Note from the Author: This is part six of my experience during the Vietnam Conflict. You can pick up Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five by clicking on the links.
Well I was sitting on that big airliner headed back to Vietnam for Round two. I’d completed my first tour of duty and was going back for a six month extension that I’d been talked into by my company commander. If you read the part 4 of this story you will remember that my leave could not have come at a better time since a sergeant I’d transported to Long Bien in the company commanders jeep put a hole through the firewall and dash with his grease gun that he held illegally. As you recall the Company Commander was on R&R when I took off for my Christmas Leave home … and did not return until the day after I left. I was certainly hoping as I flew back to Nam that Larry Wiggins, the Sergeant, took care of that bullet hole for me.
As I was flying back to the war I begin to think of why in the world I chose to go back rather than simply take another duty station someplace else stateside. Then I remembered … This extension would allow me to get out of the Army early, if there were to be any early outs. It was hoped by most there would be some early outs since the military had been recruiting and drafting quite heavily to provide men and women to fight this war, and the war seemed to be winding down now. If the war ended then perhaps they could shrink the size of the military by allowing early outs to those that had served more than two years in the military and more than one tour of duty in war. At least that was the story we were told to get us to extend our time in country.
It was only until August 1971 that I would be required (August 3rd to be exact) to stay this time before headed home again. Surely I could find some way to hide for about 6 months or so and keep my head low so as not to be a target for more grunt work.
Approximately twenty four hours after taking off from Oakland California we landed in Tan Son Nhat Airport right outside of Saigon South Vietnam (now referred to as Ho Chi Minh City). This time I did not get on a deuce and a half truck to go to the 90th replacement battalion … I was put on a jeep (my jeep) and transported directly back to the 539th Transportation Company. On the way back I spoke to the guy that took my job briefly. His Military Job was that of an MOS 88 — a Motor Transport Operator. These people are primarily responsible for supervising or operating wheel vehicles to transport personnel and cargo. They are the backbone of the Army’s support and sustainment structure, providing advanced mobility on and off the battlefield.. My military job as you know was that of a Helicopter Crew Chief (67N20). My driver had been in country for about as long as I’d been gone on leave.
“Boy,” I thought, “Didn’t take the Major long to replace me. I must not have been as good as I thought.”
Once we got to our destination — my hooch — I was told by this young private to store my gear and report immediately to the Company Commanders office. He was waiting to “chat with me.” I’ll bet he was. However, as we were driving the 25 KM back to the base camp I tried very hard to find the bullet hole in the jeep and I just did not see it. Was this what he wanted to talk to me about? Or, was there something else on his mind?
My Meeting with the Major
It was about 2:00 PM by the time I got my gear stored in my hooch. I went to the Enlisted Men’s club and ordered a beer. Downed it rather quickly with a Marlboro and strolled over to company headquarters. It was one huge room with only one private office off to the side. The First Sergeant (Top) was sitting to my left and he looked up and nodded.
“He’s waiting for you … go on into his office,” Top said.
I knocked on his door, snapped to attention and saluted while saying, “Jerry Nix reporting as ordered sir.”
Without looking up the Major returned the salute and said, “Come on in have have a seat I’ll be right with you.”
“Damned,” I thought, “He knows about the bullet hole and shits about to hit the fan. Where in the hell is Sergeant Wiggins?”
After a few minutes the Major looked up at me as said …
“First, I’d like to thank you for extending your time here in Vietnam. It took a certain amount of courage on your part to do that considering that you did not have too and considering that you volunteered the first time around. Do you have other siblings in the military or of military age?”
I responded, “Yes sir, I have a brother who turned 18 this past October. I’ve learned that he has a relatively low draft number and will likely be joining the military soon – though I am not certain what branch.”
“Well, let him know,” exclaimed the Major, “that he may not have to come to Vietnam as long as you are here – and if the worst should happen that you don’t make it out of here that he can be exempted from combat duty based on DoD directive 1315.15 – also known as the ‘Sole Survivor Policy’ that was established into law in 1948 and there is currently a bill before congress to include the Vietnam Conflict to not only include the sole surviving son or daughter but any son or daughter who had a combat related death in the family.”
I had no idea about any of this when I decided to extend my stay in the Vietnam war … but I was certainly glad to hear about it. It would be nice if my brother did not have to go unless he, like me, wanted to.
“Thank you sir,” I said.
“Now let’s talk about what I really called you in here for,” said the Major.
“Uh oh,” I thought, “Here we go!”
“Mr. Nix,” continued the Major, “We are going to reassign you to the Base Commander here at Phu Loi. You will spend the rest of this week moving your personal belongings up to Base Command and report to the base commander’s office first thing Monday Morning.”
“What will I be doing sir,” I asked?
“I have no idea son,” responded the Major. All I know is that you are still assigned to the 539th but you will be working for the Base Commander TDY,” (meaning Temporary Duty Yonder in military slang – actually just Temporary Duty Assignment).
