Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
The sound of anchor chain clanging aboard a neighboring boat rolls me out of the bunk, an automaton stumbling groggily to the forward helm. The Cummins diesel rumbles to life and the sleek thirty foot aluminum boat responds immediately to the thrust of her jet drive. I begin the chore of pulling the hook against maximum ebb on a 3 ft. minus tide. Hit the throttle, start pulling hard and when she veers off, reach over with the left hand, grab the helm, straighten the boat on the anchor line, adjust the throttle, then get back to pulling with both hands. When the chain clanks up on the bow roller, take a bight on the cleat, and with a few more gut wrenching heaves, some quick maneuvering of the boat, the anchor pulls free of the sticky-mud river bottom. The bow comes right around and even at idle, with eighteen feet of water dropping in 6 hours, Hangfire is racing quietly downriver on the tide, passing by the sleeping gillnet fleet.
Friday, December 14, 2012
Aric Miller has retained his title and won the 5th Annual North Olympic Peninsula Chess Championship for the 2nd Year in a Row!
6.0 Aric Miller 150.00
5.0 Steve Churchley 100.00
4.5 Mike Murray 75.00
4.0 Tom Blazey 37.50
4.0 Dennis McGuire 37.50
3.5 Ben Seran 25.00
3.5 David Rodriguez 25.00
3.0 Imants Golts 10.00
3.0 Roger Risley 10.00
3.0 Ernst Rasmussen 10.00
3.0 Stephen Chase 10.00
3.0 Paul Richmond 10.00
The Chess master prepares a Mating Net
Then that throttle I gave a good punch
Monday, April 23, 2012
The rumor was that K had escaped the Russian army in the sixties, made his way to West Germany, joined the U.S. Army and volunteered for duty in Vietnam. The troopers of the 1st platoon always figured he was a Cossack, which 40 years later I learned he is actually Hungarian. I could only recall a couple memorable snippets of conversations we had. The first, I had asked him what the hell he was doing over here, having risked his life to get to the war zone. His answer was simple and straight forward...."to take care of young fools like you"!
I was always a headache for K, beginning with an incident where he had me flown up to Pleiku for the in-country track commander’s school, which, upon completion, I would be promoted to sergeant and in line for a tank commander’s job. I had made sergeant in Germany, however, I was AWOL (absent without leave) when the orders for promotion came down. The Captain called me into his office, the bright yellow sergeant stripes plainly visible on his desk, chewed me out, gave me the “oh what a disappointment you are” speech, then tore up the promotion orders.
Pleiku, Vietnam was a wonderment for a new arrival like me, with the sing song vocals of the population rising above the clamor of small motorbikes and bell ringing pedicabs. As a veteran of the Army’s counterculture in Germany, I immediately went AWOL and headed for the fabled opium dens of Southeast Asia. Using one of my favorite techniques of jumping in and out of 5 ton trucks that appeared to be heading for the front gate, my first attempt paid off. I was whisked out of the perimeter and in a short dusty ride, found myself somewhere in the heart of Pleiku city. When the truck slowed for traffic, I took the opportunity to jump onto the crowded street, causing bikes to swerve and unleashing a slew of what was probably Vietnamese profanity.
Picking myself up, the invigorating rush of joy surging through my whole being, I savored the moment; A free spirit again. In Germany too, the thrill of the escape was addictive. One felt light, energetic and full of adrenalin on every sortie outside the gate. Here in Pleiku, I was oblivious to the war going on around me, so taken by the new colors, sounds and smells of the city. Folks were friendly and accessible and I was soon led to a very popular den, only yards from where I had leapt out of the truck.
I was met at the door by an elderly Mamasan with a wide grin of gold teeth and empty sockets, stained red by years of chewing betel nuts. She led me to an altar where sat a statuette of Buddha, surrounded by candles and small vessels that each contained a single opium joint. She motioned for me to bow to Buddha and help myself to a smoke, whereby I was led further into the musty netherworld of the den. I was shown to a plain wooden bench with an end table and a single candle. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see several prone figures and wisps of smoke curling in the candlelight, the austere quiet of the moment broken by the giggles of a couple young gals, arriving with ice cold beer and an opium pipe.
When I finally made my way back to school, a day or so later, I was immediately kicked out and shipped back to the field...where a disgusted K told me to "throw your crap on that tank over there", and away went the sergeants stripes for a second time.
