Mike Leino – Fire Direction Control – Part Two

Smart Enough

One day someone came to my hooch and told me the captain wanted to see me, and I said, “Why?”

“Don’t know,” he said.

I went to the Captain’s hooch wondering what I did wrong. In his hooch he asked me if I was interested in going into Fire Direction Control. I said, “What?? Why me?”

He said my test scores showed I was smart enough. Whoa! That’s a first. He said there was a shortage of trained FDC people, and we have FDC people leaving and we needed someone now.

I said, “I can’t leave the gun and I know nothing about FDC.”

He also said, “You would be protected during mortar attacks.”

I still said, “I don’t think so.”

He said, “I can make you, so think about it for a day or two.”

I finally said I would go into FDC. But all I could think is the guys on Gun 1 are gonna hate me. I just figured being in a sandbag hooch is safer for the remainder of time I had left at Sherry.

It was not easy for me going into FDC. All the guys in there were older and seemed a little too brainy and serious than what I was used to.

So the training began. Charts, maps, calculating, deflection, wind direction. What??? I was terrible at math in high school. I think the brainiacs didn’t have too much patience with me. Then I had to learn the radios and giving the commands to the guns on fire missions. I picked up on that pretty quick. Learning the codes for ordering supplies and ammo from the rear areas. I liked working the radios the most.

Mike Leino on his radios
Mike Leino on his radios

As time went on and the older guys were going home, younger guys were coming into FDC and it was becoming more comfortable and less stressful. It was a little crazy when getting mortars coming in and I had to go outside to the generator shack to switch over to a different generator, because one was about to run out of gas. Sometimes I’d just go and talk to the guys I was with on the guns. It was like a break. It broke up the boredom of just being in FDC.

The guys that were in FDC at the end of my tour were great. Ed, you and Kim Martin I liked the best. Kim and I had built a new hooch together. I have to say it was a good one. Another one I really liked was Lieutenant Christenson. He was not like any brass I had encountered. It’s like he was one of us. I got a couple little stories about him I don’t think I should tell! Medics were cool guys too.

I have to say I’m glad we were allowed to have a beer there. I know it put my head in a different place. There was also another tidbit that would put my mind somewhere else too. The rut of fire direction and sleeping really got to me, so I had to party anyway I could. I know Smoke knew I was doing something, but I was always a step ahead of him.

Leino in party mode
Leino in party mode

Comment from Kim Martin, hooch mate and fellow FDC guy:

Mike and I got to be pretty close in Nam. He gave me an embroidered ribbon-like cloth about twelve inches long and two inches wide with the word VIETNAM stitched in the middle which I keep in my den on an antique table from my mother.  It reminds me of those days long ago in Nam with Mike in particular, and other friends I made there. Mike had a great sense of humor and was a really good guy. I was lucky to share a hootch with him, which we built together.

Mike Leino resting on new hooch – Version 2

Mike and Kim taking a break Pictures by Kim Martin
Mike and Kim taking a break
Pictures by Kim Martin

Comment from 1st Lieutenant Bob Christenson:

 I remember Mike as kind of a quiet, introspective guy who didn’t say a lot but was taking it all in. In retrospect he was probably like the rest of us trying to figure out, What the hell am I doing here? He was an integral part of FDC though, and you could always count on Mike. I’m glad he had my back.

 When I think of Mike, two things stand out. First, I remember the firebase dogs, who were great judges of character. They liked Mike a lot. I recall that Tag was particularly close to Mike and vice versa.  Smoke, our FDC dog, was the son of Tag and Crash. Everyone on the firebase was really bummed the day Top had most of the dogs killed, and I think Mike was particularly upset. I think it took him a long time to get over it.

My other recollection is the day Mike saved someone’s life when they were out burning trash. Apparently the guy doused the trash in gasoline and splashed some on himself. When he lit the trash he lit himself. As I heard the story, the guy started to run and Mike tackled him and rolled with him to put the fire out. Mike was OK but the other guy was seriously burned and was sent back to the states. Mike never hesitated to put himself in danger to save this person, and I think that tells you everything you need to know about Mike. I put him in for a well-deserved medal, but was later told the battalion commander nixed it because he was afraid it would look bad if someone in his command broke Army regs by burning trash with gas.

Mike was a solid guy and an integral part of the FDC team.  Hard to believe that we were there over 45 years ago.

Picture by Bob Christenson Written on the back: “Mike Leino’s gear, now home and out of the Army”
Picture by Bob Christenson
Written on the back: “Mike Leino’s gear, now home and out of the Army”

Comment from Ed Gaydos, FDC section chief:

When I arrived at Sherry in early May of 1970 there were three guys in FDC brought in from the gun crews. All of them had learned the complexities of fire direction on the job. This was one of the most difficult specialties in the Army, and I was impressed.

Mike always had a dreamy, screw-the-Army attitude about him. Yet he took particular care about everything he did, sometimes moving in what seemed to me slow motion. He built the tightest sandbag wall on the firebase, each bag arranged like large bricks. This deliberate approach served him well in FDC. Working the radios or figuring firing data from charts and graphs and slide rules, I don’t remember him ever making a mistake or losing his cool under pressure. And of course, he was more than smart enough.

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


Ron Walker – Gun Crew – Part Two

August 12, 1969

That summer we got mortared not only at night but during the daytime too. It was just raining 81s on us (81 mm mortars). It was on Gun 3 and late at night when Pyle got killed. Two Medevac helicopters come in. We was there loading the wounded, and I was one of the guys on the stretcher carrying Pyle. He was dead before he went out. A real good friend of Pyle’s, Mulvihill was his name, he took it real bad I remember. The whole gun crew was wounded. A friend of mine I came in country with, his name was Ruben Wagner, he was wounded. He had a flak jacket on, but I remember he got wounded in the spine right below his flak jacket. He was a big guy and he must have had a small flak jacket.

In addition to Gun 3, early that morning at 1:30 AM Gun 2 also took a mortar hit. It killed Theodus Stanley and wounded two: crew chief Rik Groves and Paul Dunne. First lieutenant Hank Parker, soon to become battery commander, describes the state of affairs following the August 12 attacks.

“Now we are dangerously shorthanded at LZ Sherry. We lost ten men on August 12. That on top of the losses from the pounding we’d taken during July and early August. So out of a full strength battery of six guns and 120 guys, we’re down to five guns and 67 guys at Sherry. A full gun crew is eight guys, and we are struggling to find four for a gun.”

We had a couple of real good medics that saved a lot of lives. The medics always took good care of the wounded and got them on to Medevac’s. Especially that night. I think most of the guys wounded on that night recovered and came back, because a couple of them ended up on Gun 6. I remember because the next day or two they moved a bunch of guys around and took me from Commo onto Gun 6.

Humping ammo with Willie Wheat (on right) – Gun 6
Humping ammo on Gun 6 with Willie Wheat

Rik Groves had just thirty-two days left on his tour when he was wounded. After  recuperation he managed a brief, bittersweet visit back to Sherry but did not return to duty.  Paul Dunne did return.

Death of Paul Dunne

They were asking for volunteers to go on a mine sweep, and I guess I volunteered. We were slated to do the mine sweep and then go all the way into town with the convoy. There was a new Commo sergeant who was in charge of the mine sweep. He was the one who had the metal detector. I remember him sweeping all the way up to the bridge. The jeep stopped in the middle of the bridge and everybody got off. It might have been a C4 (plastic explosive) mine planted there, because he did not pick up anything. The sergeant gave the all clear and then we all piled back on the jeep. I went to the left front bumper and I set there on the front of the jeep. Something told me to turn around and look, maybe it was divine intervention, and when I turned around nobody was sitting in the passenger seat next to Dunne who was driving. I got off the front, went and sat down in the passenger seat. Jim Kustes he was on the back of the jeep, he went up there and took my spot.

The jeep began to move, and just as we got off the edge of the bridge we hit the mine. My eyes went black and my ears was ringing so bad from the explosion. After I come to my senses I somehow stumbled around on the other side of the jeep and I seen Paul laying there. I seen his jugular was cut. The first thing I did was put my hands down over his neck. It was just gushing out so bad. Then the Commo sergeant, he run up to where Paul was at. He always had this green towel around his neck. He took the towel off and pressed it down on Paul’s neck.

I stood up and then I heard Kustes hollering for help. Maybe twenty feet away I seen him laying in the creek down there off the side of the road. There was water in the creek up to his chest. I ran down and pulled him out of the creek. The first thing I noticed around his thumb area, I cannot remember which hand, it was peeled back pretty good. And there was a big hole in his leg. From those first aid pouches they gave you that I had on me I bandaged him up as best I could and gave him a shot of morphine. I said to him, “Well, it looks like you got a ticket home.” I wish I had not said that because he said back to me, “Oh don’t tell me that.”

We did not have a medic with us.

After Kustes and Dunne were Medevac’d out, they were the only two wounded as I remember, we went back to Sherry. They pulled the jeep back to Sherry and if you look at pictures of that jeep it did not have a windshield.