“So, this means I will not have to change any of my patches?” I asked (I hated the thought of sewing those damned things on or even hiring mommasohn to do it for me).
“That is correct,” said the Major.
“Will I get any additional pay,” I asked grinning.
“Not hardly,” said the Major, “No more than the hazardous duty and combat pay that you now receive. Son, we just promoted you from SP4 to SP5 before you took your leave so that will be additional money … but that is it.”
The promotion was true and one of the reason’s I decided I needed to extend my stay in Vietnam. As a SP4 (Corporal or pay grade E4) I was getting $312.90 Base pay and $55 Combat Pay as well as $65 Flight Pay for a total of $432.90 per month or an average of $99.90 per week. As an E5 (Sergeant or pay grade E5) I would be getting base pay of $366.00, Combat Pay of $55 and Flight pay of $65 for a total monthly income of $486 per month or an average of $112.15 per week. Wow, when I think about it today … my life really was not worth a lot to the military. I was worth a grand total of $16.02 per day while drawing hazardous duty (flight pay) and combat pay. And, as I write this … the folks who flip burgers for a living are fighting for a pay of $15.00 per hour and getting it in many states. Someday I will do another study on what a soldier in the lower ranks (the real heroes) are paid as compared to burger flippers at McDonald’s in California.
Reporting to the Base Commander
Bright and early Monday Morning I was standing in the base commander’s office with a couple of other folks that had been reassigned from various companies in Phu Loi. It seems I was not the only one getting a new job. Some were being attached to the MP’s (Military Police) as SG’s (Security Guards) … but I was given a special job.
It seems that I’d been chosen to drive old ammunition from our base camp to the 148th Ordinance Company in Long Binh. The 148th was one of the most decorated ammunition companies in South Vietnam and they were experts in taking old ammunition and destroying it.
The truck I would use, similar to the one pictured, was a 10 Ton Tractor with a flatbed attached. My flatbed would be equipped with wooden sides to hold the ammunition on board.
I carried everything from small arms fire, to claymore mines, to morters to Rockets we shot from Helicopters and even some tank ammunition.
The truck was built by Mack (there were two models – an M123 and an M125). Mine was the M123, I believe, and it had a diesel engine. The M125 was mainly used to haul heavier field artillery equipment. Mack produced these models between 1955 and 1969, so no, it was not a new truck. The top speed on this monster was about 42 miles per hour and you can believe I had the “Pedal to the Medal” each day I would have to drive down this road and back hauling my cargo to Long Binh and “dead-heading” back to the base camp.
Today it seems this drive would only take about 53 minutes to travel this almost 18 miles. However, it seemed like a couple of hours in my memory. As stated I had her floored from the front gate of Phu Loi to the front gate of Long Binh and did not slow down for old people, children, dogs or any villages. I’d just keep it hammered down and blasting the horn as I approached and drove through the villages.
I used to laugh every time I’d pass this sign right outside our main gate:
Do you understand how fragile old rusty ammunition can be? I didn’t care. I was not going to be shot in the head by a VC Sniper unless he knew how to lead by a few hundred feet when he took aim. I could care less about blowing the ammunition up. At least I would not feel it or live through it. I’d rather be dead from ammunition blowing up than crippled for life because a bullet missed its true mark (the center of the brain).
This was the most dangerous job I had while in Vietnam and to think I would not have had it if I’d not listened to my company commander and extended my stay there. The best job I had up to this point was driving that commander’s jeep because I knew he was not going anywhere there was real danger.
This job of ammunitions transporter was scheduled to last about 5 months (Mid-January to Mid-May). I would take a day to load up and a day to make the drive down and back. So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would load the truck down and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I was driving to Long Binh. Being a support group on a base camp, we were allowed to sleep in or go to church on Sunday and take the rest of the day for relaxation or some other interesting activity like softball, football, weight lifting or drinking booze and smoking dope while listening to music or watching some old black and white TV programs.
I would generally relax with my guitar, write letters or poems or listen to AFVN Radio (as I also did while making the drive from Phu Loi to Long Binh 3 times each week – that’s listen to the radio and drink a few beers, not play the guitar or write letters). I did my fair share of drinking 7 days a week … Sunday was not special for that. If you would like to listen to some AFVN Radio … you can click on that link I just left you and catch about 30 minutes of Pat Sajak’s Dawn Buster Program from Monkey Mountain. You can even listen as you read the rest of this blog. Robin Williams brought this program to public popularity in the Movie, “Good Morning Vietnam.” If you have not watched it I highly recommend it.
Needless to say I did not want this ammunitions job to last 5 months so I worked really hard to finish it early – sometimes making an extra trip to Long Binh if I could get help loading the truck on a day I usually reserved for driving only. However, this would get me back to the base camp rather late (sometimes after dark) – which added more risk to the job.
I knew there were VC Snipers around and I was very lucky. One such sniper (before my time) was a female that went by the code name “Apache.” She was one badass female too, from what I understand. She would cut the eyelids off her victims and castrate them. These were her souvenirs.
