CHAP4 The Boy Dies   

   

    A few days later, while operation Cedar Falls was still going on, I remember the 1/18th filing across a large expanse of rice fields, while the battalion commander was up ahead herding the front part of the line into a jungle thicket, with me in the middle somewhere, still in the rice field about a quarter mile away from the thicket. Interestingly enough, to my remembrance, I never knew the commander's name until I did the research to write this book. In my peripheral vision I noticed a black speck in the brilliant blue morning sky. It was moving very fast but I kept my focus on where I was stepping next in the muddy rice field and also on the men who were in front of me moving to meet up with the colonel. As the line approached the edge of the rice fields, our men were slowly congregating at the bottom of a slight rise of land which was covered in secondary jungle growth. I could see several radio antennas bobbling in the air as two or three radio operators moved back and forth among this little cluster of headquarters people. Back then I had excellent eye sight and it was to serve me well in the coming months. Other radio chatter had intensified behind me and in front of me on several of the platoon leader radios. However, it was just chatter to my ears and not recognizable as anything I could understand because I was too far away.

    What happened next and what was probably causing a lot of the radio chatter definitely qualified as one of the most exciting moments in my life until now. The event which began to unfold before my eyes would have been what many of my generation would later call a “Kodak Moment” as another speck appeared in the sky following the path of the first speck. As I became aware of this second speck, the first speck had now grown larger and had turned toward the top of the wood line. I was now able to see that it was an F4 phantom jet making a bombing run and I had a front row view to the show even if it was “standing room only”. This was the first time that I had ever seen anything as spectacular as this and quite frankly it was trilling. The jet came in low and a black object tumbled from its belly onto the rise. The explosions were incredibly loud. I could feel the shock waves as they gently pelted my body although I was hundreds of meters away from where they were dropped. We could also see some of the debris propelled into the sky and flung in all directions. As this was taking place, my platoon kept moving closer and closer to the edge of this thicket where the rice field joined much more dense jungle growth which was composed of smaller trees, bamboo and other foliage but no big trees like that which could be found further north closer to the Cambodian border. As we approached the wood line, however, the thick jungle soon closed in around my entire platoon, obscuring our vision of the jets dropping their bombs.

    However, the explosions could still be heard a few hundred meters from our present position for another five or ten minutes and then things got quiet for quite a while. Several hours went past before we heard more explosions. Then darkness came. Incredibly, we were held up here for at least 3 days or maybe longer in this small patch of jungle surrounded on all sides by rice patties. We learned very soon after reaching the wood line that our unit had been deployed in this direction to surround and take out a manned enemy bunker complex which had been constructed in this area using the heavy jungle vegetation as cover.

    On the second day that we were there, I glimpsed a group of headquarters people moving up the gently sloping hill in front of us with our battalion commander moving amongst them. He seemed to have a Patrician air about him and was as “cool as a cucumber”. I remember looking upon him as one would look at a “God of War” or at the very least a human version of that mighty god. I thought, "Just look at all this power which had been entrusted to him". I was every bit as awed by his presence as I was the phantom jets dropping an occasional bomb in the background. At this point there was no doubt in my naïve mind that our battalion commander was as capable as anyone in the whole wide world could be. It wouldn’t take long for that opinion of him to change but it would take years for me to realize how fault laden my parameters for sizing up people were. No human being, save one, is capable of assessing any other human being's true capabilities in any given situation without the help of the Holy Spirit. In the final analysis, all human endeavors are weighed in the scales of God on high. That's one reason why God gave the Holy Spirit to believers like me to help us understand His judgments and with that understanding then line up our own actions with those judgments. When we do that with each circumstance we face in life then everything else will fall in place. However, except for the one night while camped along that river bank I had not been listening to the Holy Spirit since the age of 13. So, at this particular moment, our commander’s appearance augmented with this mighty display of America’s air power was very captivating to me. We were seemingly wreaking havoc on our enemy’s fortified positions which was very impressive and very reassuring. I felt quite sure that I was looking at a solid leader whom I could trust. To me, at this moment in time, he was in his element. Contrasting that, I wasn’t in mine. I felt like such a novice, and yet for the time being, I felt like a relatively safe and secure novice huddling under our great commander's protective wing. I had no idea that there were other people involved in coordinating the air strikes other than him and the pilots. It was years later before I discovered that the military had trained people which they called forward observers (FO) to coordinate artillery and spotter planes which could talk to the pilots and people on the ground. Many times there would be a high ranking officer, maybe even a general, from brigade or division in those spotter planes, overseeing the entire event, but I knew nothing of that at this point.

