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Rated: E · Other · Biographical · #1577083
My journey into combat
My Trip Across the Pond

My orders told me to report to Ft Ord, Ca. no later than 12:00 PM, Oct. 13, 1969. It had been 29 days since I left Ft. Sill Ok. On a 30 day leave before I was bound for Viet Nam.
I was sitting in my sister’s kitchen having coffee with her. We were reminiscing about our childhood and talking about family. I looked over at the calendar on the wall. I blinked my eyes. I knew what day it was but that calendar was haunting me. It seemed like the square with the number 12 in it was twice as big as the others. I thought to myself, “I know it’s the 12th and I am supposed to report to Ft. Ord by noon tomorrow. I knew that wasn’t going to happen, since, I hadn’t even purchased my plane ticket yet. My desire to stay home a little longer outweighed my fear of being A.W.O.L.
My response to everyone’s question, regarding my reporting date, had been as evasive as I could make it. I wanted to stay with my family and friends as long as I could. I wasn’t worried about being A.W.O.L. for awhile. I figured, what could they do to me, send me to Viet Nam. So, when I was asked I would say something like “Oh, in a week or so.” In all honesty, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to leave, as much as I didn’t want to go where they were sending me. After all, I was only nineteen years old.
About a week after the calendar tried to send me that message, I was in my room going through my duffle bag, when my mother came into my room. Whenever I was home she spent every second she could with me. We were talking about something unimportant, when she saw my orders lying on my dresser. As we talked, she casually picked them up and read them. In a very high pitched voice she said “What does this mean?, as she read “Report to Ft. Ord, Ca. before 12:00 PM, Oct. 13, 1969.” She was almost hyper ventilating when she said “That was last week. You’re A.W.O.L.” As if I didn’t care I said “So what are they going to do send me to Viet Nam?” After a rather stern conversation I said “Alright, I’ll leave in a couple of days.
So, two days later, after a lot of hugging and kissing and a lot of tears from my Mom, my sister and my fiancé, I was leaving the airport at Youngstown, Ohio. I was flying military standby, as I said, I was in no hurry to get where I was going. I only had one transfer at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, before I arrived in California. I was hoping for a big delay at O’Hare. No such luck, since I was flying military standby, when I went to the departing gate, the ticket agent told me to stand at the end of the counter with the other two military men. I walked over to the other two G.I.’s and said “Let’s hope this flight is full.“ They were in agreement with me.
Much to our chagrin, a stewardess came over and asks us if we were on our way to Viet Nam. We all said “Yes maam.” She was only about 25, so she smiled at our response and said that we could board the plane now and to follow her. When we boarded the plane she ushered us to the First Class Section. After she showed us our seats, I said” You know we’re flying Military Standby.” She winked at me and said “I won’t tell anyone.” I don’t know which was better, flying first class or getting a layover in Chicago.
When we arrived in California, the military had transportation on standby to carry us to Ft. Ord. I guess it was the least they could do for the youth of our military, since they were shipping 2000 of us out to Viet Nam everyday. We arrived at Ft. Ord, only to stand in a long reporting line. As I’m waiting in line I’m wondering what they will do to me for being 10 days A.W.O.L. I’m nearing the head of the line; I’m about 6 guys back from the one that is reporting in. I hear the sergeant say “What is this, Private. You are 30 days late. We can’t let you get away with this. You have to be punished” He thinks for a minute. Then he say’s “Do you see that coat rack in the corner? Go pick those hanger’s off of the floor and put them back on the rack. Then get back in line.” I let out a big sigh and took a step forward in line. When I got to the sergeant to report in, he didn’t even comment on my being 10 days late.
For the next two days, I was standing in formation every two hours while they read the flight manifest for the next flight out, listening for my name to be called. For two days I was like a robot, I was either standing around or I was in formation awaiting my name to be called. Just when I thought sleep deprivation was about over take me, I hear my name called. The next thing that I’m aware of, I’m sitting on a DC-8 jet leaving California, listening to the pilot tell us that we had a 20 hour flight with stops in Alaska and Tokyo and then on to Ben Hoa, S. Viet Nam.