I climbed up on the tank and got a pretty good look at my new home, Firebase “Panzer”. The French had built a mineral water bottling factory here. There was a water tank, high on stilts, a small building and a wonderful open air, warm mineral water pool. The perimeter, maybe sixty or eighty yards in diameter, felt secure with its rings of concertina, trip wires, and plenty of strategically placed and concealed claymore mines. Inside the wire, a ring of alternating Tanks and APC's (Armored Personnel Carriers) completed a circle around the perimeter, packing tremendous firepower. There was also a platoon of the 1/50 Mechanized Artillery with their skyward pointing 105’s. A variety of “hooches” built of empty ammo boxes and sandbags filled out the scene. For the exception of a few occasional mortar rounds, the NVA or VC never attempted a direct assault on Firebase Panzer.
Courtesy Richard A. Rajner
Sitting there on top of the Tank, I noticed a knot of troopers standing a ways off, chatting anxiously and occasionally glancing over my way. After a time, one individual broke out of the group, sauntered coolly over and asked straight up, “are you a Narc?” I looked this dude over, with his shaggy blonde hair, beads, sunglasses, and sporting a bushy mustache. I laughed the question off and he must have felt comfortable with that, as the next words out of his mouth were, “ya got any grass?”
“Wolfmans” eyes bulged when I dug a carton of Marlboro’s out of my duffel bag. I had picked up this little gem while shopping in Pleiku. What appeared to be a sealed carton of cigarettes had actually been remanufactured by the clever Vietnamese. Wolfman was beside himself saying the guys had been out of grass for a week. The 1st platoon had been stuck for too long guarding the perimeter, unable to get out on the highway and pay Mamasan a visit. He was in store for another surprise when I removed the cellophane, opened the foil tab and pulled out a perfectly repacked Cambodian Red joint. Wolfman blurted out a long string of happy profanity when he saw that these were the deluxe model…not so easily obtained in the field…all two hundred had been opium dipped! The paranoia evaporated and I was quickly introduced to all the stone heads in the platoon. Out of the fifty or so members of the 1st platoon, the stoners outnumbered the beer drinkers 3 to 1. This worked out very well for all, as the freaks traded off their beer rations for soda pop, resulting in a harmonious, symbiotic relationship within the platoon. I was amused how a beer loving K would feign disgust at these stoned kids, when he happily traded off a case of pop for a case of beer. But as I got to know him more over our time together, it became obvious that he loved these kids like they were his own.
The party went late into the night, punctuated with a dip now and then into the warm mineral pool. There came a point when Wolfman, after a long stoney stare at me, slurred out a “you look like Liverache”! From that night on, my name was “Liver”. No one, not even K ever called me by my real name and it was soon forgotten. As close as Wolfman and I became, and all the crap we went through together, I never knew the Wolfman’s real name either.
At first glance, one might get the impression I had some patriotic motivated fervor back then. The simple truth was I, along with most everyone else chose their own personal method of survival in those years. Some of my friends bolted for Canada. Some figured just do the least amount of time and get drafted. Some tried to hide in school or use other avoidance schemes, but one way or another, young men from all walks of life were caught up in the War in Vietnam.
1966 found me less than a year out of high school, working at McDonalds and on the verge of being drafted. The draft was like the modern day version of the rapture...where people around you just up and disappear. In a major departure from scripture however, the raptured in those years had to take a tour through hell, to get where they were going.
I, along with a friend, Clyde, who also worked at the Big M, with just over its first million served, decided to enlist in the Army and avoid the draft. We made this pact just before the noon hour rush while I was toasting buns and Clyde was cooking meats. As the crowd swelled in front of the counter, the store manager and his wife showed up for lunch. Of course, on their appearance at the front of the line, all the employees jumped to their best behavior mode.
Next to my bun toaster was Clyde with twenty or so sizzling meat patties in front of him and we were making burgers at a feverish pace. Clyde threw a devilish glance my way, accompanied by a wide grin, telling me something was up. I watched as Clyde deftly separated a half dozen or so patties from their waxed paper layers and with cupped hands, made a perfectly round ball of hamburger meat.
The manager’s eyes, after carefully surveying the workings of his establishment, fell on the cooks at the grill and toaster. Up came the ball of meat in Clyde’s outstretched hand, in plain view for the manager, his wife, and all the customers. He displayed the meatball as though it were a fine diamond for all to admire, and a quizzical look came over the managers’ face. I was still trying, along with everyone else, to figure out what was up, when he lifted his elbow high, exposing the large underarm sweat patch and a little hair peeking out from under his white, short sleeve shirt.