    It was not unusual for me to have had this vague perception of how things worked and also to have blindly trusted in the abilities of our commander. Perceptions and opinions of the good and bad of every human endeavor tends to become tremendously misinterpreted when viewed only through our very limited human understanding. However, one unrelenting fact which I have since learned about our commander at this time is that “Duchess 6” (radio call sign for our present commander) was a very brave man. He had voluntarily entered the very heart of hell on earth as a 2nd lieutenant, during the Korean conflict and cut his teeth in the cauldron of “Pork Chop Hill”. The horrific combat he experienced there provides irreproachable testimony of his courage under the most horrendous combat conditions imaginable. That bravery was further evidenced by the Silver Star pinned to his dress uniform. He had not only volunteered for Korea but later for Vietnam too. This established fearlessness coupled with his skilled command of the social graces within the officers corps was a powerful combination of exactly the kind of human characteristics needed to elevate his standing in the natural eyes of his peers, his leaders and himself. However, those qualities would do little to promote success on a battle field like we faced now in Vietnam, nor would they build needed trust for him in the eyes of these “baby boomer” grunts like me who largely walked by what they saw and heard and not by the Spirit of God.

    “This is absolutely crazy”, I kept thinking to myself over and over. It’s like absolutely “insane crazy”. That was the thought that kept racing through my 19 year old mind, pushing every other thought aside. It was a thought which I have easily remembered after 50 years, because it is still indelibly imprinted into my brain in vivid Technicolor red. In five seconds our battalion commander had gone from being my hero to a zero. Why would any competent field commander order his men to do such a thing? There had to be many more options available to him courtesy of the mighty U.S. military? It was a command that most certainly meant needless causalities with little chance of success against the enemy. No soldier needed to graduate from an "Army War College" to know that. Yet this guarantee of certain death had still been issued, not against the enemy, but effectively against his own men, and to “top it off”, by a seemly experienced combat leader.

    Now, to let the reader know what that order was, which made me and anyone else who had “half a brain” feel this way, let me explain. We had just been given the order to assault the bunkers although there was no indication that they had been damaged at all by the bombing. To seal my platoon’s fate, we were being summoned to lead the advance without the support of armor or artillery. Again, there is just no other way to say it. This was undeniable proof to us grunts (true or not) that our battalion commander cared nothing for the lives of his men. It also showed that he didn’t have the basic tactical skills necessary for a battalion commander to possess in order to perform their duties successfully in a theater of war like this one. We were now being cavalierly thrust into a suicide mission where many of us would probably never live to see the sun go down. Many more would have their lives shortened by the grievous wounds which they would soon receive. All this would surely happen, but what wouldn’t happen is the destruction of the bunkers, because we were only armed with rifles, a few M79 grenade launchers and two light machine guns which would be going up against an objective that was still well hidden by thick jungle foliage and also very well protected against our light weapons, by their thick walls, small gun ports which faced out to create enfilading fields of fire and underground munitions storage chambers as well as connecting tunnels between bunkers. Patton once said, “No b*****d ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb b*****d die for his country”. Had "Duchess 6" never heard that speech? If he had, he was definitely getting the roles reversed because he was having us play the role of the "poor dumb b*****d.

     At some point Sgt. Rook tried to explain the situation again to us in the most concerned and comforting tone of voice that I had ever heard him use. In fact, it was the most comforting tone I had heard anyone use since stepping off the plane onto the soil of this “God forsaken country”. He spoke almost in a whisper, with a softness I never dreamed he possessed. As he talked, he looked directly at our little group and said nothing that we didn’t already know. “The bombs have probably not destroyed the bunkers” and then, he went on to say, "It is impossible to know for sure whether they have or not because the jungle is so thick in there. Now, the Colonel wants us to take those bunkers and wipe them out ourselves". We had already been told this by the platoon sergeant so this wasn’t new news to us. His words were redundant and certainly not noteworthy enough to be remembered over the last 50 years except for one thing and that was the way he said those words. His demeanor and the tone of his voice had completely changed. Instead of talking to us like a drill sergeant he was talking to us for the very first time like one of "the boys". Now, I realize that there is a simple answer for why he would talk to us so differently but it was one which I did not readily realize at the time. It was years later when that realization finally came to me and that realization was this. The realization of one's impending death tends to make equals of us all. 

