CHAP2 A Portal to Hell

    After saying goodbye to my parents and as I was waiting in the boarding area, I remember meeting up with Dennis Winstead, who was also traveling to Oakland, California on this same day. Dennis was from Norfolk, Virginia and I had met him for the first time at Basic Training in June of 1966 at Fort Jackson, S.C. We immediately became friends. After finishing that nine weeks of training, our platoon was assembled together for the last time to receive our orders for our next duty station. Our well respected Korean veteran platoon sergeant called each man’s name from a list first and where he would be assigned secondly. He read the list at a fast pace until he got to Dennis and then my name. He then paused and looked into our eyes while the entire platoon looked on. “Wade and Winstead”, he said in a very sobering tone, “You two men are to report to Fort Polk for Jungle warfare training and I can say right now that from there you will be sent straight to a combat unit in Vietnam”. Dennis and I where the only members of our 40 man platoon to be assigned to Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. That sergeant’s words have been seared into my brain to be remembered just as clearly today as on the day he spoke them. Out of forty men in this platoon, Dennis and I were the only two earmarked to serve as 11B10 riflemen in a combat squad. At that time this was arguably the most dangerous job assignment in the military. Roughly 50% of those men who later served with Dennis and I became casualties. He and I were definitely going to be at the very tip of the spear and the nature of this type of warfare also meant that he and I would be exposed to enemy activity day-in and day-out for an entire year. Statistically, the average American infantry soldier who served a one year tour in Vietnam was exposed to a combat environment for a much longer period than any other American soldier in history up until then, on average 240 days. This statistic includes the Civil War, World War I and World War II. After going through the largest ground operation of the entire war (Junction City), Dennis volunteered to become a helicopter door gunner and was shot down three times. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery as a door gunner and I also believe he won a bronze star while serving with me. My friend Dennis died January 18, 2015.

 
    He and I didn’t talk much on the long flight to Oakland but we had already developed a friendship in basic training simply because we had so much in common. He liked the outdoors and loved to hunt as did I. He breezed through the training at Fort Jackson and Fort Polk and was an excellent shot with a rifle and machine gun. Since we had some free time before we were due to report into the depot at Oakland, we decided to grab a cab and spend the night in downtown San Francisco. I don’t think he was much of a drinker because he would not have hung out very long with me if he had been. I remember he and I walked the streets that one night in San Francisco, saying to each other over and over that we just wanted to be able to remember the sights of a big beautiful city like San Francisco before going to a backward war torn place like Vietnam. Of course I am sure we both knew what the other was really thinking. I remember that he and I eventually found a fairly upscale restaurant on the ground floor of one of the downtown hotels and we decided to splurge one last time on a fancy meal. We were in uniform and were the only patrons in this place except for an elderly couple, who were sitting at the bar. We finished our meal and asked the waiter for the ticket. He quickly explained to us that there would be no charge because the woman and man at the bar had paid for everything, including the tip. It was and is to this day the kindest gesture I have ever received from strangers for my military service. I am sure it was the kindest gesture for Dennis also. Amazingly, he and I were assigned to the same unit in Vietnam, the 1/18th infantry battalion of the First Infantry Division but we would not find that out until later. It was a real miracle that we remained together for so long which helped us both go through what was to be a most horrendous transition in our young lives. Although I had turned my back on God, he had not turned His back on me. Deu. 31:8 It is the Lord; who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

    I spent about 3 days at the Army Depot in Oakland, Ca. before my number came up to board a bus to be transported to the airport. At this point Dennis and I had been separated. I don’t believe we were placed on the same flight to Vietnam. From the airport, the army flew me and several hundred other G.I.’s on one of Howard Hughes’ Pan Am commercial jets straight across the Pacific to Tokyo, Japan before refueling and flying on to Saigon. It took a solid eighteen hours because we were bucking the trade winds all the way but we had all the meals and amenities provided to any airline passenger of that day which was much better than those of today, actually. As we approached the airport near Saigon, the pilot announced that he would have to circle a while because the landing strip was being mortared. It did not seem that long before we were able to land but I really wasn’t in any big hurry anyway since I had an entire year to spend in country. I had absolutely no idea what to expect as I walked down the stairway to be lined up in formation as we awaited buses to take us to “God knows where”.

