Monthly Archives: June 2015

Bill Cooper – B Battery XO (Executive Officer) – Part Three



I reported to the 512th Artillery Group in Dalat, and the next day flew south to Phan Rang to join the 5th Battalion of the 27th Artillery Regiment. I had a long talk with the battalion XO (executive officer and second in command: usually a major at the battalion level) and told him I wanted to be at a firing battery, I wanted to be on the guns. Then I made the mistake of mentioning my supply background, and his eyes lit up. His supply officer had been sent home after going down in a helicopter. He said if I helped him out he would see to it that I got to a battery.

The new second lieutenant at Phran Rang
At Phran Rang

Adventures In Supply

I inventoried the entire battalion and discovered there were some strange things that needed to be straightened out. Four helicopters sitting at battalion were not accounted for anywhere on the books; that is, nobody owned them. Everyone I asked, including the pilots, said, “There were here when I got here.” I would hear that excuse a lot. The Army has a special category for such equipment called Found On Post. So I declared them FOP and added them to the battalion inventory.

After dealing with the four extra helicopters, I discovered we were missing a lot of equipment, one of which was a ¾ ton truck. The battery commander had signed it out, but now had no idea where it was. In the course of looking for missing items I made a visit to the air base at Phan Rang to verify the existence of air conditioner units that were on our books and supposedly being repaired by the Air Force. I took along some strip steaks from the mess hall as my calling card and introduced myself as the new supply officer. They showed me the units in the repair shop which were waiting on parts. Then someone pops up and says, “By the way, can we keep the truck?”

“You’ve got one of our trucks?”

“Yeah, they gave it to us for personal use, to run into town and to the beach.”

And there it was parked in back, the battery commander’s missing ¾ ton with all the right bumper markings. The Air Force was fixing our air conditioners as a favor, not as something they had to do, and the jeep was a return favor. I did not want to blow this situation and said, “Of course the Air Force can keep the truck for now. I’ll have you sign a hand receipt and all will be fine.”

I went back to the battery commander who had signed for it and said, “I found your missing truck.”

He perked up and said, “Wow, great, where is it?”

“You’ve loaned it to the Air Force and here’s the hand receipt to reconcile your books.” He was thrilled there would be no report he had lost a truck.

Then there’s a funny story about an Air Force jeep. I inventoried the equipment at all the battalion firebases, and when I was doing Charlie battery near Dalat I went to enter the numbers from one of their jeeps into my inventory log and saw that I had already accounted for it. It seems that I had two of the same jeep. The battery commander had no idea what was going on. So I went back to battalion to talk to the supply sergeant in charge of the rear operations for the batteries. “A jeep you have here, that same jeep is out at the firebase.”

He got a weird look on his face that said, “Oh crap.” We went out to the vehicle yard and found the jeep. The USA numbers on the hood, the bumper markings and everything matched the jeep out at Charlie. I took my Zippo lighter and scraped a little on the bumper number and under the olive drab paint it was blue. I scraped a little bit more and found a different bumper number.

So here’s a jeep that obviously belonged to the Air Force. The supply sergeant pleaded ignorance, “I don’t know. It was here when I got here.”

I took the jeep back to the Air Force, to the AP station. I got the runaround from a sergeant there. He said, “What’s up, lieutenant?”

“I got a jeep out here that belongs to you and I want to return it.”

He said, “I’m not missing a jeep.”

“Well the Air Force is missing a jeep and I’ve got it outside.” He started fiddling around and finally I said, “I am getting in my vehicle outside and leaving. You do whatever you want with the jeep.”

Lots of shenanigans went on at that Air Force base.

Then there was always the combat loss option for firebases. I’m not sure what battery it was, but they got an incoming mortar or two and afterward reported that a 1 ½ ton trailer and all its contents were destroyed. They wrote up the combat loss with enough stuff that it took three trucks to deliver it all. Even a generator – oh yeah, a generator was on that trailer. Whatever they needed at the time was on that trailer. Cracked me up.

