Mike Leino – Fire Direction Control – Part One

Editor’s Note

Mike sent me his stories handwritten, printed in the neat hand that made him the go-to sign maker at LZ Sherry.

Mike at work on a sign Picture by Kim Martin
Mike at work on a sign
Picture by Kim Martin

Like a Hooch

 Cover letter from Mike:

Hey Ed, Leino here.

I sure hope you don’t mind if I contribute to your book this way. It’s the most comfortable way for me. After reading all the memories from the other guys I feel like why not, it’s cool. Reading it all got me thinking about a lot I had forgotten.

I got a room in my basement where I listen to music and do some art, have some beers and a couple hits, and figured it’s a perfect time to write some things down. I guess the room is like a hooch.

A lot of what has been said is what I remember but I think I can add a few things. All I know is that we could be bored out of our minds and then total chaos.

Well Ed, I don’t know how much I’ll come up with but here we go.

Wrong Place – Wrong  Time

There was no lottery at the time, just the draft. Us guys, friends of mine, were just out of high school and working at little jobs that were opening up all over Detroit. Job shops! Making parts and components for the manufacturing of war components. Shops all over the place! You could find five jobs in a matter of hours then.

Anyway, all of my friends were hippies. Me too! We loved music and were going to the Grande Ballroom in Detroit to see all the bands from everywhere. We were going to see Led Zeppelin on Friday night. It was Led Zeppelin’s first time in Detroit, and First USA tour. Love their first album. Anyway, we got a ride with some friends to the Grande Ballroom and they said, “We have to stop at the house to cop some (to get high) for the concert.

So we said, “Cool, we will get some too.”

Got to the house, went in, and the next thing we knew every door and window was smashed in and the cops had us at gunpoint. I think there was seventeen people in that house that night. Everyone threw what they had in their hands in the air. I didn’t know any of these people, but I guess they were a lot heavier into the drug scene then I was.

I was hauled off to Precinct One in Detroit. Spent two days in jail, and when the cops interviewed me I said I was just a rider with friends to the concert. Cop didn’t care. He said, “We didn’t get you with anything, but we are still going to let the draft board know about you.”

Got home Sunday morning and walked in my folks’ house, and the first thing my dad said was, “Get a haircut or get out.” I turned around to go out and he said, “Where are you going?”

I said, “To get a haircut.” On Sunday – yeah right!

Instead I went to my brother’s– a hippie too! Stayed there for about two weeks. Then my mom called and said, “Come home and have a chat.”

Long story short, the folks and I got into each other’s heads and it worked out. My folks tried pot with me and liked it I guess. We smoked together quite a few times. Seemed to mellow them.

Anyway, shortly after, my buddy that was with me during the bust and I, we got our draft notices. Both the same day.

Where am I?

This is going to be trouble

When I was flying into Vietnam I was looking out the window of the jet and saw little specs out in the middle of nowhere and thought, what the hell are those? Getting off the jet in Bien Hoe and heading to the buildings or terminal, there was a boom boom boom noise and the guys that were going to get on the jet to go home started hitting the ground. I thought, What is going on? It was incoming mortars, and us new guys had no idea.

After doing all the reporting in and standing in line I was sent all over Vietnam. I guess the Army was trying to figure out where to send me. I enjoyed the NCO clubs in all the places. Finally they found a place for me, a place called Phan Rang, 5th of the 27th . What is that??? They gave me gear and sent me to Phan Thiet. Once there I reported in and whoever was in charge said, “God, do we need the people out there.”

I said, “Out there?”

It turned out to be one of those little specs out in the middle of nowhere. Shit!!! There were guys laying around in the bunks, and I started talking to them and found out that they were wounded and we’re going to be going back out in the field to LZ Sherry. Uh oh!

About a day or two later I was on a chopper with some supplies out to Sherry. I arrived at LZ Sherry in September of 1969. From the helicopter LZ Sherry was in the middle of nowhere. In my head I’m thinking I’m a goner.

Landing on the chopper pad, a big sand and dirt circle clearing, two guys in a jeep where there to pick up me and the supplies.
These guys were pretty grubby. They asked me if I was the new guy. I said, Yep. They asked me where I was from. I said Detroit. Then they asked if I was a “head” (as opposed to a juicer who preferred alcohol). I said, Yep. Next thing I know I am tokin’ with these guys. I went to their hooch and got pretty messed up. Then they blew my mind and said they had to do things and I had to go and report into the captain. How I made it through that, I don’t know.

I was put on Gun 1. The sergeant on Gun 1 was really a nice guy. He put me in a hooch with a black guy named Ed Parker from somewhere in south Michigan. He was a trip, I really liked him.

I was the new guy so I got all the crap jobs on the gun crew. Humping ammo for the gun was the worst. Really hard on the back. The ammo bunkers were low and carrying the rounds out really got me sore, especially during fire missions and martyrs coming in. It was scary. Working on the deuce-and-a-half was not fun either after mortar attacks. Eventually I worked my way up to firing the gun, but it still wasn’t fun when there was incoming.

Leino under a sneak attack Picture restored by Rik Groves
Leino under a sneak attack
Picture restored by Rik Groves