The managers’ face was already red when the meatball found itself in the armpit and that elbow came down hard, flattening the meat into a perfect jumbo patty. As the patty came slamming down on the grill, I was desperately trying not to pee my pants, laughing so hard. The customers were streaming for the doors and the manager, his face now an overripe tomato, pointing at the back door screaming at the cooks to “get out”! Clyde and I drove straight to the recruiters and signed on the dotted line, enlisting in the U.S. Army, and avoiding the imminent draft. Actually it was more like a plea deal where the two recruits offered up four years of their lives and in exchange, we were guaranteed duty in Europe, as far away from the War we could get.
A few weeks later found Clyde and I at the induction center in Seattle. We entered a very large, dirty gray building on the waterfront, where a few well dressed and armed MP’s (Military Police) directed us into a great hall reeking of sweat and the nervous uncertainty of a multitude of young men. The mood was somber, with anxiety and fear weaving its way through the humanity. A chill came over me as I began asking myself “what the hell have I done?” What occurred next was the single most important event coloring the next four years of my life in the Army.
A smartly dressed Army sergeant, followed by two individuals, representatives of the Navy and Marines, marched stiffly into the throng; the sergeant silenced the crowd with a booming order to get up against the wall, packing the mass of bodies tightly together on one side of the hall. Right away Clyde and I were singled out along with a couple hundred or so other individuals who had voluntarily enlisted, and separated from the throng. The sergeant then centered himself in front of the remaining crowd, numbering well over a thousand draftees, stretched his arm out toward them and, as if cutting a pie with a knife, divided the mass into three arbitrarily separated groups. Satisfied with his work, he walked past each group barking “You’re in the Army, you’re in the Navy, you’re in the Marines”.
Frozen with fear? Stunned? Helpless? What words to describe the innermost reaction to the display of absolute power….The power of life and death…meted out at that moment with military precision. The blood draining, a clammy shock comes over me as I looked over that third group. Everyone in the building that morning knew, induction into the Marines in 1966, was very likely a death sentence. In that moment I made a personal vow, the Army had my body, they would never get my mind.
Life in the 1st platoon under K was not bad. We were fortunate to not have an officer in the platoon, allowing for more relaxed, casual routines, and the military dress code was pretty much scrapped. Being in the Cavalry had its advantages as well. The vehicles could carry all the provisions and ammo needed for extended days on patrol, which had the infantry beat all to hell…They could only pack what they could carry on their backs. Most infantrymen had to pack extra ammo for their machine gunner or maybe mortar rounds plus their own personal weapon, ammo, grenades, and a small amount of personal items. From the view atop my 45 ton bullet proof motorhome, cruising down the highway at 20 or 30 mph, a fifty caliber ammo box handy, chockablock full of green buds….the sight of the infantry heading off on foot into the jungle made me feel very fortunate indeed.
At night, the platoon would “lager up” forming a perimeter of alternating vehicles backed up to each other, with all weapons pointing outward from the circle. The mortar track would then set up their weapon and each vehicle would keep a guard up throughout the night. K was an expert at setting up the platoon in positions that were difficult, if not downright impossible to attack. 1st platoon never suffered a single attack during my 10 months with K. In fact, during my stint with the 1st platoon, we never lost a single soul.
There came a time when a new Captain arrived on the scene and took over command of “A” troop. Life changed almost immediately when he ordered all dogs removed from the perimeter. My little pup “Speedo” along with maybe twenty or so of A Troops’ best guards were sent packing, the young puppies most likely wound up on local dinner tables in the area. This did a lot to piss the troopers off and drive down morale. Those dogs raised a ruckus whenever there was movement or sounds outside the wire. He also made the mineral pool “off-limits” to soaking, which dropped his popularity to zero…the stoners of the 1st platoon pretty much ignored that order and could invariably be found smoking and joking in the pool at 3 or 4 in the morning while the Captain slept.
On arrival at Cam Rahn AFB the trio made a beeline for the main airport and contacted a Mamasan they knew was dealing there, scoring several kilos of fine Cambodian Red, always a favorite with the 1st platoon! As they came out of the station, dungarees bulging, a monsoon started dumping heavy and they dashed underneath the stage of the outdoor theater for cover. Huddled there out of the rain, digging excitedly through the packages and rolling up a fat one, they failed to notice what was happening around them.
Hackett gave out a yelp and the trio saw the wheels of jeeps and boots hitting the ground surrounding them. They madly dumped all the packages into a pile and cleaned out their pockets in the few moments they had, as the MP’s ducked under the stage and told them to “come outa there”! The three were lined up and searched immediately. Wolfman had a joint in his jacket pocket which he had missed, and was told to sit in the jeep. Liver still had a bunch of loose stuff in his pockets and took a seat as well. Hackett, amazingly, was clean as a whistle, not a crumb…and they let him walk away, right then and there.