Another fun situation started with that supply officer who was medevac’d and I replaced. My first duty was to gather up all of his stuff and send it home to his wife, except for his Playboy magazines. Under his bunk I found a box with three M-16 rifles wrapped in cosmoline (a brown waxy rust preventative). I checked and they were not on the books. I kept the rifles and glad I did.

A lieutenant came in one day with one of his men who was in trouble. He was riding on a helicopter with his M-16 sitting on the deck, and when the chopper banked the rifle slid out the door. Losing your weapon was a big deal. He would have had to pay for it and probably would have received some kind of disciplinary action. I told them to come back after lunch and we’ll see what we can do. I went and got one of those M-16s and did what’s called an inventory adjustment report. I dropped the serial number of the weapon that was lost and substituted the number from the un-inventoried M-16. The lieutenant and his E-4 came back after lunch all worried about what they were going to do. I reached down behind my desk and handed the M-16 to the E-4 and said, “All you got to do is not lose this one. Now get out of here.”

The Smell of Junction City

In addition to all my supply duties they made me the battalion paymaster, a job nobody wanted. At the end of every month I would go to Cam Rahn Bay and pick up $150,000 in military pay certificates, the paper script the military issued in lieu of greenbacks. It took me three days traveling by helicopter to pay everybody in the battalion because we had people spread out over a large area.

I was paying the people at B Battery out at LZ Sherry, sitting at a folding table outside the first sergeant’s hooch under a canopy with my paperwork and suitcase of money and soldiers in a line coming up one by one. A young man came up to the table, saluted and said, “Specialist Meis reporting for pay, sir.”

I looked up and said, “I smell Junction City, Kansas on you, soldier.

He said, “How do you know I’m from Junction City?”

“And your father says Hello.” Then I told him how Lieutenant Colonel Meis had helped my family find housing on short notice and that he had given me the card with his son’s unit on the back. “I promised your dad if I ran across you I’d do whatever I could to help you, and I will. Don’t forget that.”

Running into the colonel’s son was the highlight of my paymaster job. I asked the battalion executive officer how much longer I had to put up with this pay officer crap. He said until another dumb ass 2nd lieutenant shows up.

The Traveler

I loved being away from battalion out with the troops. I especially enjoyed visiting the firebases. I never asked them why they needed things, just how much and when. I would stay overnight a lot, which shocked them. They said other rear area officers would never think of staying overnight at a firebase.

Lt. Cooper on the road
Lt. Cooper on the road

On one of my overnight visits the battery commander said I could use the extra bunk in his hooch. The motor sergeant overheard him and later said to me, “Don’t do it. You can sleep in the motor pool area.” I thought this was strange but took him up on his offer. That night someone threw a hand grenade into the battery commander’s hooch. The dumb ass who threw it had pulled the pin but not the shipping safety wire, so all it did was scare the crap out of the captain. Seems he was not well liked.

I made a lot of jeep trips to Cam Rahn Bay, because that’s where everything came into Vietnam. I made friends with the people there and got access to every type of chopper and fixed wing I needed. On one of those trips my driver and I were fired on from the roadside brush. The driver slowed down and I had to yell at him to get moving. Later I said, “Don’t ever slow down to see who is shooting at you.” We had a hole in the front of the jeep just below the windshield on my side. I don’t know the caliber but I could stick my finger through it.

The battalion XO did not like my being on the road so much. When he got wind of this incident he told me to curb my trips off base. His exact words were, “Cut that shit out.”

A Favor Returned

One day Specialist Meis came into my office saying he needed help. He was going home and the rear area supply sergeant was giving him grief about missing gear. I took him into the back and loaded him up with what he needed. I then had my driver take him by jeep to Cam Rahn and stay with him until he was loaded onto a plane for home. He was very grateful and promised to give his dad my best.

“At” Did Not Count

I had been in Vietnam for three months now and it was time to pressure the XO about his promise to get me to a firing battery. The supply job was great, but I was an artillery officer, not a supply officer, and it looked bad on my record not to be shooting. Being shot at did not count.

The XO and I used the Air Force officers club every chance we got. After more than a few drinks I pushed him about getting to a firebase and he finally said to see him in the morning. I was in his office first thing. He had a hangover but fortunately remembered our conversation. He said he had a great deal for me.