She too met her match one day … she met a US Marine who was just a little bit better than her – though he kept no souvenirs for himself.
CARLOS NORMAN HATHCOCK II SINGLE-HANDEDLY KILLED 93 enemy soldiers in Vietnam. No sniper killed more. And those were only the confirmed kills, those verified by others. Among Marines, Hathcock’s exploits in Vietnam are legendary: He shot an enemy soldier who was more than one-and-a-half miles away and couldn’t even be seen by the naked eye; he crept deep into areas controlled by the Vietcong and killed high-ranking enemy officers; he and another sniper under his charge pinned down 200 North Vietnamese Army regulars for three days in a rice paddy. I could go on about this True Hero … but will tell you that he never received one medal for his bravery that I have read about. He stood 5 foot 10 inches and weighed about 120 pounds. This is one Hero I think you should read about yourself and you can do that by clicking on this link. If you are reading a hard copy of this blog here is the web address to the Washington Post Story:
I was actually able to end this job on April 21st, my birthday, after having it just 3 to 3-1/2 months. I was so glad … but what was coming next? I still had 4 months left in this miserable hell hole.
The Base Camp Bus Driver
It was sometime around April 22nd that I was informed I would become the new Base Camp Bus Driver. I asked the person who told me this (the assistant of the base commander known as the Executive Officer or XO) if we had a bus on the base. His response was, “No, but it is being built and should be ready in the next day or two.” Until further notice I was told to take it easy but to stay on base.
I laid around for about two days before getting the call. I was to return to the motor pool of the 539th transportation company and pick up my bus. “Wow,” I thought, “I’ve never driven a bus.”
When I got to the motor pool I checked in with a friend of mine, Charles Smythe. I learned two things from him. First, my bus was nothing more than the 10 ton truck I’d been driving to the Long Binh Ammo Dump with new sideboards (painted lime green) and benches installed on a flat-bed trailer. Second, I learned that the 539th was standing down and would be leaving South Vietnam in May or June to retire its colors (flag) back stateside. My good friend and Helicopter Pilot, Capt. James McConnel would be retiring the colors.
My next stop before returning to the base commander headquarters was to look up Capt. McConnel. I needed to find out if it was true. I looked into the officers club door and saw him at the bar.
“Capt. McConnel do you have a minute,” I asked from the door. Enlisted men were not allowed in the officers club without an invitation.
“Sure Nix,” he replied, “Come on in.”
I set down at the bar next to him, drinking a coke, and we talked for about 30 minutes. He verified that the 539th was leaving and any soldiers with two months or less left in country would be going with it and would be reassigned back in the world (that was only a couple of guys). All the rest would be reassigned to other units to finish their time in country. In the case of the captain, he was only getting out a week or two early. However, this would be his last month to do any test flights as all the helicopters will be transferred to other maintenance companies such as the 605th Transportation Company. So, the captain would be spending his last 30 days or so working with the First Sergeant and the Company Commander in shutting the company down and getting ready to ship paperwork and the flag back to the United States. Captain McConnel already knew he was headed to Fort Campbell Kentucky to finish his time in the Army.
Overall the Army was pretty upset with Captain McConnel because he was not a lifer. He committed to 6 years (3 active and 3 inactive) right out of college ROTC and that was all he was going to do. I remembered asking him once why he would get out when he could do all the flying he wanted at no cost to him and his response was, “So I can get paid a lot more for the flying I will do as a civilian.” It seemed his family was from the Northeast (I think Pennsylvania) and most worked in the field of “crop dusting” and his immediate family did their dusting with Helicopters rather than fixed wing aircraft. He probably made in a week or less what the military paid him for a month. I understood from that time on why he was so easy for most enlisted personnel to get along with. He was not your typical Captain.
Captain McConnel did suggest that when I report back to the world to look him up at Fort Campbell and try to get my orders … wherever they may be … changed to Fort Campbell.
Somewhat disappointed I left the Captain at the club and climbed in my truck (or bus) and headed back to the base headquarters.
The next day I checked into the commanders office and asked the XO exactly what it was, I was supposed to do.
“Son,” he said, “You will start at the main gate every morning at 0700 and start driving in any direction you want to around the post. As you see a GI walking … stop and offer him a ride to where he is going. You job is to make it easy for your brothers in arms to get around this base camp. Got it?”
“I’ve got it sir,” I said.
On the side of the truck bed was written the words Phu Loi Bus … and some smart-ass had even painted a few PINK flowers on that lime green siding. I thought I’d be the laughing stock of the base camp.
Surprisingly I was not. Most people (except the really macho ones) were more than happy to jump up on my bus and ride to the PX or airfield, hanger or other location – it was far better than walking in the heat. It wasn’t long before I was not only picking up American GIs … I was also picking up Hooch maids and bar girls for the various company bars we had throughout the base camp. Only the guys in my company knew my name … everyone else just called me “Bus Driver” … but I was well liked – and I was really beginning to like the job.
