January 3, 1969
My orders finally arrived for the 4th Infantry Division. I was assigned to a mechanized Infantry
Unit in the Central Highlands near where Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam meet. The 4th Infantry Division
was headquartered at Camp Enari near Pleiku. I was pleased to see Sgt. Frederickís name just above
mine on the orders, since he was a fellow Texan. We had trained together at Ft. Benning, Georgia and
Ft. Lewis, Washington and had already become friends.
Having recovered from jet lag, we were awakened at 3:00 AM on January 8th to catch a transport plane to Pleiku. My concerns about flying the length of Vietnam at night in a military transport were replaced with more pressing concerns. Can a plane really fly with no insides? We sat on a floor that was on rollers. About every 3 feet a rope was tied from one side of the airplane to the other. We were told to hold on to the ropes and watch out for the cracks between floor sections. Distracted by the sights and sounds of the landing gear the flight went rather quickly.
I was amazed that after hearing so much about the jungles of Vietnam, there was not a tree in sight. Sgt. Frederick and I went through a couple days of orientation before we were sent north by convoy to Camp Mary Lou near Kontum.
Mary Lou was mostly tents with the exception of the mess hall and chapel. The perimeter had been cleared, but beyond the perimeter were lots of trees. A creek bed that ran through the camp was overgrown. The brush had been sprayed with diesel fuel and I was given the enviable task of setting the fire and burning off the brush. After a couple of days at Mary Lou, a voice yelled into our tent,
"Grab your stuff. Your ride is here."
It was January 18, 1969 when Sgt. Frederick and I stepped out of the tent and saw three APCís (Armored Personnel Carrier) waiting to pick us up.
The soldiers milling around the tracks were somehow different from all the soldiers I had trained with. I compared myself to the men before me.
In training we rode inside the APCís. However, the enemy's hand-held B-40 rocket launcher could burn a hole through the armor and the molten armor would then splatter inside the track. This gave APCís the nickname "Death Boxes". In Vietnam the practice was to ride on top and the inside was reserved to carry supplies.
Sgt. Frederick and I climbed on top for our first ride. We had not reached the camp gates before it was obvious there was a trick to riding on the APCís, Sgt. Frederick and I were the only two who needed our hands to stay aboard.
When we passed through the gates and safety of Mary Lou, we crossed a line. My safety was no longer in the hands of some faceless troops at the perimeter. I realized the only thing between me and the enemy was my rifle, the men with me and my GOD. I tried to hang on the best I could and still act like I was keeping an outlook like the more seasoned soldiers were doing.
As we made a curve in the road a hand grenade slid across the top of the track by my feet. Had these soldiers not heard the gruesome story by the Ft. Benning drill sergeant about how a GI lost his head when he didnít handle a grenade properly? In training I had been allowed to throw a grenade at some old rubber tires on the other side of a protective wall, but two sergeants had to watch every move to insure I didnít freeze up or drop the grenade.
I out ranked most of the men on the track and I knew the Ft. Benning Sergeants would not have stood still for such careless disregard for explosive material. I felt like I needed to alert someone, but no one else seemed concerned that a loose grenade was bouncing around on top the APC. Finally, one of the men seeing my anxiety reached over with his leg and kicked the grenade back to the center of the track. As we joined the rest of my new unit in the field, I decided until my uniform was a little less green I had better start learning from these soldiers before I start leading.
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