my name first came down on a levy for Vietnam, the first in a long
line of paperwork problems started. But this time it was a good thing.
My orders said I was to report to Ft. Lewis Washington where I would
be shipped out to Vietnam and eventually to something called 52nd
Group Artillery and/or Pleiku. The paperwork said I was to take a
30 day leave, then report to Ft. Lewis. Right there in black and white.
30 days, then report. If you read the orders completely it stated
the report date and the date when my leave started. If you added up
the number of days between these two dates it totaled 45 days. Now,
which is it? I was savvy enough not to ask. I took the 45 partying-woman
chasing days before I reported. I mean it does sound better then 30
days, doesn't it? Even if they said anything, what were they going
to do, send me to 'Nam? It was a no brainer!
I showed up, nothing was said, and I was on
my way, but my paperwork problems took a turn for the worse.
Artillery Hill . . sometime at the end of Nov
'67, I was placed with the 1/92 FA and here's where it gets sticky.
I believe I was put on the roster as a HHB member. I know it wasn't
B Btry. I wasn't officially a member of B Btry until about half way
or more through my tour.
as a HHB person I was issued all my gear. Along with everything else,
I was issued my clothing and my weapon. Neon green fatigues and the
M-16. They were very good about all this and being as how I had never
even handled an M-16 rifle they even took me out to a range somewhere
and I qualified with it, along with a .45 and a 'Dummy Thumper' (the
M-79 Grenade Launcher was not exactly a complex weapon to use or maintain,
hence 'dummy,' and it made a 'thump' when fired so . . . ). They were
good about everything, even giving me an apology when they said they
didn't have a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number was'
to give me. But not to worry, they promised they'd get one to me as
soon as they got one. What did I know . . . I actually believed them.
to me at the time, my finance records had also disappeared somewhere
between Ft. Lewis and the 1/92nd. Now this is just a theory you understand,
but I believe I was a member of HHB and they in turn lost my finance
records and seeing a big problem with that . . . bang, boom, twang,
a few days after my arrival I'm in a 2½ T. truck headed north,
attached to B Btry. The 'if they ain't here, no problem' principle.
convoyed up to the Dak To area (without my 'Mask, Protective,
M dash whatever the number was'), and caught a slick out to LZ
Satan to B Btry. It was around the first part of Dec '67. I was actually
very content with B Btry. The FDC crew (Alexander, Barr, Cameron,
Lee and Smart at the time) were great guys and the FDC Lt., Allen,
knew what he was doing. I liked it there. But somewhere on the paperwork
I still was only 'attached' to B Btry. The first time this became
a minor annoyance was when we were on LZ Mile High north of Dak To.
It was cold. Especially at night. The B Btry personnel got some warmer
clothing sent up to them (long johns and field jackets), when I went
to acquire some of that warm stuff I was told I had to get mine from
HHB, and HHB had more or less ceased to acknowledge my existence at
After the first two 'pay days' I did notice
that I wasn't getting any (that too, but I'm talkin' bout pay here).
Its noticeable, I mean you couldn't miss the fact that you weren't
getting paid. Not that I had a lot to spend it on but sometimes it's
the principle of the thing that's important. Getting shot at for low
pay is better than getting shot at for no pay. We really couldn't
walk down to the local pub and buy a few rounds or anything, nor did
the B Btry personnel have ready access to a PX, but I had to borrow
money to go on R & R. Even then I was broke in Hong Kong for the
last day or two. That sucks. I made efforts to contact Base Camp and
inquire about my pay but was largely ignored. I didn't get paid at
all for about half my tour and when I did get paid it was only partial
pay at the E-4 grade and I was an E-5 for the last month or two. PFC's
were probably paid more.
I was a Bastard. I didn't seem to belong anywhere
and nobody wanted to claim me. Don't get me wrong, I did feel a part
of B Btry, and from the Captain on down, I felt accepted, but I remained
only 'attached.' When it came to resupply, pay and don't forget the
'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number was' that I never
got, I didn't seem to belong to nobody. I was one place and the paperwork
said I was in another.
I forget where I was when I got gassed the first
of two times. Middle of the day, somewhere west of Polei Kleng, someone
yells 'GAS!' and I get a little tiny panicky feeling in the pit of
my stomach. Two things crossed my mind. One, I don't have a 'Mask,
Protective, M dash whatever the number was,' and two, you don't
suppose that the NVA has just imported something nasty down the Ho
Ho Trail just for my own enjoyment and personal pleasure. Far fetched?
Maybe, but when you don't have a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever
the number was,' some strange thoughts come to mind when someone
was CS. Irritating? Yes! A pain in the butt? Yes! But other than that
. . harmless. I was told that a chopper had inadvertently set off
a trip wire on the perimeter which was attached to a CS grenade. This
brings up a little sidebar question I have. Why would you use a CS
grenade right up close on the perimeter? Wouldn't that just piss 'em
off . . . and you and yours too? Why not just replace it with a flare,
even a smoke or an HE grenade (moved down the hill a little farther
of course). They would do the job just as good as, and in my opinion
a helluva lot better than, a CS grenade wouldn't they?
all fairness to the others, a few guys got gassed that time besides
me. If you ever moved around with an artillery unit back then, you
may have noticed that they don't exactly keep that kind of stuff real
handy. They were all issued a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever
the number was' but some of them just didn't know exactly where
it was. I wasn't the only one looking for a towel or something to
put over my face. A few of the guys experienced the effects along
with me but it was a warning to them. They were a little more conscious
of the location of their 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the
number was' the next time. And there was a next time. A few weeks
later, the same thing happened on another LZ . . the yell of 'GAS!'
