Reality |Life Lessons | Mental Health | Humanity | Non-Fiction
Life Lesson #4: A Survivor’s Letter to a Dead Man
I arrived in Vietnam on February 17th, 1967. It was a sunny, humid, upper-nineties day. The NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) shouted above the aircraft’s engine. “Get your asses off the plane, grab your duffel bag, and double-time it to the hangar. Now, dammit!”
As soon as we disembarked from the comfort of the huge, air-conditioned bird that had flown us here, every one of us started sweating profusely. Soon after, our fatigue shirts were drenched. The dry heat had absorbed the coolness of our fatigues, and like a mighty vacuum, sucked the moisture from our bodies.
Waiting for us there, in the shade of the hangar, were buses, adorned with jail bars on all the windows. The bars were used to prevent the enemy from lobbing hand grenades into the bus. Each side of the bus was draped with concertina wire, to dissuade hangers-on. Kids were used to troops busing back and forth from Saigon to Bien Hoa, where there was a large military base. They would run beside the bus, or peddle their bikes, pleading for chocolate bars.
It was there, in the hangar, where we learned, en masse, we had been assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). We would have to wait until we arrived at our base camp in Bien Hoa to find out which Battalion was selected for us.
The bus route was herky-jerky slow while we traversed through the middle of Saigon. There were no traffic lights, and the streets were filled with mopeds, bicycles, and motorcycles, but the absence of cars surprised me. It was chaotic, but the bus driver maneuvered around the traffic as if he had done it a million times. Once we hit the outskirts of the city, traffic cleared and we made the rest of the 16 miles to Bien Hoa without further commotion.
We double-timed off the bus and into a platoon formation, where we waited for our unit assignments. A Non-Com (non-commissioned officer) hollered out roll-call and announced our unit assignment. One by one, as each man’s name was called, he left formation and fell in with his new unit.