I always thought the story of my time in Vietnam and the stories of those I knew, Glyn Haynie, Jerry Ofstedahl, Jack Lanzer,
Bruce Tufts and even John Meyer were worth telling. I offer these stories as I remember them.
I may be off on a few details, it's been 46 years, but I have done my best to accurately tell
the stories of Glyn and me and the others.
My trip to Vietnam started at the Oakland Army Terminal. I arrived there about March 20, 1969. I should have been there earlier in March but while home for leave my father had a heart attack. My leave was extended for about 20 days while he recuperated and finally I had to report. When I checked in they noticed the orders had an earlier report date. I was told to wait while they verified the extensions. I waited outside the reception area because it was quieter and cooler. I noticed a woman, mid 20's maybe, well dressed who was also waiting. I could tell she was quite anxious as she was pacing about. I don't know if it was because she was lonely or because I looked sad but she started to talk to me. She spoke with an English accent. She asked me if I was going to Vietnam. I said I was. She said she was waiting for her husband to return from Vietnam. She said something about the "terrible war" but I wasn't listening too closely so didn't know exactly what she said. Then she came over and looked me in the eyes and said, "You take care of yourself, it's not your war." The way she said that has been with me ever since. She was so sincere and caring. Later as I left for the transit barracks I saw her and her husband, arm in arm laughing and felt glad for her.
I made the trip to Vietnam twice but only remember parts of the first trip. We boarded buses at the Oakland Army
Terminal and were taken to Travis AFB. Our transport to Vietnam was on a commercial airliner, maybe a 727, a big jet
that sat three passengers on either side of the aisle. It had real stewardesses just like any domestic flight. As I recall
the officers sat to the front and the enlisted to the rear of the plane. When we boarded the stewardesses gave each of us a
playing card which I still have, an eight of clubs. Something to do with a game or raffle for prizes. That part of my memory
is lost. The stewardesses were good to us: serving meals and snacks, friendly, joking, and a little flirty. They smiled a
lot and posed for pictures sitting on a lap or hugging a guy - something to make buddies back home jealous and maybe support
a lie about a wild time with a stewardess.
As the flight went on the enlisted section got louder and rowdy. At one point the chief stewardess came down the aisle and announced that if we didn't get in our seats and settle down she was going to have the Captain turn the plane around and land. Seriously! There was a few seconds of silence and then as if it was planned we pelted her with pillows. She stormed off. The stewardesses were on our side, they didn't care. A while later the co-pilot came back to talk to us. He said something like he understood where we were going and were entitled to blow off some steam but we had "cool It". And we did.
As I said, we sat three across and with the long flight talked to pass the time. The conversation started something like this:
What's your name? (We were wearing new jungle fatigues with no name tags or insignia.)
Where you from?
Detroit, Michigan (actually Wayne, Michigan but it was easier to say I was from Detroit which people have heard of than to explain that I was from Wayne which no one had heard of.)
What's your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)?
11 Bravo (Infantry)
At that point the person I was talking to gave me that look. It was like I could see the wheels turning in his head, doing some strange calculation - the result being to figure out if I was going to make it or if I was going to come home in a body bag.
The scene repeated itself each time I talked to someone on the plane. Same series of questions, same answers. Sometimes they would tell me, 'you'll be alright.' Sometimes they just said, 'Good luck.' But as I was to find out, there was no way to know how to tell who was going to make it.
We passed the rest of the time with small talk about what we did before the service and what we planned to do after we got out. You could say anything, chances were you'd never see these guys again or that they would remember you if they did. I remember only that one guy was from California and he was worried about mudslides.
We made two stops - Anchorage, Alaska and Yakota AFB, near Tokyo. We got off the plane in Alaska. It was March and very cold in our jungle fatigues but it was our last chance to be on American soil. Japan was a quick stop and I bought a few postcards to send home. The only memorable part was a view of Mt. Fuji, the image used by Paramount Pictures for its movie openings.