I’d pick up my homemade bus every morning about 0645 hours and go back and park it every evening about 1700 hours. I did this not 5 … but 7 days per week. Of course the busiest days were Saturday and Sunday. I wore out the road to and from the PX where everyone had to go to spend their money. Even though the bed of the truck (bus) was open … I’d even haul a lot of people during monsoon with the rain pounding down and the dirt roads turning to Mud.
In late May, the last of the GIs in my old company area were sent packing and the Civilians of National Helicopter Association (NHA) took over our hooch’s and clubs. Since I also gave all of them rides as they were needed … I was welcomed to drink my beer in their club (our old Enlisted Men’s Club) that I was most familiar with.
The Girl of My Dreams
One night (June 30, 1971) at about 1900 hours I walked into the civilian club to drink with a civilian friend and there she was … the girl of my dreams.
When I first saw her I set down and ordered a cold Coors. She turned around and bent over the cooler to get me a Coors. I saw those little pink panties under her mini-skirt. I elbowed my buddy who was drinking Rum and Coke and said, “Did you see that?”
From that point on he and I were both drinking Coors … and a lot of them. To heck with the Rum and Coke. And we never ordered the beers at the same time.
After I was about “three sheets to the wind” I again elbowed my friend and said, “Hey … I’m going to marry that girl and take her home with me.”
He said, “Yea right. Your going home in about 34 days and will not think another thought about her.”
I looked down at the end of the bar where she was talking to another GI I knew from Puerto Rico – David Rosado. I did not want to upset anyone so I thought the right thing to do was simply ask David if they were dating. I walked over when she went to wait on someone else and asked if he and her had anything going on … he said, “No man. She’s just a friend.”
“What’s her name,” I asked?
“I call her Lil’ Lee,” David said. It was loud in the club with the band playing so I thought he said Lilly.
I stayed and drank and tried to start a conversation with her … but she was not talking. I ultimately left when they closed the club at midnight and walked back to my Hooch at the company headquarters which was about a mile down the road. I went to bed and dreamed of only one thing …
I could not get this girl out of my mind. I dreamed about her all night. I actually dreamed we did get married and had a house full of kids.
There was only one problem that I could see … she would not even look at me … let a lone talk to me. What could I do to create some interest on her part because there was plenty of interest on my part.
I realized that sometimes things just do not go the way you want them to. I also realized I was not a quitter and I was not going to give up easily. I committed to trying again.
Low and behold, the next day I was headed – for about the 10th time – to the Main Gate to pick up some more GI’s that were coming in from patrol. I had to transport them to their company area. As I was driving on the road between the 539th (now civilian headquarters) and 605th (these two company areas were almost directly across from each other) I saw her getting ready to cross the road to go into the 605th area.
“Hey Lilly, where you headed,” I yelled? I stopped as she looked up at me. She was giving me a strange look. “Lilly, don’t you remember me from last night,” I asked?
With that she stepped up on my trucks running board and held onto my open window and said, “Number 10 GI, my name not Lilly, it Lê (pronounced lay).” For those of you who may not know … #1 GI is the best of the best and #10 GI is the worst of the worst. We were not in a good place.
I smiled and asked, “Where you going?”
“My room,” she stated.
“Where’s that,” I asked?
She jumped off my truck as she was saying, “Stupid Number 10 GI.”
I put the old truck in first gear and started driving on down to the main gate to pick up my load of guys coming in off patrol. “What the hell,” I thought, “I’ve been here too long. I don’t even know how to get a girl anymore.” I did decide though that I was not ready to give up. The one thing I did notice that I could not explain was all while she was in front of me by the window of my truck she kept her mouth covered up … “Why the hell does a person do that,” I wondered.
That night I put on my Sunday Best Civilian attire and headed back to the club. I was determined to get this girl one way or another. I got to the bar earlier than most. As a matter of fact the only people there was the cashier, the manager and the bar maid, Lê. Lê was standing at one end of the bar playing with a Palmetto Bug (large cock roach) she had captured. It looked like she was trying to train it to come to her when she would walk away a few paces and tap on the bar with her long, beautiful finger nails.
Rather than going toward her the damn bug opened its wings and flew directly toward my face. I was on a bar stool. I shoved back from the bar and over went the bar stool and me.
I laid sprawled out on a nasty floor while Lê stood over me laughing like crazy. It was then that I realized why she would cover her mouth to talk. She had forgot to cover it this time and I learned that she had no teeth in front of her mouth on top. She was like a 6 year old school girl who was losing her baby teeth. A woman of this much beauty and she was toothless as a baby.
That did not deter me, as it would have many. I still wanted to get to know her. I pushed even harder all night till the bar closed again at midnight. She was coming around. At least she was not calling me a Number 10 Stupid GI anymore and was answering some of my questions if she could understand them well enough. Her English at this age was poor.
I told Lê I had only been in country for 33 days and really would like her help in showing me around. Fact is … I only had 33 days left in country – but figured she did not need to know that until I could solidify a relationship.
