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A Vietnam Veteran Returns to Vietnam

A Vietnam Veteran Army Retiree Returns to Vietnam – Again.

By Lou Rothenstein

I had previous trips to Vietnam after the War. One was a working one, the other was a healing return tour with Soldier’s Heart for Vietnam Veterans in 2012. My wife was with me on this tour and as a Nurse, decided she wanted to return to do some medical volunteer service. We did this over a couple of weeks with Vets With A Mission, a nongovernmental organization that has been doing medical care work in Vietnam for 28 years. We then traveled to several world heritage sites and I needed to return to see a bit of Saigon.

After four years in Europe and the Middle East – a great first four years of Army service – I was assigned to a CONUS stateside four-star HQ. Sort of a boring let down. I volunteered for overseas again. Vietnam came into my life shortly after I was assigned to KMAG – Korea Military Assistance Group. Seems like the unit became a bit over strength in certain grades, I was promotable into one of them and MAAG in Vietnam needed a few more warm bodies so I did several TDY trips there in 1961-2. TDY was a way to get around troop level strengths and that apparently worked for the Army.

I initially started as an admin-operations type that was mostly taking people here and there, there usually being the airfield. As a Speedy 5, I then worked (driver-gopher) for a Major who was usually in civilian clothes, was always around the press and had a room at the Caravelle Hotel. Fairly new, it was a pretty nice pad. I shared a small room with another NCO who was TDY from Japan. He was an Intelligence type that spoke several languages. I believe their job was to watch the foreign and U.S. press types as many had offices at the hotel. What was nice was that I got cash to pay for my billeting and breakfast in an air-conditioned facility. Few around then. It was around $5-6 and included laundry. We junior ranks usually had enough left over for liquid refreshments.

    

MAAG-V 606 TRAN HUNG DAO SAIGON THEN AND NOW.
ONE STAYED AWAY TO AVOID REALLY BAD DETAILS.

Capable of two-finger typewriter operations, I typed several reports on people and conversations. It had some interest but a bit boring. The press was always asking questions of us like we knew what was going on. We reported their questions. I became Interested in going out and looking around where there was some activity in addition to an office, behind the steering wheel of a car and drinking atop the Hotel at Saigon. I was just up there today drinking a local craft ale and remembered that it was one of just a few 10 floor buildings around in 61. The view of the Catholic Cathedral was still there, now tucked between the many high-rise hotels and office buildings that is now Saigon District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.
    

Saigon today still has the same old French Colonial look around the downtown area. What has changed is the current high volume of traffic – mopeds, newer model cars, buses and trucks. People still hawk their food and wares on the sidewalks, and the Ao Dai are seen worn by employees at hotels and government businesses. It is hard to tell what city one is in around Asia these days. They have become quite western in appearance. Work has started on urban rail to alleviate the traffic a bit. To the traveler, one must plan drives well as traffic jams are frequent and uncomfortable. Avoid rush hours. I thought of a couple of books about Pham Xuan An. Perhaps one of the best placed agents working against us during the war. This was someone I probably saw at his undercover work several times. The Army gave our press much information about what was going on which he had open access to. Should be read by all MI types.

I eventually got a job escorting (carrying luggage) the newly assigned MAAG officers and senior NCO’s who were relegated to the field, away from the easy life of Saigon. Later, the time was split between MAAG-V and MACV that started up 1962. Sometimes people did not know for sure what unit they were in and we had SF teams TDY in and out, and there was always someone choking up on the bat as to who got an airplane ride to the boondocks rather than a jeep or worn-out sedan. New maps were coming out and getting them out to where they were needed allowed a couple of our gopher corps to see some of the country.

While traveling around the country, an occasional view of a former SF Camp or MAAG/MACV Advisory Team would pop up. Most have been levelled to the ground in rural areas but in towns, they are in use by local police or agencies. The sheer number of Vietnamese government buildings, compounds and activities is quite amazing. Even very small towns have their share. In the areas I served, the U.S. areas were built over but former provincial headquarters I see are now small museums about the war. Outside of one or two in the bigger cities, they are generally worthless historically. One does get an impression of our more effective programs by the sheer amount of coverage they receive on display.

The War Remnants Museum in Saigon is the largest around. It shows U.S. markings painted over ARVN and VNAF equipment. It depicts former U.S. Navy anti-war demonstrator and Senator John Kerry in a heroic manner and former U.S. Navy Seal Bob Kerrey, an effective anti-VC Cadre operator as a war criminal.

Few Vietnamese remember the war. What they have comes from their parents and the government. Vietnam has a young population that knows they do not have much power to change things. In addition to the Re-Education Camps, the government restricted the children of their former adversaries to have any jobs connected with the government. However, the grandchildren might be able to work for government industries but unless they are a member of organizations such as the Young Communists, they will never be in positions such as the police. So, children of GVN personnel work for private and overseas companies or are self-employed or work at labor. It is sad to see resources wasted like this over the years.

The English language newspapers daily have the same type of articles. There are always visits to Southeast Asian countries to improve commercial relations and there is some government official visiting somewhere promising aid or investments in economically troubled areas. The third area is that of government corruption. It is a way of life over here. If one rises to some position of authority, it is expected that part of costs provided to the government will go to these trusted officials. Officials such as customs and immigration have become much more professional, no open palms noted this trip. They have learned from other countries.

The Koreans have returned. They were our allies during the war and later brought good quality transport and commerce with them. Now they are a major tourist group. From these and language training, they are displacing the Russians rapidly. A Korean on vacation can make the four-and-a-half-hour flight from Korea, stay at a resort for five days, play two rounds of golf cheaper than a round might cost them in Seoul.

The watchful eyes of the party are still omnipresent. I recall my first trip here early 90’s when paranoia abounded as they feared that USSF was training the old and wounded Montagnards in North Carolina to return and cause them problems. In 2012, it was economic fears that non-governmental organizations (NGO) would somehow drain their collection boxes. This time it was over watch on who could get medical treatment from the NGO. In addition, the college interpreters were interrogated as to their experiences.

Whether in China, Russia, East Germany, or Vietnam, officials seem to continually invent threats, probably to justify their security positions. By the way, they are quite easy to spot. When there is a problem around, an NGO is a good scapegoat. One of the medical treatment sites might have been changed for one apparent reason but might be tied in with a visit during the period of a high-ranking party official in the area.

If any reader is a Vietnam Veteran, they should consider re-visiting Vietnam. It provides some closure on what might have been a traumatic time, as well as some decent traveling and tours at a reasonable cost. Air travel is relatively cheap in country and there are recurring U.S. to Vietnam flights at special rates.

I am not a travel expert but might be able to offer a few more suggestions. Like every Vietnam Veteran I know or have worked with, the war was different for everyone. Even the same unit or location experienced different battles a few months apart.

Pham Xuan An –
“Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent” by Larry Berman, 2007. This book is sold in many Vietnamese book stores in English.

”The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War and Pham Xuan An’s Dangerous Game” by Thomas A. Bass, 2009.

As I sat at a rooftop table at Saigon Saigon a couple of nights ago, I tried to bring up memories of those later well-known reporters and photographers who stayed at the Caravelle in the 1960’s. I tried to picture the spy with a cigarillo in his mouth, but they were popular smokes at the time. I recalled a few names but mostly remembered those reporters who visited we military guys in the field. Some were intelligent and reported facts but many did not report all of what actually happened. A couple would not listen to our warnings and have never been seen since. In retrospect, it seems that some of those actions I knew about and participated in never made it into the archives. Perhaps what was reported sold newspapers or TV time, but I feel deep down that what was reported, or the way it was reported was more influential on the outcome than the actual battles, deaths, and goals.

Lou

Acronym Key:
CONUS – Continental United States
TDY trips – Temporary Duty Yonder
NCO – non-commissioned officer
MAAG – Military Assistance Advisory Group
MAAG-V – Military Assistance Advisory Group Vietnam
MACV – Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
ARVN – Army of the Republic of Vietnam
VNAF – Vietnamese Air Force
GVN – Government of Vietnam

Remembering The TET Offensive…

Compiled from various accounts and reports by Rick Fulton, Tet veteran, who now lives in Pittsburg, Kansas.

For those who were there, the offensive is simply called Tet, yet even with such a short title, this was the most complex battle of the Vietnam War.

It encompassed all four corps tactical areas inside the Republic of Vietnam, yet also included engagements to the north of the DMZ, and to the lands beyond the western borders. The fights were air, land, sea, brown water, urban, rice paddies, hillsides and under the jungle’s triple canopy. Warriors included soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen; even a few folks in civilian dress. Besides the men, women and children who were generally called South Vietnamese, other battlefield participants included Thai, Australians, New Zealanders, Filipinos, Cambodians, Nationalist Chinese, Meo and other tribesmen, Laotians, Koreans, and of course about a half a million or so Americans.

There were others on the Allied side in Southeast Asia as well; people of Europe and elsewhere who helped so much with logistics, and with medical support. Some had small groups in-country. Together, all the Nations and lands that had joined together in the great struggle as part of a multi-national allied force waged the most intensive kind of war against those directly opposed– the South Vietnamese communists, called the Viet Cong, and their immediate allies, the North Vietnamese. The communists were backed up by volunteers from the Soviet Union, and by the North Koreans, the Cubans, and from the massive Chinese forces of Mao.

Most think of Tet as a struggle of just a few days in length; the very end of January 1968, and the first half of February, but it was actually defined by the attackers as a three-phased event. First there was the surprise attacks made during the traditional Vietnamese Tet Holiday. This included assaults of cities and hamlets, villages and towns, military encampments and airbases in all four of the tactical Corps areas.

In the far north of the Republic of Vietnam was I Corps, called “eye corps” by those who were there. In this area were such places as DaNang, Hue, Dong Ha, Khe Sanh, the valley of the Ashau, the hilltop redoubts and the special forces encampments guarding the far western border and the southern bank of the river marking in the most practical of terms the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Vietnam.

Next there was II Corps, home of Pleiku and Nha Trang, then the massive III Corps in which lay Saigon, its twin called Cholon, Tay Ninh City and other place names which Tet inscribed in the hearts and souls of all who took fire.