Picture by Andy Kach
Picture by Andy Kach

I do not know why they took them off. I think a part of the hood is what cut Dunne’s throat. If there had been a windshield on that jeep he might be alive today. It was just an inch or two on his jugular that was cut. I do not know if his lower body was injured, it probably was. But I am almost a hundred percent sure he died because he bled out from his jugular.

My ears rang for three days is all that happened to me. I was fortunate.

The Medals Were Purple

I came into Sherry in April 1969 as a PFC (E3). In December a bunch of us got promoted to corporal (E4) all because of one guy. His name was Cleaton, the guy who carried an M-79 grenade launcher out on that perimeter sweep with Parker. So many guys out on the guns were PFCs. If you were a gunner you were supposed to be an E5 sergeant. An assistant gunner was supposed to be a corporal. I was a gunner, I was an assistant gunner, I was a loader, but still a PFC. And I was not the only one. Cleaton was always bitching about not getting promoted. He said, “What do we got to do around here to get promoted? We do everything these people ask us to do. We run out in the middle of the night getting rained on by mortars, we return fire, we do our jobs.”

A colonel was coming in one day. I remember we were sitting around playing cards. Cleaton was good at cards, he always took our money. He said, “I’m fixing to either get promoted our I’m going to be court-martialed.”

I said, “What are you talking about?”

“When that colonel comes I am going to march down to his hooch and have it out with him about getting promoted.”

And he did. I do not know what he said to that colonel but it was not long after that all the PFCs who had been at Sherry for a certain amount of time got promoted to corporal.

Besides promotions there was a bunch of guys deserving of Bronze Stars and probably even Silver Stars. I was put in for an Army Commendation medal, but I never got it. We would get out on our guns to return fire with mortars still coming in. There should have been a lot more medals awarded. Instead we got Purple Hearts. I got mine on September 6 from mortar shrapnel. I caught a little bit on the knee and shoulder. It was not bad enough to get Medevac’d out. I was fortunate again.

Things You Thought You Forgot

Bacon Sandwiches and Cigarettes

The mess hall always had good, hot food. I especially remember the bacon sandwiches in the morning. A couple of kids worked in the mess hall and lived on base, a girl named Cindy and a boy we called Slick. They got caught one day in Phan Thiet selling black market cigarettes, which they probably got from those SP packs we would get every ten days. (Sundries Packs contained writing paper, envelopes, pens, foot powder, toothbrushes and paste, candy, chewing gum, and cartons of cigarettes.) The mess sergeant, a great cook but not a great guy, was in charge of dispensing the SP boxes. When Cindy and Slick got caught I think he got into some kind of trouble right along with them.

B-52 Alarm Clock

Bet some of the guys still remember getting rolled out bed one morning from a B-52 bombing mission on the mountains west of us. All you could see was smoke and dust. The ground shook like an earthquake.

Aiming To Please

I remember a fire mission one night when we had three guns firing a perimeter defense for a squad of a Army Rangers surrounded by the NVA. We fired all night long around their perimeter. For some reason they did not call in choppers, probably because it was too dangerous at night. The next morning here comes a dozen tired and lucky bunch of guys walking into Sherry. I don’t think they had anyone wounded. We fed them, helped them get some much needed rest, and that afternoon a couple of choppers picked them up. All courtesy of B Battery.

More Important Than Donuts

I remember the Doughnut Dollies that came out to cheer us up.

American Red Cross “Donut Dollies” were young, college-degreed women who spent a one-year tour in Vietnam as morale boosters for American troops. They traveled to front-line landing zones and base camps to bring games, snacks and a touch of home to soldiers.

ARC volunteer in the mess hall at Sherry Picture by Andy Kach
ARC volunteer in the mess hall at Sherry
Picture by Andy Kach

The only ones to get any personal attention from the Donut Dollies were the First Sergeant and the officers. I never actually talked with one of them. And never did anyone from Sherry go see a USO show with Bob Hope. Seems we were forgotten in many ways. But thanks to our memories from that far away place we can always say, “I served at LZ Sherry.”

Ron Walker – Gun Crew – Part One

Ron Walker on Gun 6
Ron Walker on Gun 6

Good News and Bad News

When I was still in high school in 1966 my older brother got drafted and went to Vietnam. He was in the 25th infantry division. When I graduated in 1968 he had just gotten out. The draft was still going pretty good and I was 1-A. My brother said to me, Whatever you do don’t go into the infantry.

I was driving around one-day and rode by the Army recruiting station. I just parked my car and went in there and talked to the recruiter. Of course recruiters get paid to sign people up. I said I did not want to go into the infantry.

He said, “Well we will get you into electronics school.”

I did not know anything about electronics, but it sounded pretty good to me. He signed me up for three years to become a fixed station technical controller. I did not even know what that was. He told me the school was in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. I did not know where that was either. He told me it was about 40 miles from New York City. I said that sounds alright.

About a month or two later I was at home still asleep when the phone rang. My mom came in and said, “The Army recruiter wants to talk to you.” This is around 7:30 in the morning.

I got on the phone with him and said, “Yes, sir.”

He said, “I got some good news for you and I got some bad news for you.”

I said, “Give me the good news first.”

“We got the school that you signed up for. You are all set to go.”

“Well what’s the bad news?”

He said, “Your bus leaves at 9:30 this morning. I got your tickets. Don’t be late.”

I did not have time to say goodbye to my dad or my brothers. My mom drove me over to the bus station and I caught the bus for Jacksonville to get sworn in. From there I took a bus to Fort Benning, Georgia where are I took my basic training – Sand Hill (the training facility within Ft. Benning). I thought to myself, I am from Florida so I can probably take the heat. But I know now why they call it Sand Hill, because it was the hottest place on earth in August. Anyway I took it a lot better than some of the guys.

After basic I did not have a chance to go home, but went straight to New Jersey. It was a beautiful school up there. The only requirement was to go to school during the day, and after that you were free to do whatever you wanted. But it was way above my head. It was one of those schools where you really had to be good at math and how to figure out circuits. A few of us flunked out of school around January. They came to us and said, You guys aren’t making it here and you have two choices: infantry or artillery. I said I wanted artillery. Most of us picked artillery. So we went to Fort Sill in January of 1969. I spent eight weeks training on the 105 howitzer, and then some extra time training on the 8 inch and 155 artillery pieces. After that I had twenty days of leave before going to Vietnam, my first time home.

I flew from home to Oakland California. They put us all in these airplane hangers. Everything was in there, bunks, even a PX. When you went in there they closed the door and would not let you out. When they did open the door, they had the plane sitting outside and marched us all out to it. I guess when you made it that far it was too late to back out. If you’re going to go AWOL you should have done it before going into those hangers.

About three or four hours in the air they told us to fasten our seatbelts, we were going to land in Anchorage, Alaska. The plane we were on, Northwest Orient Airlines, developed engine trouble. They said we were going to be in Anchorage a few days to get the plane fixed. They turned the whole plane load of GIs loose in Anchorage. They just told us to be back at a certain time. We spent two or three days there.

We stopped in Japan to refuel, and then landed at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. After you have been on the plane so long breathing fresh air, I remember when they opened the doors in Vietnam it had a rotten fish smell. I thought to myself, Oh my gosh do I have to smell this for a whole year? The smell was so horrible, I’m going to die.

Once we got settled they put us on a detail pouring concrete. I remember seeing nice homes with swimming pools and shopping centers. Where am I? I thought I was in Vietnam. We poured concrete from wheel barrels building sidewalks for three or four days.

Long Lonely Nights

When I got to Sherry first thing I had to do was go to the bathroom, which was a little two-stall latrine over these half barrels. Poor old doc (battery medic) had the duty of pulling the half barrels out, pouring diesel fuel in and lighting them up. Not long after that we had some combat engineers come in and build the Cadillac of all latrines. That’s when burning the shit barrels moved around to other guys. I remember I had that duty a couple times.

A Caddy with no wheels Picture by Rik Groves
A Caddy with no wheels
Picture by Rik Groves

My first job at Sherry was in Commo because they didn’t have any openings on any of the guns. Instead they needed guards for that one stupid Commo tower on top of the Fire Direction Center. We did not have much to do in Commo except pull guard duty. Which was probably a good thing because when I came out of Fort Sill I did not know anything about commo, radios and stuff. I was trained in artillery.

Walker on guard duty
Walker on guard duty

We had to pull guard for 24/7. There were only three of us so we had long shifts. There was a sergeant, a guy by the name of Jones, and me. We each had to pull eight hours of guard duty. It was terrible. After a while we got another guy which made it a little bit easier.

I remember one night I was on guard duty when we got shelled. In the tower it was real quiet, and you could hear the mortars going off. You never forget that sound. I hollered out IN COMING, and of course I said the direction it came from. I remember after the attack First Sergeant Durant and Smoke came out and started climbing up to the tower, and I thought holy shit I am in trouble now. I must’ve done something wrong. They said, How did you know a mortar attack came from that direction? I told them because there in the tower you had these round lids that came off the 105 shell shipping tubes, and we had numbers painted on them all the way around inside the tower. So if you heard something you just looked down and you knew what direction it was coming from. After an attack they would go out and look at the mortar fins sticking in the ground and they could pretty much figure out what direction it came from. Durant and Smoke told me I was right spot on about the direction I told them that the mortar had come from. They said, Good job and keep up the good work.

