Hey there Sebastian. Tried to get back to where you were last night but as things would have it...that never was able to materialize. I just wanted to let you know that I salute you for puting a face to something which is very difficult to express to people who have not ...Walked The Walk. I felt like I had just taken a long walk back in time after reading the book. It mirrors in so many ways the very same feelings I had from a emotional, social, and psycholical aspect. Right down to the same tears and fears that those brothers n arms were going through. To me...you might as well had been up in Con Thien with me and my unit, 1st Platoon, Echo- Co. 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, when we were stuck up there during the Tet Offensive of 1968. We had a saying,....well a couple of them actual, for the place we were at. We called being up in Con Thien.."Time In The Barrel" because of all the in-coming that we used to get on a daily basis in the form of B-40 Rockets, speratic sniper fire or the ultimate snipe of a 105 recoiless rifle round (We lost our gunny and his radio man to one while he was in the shitter), It is kind of hard to dodge a round designed to take out a tank. Then there were the heavy mortars, and the ever constant heavy arty barrages that came like a out of time clock twice a day not too long after mid-morning or early to mid-afternoon. They timed the arty barrages according to the B-52 flights from Guam...that concentrated most of their drops up around Khe Sahn.
The guns that fired at us we on railroad tracks inside caves dug into Kurac Mountain, which was located in Cambodia. It was a toss up of whether it was better to be out on patrol outside the wire and risk running into the elements of the NVA regiments that were operating in the area, and more cases than not..when you did is because they came to fight and had the edge being that they knew the terrain and had the element of surprise on their side....OR..stay inside the wire and have your nerves tested to the straining point sitting under the in-coming you could hear being fired at you in the form of distant booming like thunder. When you did hear the reports of the arty it was literally secconds to spring into action and run for cover of a bunker (if you were caught out in the trenches heading from one bunker to the next).before the 1st rounds are landing. It was a standing order to ALWAYS wear a flak-jacket and helmut no matter where you went on Con Thien and everyone did so with a clear destination in mind. It was more along the lines of a hunched over quickstep runwith one hand holding your helmut and the other your weapon. My being a M-60 Gunner...my main weapon was set up in my fighting hole (Gun Bunker) so I carried a 45 and could move a bit less encumbered. Fear was a consatntly looming beast that rarely let anyone rest. One just learned how to accept it and deal with it in each his own way to keep ones sanity up there in the trash pit of Vietnam called Con Thien. The base was primarily constructed of a series of trash pits filled with all kinds of empty c-ration cans and other garbage of watr and bunkers that were in different stages of either being built, falling apart or recently destoyed by direct hit from a barrage or caving in due to a close call.
It was like being in the center of a bulls-eye with nothing but a few sand bags and a hope and a prayer that you survived through each attack that came twice a day at least ..if not more depending on how lucky the NVA gunners got. The locale villagers that lived near by a few clicks called it "The Place Of Angels"
Our other saying was.."Same Blood...Same Mud". The whole fire base was built on a mound of red clay that stayed muddy during the monsoon season....which was the whole time I was there. I think I told you...it was so bad that units were rotated through there every 2 weeks. When our unit got there the Tet Offensive just happened and we got stuck up there for 3 1/2 months. We were literally the furthest most fire base in Vietnam. Only 3 clicks from the DMZ. Essentially we were the friggen door mat outside the DMZ....playing cat and mouse games with NVA that would come accross and hit us then quickly dis-engae if they were losing the firefight (which was quite often the case) and run back into the DMZ where "Rules Of Engagement" would prevent any pursuit on our part. There were times though that we were the ones that had to dee dee mow to safetey because of being caught with our pants down.
