Table of Contents and Preview of each chapter
Chapter Zero: NVA in the Wire “We’re in deep shit,” I yelled out to my buddy. “They’re gonna be coming in now!”…Just then, I caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure running by the entrance to our bunker yelling “Gooks in the wire, Gooks in the wire!”“Shit,” I said to my buddy, “they’re not coming, they’re here!”
Chapter One: The Ride Home The adrenalin rush from the firefight only hours before was gone, and with it my ability to mask the pain from my wounds. With every bounce, dip and suspension crunching hole that our truck dropped into, I grimaced in pain. There were no roads here, only paths through the jungle that looked like goat trails.
Chapter Two: Four Years Earlier For young men of draft age, there was only one issue, Vietnam! Would we be drafted? The Selective Service System was like a giant wood chipper, with no heart, no conscious, no soul, only an insatiable appetite for men. As the scale of the war intensified, so did the efforts of the Selective Service.
Chapter Three: Fort Where? The words read, “EM (enlisted man) to report to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.” “Fort Where,” I said to myself. Shouldn’t it say Fort Sam Houston Texas? Why did it say Fort Leonard Wood? Maybe it was a typo or a transcription error. Maybe I was being routed to Fort Sam Houston via Fort Leonard Wood, just like the airlines do when then route you to your final destination via intermediate stops, maybe!
Chapter Four: Fort Sam My medical training here would be intense, graphic and “Hands On.” The “Hands On,” unfortunately meant, hands on the twenty nine other members of my class. Our untrained, unpracticed and unsteady hands caused us to stick needles into bone, ligaments and tendons rather than muscle when giving each other injections and to miss, collapse or butcher arm veins when trying to draw blood or start IV’s. After twelve weeks of medical training, we looked like a group of “track marked junkies!”
Chapter Five: Germany The 97’th General Hospital was shaped like a large “H “. Three stories high and covered in white stucco, it was as clean inside as it was outside. My duty assignment was the Surgical Intensive Care Ward. I loved my job in the hospital but after six months of working there, I thought that my skills would be put to better use in Vietnam where I could save lives and make a real difference, so l volunteered to go. Two weeks later, I was promoted to Specialist Fourth Class and received my orders for Vietnam.
Chapter Six: Newark to Cam Ranh Bay
Part 1 San Francisco here I come My thirty day leave passed all too quickly. My orders read, “ Asg to: US Army Oversea Replacement Station, Fort Lewis, Washington for further assignment to WOBR VN Trans Det EN APO San Francisco 96384.”. The date was January 4, 1969. The orders did not specify how I was to get to Fort Lewis, so I chose to fly from Newark to San Francisco then catch another flight from San Francisco to Seattle. There would be a seven hour layover in San Francisco, during which time I would visit my best friend Joe Glydon, who I hadn’t seen in three years. I should have told him ahead of time that I was coming but I didn’t. That was a mistake!
Chapter Seven: Newark to Cam Ranh Bay
Part 2 Fort Lewis Jungle Training in the snow The first day of Jungle Training was a frozen nightmare! How my companions and I survived that day without frostbite is still a mystery to me. The army’s solution to frostbite was a pair of chest high, rubber coated coveralls. We slipped them on over our jungle pants and under our field jackets then proceeded to walk into the frozen abyss outside. Within seconds, the rubberized coating froze solid and started to break off in large chunks as we walked. So much for our waterproofing!
Chapter Eight: Newark to Cam Ranh Bay
Part 3 Welcome to Vietnam Exiting the plane, a massive wave of foul smelling, superheated air hit me head on like a ton of bricks then I heard the words that would forever be burned into my mind and my heart, “Welcome to Vietnam gentlemen.” Standing at the bottom of the stairway and looking so much like a corn field scarecrow was a sergeant dressed in faded green jungle fatigues.
Chapter Nine: Base Camp the Arrival It was a scene straight out of a Cowboy and Indian Movie. Base camp looked like Fort Apache, complete with Guard Towers. Layer upon layer of razor sharp barbwire surrounded the compound to a depth of almost fifty yards. Tents and bunkers were everywhere and so were the smells of war.
Chapter Ten: Base Camp Day One I climbed out of my cot, weary from my almost total lack of sleep during the night and slowly dressed. My thoughts turned to today, my first full day in base camp and my third day in country. I hoped that it would be productive and incident free. My hopes would only be half fulfilled, productive it was…incident free it wasn’t!
