Down South & Other Places

Down South & Other Places

by Eric Koplin (Adapted by)


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Down South and Other Places is a nonfiction work by Eric Koplin. He tells a tale of being a support troop (heavy-equipment operator) in Vietnam in 1969. He was an enlisted man, a lance corporal (E3) in the United States Marine Corps. He moves around southern I Corps, providing support to infantry units. His stories are about the craziness of that era and place. He then takes us home to Chicago, Illinois, and the western suburbs of that great city. He tells us stories of how a nineteen-year-old veteran was treated in 1970. He tells us a bit of how he adjusted, and he touches on his posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, which he deals with to this day. He tells of friends, people in general, and veterans hospitals and their staff. The book sums up the uselessness of that war and the awful treatment our returning veterans endured at the hands of their fellow Americans.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546229469
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 02/15/2018
Pages: 108
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)

About the Author

Eric Koplin began his love of writing in a VA hospital PTSD ward. Down South & Other Places is a work of many years. He wrote and quit and wrote and quit many times. Finally gathering his thoughts together he finished his work in 2017.

He spent 12 years altogether in the United States Marine Corps, entering in 1968 at the age of 17 and discharged in 1970. He spent some of 1969 and 1970 in Vietnam. He spent seven years in civilian life which he found to be very difficult because he could not adjust outside of a military environment. He re-entered the Marine Corps in 1977 and, after a 10 year period of hardly any success, left the Corps and entered the civilian world once more. He worked construction jobs for a couple of years before joining the base maintenance department of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. His PTSD and major depression made working aboard the base impossible. He was medically retired from the base in 1995 and soon after, entered a VA hospital for PTSD. He still suffers from PTSD and depression to this day. He is also a grateful recovering alcoholic. He has been clean and sober for 30 years. He lives in Jacksonville, NC, with his wife of 43 years, Nancy. They have three successful grown children. Two sons and a daughter. He is active in his community volunteering as a VSO, veterans service officer and chapter Chaplain at his local Disabled American Veterans chapter. He has his good days and his difficult ones. He is constantly working on himself with the help of the VA and his higher power. This is his first book.

Read an Excerpt



OKI WAS A strange place for a newly turned 18 year old. Oki was transit-five days tops and then down South. What a remarkable culture. These little Oriental people seemed to be thousands of years behind us. I stayed on base mostly; had to make a couple of formations a day to see if I had a flight number down South yet. The base was like no base I'd ever seen. The club had slot machines and mixed drinks. I drank a lot of something I'd never heard of before; Singapore Slings. Pretty Okinawan waitresses brought them to you while live bands played on stage. I got so drunk one night, I couldn't find my barracks so I passed out in front of the club. Our barracks was a "no frills" open squad bay. All I had was transistor radio. Us new guys were easy to spot and everybody asked, "Going down South, going down South?" "Yeah, I don't know when, soon." "You know Da-Nang Airstrip is destroyed? You know MOS doesn't matter, you'll have to fight as soon as you deplane." Rumors, nothing but rumors. Have a little fun with the new guys. The vets in Oki that were coming from down South were different. They looked old and very tan, but it was the eyes. Their eyes looked through you. I couldn't help but wonder if I lived, if I would look like that. One day I was lying in the rack, my transistor on Armed Forces Radio. Donovan was singing about Atlantis. These two vets came over and asked me if they could just stand there and listen. "Yeah, sure," I said. They did, and when the song was over they left without a word. Viet-nam vets were strange; strange I tell you. Two days later we flew into Da-Nang. Two F4 Phantom jets escorted our airliner in. No, the runways were not torn up and we didn't fight our way in. But yes, I was scared, very scared.