The motor officer was going home right before a big inspection in a few weeks. If I would take the motor officer job through the inspection he would be very grateful and would make good on his promise. What could I say? The motor officer slot called for a captain, which would look good on my record to hold this job as a second lieutenant.

I took the job, but ignored the order to stay out of the field. I still visited the firebases; the draw of firebase action is what kept me interested. That’s how I got the idea to create a mobile maintenance rig. It involved a trailer and mechanic that could be airlifted to the firebases for fast on-site vehicle repairs. The battalion commander and XO ate it up, especially since we passed the inspection with flying colors and the inspecting colonel was impressed with our flying maintenance team.

Now I got the XO up to the Air Force officers club again. He was soon to go home, and after the required number of drinks he cried, and I did too. God bless him he said I could have any firebase I wanted. I picked Bravo Battery at LZ Sherry because it was the firebase with the most action and was in a remote location. I was glad to finally be part of the real action and on my way to shoot. Before leaving I was given the Army Commendation Medal for my work as supply and motor officer. It was nice to be appreciated.

Bill Cooper – B Battery XO (Executive Officer) – Part Two


Bill has been in the Army for ten years with the rank of E-6 staff sergeant. He is married to Honey, who he met on his first tour in Germany, and they have two children. On a second tour in Germany he becomes the battalion supply sergeant, normally an E-7 slot. When his 24th Division returns to Ft. Riley, Kansas he goes with it under the promise of promotion to E-7 and a permanent assignment as battalion supply sergeant.

I am now twenty-six, a husband and father. I have almost ten years in the service and had gone far on the Germany assignment. We had two children in Germany and I had made E-5 and E-6, not a bad two years as things go in the Army. I am no longer just a truck driver. I have grown. I have been responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment and shouldered some very high responsibility. I am feeling pretty good about my life so far.

E-6 Cooper with wife Honey and daughter Janet
E-6 Cooper with wife Honey and daughter Janet

Then as always something came up to set me on another path. On a nice sunny day an E-7 walked into the office and announced he was taking over as the new battalion supply sergeant. I was pissed! I ran to the battery commander and said, “What the hell?” He said he knew nothing about it. I then went up the ladder to the battalion XO and he said the E-7 had been assigned by the Department of the Army and there was nothing he could do. I told him I was promised the E-7 position and this was a rotten deal after all my work in Germany. He was very quiet, a major probably not used to being shouted at by a sergeant. Oh well. I knew there was no way I was going back to being a battery supply position. Just as I was thinking how to handle the situation the answer walked in the door. It was a turning point in my life and career.

Three sergeants from firing batteries walked in and said, “Coop, we’re going to OCS (Officer Candidate School). Why don’t you come along?”

I thought for a moment and said, “Hell yes.”

We all filled out paperwork requesting OCS and that’s when I found out you needed two years of college, and me a high school dropout. I was lucky I had gotten my GED equivalency on my first tour in Germany, and now I took a walk over to the education center. I took some tests and gave them information on schooling and positions I had held, and walked out with two years of college equivalency and then some.

Out of the three sergeants who applied to OCS with me, one was turned down. Seems he had hit a 2nd lieutenant somewhere in his career and they did not think him officer material. Another failed the OCS test and dropped off. That left two of us waiting for a class date. I asked for artillery OCS at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

I found a nice apartment for Honey and the kids in town near Ft. Riley. I would go to Ft. Sill alone. I felt that if I had them near me I would not study as hard. I would be almost twenty-eight years old while the average guy in OCS was a lot younger with all the advantages of college and good study habits. It would be hell not having my family near but it would be for the best. I was ready to give it a shot.


I had very little trouble adjusting to the training in OCS and let the abuse from the upper classmen just roll off my back. It was funny how these young soldiers in the upper class tried to act like they knew everything better than you. They too were just candidates, but they loved to lord it over the lower class. I was going to become an officer no matter what they threw at me. This was an opportunity I could not let slide. The first sergeant and I got along, to the point he called me in to ask if I would talk to some of the other sergeants in OCS who were having a hard time.