The MP’s gathered up the evidence and Wolfman and Liver were taken off to jail, processed and put in a cell. The following day they were flown back to the perimeter to face the Captain. Standing there in the Captains’ hooch, along with K and his now familiar look of disgust, Liver and Wolfman had a stare down with a glowering Troop Commander, who was about to make an example of them.
The Captain broke the tension by announcing he intended to have them courts-marshaled and sent to Long Binh jail. “LBJ”, where one does hard time…which is also bad time. In other words, when you get out of jail, you stay in Vietnam until your year is up, not counting your time at LBJ. Further, as an added caveat, the pair would be subjected to extra duty until trial.
Wolfman was in a particularly depressed, surly mood as he stood with Liver, stirring shit in the 90 degree heat of Vietnam, waiting to be sent to jail. Liver, on the other hand was unusually animated, happy, as he went waltzing from drum to drum, dancing with his stir stick, making grand ballroom moves.
The antics served to agitate a sullen Wolfman into asking Liver what the hell he was so happy about, to which Liver gleefully announced that today his letter to the Adjutant General (AG) goes in the mail and we would soon turn the tables on the Captain. Liver explained, to an extremely skeptical Wolfman, that he had written to the AG claiming, in view of the fact we had just completed 30 days of extra duty labor, this should be considered punishment, and to take us to trial now would be double jeopardy.
The entire week found Wolfman pissed off at Liver and grumbling about how screwed they were, when the morning came that the AG’s office answered Livers’ letter. The answer came in the form of a Huey landing outside the wire, a young first lieutenant hopped out and walked into the perimeter.
He glanced at Wolfman and Liver, standing with their stir sticks and smoking drums, as he walked by and headed for the Captains' hooch. He disappeared from sight and right away, the radioman, who always had ears on the Captain, came by and said “that chopper’s from the AG’s office”! Wolfman immediately went ballistic and lit into Liver, his stick waving wildly, shit flying, cussing the world. Liver was ecstatic and laughing, dodging the shit and trying to explain that this had to be a good thing!
The troopers were soon called to the Captains hooch, where Liver observed the air was thick with tension between the two officers. The first to speak was the young lieutenant, turning to the Captain saying “I’d like to speak to these men alone” in the tone of a curt order, rather than a polite request. The Captain was effectively ejected from his own hooch by the lower grade officer and shot daggers at Liver as he departed. The Captain outranks the first lieutenant, however the office the lieutenant represents reduces the Captain to the rank of a pissant.
With the Captain gone, the lieutenant invited the two troopers to have a seat and started off by thanking Liver for the letter. He said the AG’s office agreed 30 days extra duty was ample punishment and it was correct to assert that a trial at this point would be unfair. The dark cloud surrounding Wolfman disappeared, his eyes lit up and that big grin of his returned. The lieutenant added he personally had no problem with marijuana.
With that statement, Liver took a closer look into the eyes of this young lieutenant. The twinkle there told a story and it took little imagination to see this fellow a couple years ago, attending law school, listening to Jim Morrison and the Doors, long hair, sandals, smoking homegrown leaf and facing the draft. He was one of us.
Convoy escort on Highway "1"
Convoy escort II and setting up a blocking force on the edge of the jungle6.
The first of these instances, when the Captain ordered him to blow up the train station, Liver really never suspected anything. FB Panzer had been taking mortar rounds on a nightly basis, and the Captain decided the VC were using the water tower at the abandoned building a mile or so distant, to direct fire. This type of responsibility would normally fall on the shoulders of a junior officer or, at a minimum, the sergeant in charge of a squad, not the troops’ most notorious clown. It really never crossed his mind that the Captain might be putting him in a very dangerous, possibly deadly situation intentionally. No, Liver loved to blow stuff up, and went after the task with abandon.
Rummaging around in the perimeters’ ammo dump, Liver was like a kid in a toy store. First, he went for two cases of TNT and three cases of C-4 plastic explosive. He then topped the pile off with a 5000 ft. roll of det cord. Detonation cord is plastic tubing packed with C-4, a versatile explosive tool, and delightful plaything. Liver was familiar with the structure; a two story cinder block building 50 ft. square, and calculated his pile of high-explosives was more than adequate to accomplish the job. The TNT he found so irresistible, another case was added to the pile for good measure.