I was just dosing off when we land in Alaska. We were only there long enough to grab a coffee at the snack bar. It was a small airport, surrounded by snow covered mountains. We were soon, back on the plane, headed for Tokyo, Japan. I was so exhausted; I was going on a little over 2 days with very little sleep.
On the flight to Japan I did manage to get a few hours of sleep. We were at the Tokyo Airport for a couple of hours. We spent our time walking around the airport. I managed to buy some souvenirs for the folks back home. As we fly out of the Tokyo Airport, we can see all of the pagoda style houses, one right next to the other on the hillside. It looks just like I envisioned it would. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot informs us that we are about to go over a volcano, the name of which I forget, He tells us to look out the windows and he will circle the volcano so that we can see down inside the volcano. He the proceeded to circle one way and then the other, until we all had a chance to see inside the volcano. I guess it was cool that he did that for us; after all he was flying us to a war zone.
About a half hour after the tour of the black hole, I’m sitting with my seat reclined resting when it finally catches up to me. I’m really headed for Viet Nam, no more stops, no more delays. For the rest of the trip my mind is racing and I’m getting very edgy. I realize that my past no longer matters, it’s what I’ve learned along the way that will carry me through the next year. All that matters, for the rest of my life, is how I react to this new adventure, this nightmare, this hell on earth that they are sending me too.
Within a few hours, the jet is wheels down over Ben Hoa Air Base. Soon we land and line up in the aisle to disembark from the plane. As I step onto the portable stairs that have been pushed up to the plane, it hits me like someone has wrapped me in a steaming hot wet horse blanket. It was the heat, the humidity and the stench that was Viet Nam. I had to gasp for air.
Waiting on the tarmac is an NCO to take us to the reception center. As we marched along the tarmac we all gawk around, trying to take in all of the activity of the air base. We pass a formation of G.I.’s, obviously on their way home. Their uniforms had that well worn look, their boots are scuffed, and their boonie hats had each wearer’s own signature fold, roll, crease or slant to it. One thing they all had in common was the look in their eyes. It was a cold distant empty stare. I would latter learn that the stare had its own name. It was called the 1000 yard stare. That stare would haunt me for a long time. Then one day I realized that I had it.
A little further along, I witnessed a sight that caused my heart to skip a beat. There were soldiers loading flag draped coffins onto an aircraft carrier. Then I hear the NCO give us the command “Ready, Salute” and we all saluted the fallen soldiers that came before us. That sight has been lodged in the dark recesses of my memory for all of these years. During my tour, I often thought about those coffins. I kept telling myself that is not the way I’m going home.
The next stop was to get our jungle fatigues issued to us. Then off to get something to eat. This was my first encounter with Vietnamese people. They were serving the food. They were a small greasy looking people with a sing-song language that I just knew couldn’t be words or anything that made sense to anyone.
The next day we were divided by the divisions that we were being sent to. I was going to the Americal Division in Chu Lai, which didn’t particularly mean anything to me. We were transported by truck to our orientation camp of our assigned divisions. We would spend the next seven days learning what to expect in Viet Nam. Over half of the things they told us were just to scare us away from the taboos. They told us about a terrible strain of STD’s called the Black Syphilis. They told us that the guys who got this disease were sent to an island to live the rest of their life. This was just a feeble attempt to keep us away from the women. They also told us that the enemy wore black silk pajamas all the time. Only to find out later that most Vietnamese wore black silk pajamas and not all were our enemy, although it was hard sometimes to tell the difference.
By the end of the week, suffering from sleep deprivation, fear and mixed emotions about what we were in for, they had us so scared we wouldn’t even go to the latrine without a loaded weapon. On the seventh day, still not entirely sure what really lay ahead of us, they loaded us on to trucks to transport us to our individual units. We were all too innocent and naïve to know that we were being sent to the bowels of hell.
What a trip. It was often said that it was a million dollar experience but you couldn’t give me a million dollars to go again. I’d still like to have a few words with my travel agent.

© Copyright 2009 R.E.Boyd (russ at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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