The IV Corps was in the far south, a land remote from the rest, the great Rat Sung Delta, through which flowed into the sea the many channels of one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong. So in the north were mountainous regions, then jungles, then farming zones, rubber trees, three crop a year rice fields, then cities, then delta and swamp.

In all of this, in winter, spring, summer and early fall of 1968 was fought the three phase campaign of the communists called the Tet Offensive, a fight which had its beginnings in the multi battalion engagements along the borders in 1967, struggles to draw allied military power away from the intended Tet targets. In Phase One, the allies, together, lost more than nine thousand killed in action. Another 35,000 were wounded, and there were more than 1,500 who were listed as missing.

There were 14,000 or more civilians in the south who were killed by the communists in the attack, or caught in the fighting, and another 24,000 were wounded.

In Phase One alone, it is estimated that 17,000 communists were killed and another 20,000 were wounded. Exact figures are uncertain but what is known for certain is that after phase one ended, the Viet Cong force greatly was diminished and faded from most battlefields. In phase two and three, the enemy faced were primarily North Vietnamese. The communists sustained more than a hundred thousand casualties in all three phases of the campaign. More than 45,000 were killed and more than 60,000 were wounded.

On the allied side, total figures for all three phases just of Tet are unavailable, yet many lost their lives, were wounded or were missing during the 1967 fights on the fringe and then the nine months total of Tet. For America alone in the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 lost their lives, and most of those losses were in the 1967-1968-and half of 1969 period. In terms of economic loss, there was great damage done to the infrastructure of the south, and to the military resources defending the Republic. Some 123 aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, were destroyed and more than 400 other aircraft were damaged. Installations, posts and bases had serious impacts, either from direct combat or from indirect shelling and rocket fire. Many cultural sites in the south, especially in Hue, were destroyed or heavily damaged.

Tet was brutal. It was fighting of the same or greater intensity of that experienced in World War Two and in the 1950-1953 Korean War. Keep in mind that veterans of the Tet period were, to some degree or another, also veterans of the overall Cold War, and many were also veterans of events in Libya, and in what was happening in northeast Asia with Korean War II, all going on at the same time as Tet.

It is impossible to compare experiences. What Marines had to handle at Khe Sanh was very different than the month-long urban fighting of Hue and of what allied force members faced in more than 100 towns and cities. Up and down the Republic of Vietnam, the allied forces were shocked and surprised, at least initially, with the intensity of the struggle. Of 44 provincial capitals (think “state capital” in the USA), there was serious combat in 36 of them, as well as five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns (think “county seats”), and in Saigon (think “Washington DC”).

This is what the Viet Cong and what more than 80,000 north Vietnamese troops brought into the lives of South Vietnam’s citizens—people in a war but not ready for the intensity of battle which was Tet. Indeed, Tet was supposed to be a holiday, the Vietnamese New Year when the first attacks took place. Instead of celebration and holiday feasting, there was an enemy surprise offensive that was the largest military operation conducted by either side up to that time in the war. Defeating such an enormous military undertaking was what Tet was truly all about – and make no mistake: That is precisely what the allied forces did, in each of the three phases of the operation.

When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, more than half of the enemy forces were destroyed, down on the ground, dead. Tet was not the victory for the communists claimed by the foolish of Kent State students and elsewhere, away from Southeast Asia. Those who were there and went through Tet just absolutely could not believe how any citizen of the United States could believe otherwise, but they did. We won the battles but Charley won the war, because they won the struggle of propaganda. Unbelievably, we have not yet seemed to grasp that information is a weapon, even though it was the ultimate weapon we used in the Cold War.

Getting back to Tet, South Vietnamese and U.S. Military intelligence estimated that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Forces actually inside the Republic of Vietnam before the Tet Offensive erupted included 323,000 men, a figure which included 130,000 North Vietnamese regulars, 160,000 Viet Cong South Vietnamese communists, and 33,000 troops assigned to service and support duties.

Beginning in the summer of 1967, 81,000 tons of supplies and 200,000 troops had moved south down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam. Many of these men were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and B-40 RPGs (rocket propelled grenade launchers). Many of these enemy soldiers were encountered by US and allied forces in the battles which took place along the borders of the Republic of Vietnam.

That fighting in 1967 was intensive and fierce, and it did cause movement of allied forces away from the cities and the coasts into the interior. At the same time this fighting was underway, there was also diplomatic activity taking place between the two sides. The allies saw massive numbers of trucks moving south through Laos and Cambodia, more than 6,000 in December 1967 alone. Many of these were destroyed by air strikes.

There were clear signs that some sort of attack against the country was soon to happen, but there was confusion and a general lack of cooperation and coordination among the various intelligence services of the allies. They all knew the enemy was growing in strength, and they knew an attack of some sort would be the result of all that logistical activity, but the leadership, both political and military, did not understand just how soon the attack would come, and they did not see that it would be activity that would just swell up inside the various communities of the south. Until Tet, History taught that military actions came in waves against strong points. That was true with D-Day in World War Two and with the North Korean attack in the summer of 1950. But it was not to be true for the defenders of Freedom in South Vietnam.

By the beginning of January 1968, the United States had 331,098 US Army soldiers and 78,013 Marines in-country; members of nine divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, and two separate brigades. The South Koreans had two divisions in-country and there were significant other allied units. The South Vietnamese strength was 350,000 regulars, supported by 151,000 regional forces and 149,000 popular forces (regional and local militias). In addition to ground forces, the allies included strong and capable air, river, gun line and over the horizon sea forces. The in-country bases which were used to project aerial attacks and support missions were well guarded. The United States Air Force, for instance, had battalion strength Security Police Squadrons that were as well armed as other ground force units, and even had indirect fire and armored fighting vehicle capabilities. It is significant that during any of the three phases of Tet there was no successful penetration of the interior of any air base, and that all attacks against the perimeters were totally repulsed.

Beginning with attacks in I Corps and II Corps which started shortly after midnight on January 30, the main Tet series of attacks began at 0300 the morning of 31 January. This included attacks against such places as Saigon and Cholon, Hue, Gia Dinh, Quang Tri, Tam Ky, Phu Bai, Can Tho, An Khe, Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa, and many other places, stretching until a February 10th attack against Bac Lieu in IV Corps. In all 84,000 enemy troops made 155 attacks. Before and for a period of time during the initial Tet activity, the allied leadership mostly believed the enemy intent was to cut off northern I Corps from the rest of the Republic of Vietnam, and then to use the occupation of that area as a sort of bargaining chip in talks to end the war.

With the activity around Khe Sanh, and then the massive attack against Hue, this seemed to be a logical assumption by many of the allied generals; yet the efforts made against downtown Saigon seemed to almost immediately disprove the theory.

In Saigon the communists had six primary targets: the MACV and the ARVN Headquarters located on Tan Son Nhut Air Base, primarily defended by the United States Air Force Security Police; the Independence Palace; the US Embassy, the Republic of Vietnam Navy Headquarters, and the National Radio Station. Aside from the attacks against the sprawling Tan Son Nhut Air Base complex, carried out by enemy main force battalions and regiments, the other attacks were more in the nature of special operations activities. None succeeded, due to the joint and combined defenses mounted by military police and main force units.

With Tet, the enemy suffered the loss of more than 45,000 personnel. Many were killed in various kinds of ground battles, yet sea and air forces brought intensive capabilities to bear. Throughout all of 1968, it is estimated that the enemy losses were above 180,000 and that the Viet Cong ceased to be effective. 1968 was also the deadliest year for the forces of the Republic of Vietnam. They lost almost 28,000 military personnel. Another 14,000 civilians were killed, 24,000 were wounded, 630,000 new refugees joined with nearly 800,000 others displaced by the war, and many houses and much of the infrastructure of the Nation was destroyed.

Tet, in all, was a gruesome and bitter time for all involved. It is hard to see anything positive in such an event, yet this is a clear fact. The steam roller the communists had hoped to use to crush and to swamp the south with, and to then keep the traction going into other nations of the region, perhaps as far as to India and to Indonesia and even to Australia, was halted in place and then for a time was a capability mostly pushed out of the Republic. Americans suffered in the fighting but significantly did not lose the battles, and the units withdrawn after Tet went home to posts and bases with their military honors somewhat frayed yet mostly intact. The communists did not win military victories in South Vietnam when the allied forces stood with arms linked.

Seven years after Tet, though, in 1975, two years after the Americans left, the Republic of Vietnam fell and freedom was destroyed for the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people. This happened in great measure because of a failure of character of many of the American people who did not correctly understand the importance of America’s involvement in the unfolding events of Southeast Asia, resulting in a failure of consequences which remain to be reconciled.

Fifty years after Tet, the truth resounds that the United States of America is a Pacific Nation, and has national interests in the Pacific region as important as anywhere else. What happens in the Pacific community of Nations are events touching our own shores as well, and they are and forever will be as s important to the defense of Freedom for us, as they are for our neighbors.

As demonstrated by the courage and the sacrifices made against the aggression of the Tet Offensive, we do not stand alone.

FIFTIETH YEAR PROCLAMATION COMMEMORATING THE DEFENSE OF FREEDOM DURING THE VIETNAM WAR’S TET OFFENSIVE

WHEREAS, in 1967, the enemies of Freedom began a campaign of conventional battle to draw allied military forces away from population centers in coastal regions to the more remote jungle and mountainous areas along the borders of the Republic of Vietnam; and

WHEREAS, when 1968 began, in spite of large scale battle underway in the Khe Sanh area, there were indications by enemy leadership of a willingness for negotiations to begin towards a peaceful resolve of the escalating Vietnam War, as marked by a time of ceasefire during the upcoming traditional Tet celebrations; and

WHEREAS, enemy forces, secretly moved to overwatch positions, launched 155 large surprise attacks against the government and the people of the Republic of Vietnam, with massive barrages striking important government locations, as well as cities and hamlets, posts and bases, ranging from the DMZ in the north to the mighty MeKong River delta of the south; and

WHEREAS, enemy treachery brought unexpected death and destruction south, causing grave harm to thousands upon thousands of people caught in the triggered cauldron of war, from countryside to national capital, in a three-phased campaign of nine months duration; and

WHEREAS, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen, other members of the defense team, Police and Civil Authority of the Republic of Vietnam, United States of America, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and other Allies, all joined together in a great joint and combined effort to meet the attacks, thwart them, and repulse the enemy intention to seize control of the Nation, and defeat the cause of Freedom in southeast Asia;

AND WHEREAS, The heart and spirit, the courage and resolve of proud and brave men and women stood fast against tyranny, did what was legal and right, and with the very best of battlefield leadership, broke the attack in half, sent its survivors reeling, secured another seven years of life for the Republic of Vietnam, and showed the world what was possible when free people stand together in allied effort to defeat aggression.