SGT. BEAR WAS on his knees praying Hell, I don't know. I just got here. Is he praying? He's got to be, shall we say, concerned. L/Cpl. pissed off? L/Cpl. in charge! L/Cpl. Wildman? Hell, I don't know his name, remember, I just got here! Real life drama, man! Tension-thick, almost as bad as the humidity here. Is someone laughing? Is that sky on the perimeter purple? Can't be, it's 12 o'clock at night. That's not purple, THAT'S RED, DEEP BLOOD RED and it stinks! No, uh-uh, no, I won't accept that. What's out there? Is that a battle going on or lights or what? FUCK! I can't comprehend this shit, yet, ever, please Lord never. My rifle wouldn't work. Sgt. Andover took it, brought it back, was pissed at me, said it wouldn't work. I just got it this afternoon, you gotta remember. I just got here. The dispatcher in the Jeep, with Sgt. Andover, said L/Cpl. Wildman let Bear live. I got to sleep in the shop bunker tonight. I can't go out to the perimeter yet because yes, that's right, I just got here!



THAT DOZER BACK in from Go Noi Island? Yep, that's it. (Go Noi Island, adjacent to Dodge City, a hot spot known well to the Marines of Southern I [Eye] Corps.). 1st Shore Party Bn. had a few pieces of heavy equipment on an operation there in the summer of '69. (The grunts sweep the area, the combat engineers look for booby traps and unexploded ordinance and then the heavy equipment goes in to clear land and dig up and fill in enemy bunkers). "Yeah, well," Sgt. says, "Get somebody to steam clean it off ." Well, nobody would. The dozer was still mechanically sound, just dirty and messy. Messy with L/Cpl. Darrington. Darrington was backing his dozer through a tree line and an NVA soldier with an RPG hit him square in the chest with a rocket grenade. Didn't hurt the dozer much. So, the dozer sat covered with little bits of a Marine operator. Finally, somebody steam cleaned it. Some new guy who didn't know nothing, probably. The dozer sat in the back of the lot and nobody would run it. Bad vibes, jinxed. As far as the operators were concerned, it was as dead as Darrington. Don't know what ever happened to that dozer. Rumor has it that it was buried, written off as a combat loss. Does the U.S. Military waste tax dollars? Sure they do, but not this time, I don't think. Seems to me quite the right thing. It was Darrington's dozer period. He's not around to run it, then nobody else should either. Costly? Sure! But how much does one lousy old dozer cost compared to bombs being dropped, etc; and people like Darrington. What do they cost? They cost their families and friends. They cost this nation. Men like that would have benefitted the country once they were back home. What does a young man cost? Fuck the dozer. Bury it and forget it. Bury the young men, but don't ever forget them and their sacrifices.



I LIKE SGT. PEPPER'S Lonely Hearts Band, some time off , not too hot today, cammie trousers, no shirt, Ho Chi Men sandals, fans in the hootch (tent), beer, my bros singing, "Everybody's Smoking Pot," laid back feeling, talk of home, talk of girls and cars, fast cars, faster women, food, yeah man, pizza or a cheeseburger. Henry, slow-talking, good-hearted Henry, just back in from Dodge. "Is that a hair on your chest? Hey guys, a hair!" He reaches out and pulls. My one and only chest hair. "You're growing up" Henry says. "Ah, yeah," I say, mourning my loss of hair. "What a place to do it" he says. Somewhere deep inside, red lights flashed, warning bells sounded reality. Oh shit, that's right, he's right. Well, let's just put that thought somewhere else, certainly wouldn't want to think about that today. The Beatles were singing about a yellow submarine. Allen was talking about his girlfriend in that Rhode Island accent of his. Pauly, wild-eyed, dirty-looking Pauly was looking under the floor for roaches and I was not going to think about growing up. But a chord had been struck. I believe that's the day I became more insecure and sometimes stuttered a little, sometimes. Who was the walrus anyway?