    When I looked at Sgt. Rook's face, as he was talking to us, I could tell by his tortured expression that he knew this was a suicide mission. “Shouldn’t we drop more bombs on the area to make sure that the bunkers are destroyed?” someone ask. That question was met with a moment of silence. Then our new 2nd. Lieutenant platoon leader spoke up and said one more time, bluntly, that the Colonel was giving us a direct order to assault the bunkers and that was it. Things got quiet again and then the “absolutely crazy” thoughts started running wild in my head, non-stop, along with what I thought would be the last question that I would ever ask myself or anyone else. That question was, “Why, in the world, would any experienced commander knowingly be so willing to cast our lives away in such a foolish maneuver. I am just as sure now as I was then that there wasn't a junior officer or N.C.O. in the entire unit who thought this was a good tactical decision. We had these bunkers completely surrounded and isolated from any reinforcements or avenues of escape. If the Air Force couldn't see to get the job done, why not at least drop napalm and move artillery into support positions to shell the area. If napalm did not asphyxiate the enemy soldiers nor the artillery destroy the bunkers at least this would clear away enough of the jungle foliage to allow us to get a better view of what we were up against. “For heaven’s sake”, I had saw the war films of Hiroshima and the bombers and Naval guns had done that much for the Marines.


    It was on this day in January 1967 that I became a man. No matter what else would happen to me on that day, the boy died forever. Not only did I become a man, but I became a man who would never trust another living soul in uniform, ever again. Now, it really was just me, myself and I or so I thought and I no longer believed that officers were gods.

    While we were still assembling and getting ready for the final order to start our advance through the jungle thicket that hid the bunkers, something else happened which I have never forgotten. I remember standing there waiting on orders to move out and looking at Walker who had rubbed me the wrong way since the very first day when he showed up to become a member of my squad. Since we had been in the same squad now for several weeks and although I didn’t like him, at the same time I couldn’t help but notice that he was very poised, confident, handsome and street smart with a lot of common sense to boot. Looking back, I believe the main reason why I didn’t like him was because I felt threatened by that very confident attitude in him, which I misinterpreted as cocky. Maybe he also felt threatened by me too. Who knows? Anyway, he was all "City Slicker" and I was somewhat of a "Hill Billy". However, neither the "City Slicker” in him nor the "Hill Billy" in me had a clue about what was about to happen next except that we were “fixin" to get ourselves killed. Neither of us knew much about workable tactics in jungle warfare and it had just become obvious to me that our commander didn’t know any more than we did. Basically, we were as green as green could be. But now, for the very first time in a matter of a couple minutes I was about to learn how really worlds apart Walker’s way of thinking was from mine in a completely unexpected way that would forever change the way I thought about him. At the same time, while being given that opportunity to peer into his soul, I would also become mentally bonded to him forever.


    The platoon leaders, sergeants and squad leaders were still huddled in front of us discussing the details of our final assault plan as I found myself standing face to face with him. This allowed Walker and me to really look at each other for the first time. We both had been contemplating the day we would see our first action. Now that day had arrived and I sensed the hard veneer which Walker had been sporting towards me, break. I also saw the fear in his eyes as I am sure he saw in mine. There was a few uncomfortable seconds of staring at each other. Then, to my shock, he started talking non-stop to me, of all people. It was like we had been old friends all our lives. He never took his eyes off mine, ignoring all the “brothers” standing around him. And as I stood frozen in place, listening, he started, with a general description of his life back in the big city. He said he had been a pimp. He had nice cars and all the money he needed to buy nice clothes and other nice things. Well you could have bowled me over like a bowling pen. He went on to say, "Before I was drafted, my girls took care of me. I never had to struggle much for anything. But this is the first time that I feel like I am doing something that really counts. I am serving my country and I AM PROUD TO BE HERE". Well, I am here to tell "ya", that those few words coming out of his mouth and the very idea of him choosing to say them to me, and me alone, pierced something deep inside of my soul through and through. I never looked at Walker the same way again, and I have never forgotten him, though I have forgotten most of the others. To the totally self-centered intellectual part of me, who could only see this situation as being a very stupid way to die, the vast contrast between the very noble way he felt and the way I felt could not have been greater. It was not only shocking but strangely uplifting as well. However, what was even more compelling was that he had said these words to me, a person who was so different in so many ways from him. It would take many years for me to recognize this for what it really was. It was a manifestation of great unselfishness in its most raw and pure form, a form otherwise recognized throughout American history as patriotism. I was looking at a live patriot standing in front of me on that deadly piece of ground so long ago and he didn’t look anything like John Wayne.