Four Wonderful Days … almost
For the next few days and nights I spent as much time as I possibly could with Lê. I really wanted to get to know as much about her as possible. I would walk her home (across the street) after the club closed and would sit outside her hooch, on the ground, and talk for hours as we gazed into the heavens and looked at all the stars. It was dark so the stars were really bright most nights and there were millions of them. For two nights I am aware of we talked until the sun came up.
We talked about my childhood and we talked about her childhood. She really did not have much of a childhood. She never knew her mother. Her mom and Dad split up right after she was born and she was taken away from her mom by her dad. Being in the South Vietnamese Army it was very hard for him to raise her so he sent her to live with his sister (her aunt). Her aunt had four daughters and 1 son. They were all younger than Lê so she ended up being their caretaker at a very early age. She was not only the babysitter to her cousins … she was the maid to her aunt and uncle. She would take her cousins to school everyday, but she was not allowed to go to school. She had to go back home and clean the house and cook the meals. Somewhat like a 3rd World Cinderella.
By the time she was about 11 or 12 years old she left home and started selling Coca Cola to GIs as she could find them. She always loved hanging around the Americans because she felt that they were more trustworthy than most of the people she knew in her country. Well, at least up until the time she was raped by one of the GIs. Then she became leery of all people. She would do odd jobs for food. She did have some girlfriends that would look out for her and let her stay with them from time to time (or rather their mothers would look out for her and let her stay with them).
I asked her early on what happened to her teeth (I think the first night we talked) and found out that she did not have real good dental hygiene habits growing up and they simply rotted away. Hey, she did not have real parents to teach her. She eventually had to get the top front four pulled … and back then when they had to take out the four front teeth … there was no such thing as Novocain in the dental offices of Vietnamese dentists … so it was really painful for her. When I first met her the dentist was in the process of building her a set of permanent false teeth that would be screwed into the bone under her gum. Again, no pain killers.
This surgery actually took place about 3 days or so after I first met her. This also helped explain to me why she drank so much whiskey when we first met. She needed it just to help control the pain … for her it was not for pleasure like it was for me.
July 4, 1971
The civilians with NHA had a 4th of July party at the club that started at Noon and would go until 0600 hours the next morning. Naturally Lê had to be there to tend bar along with a couple of other girls. I was also invited since I was one of the regulars at the bar.
At about 1800 hours they decided to let the bar maids have the rest of the night off since most of the guys were now serving themselves anyhow. They had strippers in the bar so Lê and I decided to do our partying outside the bar.
This is when I came clean to her about my time in country that was left and my intentions to marry her.
Keep in mind as you read this that her English was not good and my Vietnamese was even worse … so the conversation really did not go as smooth as what you will read here, but you should get the idea. As a matter of fact, much of our discussion was sign language.
“Baby,” I said, “I realize that I have only known you for a couple of days … but we have spent so much time together that it feels like I’ve known you all my life. I would really like to spend the rest of my life with you if you will have me. I’d like for you to be my wife and be the mother of a lot of children for me.”
She smiled (with her new teeth showing brightly) and said, “I’m not sure. I have to know you some more. Where would we live, your country or mine. You have not even met my dad yet … and I really am not sure I want you too. He does not like Americans at all. I need to talk to him and get him in the mood to meet with you and get to know you.”
“Honey, we do not have much time,” I said. “There is something that I need to clarify for you.” When we first started talking a few days ago I told you that I had only been in your country for about 33 days. The truth is at that time I only had 33 days left in your country. Now it is down to 29 days. They are sending me home to America on August 3rd so if we are going to get married we have to act fast. I don’t care about your meeting my family and I am not concerned with meeting yours. It is you that I love … not them.”
With that, she stood up, slapped me across the face and took off to her hooch without saying a word.
I tried desperately hard for the next two days to get her to even acknowledge my existence. It was not going to happen. She was angry, and I could not really blame her. What on earth had I done. I loved this woman and with a little white lie I had ruined it all.
I needed a “Hail Mary” and thanks to some north Vietnamese I got one. On about the evening of July 7, 1971 while I was walking from her Hooch to mine (up at base headquarters) we happened to go on Red Alert. A couple of rockets were launched from out in the village into our airfield by some Viet Cong. This means we all had to retrieve our weapons and head to our assigned positions in case we came under attack. My assigned position (since I was no longer a Helicopter Crew Chief but rather a bus Driver) was bunker 53 right behind the old 539th company area. I had to run to base headquarters, get a rifle and ammo, and run back to where I’d just come from to stand guard duty.
Nothing happened that night and a few hours later we ended the red alert. However, I had an idea. I had already told her one lie … one more would either win her heart or end our relationship forever.
The next morning I hid on the floor of my truck and had a friend drive it right up to the front door of her hooch. He jumped out of the truck and knocked on the door. Understand there were about 20 girls living in this one huge room. The girl who answered the door recognized my truck (since I had become their main source of transportation) and yelled out something in Vietnamese. The next thing that happened is Lê came running outside. My buddy told her that I’d been killed in the rocket attack the night before and before I died I’d asked him to let her know that I died loving only her.
