April 27 - May 2, 1969
The late 60’s was a turbulent time for politics.
I was told our military goal was true self-determination by the people of South Vietnam. The policy of the U.S. was the people of South Vietnam should have the right to choose freely their own type of government. The purpose of our military presence in Vietnam was to help the South Vietnamese people achieve the security necessary to permit their beleaguered nation to rebuild, a task to which the whole of their nation was committed. When South Vietnam could exercise this freedom without threat from North Vietnam the U.S. Military would go home.
I had embraced a set of values that God was in control of every situation. I would be held accountable for the decisions and actions that I was free to make. I would do my job and duty to the best of my ability and my leaders would be judged by God whether their orders to me were just or unjust. These values gave me the freedom to be the best infantry soldier I could be and still "Love my enemy."
My personal goals were to complete my military obligation as quickly as possible, return home and get on with my life. I had even joined the LRRP’s on the promise it would take me out of the field three months earlier than if I had stayed with my infantry unit.
It was easy for words and phrases to take on new meanings. Back in the world the phrase "SPEED KILLS" was warning about highway safety. In the 60’s with the introduction of a deadly drug called "speed" the words took on a whole new meaning. Then in Vietnam to see the words on the helmet of a soldier with the nickname "Speed" the words took on still another meaning.
As a full fledge LRRP I was welcomed to the bunker bar. It was equipped with lights, fan, refrigerator, tables, chairs and a fine selection of beer and my preference, soda. On the wall were the slogans and wisdom of those who had gone before us. One of my favorites was a poem.
being led by the unqualified,
to do the unjust,
for the ungrateful.
On my first LRRP mission I was sent out as a team member of a more experienced team . We were inserted into the mountain jungles far from any friendly base. The landing zone ("LZ") our team leader had chosen was to small for the helicopter and we had to jump the last 4 or 5 feet to the ground. We found two small bunker complexes on the mission. The first one was old and obviously had not been used in awhile and the second one was newer but had been deserted while still under construction. Even this deep in the jungle the ground was still cluttered with leaflets that our side had dropped from the air to encourage our enemy to surrender.
In the newer complex we found a knife with markings that one of our team members recognized as Russian. We also found a gas mask with Chinese writing. Recalling the West German mines that we had found on the highway I was beginning to understand why some people believed we were fighting more than the North Vietnamese.
In the corner of one of the empty bunkers I found a stack of papers the enemy had left behind. As I went through the papers it was obvious it was propaganda meant for the eyes of American soldiers.
I cringed as I was reminded of my worst fear.
On the back it read :
What’s in it for you?
Is there a Coffin in your Crystal Ball???
Another pamphlet had a cartoon with a soldier reporting to his sergeant with several dead
bodies at his feet. The caption read 'Total of nine enemy killed. Sir - five Viet Cong and
four of our own Negroes.'
I could have laughed at the absurdity of the cartoon, or the fact that a soldier was saluting and calling a Sergeant Sir, but I knew it had not been printed as satire.
My first mission was extended by one day. After spending six days and five nights in the jungle I was ready for a shower and a hot meal. As we waited for the helicopters, playing in my head were the lyrics "We gotta get out of this place. If it’s the last thing we ever do." I stopped and listened to the words going through my head. I bet not everyone interprets getting out as your reward for completing the mission.
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