Chapter Eleven: Base Camp…Lost in Camp Sometime after 11:30 PM, I decided to head back to the medical bunker and get some sleep, but I had two problems: First - I had no idea how to get back to the bunker, second, my flashlight had no batteries.
Chapter Twelve: Base Camp…Death and Shaving As I approached closer, I noticed that they were standing near a small, figure lying on the ground. It was the body of a tiny-framed man wearing gray pants, black shirt and black rubber sandals. He was shot in the back at close range with a 40-millimeter Grenade. Because he was so close to the guard when he was shot, the grenade never had a chance to arm itself and the unexploded round penetrated his back, severing his spinal column and killing him.
Chapter Thirteen: Base Camp…Confronting Mortality I had heard stories about captured troops being tortured by having sharpened bamboo slivers driven under their finger or toenails. Other means of torture involved cutting off Testicles and shoving them into a prisoner’s mouth, inserting sharpened bamboo poles into bowels, etc. There was no Geneva Convention here! I vowed never be captured alive!
Chapter Fourteen: Base Camp…Time to Go In one week’s time, I would be transferred to one of our outpost locations known as Camp Swampy. Located some 50 miles away, it was home to two units, B Company of my battalion and the 131’st Engineer Company LE also known as the Vermont National Guard. There, I would remain for the balance of my Tour of Duty.
Chapter Fifteen: Out to the Boonies “I’m the new medic, Manick,” I said as I handed a SP/4 sitting behind the desk my orders. He browsed the papers then looked up, shook hands with me and said, “Welcome to B Company, Doc.” A sergeant and a lieutenant approached me and introduced themselves. “Boy, are we glad to see you. One of our two medics is leaving for home tomorrow and you came just in the nick of time.”
Chapter Sixteen: Camp Swampy Day One As I took my newly issued handgun from the armorer, a big smile crossed my face. “Thanks,” I said, looking at it as a young boy would his first BB Gun. Along with a holster, he gave me three extra magazines and fifty rounds of ammunition. “Can I have more ammo,” I asked. With a big smile on his face the armorer said in a deep southern drawl, “Boy, if you all have to use that pistol, you be dead before you use up half this ammo! This is a last resort weapon only! “Don’t count on it for nothin else.” Shit, I said silently to myself!
Chapter Seventeen: Never Mess with Doc After politely asking him for the ammo and even offering to pay for it, his response to me was "Fuck Off.” I explained to him that I would put it to good use and once again he refused, using another colorful variation of his previous response so I gave up but having done so, placed a mental check mark in my mind next to his name. As things always happen for a reason, three weeks later he came into the medical bunker where I diagnosed him with Gonorrhea.
Chapter Eighteen: Operation Midway Maybe they were just local villagers or farmers moving through the high grass to some unknown destination…maybe. I prayed that this would be true but in my heart, knew that it wasn’t. Suddenly the grass around me came to life as bullets passed over my head and around me, kicking up dirt clods at my feet and cutting off shards of grass. The issue of friend or foe was now rendered academic. My response was immediate and I hoped deadly. Aiming waist high or lower, I fired three, ten round bursts in quick succession into the grass, trying to hit the unseen enemy in the torso or legs.
Chapter Ninteen: Cats and Rats The lead rat jumped from the adjacent bunk onto the edge of mine, scurried across my legs to the other side then onto the next bunk. He was closely followed by his buddy who repeated the process. They soon disappeared into the pallets. Never had I witnessed such daring, speed, courage and skill from a creature that I always considered dumb, stupid and cowardly.
Chapter Twenty: The Eternal Enemy They were everywhere! Layer upon layer of razor sharp Barb and Concertina Wire could not stop them. Bunkers, protected by Claymore Mines, reinforced with 8 by 8 timbers and covered with tons of dirt and sandbags proved no obstacle to their innate ability to penetrate our defenses.
Chapter Twenty One: Mind over Matter I screamed out at the top of my lungs, “Incoming, Incoming.” Suddenly, the door to the shower flew open and a large, butt naked body emerged running at what appeared to be supersonic speed. It was as if he had been shot out of cannon. Within a few strides he had caught up to and started to pass me! No one that heavy, had the right to run that fast! He looked like a bowl of Jello in motion.
Chapter Twenty Two: Death in The Pass "Lets move back to the wall,” I yelled out. We back peddled to the wall, all the while never taking our eyes off the tall grass. Here, we would live or die. I had heard stories about the torture we would face as prisoners so I looked at my two friends and in a calm voice said, “Don’t let them take you alive!”They both looked at me and after a second or two and quietly said, “OK Doc.”