She started screaming and crying all at the same time. I could not understand what she was saying … but could only imagine. I jumped up out of the truck and yelled, “Damn it woman I knew you loved me … now will you marry me?”
She had a broom in her hand that looked a lot like this one. She proceeded to beat me with the broom all while she was screaming and crying. All I could do was protect my head with my arms and take it. I thought she would never quit.
Then as quickly as it all started … she stopped and threw herself into my arms and kissed me all over my face. While she was kissing me and crying she kept saying … “Ok Number 10 GI … I marry you … I marry you Number 10 GI … I marry you.
“Oh honey,” I said with tears coming down my cheeks, “I really hated to do that to you but I love you so much and wanted to make sure you loved me enough to marry me for a lifetime.”
I went home that afternoon and wrote a letter to my mom and Dad. In the letter I told another lie. I told them I had already married Lê and needed them to send me about $1,000 so that I could get her home. I had already spent my money on a new 1971 Mustang that was at home waiting for me … so I had to borrow the money from them. I knew I was cutting it close since it generally took a week to get a letter home and another week to get a reply.
On the night after we decided to tie the knot I was told that one of the civilians had been making passes at her after finding out I had an interest in her. Needless to say … disappointment and anger set it … I went on the hunt. We were not even married yet and already I was running into problems. I was expected to be called a “Gook-lover” and other derogatory names, but thought none of that would start until I got her home with me.
I found him about the same time he found me. It was dark with nothing lighting up the midnight other than the stars and moon in the sky. When he started walking toward me he un-slung his AK-47 rifle and all I heard was two metallic clicks. I jumped on him like flies on manure, without even thinking and without any regard for my life or his. GIs were not allowed to carry weapons on the this particular base camp because of some racial tensions I have written about before, and civilians were not supposed to either.
I took his rifle away from him and began to beat him with it. When it was over he was lying on the ground in blood from his face and head wounds. With tears in his eyes he looked up at me as said, “I was only coming to tell you I was sorry for what you heard and that I was leaving country tomorrow, so I wanted to say good-bye and wish you both luck in your future.” This is when I realized I had just beat up my wife’s boss … the manager of the Civilian Club. I grunted, cursed him and walked away shaking with rage, adrenaline and embarrassment. After he told me what he did I felt about 1 inch tall.
I later learned that due to the fight and the fact that he had an unauthorized weapon, he was terminated from his job before returning to the United States. It’s also my understanding that he had several stitches applied to his face and head before he could leave Vietnam. I also found out that what he was supposed to have done (chasing after my soon to be wife) never happened. It was a rumor started by someone that had something against the two of us getting together and he was a victim as much as we were.
I was never penalized or written up for the event … I’m not even sure the Army ever even heard about it. Or if they did … they never understood who was really involved. Apparently, he never told them. He simply (based on what I’d heard) said he was jumped from behind because someone wanted his weapon. I also found out the two metallic clicks I heard was him taking out his 30 round magazine and removing a round from the chamber so that he could be sure no one was shot.
For the next several days mine and Lê’s life was like a whirlwind. I would work in the daytime, she would work in the evening, and we would spend hours talking about our future – usually until the sun came up. I was awake 48 hours straight more times that I can remember during those last few weeks in Vietnam. I would grab a knap when I could and many times it was in her arms outside her room.
Finally, about one week before I was due to leave the country I got a letter from Mom and Dad. In that letter was a money order for $1,000 along with a note. The note read:
We felt that God led you to extend your time in Vietnam because He had a plan for you. We are pleased that He has helped you find the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with and we look forward to meeting her. We had rather accept her as a daughter than to lose you as a son.
Love, Mom and Dad
With money in hand, Le and I jumped into a Taxi Cab and headed for Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). We were in search of a lawyer who was supposed to be good at getting the girls from Vietnam to America. We finally found him on Tudo Street. Mr. Ho Van Ro had many years of experience. When I asked him how much it would cost it liked to floored me.
He said, “Only 93,000 piaster sir.”
“What,” I screamed … and Lê started to laugh.
“That is only 350 American Dollars,” she said.
With that I was somewhat relieved. Mr. Ho explained to me that I would not be able to take Le home with me when I went next week because there was simply not enough time to get the passport, visitors visa and background check done. We decided to bring her to America on a visitors visa. This would allow her to be in the country without a green card for 90 days. If during that 90 days she and I were legally married, she would be issued a green card and could not be deported – though citizenship at some point was strongly recommended. I asked him how long it would take and he said it would all take about a month.
August 2, 1971
I packed my duffle bag and walked over to base headquarters. There I asked for my orders to go back home. I was told by the clerk (a private first class) that I did not depart until tomorrow and the orders would not be ready until the end of the day. I told the clerk I would be back for the orders later, that I was going to spend the entire day and night with my future wife. He asked me if she lived on base and I told him she lived in the 605th Transportation Company Area. He said, I will have your orders delivered to the 605th by 1600 hours. I thanked him.