I took that job seriously. When you are up there at one o’clock in the morning by yourself and everything is quiet and all you hear is crickets, you could hear that mortar coming out of its tube. It was a sound like no other sound in the world. It’s like the smell of marijuana, there’s no other smell like it in the world. I could hear that mortar being shot and I put everybody on alert. Once the mortars stopped falling, everybody got out on their guns and started returning fire.

It was a lonely job. I remember ducking a few times. There were snipers out there, and sometimes I could hear a bullet whiz by my head. Back in those days I smoked cigarettes. They told us in basic training that you could see a lit cigarette from a mile away. I always ducked down behind the sandbags to inhale, and then came back up again.

I also recall being on guard duty and seeing these strange white objects flying overhead, they looked like glowing cylinders, and you could hear them whizzing. A bunch of us saw them and joked that they must be UFOs. Only to learn later that it was the battleship New Jersey off the coast in the South China Sea firing it’s sixteen inch guns right over our firebase. Never knew what they were firing or who they were shooting at.

I was in Commo for about four months. After I left I heard that the sergeant got caught sleeping on guard duty and they busted him down to corporal. I could understand him going to sleep because it was a tiresome job. You are awake all day long anyway, and then you have to pull eight hours by yourself of guard duty at night. You did not get much sleep. When I left Commo I think they only had two or three guys left. He could have been pulling double guard duty shifts, meaning sixteen hours in that guard tower by himself. 

An Infantry Outing

Hank Parker was a good lieutenant. One day he put together a sweep outside the wire, and that is a story all in itself. I think it was in June. We had been shelled quite a bit, and he was wanting to go out to find out where is the VC we’re shooting from. He asked for a bunch of volunteers. I guess we was bored cooped up there in that compound for so long that we was really just wanting to get out. Believe it or not, there was a little time in there when there was not much going on.

At that time we had two tanks that was assigned to us on the perimeter. And the guy that was in charge of the tanks, he was an E-6 staff sergeant, Parker was wanting to have him and one of his tanks to put all of us on the tank, and we was going to go out on top of that tank. The sergeant and Parker got into kind of a heated exchange of words.

The sergeant said, “I am not taking these guys out. These guys here is artillery, they haven’t been trained in the bush. They’re going to get in a firefight, are they’re going to get into landmines. You’re going to get them all killed out there.” He refused to do it. He said, “I’ll just take my two tanks and I’ll leave.”

Parker took us out anyway. There were maybe twenty of us. We waded through a couple of rivers out there.

In this picture Bean is on the left, me in the middle, and Cleaton on the right with his M-79 grenade launcher.

Bean, Walker and Cleaton w M79 grenade launcher

Some guys preferred the grenade launcher to the M-16, and boasted they could drop a grenade inside a basket at a hundred meters.

 We also had an M-60 machine gun out with us. I cannot remember who had it, but I was carrying an extra ammo belt over my shoulder. (You could never have too much machine gun ammo.)

I can remember at one point we hit the ground and opened up on the tree line, but didn’t get any response. Jim Kustes was with us I remember. We did not run up on anything on that whole sweep, and it’s probably fortunate. That’s the only time I can remember us going out and looking for trouble.

The tank sergeant was good to his word. It wasn’t long before he took his two tanks and left. After that we relied on the Dusters and Quad 50s for perimeter defense.

Dusters, each with twin 40 mm cannons - June 1969
Dusters, each with twin 40 mm cannons – June 1969

Jon Varat – Fire Direction Officer – Part Five

Back To School

The Army had never sent me where I asked, with this exception. While still in Vietnam I asked if it would be possible when I returned to the states to be stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and they said yes. Ft. Dix is 55 miles from Penn Law School in Philadelphia, which allowed me to work at the fort in the morning and take classes in the afternoon. I would work in the Courts and Boards section at Ft. Dix from 6:00 AM till noon prosecuting cases, and then go off to a 1:00 evidence class. I would race to school, park illegally and run to class, and it worked. I did not have time to go home and change, so I showed up in my uniform. At this time, the Fall of ‘71, Cambodia was underway and protests in the universities around the country were in full swing against the Cambodian incursion. There were banners in the middle of the law school that said: Get out of Cambodia.

I showed up in the law school in my uniform every day. The students didn’t know what the hell to do with me, and some were intimidated. I have to confess, although I am mild mannered myself and I usually don’t do this, but there was one young woman who screwed up her courage one day and asked me why I wore my uniform to school. Instead of telling her the truth I could not help myself, I told her it was because I was such a patriot. I was not a pro-war guy, I was actually anti-war. I was being sarcastic and said it with a smile, but I think she took me seriously because she never talked to me again.

I was not treated as badly as some veterans on campus. Most veterans just got ignored, which is being treated badly enough. The inability to do what Doris Kearns Goodwin later said, to distinguish between the war and the warrior, was pretty bad in those days. I didn’t find a lot of open hostility, but nobody wanted to acknowledge it or talk about it. Which was not good for people returning.

Picking up my law studies after Vietnam was wonderful. Most people think that by the third year of law school you’re getting tired, maybe bored or a little out of sync. Law school’s hard, but for me, no offense to the military, it was like an intellectual feast to go back to school after being in the Army. I’d had this break, and I came back very enthusiastic about school. I had the opportunity to be a research assistant for a famous professor in the area of federal courts when he was working on his book. He became my mentor and from that all kinds of goods things happened for me.

Jon finished first in his class all three years at the University of Pennsylvania law school, the two years before Vietnam and the one after.


I was a good student and I had spent a summer at a premier law firm in LA before Vietnam. I wanted a federal court clerkship, but when I returned from Vietnam it was late in the application process and the clerkships had already been snapped up.

At the appellate level, federal court clerks mostly conduct legal research, prepare bench memos, and draft opinions after discussing cases with the judge.

Through a nice fluke, one of my original law school classmates was clerking for a federal judge in New York. The appellate court judge in the chambers next door had a whole stack of applications, but was still looking. Long story short, I got an interview with Judge Walter Mansfield on Veterans Day 1971. He calls me into his chambers, we meet, and it’s like a bromance. I go to clerk for him right out of law school from ‘72 to ‘73. He becomes the closest I ever came to having a surrogate father. He was just a brilliant judge, a wonderful man, and a super duper war hero in WWII. Walter Mansfield was a partner at the law firm headed by Wild Bill Donovan, who started a clandestine operation when the war broke out. It was then the Office of Strategic Services and eventually became the CIA. Mansfield spends a year behind Nazi lines with Czech partisans, and eventually escapes through Greece. Then he spends a year behind Japanese lines in China. A fabulous human being, very modest, brilliant, one of the most excellent role models you can imagine. If you go to the U.S. courthouse in Foley Square in lower Manhattan there is a tree memorial on the plaza dedicated to him.

Then people tell me: You should apply for a clerkship at the Supreme Court. I thought that would be cool, so I gave it a shot, but of course that would be like getting struck by lightning. I end up having interviews with three Justices: White, Stewart and Blackmun. Justice Byron White makes me an offer to be his clerk the following year, which I accept.

And he’s another war hero, and a football star, and an extraordinary human being. Justice White was the Walter Payton of his day. He goes to the University of Colorado, where he is an all American and runner up for the Heisman trophy. The Rocky Mountain sports writers described him as the guy who ran around everybody and gave him the nickname Whizzer White, which he hated. He is drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates (today’s Steelers) and becomes their highest paid player. He leads the NFL in rushing his rookie year. He played offense, defense, special teams, scored a bazillion points. You’ll find him in the national football hall of fame in Canton, OH. He gets a Rhodes Scholarship and goes to England to study, putting off playing professional football. At the time the Ambassador to the Court of St. James is Joe Kennedy. The ambassador had a practice of inviting all the Rhodes scholars from America to his house. His son John Kennedy is there and the two of them become fast friends. They take a trip together to Germany, and they see that war is coming. They see what Joe Kennedy did not see. During the war, White is a naval intelligence officer, and guess who writes up the report of John Kennedy’s PT-109 incident in the Pacific? Byron White. White ends up being a war hero himself. He is on a ship hit by a kamikaze, on the bridge with a couple other officers. They think they are going to die, but the plane hits a guy wire and crashes into the lower part of the ship. The ship is on fire. By this time White is a celebrity, but he doesn’t care, he does his job. He runs down into the fire and pulls people out. After the war he goes back to playing professional football and graduating from Yale Law School, first in his class. Upon graduation, he clerks for Chief Justice Vinson on the Supreme Court. President Kennedy nominates White to the Supreme Court in 1962, making him the first Supreme Court clerk to become a Supreme Court Justice. An amazing life considering he grew up during the Depression pulling sugar beets in the field.