    The first thing that made me realize I wasn’t in Kansas anymore was the smell. I had spent a lot of time around cattle and barns and hay fields in western Virginia which had their share of manure piles that my Grand Father’s generation of small Appalachian farmers used to spread over their fields with manure spreaders pulled by tractors. This smell was much different from that and much stronger and it definitely was coming from the nearby rice fields.

    Very shortly after deplaning, we were loaded onto buses and taken downtown where the open expanses of flooded rice fields changed to very narrow city streets crowded with mostly Lambrettas flying by in both directions. The view out my window soon narrowed to allow me to only see a claustrophobic hodge-podge of shanty-town shacks on all sides. Our driver squeezed into a compound composed of screened in rectangular buildings with tin roofs. The scene before me surrounding the compound was not unlike some pictures I have seen in magazines of homeless communities in major cities in the United States. The cultural shock to my teenage mind at this point could have been no greater had I been entering the gates of a penitentiary for the first time. Shiny helmed M.P.s were everywhere. I felt like a convict, or at least what I envisioned a convict would feel like as he went to prison for the first time. I don’t remember making any kind of small talk with any of my fellow inmates nor did they with me. I am sure now that they were in as much shock as I was. My father, in times of stress, was a man who trusted no one, especially strangers and authority figures and some of that mistrusting spirit must have been passed on to me because I could feel myself withdrawing into myself. I went through a chow line where I believe we were given cold C-rations. I slept in a fold up canvas cot under a screened in tin roof for one night and that is all I remember about this place. The next day we were loaded onto buses and taken to a place called Long Binh.

    At Long Binh, I became the guest of the 90th replacement Battalion and was quickly lined up in formation with probably about a hundred other new arrivals and given the standard welcoming orientation to Vietnam. Here is the short of what I remember about my stay at Long Binh. My cot was clean. I got three hot meals and my visit only lasted about four or five days before I was assigned to the First Infantry Division headquartered at a place called DI AN (Pronounced Zi An). It was located just several miles North of Saigon and less than six miles from Long Binh. There was a couple other things that stick in my mind about my stay at Long Binh. We had a lot of free time while waiting on our orders to come through so I was able to intermingle with hundreds of other G. I.s coming into the country and I suppose leaving too but I don’t remember the ones who were leaving. However, I do remember seeing the walking wounded dispersed amongst the rest of us, wearing their combat unit patches on their left shoulder where the green fatigue shoulders of new recruits like me were just blank sleeves down the entire length of the arm.

    I was particularly drawn to one soldier who was just standing around and who had the distinctive yellow and black First Cav. shoulder patch with a horse’s head on it. His right arm was in a cast that covered his elbow forcing the arm to stay bent at a ninety degree angle. A shoulder sling also supported it. It was obvious to me that he had sustained a very bad injury to that arm. Every one of the new recruits standing around with us was ignoring him, but I couldn’t contain myself. Something inside compelled me to find out more about his situation. Now, there are three voices that compel us to do everything we do; our own thought processes, the Holy Spirit of God and the Devil. I was not aware of this biblical Holy Spirit revealed fact in those days.