    It is really strange how the mind focuses on such narrow remembrances of traumatic events. I can remember Walker’s face and the green towel he wore around his neck to wipe the sweat away, as clearly as if I had just seen him only 30 seconds ago. Yet, I remember nothing, at all, about the other soldiers all around us, who were engaged in all sorts of noteworthy activities. Now I know what I didn’t know then. Something else was happening to both Walker and me besides his decision to open up to me about himself personally. My mind was shutting down and so was Walker’s. Maybe that shutdown is what lowered defenses and triggered the conversation he had with me. And maybe that is why I listened quietly the way I did instead of searching through my own catalog of past thoughts while waiting for a break to interject those thoughts into the conversation. I understand that it is a very common phenomenon in trauma victims, for the mind to start switching off, ignoring the present circumstance and focusing more on other comforting thoughts. But why did Walker pick me, of all people, to express these thoughts to? I now believe the answer is that he was drawn to the Holy Spirit of God, who still dwelled inside me after all these years of rejecting Him.
If trauma causes the mind to shut down, then that could be one of the reasons why many veteran combat soldiers tend to not talk about their experiences. They simply don’t remember very much about what was going on around them. I do remember specific aspects of this incident clearly after 50 years but at the same time I am sure that I have forgotten many other details.

    We had advanced in 2 columns abreast with each column 3 or 4 meters apart which I can remember thinking was very strange because it meant that only the two men in the front could actually deliver fire on the approach to the bunkers. I was one of those first few men leading the approach but my platoon’s advance was suddenly halted. We were now no more than 40 meters from the enemy bankers although I wouldn’t know that until the shooting started. I was in the lead in the right hand column. One of our N.C.O.’s ordered us to halt. Immediately, everyone in my platoon in both columns kneeled down to make a smaller target of ourselves. It was a very tense moment, waiting to receive the order to make the final advance. Suddenly, however, 1st platoon (radio call sign “Lima”) which had originally lined up somewhere behind us came bursting through our ranks, in single file, between our 2 columns. As I watched in horror, they continued on at a very fast pace led by a staff sergeant in the lead. This was strange too because staff sergeants usually had better things to do then be the first man to get himself killed. Within seconds we heard several explosions and started receiving heavy fire coming from the direction of Lima platoon. All we could see was thick jungle to the front and bullets shredding jungle foliage all around us while we hunkered down unable to return fire because “Lima” platoon was now between us and the enemy. To this day I have no idea why my platoon was halted and “Lima” platoon was chosen as the sacrificial lamb to move through our lines and make this suicidal assault. Did Duchess 6 intentionally choose to do it this way, using his men to draw fire which would have exposed the location of the enemy so we could get an accurate bombing coordinate? Maybe, but I may never know the answer to that question. Even so, that still doesn’t explain why “Lima” was ordered to file past us and take the lead.

    The explosions we heard were probably claymore antipersonnel mines which would have been detonated by the enemy soldiers manning the bunkers and they would most definitely have killed or badly wounded the first several guys in the lead. If we had continued on instead of Lima platoon there is a very high probability that I would have been one of those guys. Although the jungle was too thick for me to observe a single downed soldier, I could hear the Med Evac Hueys (Dust-Offs) landing on the far side of the rise opposite the bunker complex. They arrived very quickly after the shooting started and continued coming in for some time. Because they got there so quickly, I believe that they had probably already been on standby or maybe even in route before the assault began because there could have been no doubt in anyone’s mind that there were surely going to be American casualties, simply by the way this assault was being executed. Now, however, at least the exact position of the bunkers was known and within an hour or so the air force was finally able to destroy them while everyone in our Company watched and listened to the bombing after withdrawing to the relative safety of our original staging area.

    Before dark my platoon along with the entire company was again ordered to make an on line sweep of the entire area where the bombing took place. I remember approaching the bunkers or what was left of them. The first thought that came into my head as I clawed my way in and around this tangled mess was how well constructed they were. They had connecting tunnels between them which had been partially unearthed and I am sure that they had underground chambers to store all kinds of weapons, equipment, ammunition and food. The overhead cover was made of several layers of large bamboo logs with earth packed between each layer of logs. Had we not withdrawn after locating them there is no doubt in my mind that my entire company would have been wiped out trying to take them man to man.

    This was the first time for me and the other new guys in my squad to see dead enemy soldiers, except for the two I saw shot down in cold blood.

    Shortly after surveying the destruction caused by the bombing we moved to a clearing which was close by and there we set up a night defensive position. The next day tanks and armored personnel carriers (APC) met up with us in a nearby village on what looked like a main road. We were loaded onto the APC’s which then headed north further into the Iron Triangle. I now believe that we were on highway 13 which was better known by its nickname, “Thunder Road”. During my time in Vietnam, I would spend a lot of time on and near this road where we would run security patrols and do company sized sweeps in the jungle on both sides of it. It ran about 80 kilometers north from Di An to Loch Ninh, a small village very close to the Cambodian border. This red dirt highway also ran parallel to the eastern leg of the Iron Triangle whose southern-most tip was maybe 20 kilometers northwest of our base camp at Di An.