I start clerking for Justice White the Fall of ‘73. This was during the Watergate era. I was there for that whole period, when the impeachment proceedings were underway, when special prosecutor Archibald Cox was fired and Leon Jaworski replaced him. The Nixon White House Tapes Case, where the Supreme Court ordered the President to turn over tapes connected to the Watergate break-in, was the last case of the term before I left. I finished my clerkship nine days before Nixon resigned.


Now that I had clerked for two federal court judges, I was courted by a number of law firms. But I liked O’Melveny & Myers, the firm in LA I worked for that summer before going to basic training. I had heard from Warren Christopher while in OCS, and then from Phil Irwin, a partner in the same law firm, while I was at battalion in Phan Rang. I had met Phil before going into the Army, and he was the one who brought me back to LA. A wonderful guy. I understood that his dad by the way was a brigadier general. Phil is a wonderful, wonderful tax guy with a photographic memory. I loved working there and thought I would stay there forever.

I get a phone call a little over a year after joining the firm from my mentor from law school, the federal courts professor, and he has moved from Penn to Berkeley law school. He says, Are you interested in teaching? Because you should be. If you like I will introduce your name around at Berkeley, USC, Stanford and UCLA law schools. I liked what I was doing, and did not see myself teaching law as a refugee from practicing law. I was not unhappy, but I thought: You know, here’s one big difference between being a practicing lawyer and being a law teacher. When you’re a practicing lawyer you work on the agenda your clients need you to work on. You’re solving their problem. Which is fine and interesting. But if you become a professor, you set your own agenda, and you work on the things that interest you. I was getting more and more interested in the parts of my job that took me into the library to figure things out, because I liked that side of the law.

I interviewed with the UCLA law faculty, and I had more fun being interviewed by this group of people that any set of job interviews I’d ever had in my life. I just sat around all day talking to brilliant people about interesting ideas. I thought: Wow, this is really a great environment, stimulating all the time.

So I joined the UCLA law faculty in 1976. I bought a home, had a kid, started at the law school and took a salary cut, all within the span of three months. Mostly I taught constitutional law and federal courts, and I edit a textbook on constitutional law, which I update every year. I became Dean of the law school in 1998, something Warren Christopher had warned me about. He had told me before I went to UCLA that eventually they’d want me to do administration. I did take advantage of him later to deliver a commencement address at one graduation ceremony during that period, and it was one of the best ever given.

Way More Than 40%

I retired from the law school as an emeritus professor in 2013. I did not need to, but I had been at the law school a long time, and I still have been teaching one course a year. I wanted to travel, which is difficult as a teacher, and I wanted more freedom in general to do non-profit work.

I got my wish, but recently the Chancellor of the university recalled me from retirement to head the long standing, complex relationship between UCLA and the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles.

The West LA Veterans Administration owns three hundred and eighty-eight acres close by the UCLA campus, separated only by highway 405. It serves the largest population of veterans in the country and is possibly the largest physically. We at UCLA have had a seventy year relationship with the VA, essentially since UCLA was formed. Our medical school, for example, was formed in 1948 and for the first seven years before a university hospital was built on campus, our teaching hospital was the VA hospital. We’ve trained doctors at the VA for decades.

Disabled and homeless vets have flooded into LA as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—and the hospitable weather, of course. We have the largest homeless veteran population in the country, and therefore the largest needs. The VA initially did not do a good job responding. They were incompetent, frankly.

For the last fifteen or twenty years the VA land has been very poorly managed. Sizable portions, some of the most valuable land in America, were leased to various private enterprises and institutions at below market rates. Worse still, the lease revenue had not been used wisely for vets, whom this VA had not been taking care of as they should. A real travesty.

A lawsuit was brought by a set of plaintiffs and a group of fancy lawyers here in town for failure to keep the property a “home for disabled veterans,” as required by its 1887 land grant. The VA and representatives of homeless vets reached a settlement in 2013 to do a better job of using the VA land for activities that benefited veterans, including the construction of what looks to be 1200 places for permanent supportive housing for homeless vets over the course of the next decade.

Last year, the Chancellor of UCLA entered into an agreement with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that, besides what the university is already doing for vets, UCLA will create a series of new programs at the West LA VA to benefit veterans for the long term.

There is yet another aspect to this situation. At the Phoenix VA, the wait list was so long people were dying before they got their appointments. General Shinseki resigned as the Veterans Affairs Secretary, and President Obama replaced him in 2014 with Bob McDonald: Chairman, President, and CEO of Procter & Gamble. Bob McDonald swept away the incompetent leadership of the West LA VA, and replaced them with the best people from around the country, to include specialists and a national expert on homelessness.

As a result of recent legislation restoring the West LA VA’s authority to lease land on the campus so long as the activities overall are veteran-focused, we are at the point where we can begin implementing the agreements between UCLA and the VA. There are a lot of vets suffering from PTSD and drug abuse and physical disabilities. And women veterans have a whole unique set of traumas. It’s a massive but terribly important set of problems for vets. If we can accomplish what we have on the drawing board, the partnership between UCLA and Veterans Affairs will be a model for the nation.

We are talking about transforming a fifteen-acre veteran’s garden that had been allowed to deteriorate, so that vets can grow things for farmers markets and maybe become entrepreneurial. And we can offer therapeutic activities such as yoga. And we’ve committed to introducing adaptive and recreational therapies That’s one piece. As a first step, just last week a group of volunteers from the Student Veterans of America joined with UCLA, the VA, and Home Depot, and cleaned up the front portion of that garden for planting. The long term vet groundskeepers were thrilled. Much more needs to be done, but we have a plan.

We are setting up a UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic on the VA campus, which we are very excited about. Our law students will represent vets with their legal problems.

We are going to have a family wellness and resource center. It is a very innovative concept one of our absolutely magnificent doctors in the psychiatric center has already implemented on military bases around the world. It will help family members who are not themselves vets or not themselves disabled. It will provide therapies for families, for example, so that children will have decent places to be while husbands and wives are helping the vets recover. A very innovative program that seeks to prevent transitional dysfunctions before they occur.

There will be a center of excellence for vets dealing with co-occurring disorders, which will be mostly for homeless vets who have PTSD and substance abuse problems. It turns out that for vets who have one problem, such as a physical or mental disability, you treat that one condition directly. But for vets with co-occurring disorders, you do not treat each condition separately. You have to deal with the special co-occurring issues and how they interact. We are learning new approaches all the time, and we have people at UCLA who know how to do these things. We have the innovative researchers and psychiatrists. And we’ve created interdisciplinary fellowships.

One of our English professors is teaching a creative writing class for vets on the VA campus. Which they LOVE. I was recently asked to facilitate the transportation of these vets to a Hollywood facility where Tim O’Brien, who wrote The Things They Carried, did a reading from his book and signed books for these guys. I read the book several years ago. It is beautifully written and well worth reading. To these vets in the creative writing course, many of whom have also read the book, it was very meaningful.

I’m the guy who is supposed to make sure all this happens, and is implemented as a joint partnership. So all of a sudden I’ve got all kinds of new best friends at the VA. I am spending a lot of time over there. And I’ve got my UCLA people I have to get together to figure out how we go ahead with the partnership in a way that is productive for UCLA and the VA. It’s important to understand that we cannot be the VA. We can’t take over their job of treating people. We can design systems and help implement them. Our people still have full time jobs at the university.

Being retired from the university means I can be recalled to do no more than a 40% job. It’s designed to prevent people from double-dipping: retiring on full pension and immediately returning to the same full time job. What that means for me is I can’t be paid for more than 40% time. You can believe that with this new VA job, and teaching and updating my textbook, I am way more than 40%. On the other hand it is energizing to feel I can do some good.

I also am involved—separately from my UCLA job, though with some important overlap—with this other little piece that Bob McDonald created called the Community Veteran Engagement Boards (CVEB). They exist around the country. The idea is that Veterans Service Organizations and others who are active in helping vets in the community act as a private group working pro bono with VA officials as a two way communication link between what veterans need and what the VA has to offer. It’s fine to know what you think people want and need, but you don’t know exactly until you have this link. And vice versa, this is a way for the VA to communicate to veterans what the VA has available. A lot of vets don’t take advantage of services because they don’t understand what’s available. They may not be that sophisticated in getting on their computers and searching on-line for VA services. We have spent the last many months creating the LA Regional CVEB and will be working to identify gaps in what is being provided to vets throughout the vast LA Region and to propose solutions.

Full Circle

When I became battalion adjutant in Phan Rang in March of 1971, I took it as my personal mission to look after the guys in the field. I had wanted to stay in the field with the guys at LZ Sherry, and in many ways I still felt like one of them. One of my men in the rear felt the same way as I did and he became my main support for making sure our guys in the field were taken care of. He was a talented guy, and he painted the regimental emblem on a small stone to make a paperweight for me. A really sweet gesture on his part. He did it out of gratitude. Not a huge deal to him, but a huge deal to me.

Paper Weight

For the past forty-five years that paperweight has sat on my desk wherever I’ve gone. It’s surprising how few people comment on it. It is still sitting on my desk. I periodically look at it to remind me of this bond with the men I worked with.