The leadership part of the training was easy, but the math required for artillery was another story. I was up against guys way ahead of me who had gone to college and I never had good study habits. Artillery involves a lot of math and they’re asking who’s had trigonometry and 90% of the class is holding up a hand and I’m looking around thinking I wish I could hold up my hand. I was the oldest in a starting class of 130, of which 40 dropped out the first couple weeks. There were times when it got hard to keep up and I was starting to doubt myself. If I failed it would not be because I did not try hard enough. But was I good enough?

Preparing for Survey Test - OCS 21-69
Preparing for survey test – OCS class 21-69

Then I ran into a real asshole. He was a young gunnery instructor who had just graduated from OCS and stayed to teach. He taught from the book, not from experience. It was apparent to me that the only thing separating the two of us was that he had already read chapter four and I hadn’t. In class he went along like he was reading out of a book. I was having a hard time absorbing what he was putting out, him babbling on, and I had to stop him and tell him he was losing me and asked that he slow down. He kind of put me down, and after class called me out in the hall and proceeded to chew me out. His attitude was he’s an officer and I’m a lowly candidate and I should grovel at his feet. I was shocked that an officer in the U.S. Army would act that way. Well I was having none of it and I got in his face a bit. He’s maybe twenty-one; I’m twenty-eight, six foot four two hundred pounds. I told him he was there to teach and I was there to learn and we better get together somehow. The result was, No we don’t, I’ll just fail your ass.

For your final gunnery test you had to call in artillery from a small aircraft with two seats in the front and one in the back. They took one candidate at a time. There’s a pilot up front, an instructor in the co-pilot seat and the candidate in the rear seat. You got a map and a pin. You get up in the plane over the range and they say, Your target is that school bus. You have to know where you are on the map, stick the pin in the map on the right coordinates for the target, then you key the mike and call in the fire mission.

When my turn came to go up, my instructor friend gets on the plane in the co-pilot seat. I locate my target, initiate the fire mission, and call for a first round smoke, which is standard procedure before you adjust and call for high explosive. About the time the smoke round is to go off I see the instructor nudge the pilot and he does a banking maneuver away from my target. Even twisting around in my seat I cannot see the smoke round go off. By the time the plane comes around my smoke is drifting off. The instructor is screaming at me over the headset, “Do something, candidate, people are dying down there. What are you going to do?” Instead of asking for a repeat of the smoke, which I should have done, I guess at an adjustment and call in high explosive. Of course I miss the target. That got me a failing grade in the exercise, and therefore I failed gunnery.

My classmates told me this banking maneuver had not been pulled on any of them. A few had even vomited in the aircraft and gotten just passing grades of 70. I thought, Maybe I should have vomited on my instructor friend.

You fail gunnery you don’t become an artillery officer, so now I had a choice. If I wanted to stay in OCS I would have to repeat the last four weeks of training. I phoned Honey and told her what happened. She wanted me to sew my sergeant’s stripes back on and come home. I told her I was not being kicked out, just sent back a few weeks, and I wanted to give it another go. If I failed again I would stay in the Army and work for the highest enlisted rank I could, and she agreed.

I asked that my gunnery instructor be looked into, and was assured that I would not be seeing him again. So I packed up my stuff and moved to the class behind me while my friends became upper classmen. The good part was my old classmates were now my uppers and they cut me a lot of slack.

The four weeks flew by and I was doing great; I was ranked seventh in a class of 84, and because I was in the upper ten percent I wore a white stripe across my red trainee epaulet. I excelled in the military side of the training: breaking weapons down, firing artillery pieces, knowledge of military regulations, and things of that nature. On the academic side I got into a study group of all white stripes and they helped me out a lot. We committed to help each other stay at the top.

Then the roof fell in again. Before graduation we were marched to the orderly room to pay for our graduation notices and calling cards. I had been told it would be awhile before we had to pay, and now I was required to write a check. All candidates were required to have a checking account. Being a married guy with two kids most of my money went home to the family, leaving me with not enough in my account to cover the check. I ran to the bank the following day with a savings bond I had in my footlocker to cover the check. When I got my bank statement I noticed the bank had posted the debit before my deposit and bounced my check.