MAKE NO MISTAKE. The Tet Offensive was a thorough military defeat of the enemy powers who launched it.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED AND KNOWN, in this 50th year of Commemoration of countrymen and allies who stood together to defeat tyranny in a treacherous time, We extend congratulations and words of praise to All who served In-Country in 1968, the most intensive year of the Vietnam War. We thank you for your many sacrifices of blood, toil and loss; and for your valor and your service. We Welcome You Home.

 

DATE_________________

SIGNED________________________

 

Two Tet Vets

All of us need to remember Tet, what it meant, and what lessons for today and for tomorrow that we can draw from the event. Our times of today are as uncertain as they were in the 1960s. It is important for our nation to seek and sustain unity. The foes against us see the world very differently than we do, and they are capable of doing great harm to the Freedom we have because of the US Constitution. They learn from the past. So, too, must we. As we look fifty years back at Vietnam, we must not fall into the trap of making predictions about the future; yet we must always measure capabilities. That was not done as well as it should have been done in the mid 1960s, on until the end of the War. That is a mistake our Nation must not repeat, and that is why it is important to properly and honestly remember the lengthy battle called Tet. Speaking as a veteran of those days, thank you for presenting the information to your readers.

Parker Interview – Part 1

2LT James E. Parker Jr. Aka “Mule” is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman 


John Thomas Wiseman: How do you define National Security?

James E. Parker: Well certainly any dictionary will have an answer for that, but my definition would be something more personal…. it would be not only efforts to keep us safe, but situational awareness of the things out there in the world (and here at home) that might put our life style in some danger, and then doing something to take away that danger. And I’m speaking of US National Security ’cause I don’t know what they think about security in Brazil, or in Uganda. You know ol’ George, Senior used to talk about how our country is a thousand shards of light, and I’m thinking he meant our geography, our history, our public utilities, our sense of justice, UNC bar-b-q, Hollywood, the Super Bowl, the freedom to go anywhere or say anything, that your home is your castle, your weapons a symbol of your freedoms, the interstate highway system, the Mississippi, and the Rockies, good hospitals and a 4th of July hot dog. That’s America.

And those things ain’t free. You gotta protect them. ‘Cause if you’re born in Timbuktu to a family that ain’t never had anything, they might not understand how we take it all we got for granted. How being American is also about being a little cocky, that we got it good. We are lucky in that we got all that Pacific and Atlantic water out there protecting our flanks. And a northern neighbor that’s part and parcel of the American culture. That shares our interest in protecting what we got…

So there.

National Security starts with an understanding of what we mean by national – and to my way of thinking that’s Bush Sr.’s thousands and thousands rays of light.

And Security is the means we have to use to protect our nation from those who wish us harm.

JTW: Which organization did you enjoy the most in your career?

JEP: Probably that would be the current Mule enterprises. I am at my core a story- teller. All my travels and adventures and utterances and thoughts and actions seem on some level to be just fodder for stories. And that’s the level I’m at now. Looking back, remembering, and often comparing this time with that to see how my perspective has changed… and my vantage on… life its ownself. Like today at the movies, it’s all about animation of dragons and talking animals and the incredibly stories of daring do… bases of which are not taken from anything I’ve known.

And the ads on TV show people of all persuasions enjoying this and that, as long as they buy this or do that. Venal appeal… buy this and life as you know it will be better.  And the actors presenting this message are not like anyone I can identify with.

And the shows are just a waste of time. The news reports are so programmed and narrow in focus as to be nothing that seems relevant to my life. Headlines are always the presidential elections; as if that’s the most important “news” of the day… well I don’t think so. Not in the world I live in… not in what I know about life.

Values are transient, often created by same-age airheads, not learned or taught by adults who fought life’s wars. Celebrity trumps peace of mind. Money often man’s raison d’etre.  And so many people out there. On the roads, in Africa, at the grocery store. There is no solitude anywhere close… except here at my desk, alone with my thoughts.

Aw, and to think back in the way of a story teller… there was purpose, and some real danger, and exciting places to see and smell and touch before the Discovery Channel, with the testosterone surging through my body 24/7. Demanding this course of action or that.

I think this is the best time of my life. My best “organization.”

JTW: What was your favorite assignment in your long career?

JEP: Well let’s see here… favorite?

If you were to ask my wife what was her favorite assignment, I think she’d say, all of them. But hell, she’s easy to please. Look who she married. She wakes up in the morning with a good attitude. Positive. She sees that glass half full. There was a story I used to tell about us meeting this woman in a Wal-Mart years ago…. in the 90s when we were still living in NC. She was big, wore a Wal-Mart mu-mu dress, round flat face. I have honestly forgot what it was that caused our meeting… but as we were walking away and I was looking for the right words about this woman was really in her element, and Brenda said, “Didn’t she have a nice smile.”

Brenda had a stroke in 2010, paralyzed the left side of her body. She’s done remarkably well since. Gets around mostly with a cane, and although she hasn’t regained the movement of her left arm and hand, she types her email.

And she has never complained. Not once that I can remember.

Now I’m goin’ to answer your question, but let me finish this thought. We used to live in a big ol’ sprawling house here in the SW of Las Vegas, but after Brenda’s stroke it was just too much to keep up – plus we were under water what with the real estate crash here in Vegas town, so we moved to the condominium we live in now… and in making the move, Brenda almost helpless, this Mexican woman pitched upon our doorstep saying she heard we might need some help.

Best I can figure it was God who talked her… because she’s still with us, three years later. Illegal as all hell, ain’t got paper one, but she’s an angel and has given Brenda back her pre-stroke freedom. They go shopping together, just to go shopping. Go to the grocery store, cook meals. Alma is here a lot… and she always talking, always asking Brenda’s advice, and always laughing. I don’t mean to say everything’s perfect, but damn it’s nice.

So what was the question?

Favorite assignment.

Got another story that you may have read in my Rants and Yarns… about my great Aunt Wilma, taught in NC classrooms for more than 70 years. Let me say that again, she taught in schools for more than 70 years. In her 90s she was driving around picking up relatives of migrant workers in Johnston County, NC, taking them to the local CC, teaching them English as a second language and then taking them back to their homes. I remember speaking with her once and said something like, “Boy you been teaching forever. Bet you’ve had some pretty smart students, huh?” And she said she had, “And I’ll bet you’ve really had some idiots too, huh?” And she, “No, every single one of my students was special. Every single one was smart.”

So I reckon to be true to heritage and my wife, on the favorite assignment thing, I have to say I have not had a favorite assignment, I’ve liked them all.

Some stand out, or come first to my memory.  But favorites, nope. Here are some that I remember.

My number 1 assignment was growing up rowdy in the mid-south, with a father that let me roam, telling me to “go out there and make something of yourself.” I got a lot from my youth. The “getting” part was not always appreciated by fathers of some of the girls I dated. If we carried a laugh-meter like health nuts carry around a step-meter on their belt… I laughed more than most of my peers growing up, did more stuff and certainly said more, “Holy s**t, what am I goin’ to do now?”

But here again, there’s a side story… that sort of explains my DNA…. it’s one of my early Rants and Yarns titled something like Travelling man… an interview my cousin Alan did back a couple of years ago.

Number 2 as well remembered events go, would be my year spent as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I’ve been blessed in this life… and one of my earliest conspicuous blessings was Staff Sergeant Cecil Bratcher who was my 1st Squad leader… until I made him my platoon sergeant. And we developed a great division of labor in running the platoon… I was just out of OCS and without his knowing hand, Jesus, what would have happened? You know so often in Vietnam, a young 2nd LT, especially a replacement, was merely the platoon mascot. The network of sergeants – from platoon sergeant down to fire team leaders really ran the show. There was zero room for error for replacement Lts. They mess up once in the field, some men get hurt, and the sergeants would take over. Or the sergeants would take over from the start, telling the new looey to just keep the Captain informed of what was goin’ on…. and they’d do the war fighting.

But there was never the case with Bratcher. We did it together. And he even came to my defense – supported me – when I picked a jive talking black I think from Detroit – a guy named Spencer – to be my radio operators. This was in 1965. Remember, for many of the good ol’ white boys in my platoon, this was their first chance up close and personal with American Blacks. It was when they were called Negroes, which the white grunts in my platoon would just spit out, rather than articulate. But here’s the thing, the majority of my Sergeants were black. So there was tension there, not that it was disruptive, but it was there… plus there was the sense that the black sergeants in my platoon were disenfranchised. But when Spencer started carrying my radio, things changed. Most notably was that the black NCO felt more involved, because the job of the RTO in the field is that he speaks for the unit commander, or figures what the commander wants and passes that on to Company or Battalion who were always on the horn when the shit hit the fan. And in free time Spencer would hang out with black buddies, and we were friends, Spencer and I, and that word got passed around in the platoon, and we were a better fighting unit as a results.

Bratcher and Spencer made a difference. Plus despite the great emotional horror that goes with war fighting, I enjoyed combat. The risk taking, the camaraderie, the job leading men on a battlefield.

Number 3 would be my first CIA assignment, upcountry Laos. To work with Hmong hills tribesmen fighting invading North Vietnamese. Just great on several different levels. One was the opportunity to work with American Ravens and Air America pilots and the collection of case officers the CIA hired to do this job… one of the biggest jobs in the history of the CIA. Who staffed it was no small matter. Now some of the CIA people up country looked as rough as cobs, but god almighty they were good, with great depth of character. Check out Kayak and Hog and Shep. Dick Johnson. Moose. All mentioned in my Rants and Yarns.  Well for sure check out Shep and Hog.