Jon Varat – Fire Direction Officer – Part Four

Battalion Adjutant

When Joe DeFrancisco left in March of 1970 we made do without a captain. Bob Christenson was the battery XO, a 1st lieutenant and senior to me, and as I remember we ran the battery together. We were sufficiently experienced that at battalion level they felt they could leave the battery in both our hands.

I was in that role only a short period and then went to Phan Rang as battalion adjutant.

A Field Guy at Heart

From two letters home shortly after arriving in Phan Rang

I am fine and have a new job at battalion headquarters as adjutant. It is really a captain’s job, but with my time out in the field and my supposed qualifications of the academic variety I was recruited. I would have rather stayed in the field for a while where there is less paperwork and more meaningful responsibilities.

I will try to explain my job to you. As adjutant I am on the battalion commander’s staff as S1. This staff position has to do with personnel, where they are assigned, their personal affairs, the trouble they get into, and in general their health, welfare and morale. Also in most things I act as an executive secretary writing correspondence for the commander. A lot of paperwork but sometimes interesting. At least I can see that guys in the field get mail and other little comforts.

Because I had been in the field I knew how much guys looked forward to getting their mail. I personally escorted the mailbags every day to the helicopters.

As battalion adjutant I was able to take a jeep occasionally. When I heard that some of the guys in the field wanted to play ball, I took a jeep up to Nha Trang to our supply depot in order to get baseball equipment. I got bats, gloves and balls, which I made sure got distributed to the battery. This was really in the waning days of the battalion, but the guys were still out there. One of the people working the rear area really appreciated that too. He became my main guy to make sure that the men in the field were looked after.

Baseball at Sherry Umpire Staff Sgt. Hopkins, Gun 5 Crew Chief
Baseball at Sherry
Umpire Staff Sgt. Hopkins, Gun 5 Crew Chief 

Korean Officer

I had a couple of interesting exchanges with the Korean officers. One was an unbelievably chiseled kung fu kind of guy. He looked like the toughest guy I had ever met in my life. Falling into a conversation with him it turns out the Koreans were still very wary of and terrified of the Japanese from WW II. It was a leftover cultural thing that the Japanese were the meanest SOBs on the planet. It struck me how these attitudes pass down through the generations.

Free Ride on a Medevac

I experienced a personal incident that had nothing to do with the war. I was still on duty to make rounds on the perimeter. There was not much going on around Phan Rang, but you had to do it. At that point it was only once a month because there were so many officers around. You made two rounds, one at night and one in the morning, and you slept in a special building for that purpose. I made my night rounds, and then got up for five o’clock morning rounds. I step out of bed and there is a sharp pain in my right lower abdomen. I am a guy without problems generally so I think, OK, I just slept funny. I take about three steps and it is not going away. I literally cannot walk without shooting pain. They decide to Medevac me to Cam Ranh Bay. The doctor who sees me says: You probably have something called retrocecal appendicitis and we’re going to have to take your appendix out.

In retrocecal appendicitis the appendix is located behind the cecum portion of the intestine. Even deep pressure on that portion of the abdomen may not elicit pain, and for that reason it is called a silent appendicitis.

Another doctor comes along and says, We’re just going to wait a little bit. We’re not going to give you medicine. I know you are in some pain, but I don’t want to mask the symptoms. I want to see what’s going on here. He turned out to be right. I still have my appendix to this day. As best they could tell I had something called pleurodynia. (I have no idea what that is.) They put me in a bed and had me inhale from oxygen tanks for a couple days and it just disappeared. And then I went back to battalion headquarters. So I had the experience of being Medevac’d in Vietnam, without losing my appendix unnecessarily.

A Human Connection

I worked really hard as battalion adjutant. The battalion commander and his XO, not so much. They piled a lot of stuff on me because they figured they could. Still they were both decent officers. The S3 Operations major there, an African American, was in my opinion the best officer at battalion.

I did not mind the hard work, it actually made the time go faster. And I still had time to go out on special trips and do the good things soldiers did as part of the pacification program. On one particular trip we went to a Vietnamese village where Dr. Muss, who was a really good guy, was giving inoculations to the kids. We spent most of the day there seeing people come in and get good treatment. On the other side of the Vietnamese village, “across the railroad tracks,” there was a Hmong village (mountain people, also generally referred to in French as Montagnard). The were treated more poorly than the Vietnamese treated themselves. As if these villages were not poor enough, they treated the Hmong like dirt.

We came across a Vietnamese woman whose husband had died. She had children from that husband, and then she had remarried and had children by the new husband. The cultural thing was you did not pay much attention to your old children if you had new children. At least that is how I understood it. We saw that the children from the former husband were really malnourished. A group of us decided that one of them, a little four year old kid, would probably die. We just could not leave him there, and did something we were not supposed to do. We smuggled him back onto the base. I held this four year old child in my arms for several hours going back. He had the warmest body. I mention this because it is one of my most vivid memories. In the middle of the craziness there was a human connection. Dr. Muss took care of him and fixed him up. I do not know what ultimately became of him. Nor do I know what became of those two kids who worked at LZ Sherry for us, “Grace” and “Slick” as we called them, although I’ve often wondered, because I fear the worst since they were associated with Americans.

Calling It What It Is

Fragging incidents were serious, and common enough throughout the battalion to worry people. At some point we wrote a letter saying we’ve got to stop calling such incidents fragging. We have to start calling it what it is, which is premeditated attempted murder. You use the wrong language and people get a little cavalier.

Going Home

In July of 1971 B Battery left the field and brought all of its equipment and howitzers to Phan Rang, as part of a general deactivation of the 5th Battalion. At this time the ARVNs took over LZ Sherry. 

I left for home on July 18. I was asked to escort the battalion colors home to Ft. Lewis as well, but I cannot remember that I did so. By this time I had worked out an arrangement to be stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, about an hour from the University of Pennsylvania, which would allow me to return to law classes in addition to my military duties. Writing home, a few weeks earlier, I let loose a little:

 Vietnam is really getting old. We have no real mission. If we did it would not be a pleasant one. The amount of purposelessness and nonsense here is too monumental for words. The whole affair is slapstick; I need to get away before it gets overbearing.

Going home I remember having to wait a couple extra days at Cam Ranh, and that was really unpleasant. I was dying to go home. They searched my duffle bag for drugs. I understood it, but still was irritated that after spending all this time subject to enemy fire they were worried about whether I was bringing drugs back to America. They were right, I understand that, but it was annoying. I also was really annoyed because they took my Ho Chi Minh sandals. I really wanted those things.

The one thing I brought back from Vietnam that I did not want was the sound of helicopters. It’s the only sound I do not like. I did not have traumas or nightmares coming home, but helicopters still bug me.

I bought an MGB Roadster through the PX a few months earlier. I always liked to say that it came from England, I came from Vietnam, and we met in New York.

Jon Varat – Fire Direction Officer – Part Three

Vivid Memories

 I have not thought much about Vietnam since leaving there forty-five years ago. And it is only now that I am reading for the first time the many letters I sent home to my mother. What I remember is spotty and doesn’t fall into a cohesive narrative of any kind, but I have retained a number of vivid memories.

The Convoy

Two months into my time at Sherry we had to go on a convoy to Phan Thiet for supplies. A couple things are still vivid in my mind from that convoy. We had our flak jackets on and went out the back gate down that dirt road running east. We went through that little town where you had to make a right turn to get on the road going south to Phan Thiet. There was a huge bolder in the middle of the road at that intersection. That was not a happy situation. Two things happened. First one of our guys from one of the guns, who was a nice kid, stupidly forgot to bring his flak jacket. I was a little upset with him but I gave him mine. It did not make me very happy, but there we were. Second, because of the rock in the road we had to halt the convoy. I remember this as the day I got out with a bayonet and dug around in the dirt for landmines. Fortunately we did not find any. We were lucky the boulder was just to make life difficult for us, and not part of an attack.

Lt. Varat was in more danger than he realized. At that location one year earlier, almost to the day, a mine explosion had killed Paul Dunne and seriously wounded Jim Kustes.


I remember the two times I felt the most alone in Vietnam. The first was during monsoon season. I was on my midnight-to-three shift going around to the towers and guns. We were under a torrential rain and it was so black you could not see a foot in front of your face without a flashlight. I was out between the inner and outer perimeter doing my rounds slogging through water up to my knees. Thousands of miles from home, in the pitch black, walking across a flooded area up to my knees – I felt really alone. I have to admit I was also thinking about snakes at the time.