Chapter Twenty Three: Hey Soldier “Hey soldier, I’m talking to you…you without a hat.” I kept walking and didn’t turn around. He quickly ran up and positioned himself no more than a foot in front of my face. He looked like he had just gotten out of high school. “Where’s your hat mister? Don’t you know how to salute an officer? Why is there a magazine in that weapon? Why didn’t you salute me? What kind of weapon are you carrying? That’s an unauthorized weapon! You are filthy and your boots need polish! You are a disgrace to the army.”
Chapter Twenty Four: Our Own Worst Enemy In spite of our best intentions, we are often our own worst enemy. In his haste to illuminate the Landing Zone with parachute flair, a sergeant grabbed a CS Tear gas rocket canister instead and fired it. It landed in the wire upwind of our location and with the wind blowing in, we gassed ourselves.
Chapter Twenty Five: Donut Dollies They didn’t come for money because there was none. They didn’t come for the climate because it was oppressively hot, humid and dusty in the Dry Season or depressingly hot, wet and moldy during Monsoon. Their benefits were zero, their vacation time non-existent, the food they ate disgusting, the living conditions deplorable and their prospects for early retirement very high. They came because of the audience, they came because of us.
Chapter Twenty Six: Packages from Home Packages from home never belonged to the person to whom they were sent, they belonged instead to everyone else in camp who knew that you received it. A package from home was a gift from God. Most times it contained food because GI’s always wrote home for food. GIs were blessed with sixth senses and knew when even a single parcel containing food arrived in camp. Once the recipient was identified, the fight was over.
Chapter Twenty Seven: Friendly Fire Friendly fire is not friendly! There is nothing more terrifying, more frightening, more confusing and more wasteful of human life than being targeted and fired upon by your own side. When a soldier is killed in action, it matters not to him or his family whether the bullet or explosive came from a friendly or non-friendly source; the end result is the same.
Chapter Twenty Eight: Nam Pei I sucked in a mouthful of the vile liquid through the long bamboo straw and immediately felt the urge to vomit. The muscles in my diaphragm started to contract violently. It was as if they were trying to expel my guts through my mouth, but I hadn’t yet swallowed it.
Chapter Twenty Nine: Freefire The sound of rifle and machinegun fire shattered the silence of an otherwise peaceful evening near the Cambodian Border. Explosions from 81 millimeter High Explosive (HE) Mortar and 40 millimeter grenade launcher rounds joined with the rifle and machine gun fire to create a deafening symphony of sound, color and death to all who wandered into its destructive path.
Chapter Thirty: Indian Country Our three truck convoy left for base camp a little after 5 AM. We always traveled in twos or threes in order to protect each other on the long drive through “Indian Country." An attack on or a breakdown of a single, unescorted vehicle in Indian Country was effectively a death sentence for those foolish enough to tempt the fates.
Chapter Thirty One: Payback is a Bitch Shortly after 8 PM we saw the flash of a B-40 Rocket leaving its launching tube. It provided us with the aiming point that we needed. Gun fire erupted on the berm such as I have never seen before or since. We were not just targeting that area of the rubber plantation where the rocket was launched from; we were targeting everything and anything within the plantation, regardless. Payback, that night was a bitch!
Chapter Thirty Two: Out the Door I felt myself falling downwards towards the open door. Only my handhold on the bar and a foot wedged against the metal seat frame prevented me from exiting the chopper, but my grip was quickly loosening and so was my foot hold.
Chapter Thirty Three: The Great Corn Caper It was a terrible temptation, almost an irresistible one. The lure of picking just a few ears and enjoying the sweet taste of that yellow or white corn was uncontrollable. So was born the “Great Corn Caper!”
Chapter Thirty Four: Ambush Movement again…this time closer, no more than twenty yards away. I looked down at my buddy, placed my hand over his mouth then gave him a quick shaking. He awoke instantly and looked up at me. I placed my index finger over my mouth indicating I wanted him to be silent then pointed outwards towards where I saw movement. He slowly rose to a kneeling position. As he did so I leaned over and whispered to him, “Gooks coming in.”