While reading the book and how you captured the moments in very real time..I couldn't help but feel a sense of oneness with you and them I had not felt since I left that hell hole so many years ago. It is quite amazing to me how very simular the feelings are that we have had....even down to the "Black Humor" The frustrations and heartaches are the same pians and sorrows due to the loss off a fellow Marine brother. We even had a "One Shot Charlie". When we finaly were able to get out of Con Thien during operation Pegasus to relieve the siege of Khe Sahn....there was a gook that sat at the somewhere near the end of the runway concealed amongst the deserted section of the base amidst all the abandoned bunkers. Our battalion only occupied about half the base when we relieved the unit that was stuck there during the siege. This gook used to fire just one round each time a C-140 would land or take off from the runwayu. Why we never went looking for him was two fold. The first was that he never seemed to do much damage and never killed anyone when he cranked off a round. The other reason was the fact that what he fired was a single shot from a 50-Cal...and being that he only fired one round and we didn't know where he was...better leave well enough alone. Someone said if we killed him they might replace him with someone who could really shoot. That as well as I don't think the old man was too keen about wasting man power trying to stir up a single gook sitiing with a 50-Cal in a friggen ghost town of bunkers and trenches.
Everything I read in your book was so damn real it gave me night mares again. I havn't had them in quite awhile. I mean EVERYTHING....right down to the ways the sleeping hooches were constructed according to the individual skills and terrain and materials at hand. We even had our own form of.."Blood In..Blood Out" ceromonies of sorts which consited of standing there and taking shots to the gutt from the guys in your herd. I am sure it varied depending on what platoon a guy was in. As you are probably awhare...Marines have a BAD ASS rep that is an understated reality. Fighting is just a way of life...and tempers flare when there's down time over the most miniscule of reasons..all things concidered what we faced every minute we were there no matter where we were at. A sure way to get into it with someone was when there was the possibility of a problem that will cause someone else to get hit.
I can recall my A-gunner and I having a serious altercation that resulted from his refusal to change his brand of cigarretts. He smoked Kents and they were giving him one hell of a smokers hack that was getting worse day by day. It would cause him to errupt in an uncontrolled fit of coughing...that seemed to always happen after he lit one up and would continue off and on for awhile. Back behind the wire wasn't so bad..and I was trying to be tolerant...ince he was my A-Gunner..and my bunk-mate. We shared the same sleeping hooch. Finally I had enough and I decided to let him know he had no choice in the matter...not to mention we were getting ready to go outside the wire on a VERY dangerous patrol into an area where we knew the NVA were sitting thick. The idea was to try and catch them at a time when they thought we were someplace else by sending choppers out with one company as a diversionary tatic and we would head out under cover of night. That morning I told him that he didn't have to worry about getting whacked by Charlse while we were out there ...cause the first time he coughed I was going to light him up with the 60-cal I carried. Needless to say, the shit was on when he said "Fuck Off!"..I couldn't tell him what to smoke or not smoke. I lit into him with a entrenching tool that was laying near me..and they had to pull me off him before I took off his head. What saved him from the first blow was his helmut. About 15 minutes before we saddled up to go out he came to me and said he would change his brand..and we were good to go. No love lossed..."Same Mud..Same Blood".
Anyway...I have yet to see the movie Restrepo...and am looking forward to seeing it the first chance I can locate it. Just looking at the clips had my hair standing up...and gotten the heart pumping in high gear. So much of it I can relate to..it is nothing short of un-canny at how very simular the experiences are in many ways. There are some very obvious differance such as the terrain...and vegetation. As far as the wild life..bugs and other vermon goes though ..we had Rock Apes, Tigers, Pythons, and various other types of friggen hateful insects to worry about...that to this day I STILL hit my foot ware together and shake them before I put then on.
The mosquitoes were huge as well and would leave w welt on you the size of quarter...so we had to soak down in military issued bug juice that many believed acted like a perfume or them.
Hey..I am rambling on here a bit too much so...I will give it a rest and cut this off at the ankle now. I just wanted to let you know that..You've done a hell of a job telling it like it is. I salute you brother. You most deffinately have Walked The Walk...and as far as I am concern...
you have Talked The Talk in a way that deffinatey should be recognized ...
cause you earned the right to for being there.
Same Blood...Same Mud.
M-60 Gunner, 1st Platoon
Echo Co, 2 nd Bat., 1 st mar., 1 st Mar Div
Vietnam Tet 1968