. . the little tiny panicky feeling . . the irritating CS . . the
'I wonder why they use that stuff?' question . . and a 'damn HHB'
for not issuing me a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number
was.' I did notice though that most of the guys knew where theirs
was this time.
So, getting back to the paperwork, in due time
my tour of duty was up and I was to process out of the 1/92nd FA.
Another E-5 named, Dan Anstine (a member of B Btry FDC at this time),
was to leave the day after me and we would drive a ¾ T. truck
into Base Camp during the day for processing and beers, then drive
back to B Btry before night (two or three clicks away). Everything
went okay up until the end when I was to turn my equipment in.
I went to the supply shack and presently was
across a counter from an E-5 type. He made busy checking off different
parts of some paperwork with my name on it and as I turned in my armored
vest, M-16, helmet, etc., he came to a question that stopped the process.
He said 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number was'
. . . . . so I calmly went into the HHB/B Btry explanation and of
how I wasn't issued one . . . he informed me that according to the
paperwork I was issued one . . . I said the paperwork is wrong . .
. he said it wasn't . . . I said it was . . . and he said if I didn't
turn in a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number was'
that I'd have to pay for it . . . I said . . . . . !
I'm not a mean, tough guy. I believe in using
diplomacy, logic and reason. If that fails I maybe . . . lie, but
only when those efforts don't work will I smack the other guy with
a 2x4. Something seemed to go wrong with my normal game plan when
he said I had to 'pay' for the 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever
the number was,' Diplomacy vanished . . logic and reason . . never
came to mind, not even lying. I reached across the counter, grabbed
the E-5 (I was also an E-5 so it was okay) by the collar and explained
to him, in great detail, why I wasn't going to pay for a 'Mask,
Protective, M dash whatever the number was.' I explained the effects
of CS when you don't have a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever
the number was' and described the the little tiny panicky feeling
you get when all you hear is the word "GAS" screamed out and you know
you don't even have a 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number
was.' I also told him how cold it was on LZ Mile High and filled
him in on how the Army had lost my finance records and how I had to
borrow money to go on RR. I finished up with providing him the details
of how I was an E-5 and I was only drawing partial pay at the E-4
pay grade which was probably less than a PFC made. I finished with
' . . . and I'll be go to hell if I'm going
to pay the Army for all that pleasure and enjoyment!!!'
Then I relaxed, unhanded him, let him slide
back down the backside of the counter and he calmly reached over,
picked up his pen and, as he marked the paperwork, he said 'Mask,
Protective, M dash whatever the number was . . . . returned.'
would like to publicly apologize to whoever that E-5 Supply type was
at this time. I know he wasn't the guy who didn't issue me a 'Mask,
Protective, M dash whatever the number was' in the first place,
and he probably wasn't the guy who replaced the first guy and marked
it down that I had my 'Mask, Protective, M dash whatever the number
was' so he could keep all his files nice and tidy, nor was it
likely that he was the guy who lost my finance records. He was just
the guy trying to do his job and get the government back its equipment
or reimbursement for it (which I find silly anyway. Hell, I could
have brought him back a spare M-16, a couple of claymore's and a basket
full of grenades or something, would I get credit?). So please accept
my apology . . . it wasn't really my fault . . . the paperwork made
me do it.
I processed out of the Army at Ft. Lewis and
was given travel pay home. That's it. Travel pay. Nope, I didn't get
any back pay. Just travel pay from Seattle/Tacoma to Minneapolis.
Had to swing down to 'Frisco to see my Dad on the return trip so that
meant I had to borrow a little from him to make up the difference
to buy a ticket the rest of the way home to Minneapolis. When I got
home I was flat broke and I owed people money. Has anyone else ever
come home from a war broke and in debt?
learned about one of life's little rules that nobody told me
about before. It goes 'in order to fix existing paperwork you have
to create more paperwork.' No really! Its a rule or a law, or
something. So, after my discharge when I learned about this rule,
I first tried writing to the US Army Finance Center in Indiana somewhere,
TWICE. No response. A year and a half and I still hadn't received
my back pay let alone an acknowledgment of my correspondence or existence.
So I created more paperwork . . I wrote my Congressman. Boy! That
works! Within two weeks I got a check for part it and an apology
from a CO at the Finance Center to boot. A
month later . . I got the balance, and another apology. Thank you
Congressman Frazer! I wished I had written you earlier. I think you
could have got me a pair of long johns when I was on LZ Mile High,
and I wonder if maybe you could have wired me some cash when I was
on R & R?, but I'm damn sure you could have gotten me a 'Mask,
Protective, M dash whatever the number was.'