Then there was the week between Christmas and New Years. I was on R&R and had just arrived in Saigon on my way to Sydney. I picked Sydney for R&R because I wanted to see and speak English to western women who might like me, not girls I had to buy. I had Christmas Eve dinner in Saigon at our Army base there. I had a perfectly decent dinner, but I was literally by myself, sitting at a table at a Saigon Army base. I am Jewish but not real religious, so it wasn’t the significance of Christmas as a religious event. Americans celebrate Christmas as a holiday no matter what religion you are. Christmas Eve I always did something. We were the only Jewish family in my small town, so I would go out with my Christian friends. For me the loneliness was a social thing. I felt: Oh my god it’s Christmas Eve and here I am by myself in a strange place I am never going to be in again. I arrived in Sydney on Christmas day, and I was fine once I got there. I met a nice young lady, we hung out and celebrated the new year. I even went back in the spring to see her. It was that one lonely meal in Saigon that really sticks with me.

A Field Court Martial

I remember the court martial we held right there on the firebase. One of our guys was accused of raping a local villager. I was not involved in the case, but as one of the officers on the base the logistics for the proceeding were within my responsibilities. Because I was a lawyer in training it was of particular interest to me. I remember a white sheet was put up as a curtain to create a separate space for the proceeding. Hearing officers came in from the rear and we brought witnesses from the local village to the firebase to testify. After a proper examination the soldier was convicted.

What I remember most vividly is the testimony of one of the witnesses. He was asked the question, “Where do you live?”

He said, “The village nearby.”

He was then asked, “How far is that?”

His answer was, “Three klicks.”

I thought to myself: Why is this guy talking about “three klicks?” which happened to be just within mortar range of the firebase. I put two and two together and thought: This is not good. They know exactly the distance to our base.

Two Proud Moments

I became the full time Fire Direction Officer in December of 1970 when Bob Christenson became XO. I also remained the motor pool officer.

Varat in the Fire Direction Center
Varat in the Fire Direction Center

I remember two proud moments from that time.

We got a call in FDC to fire in support of ARVN forces who were in a heavy firefight. During the adjustment phase of the mission I asked the guy on our radio to hold on for a second, even though they were under fire. There was something wrong with the adjustments we were getting from the forward observer. It took me a minute to figure it out. Their forward observer was not adjusting our howitzer fire from the standard OT line (observer target line). He was doing it backward, from the target to the observer line. I was glad I hesitated, because if we had fired his adjustment we would have gone in the wrong direction and walked the fire back on them instead of the target. After that firefight was over, the general in charge of the group we were supporting came to our base and started to chew me out because we were so slow getting rounds out. I pointed out to him that if I had not hesitated there would have been a lot of dead ARVN forces. I explained that I had to take a minute or two to figure out the problem. I said I could understand they were under fire and needed the support, but it’s one thing to want support, and another to be blown to smithereens. I can’t remember that he backed off, only that he did not pursue the matter any further. Afterward I thought, Maybe I’ve done something in this war that’s a good thing.

This one involved Top, the First Sergeant. One day there were some women getting within mortar range of our perimeter. It looked like they were maybe collecting firewood, or maybe doing bad stuff. Top wanted to fire on them; he thought they were about to fire off a mortar. I just did not want to do it. We had a bit of a stand-off and I said: No, we are not going to fire on them. It turns out they were indeed just collecting firewood. It was one of those moments you’re not sure and you just had to make a judgment call, even though it ran against a more experienced first sergeant. It was the one time I really did pull rank.


Early in my tour I was in a hooch out by the guns, maybe with Bob Christenson. I remember standing in front of my hooch one morning and hearing a shot on the base. That’s not good. I was on my way to see what had happened when someone came over and told me they had just shot a cobra. I continued over to have a look. It was a BIG snake, one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Once I became full time FDO I moved into the little room at the back of FDC. In case I was needed for a fire mission I’d be on duty. I remember I had a Make Love Not War poster on the wall some girls had sent me. I am a very heavy sleeper, very little wakes me up. But one night I wake up thinking: What is this? I look down and there’s a huge rat running across my leg. That made for my least favorite night at Sherry.

I’ll never forget the cockroaches, how big they were. I joked that one day I took off my steel pot helmet to kill one, and it started pulling on the other end.

A Catch-22 Story

I always thought Catch-22 was a joke of a novel. Until I went to Vietnam.

New people were typically helicoptered into Sherry with their gear and duffle bags. We had to search their duffle bags to make sure there were no drugs, no knives and no guns. But drugs made it through in other ways. Some people had girlfriends who sent letters with LSD on the envelope or on the letter paper, with the spot marked “Lick Here.” The drug issue was so serious we had to send some guys back to the rear, because you could not rely on them. It was frustrating to me and to lots of other guys that somehow the guys doing drugs got the reward of going to the rear where it was safer. But what could you do?

We got one new guy with a serious addiction, who was now on our base without access to drugs. In the middle of the night in one of the hooches he went into withdrawal and was having seizures. I ended up sitting on his chest and holding down his arms to keep him from harming himself or anybody else. A very vivid memory. I asked the guys to call for a Medevac. They called and were told unless we were under attack they could not send a Medevac. I thought, I cannot sit on this guy’s chest all night. He was in an extreme situation and dangerous to others. I did the Catch-22 thing. I said to our guys, “OK, wait ten minutes. Then call back and tell them we are under attack and they need to send a helicopter.” No questions asked and we got our helicopter. And that’s how we got rid of this guy.

Cri Du Coeur

Letter home dated February 24, 1971

Not much new here. Colonels and generals are impressing me with their stupidity more each day. I cannot wait to be free again. Not all prisons are wrought of stone or iron. Some are in green cloth and bordered in barbed wire.

I wrote that in response to the time a general came by and wanted to do an inspection. He particularly wanted to inspect the paperwork in the motor pool. He found it wanting and chewed me out. I was really pissed, not because I was chewed out for the paperwork, but because at the time our requests for ammo were being ignored. I thought: You got to be kidding me. You care about the motor pool paperwork, even though all the necessary work is being done and the motor pool is doing fine. But you can’t get us the ammo we need.

The motor pool officer and his driver
The motor pool officer and his driver

Jon Varat – Fire Direction Officer – Part Two


I flew to Vietnam in July of 1970 on one of those charter airlines, I think Flying Tiger. The stewardesses as we called them in those days were older women with lots of experience, because these were prime assignments. If you flew to Vietnam and back that was pretty much your whole month’s work. They were very nice. We started in San Francisco, flew to Anchorage – saw lots of snow. Then to Kyoto, Japan – looked outside the plane and saw lots and lots of cars. At none of these places did we get off the plane. Then to Vietnam. I am looking down at this very green country and seeing smoke rising from different parts of thick jungle. I thought, This is the war, maybe artillery fire or planes dropping bombs. What the hell have I gotten myself into?

And then it was into Long Binh. I reported to the officer replacement camp at Long Binh, which was one of the worst places I’ve ever been in my life. The place was smelly, hot and awful. I thought: Oh my god, if this is the officer replacement facility, the rest of Vietnam is going to be really bad. It actually turned out to be the worst place of all in my entire tour in terms of physical comforts.

From Long Binh they sent me to Nha Trang, and then to Dalat to meet Lt. Colonel Tuck, the Group Artillery Commander. The bachelor officers quarters was an old French villa, now fit out with an abundance of sandbags and covered with Army ponchos where the place leaked. It had its own little charm. Dalat city was also quite pretty. At one time it was a mountain resort for Madam Nhu.

The glamorous Madame Nhu, also known as the Dragon Lady, was married to the brother and chief adviser to President Diệm. She was the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963.

Then I got sent down to battalion headquarters at Phan Rang. You’re sent down these various steps until you get your final assignment. I’m a second lieutenant in a line of new officers. The Vietnamese tailors had sewn artillery patches on my uniform that had crossed cannons. But the crossed cannons were very small, so they looked like crossed rifles. The guy in charge of replacement asked me to come forward because he thought I was an infantry officer and he wanted the infantry officers in the first rank. I had to point out to him that these were cannons, not rifles.


I thought I was going to end up being a forward observer, which was a little scary. I had heard that of the last twelve forward observers in our battalion, nine had been killed. That did not seem good. I was greatly relieved to be assigned to B Battery at LZ Sherry.

I helicoptered in on September 7, 1970. My one impression was that for a fixed firebase it seemed less primitive than I was expecting. It had a cement basketball court, and the hooches made of sandbags and ammunition boxes seemed not shockingly bad. I was welcomed by Joe DeFrancisco, the battery commander, and Bob Christenson, the Fire Direction Officer. I was assigned to be the full time motor officer, and part-time fire direction officer, with the idea I would eventually become the full time FDO after Bob.

    Captain Joe DeFrancisco
Captain Joe DeFrancisco
 1st Lt. Bob Christenson
1st Lt. Bob Christenson









I also had the job of walking around the perimeter between midnight and three in the morning checking on the tower guards. I thought all this was something I could handle. When my perimeter shift ended I remember going back to FDC and playing bridge when things were quiet. At five o’clock I’d go to sleep till eight or so, and then get up and do the motor officer thing during the day, and on occasion play a little basketball. I wrote in a letter home early in my tour that I liked the casual atmosphere at Sherry better than any other place I had been in the Army. That would hold true for my entire tour.