A bad check was considered an honor code violation and grounds for dismissal. Guys had been kicked out for less. My 1st sergeant said to just wait it out. The next few days were agony and then it happened. The commander of the OCS program wanted to see me right away. He first chewed me out and then told me I would be a danger to the officer corp reputation and should not be commissioned as an officer because I showed such poor judgment. I explained the bank’s procedure was not sufficient cause for such a drastic measure. I further reported I was ordered to write the check with no opportunity to ensure sufficient funds. I looked him straight in the eye and told him I intended to see the base commanding general if they were going to put me out for this.

In a day or two I got word they were going to let me graduate, but with a letter in my file for one year indicating that if it happened again I would pay dearly. This I knew to be a complete crock. Once I got officer bars there was no way they could take them away for a lousy bounced check.

I left OCS as a Distinguished Military Graduate (still in the top ten percent). My last encounter was with a major who asked me to stay and teach. By then I had a lot of respect from the officers and enlisted cadre that ran OCS because I was an E-6 with a reputation for helping other guys and I think my age helped. He said, “ With your experience you are what we need here. And let me tell you what’s going to happen. This class will have an allocation for Vietnam. At graduation all the class records will be on a table. I’ll pull one from this stack and one from that stack until I fill the allocation for Vietnam. If you agree to stay your record will already be pulled, it won’t be on that table. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes sir, I do. But I just want to graduate and go to work.” He was very pissed off at me for turning him down.

The great day came. I was to graduate and be given the rank of 2nd lieutenant. I would be Lieutenant Cooper – not driver, not sergeant, but “Sir.” The whole class was in the theater waiting to get their assignments. The top three graduates by tradition got their first choices, and all three had chosen military intelligence. Next came the draw for Vietnam, and we knew the allocation was for seven from our class. The major said, “The following candidates have been chosen to serve in the Republic of Vietnam.” The first name out of his mouth was, “Cooper, William A.” I know that son of a gun had my file on top. The class gave me a standing ovation when my name was read. I think they were happy to see me graduate because I had helped so many of them.

To this day Honey thinks I volunteered for Vietnam, but I did not. To be honest, in the back of my mind I was looking forward to seeing if the things I had been doing for ten years worked in a combat situation.

I had to get Honey and the kids settled quickly in a house. Our realtor was a retired lieutenant colonel from Junction City, Kansas by the name of Meis. He understood what I was up against and worked a minor miracle to get the family into a house owned by a woman who had just lost her husband and had not expected her house to sell so quickly. I was very grateful to him. Before I left Colonel Meis said his son was in Vietnam in the artillery. He gave me his card with his son’s name and unit on the back – the 5th of the 27th Artillery, B Battery. I had no idea where I was going in Vietnam, and the colonel knew it was a slim chance, but if I ever ran into his son would I say hello from his father.

Bill Cooper – B Battery XO (Executive Officer) – Part One


I was looking forward to getting out of this dead end town. (Danville, Illinois). I just wanted to get out into the world. I had been sleeping on a couch at my grandma’s for the past few months because my stepfather had thrown me out of his house. So I dropped out of high school in the middle of my sophomore year to enlist in the Army. I turned 17 on September 19, 1959 and five days later I am on a train to Chicago to the Army induction center. I have a shaving kit, five dollars and the clothes on my back.

Just before enlisting
Just before enlisting

I arrived late in the afternoon and was met by a soldier who walked me and the other guys to a hotel a couple blocks away, where we were paired up in rooms. Then we walked to the Army induction center for our physicals. A large room was laid out in stations; you turned your head and coughed and moved on. We broke for chow and returned for more stations. It was very late when we returned to our hotel.

Some guys said, Let’s go see the town. I went along and one of the older guys got us beers. We got to talking and one of the guys said once you get in the Army your body is government property. Let’s get our tattoos now because if we do it later we would be defacing government property. What did I know? When I returned to the hotel I was two dollars poorer and had a tattoo on my right shoulder, a heart with a wreath around it.