    I don’t remember how I began the conversation with him, but I know that I approached him first. One of the first questions out of my mouth was to ask him what happened to his arm. Immediately, as he began to answer me, I couldn’t help noticing how calm he was. He had a calm soul, which was nothing like the volatile one inside me which at that time had tentacles connecting it to a hellish world view, established long before I set foot in a war zone but I will talk more about that later. Very calmly, he said that he had been wounded in a fire fight with an M 1 carbine which the Viet Cong used in large numbers in the Vietnam War. He then went on to say that being shot with an M 1 was not all that bad. He said that he had been wounded twice before with the same type of weapon and that the bullets from an M 1 pass through the body, doing little damage unless they hit a vital organ or bone. Now, I had a soul that was in bondage to the devil, but it had not turned me into a know-it-all argumentative type of person. Although my assessment of what he had been through was now forming quite a different picture then the one he was describing, I kept my mouth shut. Little did he know, that I found his remarks to be some of the most disturbing that I had ever heard. I didn’t disbelieve what he was saying about what the ballistics of an M 1 bullet does as it passes through human flesh. It was how calmly nonchalant he was as he was talking to me about it that blew my mind. He seemed to have accepted getting shot every other day as normal. Now, while writing this, I think I know which of the three voices compelled me to talk to this guy and it wasn’t The Holy Spirit of God or my own good inclination.

    The demons that had kept me in tow all my life had conditioned me to be a very passive person when events dictated that I needed to be more proactive and an over reactor when situations required a more calm approach. The catalyst for these erratic patterns of behavior in my life were rooted in my sense of control or the lack of it and I had always had this character flaw since I was very young. The parenting I had been exposed too helped reinforce this erratic trait but they did not do it intentionally. Both my parents labored under the deceptive spell of Satan, themselves. To further complicate things, I had a deep mistrust of all authority figures but I liked people in general as long as I perceived them to be kind to me and others around me. Until very recently, one day in my life had been pretty much just like the next. There was food on the table, clean clothes to wear and a nice clean bed to sleep in. In short, compared to what many kids go through, I had it made. However, now, having landed in this totally surreal world, I was really beginning to feel as though the chips were down and that the only person who cared in the least about taking care of Wayne was Wayne himself. In this situation, at this moment, after talking to that wounded guy, I felt strongly that it was time to get busy doing just that. Suddenly, I desperately needed to feel some sense of control to counter act this growing feeling of helplessness which this disturbing new environment was awakening in my soul; a helpless feeling brought on, first, by a mortar attack on Tan Son Nhut Air Base before we landed and now by hearing a veteran’s passive description of how everything can be okay while getting shot multiple times in three different fire fights. Not okay, my soul screamed. Not okay at all it screamed within me even louder and “man alive” please give me a gun. I was a soldier in a war zone, with mortar rounds going off around me and the sound of machine guns could be heard in the distance and I had no gun. What if the enemy, who had just mortared the air base a few miles away decided to attack us? There were hundreds of us walking around in a compound like setting ducks. Not only had we not been issued weapons but there had been no mention of the availability of weapons in case of an attack. The only people carrying weapons were a few guards and the M.P.s. So, immediately after talking to that wounded First Cav soldier I volunteered for guard duty because I had learned that guards were issued weapons and ammunition, to be carried at all times. Now, with a loaded weapon in my possession, I started to feel within myself a sense of control coming back as fear subsided. At least I could shoot back if we were attacked.

    Here is a little side note on fear. The sense of being in control of our lives is governed by the human emotions of either fear or the love of God. Love is stripped way as mankind sinks into an ocean of sin and the depravity which results. The best day I could hope for, having denied my God since the age of thirteen was a time filled with less fear then at other times. Being caught up in the inherent violence of war can greatly magnify this human emotion of fear but no matter how calm the seas of life are, fear can never be eradicated by anything we can do on our own without the direction of the Holy Spirit. Even if we are somehow able to gain the whole world, we will eventually lose control of our soul through fear if we reject the healing love of God as I had done. Obtaining a weapon did alleviate the increased fear that I was experiencing, but that fear would never leave me entirely, nor would it even be recognized by me as fear sometimes, without first allowing the love of God to begin replacing it.