Making a friend
Making a friend

Eyes and Ears

I understood that our biggest threat was not a frontal assault, because we had twin 40 mm Dusters and Quad-50 emplacements on the perimeter. But we had to worry about sapper attacks, somebody sneaking through the wire during the night, on one of those nights when one of the local kids on their water buffaloes, supposedly tending their rice paddies, had somehow managed to put rubber bands around our trip flares. It was very important for the people in the towers to be awake and vigilant. I understood that the enemy was not going to tell us what night they were going to sneak in. The old saying was true that you had to be correct 100% of the time, whereas they only had to be right 1%.

Watching for the enemy

It was getting way too easy for people to come up to the barbed wire, put rubber bands around our trip flares or disconnect our Claymore mines and make us vulnerable to sappers. Security wise we would be a hell of a lot better off if we could clear another fifty yards out. If no one is supposed to be there, it would be easier to see them rather than letting the rice paddy work abut the barbed wire. We had a lot of trouble with local Vietnamese officials about clearing more space around our perimeter, but eventually got permission.

A bulldozer comes out to do the job. It takes a few days, and one of those days the bulldozer guys come in to have lunch. One of our guys is up in one of the towers and reports to me that he noticed somebody was walking by the front of the bulldozer. We go out there and find a Chinese anti-tank mine in front of the bulldozer. It is clearly Chinese because of the writing on it and the red star on the thing. Because of the keenness of our guy in the tower we avoided disaster. That’s your eyes and ears being more important than technology.

Watching the other guy too

We had some guys who were from the hills of Tennessee. They were nice young guys, who were not very sophisticated. Then we had some guys from the inner cities. One night when I was still responsible for the perimeter towers, one of these kids from Tennessee – and they were kids just eighteen, nineteen years old, while I was twenty-five – came down from the tower to talk to me. He was unhappy and scared because the other guy in the tower with him, from the city, was smoking pot and getting high. He was afraid this guy couldn’t do his job, and that it was dangerous. He did not want to be in the tower with someone who was high as a kite. We ended up giving the guy an Article 15, because you had to have some discipline. These were the guys who were supposed to be protecting us, and I was not prepared to fool around with the safety of a hundred other people. We had a lot of perimeter technology such as radar and various ground sensor equipment. The alertness of guys in the tower was more important: eyes and ears. 

You Can Tell A Man By His Books

We got boxes of books all the time from Special Services. I would let the guys get their books first, because they took all the stuff I was not interested in anyway. Then I took all the history and philosophy books.

The books on Jon’s shelf were not likely to be fought over. They testify to a mind starved for stimulation of almost any kind, a mind carried to a neighborhood far from his Ivy League law school, to a world away from the premier LA law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, and to an entirely different universe from the professional companionship of Warren Christopher.

Jon’s Desk, the Venus de Milo looking on
Jon’s Desk, the Venus de Milo looking on

A sample of Jon’s books:

The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

War Between Russia and China, by Harrison E. Salisbury

My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr., by Coretta Scott King

The Czech Black Book by Robert Littell

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

America The Raped by Gene Marine

Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow by Alexander Kendrick

Three Short Novels by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

No Easy Victories by John Gardner

Prejudice and Race Relations by Raymond W. MacK

Yom Kipur

I want to give credit to the Army that it was always good about trying to accommodate people’s religious beliefs. By then I was not that religious a person, but I was raised in the Jewish faith by my pretty religious mother. I wrote to her in October, about a month after arriving at Sherry, that I was able to get to a few hours of services on Yom Kipur at Cam Ranh Bay. That was important to my mother. The colonel sent a helicopter out to Sherry to pick me up. The Army was very good about that sort of thing.

Jon Varat – Fire Direction Officer – Part One

Lt. Jon Varat at LZ Sherry
Lt. Jon Varat at LZ Sherry

From King to Peasant

I was in my second semester of law school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 when President Johnson issued the executive order ending graduate student deferments. My entire class got reclassified 1-A. A little more than a year later, two weeks before final exams for my second year in law school, I was about to be drafted. In the meantime, I had made a deal with the Army called the delayed option program. I enlisted to go to OCS and become an officer, but did not have to report for duty for three months.

Importantly for me that allowed me to finish my second year. And it allowed me to go west that summer of 1969 to work at O’Melveny & Myers, a major law firm in Los Angeles. All of a sudden things opened up for me in a way I never could have anticipated. Warren Christopher was the senior partner at the firm, and they put me on a project with him involving the Stanford Research Institute.

At this time Warren Christopher had just completed a term as Deputy Attorney General for President Lyndon Johnson. Later in his career he would go on to serve in the state department for two presidents: as Deputy Secretary of State for Jimmy Carter, and as the 63rd Secretary of State for Bill Clinton.

Chris, as he was known, had gone to Stanford law school and was asked to figure out a way to separate the research organization from the university. This relates to the Vietnam War because the university did not like its research institute being connected to the war. It turned out to be a very interesting legal project, one of many that summer. Just as formative for me, I thought I would like to have a career like his: sometimes in public service in Washington and sometimes in private practice back in LA.

In law school I turned out to be a good student. And I must have done some nice work for the firm, because before leaving O’Melveny & Myers for the service they were nice enough to say, We want you to come work for us. I told them I had a commitment of almost three years in the Army, then I’ve got to finish another year of law school and possibly a clerkship after that. They said: We don’t care. If it’s five years or six years, we want you. They really treated me like royalty, like I had never been treated before. At the end of the summer I went from there, where I was treated like a king, to basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri, where I was not treated like a king.

After basic I went to Ft. Sill for Advanced Individual Training, and then Officer Candidate School there. Just as I was starting OCS in January of 1970 I got a letter from Warren Christopher updating me on our work the previous summer. This guy who was very famous, very important and very busy, bothered to send me a letter at Ft. Sill. Now that is recruiting!

Searching the Soul

I got my commission in June 1970, and immediately my first orders were for Vietnam, which I was anticipating. I was a terminally serious kind of guy (and still am). When I got those orders I had not yet figured out whether I was a conscientious objector or not. I needed to figure out who I was and what I should do. If I was really a conscientious objector this was the time to say something.

I had some time off and went out to LA and stayed with a buddy who had been in Vietnam. He had gone to Yale law school and was in military intelligence for a couple years. I thought I needed to figure this out, so I bought a couple of books on conscientious objection. I knew the rule that selective conscientious objection was not good enough. You could not object to just a particular war like Vietnam, you had to be against all war. That was the law at the time and I knew the law and cared about it. I knew I was not a total conscientious objector because of the whole Hitler thing: if someone’s coming up the street to kill my family I am going to shoot you. I am probably one of the few people who sat on a beach in Santa Monica reading conscientious objection books trying to decide. I decided, No I am not a conscientious objector, so I’m going.

Another thing was important to me. I am a true believer in representative democracy. I feel that even if I lose elections and other people come along and ask things I don’t like but that are legitimate, then I need to do my duty. In the same way that if my guys win, I hope other people will do their duty. My own code says you have got to look in the mirror every morning and be OK with the guy looking back. I’ve tried to live my life that way. I did not like the war, but it was a legitimate decision for the U.S. to enter Vietnam. I did not like either side in the war, and I did not oppose or support the war. I was in the middle. It came down to my duty, so I went.

Jim Kustes – Gen Crew – Part Three

Steve Sherlock

Steve Sherlock and Percy Gulley, both twenty years old, died almost instantly on a mine sweep April 2, 1969. Jim remembers that Sherlock’s father sent a letter to B Battery that  was read to everyone at formation.

Steve Sherlock was in my section. At first I complained about him to Calvin Smith our gun chief. I’m doing all the work and he’s sitting on his ass not doing anything. Smitty said, “Let him be. He may not do anything for a couple days, and then he’ll get up and spend the whole day reorganizing, go through the whole area organizing the ammo.” So I never said anything. I won’t use the word lazy, but he was very laid back.

Sherlock was from Kingston NY and his parents would send him these CARE packages all the time. His hooch was filled with canned goods and he used to light pieces of C4 to heat his pork and beans or whatever. I remember he’d tell me when you light the C4 to never stamp on it or it would blow your foot off. I later learned from Myth Busters that wasn’t true at all, but I believed it at the time.

Sherlock with a can good at his feet Picture by Dave Fitchpatrick
Sherlock with a can at his feet
Picture by Dave Fitchpatrick

I only knew Sherlock three or four weeks, but he became a very good friend and I remember him better than anyone else. He did a thing that I hated. He would unscrew a grenade, take out the blasting cap, and put it back together. Then he’d pull the pin and throw the grenade at you. I used to tell him, “Stop that! One of these days you are going to grab the wrong one.”

What seems funny is that I felt like I knew him for a long time, and it turns out to be just for a couple weeks until he was killed. We were building an enlisted club where we could drink beer, and that day they needed a detail to either work on the beer club or go out on a mine sweep. It was my turn to go out on the mine sweep, but Sherlock said to me, “No, I been in country longer. You go on the detail and I’ll go on the mine sweep.” He thought going out on a mine sweep was the easier job. I remember being up on the roof of the new club while people were handing me sandbags and I heard the explosion. I looked up and saw this smoke on the road.