As we got closer to Vietnam the mood inside the plane got somber. Finally the pilot announced we would be landing at Bien Hoa. The landing was something to remember. The pilot put the plane in a steep dive. It felt like we were falling out of the sky. I was told later that as we got below the clouds we had a fighter escort with planes crisscrossing our descent but I never saw them. Below the clouds we could see fires and smoke plumes coming up from the ground. I was thinking there must be fighting going on and and we'd have to run for cover as soon as we landed. But when we landed there was no rush. We exited the plane as F-4s screamed by taking off. I silently said 'go get em' as each left the runway. The heat was oppressive. I had come from winter in Louisiana and Michigan. It had to be 90 degrees with high humidity now. The air was thick and smelled of avgas and something else unpleasant that I couldn't identify. Today I'd call it Vietnam rot.
And the fires that I thought were battle signs, that was shit burning. Human waste collected in 55 gallon drums cut in half pulled from latrines and burned in the open. My first lesson that things in Vietnam were not always what they seem. Welcome to the Nam, Mike.
I arrived in Vietnam March 24, 1969. After a couple of days at Bien Hoa I went up to Chu Lai to the Americal Combat
Center for in-country orientation and assignment to a unit. The Combat Center was next to the South China Sea and at night
I would sit in the sand, watch the ocean and write postcards home. We had talked about trying to get a hardship discharge
because my Dad was ill when I left home but after arriving in Vietnam I decided that I should finish my tour. I wrote my Dad
that I intended to finish my tour and that he should get well and strong and that I would come home and we would go sailing.
He never read that message. He died March 29. An Army screw-up delayed the notification to me and I wasn't notified of his
death until after his funeral. I was called into the Combat Center HQ and an officer told me he had some news. "Your father
is dead." No "I'm sorry" or "I regret to inform you" just "I have some news". He assigned me a driver to take me to the
Red Cross and Division HQ for travel orders and then to the airport. The driver said I was lucky I was going home.
Before I could leave I had to store my gear. I grabbed my duffle bag and bag of field equipment and walked over to the supply annex. There was a young GI there who looked to be all of 16. I told him I had to leave my gear, filled out a tag and was ready to go. He asked me how long I was going to store it and told him I didn't know. I was going home on emergency leave. My Dad had died and I wasn't sure when I'd be back. He told me he was sorry and I thanked him and left. I never thought about that encounter until much later.
My brothers and I all have special memories of our father. He did all the things that fathers do: kept us safe, made us laugh and taught us how to fish and hunt, play baseball and accept responsibility. After graduation my high school friends drifted away and I went to work with my Dad at General Motors. We talked everyday. I spent my vacations with him. We fished, hunted and talked. The candor of those conversations drew us closer. I talked about getting married and decided that when I did, he would be my best man. When I went in the Army we had another experience to share. My Dad was a sailor, he served in the Navy during World War II. He wrote me and made sure I had money or a plane ticket to come home when I had leave. When my Class A uniform was stolen and it looked like I couldn't come home for Christmas, he found a replacement and sent it to me. When I graduated from AIT I got a telegram that a plane ticket home was waiting for me at the airport. Even as an adult he was looking out for me.
It was the worst day of my life when I heard he died. Ironically on that same day I met someone who would become my best friend. The young GI in the supply annex was Glyn Haynie. I wouldn't see Glyn again for about 40 days, when I returned from leave and reported to the company. Neither of us would initially recall the first time we met but when we did get together as members of Alpha Company's 1st platoon we bonded and were inseparable for the rest of our time in the field. And for all that time, and for the rest of our tour, and for the 45 years since, Glyn has been my best friend and looked out for me. It's not an exaggeration to say that I would not have made it through my time in Vietnam without him. Some might say that it is too great a coincidence that I would lose one best friend and find another the same day. I don't believe, so there is no other explanation. But it would be just like my Dad to do something like that, to make sure I had someone I could rely on. Always looking out for me.
Glyn has given a good account of this incident. There isn't much to add. The fire was a predictable outcome
of firing tracers, high explosive rounds and rockets into dried brush and grass. The only question was which
direction would it go.
We CAed in to assist another company that had engaged the VC/NVA. I don't remember whether our mission was to be a blocking force for the other company or whether we were supposed to drive the VC/NVA into the other company acting as a blocking force, or whether we were just there to do a body count.