    Ironically, fear can be a great motivator. However, it will eventually motivate us into a corner that we can’t get out of, if we keep making choices in response to it. I was now in that corner and it would take more than a rifle to prevent the enemy from stealing away my life and all that I would ever be to the Glory of my God. I was in a battle; one that I didn’t realize existed and that battle was much more deadly than what I was about to face in the coming months here in this war zone of Vietnam. I would need the love of God manifested in the form of His Holy Spirit to win this present and future battles but it would take years for me to realize that. For now, the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power would have to perform many miracles just to keep me alive long enough to return home so I could have the opportunity to learn that lesson.

    As I said, I spent around four or five days at Long Bing before my name was called to report to First Infantry Division Headquarters at Di An. Once there, I remember being committed to another sardine can like area in the middle of this huge complex for a couple days. The tension was high amongst the other sardines around me. Many of them spent their time getting drunk at the enlisted man’s club and at least one fight ensured, that I witnessed, when one drunk soldier peed on another while the poor guy was sound asleep on his cot. I had been sleeping on the floor beside the man who got peed on, when the commotion woke me up. The man on the cot beat the snot out of the drunk guy who did the peeing and then threw him out of the hooch we were sleeping in. The drunk guy proceeded to cry and whine in a loud voice until the guy he peed on started to feel sorry for him enough to go get him and bring him back inside. He then helped the guy get into his cot where he fell asleep almost immediately. Everything got quiet and I went to sleep again. About an hour later, I was awakened again by the screams of the man who had gotten peed on earlier. The same man who had peed on him earlier was now peeing on him again. This time he threw the peeing drunk guy out of our hooch for good and the rest of us listened to his pitiful whining for the rest of that night.

    I was glad when I was finally assigned to a unit and caught a ride on a deuce and a half truck going in the direction of my unit assignment, along with five or six other guys. The 1/18th Infantry headquarters hooch was less than a quarter mile away near the north side of Di An’s perimeter fencing. When we got to the unit, we were instructed to line up in front of the unit headquarters hooch. A sergeant came out of the building, shortly, and addressed us with a very simple question. At the time, I had no idea how important my response would be to that simple question.

    “Who can Type?” He asked. No one said anything. He ask the question again. “Who can type?” Again, not a single one of us answered him. “Who can type?” He asked for a third time. Still there was silence. Finally, after asking for the fourth or fifth time, the guy on the other end of the formation opposite me raised his hand and said, “I can type with two fingers”. Well anyone can type with two fingers, I thought to myself. Even I could type with two fingers. The sergeant motioned for this guy who had spoken up to follow him into the building behind us. That was it. This guy became the unit clerk for his entire tour. He got three hot meals a day, a clean cot and a hooch to sleep in out of the rain for the entire time he served in Vietnam. In an instant, in a blink of an eye, Satan had scared me out of accepting what could have become God’s escape plan for the next year. Frozen in fear and without realizing what had just happened, I had now consented, by my inaction, to having my mind polluted by the horrors of a vain war for what might be an entire life time. Events were now set in motion which would later also give Satan the tools he needed to construct a straw dog in my demonic mind, all because I had unwittingly refused to raise my hand to what could have become God’s salvation of the mind. No, I didn’t have a clue concerning the grave consequences that would result from not raising my hand that day until years later, when the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to me.