Then I went to see the base commander (my 539th commander had left months earlier) and I thanked him for allowing me to have easy duty the past few weeks and wished him luck for the remainder of his tour. He thanked me for being a model soldier and wished me luck with my marriage. The guy had not heard of my fight a couple of weeks earlier.
With that I threw my duffle bag over my shoulder and headed for Lê’s hooch. I knew the truck to take me, and other soldiers headed home, to Tan Son Nhat International Airport would be at the main gate ready to leave at 0800 hours the next day.
Lê and I spent the entire day and all night together. The girls in her room tied curtains around her bed so that we could have some privacy. We talked most of the time … but I would be lying if I did not say we also made love for the first time – and a lot throughout the entire night.
The next morning at about 0700 hours, Lê and I started to make our way to the main gate. No she was not going with me to the airport … as far as she could go would be to the main gate. We found a private corner. I walked over to the Deuce and a half truck and through my duffle bag in the back and went back to Lê and held her in my arms for the next 30 to 40 minutes.
Then it came time to board the truck and head to the airport. I held Lê in my arms and kissed her long and soft one last time. Since I was the only G. I. with a girlfriend at the gate the other 6 or 7 kept yelling for me to get on the truck because all they had on their mind was getting home. All I had on my mind was running to the base headquarters to see if I could extend my time in country one more time … because this time I did not want to leave … But I had too.
I finally tore away from her … tears in her eye’s … and boarded the truck.
The truck took off down the road and it seemed like we were pulling into the airport in record time. Why everyone was in such a hurry I had no idea. I did not want to leave. I wanted to go back and be with my Love. I had no real idea when, or if, I would ever see her again. It was a war zone – anything could happen.
I boarded the airplane and about 22 to 24 hours later was landing in the Good Ole United States and missing the Love of my Life.
During my flight back to the world (America) I had plenty of time to think back on my days in war torn Vietnam and all the things I was able to learn and grow from. I went over there as a kid of 18 and came back as a man of just 20. But I’d learned a lot of lessons in my time at war.
- First and foremost I learned there is a thing called “Love at first site” that was true and real. I’d always thought that it was, but really did not believe it till it happened to me.
- I also learned that life is tough and to succeed I had to be tough right along with it. No one was going to give me anything for free. If I wanted it I would have to work for it and learn to take it when the time was right. My dad had taught me that Matthew 7:7-8 states the following: (7) Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; (8) For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. What the good book does not tell you and should tell you is this simple fact: In order to receive a gift … you have to be willing to take it. I can hand you a gift all day long and if you do not accept it (take it) you will never get it. So, it is okay to ask as long as you are also willing to take once the thing you ask for is handed to you.
- I learned that you become more successful helping others than you do by not helping others and helping only yourself. In other words … you don’t become successful at anything taking advantage of others … you must help others reach their goals and dreams in order for you to reach yours. I actually learned lesson #3 and #4 when I was working to get another stripe added to my uniform and go from SP 4 to SP 5 (equivalent of going from corporal to Sergeant). I could have studied for the exam alone and probably aced it … but I found it much easier to get the guys who were taking the test with me to form a study group to help each other with some of the tricky questions (like how many links in the large dog tag chain = 365; and how many links in the smaller dog tag chain = 52).
- After working with people from various other countries while I was in Vietnam, I got the feeling that America was truly the premier country in the world. We were respected by all other countries because of the freedoms we American’s have and take for granted every day. I felt proud serving my country because I’d finally learned that my country served me everyday. Now this is not to say we had the same freedoms in the military as did civilians all over America. We did not … we had no such thing as free speech in the military. We were US Government property back then and was treated as such. But all in all … it was a good life.
- I learned that it is ok to be afraid at times. There were plenty of times during the war that I was afraid – and don’t mind admitting it. Fear (as stated by the Late Great Zig Ziglar) is False Evidence Appearing Real. One of our US Presidents – Franklin D Roosevelt also stated “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” But, I learned that both of these gentlemen were actually saying be afraid … but make that fear work for you and not against you. Fear, in most people triggers a “fight or flight” response. I learned when it is time to take a stand and when it’s time to run like hell.
- I learned after jumping on a man for something he did not do to always ask questions before jumping to conclusions. I still find that hard to do … but it is something I will continue to work at the rest of my life.
- I cannot tell you all the things I learned while I was in country during those 20 months from January 1970 through August 1971 – but I can tell you it was a hell of a lot more than I learned in the previous 12 years in elementary and high school.
When we landed at Travis AFB in California I was ready (or so I thought) for the next chapter in my life. We got out of the airplane on the tarmac and was guided through cyclone fencing to the air terminal. The cyclone fencing was for our protection against any war protestors that may find there way onto the air force base. It did not happen there.
We were issued Class “A” Uniforms (see photo below) for our trip home. We were also provided bus tickets to the airport in San Francisco and Airline tickets to the closest airport to our homes. We were all on 30 day leave or getting out of the Army. As for me I was on a 30 day leave before reporting to my next duty station at Fort Hood, Texas.
