The following is an excerpt from Ed Gaydos’s book Seven in a Jeep, reprinted with permission.
The Genuine Articles
Kline came rushing into my hooch with an M16. He had been in FDC only a few months, but had already figured out the angles of life in the field. There was an eager look in his eyes that always made me nervous. “I’m sending this home.”
“Kline, you can’t send your rifle home. What if you need it for something, like shooting at the VC?”
“It’s not mine.”
“Then whose is it?”
“It belongs to somebody. The Army keeps track, you know.”
“No, it’s a combat loss. I filled out some paperwork after the last mortar attack and made it a combat loss.”
“How’d you do that?”
“I got a form out of FDC. You weren’t there. I wrote I was sitting on the shitter when the mortars started coming in, but I didn’t say shitter, I said latrine. Then I said I jumped up so fast that my rifle fell down the hole. I wasn’t about to go in there and get it, especially with an attack going on. The next day the shit—latrine waste I think I said—got burned, along with the rifle. See? A combat loss.”
“Who signed it?”
“I just wrote the captain’s name where it said OIC. That means officer in command, doesn’t it?”
“No, but close enough.”
“Anyway, I made it squiggly.”
“You’re going to jail.”
“They gave me a new M16, so I’ve got this extra one that nobody knows about. Except now you and Junk Daddy.”
“Well, you can’t send it home.”
“I think I can do it. I know guys that have.”
“Kline, they X-ray everything that goes out of country.”
“That’s why I’m going to wrap it in tin foil, to fool the machine. Guys have done it.”
“It’s still going to look like a rifle.”
“Not if I send it home one piece at a time.”
“But even if you get it there, a fully automatic is illegal in the states.”
“What the hell, give it a try. I’ll visit you in Leavenworth.”
The next week Fred walked into my hooch. “I want to show you something,” he said and handed me a photo album. “I’m gonna send this home to my folks.”
“Wonderful,” I said flipping through the pages, “I’m sure they’ll like it.”
“You didn’t notice, did you?”
“The covers. Do you notice anything now?”
“They seem to be very nice covers.”
“They don’t look fat to you?”
“Well maybe a little, but nothing special.”
“Yes,” he said and pumped his fist.
“So what’s the big deal about the covers?”
“They’re stuffed with pot. And you can’t tell, can you? Listen, this is the best weed in the world. You can’t get stuff like this back in the world. And it’s cheap.”
“So your folks smoke pot. What is this, an anniversary present?”
When he grinned, his teeth stuck out in six different directions. “No, it’s for me…for when I’m back in the world.”
“You know if you get caught you’ll go to jail.”
“No I won’t. It’s foolproof.”
“What the hell, give it a try.”
What made me the go-to guy for sending illegal cargo through the U.S. Postal Service? Whatever it was I must have been good at it, because neither one of them got caught. To this day I imagine Kline in his den, a fire going, and mounted above the mantle is a fully automatic M16 rifle, the genuine article from Vietnam. And I picture Fred, seated in a circle of his closest pothead friends, the photo album on his lap, bragging about another genuine article from the war.
When the Military Police failed to show up for either Kline or Fred, I began to think about sending some of my own stuff home that I knew the Army would confiscate when I processed out of country. I had an AK47 banana clip, which I had come across partially sticking out of the ground on one of my jogs around the outside of our berm. Without thinking, I had bent down and pulled it out of the ground. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me what a stupid thing I had done. The VC, knowing the American weakness for souvenirs, often planted articles like this as booby traps. How many training films had I watched about booby traps?
I also had a handful of punji sticks, the sharpened bamboo spikes the VC planted in the ground along probable American patrol routes. I got them from a guy in one of the infantry units we supported. “They’re all over the place out there,” he said. “Smeared with shit ya’ know, so you get infected when you step on one. But don’t worry, I wiped these ones off.”
I wrapped everything in tin foil and sent the package home to my younger brother Joe. When Joe got the package he was thrilled. A nosy teenager, he gave the banana clip a close look, and then took it apart. Inside, tangled in the spring, were five live rounds. I remember thinking that the clip felt a little heavy, but didn’t give it much thought at the time. Then I realized that instead of a few wayward bullets stuck in its innards, the banana clip could have contained an explosive. What a present from Vietnam that would have made when young Joe opened the casing.
Today the bullets and the punji sticks are gone, lost in a move. The banana clip is back in my possession, a souvenir of the things that did not happen in Vietnam.
Seven in a Jeep: A Memoir of the Vietnam War is available from all major retailers, and as an e-book on all digital markets. Find links to buy the book here.