And we won our fight. Beat the hell out of tens of thousands of attacking North Vietnamese… commanded by some of the NVA’s best field Generals.

And the wonderful balance between war fighting with these great men, and then coming down to Vientiane every two or three weeks to that warm family of Brenda and the kids. Goin’ from Here to Eternity to a chic flick.

And also, or maybe first, was my contact and day-to-day emergence into the Hmong culture. The Hmong warlord we worked with, Vang Pao’s, first CIA case officer was a guy named Vint Lawrence. He told me once that it took him a year living in Long Tieng, working every day with VP and the Hmong, for him to get to the point where he could ask a good question.

They were humans, for sure, but they had had no contact with the western culture, these Hmong we worked with, and just went about life differently. There is so much we assume when we meet new people, but when those people are unlike any people that have ever dealt with Westerners, you gotta expect some newness, you know what I mean? Newness that it would take a year to really understand, and really come to grips with.

My first Hmong unit was GM 22, at the time out camped near Ban Na, north of Long Tieng… completely surrounded by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. And I would go out to their positions every day, by first convincing one of them mean sumbitch who flew Air America that it was safe, or safe enough, and then in arriving out with my people, having overflown enemy AA on the way, to do that terrible work most morning of sending wounded and dead collected from the night before, back to Long Tieng on the helicopter. Now here your mind’ll mess with you, ’cause it seemed this happened a lot, but probably not so much, it just seems that way because it was so poignant. Morning of just goin out to the position so uneventful.

The Hmong would, if you applied enough pressure, dig bunkers… though mostly they liked to hide behind rocks and scamper when the enemy came in force. But since we occupied this space out near Ban Na, they would send one of the littlest kid in their unit down the front side of the mountain where they were, send him down with a box full of grenades… and if the bad guys did come up to checky-check in the night this little guy’s job was to throw those grenades down the hill at the sounds he heard below and then beat feet back up to the top of the mountain.  Well often one of those grenades would have a short fuse and go off in the little guy’s hand or it would hit something and bounce back, or the bad guys would pick it up and throw it back at the little guy. Or the little guy would be shot trying to get back to the top of the hill.

What I remember so many mornings was these young, small and dirty soldiers laying there on blankets used as stretchers for the wounded or dead in the catastrophic way young men or killed or wounded by grenades. Loading them up on the helicopter and send them back to Long Tieng.

And then standing at the site watching that helicopter flying high over the enemy, and away from me. First losing the sound, and then watching it got as small as a dot in the early morning haze and then disappearing behind some distant mountain… and I would realize how quiet it was… and how particularly I was alone… except for these rock age Hmong.

And then over the course of months and months, coming to know them.

How innocent, how un-greedy, how smart, how interested they were in the US, like travel to the Moon for Christ sake, how they did math, what was important to them. And in all that, going about getting out there to find out where the bad guys were and killing them. And then later directing their attacks on North Vietnamese as they moved in force back the PDJ.

The enormous depth to that experience. How it made me understand how the life I knew from my mid-south upbringing was different, not better or worse than the experiences of these good men, just different. How I had no right to be critical – maybe judgmental of their lives, their hopes and dreams.

How their religion was so similar to mine in that it provided for a larger omnipotence, different in the detail but so absolutely the same human longing for understanding of this life we lived in…. No not absolutely the same…. they were more fatalistic… like no matter what you do, you still goin’ die.

And then later the evacuation from Vietnam… I mean there was a whole lot of interesting stuff goin’ on with that. No movie I have ever seen had as much drama as that evacuation… and I had a leading role.

And later that tour in Africa and my friendship with John Sherman. Here again you’ll have to read my Rants and Yarns on that guy – surely the most interesting man I ever knew.

I was a chief of station and had two posting that are still very classified… but they don’t compete with the others as memorable. Chief of Station was full of personnel problems. If not with my case officers, it was with night people that my case officers hung around with, rather than their wives, who complained to me that it was all my fault.

And then now, like I was saying above. I enjoy my life now. Every single day. I read three papers, but don’t watch the evening news. I read a book or two a week. Got a great man cave in which I write almost without distraction… like this email. Alma brought in my lunch of noodles around noon, but other than that, no pressure to go mow the lawn, or whatever it is that other 73-year-old men do with their mid-day Fridays. And I like to write. Like to tell the stories.

This has been fun… writing about not having just one favorite time.

A-37 in Vietnam

by Captain Richard Fulton


I was doing some looking around the site, which will continue, but the very first article that caught my eye was the A-37. I had a flight on one of them, hitting bunkers in III Corps, aboard an aircraft based at Bien Hoa. It was a two ship sortie and I remember it well because it was the only jet ride I ever had. Better do some explaining.

I went to Vietnam from Korea in 1967 and was assigned to 7th Air Force Directorate of Information, first to the internal information branch and then after Tet to the Combat News Branch. Combat News was headed by Lt Col Billy Vaughn. MSgt (Master Sergeant) Bob Need had been the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) but was wounded by rocket fire in February 1968 and sent home. He was replaced by another great NCO, MSgt Harvey Inouye, who was a cousin of the US Senator (Hawaii). We had a couple photographers on loan from 600 Photo Squadron and there were five or six gents like me, meaning information specialists in the E-4 and E-5 range. Most of what we did was write feature stories about the air war, all of which had to be cleared by MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) and most of which went downtown to JUSPAO (Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office). We also did some work supporting Tan Son Nhut at large because there was not a base IO shop there, though all the other air bases had one and usually had an OIC (Officer In Charge), NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge), photographer and couple of writers, with their work being sent south to the DXI for edit, clearance and distribution. In fact, how I got into Combat News was that the 366th TFW at DaNang IO shop had lost all its people except the lieutenant colonel. Our colonel, 7AF Director of Information Al Lynn, sent me up TDY (Temporary Duty) to lend a hand because of all that was going on in I Corps (Hue, Khe Sanh, Leatherneck Square, Dong Ha) and of course the Ashau Valley. So I had an exciting couple of months, and got in the habit of photographing as much as writing.

I should tell you about Colonel Lynn. He was on his third tour. Previous jobs had included pilot/AC of a Canberra bomber. The colonel had been around and did not like a staff job with weenies flying desks. He knew the gents in combat news were scrounging rides after normal duty so he got all of us on non crew member flight pay, had us issued flight suits and vests with all the goodies, and told us not to get killed, then grinned the famous “Black Cat” call sign and sent us forth to conquer. Getting rides was always easy. During my TDY (temporary duty) to I Corps, I got my Yankee Air Pirate patch for a run in an O-2 PSYOP north of the DMZ. I did six or seven flights on AC-47s based at DaNang, did C-123 and C-130 runs, and rides aboard US Army, Marine, and 41st VNAF Wing helicopters, UH-1s, H-19s, and a C-7A flight hauling VNAF (South Vietnam Air Force?) gathered refugee camp supplies into Hue city strip, the first fixed wing to land after the Tet attack. In fact some folks were still shooting that day. We took a couple rounds from somewhere but just into the PSP (Personal support program) and not into people. Later I got sent to Pleiku for a similar TDY and did another handful of Spooky flights in II Corps. Back at Tan Son Nhut we all had the opportunity to fly more gunships, but out of Bien Hoa. Later on there was a flight of AC-119 Shadows based at TSN (Tan Son Nhut?) and flown by Indiana Air National Guardsmen who were always happy for strap hangers to help hump ammo cans and pass flares. We had to turn our quarterly hours in, to get the flight pay, but this was never a big deal. All the gunship stuff was at night, usually the early birds before midnight. Once I was flying with an AC-47 crew out of Bien Hoa and it was unusual because we were fragged out on the late bird after midnight. Spookies (propeller driven aircraft) had to be ground or FAC (forward air control) controlled. Shadows were given box grids to work. Usually it was a lot of firing with little feedback, though once in I Corps we had been ground controlled by some SEALs on a river bank and hit a sampan barge sort of thing and got some good secondaries. That was very visual and of course all things being even I did not get a picture because of humping ammo cans Pilot ACs did the actual button pushing from the cockpit, gunners just kept the mini guns loaded in the back or worked getting flares out on command.

Anyway this sortie was after midnight, flown from Bien Hoa and had a hot target to work. We came back empty on ammo. It had been a busy night. On these gunship runs folks wore parachute harnesses for front packs that were kept in a bin by the door. It was very hot back there and you walked around more like a Gorilla and not normal because of the harness. Anyway, landing at Bien Hoa as the sun came up, the Bien Hoa IO shop had found an open seat on an A-37 that was going back to hit the area we had been working. I took with me a twin lens deuce and a quarter with all of 12 shots per roll and I had one reload. They got me all strapped in the right hand seat as I recall. We taxied to the arming area, the ejection seat pin got pulled, and off we went, a pair of A-37s, one very excited USAF SSgt journalist, two very laid back pilots and then we joined up with an O-1 FAC (forward air controller). He said he had some bunkers spotted for us to hit and we were to fly the X on what he marked, one aircraft to drop napalm and the other to come in and hit who ever might be running with cluster bombs which were in tubes operated by a kind of ram air pushing them out once the caps were fired off (it sounded like automatic shotgun blasts).

I did okay the first run. We dropped napalm, too excited to worry about the air sickness bag that had somehow gotten lost. Then it was our turn to fly the X with the CBUs (Cluster Bomb Units). I was to try and help spot for any tracer or any movements. We went in, the caps went off, the CBUs came out because the pilot rapidly put us in a climb. My stomach was left at the bottom of the X. I knew what was going to happen but I couldn’t get the mask off in time. Air sickness bag? Forget it! I did continue trying to work the camera and, eventually did get some decent shots as we flew back to Bien Hoa, but on landing I had to put my own ejection seat pin in to save it, and that seemed to take hours, plus I was of course majorly embarrassed for having upchucked. That was a fairly normal kind of A-37 mission for the pilots but I will never forget it. Most of our flights were on planes with props. I always wanted to get an F-100F counter but it never happened. We flew a lot in those days, our little group, and we all cranked a lot of stories out as was our task to do, but being in the Air Force and then being able to fly on combat runs was a special experience.

Just remembering.

