Guest Post From Wildbeggar: New Year’s Day 40 years ago
It doesn’t seem like 40 years have gone by since I left Vietnam for the last time. It’s funny I can remember what happened then but at the time couldn’t remember what day it was. Big Jim who had been my mess sergeant back at Ft. Ord had come over in March 68 and was in a weapons platoon in the 9th Division in Dong Tam down in the delta. I was supposed to get in on Operation Santa Claus and leave Vietnam early but was never notified. My DEROS (Date Established For Return from Overseas) was or should have been 2 Jan 69 or earlier.
Jim’s supply sergeant drove up from Dong Tam and told me that Jim had an ear infection and was being flown into Bien Hoa Air Base. He and I went over to the airbase and took Jim over to the 24th Evacutation Hospital on Long Binh. We took Jim into the emergency quonset hut and waited while the doctor and nurses worked on two wounded troops. One had shrapnel in his legs and the other had been shot in the head. The doctor looked at the latter and shook his head while the nurse rubbed his arm, he shook then was gone.
The other troop was taken back to have the shrapnel taken from his legs. It amazed me then as it does now that even being shot in the head, the soldier was still alive, giving testimony of how fast they could get someone off of a battlefield for treatment, regardless of how futile.
The doctor examined Jim and told us to take him back to a ward. Jim has a fungal infection in his inner ear and could hardly stand up much less walk. His supply sgt and I carried (or rather herded) Jim down to the ward the doctor had told us. We checked Jim in and I took the supply sgt back to our billets. The next day I finally got tired of waiting for orders to leave, and went over to the 537th PSC (Personnel Svc Center) to see if I had any orders. The lieutenant in charge was pissed at me and told me I should have left before Christmas — now you tell me.
Since they didn’t have any way to run copies of my orders, the poor clerk had to type 10 copies, which also made him pissed at me also, like I really cared. I knew that somehow, some way, and at some time I would leave Vietnam, but now I had a buddy in the hospital, and didn’t want to leave him. Leaving Vietnam is mixed emotions, you want to get the hell out, and yet don’t want to leave all the guys you’ve spent so much time with under the conditions.
The next day, the supply sgt from Jim’s outfit (Co. C 4th Bn, 47th Inf, 9th Inf Div) went by the NCO club and pick up a take out order of steaks, fries and salad plus some beer and went to see Jim. We managed to convince the old nurse in charge of the ward we were just going to say our good byes. “Now you’re not going to drink are you sergeant, are you?” She asked him. “Oh, no maam.” Jim replied and it was all his supply sgt and I could do to keep from busting out laughing. We sat in the back of the 2 1/2 ton truck eating steaks and drinking beer until all was gone. We didn’t overdo the beer thing or they would have had us up for charges.
That evening the supply sgt drove me over to the 90th Replacement Battalion for processing out. I didn’t feel like going through all the rigamorole of turning in my weapon and all the other things at the 90th so had the supply sgt sign my clearance papers and left it in the back of his truck. I was assigned to a billets and got a bunk and slept for awhile. I woke up late that night and decided to take my last shower in Vietnam.
After I showered and shaved to leave the next day, I started walking back to the billet which was about 200 yds away. I was half way beween the shower point and the billet when my eyes started burning. What the hell is this? I wondered? My last day in this damned place and I get some wierd eye infection.
Then all hell broke loose. Every gun on the bunker line opened up, flares were being shot up in the air, tracer rounds were arcing through the dark night skies and here I was standing out in an open field with shower clogs, a shaving kit and a towel wrapped around my ass and my eyes burning. With taking care of Jim and waiting for orders, I didn’t realize that it was New Years and the boys on the line were celebrating to include the use of tear gas grenades. I had to go back to the shower point and take another shower to get the tear gas off of me.
The next morning we sat in bleachers under a canopy waiting for a plane. We were there from 8 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. with no lunch, but I never heard any complaints as we would get fed on the plane. We had one stop in Yokota AB, Japan and then it was U.S. bound, the land of round door knobs.