    Now before I continue let me explain the Holy Spirit’s definition of a straw dog. A straw dog is a scapegoat. It’s a group, place, person or idea which Satan uses to deceitfully explain away the sin in our life. He gets us to ignore a hidden sin or become blind to it altogether by reminding us over and over of the straw dog. As long as he can keep us focused on this straw dog, we can’t see to repent of the real sin in our life and therefore cannot allow the Holy Spirit to deal with it. Because of the straw dog we can be deceived into thinking that we are free of the lurking iniquity which continually stalks our thoughts, looking for opportunities to seriously disrupt our relationship with the Holy Spirit, and thus our walk with God in general. My straw dog was brought to life by a spirit of fear. The combat I experienced in Vietnam became my Straw Dog but that draw dog would not have been born had I simply not have been afraid to learn to type. Let me just say now, that I have met few people in my life who have been overcome with fear to the extent which I have been overcome by it in the past. It was that fear which kept me from raising my hand. It was this gut wrenching fear that kept me from volunteering for a single extra-curricular activity in high school, and fear of my fellow man which made me drop out of college. Yet, as a point man who led the entire battalion on moonless night marches, I was extremely cool, calm and collected in my thought processes, especially while under enemy fire. How could that be? Those are thought to be the actions of a very brave person but I am telling you the truth when I say that I was really a self-loathing coward. You will have to continue reading to learn more details about this mental pattern of human behavior but I can assure the reader that many of America’s and the world’s greatest war heroes have followed this satanic script to a tee. To expose this spirit of fear in Christians is one of the reasons why I am writing this book.

    Many who read this may be thinking that fear is not a sin but I beg to differ. Remember what Jesus said about the servant who was afraid to invest his master’s money, so he buried it instead. His master, who is an example of Christ to us, called him a wicked and lazy servant. If giving in to this spirit of fear is not sin, itself, it surely is a catalyst which breeds sin.

    The opportunity the Holy Spirit provided to me to be the unit clerk could have been mine but because of my fear of man I turned down that opportunity. I blew it. When this feeling of fear came over me, it kept me from speaking up, not just in this one instance, but throughout my entire life. Many times in my young adulthood, when I was presented with a real opportunity I would succumb to a rising tide of fear which caused me to miss out on many opportunities which were presented to me. Not only did I miss out for myself but fear prevented me from developing my God given talents which could have touched many hurting souls in a fallen world. The truth is, I had excellent written English skills and would have made an excellent unit clerk. Actually, I would have been able to serve my country more solidly than I did on the front lines if I had only had the courage to raise my hand. I had a high school classmate named Howard Thomas, who did serve as a clerk at Di An and I am sure the interpersonal skills he developed there while honorably serving his country contributed greatly to the successful career he had later on. Had I understood how to come against this spirit of fear which exacts such a high price for those of us who have lived under its spell, my entire life would have changed for the better even in this combat unit that I had been assigned to. Again, you may say, a decorated veteran who has successfully experienced unimaginable danger day-in and day-out has obviously learned to control fear much better than most people but again I would like to repeat what I said earlier. That is a lie. The spirit of fear is also a spirit of great deception. Here is a dirty little secret about the spirit of fear that I would like to share with the reader. As a Christian moves further from the will of God for his or her life strong feelings of fear will actually abate, as this spirit of fear lures its victim deeper and deeper into its funnel of destruction. May I let the reader in on another little secret? I was much more afraid of man and my leaders than I was of enemy bullets and shelling’s while I was in the Army and I am absolutely sure that enemy soldiers were much more afraid of their leaders than they were of me. I will talk some more about the spirit of fear later but for now, let’s move on. So, now I was shown where I would sleep for the next few days and after being issued a rifle and the clothes and equipment I would need, my little group was given a refresher course that lasted about a week. It covered stuff we had been taught in our state side training like how to carry a hand grenade safely and how to break down an M 16 rifle and clean it. There must have been about 15 of us new guys who went through this refresher class.

    The finale was a real patrol through a thick patch of jungle just outside our base camp at That was my first experience with a tropical jungle environment and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience at all. An older Sergeant, probably mid-thirties rounded us up for the patrol in the middle of the day which was also the hottest time of the day. We followed him past the perimeter bunkers and fencing into a dense ticket of jungle maybe a hundred yards or so further on. To get there we walked through a cleared area with tree stumps and roots and broken tree limbs laying around but nothing very hard to traverse on foot. It was a different story when we reached the jungle. There were no huge trees but there was a lot of two inch diameter stuff mixed with thick bamboo patches which we had to work through single file or go around because some of it was impenetrable. I was used to spending time in the woods back home because I had been an avid hunter with both a gun and a bow. In 1967 there were few young people my age who liked to bow hunt but I was very passionate about it throughout my teen aged years. This simply meant that at first I was not feeling as out of my element as the other newbies were probably feeling. We proceeded to wind our way through the thick jungle in single file. I knew it was a training exercise and I expected to learn nothing from it. As we started out, I felt no sense of danger or even the slightest apprehension what so ever. I just kept my mouth shut and followed along like everyone else.