The squad, consisting of a tank and three APC’s, first cleared the area of any immediate threats after which they dismounted and searched the building. Signs of recent activity around the tower confirmed the theory that it was indeed an observation post. To Livers’ delight, a small room was discovered under the building, the perfect spot to plant a charge. The cases of TNT and C-4 were offloaded and piled up in the little six by six space. Liver tied an end of the det cord to the explosives, then sent the spool out the door with another trooper who started running around the building, taking about twenty wraps. The remainder of the spool was wedged into the bomb, whereupon Liver opened one of the cases, wired two blasting caps together and stuck them deep into a brick of C-4. He backed out of the hole, reeling off the wire until he reached his tank, about 30 yards from the building.
Liver wired in the clacker (a device that sends an electrical charge down the wire and makes a “clacking” noise when squeezed. A ubiquitous item, commonly used for deploying the claymore mines) climbed into the drivers’ seat and buttoned the hatch. Peering through the periscope, he had a clear picture of the building and word came over the radio that all vehicles were secured.
Livers’ day finally came when it was time to say goodbye to the 1st platoon. By this time, Wolfman and many of his tightest friends had rotated out. “Liver, or whatever the fuck your name is, you better stay in the Army…you’ll never make it on the outside!” Those were K’s final words as he shook hands with a Liver who was laughing K’s remark off with a ”you gotta be fuckin’ kidding sarge!” With that, Liver jumped off K’s tank and onto a convoy vehicle that would take him to Song Mao.
On arriving, he threw his gear into a mortar track parked adjacent to the squadron’s ammo dump. With the coming morning, April 1st, he would get the Captains’ signature and head over to Squadron Headquarters to turn in his M-16 and find his way to Cam Rahn Bay, where he would catch a plane home.
“A” troop was tasked with guarding the unfinished ammo dump. The dump was a five foot berm about a hundred feet by fifty feet, chockablock full of everything an air cavalry unit required. The dump however, had not had the reinforced lid added yet; it was lacking a cover with at a minimum, three or four layers of sandbags on top.
Early evening found Liver and friends atop a tank smoking, joking, and drinking beer with lots of toasting his rotation out of the Army. By midnight, the knot of troopers on the tank, numbering ten or so, were startled by a mortar attack on the MACV compound less than a mile away. The group had a perfect view, as from the position of the tank at the corner of the ammo dump, the main gun was looking directly at the attack.
Courtesy Col. Samuel Meyers
All hell broke loose…the door gunner firing at the little figures below, running in all directions from the artillery and shooting over their backs at the Loach as they ran. Liver was back in the thick of the fight, puckered and helpless in the back seat, waiting for a round to come through the bottom of the chopper. A great relief to Liver when the skirmish finally subsided and the Loach headed for Phan Rang AFB where he hopped another chopper to Cam Rahn AFB, and a commercial jet home; his four year commitment at an end.
I was in A Troop 3rd Platoon (vehicle Alpha 3-1). I just happen to be inside the wire that particular night. Charlie started walking those mortars in on us in the middle of the night (can't recall the exact time). He was walking those SOBs right towards the ammo dump. You being a Mech Doggie, you can imagine what was in there.
At the same time he was sending the incoming, he had sapper teams breeching the parimeter. He was counting on us having our heads down during the initial attack, but we had seen him try to pull that trick before. We caught two in the wire and one at the dump. As a matter of fact our platoon dog, JP Fuck It, detected the sapper who made it to the dump. At first light, we found JP and the sapper both KIA in the same spot. Unfortunately, the dump was blown. That was why you could see the sky lit up from 40 klicks away. With the incoming, small arms fire, all those 90mm HE, Willy Peter, Flechete, and God knows what else rounds cooking off, I can say that was as close to Hell as I ever want to get.
Once the sun was high in the sky, the Troop mounted up and took out after Charlie. The next two days was some nasty stuff. We didn't loose anyone else, thank God, but we did have some WIAs. We lost one vehicle, that I can remember. Alpha 3-2 took a RPG broadside, almost killing Doc Good, Conway, and Mud Puppy. The TC, Sgt Terry, was not injured and managed to lay down some pretty damn good cover fire from his 50 CAL while Doc Good tended to the wounded, himeself being one of the wounded.
I often think about those poor bastards getting caught out in the open like that. Between us and the Cobras, we chewed thier asses up pretty good. By the time all was said and done, we had 143 of thier KIA piled on the back of a couple of 5 ton dump trucks. We dumped them into a mass grave some where out there and continued to press on. I'll never forget the look on each of their blood and dirt covered faces as they slid into that man made hole in the Earth. Those faces still visit me in my dreams to this day.
Tony Dodson, A Troop, 2/1 Cavalry, 6/32 Arty, 69-71