    Now, that I have given the reader a little 1967 Vietnam geography lesson it’s time to move on by updating the reader on some other particulars as I and the rest of the new guys in my platoon progressed in our status from new guys to full-fledged Vietnam combat grunts, after receiving our CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge). The federal code for issuing a CIB says, “a soldier must be personally present and under fire while serving in an infantry or Special Forces unit as their primary duty assignment, during the time period in which that unit is engaged in active ground combat, to close with and destroy the enemy with direct fire”. We certainly satisfied those conditions. This federal code doesn’t say anything about having to shoot back at the enemy. So, my military records show that Walker, myself and the other new guys in our platoon received a “Combat Infantryman Badge” on January 28, 1967, the same day that Operation Cedar Falls came to an end. I believe sergeant Rook was the one who passed on the news to us. No, we would no longer be considered “new guys” but that didn’t seem to matter much to sergeant Rook. He had miraculously gotten his voice back and he was once again treating us like raw recruits although I must admit that I didn't feel the same toward him as I had before and I don't believe the other guys did either. One may even venture to say that every member of his squad, including me, now looked at him with just a little brighter flicker of respect. Personally, I definitely thought, for the first time, that he had something going on in the inside which made him a little more human than the rest of those "Neanderthals".  

    Now, the CIB is the most coveted medal in the entire United States Army and one that is pinned on a soldier’s dress uniform above every other medal a soldier will ever receive, including “The Medal of Honor”. However, something else needs to be mentioned here concerning my receiving a CIB. That something exposes a very profound truth which applies to every Holy Spirit anointed believer like myself. Although receiving that medal was a very honorable and upright happening in my life, it was earned through carnal choices made by me instead of the leading of the Holy Spirit. As I have already mentioned, the Holy Spirit had opened the door for me to become the company clerk but fear of man kept me from listening to Him. If I had become company clerk then I would never have received this prestigious medal but I would have no doubt reaped much greater benefits by being in a position to add glory to the Kingdom of God as I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit instead of my own carnal feelings. Now, let me say something which will explain this profound truth in more detail. When a Holy Spirit anointed believer makes a willful decision to reject God’s guidance and begins to live life on their own terms, they cease adding to their divine legacy and nothing good becomes of it until he or she repents and again starts listening to the Holy Spirit. Here is the irony of refusing to listen. A believer can live a very upright and accomplished life but somewhere along the way the tide will always turn leaving them “high and dry”. No matter how wonderful the results of carnal choices may seem, in time the results of those choices will always become vain works devoid of the eternal fruits which God has planned for each one of us to produce. Romans 8:6, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Solomon expounds on this principle in the book of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, this rule applies to all carnal decisions in life whether those carnal decisions lead one to become the most decorated soldier in the entire world or the recipient of the most prestigious degree that has ever been given in the most acclaimed school in the world. Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.” My life had been on this path of death from the very first moment when I decided to reject my God's guidance and start living my life as I saw fit. Earning a prestigious medal was not going to change that path for me any more than staying in college and working on my degree would have changed things. Either choice when made with my present mindset still meant that I was a dead man walking, who would leave nothing behind but vanity with no chance of creating the eternal legacy which God had intended.   

    However, this particular CIB incident did have a very interesting twist. I couldn’t shoot back because my own guys would have been caught in the crossfire. Here comes the twist. Shooting back would have done nothing but reinforce the “blood lust” I carried inside me! I find that little “coincidence” which helped prevent that from happening to be very fascinating and it wouldn’t be the only time that these types of “coincidences” would happen to me while serving in a combat unit and also later while just living everyday life. One of the least understood works of the Holy Spirit is how He protects believers from themselves.

    We stayed on what I now believe was highway 13 for several days while being accompanied by the mechanized unit which had transported us there. During the day we pulled road guard while engineers cleared swaths of jungle on both sides of the road. I also remember watching large Rome plow bull dozers cutting down large trees throughout this area which had already been cleared of small jungle foliage. It was a terrible waste of natural resources because as I remember these large trees were dismembered, pushed into piles and burned.

    I had nothing else to do but watch as I sat there all day staring at the jungle and the bull dozers, with the road behind me and the jungle to my front. Also, there was a lot of road traffic during the day, both civilian and military. I now believe we were located just a little south of a place called Lai Khe on highway 13 about 50 kilometers or so north of our base camp at Di An. We were here several days and we were spread out thinly. I remember having a very lonely feeling and I still remember that feeling 50 years later. It seemed as though I had been detached from my unit. I felt quite abandoned. I believe one reason this feeling of abandonment still lingers in my memory is because I was temporarily assigned to a position which had a 50 caliber machine gun. That fact alone made me feel sort of out of place. An infantry battalion like mine had no heavy machine guns like this, but mechanized units did. Could it be possible that I had been pulled away from my own platoon and temporarily assigned to a mechanized unit just for the purpose of guarding that road? I didn't know the answer to that question nor did I know how long I was going to be there. I have since learned that infantry units were used alongside mechanized units in these types of Rome plow operations to protect the engineers doing the work. A likely scenario is that my platoon members were all scattered amongst the members of this mechanized unit operating with us and also with the engineers who were clearing the jungle up and down the road. The other two guys stationed with me on this position were strangers to me. That wasn’t a good feeling either and was probably another reason why I felt abandoned. All grunts in Vietnam had one thing in common. They never wanted to be separated from the other members of their unit while on an operation.