Rick


What did America learn from the Vietnam War? By Captain Richard Fulton

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Awards earned by Captain Richard Fulton

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Decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service

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Fulton Interview – Part 2

Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.

  1. What is one of the more memorable or impactful experiences during your National Security Career?

The answer would have to be found in the years I spent in the reserve components of the United States Army, especially the Infantry experiences. I was a student at Pittsburg State University, following two enlistments in the Air Force. A friend knew I missed military life, and encouraged me to join the local Kansas Army National Guard unit. It was Company A, 3d of the 137th Infantry, 69th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Kansas Army National Guard. Because of prior military service and a number of years spent in USAF Security Police, I joined the ranks as a sergeant (E-5) and was assigned as a fire team leader in the company’s third platoon.

The Vietnam War was still going on and few people wanted to serve, so the company was at about sixty percent strength. About half had joined the Guard for less than patriotic reasons, yet some of them were very good soldiers. The other fifty percent were mostly Vietnam veterans, and the Kansas National Guard took good care of us, allowing us to grow. We did a lot of training in the strip pit lands of southeast Kansas, training mostly oriented towards squad and platoon tactics, We drilled one weekend a month, plus two weeks in the summer at regular Army posts, I went from fire team leader to squad leader, attended NCO Academy in Iola, Kansas (the hometown of General Fredrick Funston, a famous soldier at the turn of the century), and had free access to an impressive library of military manuals and regulations. As a university student the Guard became, as much as anything, a hobby, though one which paid, and which also had a unique purpose.

As a result of the Guard experience, I decided to try and become a commissioned officer. The university ROTC offered a one-year compression program. Students did MS-III and MS-IV together, two separate classes, each semester, plus the regular coursework of other classes, and also had to attend a summer camp. I became an ROTC cadet second lieutenant, and it was a paid USAR service. I missed my friends in the local unit, but enjoyed my classmates, even though I was older than them. One of those folks went on to become a three star general. Another was a colonel and dentist. Yet another was a JAG lawyer, all this on down the road, of course. The war mostly ended for America. Infantry lieutenants were no longer needed.

The Army said I was to become an AG officer. I had a choice so I completed the coursework, but resigned the program, enrolled in graduate studies, and returned to the National Guard. The company commander assigned me as acting platoon sergeant, and then a month later, as acting platoon leader. In terms of rank, I was a staff sergeant, but I did enjoy the year of commanding third platoon. Until 1975 we trained to the standard of being called to active duty and deployed back across the Pacific. What happened in 1975 ended that, of course, but we continued to train to a harsh standard under the command of officers who were Vietnam veterans. They taught us well. In 1976, because of our manpower problem, the Kansas NG decided to change us from an Infantry battalion into a combat engineer battalion. Officers started arriving in the units. I was given the task of being the company training NCO. Being in a combat engineer company was neat because we were trained in a lot of different skill areas, including demolitions. That was especially fun. My PMOS remained 11B30, though I had been given and had passed the 11B40 testing. The duty MOS was now 12B.

By 1977, I had finished a master’s degree in History and had been hired as a civilian employee at Fort Leavenworth. My job as a GS-7 was to be the editor of the LAMP weekly post newspaper. It was too far to drive for weekend drills, so I asked for discharge from the Guard, to join a new USAR company that was forming in Kansas City. That was the 308th PSYOP. I became an HC team leader, then company training NCO, then acting field first, then acting first sergeant. I always forgot the word “acting” and just did the job at hand. In 1979, following a Department of Defense Information School course, the Army offered me a GS-9 position at Fort Hood. I became the managing editor of the metro-sized four section weekly newspaper, the Fort Hood SENTINEL. As a civilian employee I supervised military journalists from three different headquarters companies within a separate brigade and two divisions. We all worked at the post Public Affairs building. The command information officer was a captain, Charley Schill, and the NCOIC was also our cartoonist, Sergeant First Class S. J. Stout, a really great soldier (and former Marine). The captain knew of my reserve activity, so he told me to handle daily operations with the mindset of a soldier, rather than of a GS-9 civilian employee. I did, and we had a great newspaper in those years, with most excellent soldiers doing most of the heavy lifting. It was a very unique organization, and the people were just plain fun to be with.

On the weekends I still wanted to soldier some, myself, so I initially joined the 100th PAD at state headquarters in Austin. Yet I missed the grit of a combat unit so when the year in the public affairs detachment was up, I went to A Troop, 1-124th CAV and became an E-6 in the Infantry squad of the Temple-based troop. You can trust me on this. There are no finer people to be in the field with than Texas National Guard troops. Every weekend we went to north Fort Hood’s brush, and it was fine training, especially when troop worked against troop. I always came home happy after those weekends, and had the extra-added benefit of learning about the same training areas, which regular soldiers used. Being able to walk the walk and talk the talk is just vitally important in any National Security activity. The Army again sent me back to DINFOS at Fort Benjamin Harrison and this time I took the Public Affairs Officer course. When I returned to Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned to be the III Corps public information officer.

One day at work I looked up and there were three officers from the Texas Army National Guard. They knew I was one of their staff sergeants so we a yes sir kind of conversation, which as it turned out was a question from the Texas AG, MG Willie Scott, asking if I would consider becoming a direct commission captain and spending weekends back in Austin as a Public Affairs officer. My internal SSG heart leaped, I passed the physical, and then it was time for summer camp. Two sets of orders arrived, one with the cav troop as a SSG, and one with a brigade to be the PAO as a captain. I called state headquarters and asked what to do. I was told to do what I wanted, and of course captain pay was higher…but I was initially somewhat in a pickle about how to properly act. I knew the work. I knew Fort Hood, which was hosting the annual training, but suddenly becoming “one of them” was a mindset not easily achieved. Fortunately, the Texas NG officers took me in hand and quickly–well, over the course of a year– got me squared away.

The Army then asked me to go to Korea to be the speechwriter for General John Wickham who were the UNC/ROK-US CFC/USFK CinC, and EUSA CG. In Korea I spent a year as a USAR Civil Affairs officer, until reserve duty interfered with regular DAC responsibilities and I resigned at about the 18-year point. My plan was to return to the states after the Korea tour and to finish out my -20 or -30 as an NCO, but life did not allow that plan to happen. I never did get to work for General Wickham and think that to be sad. I have great admiration for his style of leadership. Instead, I learned how to be a four-star’s speechwriter during the time General Robert Sennewald was the CINC. I am very grateful for all he taught me about application of words to the mission. The next two CINCs had been battalion commanders of Infantry in the Vietnam War, General Bill Livsey and General Lou Menetrey. They were great people to work for, and to assist in various ways during those stressful times. Initially General Livsey thought I was just a DAC and our initial meeting was tense. He asked if I knew what it meant to be a soldier. I told him of my background, and we just seemed to click. I did understand things he said to me, that I doubt other DACs lacking military experience would have, It was the same with General Menetrey. My job was to listen, sometimes as the hair was let down, and to keep my mouth shut about various conversations. It was also to think about things from a 4-star viewpoint, as words were selected, but not to try and be a four-star myself, nor to be some sort of mind reader.

I had two tours as speechwriter in Korea, and was directly invited back by General Livsey to have the second tour. All elements of the military world are important, air, land, and sea, and joint and combined activity is a must in our modern world. I was able to grow into a speechwriter position because of the time I had spent in the reserve components, learning the daily business of soldiering or of being an airman. To anyone considering a National Security career—and now I am talking directly to people who want to be federal civilian employees– never forget that people are the most important resource. The best way to understand that fact is to invest some personal time in being a reserve member. To walk the walk and to talk the talk gives you linkage and credibility with colleagues of all types and with the people you serve. In all cases, whatever the task or the position, always adhere completely and wholeheartedly to proper military standards because they are the foundation stones of National Security.

  1.  What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from your NS time?

My answer would be found in an exploration of the armed forces, and why they are needed.

My wife and I are both from frontier stock, in my case going –it is alleged in family records–back perhaps to a sailor who made a voyage to Jamestown, and more provable, family to family to family, through New England, New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky, back to the Pilgrims and the landing in 1620. The great great great (whatever) grandparents back then were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. My wife’s people were latecomers and did not come to North America until the Civil War, that is the English Civil War. In both cases, they were in North America at least a couple, and more likely more, of generations before the American Revolution.

I am a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the organization traced my lineage on my mother’s side to a colonel named Emerson, though I really wanted to get in on the organization based on the memory of a soldier and his son who both died the harsh winter at Valley Forge. My dad was born in 1904, and did not marry until he was 40. He only had one arm, so in World War II he served in the Illinois State Guard. His father, my grandfather, was born right after the Civil War, but had a brother (my great uncle) who was in Mr. Grant’s Army at Vicksburg. In that same war we had a distant relative who was a Confederate general officer, a man named Rodes. My great grandfather had moved from Kentucky up into Illinois just before the Black Hawk War, and served in that fight in company with a member of the force named Lincoln.

We had people in the Mexican War and the War of 1812, struggles out along the frontier, and then, as I mentioned, in the Revolution. Before that time, family members served in colonial militia, and in the struggles clear back to King Phillip’s War, as well as many skirmishes on the frontier. We had family with Daniel Boone’s company, down on the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky. One of the family members from New Hampshire, earlier, was a woman who was kidnapped by Canadian Indians and repeatedly raped as she was being taken north. One night all the Indians, six or seven, went to sleep without posting a guard. She laid hands on a tomahawk and killed them all, then made her way south. Another family member back in colonial times was a man who shot a sheriff. They branded him on his thumb for doing so, but he survived. Tough times and tough people.

Those are the folks I come from, and the tradition continued through the times of the 20th century. I had a great uncle with General Pershing’s AEF in France in World War I. Another uncle, my mother’s half brother, was a sailor in the war, and also made it to France. In World War Two I had a cousin who was a Marine in the islands and then immediately after the war was a China Marine, who was recalled for Korea. He carried a BAR, a weapon I also became familiar with myself in Libya in 1962. Another cousin was one of the Merrill Force Marauders in Burma. Our folks were always out on the edge in the westward movement. When I was three my grandfather Fulton gave me a rusted shut revolver he had carried many years before. My mother had a freak about that, but I was fascinated—and hooked. My own grandchildren are going to inherit a raft of firearms. My great grandparents are buried in Havre, Montana. All mentioned because it was a constant struggle for us Americans as we went west, and built a Nation that then was filled in by a lot of Johnny Come Latelys.