This wasn’t my first tattoo. When I was 15 my uncle came back from the Marines and of course he had a couple tattoos. I watched him put a tattoo on my older brother with a sewing needle stuck in a wood matchstick and stovepipe soot. I thought, Wow that’s cool. I got ahold of some India ink and put a needle in the end of a matchstick like I saw my uncle did, and I tatoo’d on my left forearm BC for Bill Cooper. Twenty years later when I was a battery commander a sergeant looked at me and said, “Sir, you’re really serious about this job aren’t you?”

I said, “That BC’s been there a long time.”


From Chicago we loaded on buses for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. By now I am broke, the five dollars long gone. After unloading into a barracks I found the mess hall and had a great Army meal.

The next morning we began three days of processing. Each morning we had to fall out and line up at one of three colored stakes. Red was for the first day, blue for the second day and white for the third and final day of processing. The first day we got our uniforms. I learned that the Army had just changed uniforms. The dress uniform went from brown to green, and footgear went from brown to black.

In 1954 the Army decided to make changes to the uniform, in part so that officers and enlisted uniforms should be the same, distinguished only by insignia. But it was not until late 1957 that the new uniform was issued to inductees, with a transition period of four years to allow wear-out of existing uniforms. Bill landed in the middle of this transition period when the Army was still issuing both colors of footwear.

When I went through the initial round of getting my boots they were issuing brown boots with a bottle of black dye. If you got the brown boots and brown low quarters you had to dye them black, which was a mess, and you had to keep doing it. One of the old timers said to me, “If they bring you a pair of brown boots tell them they don’t fit until you get the black ones.” Sure enough they brought me a pair of brown boots. They fit perfectly but I said they were too tight. They went and got me a different size, but they were black and I said these fit perfectly. The poor guys stuck with brown shoes had black fingers forever.

One the third day – after a day of trying to march, getting our hair cut, and receiving a five dollar advance on our pay – we were on our white stakes and told to board a bus for new barracks and the beginning of our basic training. The barracks sergeant told us this was his house, which we had to treat well, and he taught us how to make a military bed. We had maybe a hundred guys, fifty upstairs and fifty downstairs.

Then we met our drill sergeant. He was a whole new kind of person. I never met anyone who could yell so loud, and he seemed to yell every word he spoke. He let us know we were stupid civilians and to forget all that we had learned till now. He was going to tell us all we needed to know from here out. There was the Army way and the wrong way, and we would damn sure learn the Army way.

I learned that the Army was everything I had expected and hoped for. I was quick to learn the rules and what was expected of me, and it was the same for everyone without favorites. We were given tests to see what we were good at or at least what we had a little knowledge of. I knew a little about cars and how they run, because I had an old clunker that I had to keep running the best I could. I loved to drive. The Army found that I was interested in this field and took a chance on me. I was to go to LVDC school after basic (light vehicles up to 2 ½ ton trucks).

Right after graduation I had a few days off. I returned to Danville to see Grandma and Mom. I met with some of my old friends and I talked with them about what I had been doing. They seemed so childish to me now. I had moved on with my life and no longer fit there. I could not wait to get back to the Army base. It just felt like home to me and I was beginning to give some thought to staying forever.

Right out of training I got orders for a light truck company in Germany. I flew to New Jersey to board the USS Randle. Early in the morning there were 1700 troops getting aboard. I had never seen so many people in one spot in my life. They put a chalk number on your helmet and herded us like cattle into stalls in these big hanger type buildings.

I met a guy who was a private like me but older. He had been in the Army, become a sergeant, gotten out and then come back in the Army again. But he had stayed out too long to come back with his old sergeant rank. He was in his late twenties and an old guy to me just 17, and a streetwise fellow. We kind of connected.

This guy heard that the Red Cross was giving out donuts and coffee and we should go get some. No, I said, we were told to stay right here so that when they call our packet number we get on the ship. He said, Screw that, we got time. We found the Red Cross, got our coffee and donuts, and slowly worked our way back to the hangar. When we got back to our stall we found it empty except for our two duffle bags leaning against the wall.