    After walking maybe 300 meters we took a break. I think the smokers were permitted to light up. I didn’t smoke so I found a place to set down and lean against a small tree as I had done so many other times while roaming through the Virginia Woods back home. It took only about thirty seconds to discover that the jungle was not nearly as pleasant as my hardwood forests of Virginia. I learned very quickly that these tropical forests were naturally cursed with insects which did not exist in my “Good Ole Virginia Home” and I began learning that lesson almost immediately after my butt came in contact with the ground. Almost immediately it was set on fire much like it would have been had I set on a yellow jacket’s nest back home. I jumped to my feet and grabbed my behind. I looked down and saw black ants a little more than a quarter of an inch long scurrying all over the jungle floor and knew these had to be the source of my pain. As I remember now, everyone standing around me was saved from the same fate I suffered because I was the first one to sit down. This painful experience was to become my first lesson on the habits of black jungle ants. Later, I learned that these little critters went into the ground at night so it was possible to come in contact with the ground all night without being harmed but during the day everyone on patrol who knew better would take their helmets off their head and sit in them rather than sit directly on the ground. Never mind the piece of shrapnel that might slam into the side of a man’s unprotected head because we all became a lot more afraid of the sting of a black ant on our tail than the chance of getting shrapnel wounds to the head. I wonder how many soldiers had to endure these little devil’s stings during a fire fight when they had no choice but to come in contact with the ground. Fortunately they never plied their evil tactics on me while I was ducking bullets and mortar rounds but I always dreaded these little monsters even more than I did scorpions and red ants because they had a stinger in the tail while red ants lived in trees and could do nothing but pinch with their mandibles and scorpions were not that numerous. Also, a scorpion’s habitat was predictable. Scorpions liked hanging around old bunkers and rotten structures but one could never be sure what part of the jungle flooring held roaming swarms of black ants. Now back to the next unpleasant event to take place on my first patrol.

    A little later on this same patrol, while ducking under a vine, my head came up and into a cloud of swarming gnats. Only they were not gnats or at least they didn’t act like gnats. They were a swarm of tiny bees located just the right distance off the ground to sting the heck out of my face, leaving red welts everywhere. Again, I don’t remember anyone around me saying a word as I slapped away at my own face and I also don’t remember anyone else being stung. The third thing that got to me on that first training patrol was the intense heat of the day. About half way through the patrol I began to feel like I was in a car on a summer’s day with all the windows rolled up. It was an awful feeling. I have never felt that hot since. I really was not expecting to be that affected by the heat. After surviving my first patrol, we hung around waiting on my newly assigned unit to return from field operations with no other notable incidences which come to mind.

    I had been assigned to third platoon (Call Sign “November”) of B Company but as I have already mentioned, they were away on operations taking place just North of Di An when I first arrived and while I was taking training classes. The big rectangle Army tent I slept in those first few nights was empty except for me and a couple other guys. Dennis, to my great surprise, was there too, but we didn’t have much contact at this point because he had been assigned to another platoon and was sleeping in another tent that housed his platoon. One thing I learned rather quickly was how hard it was to keep up with anyone who wasn’t in the same Platoon as me, even though we may have been separated by only a few hundred feet. On the day my assigned unit returned, I don’t remember much about my initial introduction to its members or even the platoon sergeant’s name, much less the name of my squad leader.