    Another factor which I personally found disconcerting was the condition of this machine gun position which I was manning. It only had a few sandbags stacked up in front of it with no bunker emplacement whatsoever. It was also out in the open and could easily be taken out from an enemy hiding within the wood line. Years later I learned that mechanized units were usually stationed inside that wood line to protect the Rome plows but at the time I didn’t see any evidence of them being deployed there on this particular day. However, the reader must keep in mind that there was a lot going on around the average grunt in this war that he wasn’t aware of. It is also possible that the other 2 strangers with me that day were part of the engineering crew. A clue that reinforces this thought is how very quickly the responsibility fell on my shoulders to man the 50 caliber machine gun which I was qualified to do. If these guys had been with the mechanized unit they would have been qualified also and would not have turned the gun over to a stranger. Engineers, on the other hand, would have definitely wanted a grunt like me to handle this gun, leaving them free to do their engineering duties as they arose.

    You would think that I would have ask questions of these guys to try to better understand my present circumstance, but I didn’t. I had been raised to withdraw into myself when I felt uncomfortable and I had been conditioned to respond that way by being met with nothing but angry criticism from my father in response to virtually any question I ask as a child. Now, amongst these two strangers, who were assigned to my position, I was feeling very uncomfortable so I withdrew from them as much as possible. How? Well, for one, withdrawing is not always synonymous with "Clamming up". Here, I exhibited another form of withdrawal which most people never recognize as withdrawing. I made worthless small talk instead of asking them substantive questions, which could have benefited all three of us.

    This withdrawal mode continued to greatly hinder the development of my interpersonal skills until much later in life, when I became able to let the Holy Spirit point out this short coming to me. In general, my parent’s false perceptions, stemming from the psychological damage they had received growing up, themselves, caused them in turn to do great damage to all their children's psychological development, myself included. Besides actually physically abusing one of my sisters outright, they made many subtle parental choices which did nothing but add fuel to the works that the devil was already doing in the family. Stifling opportunities for the development of interpersonal skills in their 5 children was just one example of this. As I have already mentioned, I had been encouraged to spend my summers in isolation on my grandfather’s farm, which I dearly loved being able to do, and I have, to this day, retained many fond memories of the time spent there. However, I must also admit that the time spent there in itself was not the best thing for an already withdrawn young man to do, who needed desperately to be learning how to make his way in a 20th century world. On the other hand, had those times spent on the farm been complimented with a school year participation in team sports, school clubs and a part time job, they would have been transformed into a great developmental experience. But my parents saw no value in allowing me to do any of that. Any sprouting opportunities in those basic social training grounds were very subtly and very quickly squashed by my mother’s controlling spirit before they had a chance to bud and my father always went along with my mother’s wishes on these matters. Besides, he had his own antiqued ideas about what skills would be good for me to master. Not one of them had anything to do with developing my abilities to deal with the rest of the modern world. Quite frankly he did more than his part to turn me, his eldest son, into a throwback from another era. I believe historians call it the era of the American Frontier". He had started teaching me not only to shoot straight but to hunt beginning at the age of 7. He taught me not to be afraid to hike for miles in the vast expanses of the George Washington National Forest in the dark while following game trails through thickets in rough terrain. He also taught me to navigate that darkness with nothing but a compass, while paying close attention to every sound and movement around me. How many people do you suppose were able to put that on their resume during the later part of the 20th century? Can the reader say, "Kit Carson"?  He also taught me that a fist was "just as good an answer" as words were, if you didn't like the comment or the question being asked by the other person. Can the reader say, "John Wayne"? Simply put, both my parents taught the wrong lessons to all their children on how to live a successful life in the 20th century, and of all their 5 children I was the star pupil. To a large degree that is why I didn't have a clue about how to interact in any meaningful way with these two strangers by asking pertinent questions of them instead of rambling on about how I fantasied things to be. Worse yet, since I largely lived in my own little fantasy world, I didn't see the need to learn anything from them. To make matters worse, in my twisted mind, especially in uncomfortable conditions like this, I felt as though I had to continually explain my right to exist to almost every person whom I came in contact with. I would then get mad if they didn't accept my preemptive answers to anticipated questions which I thought they would ask. Questions, which many times they may not have been thinking about asking in the first place.  I know I never ask what M.O.S. (job description) these guys were assigned, which is a question almost any other grunt would have asked in a similar situation. However, there was just too much worrying to be done in this short time about how to convince these two guys that I was a worthy human being. The Devil's shame does that to people, especially Holy Spirit anointed believers like me who have no idea who they are in Christ and have had to standby and watch their beloved sister be abused since she was a baby and unable to do a single thing about it. No, there just would have been no time left for my scrambled brain to think of questions to ask them. Of course my whole life had become nothing more than a demoniac show on display. Why should time spent with two strangers on Thunder Road be any different? 