We were usually supplied for three days - three days of water and meals. Our three days was up. We had no meals and little water. I had a can of pears, a much coveted C-ration item that I was saving for a special occasion. Glyn and I drank the juice and ate the pears.
There were a lot of ways to die in Vietnam: gunshot wound, booby trap, snake bite and even drowning. Those usually just happened. There wasn't time to think or be afraid. The fire was different. It started off in the distance but the burn moved steadily towards us chasing us across the hilltop. There was time to contemplate an awful death and what we would do to avoid it.
What started as an orderly operation ended in us running for our lives trying to get off a hill ahead of the fire. The heat and lack of water took its toll as guys suffered heat stroke. We had to carry, then drag them down the hill. At the bottom we eagerly drank water from a scum covered pond that under other circumstances we wouldn't have wanted to walk in.
In February 1970 Glyn and I had jobs in the rear. He was at the Division Combat Center in Chu Lai and I was
at the Alpha Company HQ in Duc Pho. I got permission to visit him in Chu Lai. When I got there he asked me to go
with him to transport a prisoner back to Duc Pho. I agreed. We strapped on .45s and went to pick up the prisoner
from the MPs. The prisoner was a young GI. I don't remember what he was charged with, maybe desertion since he
was supposed to be in Duc Pho but was picked up in Chu Lai. He was eventually going to LBJ (Long Binh Jail) near
Saigon. He was an angry guy. He didn't like the Army, didn't like the "world." Glyn and I were just the latest
objects of his discontent. We picked him up, handcuffed him and took him to the airport for transport on a C-130.
All the time he kept up his rant about what was wrong with the world and how things were going to change and what
was going to happen to anyone that got in the way. It wasn't just the rant and threats but he would try to get in
our faces as he was speaking. I decided I didn't want to listen to this all the way to Duc Pho so I told him,
"Listen you asshole, I'm short and I don't need this shit. Shut your mouth while we're on that plane or I'm going
to shoot your sorry ass and nobody will care." It was a bluff, but it worked. We reached an understanding and he
was quiet the rest of the trip.
Also on the plane were two ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) officers sitting across from us. During the flight one of them looked at me and said something in Vietnamese. I shook my head and said "No biec," Vietnamese for "I don't understand." He then asked, "How long have you been in Vietnam?" I told him "about 10 months." He said, "I was in your country Ft. Benning 6 months and learned English." I said, "I've been in your country fighting your war, what were you doing in my country." The conversation ended.
Michael (Doc) Windows passed away in October 2014. Doc was the 1st platoon Medic, A converted 11B. He arrived in Vietnam in March 1
969 as an 11 Bravo and volunteered to be trained as a Medic. Doc was a little "rough around the edges" and bore a resemblance to Charles
Manson. If you excluded profanity, Doc didn't have much of a vocabulary. Doc was a crazy S.O.B. He wouldn't mind me saying that, he'd take
it as a compliment.
Doc did't do so well stateside. Two marriages. Alcohol issues. His second wife Connie died about a year before him. He came to one of the Hill 411 reunions in Pennsylvania and went with the group to tour the White House. There he got into an argument with White House Security about buttoning his shirt and almost got us kicked out. That was Doc.
Doc's kind of crazy worked better in Vietnam. On the night of June 13, 1969 he left a position of relative safety, as they say in commendation speak, to help 4 guys that were wounded. Ignoring exploding Chi-Comm grenades and AK-47 rifle fire, Doc took off running with his medical bag. Reaching the wounded he fired a Claymore mine and then went to work bandaging wounds. Three of the soldiers survived. He held and comforted the most seriously wounded soldier till the end. That night Doc was crazy and compassionate.
Doc was in Vietnam about 5 months. He left in early August 1969 after an accident that almost cut his finger off. He was walking back from a latrine at night cleaning his nails with a pocket knife when he tripped and nearly severed a finger. CID came to investigate and asked me if I thought he had cut his finger intentionally to get out of Vietnam. I laughed and said, "Hell, Doc likes it here." In Vietnam Doc had a purpose and importance he would never have again. We are forever grateful for his service.
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