So what?

Well, information mentioned because every event in our own nation building was done by ancestors of people alive today. We all come from tough and hearty stock, though some earlier than others, and we all have a shared History that had, at bedrock, a foundation based on courage. It wasn’t just the Indians and the British and the French and the Mexicans that had to be faced. It was also disease, wild game, wilder rivers, outlaws, harsh weather, unknown terrain that required the achievement of knowledge about, to then overcome. After we became a Nation, our local and colonial militias became a national Army and a national Navy, with a Marine Corps. Later we also had a Coast Guard and we had an Air Force, too. Why did we need these things, especially in times that were allegedly peaceful (though peace was always questionable out on the frontier).

Take the Army. What good was it for us to waste a lot of tax dollars on such a structure, long thought to be a warehouse for drunks and vermin. Wellllllll, my take on that – and keep in mind I wore a uniform some – is that people having such opinion are just ignorant, and are people who lacked the fortitude to serve themselves.

Let me tell you what an Army is all about, besides being a structured fighting force with a proud winning heritage, especially in Vietnam.

An Army is a place for a young citizen to make a personal contribution to society and to the Nation. Years spent in service are times to mature and to gain awareness of the importance of discipline and of service.

The United States Military, especially the Army, was a force that provided protection, and in a lot of different ways. It trained and educated much needed engineers. These were the map drawers, the cartographers, who surveyed the west and laid out the networks of roads and railroads.

It was the Army, which brought education to remote western settlements, as well as healthcare, law and order.

It was the Army—Zebulon Pike, Lewis and Clark– who went “out there” and then came back and told all of us of the vast potential of the frontier.

It was the Army that ran the Military Road, which linked a fort near St Paul, Minnesota with posts or cantonments in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This road was patrolled by soldiers, with plains tribes on one side and settlers on the other. It was the army that defended the Santa Fe Trail and had posts out along the Oregon Trail. It was the Army that first patrolled Yellowstone Park, and which handled issues of safety and security in Alaska.

It was the Army which learned, applied and taught the importance of science and technology to National Defense – communications, medicine, dental care, flight– all things having national applications. It was the Army, which laid out and built the network of roads and highways, by applications in which so many ways motorized the Nation, investigated and applied microwaves and use of the chip now so common in so many gadgets and computers. It was the military, indeed, that first used computers, and which also led the way into outer space.

So why have an Army? Do we need one? You bet.

  1.  What was one of the most difficult experiences you faced during your NS time?

The citation is the way Colonel Al Lynn, 7th Air Force Director of Information saw my duty performance, he and other supervisors. To properly answer your question, I believe I need to tell you how I remembered that same period, especially those months of February, March, April and May 1968, the time the decoration was all about.

I had been trying to get a Vietnam assignment since 1963, but it did not happen until October 1 of 1967. I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, actually Kimpo airfield to Tan Son Nhut air base, and was assigned to 7th Air Force DXI, headquartered at Tan Son Nhut, a sprawling military location that hosted MACV plus the 7th Air Force, headquarters, a large number of many types of aircraft (RF-101s, F-4s, C-130s, C-123s, C-124s, C-133s, AE-1s, O-1s, indeed, at one time or another, every different kind of plane that flew in the theater, at one time or another), and was also the Republic of Vietnam’s largest civilian airfield. The place was so large it took a battalion strength of USAF cops, plus twice as many RVN police and VNAF cops to secure it during each 8-hour shift. The RVN Vice President lived at Tan Son Nhut, and there was a large Air America (CIA) aviation operation located there.

Every day many soldiers rotated through the installation, some going R and R, others home in body bags shipped by the war’s largest mortuary. Tan Son Nhut is where the war was run from, and was the home of General William Westmoreland during his time in Vietnam. There were tremendous support facilities, miles of parking spaces, miles of runway, and many different encampments and housing spaces, some in three story concrete barracks, others in squad-sized a-frame huts that were surrounded by chest high walls of sandbags. The perimeter had left over fortifications from the French days, plus miles of minefields and wire entanglements. Inside the base there were crisscrosses of fortifications, plus homes for VNAF families, lots of clubs, a massive base exchange facility. If it flew or was connected to the war, it was on Tan Son Nhut, and that includes the large helicopter field that was also inside the perimeter, in fact quite close to where I worked.

When I first got to Vietnam I was assigned to the in-country airlift commanded headed by a one star general. It was an interesting organization, with lots of planes coming in from overseas but then lots of flights going out to places in Southeast Asian locations. The general flew a lot of C-123 missions himself and took along his Public Affairs troops to write stories about what we saw. I would have been happy doing that the entire tour but the stories written went through the 7AF DFXI and MACV clearance and distribution mechanism and I soon found myself with a sort of promotion, I was sent to the 7AF DXI Internal Information and Special Projects unit, given the job of writing reports about Air War North, the Rolling Thunder missions in North Vietnam.

I got up about 0230 each morning, went to the intelligence facility and was given unclassified information about the previous days strikes, the crews and their home towns, unit of assignment (usually at an air base in Thailand), and results of the strike. This series of paragraphs was then added to similar work done about in-country air missions. The editor reviewed the work, and then forwarded it to MACV for review and clearance. It came back to us with corrections, which were done, then was retyped into a document having a letterhead. Several hundred copies were made to be released that evening at the Joint US Public Affairs Office daily briefing about all phases of the war for the past 24 hours, and given to the civilian media present. This was the infamous Five O’Clock Follies. I did this work until Rolling Thunder ended, then having a new staff sergeant stripe, was put in charge of in-country distribution of the 7th Air Force NEWS, a weekly metro sized newspaper printed in Tokyo at the Stars and Stripes facility in Raponggi.

It was my job to gather cleared stories and features, as well as photos, and to send them to a pair of USAF Msgts in Tokyo who put the newspaper together, and then ship large pallets of papers back to Tan Son Nhut that I and assistants broke down and sent around to the various air bases. I also had some special projects to do, one of which was a collection of weekly clips about the war from magazines and newspapers both in the states and elsewhere, given to the generals.

In January 1968, 12 of us NCOs had been moved from a three story concrete barracks to a hut in the camp near the entrance to the heliport. The end of the month there were rumors that the enemy was going to attack Tan Son Nhut. Several of us had walked to the BX and, coming back, had stopped to chat with Army guards on the entrance of the heliport. They knew we had no weapons so told us that, if anything happened, to try and get to their position for cover. We said we would. That night none of us took off our clothes or our boots, but we did try and sleep. I remember waking up about 0300 and seeing a stream of heavy machine gun tracer fire ripping over the top of the hooch about 12 feet up. Most went for the bunkers in the immediate area. Some men from other duty sections and myself ran to the heliport. Flares and tracer streams were popping all over the place. To get to work we had to cross the helicopter landing field, go over a perimeter fence, down in a ditch, cross a road and then climb a board fence into the 7AF Headquarters area, the place where the HQ was, the O Club, the NCO Club, the Airman’s Club, the library, the headquarters squadron office, the buildings of the DXI, the buildings of various other staff functions, and a large clump of trailers where senior staff lived. Down in the shadows of the ditch, there was a security police gun jeep and they almost shot us but we were hollering. They covered us as we climbed the board fence. There were VC snipers throughout the area, and exchanges of fire were heard from near and far.

I arrived at the colonel’s office right after Master Sergeant Bob Need, NCOIC of the combat news branch, and Tsgt Dave Lardy who was a 600 Photo Squadron photographer who had been assigned to DXI for his tour. Our officers all lived in villas downtown and were trapped by street fighting. Bob and Dave were scrounging revolvers from the desks of our colonels and were also loaded up with helmets and flak jackets plus a couple cameras each. They were headed for the end of the runways where several regiments of Viet Cong were attempting to enter the base and were being held off by USAF Security Policemen. I wanted to go with them but Msgt Need ordered me to stay and to get the directorate up and running. I was to try and contact our officers, especially Colonel Lynn, and report status, plus to keep in touch with the base command post. They left and I started working the phones. This was inside a plywood building. A gunfight erupted just outside between a couple of cops and a couple of VC. I took my phone with me and worked from under the deputy DXI’s desk. Desk. It was not until 1600 hours that one of our officers finally found a way to get in. We had sent out one short news feature by Teletype to MACV for clearance. It was approved and we teletyped it on down to JUSPAO downtown. Lots of photos were taken by Need and Lardy, but several of their cameras were severely damaged during the fighting, as they fell on them.

The next few days were very tense. That first night there was a major company sized fight just outside the fence from the base exchange. We saw tracers go in many directions; tracers of various colors, plus a red flare went up at one point, which signaled a breakthrough. The only weapon I had was a sheath knife. Soon though a green flare popped which meant the enemy had been stopped. I think the soldiers involved were ARVN. We also had a lot of Army support, a cav squadron raced in and heavily engaged. Army helicopters, including Snakes (AH-1s) fired rockets and 40mm grenades plus machine guns. It went on all day. I saw two men shot off the top of water towers. We had rounds hit around us as we tried to gather stories in the daytime. I did a story about Ssgt Clarence Stokes who was NCOIC of the armored cars and the ammunition resupply trucks for the security police. He had been my flight commander in Libya in 1963 and 1964.

By the second day all the troops were in, and regular work was under way. At night we started receiving 122mm rockets. We had several wounded and two killed in the directorate, SGT Rick Ramsey and Airman John Kopfer, both now listed on Panel 40-E of the Vietnam Wall. They died in mid-February. Rick had been my first friend in country. One night Charlie hit Tan Son Nhut with a barrage of about 80 rockets. Afterwards only three aircraft on the base had not been hit.

In the end of February the combat news organization needed to be reestablished. Rick was dead, Bob Need was wounded so badly that he had to be medically discharged, all the rest were in field hospitals in Saigon or else had been shipped to Cam Ranh Bay. Up-country manning was very bad too. The colonel re-assigned me to Combat News Branch as a military journalist and sent me to the Information Office at DaNang to write stories about Air Force activities in I Corps in support of Marine and Army units.