     As a side note, interestingly enough, my father had taught me exactly the kinds of skills that would help to not only save my life but the lives of others as well in this most dangerous year, but he had also done his part to reinforce what my demon mentors were doing in my life, which was to always put me at odds with leadership and even the other grunts around me because of the false signals which continually bombarded my brain. Before moving on, let me be quick to say that I do understand that I was not the only grunt in Vietnam who had problems communicating other others. Indeed, most young people of my generation lacked communication skills which they really needed to get along in this world for many different reasons. However, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the most lacking, my score would never have made it past a 2.     

    So, no it wasn’t unusual for me not to ask questions of these guys that day and to top things off there was also another much more recent reason for me to withdraw from trying to have meaningful conversations with anyone, even the guys in my own unit. I was still reeling emotionally from the close call which my platoon had had at the enemy bunkers which was helping close my mind down to the outside world around me even more. People had died that day and I was almost one of them and for what? (More cows for Lyndon?) I may have been psychologically impaired but I wasn’t stupid. The command decisions made to needlessly mount an assault on heavily fortified bunkers kept screaming to me that the life of a grunt meant nothing to our present commander. This demoralizing message kept repeating itself continually and not only could I not stop it from playing in my head, but another verse had been added which repeatedly whispered something even more demoralizing. It said that it was just a matter of time before another life threating situation would arise, catching us up in it's grasp as easily as grabbing helpless babes in the woods to be led off a thousand foot cliff with our present commander as the pied piper. I just couldn't shake this thought. To put it bluntly, I now saw this man, not as a god but as a killing machine. Only it wasn't the enemy he was killing. It was us. I would like to let the reader know that I am not judging "Duchess 6" here. Only God can do that. What I am doing is telling the world how his actions affected the morale of myself and I believe the entire unit at the time. I personally felt as though I had lost all control over whether I would live or die in any future engagement. That was a thought which I just couldn’t tolerate. Like most people, my life was all about me and no one else but me. However, this wasn't just about me. It was about what I believed was a form of suicide being forced upon each man in my unit. Free men should never be asked to commit suicide. Never! They may be commanded to put their lives at great risk for their country, but they should never be commanded to commit suicide and our banzai attack on fortified bunkers was nothing more than a form of suicide. I believed that then and I believe that now. And the final straw was this. We were not being forced to commit suicide against an existential threat to our own country but for the corrupt leadership of another country, as evidenced by me personally witnessing that leadership murder prisoners of war.   

    The close call with the enemy bunkers consumed 80% of my thoughts now and I just couldn't seem to put it out of my mind. The first question which I kept asking myself was, "How in the world am I going to stay alive for the rest of the year?" Yes, I realize my demon tormentors had already said that I would be the first of my Grandfather's sons to die in a war but something from deep within my spirit man said that was a lie. Secondly, "What could I do to regain some sense of control over the next near death experience because there would most certainly be a next time. To top things off, leaving this world without the slightest possibility of taking a few "Commie B*****ds with me was a final degradation to my demoniac ego which I just couldn't stomach. Since I had been "in country" I felt that the Army had already stolen away most of the self respect which I had been able to somewhat maintain in basic training. I had made very high scores in every physical and mental test that the Army had given me and also been selected to attend O.C.S. This helped buoy my self respect then but nothing I had done since stepping off the plane in this place had gotten so much as an approving nod from anyone. Looking back, I can definitely say for sure that at this point my self respect was getting close to hitting rock bottom.