We got on the bus that was taking guys down to the dock and worked our way into the formation. It was still dark out it was so early. He said, “Now they are going to pick details as people get on the boat so we don’t want to get on too quick.” As the front ranks moved onto the boat we kept falling back. We were in the last rank getting onto the ship and the fellow checking off names had to go back through the book about ten pages to find our names. The good news was that all the details had been picked: guard duty, KP, whatever.

On our way to the bunking area he snatched a couple paper tags and wrote PAINT SHOP on them, and we tied them to our field jackets. The next morning we got up early with everyone else, went topside and laid on these huge coils of rope at the rear of the ship. We goofed off all day, and if anyone asked we were on break from the paint shop.

Things went well for three days. On the fourth a Navy-type sergeant (called petty officers in the Navy) walked by and asked what we were up to. We told him we were on break from the paint shop. He said to get back there. As we started to walk away he said, “Where are you going? The paint shop is in the other direction. I’ll show you the way.” He took us way down to the bottom of the ship to a sergeant who said he had never seen us before but he could keep us busy the rest of the trip. So for the next three days we chipped paint and spot painted all over that ship.

John Clay – Gun Crew – Part Three

Slide1Leaving Vietnam

I extended my tour in Vietnam by two months so that when I went home I could get an early out from the military. (Soldiers returning from Vietnam were given an “early out” if they had less than five months remaining.)

When I left I brought a mortar fin and two 105 canisters that I had made into vases. There was a place in Phan Thiet where they would put the canisters into a kind of press, and make them into vases. One of them says 1945 on the bottom. We were still shooting ammo left over from WWII and the Korean War. Yeah, they had dates stamped on the bottom.

Back in the rear I got a brand new set of fatigues, a brand new pair of boots and a brand new field jacket. I was all set to go. When they called my name and number I wanted the hell out of there so bad I left all that new stuff on the bunk. Whoosh I was out of there. Guys got killed in the rear area coming out of the PX. That happened. You could die anywhere.


At Ft. Lewis, Washington I processed for two or three days, which involved this re-up talk and that re-up talk, then flew to Los Angeles where my parents picked me up. At home I was so wound up all I could do was talk for about 18 hours. Then one night I was having dinner with my Mom, and the next thing I remember I woke up a day and a half later. I guess I fell asleep with my face in the mashed potatoes and my Dad took me to bed.

I thought I had a suntan, until I had a few warm showers and it all just washed down the drain.

Half of ’69 and almost all of ’70 are blank to me as far as what happened back home. I missed the moon landing and all kinds of stuff.

Poet of B Battery

I started writing poetry about my time in the Army; it helped to sooth my mind. Three years ago I was rummaging through some stuff and found one of my handwritten poems I thought I had thrown away.

It’s called The Fire Mission about a three-hour shoot on August 30, 1970. I remember the date because I kept a calendar where I circled the dates we got mortared and put in notes of other things that happened. In February for example I circled the mortar dates 4, 9, 10, 11, 19, and 26.

My calendar has a note we got 20 kills on that August fire mission. The poem is how I felt at the time about the mission and death.


After shooting a fire mission the troops waited for an enemy body count from the forward observer on the ground or the air observer overhead. John’s poem captures the mixed feelings of boys living every day with death, the enemy’s and maybe their own.

The Fire Mission

Death is far, yet seems so near

The gun is silent the smoke is clear

The rounds are spent our mission done

One by one we leave the gun

We sit and wait, the battle won

The radio is silent, no word has come

In the field the bodies lay

Never to fight another day

We’ve won again, but there is no cheer

Death is far, yet seems so near 

A Memory Box

When I flew home from Vietnam I got to the Los Angeles airport before my parents arrived. I went into the restroom and took off my uniform because nobody thought much of it back then. I got into my civvies and put the uniform in my suitcase.

I still have that uniform in the same suitcase I brought it home in with the airline hangtag still on it.

Memory Box

The uniform has a few moth holes in it, but it’s there: the pants, the jacket with my medals pinned on it and the dress cap. I’ll never put anything else in that suitcase. I open it and look at my uniform every once in a while. I am happy I served and I can open up that suitcase like a memory box.