Chapter Thirty Five: Doc is down “Man Down…Man Down!” I heard the screaming from outside. Bursting in and almost knocking me over was a man, almost completely out of breath. I hadn’t gone more than thirty or forty paces when a body numbing explosion lifted me into the air. I felt as if I'd just jumped off a trampoline and was floating on gentle currents of air. There was no pain, just a wonderful feeling of peace and contentment. Maybe I was dying, maybe I was dead. If so, it wasn’t so bad. I don’t remember hitting the ground.
Chapter Thirty Six: Monsoon I thought nothing could be worse than the incessant, lung choking dust and unyielding heat of the dry season, until the Monsoon hit. Torrents of rain turned peaceful streams and creeks into raging brown rivers. Streams were impassable. Waterfalls appeared where none had been before. Bridge bypasses that had conducted two to three feet of water through its corrugated metal bypass tubes during the dry season were buried beneath fifteen feet of raging brown water.
Chapter Thirty Seven: Playing with Dynamite We were standing about one hundred yards from the point of detonation. My first indication that something had happened was a large black mass rising from the quarry then an ear shattering explosion and concussion. I watched the black cloud rise ever higher into the sky, accompanied by a number of solid objects the size of basketballs and motorcycles. Men in the open suddenly made mad dashes for the nearest cover. Some dove under trucks, others into bunkers
Chapter Thirty Eight: Point Man Down Reaching the grass, I heard the words that every medic dreads, “Man down”! “Where,” I yelled out… needing to know whether to head forward in the column of men laying prone in the dirt or back to the rear of the column. “Point man is down,” rang out!
Chapter Thirty Nine: The Final Battle…A recurring Nightmare The commanding officer came running into the radio room, grabbed the Mike and called out, "Quebec Romeo niner this is Lima Alpha 26, this is 6, what's your status, over?" “They’re all over us sir. Most of the men are down! “Can you make it back to camp niner?" "Don’t know sir. Were gonna make a run for it sir…I’m dropping the radio…pray for us sir.” "Niner…come in niner…this is six.” There was no response!
Chapter Forty: Going Home I was going home and I was pissed! I had extended my Tour of Duty for an additional six months in Vietnam and was to be the medic in Medevac Helicopters. I would have gone home for 30 days then returned for six months then home again, permanently. It all seemed perfectly sane at the time, my decision that is. I really needed the money to buy my British Sports Car and if I got killed while on my six month extension, so be it.
Chapter Forty One: Avenel Here I come The flight home was relatively calm until we hit the east coast and a massive snow storm. The DC8 started bouncing around like a Mexican Jumping Bean. I paid no attention to it until I looked out the window and saw the wings flapping like a Sea Gull just taking flight. They were bouncing up and down six or seven feet from the horizontal .People everywhere started screaming. The man next to me was screaming louder than the women. As we continued our freefall, I had a sinking feeling that this was the end for us all. I didn’t panic, nor scream nor show any signs of fear. With the calmness of knowing that my death was imminent, I uttered just one word, “Shit.”
Chapter Forty Two: Home I put on my Class A Uniform complete with ribbons, borrowed my grandfather’s Chevy and set out north on the Garden State Parkway to Upsala College and the Student Union Atrium. As I pushed open the door, I wondered what and who I would find. Would I encounter another “Up Close and Personal” hostile reception like that at the Seattle/Tacoma Airport just days before? Half way across the atrium I saw her. She was reading a book. Slowly, as if something or someone had told her, she raised her head and looked at me. Our eyes met and I smiled. She stood up slowly, then broke out into a large smile and started screaming “Oh my God, Oh my God, it’s you” as she ran towards me. I held out my arms and she dove into them. Wrapping her arms around me she gave me a kiss that seemed to stop time. I could feel a passion and an emotion in her lips that I had never felt before. That kiss erased all of the suffering and anger and frustration of the past year.
Chapter Forty Three: Don’t Mean Nuthin “We used this expression every day in Vietnam… when the going got tough… when we lost friends and comrades…when we were so sick that we couldn’t stand…when we found ourselves in situations in which we knew we were going to die…when we received mail from girlfriends declaring that they could no longer write to us because their friends said that we were murderers and baby killers.
We said it “not because” it didn’t mean anything to us but because it did, it meant so very much to all of us.
Chapter Forty Four: In the Years Since
The years pass by ever so silently and almost invisibly. Daily Survival Protocols change from avoiding ambushes, poisonous snakes and booby traps to trying to come up with the money to replace that old Chevy or a down payment for that first house.
Chapter Forty Five: Friends Made and Names Forgotten
Their faces are all so familiar but time has erased many of the names
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©2011 Jack Manick