    Well the reader may be surprised at my next step, after I got tired of rolling all this other stuff around in my head to no avail. It was the type of step many people take when faced with an insurmountable problem but it was also the very first combat related endeavor that I would take of my own volition. Though, it was an almost instinctive, mindless and mundane type of action, which would do little to solve the real problem, I started working on it anyway. At least this would keep me from torturing myself by thinking about the real problem so much. I have since learned over the years that reacting this way is pretty much basic human behavior. Here is what I did. The 50 cal. machine gun was filthy. So, shortly after dawn I started breaking it apart and discovered that it was not only dirty on the outside but there was burnt powder residue everywhere inside too. I found some old rags and made do with the rifle cleaning stuff which I had in my ruck sack. I always carried gun cleaning solvent and a ram rod in that ruck sack which I used to clean the inside of the barrel. After about 30 minutes I had cleaned the entire gun and had its “action” working as “slick as a whistle”. My father had taught me the rudiments of gun cleaning and also stressed how important it was to keep a fire arm clean at all times. I had been cleaning guns since the age of seven, long before the Army got hold of me. So, it was a very deeply religious part of my nature to want to tackle this chore. I knew to prevent jamming, it was important to only lightly coat the moving parts of a fire arm with gun oil after cleaning off any gun powder residue with solvent, but the outside parts, like the outside of the barrel could have heavier coatings of oil applied to them which would actually better protect those surfaces against rust and the environment. At the same time, this would not gum up the moving parts of the weapon's action causing it to jam. So, this is exactly what I did.

     Now, the road behind me was a dirt road with a lot of traffic going past during the day. It was the height of the dry season and the thick layers of dust on the road were continually being kicked up into the air which created such heavy dust clouds that we were forced to wear a bandana over our nose and mouth while manning this position in the middle of the day, when traffic was heaviest. Quite frankly, this was some of the most miserable road guard duty that I can remember pulling the entire time I was in Vietnam for more than one reason but the dusty road was definitely high on that list. With that being said, I knew that my little gun cleaning project needed to be completed before the traffic got too heavy. So I did just that. After a not-so-fine C-ration breakfast, I started cleaning the 50 cal. machine gun and by mid morning, the heavily oiled barrel as well as any other external parts had collected a fairly thick coating of dust on them coming from the clouds of dust being continually created by the big trucks passing by. This dust readily adhered to the freshly oiled surface, but I didn't care. I didn't care because it didn't matter. That gun was now capable of killing things and it would not stop killing things until I ran out of ammo or died. One thing for sure though, I would not die because the gun jammed. End of story!   

    Remarkably, I started feeling somewhat better now after I finished cleaning the .50 Cal. Machine gun and was especially glad that I had been able to break it down so successfully and reassemble it which worked to refresh my training on the particulars of the weapon since we didn’t get to handle one of these “babies” very much, if ever, in an infantry unit. I was also starting to hope that we would stay long enough, so I could chop down some jungle with it, if command decided to have a “mad minute” which was usually held just as the sun was going down and after the road was closed to traffic. However, if I was starting to feel better about myself and proud of the self initiative I had just taken, not to worry, the devil wouldn’t let that last long.

    No, it wasn’t long at all, when a jeep appeared and quickly whipped over to the side of the road between my position and the road itself. It then came to a sudden stop and “lo and behold” “Duchess 6” slid out of the passenger side and walked straight toward me after “eye balling” the “Big Red One” patch on my left shoulder. It told him that I was one of his “boys” because the other two guys were wearing different patches. As I stood facing him with no salute because of the possibility of tipping off a sniper, he immediately started “dressing me down” without so much as a “fare thee well” to go along with it. The “dressing down” was all about how dirty I had allowed the machine gun to become because he had spied the heavy coating of red road dust which had coated the outside of the weapon and which would coat it again and again no matter how many times I cleaned it. I was too stunned by his ignorant chiding to say a word. So, this one way discourse ended rather quickly. Nevertheless I cannot deny that I wanted to answer him the same way which my father would have answered people who had the audacity to verbally attack him before earning his respect. Can the reader say "John Wayne". However, I knew I would get into a whole lot of trouble if I gave him that "fisticuffs" answer, so I restrained myself. I just stood there, continuing to remain speechless, in part, because I really wasn’t one of his boys and I wasn't versed in the use of proper military phrases like “Permission to speak sir?” After he finished chewing me out, he quietly turned around and walked to the passenger side of the jeep, hopped in, and the driver took off down the road. That was the last time I would ever lay eyes on “Duchess 6”. It’s funny how guys like him never came to any of our reunions. I think I know why but some things are better left unsaid. Let it suffice for me to make this one last comment which applies to all leaders everywhere. One has to have actually become a grunt to understand a grunt, and one must understand a grunt to successfully lead a grunt. Whatever else Duchess 6 had been, I do not believe he had ever become a grunt. If the reader doesn't believe in the truth of my last few statements then he or she needs to think again, especially if they are in a position to make life and death decisions over others. The greatest evidence to verify this truth is wrapped up in the living example set by one man. That man is Jesus Christ, who came to earth as a lowly 'grunt" if you will, in order to save mankind, before one day establishing in no uncertain terms His everlasting position as Lord of all.