Mine explosion Picture by Dave Fitchpatrick
A mine explosion on the road east as seen from Sherry
Picture by Dave Fitchpatrick

Tom Townley: Medic

When the road crew got hit sweeping the road, they were probably about a mile out from LZ Sherry, maybe a little more. I was burning shit at the time, when I heard an explosion and looked up and could see the smoke over the tree line. And I knew something had happened but I didn’t know what. And then all of a sudden I saw a Jeep come flying up the track towards the firebase screaming and yelling, “Doc, Doc, get over here.”

Well I ran and grabbed my bag. And jumped on the jeep and they took me out there. I got out of the jeep and was walking along the side of the road. The 1st sergeant Farrell said, “Doc! Stop! Watch where you’re walking.”

And I stopped.

He said, “You can’t walk over there. Walk on the hardpan.”

I came close to stepping on one of those bombs that when you step on it all the little bombs pop up in the air. I almost stepped on it. The Viet Cong picked up artillery rounds and bombs that never exploded and buried them as mines. There was enough explosives in this one it would have blown my leg off.

Sherlock was already dead. He was gone. There was nothing we could do for him. But I had to take care of Gulley. He was blown away from here down (places his hand at his rib cage).

There was nothing there. Nothing. It was gone. His one arm was gone. And he was still alive. Well I wrapped his arm for him, because he saw it. Told him he was going to be all right, that was all I could tell him, you know. I still have dreams about that. But there was nothing I could do, absolutely nothing I could do. There was nothing there to do anything with. You know what I mean? But he hung in there for a good twenty minutes. It took that much time (He is silent for a long moment). The way …. the way … he was blown, it must have constricted the blood flow, enough to keep him alive. He had enough blood in him to keep him alive apparently.

They were not the only ones I saw when I was there. I saw a couple of Vietnamese that they brought in and wanted me to fix up. They were already dead.

Paul Dunne

My almost being on that convoy instead of Sherlock was like when Dunne and I switched places on the jeep.

Jim was sitting on the hood of the jeep when it hit a road mine and killed Paul Dunne. The memories of Dick Graham and First Sergeant Durant are a good introduction to Jim’s story.

Dick Graham

We had to mine sweep the access road that ran from the battery out to the paved road that went into Phan Thiet. It took quite a while. The road was about two and a half miles long and there was a lot of shrapnel in the road, mostly from fire missions that we had shot. When we got to the end of the road, to the bridge where Paul was killed, the medal detectors were of no use because the bridge was made out of reinforced concrete. We would visually inspect it. Then shortly after that bridge was the paved road going south into Phan Thiet, which we called 8-Bravo. You got on that and you just whipped right into Phan Thiet.

Period map showing LZ Sherry (left), access road running East to bridge and paved 8-Bravo

First Sergeant Durant

We were due to run a convoy, and I was running it. Paul had the jeep all fixed up and ready to go: radios, weapons and everything. Commo section came over and said, “Hey look, can we run the convoy? Guys want to go in and get this and do that. Rather than you run it, let us run the convoy.”

I said, “OK. I guess you can go ahead and run it.” So I told Paul, “Go take all that shit back off the jeep because Commo’s running the convoy.”

He said, “Look, First Sergeant, I’m all loaded up, I’ve got everything set. Why don’t I just run with them today.” 

I said, “Well, if you want to.”

I’ll tell you about Paul Dunne. We’d sit in my hooch talking about buying a car through the PX and having it sent home. I was looking at a Jaguar and he wanted an MGB. When I got home I looked at a Jaguar, but it was raining at the time and the roof leaked, so I didn’t get a Jag. I also looked at an MGB, but didn’t get that either.

Paul never had any money. He used to send everything home. We paid two or three bucks a week for soda and that kind of thing, but he never did. He sent every nickel home. Instead of sending his laundry to town like everybody else, he washed his clothes by hand and they were always so wrinkled.


Paul Dunne on laundry day Picture by Rik Groves
Paul Dunne on laundry day
Picture by Rik Groves

I didn’t know I was supposed to go on a mine sweep for a convoy. I had just gotten off duty, I was sound asleep when Dunne pulled up to my hooch. Dunne was calling me to come on, come on. My section chief said it was my turn to go, and I told him I just got off guard duty, but he said I had to go. I was really mad. I told Paul: I’ll go, but you’re taking me down to the mess hall for some coffee and sandwiches. After I got my coffee and sandwich I said, “I’ll take the rear and sit looking backwards.” Which I did all the way down the road. The road was full of people walking on each side. A lot of them were ARVNs going to get resupplied.

We came to near the end of the dirt access road where it met the highway going south into Phan Thiet, which we knew was clear. I was going to take the jeep back to Sherry. So I jumped off the back of the jeep and walked around to take Paul’s place behind the wheel. We had a new sergeant who was doing the mine sweeping and he said first we had to go all the way to the end of the dirt road to look for this dog we had with us I think belonged to the First Sergeant. I was in the drivers seat and Paul said, “I’ll take the jeep up for the dog,” so I jumped out of the drivers seat and went back to jump on the back again. But by this time the six or so guys who were walking flank had come back and were on the jeep to ride to the end of the dirt road. So I jumped on the hood of the jeep over the front left wheel, in front of Paul. I had my hand down holding onto the wheel well and turning around talking to Paul. The wheels had just barely started to turn when we hit the mine. The wheels didn’t even go six inches.

The mine went off at the front left tire under where I was sitting and holding my hand, and right in front of Paul. I went flying off to the left down into the ditch that ran under a culvert. There might have been water down there, I don’t remember. I looked back up at the jeep, and it had spun a complete 180 and was still bouncing. I was trying to get my watch off because my hand was injured. I was also looking for my weapon because I didn’t know what was going on.

Your body automatically goes into shock and I didn’t know how bad I was. I remember laying there and the medic coming and giving me morphine. I said to him I was worried about getting too much morphine. So he marked a big M on my forehead and stuck the empty syringe through my lapel. The Medevac then took us out, probably to the aid station at LZ Betty at Phan Thiet. I remember Paul laying next to me, so close I could have reached over and touched him. From the waist up he looked normal. A doctor was working on his bottom. He was very pale and his eyes were closed. I think he was already dead. I have a memory of them pulling a sheet over his head. I don’t know if that is a true memory. Under all that medication you don’t know. What I think is true might not be.

I always thought Paul died from an injury to his legs. But the First Sergeant later told me he was hit on the right side of his neck that I could not see laying there. At the aid station in Phan Thiet I remember the new sergeant on the convoy coming to visit me. I think he was in the passenger seat next to Paul, and I think he was wounded but not bad. That jeep was loaded with people, but as far as I know Paul and I were the only ones hurt badly.

Mine explosion under front left tire
Mine explosion under front left tire
View from driver’s seat - note hole in floorboard Pictures by Andy Kach
View from driver’s seat – note hole in floorboard
Pictures by Andy Kach

From Phan Thiet I went to a hospital in Phan Rang for a couple of weeks. A woman came up to me with a stenographer’s notebook and said I was to dictate a letter home. I said to her, “It looks like I’ve got two broken legs and a broken arm,” because they were in casts and that’s all I could see. I never saw the actual wounds. And that’s what I wrote home: I’m alive and OK, but with two broken legs and a broken arm.

Then to Saigon overnight to get more blood, before they could fly me to Japan. I had surgery in Japan. And then I flew to Ft. Lewis for a brief period, and then to a big Army hospital in Phoenixville outside Philadelphia. I was there for six months. I ended up having so many surgeries I can’t remember all of them.

After six months at Phoenixville I was already thirty days over my two year enlistment. They asked me if I wanted to get out or stay in the Army till the end of my treatment. If I got out I would be on total military disability and on Social Security disability, together coming to around seven hundred a month. At the time I was making less than two hundred dollars on active duty. So I took an immediate disability retirement and spent another three months at the VA hospital in Buffalo. I wanted to start college in August, but they did not want to discharge me at first. Finally they said OK, but I had to go back everyday to have my bandages checked. I don’t know how long that lasted, probably till I stopped going.

I got a letter from an old buddy at Sherry, George Stevens. Back in July of 1969 when I had been at Sherry for about four months, a mortar hit one of the gun hooches. I ran over and when I reached the gun several guys were hit. Behind the gun lay George Stevens. He had a large gash on his right arm. I began putting direct pressure on the wound. I could actually feel blood squirt into my palm. After the medic came I began looking through his pockets for money. I wanted to make sure he had some cash in the rear after he recovered, because when guys got wounded their stuff had a way of getting lost. When George returned to Sherry he always teased me that I was trying to steal his money. After I was injured he wrote to me in his letter that he never got the opportunity to go through my pockets.

I still had open wounds in my leg all the way into the 90s, over twenty years later. They would drain, I’d have to wrap them, they’d heal up for a little while, then open up and start to drain again. I finally went to a private plastic surgeon and had them closed up and haven’t had a problem since. I do have to be careful with my right foot keeping cream on it all the time so it doesn’t open up. It’s been OK for a couple years now.