    Maybe part of the reason I don’t remember anyone’s name is because it wasn’t a very good first meeting. The situations I experienced leading up to my first meeting with the members of my squad had become much more unsettling than anything I had ever experienced before in my entire life. Each step I took just to reach this final unit assignment, had been repulsive to my extremely sheltered sensibilities. Actually, back in the states, the Army training program had really been a good experience for me because my Army trainers had made it very clear what was expected and even more importantly I knew what to expect from them. However, my experiences upon arriving in Vietnam were sending a very different message to my adolescent brain. “Chaos” is the word that now comes to mind. Chaotic signals were being transmitted from everywhere I looked and they were saying to anyone who had half a brain that Army planners had very little grasp on how to properly indoctrinate new nineteen year old draftees into not only their very first military job assignment but also into the most stressful job that was being ask of any American at that time. This place did not yet feel like hell to me, but it was beginning to feel like a portal leading to hell. Looking back now, events on arrival and the way they were handled were obviously just as traumatic for others as well. A scary mortar attack had set the stage even before our plane touched the ground. The mighty United States military was unable to secure a single main airport for the country? If it couldn’t do that with the availability of just over 380,000 troops what else couldn't it do? The horrible smells and claustrophobic quarters had caused many of us to have mostly sleepless nights. Then I had that disturbing conversation with the wounded soldier who should never have been allowed to mingle with new arrivals in the first place. After reaching my assigned unit’s headquarters I was again warehoused for several nights with other new guys who quickly took advantage of the availability of alcohol to get stoned out of their minds. This led to the cussing, peeing and fisticuffs incident with not a single buck sergeant present to take control of the situation. Finally I had to endure the horrible patrol where I thought I was going to die from heat exhaustion if the insects didn’t kill me first.

    However, all those disheartening events paled as I now faced a much more profoundly discouraging incident, namely the way I was treated by the men who I would soon be going into combat with. On returning from the field, my squad leader barely grunted at me when he saw me for the first time and then continued his interactions with the other members of my squad like I didn’t exist. Everyone else in the squad followed suite. That lack of attention spoke volumes. I had been raised by a godless father but I had never once been completely ignored by him. He taught me to tie my shoes. He taught me how to tie my first tie. He taught me to tell time, how to safely handle a fire arm and he tried to teach me hundreds of other things in life that I would need to know. It was the same way in basic training. I may not have liked what my training sergeants were telling me but I was never completely ignored by them. I found this new shunning experience to be profoundly disturbing. These were the men who I would be going into combat with and who should have a real self-interest in getting to know me as soon as possible. Wouldn’t at least one or two members of my squad want to gain some sense of who was going to be fighting beside him and for him? How could they simply ignore me like I didn't exist?

    At this point, the reader should know that adolescent minds live in the “present” much more than the rest of us. An adolescent does not normally have enough experience in life yet to realize that human attitudes as well as life’s situations in general change over time. If this shunning was happening to me now, then I believed I was going to have to take this type behavior forever and that thought was unbearable. Another notable characteristic of adolescent behavior is the inability to understand that bad behavior directed at one from others is not always as it seems. It could be happening, and usually is happening, at least in part, because the other person is reacting to bad experiences which have happened to them.

    However, I was oblivious to everything I just said and now I started to feel that same hopelessness that I felt the night I had drove at over a hundred miles an hour through the Hampton Roads Tunnel. Never mind that my returning platoon members were dealing with some very real horrors themselves, having just lost eight out of eleven men in an ambush patrol that had gone wrong, including two remarkable young men named Sal Cemelli and Gary Harbin. Never mind that in a few months I would be shunning new replacements just as I was being shunned here only worse. I was much too self-absorbed and naďve to grasp any of this. All I knew was that not one single person in my squad uttered one single word to me. “They must really think you are worthless to be treating you this way”, the voice in my head chided and I just couldn’t take that. I had to do something. Rising up inside me now was an overwhelming compulsion to push the pedal all the way to the floor and not let up but how could I do that? I had no pedal. I didn’t even have a car. So, I just blurted out, “Who wants to arm wrestle?”

