The Retirement Plan
I hooched with a guy from California, a big guy we called Jolly Green Giant. He was shipping home heroin in coffee cans, which I did not know. Somebody must have turned him in because the top sergeant searched our hooch and found it. I swore to Top I knew nothing about it. I swore on my parents’ grave.
Jolly Green even said, “Tommy didn’t know anything about this.”
Top said to me, “But you’re involved.”
He put both of us on shit duty. Burning shit. It was better than going to jail. Back then in the field they handled stuff like this in-house.
Jolly Green told me afterwards, “I could’ve made enough money on the streets in California to set me up for life. This was my retirement.”
August 12 – Howie Dies
Two deadly mortar attacks occurred on this day. The first was in the early morning hours on Gun 2, killing Theodus Stanley and wounding Rik Groves. The second was late at night on Gun 3, base piece, killing Howie Pyle and wounding the entire crew. Each boy who was there that day has his own special story. This is Tommy’s.
Early in the morning I was on Gun 2 in the ammo bunker cutting fuses when Groves got hit and Stanley got killed. Sgt. Groves was medevac’d out and Stanley was gone so I was now in charge.
Late that same night we’re shooting illumination. I’m sitting on the trail of the howitzer when the mortars start coming in and I got hit again. The only way I can describe it is like someone taking a handful of glass or pebbles and throwing it at you. I had my steel pot on, and I had it on backwards, and I didn’t have my flack jacket on, so I just got peppered. But I just kept on going, and the next thing I know I hear a real BOOM, when base piece got hit. That’s when I stopped, I got off and said to somebody on our gun, “You guys take over. You know what you got to do. I’m going over to base piece.” Because I knew it was Howie’s gun. When I got there I saw bodies all over and Howie was on the ground gasping, gasping, gasping. I got Howie in my arms and I tried to bring him back, but he had a gut wound and he was gone.
That was a rough night. Later when things quieted down I went back to my gun and saw our XO, Lt. Hank Parker, sitting over at my gun in the parapet. He was sitting in a little chair with a case of beer next to him, and he didn’t want nobody to come near him. I was like this with Parker (holds two fingers together), and I went up to him. He said to me, “Mulvihill, you’re the only one with balls enough to come up to me because I didn’t want to be bothered with nobody and I was going to be hitting people.” Then we sat and talked. He had gotten to know Howie and me, Howie a little more for some reason.
The day after Howie got killed they had a ceremony in the mess hall. When the chaplain got done, I raised my hand and asked if I could say something. And of course he said absolutely. I got up there with tears rolling down my face, and basically said remember Howie and how he lived, and not how he died. After I said that I walked out of the mess hall and back to the hooch. Doc Townley followed me out of the mess hall back to my hooch and we just sat and talked. He consoled me.
Howie was always trying to get me to smoke pot and I never did but the day after he died I smoked it – for him. After that I did not smoke anymore in Nam. After that I didn’t want to be bothered with nobody. I really didn’t. I dissociated myself, I didn’t want to get too close to nobody else no more. Maybe I was afraid. I didn’t want to lose nobody else. Enough. I’d lost enough.
Two days after Howie died I got a Dear John letter from my fiancée. She mailed my ring back to my mom and dad. In the letter she said she met someone else. My heart was broken. You know what, it’s your first love, she was my high school sweetheart. And I lost that too. That’s when I went a little nuts. I was going to be Audie Murphy. I took two M-16s and grenades, walked off the parapet and outside the wire and emptied the guns. I think it was 1st Sergeant. Durant followed me, and when I was done I turned around and he just looked at me. That’s when they called the chopper and he sent me back to Phan Rang for and in-country R&R for a couple or three days.
Back in Phan Rang I asked if I could escort Howie’s body back home. I stood with the chaplain in front of this panel of officers sitting behind a table. I said to them, “I promise you I’ll come back. I’ll do extra time. I just want to bring his body home.” That’s when they said, No. He did not sign a paper that said if I die I want Mulvihill to take me home. I kind of really lost it. I was screaming at the top of my lungs at these guys: majors, colonels, whoever the hell they were up there, all officers.
The chaplain pulled me back and said, “Come on, you gotta go, you gotta go. They made up their minds, you’re not going.”
Plus the battery was short of people. I could not see it then, but I can see their point now. They needed every swinging dick that they could have.
They sent me back to Sherry, and that’s when I didn’t want to take any more orders. And I didn’t want to hooch with nobody, and they respected that. I built my own hooch. It was really big, but I was the only one in it.
And see that window in the side? I used the part of the ammo box with the lid still on, so you could lift it up and get some air circulating. I was the first one to do that.
After Howie died I could not get close to people like I would like to. Now I didn’t care and volunteered for more mine sweeping.
It took me a while to write Howie’s parents. After he died they wrote a letter to the battery commander asking how I was doing. I still have the letter. I had never met them but they adopted me as another son. I wrote home about him, and he wrote home about me. I finally wrote to them and it was a hard letter to write.
6 October 1969
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pyle,
I’m sorry for the delay in this letter but as you know it his very hard for me to write this. As you know I’ve known Howie ever since basic training and I’ve grown very close to him. Howie and I were just like brothers, there wasn’t anything that we didn’t do together.
I should be coming home around November 18 and if it is alright with you I would like to stop and see you. Howie always spoke of all of you and from what he’s told me of you I feel I’ve known you for a long time. I was also asked if I knew anything of Howie wearing a ring or watch. As far as I can remember Howie never wore a ring. Most of us out in the field never wore rings because of our jobs. As for the watch Howie broke that awhile back and was planning on buying a new one.
The letter you wrote to my commanding officer mentioned my welfare. This made me feel real good knowing that Howie wrote you and mentioned me. I am doing fine and will be home in about 44 days. I hope very much to see you all then.
After I got home my dad and me went up to Tarrytown. We got there in the afternoon, and we stayed all afternoon and we had supper there.