do is back up till you lift the trailer slightly and slide under till the trailers king pin slides into the receiver on your fifth wheel and locks in place. Like everything else in the army this procedure does not always work. Especially if the trailer brakes don't work, and they usually did not. Because of this, as you lifted the trailer it tended to roll backwards. The more you pushed the faster it rolled. The way to get around this was to back up, touch the plate then hit the gas and chase it across the yard. If you did this fast enough you would get it to latch before you ran out of land. This procedure lead to a second and equally important procedure. If you were walking in the TTP and heard an engine rev fast you immediately looked around till something began to move and got out of the way. Hooked up at last and out to the staging area. If you get there early you have a half hour nap before everyone is ready to go. Convoys were ok. The road to Tay Ninh was, for the most part, a dirt road at best. At worst it was a dust road. Sometimes when we stopped you would step down into six inches of fine dust. Everyone and everything was a light tan. Faces, uniforms, trucks and loads. The dust was everywhere, it was all you could smell and all you could taste. You did not get to stop in villages and socialize but you did get to see a lot of really beautiful scenery. In the midst of all that was going on, the country and people were beautiful, except that you did not know who was on our side and who was the enemy.
There is one sight I will never forget. It was a little girl with her arm bandaged. The bandage was soaked with blood and the ever present dust. The thing I remember most was that the bandaged arm was noticeably shorter. I stopped and got a few casees of C-rations off the truck and left them. I felt as though it was the least I could do, but I also felt a little ashamed that there was really nothing I could do. The wrecker comes last in the convoy. When we got to Tay Ninh I was talking to the wrecker driver who said he saw the little girl and she was surrounded by C- rations and other food. I felt a little good but realized that though everyone else had chipped in, most of the things would be taken from her and she would probably be sent out to look pathetic again tomorrow.
Tay Ninh was a place to pull in, drop your trailer, pick up an empty, hurry to the staging area and grab a beer something to eat and have a moment before everyone got there and it was time to go again. Back to Long Binh. We rolled into the company area, dropped our trailers, took our trucks to the motor pool, did any maintenance required, changed any flats, and we were done for the day. It was now after 12:00 midnight, we could get a meal, shower and sleep till 4:00 AM. After a few months of this I was getting used to not sleeping. The third phase of my time in country was at hand.
Before coming to Viet Nam I was in Fort Carson Colorado, The 5th Infantry Division Mechanized. At the time I drove a 5 ton truck. As I was leaving to go to Viet Nam the spec 4 in the motor pool was giving me my drivers license information. He said Is there anything you would like on your license, all I have to do is write it and put some initials next to it and everyone will think an officer did it. I said sure give me a license for a 3/4 ton truck, that may come in handy. He said anything else. I said how about an 8 self propelled howitzer and he wrote it down. We all had a good laugh about that since I had never driven one, but I had sat in one once to have my picture taken. Back now to the third phase of my time in Viet Nam. We were in formation one day, resigned to the fact we will be driving tractor trailers for the rest of our time in country. An announcement is made. "We need people to deliver tanks out of Saigon and Newport. Luckily we have 6 people with tank licenses and experience." I am looking around to see who it is and my name is called. The feeling was about 50/50 excitement and panic. The third phase had begun. No more convoys. We could sleep in till 6:00 AM and be home every evening. We could even have time for a shower every day. Next morning we were off to Newport on the north edge of Saigon. Now if you remember I have no experience, just a license, and that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee. Luck was with me. Tanks have power steering, power brakes and automatic transmissions. Great! Turn the key step on the gas. M48's have a little wheel, APC's have two levers. No problem. Off we go. For the last 6 months this is what we did. Our company moved up north and we were assigned temporary duty with the 10th Trans, then the 543rd. Life was good. Get the tank, deliver it, go to town for a while, get another tank, deliver it, back to town. We delivered M48?s (60 tons) and they would go 70 on the highway. 155's, APC's, Dusters, Rough terrain forklifts, ambulances, fire trucks, jeeps, everything. Except for tank retrievers, Lt. Dye saved them for himself. It was an experience.
There is a custom of keeping track of days left. Those with fewer were short timers. Respect was given to short timers. They could do things like jump up, stuff a lot of clothes into a bag and run out the door. Coming back they would explain, "just practicing". When you were down to 99 days you became a two digit midget. Your last 9 days were great. I remember going up rt. 1 and picking up a hitch hiker. He said "I am a two digit midget today", sounding a little pleased with himself. I said "that's nice", suckering him in. He said "how many days do you have". I said "1". It felt so good.
I wish I had a happy ending to this, but there was neither a happy nor an ending. Ever since Vietnam there has been something very wrong. No one wanted to talk about it when I got back. My father tried once. He said, "What ever happened to that optimistic young man that we sent off to Vietnam". I heard myself saying to him "He died there and he's never coming home". The door was closed, he never brought it up again. I had never killed anyone in Vietnam and I was happy about that, the one thing I wanted to avoid was becoming a "baby killer". I guess I knew it all along, However it was not till August of 1998 when I was searching the internet, looking at Vietnam sites, thinking about all the ammunition, cannon shells, claymores, prop charges, and tanks I delivered and I realized that the emptiness that I had felt since Vietnam was because I had become a "baby killer".