    Why would I do that? Sure, it definitely was a way to get noticed and I did think that I could beat most of the men in the squad which in my mind would have instantly given me the respect I so desperately carved. I had worked out all through high school with weights and had swam a lot so I had good arm strength for a guy my size. I had also done quite well in the physical training tests in basic training. Maybe this was the reason I did something like this, but I really don’t think so. Arm wrestling just wasn’t a self-destructive endeavor. Driving an automobile down a two lane public road at over a hundred miles an hour was. And the demons that taunted my mind were all about destruction. No, it wasn’t to show off my physical prowess and gain attention either. Looking back now, I know why a “wall flower” like me did what I did. It was an idea straight from the Holy Spirit of God and it was given to me, first, as a safety relief valve to defuse those more self-destructive demonic impulses buried inside my soul and also it projected a calming effect not only for me but for the other members of my platoon, as they were able to unwind a little by watching an arm wrestling match and these were guys who needed to unwind whether my adolescent mind knew it or not because they were swirling under the weight of some real trauma, themselves.

    To my surprise someone responded. “How “bout” arm wrestling Charlie Bell over there. Do you think you can beat Charlie Bell?” the anonymous voice ask.
“Who the heck is Charlie Bell”, I thought to myself? Now all eyes were on this guy named Charlie Bell so it wasn’t hard for me to spot him too. He was a dark skinned guy standing across the tent from me all by himself and now he was breaking out into one of the most beautiful and confident smiles that I had seen yet since arriving at this doorway to hell. He looked to be about 6’ 2’ and maybe 230 lbs. of solid muscle. Since he was standing by himself, I took that to mean that he was probably a loner like me and I always gravitated to other loners. Just one look at him told me that there would be no big blow to my pride if I lost an arm wrestling match with him. He could easily be the strongest man in the entire company, maybe even the Battalion. I realized something else also. There was just an outside chance that I wouldn’t lose. I knew that there was very little chance of beating him because his arms were solid muscle and almost twice as big as mine. However, I knew I was strong enough to maybe lock my arm in place which would make it a lot harder for him to slam my arm down and that’s exactly what I did. I concentrated all my strength on keeping my arm upright and locked in position and fortunately he did not try to twist my wrist out of position or all would have been lost. The match was a draw and in this case a draw was a win for me. Try as he did, he could not break my locked arm to the amazement of everyone looking on including me. The little cluster of on-lookers around Charlie Bell and I just faded away as the arm wrestling match fizzled. After that, I felt the tension within my soul slowly deflating. At least I had asserted myself enough to temporarily be more accepted and I could easily pick up on that from just the change in the eye contact with me as guys passed by my cot area for one reason or another. An arm wrestling match seemed like such a little thing but the Holy Spirit knew it was a big thing for all concerned. To most nineteen year old people almost everything is about the way they feel. A wall had come down between me and the other members of my platoon, but nowhere had it crumbled more so than between Charlie and I. Charlie Bell, was now my focus and I seemed to be his also. We became inseparable from that point on, just like salt and pepper until he transferred out about a month later to take a job offer in the rear. The workings of the Holy Spirit are awesome.

    While we were together for that short period of time he showed me the ropes “so to speak”. From him, I not only learned how to keep my head down to protect it from the enemy but also gained the respect from the other men through Charlie partly because Charlie was an excepted “ole timer” in the platoon who had seen his share of “fire fights”. I carried extra water for the both of us. Man, could Charlie Bell drink water? He drank his and mine too. I remember during this time in my tour of duty that water was sometimes hard to get. It was the dry season and we were running a lot of large patrols in force just north of our base camp at Di An. The Holy Spirit new that the arm wrestling match would open up a relationship with Charlie Bell and he knew that Charlie Bell would be the friend I needed to help a backward kid like me be accepted into a very unaccepting environment, maybe the most unaccepting environment in the world for a young American of that time period.