When I finally made it to the airport in San Francisco I (and the rest of the soldiers who’d just spent time in a war torn country) was greeted by protestors spitting at us and throwing things at us like various vegetables, bottles and rocks. Again we were escorted in a cyclone fencing into the airport. If any of you do not believe what I am saying … please check out this Video.
Oh, did I want five minutes alone with some of these people. However, there were enough MPs (military police) on the scene to make sure that these people had their first Amendment Right to demonstrate and throw things at us … Soldiers who were willing to give their lives so these idiots could have that right (or at least that is what we thought at the time).
In the months that followed if I told someone I really did not see any action in Vietnam … most people would not believe me. However, if I told them I killed babies the night we hit the orphanage … seems like everyone would believe me. So, my biggest learning about the war (Vietnam or any war) is that people would believe what they wanted to believe – especially if they had not part to play in the war.
The truth is only 1 in 5 Americans saw action and 1 in 10 Americans died in the war. There were somewhere between 58,148 and 58,220 American Service Men and Women killed (depending on what you want to read and believe) and around 304,000 were wounded out of the 2.7 million that served during the war. 75,000 Vietnam Veterans were severely disabled out of the 304,000 that were wounded.
As of this writing it has been 48 years, 25 days since I left Vietnam. While I thought my wife would arrive shortly after me … she actually did not get to America until January 27, 1972 – which was one day after I got out of the Army. I served my last 7 months and 5 days stationed out of Fort Hood, TX and was part of the 2nd Armored Division Army Band (Trumpet Player/Music Librarian). I landed that job out of pure luck or sympathy. I was scheduled to become an MP assistant in the riot control squad and told the AG (Adjutant General) that I would go AWOL if I had to do that since I’d served 2 tours in Nam without a scratch. I did not feel it appropriate to force me to get my head busted by some drunk or high soldier in my last few months in the Army. He agreed to let me try out for the band. The Colonel in charge of the band saw my dilemma and allowed me to stay and get their music library in order until I exited out of the military.
I liked this job in the Army because I would work Monday thru Friday from 0800 to 1000 hours (2 hours per day). The rest of the day was mine. I chose to serve lunch then tend bar at the Cowhouse Club outside the base in Killeen TX. The pay was poor but the tips were fine.
My wife, who came here on a “Visitor’s Visa” was due to be deported on April 27, 1972. We got legally married on April 8, 1972 and immigration had no choice but to issue her a green card. They watched us for the next few years to make sure we stayed married and that I did not marry her just to get her in this country.
Lê ended up getting her legal citizenship in 1975 (just three years after she got here). We had four half-breed children (yep … I called them that and worse during their lives to toughen them up a bit … and most of them, I think are okay with it … I do know they are tough and proud as hell of their heritage). Linda was born April 23, 1973 … David August 30, 1977 … Jeffrey July 24, 1981 and Samantha March 20, 1987. These four kids – with great work ethics – have provided Lê and I with 7 Grandchildren (6 girls from Linda, David and Jeffrey and 1 boy from Samantha). Lê and I feel very blessed after 47 years of marriage – a marriage that most people I knew at the time said would not last 6-months.
The kids and my wife know that even though I was pretty tough in calling the kids “half-breeds” and my “Little Gooks” they understand I did so out of love and they all know that I will go to my grave loving them. I don’t believe and never believed (unlike many today) that people should go through life being offended and victimized by names they are called. They, instead, need to get over it and prove to the name caller that they are better then he/she is by the actions they take. All my kids have proven this to me – and I am so proud of them. I hope my grandchildren make me as proud.
Finally in closing … there is a lot of good that came from the Vietnam War (especially for me). I realize that many lost loved ones and this is what we hear about most of the time. However, here are some facts you may not be familiar with:
- 85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life …
- 97% of Vietnam Veterans were honorably discharged …
- 91% of Vietnam Veterans say that are glad they served …
- 74% of Vietnam Veterans say they would serve again, even knowing the outcome.
I am proud of my service to this country and for my time in Vietnam. My only true regret is that I ended my military career much too soon. I’ve kicked myself many times for not staying in for 20 or even 30 years. It could have been such a great life. However, I also feel blessed for all the things I learned while in the military for less than three years. I have a granddaughter that has enlisted in High School ROTC this year and I am praying it gives her as much pleasure as the Army gave to me and hope that she at least considers going all the way.
Thank you for reading these six stories. I will work now to put them all together into one story. If you would like a copy of that simply write to me at email@example.com or leave a message in this post with your email address (remember it will be public though). Feel free to leave any comments below and if you want to keep your email address private just email it to me in order to get all six parts of this together.
One more thought … many have asked me about Vietnam Stats over the years. I found this website that provides Vietnam War Fact, Stats and Myths that you may want to take a look at. If you are younger and did not live through this time of turmoil, please take a look at this page and don’t believe a lot of the “Fake News” that is being reported about it today.
Jerry Nix, Freewavemaker, LLC
Lê and me then and now … Getting better with Age!