I went to Hue several times, and also to Dong Ha and the end of March made it to Khe Sanh. The siege was still going on. We went in on a Marine helicopter because no fixed wings were landing and shot a lot of film of Marines defending the base camp, and of USAF air attacks in the vicinity. Once our film was gone we were able to go out on the first fixed wing that actually landed. There was a lot of incoming fire, some mortars, and some small arms. I saw a Marine shot in the head and others wrapped in ponchos. The night we were there we acted as spotters for a team of Marines using a .50 HMG loaded with tracer to mark enemy shooters firing at the camp, that were then engaged by Marine riflemen. From DaNang we flew several missions aboard C-47 Spooky aircraft operating in I Corps. On one of the flights, near Hue, we fired at a sampan believed to be carrying rockets. It exploded. I also went with civil affairs personnel to take supplies to refugee camps in Hue. That mission was aboard a C-7A cargo plane of the USAF, and was the first fixed wing to land at the Hue city strip. I also flew aboard PSYOP O-2 aircraft that was working a section north of the DMZ. The area came under fire from an offshore destroyer while we were there. That mission got me a Yankee Air Pirate Patch for my flight suit.

I sent out a lot of stories that 59 days and then was sent back to Tan Son Nhut. We landed right in the time of the mini-Tet fighting. My boss in I Corps sent Colonel Lynn a nice letter for my records, and I think that was part of the decision to award me the Bronze Star. He was Lt Col Al Cochrane, a fine man to work for. I was talking about Khe Sanh and used the pronoun “we” because we did a lot of work as a small team, which included a sound and radio man, a motion picture photographer, and a still photographer in addition to the cameras I also used. In all that time of those four months anything accomplished was always done as a team effort.

Later in 1968 I also did field team work in II Corps and in III Corps, twice in company with 8th Aerial Port Combat Controllers Tsgt Morty Freeman and Sgt Jim Lundy. They were the two Lt Col Joe Jackson earned the Medal of Honor picking up from Kham Duc Special Forces Camp when it was over run. We also worked with 25th ID soldiers and with 5th SF soldiers at Trang Sup and Thien Hnong SF camps. Personnel of combat news were on non-crew member flying status and we flew a lot of different kinds of missions, always writing accounts of them.

In early 1969 I was given the job of working for a captain and setting up an installation Office of Information for Tan Son Nhut, I had this job until my time in Vietnam ended (23 months) the first of September of 1969. I was also awarded a USAF Commendation Medal. (See picture below)

  1. What advice would you give new personnel thinking about starting a career in National Security? (See picture below)

My Vietnam War

by Mule

My 3rd Platoon, A Co, 1st/28th Battalion, 1st Division in December 1965 before patrol in South Vietnam. Most men in this photo would be wounded or killed by the summer of 1966.

*****

“We all went to Gettysburg, the summer of ’63:

Some of us came back from there

And that’s all,

Except the details.”

Captain Paxiteles Swan, Confederate Army,

Complete Account of the Battle of Gettysburg

I think I know how Captain Swan felt.

In my generation, we all went to Vietnam in the summer of ‘65.

All Americans were involved.

The war divided us as a country. We took sides. Initially most were in support. As time went on, more were opposed and then the war became very popular to oppose and demonstrators took to the streets by the tens of thousands.

American flags sewn to the seats of dirty jeans vied with those hung, reverently, traditionally from front porches of simple homes.

As a song of the time noted, the war happened during the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” a time when we went to the moon, killed a president and a King, harnessed the atom, discovered the computer, swooned over Elvis and questioned authority. It was a time of radically expanded horizons.

Americans were pumped, masters of the world. The communication explosion provided instantaneous coverage of events around the world, and the speed of air travel shrunk the size of our world to hours, minutes. Increasing numbers of satellites circled the earth. The U.S. military/industrial complex produced awesome weapons of destruction because Communism — a godless, harsh, angry political ideology lurking beyond our borders — threatened our way of life. Communist leaders said they would bury us. They armed their missiles and aimed them at our centers of commerce. Americans dug bomb shelters in their backyards; elementary school teachers held “duck and cover” bomb drills.

Then Vietnam burst on the scene in 1964 and war there quickly wove itself into the fabric of our society. It became the lead story on the evening news as Americans sat down to supper — a panorama of monk immolations, rice paddies, Hueys, B-52s, dirty GIs, M-16 rifles, screaming children, Tet, Vietcong, Jane Fonda, POWs, dope, dust-offs, and lush bamboo jungles in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, where no building was safe from enemy sappers, where the Communists were willing to die and did, in fact, die by the hundreds of thousands — attacking in waves, blowing whistles, beating drums, running headlong into mine fields. It was an extravagant show unlike anything Americans had ever seen or imagined before. Clear good, clear bad, dramatic, easy to hate.

Some Americans went to Canada to avoid the military draft. Others in traditional fashion answered their country’s call — 2.6 million Americans served in Vietnam.

Whether protesting, fighting, or standing on the sidelines, we all were involved. In my generation, we all went to Vietnam in the summer of ’65.

*****

For those of us who fought the ground war there, we found ourselves at some point kneeling on a spent jungle battlefield, exhausted, wet from the monsoon rain, stinking from putrid sweat, arms hanging loosely at our sides, eyes sunken into our heads, ears still ringing from the explosions of battle, and lungs filled with the smoke of gunpowder. And we knelt beside our buddies whose blood turned the soil black as they lay dying or wounded. A terrible anguish swelled deep inside us, and we tried to conquer our pain. For the most part we were citizen soldiers. The emotional consequences of war — killing each other — were hard to put into perspective and those moments always came as our emotions crashed following the adrenaline high that had sustained us in battle.

After a firefight, a soldier is emotionally wasted and helplessly watching a buddy die stuns the senses.

War expands the human experience. In war, a soldier sets aside his survival instinct because of a compelling obligation to unit and friend. He risks violent death because the men he serves with expect it. In the jungles of Vietnam, wealth, personality, and ambition counted for nothing. By simply closing his eyes and going to sleep a soldier displayed his extraordinary trust in his buddy. In the jungle, the military group — the fire team, the squad, the platoon — was everything. My battalion in Vietnam was the 1st/28th Infantry, 1st Division. I would have died for it, for my commanders, for my soldiers.

Faithfulness and death were common elements among U.S. combat units in Vietnam. So was youth. We were all youngsters. I was twenty-two years old when I first went. Most of my men were eighteen or nineteen years old. We knew little about life; we were so impressionable. For most of us, before Vietnam, we did not know anyone who had died. Yet, in this war, we saw friends, who meant more to us than any other friends we had ever known, die in the catastrophic way that men die in combat — ripped by shrapnel or torn apart by booby traps. They died in our arms. Their blood stayed on our clothes for days.

On our return home from Vietnam — when our homes were quiet late at night and we felt secure — we tried to tell our mothers and fathers or our girlfriends or our wives about the pain, how we felt fear, how we loved the men who died, how the experience plumbed the depths of our souls, and how, deep inside us, we had changed. But war is sensorial and difficult to put in words. We didn’t know until we tried to talk about our combat experiences how indescribable they were. We also realized that the telling took away from the joy our loved ones felt at our homecoming. So after a while, after we’d hemmed and hawed and seen our loved ones uncomfortable, we stopped talking.

*****

To people outside the family, we were quiet for different reasons. We were apprehensive because, in this war, American soldiers were called “murderers” and “baby killers.” The television commentators — so clean, so self-assured — droned on incessantly with their dark litany about the “bad war.” No one said that our sacrifices had been worthwhile or had value. No one thanked us. Instead we heard, “disgraceful,” “debacle,” “tragedy.”

And we did not win. In our culture, nobody likes a loser. Nothing excuses losing — not bad government, not ineffective strategy, and not blundering diplomats. Because we didn’t win on the battlefield, we received no parades when we came home. Despite our love for our country and respect for its tradition of duty and service, we had the feeling among us that our country did not love us back or respect our patriotism.

So we didn’t talk much. To give dignity to the memories of our friends who had died so violently in Vietnam, we did not discuss their sacrifices or how we felt about their loss. We did not risk having our hard-to-explain feelings trampled and trashed by an unsympathetic public that saw us as part of a losing proposition.

Winning at war gives meaning and value to death in combat. For citizen soldiers in this war, there was no dignified alternative to victory, no way to soothe their souls — second place lost.

Like Captain Paxiteles Swan, who also fought bravely for an army that did not win, we who served in Vietnam became sullen, sensitive, and uncommunicative. We said, after a fashion:

I went to Vietnam,

I came back

And that’s all.

And the curtness was defensive — the brevity out of some embarrassment, some perceived notion that the listener really was not interested.

We did not win the “bad” war.

*****

The Vietnam War now belongs to history and no longer divides us as a nation. There are other headlines, other TV lead stories, other conflicts, other issues. Protestors have grown up and gone on to jobs in the market place and academia. Retired. To them Southeast Asia combat is of fading interest.

This is not true of Americans who saw combat there. We have, after all these years, developed a clear voice about our service. We say with more confidence, “I served proudly in Vietnam.” There is the sense among us veterans that we are family. That we experienced something extraordinary in our jungle combat. We realize the enormous excitement and adventure in what we did and the unique closeness to the men we served with developed a fraternal bond unlike any relationship in ordinary American life, that brings us together now in reunions, that makes us stand so proudly when our country’s flag passes by. We know our fidelity helped preserve the concept of allegiance to our country during the tumultuous “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” when American ideals were reassessed.

And we are proud of the gritty manliness to our service, about enduring all those hours of boredom, slogging through the jungle, getting wet and dry a dozen times before changing fatigues, staying awake at night on ambush patrols and then fighting sleep on daytime sweeps, eating out of cans, drinking 100-degree iodized water out of plastic canteens, battling the fire ants, crapping out behind a tree, cussing, hacking at saw grass — and then suddenly, sheer stark terror. We have memories that cannot be duplicated in video games or movies. Or protest.

And we have the experience of coming home, which may be one of the greatest things about the war in Vietnam that non-vets will never know. Coming home to your mother. Seeing her for the first since fighting in a cold dark jungle so far away, you realize how much you had missed her. How deep inside, during those hours of combat horror, when you called out to your God, you also hungered for her comfort and safety. Her warm, tight, loving embrace. And then in final answer to your prayers there she is. In all of my life, there was no single greater joy than holding my mother when I came home from war.

I went to Vietnam,

I came back

And that’s all you’ll ever really know unless you went there too.


Story was originally published at: http://www.muleorations.com/blog/96-2


Background about the Author:    James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule

James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule

James E. Parker, Jr

Many people dream of success and living a fulfilling life. This Bronze Star and Purple Heart awarded veteran is one of the few people to ever actually achieve those dreams. Mr. James E. Parker, Jr. fought in Vietnam as a 2LT and eventually joined the CIA where he received two Certificates of Outstanding Service, a Certificate of Distinction and the Intelligence Medal. He has decided to share his insightful experiences and through stories on his website as well as in the books he has written which are listed below. The Lint Center for National Security Studies is thankful and proud that we are able to share some of his selected stories with you in our Virtual Archive.

Website:
http://muleorations.com/index.html

Books:
http://muleorations.com/books-for-sale.html

The Vietnam War Its Ownself (2015)
Kessler Country Homilies (2013)
Battle for Skyline Ridge (2013)
Covert Ops (1997)
Last Man Out (1996)
Codename Mule (1995)

Hell’s Gate

Although several of the men had been wounded, PFC JV Patrick was the first man killed in my infantry platoon in Vietnam. In sending his effects home, Sergeant Bratcher and I realized that his billfold and some other personal items had been sent from the field with his body, which we assumed had ended up at the morgue at Bien Hoa.

I took a day trip down to pick them up, starting out by the brigade helipad at sunrise. By noon I was standing in front of the MAC V field morgue near the 1st Division Headquarters. There was an unusual antiseptic smell to the place; an unhealthy, forbidding air.

I walked in the reception area and told a young corporal sitting behind a high desk that I had come for the personal effects of one of my soldiers killed in early January. I gave Patrick’s name and service number. The corporal acted bored and after a moment looking off in the distance he reached for a field telephone on his desk. He turned the dial on the side and was soon in lengthy conversation about what was Patrick’s and what wasn’t. He hung up and suggested we go in the back.

We walked out of the reception area right into the working area of the morgue. Six dead, nude G.I.s were laid out on marble top tables. Other unprocessed body bags lay stacked one on top of the other in the rear. The concrete floor around some of the tables was covered with blood. A man with a water hose was calmly hosing down the area, going slowly back and forth in front with the water. The morgue operators were wearing boots and were talking amongst themselves as I walked through, one or two taking note of the fact that I was trying not to lose my breakfast. My muscles froze and I walked awkwardly.

The smell in the mid-day Vietnamese sun was putrid: excrement, alcohol, some other atrocious smell akin to rotten oranges.

Trudging along behind my receptionist escort I stepped through the water, blood and human slime, and despite now looking straight ahead I replayed the clear image I had made of the room in those brief seconds as I first walked in. Some of the men on the tables were white, others black, some had lost limbs, blood was still dripping from some tables, some of the men had their eyes and mouths opened. Some were closed.

The dead men were so quiet; the black men so colorless, the white men so cold and chalky. The attendants so nonchalant.

My senses were assaulted. It was too sudden. Too unexpected. Too macabre and bizarre. It was the most horrible place I had ever been, the worst moments I had ever lived.

Back in the supply room I could not speak. The receptionist asked who’s effects I had come for, but I could not talk. Patrick’s name was finally mentioned and soon some personal items were laying before me on a table. I went through them like I was hypnotized. Taking this, discarding that, not sure why. When I finished, I looked up at the supply sergeant and he said, “That’s it.”

He put the items in a plastic bag, I signed for them in an indecipherable script and walked stiffly out without a word… not through the working bay, but out the back, around the building, to the road in front. I started to jog to get away from the place, and then started running as fast as I could. Finally, a quarter of a mile away I stopped and looked back, still afraid, breathing hard, drenched in sweat. In the distance the morgue stood isolated like a godless chamber. Its stench was still in my nose. The bloody, slaughterous sights inside permanently stamped in my mind.

An olive-drab gate to hell.


Story was originally published at: http://www.muleorations.com/blog/68-2


Background about the Author:    James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule

James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule

James E. Parker, Jr

Many people dream of success and living a fulfilling life. This Bronze Star and Purple Heart awarded veteran is one of the few people to ever actually achieve those dreams. Mr. James E. Parker, Jr. fought in Vietnam as a 2LT and eventually joined the CIA where he received two Certificates of Outstanding Service, a Certificate of Distinction and the Intelligence Medal. He has decided to share his insightful experiences and through stories on his website as well as in the books he has written which are listed below. The Lint Center for National Security Studies is thankful and proud that we are able to share some of his selected stories with you in our Virtual Archive.

Website:
http://muleorations.com/index.html

Books:
http://muleorations.com/books-for-sale.html

The Vietnam War Its Ownself (2015)
Kessler Country Homilies (2013)
Battle for Skyline Ridge (2013)
Covert Ops (1997)
Last Man Out (1996)
Codename Mule (1995)

Hammock from Hell

Bob Dunn and I towards the end of our US Army tour in Vietnam worked at Battalion Hqs. One of our jobs was to make sure that everyone got on the helicopters coming back to the base camp from jungle operations. We were always on the last helicopter out. Here’s the cast of characters in this little story:

  1. At our base camp we lived in a tent with the Battalion supply officer, Moubry (alias) who was not our friend.
  2. Bradley was a former NCO who had gotten his commission, like me, from OCS. He had the Battalion recon platoon.
  3. Lingel was the Battalion commo officer.
  4. Dunn, who you’ll hear much about later.

As we trudged up the road from the airfield at Phuoc Vinh, our goggles pulled down to our necks, we looked like raccoons, with clean rings around our eyes. Our fatigues were dirty and sweaty from the two week operation, plus all the debris that they had collected from the dozens of helicopters in the lift. Our hair was matted down from dirt and grime. We were tired to the bone and we trudged along with our heads down.

When we arrived at our tent, we found devastation. A river from the monsoon rains had run through our section of the tent. Bob’s cot had been swept to my side. Our clothes, hanging on the mosquito netting of the tent, were mildewed. A package of cookies from home that had been ripped opened and destroyed by rats was lying on top of my cot. Mud was six inches deep across the floor to Moubry’s elevated section.

Moubry had added an easy chair and a rug. The light over his desk was shining down on his open Bible.

Still carrying our guns, we walked around our area of the tent in mud up to our ankles and tracked it across Moubry’s new rug, out into the company street, over to the supply tent and behind the counter. Moubry saw us and went out the back. Going down the line of supplies, we pulled out new fatigues, new skivvies, new socks, new sheets and new pillows. We went back to our tent and put our supplies on Moubry’s bed. On a revisit to the supply tent, we picked up shipping pallets to put on the floor of our tent section.

After showering, shaving and dressing in our new fatigues, we went to the mess hall and persuaded Cookie to make us some sandwiches, even though he had long since closed the line for supper.

Later at the officers’ club, Dunn and I were joined by First Lieutenant Frank Bradley, who had taken the recon platoon from Pete. We sat by ourselves and stacked beer cans five levels high. Dunn knocked them over. Then I went to my old tent in the Alpha Company area and retrieved the picture of the nude behind the bar.

Arriving back at the battalion officers’ club, I put the painting of the nude in a position of honor behind the bar. I proposed a welcoming toast to her. Bradley, drunk, stood up. He staggered to get his balance, saluted the lady and left. He stumbled down the battalion street as he tried to light a cigarette. He was so intent in lighting his cigarette that he lost his way and weaved off between two tents. Finally getting the cigarette lit, he found the tent that he shared with the communication officer, First Lieutenant Larry Lingel, who was in bed but not yet asleep. With the cigarette still in his mouth, Bradley stumbled to his cot and pulled up the mosquito netting. He turned around, sat down heavily and reached forward to undo his shoes. He couldn’t. He came halfway back up and fell back on the cot, his legs still off the side.

Lingel had seen the cigarette in Bradley’s mouth, but he didn’t know what happened to it, so he turned on a small bed light over his head.

Bradley started to breathe deeply. A couple of seconds later, the cigarette rolled off his chin and landed on his neck.

A couple of seconds went by.

Suddenly, he jerked forward and became entangled in the netting. He swung his arms around and became more ensnared — fighting, twisting, kicking. The cot turned over and he fell over backward, with his upper body completely wrapped in the mosquito netting. He thrashed around on the floor for a few more seconds and then he lay still.

Lingel, propped up on one elbow, looked down without comment.

The cigarette began to smolder inside the mosquito netting at Bradley’s back. He lashed out again, jerking and struggling, and rolled across the floor away from the overturned cot. Coming to rest in a ball in the middle of the tent, he lay silently.

Finally, from inside the netting, came a faint voice, “Lingel, Lingel, save yourself, I’m done for. Can’t get away.”

This true story, one of my favorites, is taken verbatim from the hard copy of my Last Man Out. You want more about Dunn go to the Last Man Out index and look up Bob Dunn. Also check police blotters up and down the west coast of the US of A.


Story was originally published at: http://www.muleorations.com/blog/18-2


Background about the Author:    James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule

James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule

James E. Parker, Jr

Many people dream of success and living a fulfilling life. This Bronze Star and Purple Heart awarded veteran is one of the few people to ever actually achieve those dreams. Mr. James E. Parker, Jr. fought in Vietnam as a 2LT and eventually joined the CIA where he received two Certificates of Outstanding Service, a Certificate of Distinction and the Intelligence Medal. He has decided to share his insightful experiences and through stories on his website as well as in the books he has written which are listed below. The Lint Center for National Security Studies is thankful and proud that we are able to share some of his selected stories with you in our Virtual Archive.

Website:
http://muleorations.com/index.html

Books:
http://muleorations.com/books-for-sale.html

The Vietnam War Its Ownself (2015)
Kessler Country Homilies (2013)
Battle for Skyline Ridge (2013)
Covert Ops (1997)
Last Man Out (1996)
Codename Mule (1995)

Portfolio Items