CHARLIE TOOK OUT a cow today. I was back in character, my element, if you please. Red dusty road, vacuum sound of a Detroit diesel with a 4-71 running a little hot. 7.82 gear swinging from the headache bar, M-16 tucked behind the seat, six frags in the toolbox, foot to the floor. Don't want to hit a mine going slow. I can see the hill up ahead. In the distance, choppers swarming in and out like bees around a hive, red dust swirling up to the clouds. Landing zone Payne, Hill 55, home of 7th Marines. Behind it, the Arizona, Charlie Ridge Marine Corps Lore, well, I'm starting to ramble on here, got to slow down, got a left turn to make. Lot of the little people outside the gate, some kind of commotion going on. Slow down, down to a crawl, right side of the road blocked with people. A.R.V.N. running around shooting in the air, farmers shouting, waving their arms. What's wrong with this picture? I'm searching, looking for danger, taking everything in, all my senses turned all the way up. Creeping slowly by, I see her scared eyes, labored breathing, her whole side full of holes. Probably a box mine. I probably should have shot her, someone maybe did, I don't know. I kept going. Later sometime, I can't remember when, I realized there had been no traffic. Only me and the cow, so now I regret not ending her suffering. I mean, hell, she took the mine I probably would've hit. Thank you Bossey, hope there is a reward for cows someplace. Charlie-1, Cow-0. Payback's a motherfucker!



1st S.P. Bn. Rear area

Got a shower unit

Got a chow hall

Got a club

Got plenty of beer

Got nice hootches with tape decks and fans

Got a fairly large perimeter

Got eleven posts, some towers, some bunkers

Got a pretty secure area here

Got rockets and snipers, that's all

6 p.m. until 6 a.m. all Vietnamese people have to stay home, anything moving outside the wire during those hours is apt to get shot. Well, good old 1st S.P. Bn. Rear had an exception to that rule. There was a mama-san with about five girls who would roam up and down the perimeter around 6 p.m. Yelling through the wire at each post, "Who wants 'boom boom'?" Now folks, when a Viet.woman asks if you want "boom boom," she means, "Do you want sex?" No, sorry fellows, it's cheap, but it ain't free. There was a couple of ways to do it. If a post said they wanted two girls, then two girls would hide in the bushes near that post and the Marines would either slip into the bushes after dark, or they would slip the girls into the post. Posts were checked at night by the O.D., so leaving the girls in the bushes was the safest. The girls would stay in the bushes all night go home after 6 a.m. when people could move about again. These girls were not your Saigon-type hookers. These were peasant girls from nearby villages. They had no fancy clothes or make-up. They had regular pajama-type outfits and most of them chewed beetlenut. Some even had gook sores and venereal diseases were pretty common among them. I never indulged in this activity myself, but I saw the girls and heard the stories and it was rather sad. The chaplain used to say the venereal disease rate in the battalion was much higher in number than his congregation on Sundays. One afternoon, I arrived on post about 5:30 p.m. and the new X.O. was inspecting the condition of the area, checking things out. He was awful young-looking for a Marine Major. He hopped out of his Jeep between posts and there was mama-san and four of her girls on their rounds. She was checking things out and inspecting the area also. Well, our new X.O. called to her and went outside the wire to talk to her, we couldn't hear the conversation, but it was definitely heated discussion. Suddenly, the new X.O. had mama-san by the arm and was slapping the shit out of her. He hit her pretty good. I didn't enjoy watching an old woman get slapped silly. The new X.O. strutted back to his Jeep warning mamasan no to come around with her girls anymore. We settled in, checked our radio, last minute weapons check, chose watches and settled down to shoot the bull. Conversation was centered around the whooping mama-san got. Mostly, everyone agreed that the new X.O. was a real jerk. By about 2 a.m. I doubt there was a post on the perimeter that hadn't received sniper fire. Mana-san probably had a V.C. papa-san or baby-san or maybe mama-san herself wielded a mean AK-47. Ducking rounds on post wasn't fun, luckily none of us were hit that night. I don't believe I ever saw the new X.O. around the perimeter again and mamasan and her girls were back on the job in about three days. We were definitely winning the hearts and minds of the people. Yessiree Bob, we were winning this war. Hey, maybe we'll all be home for Christmas!



I WAS ASLEEP, YOU understand. Middleton burst in yelling, throwing things. Michael followed. "Was it the new guys? Was it the new guys?" "It doesn't matter Michael, it doesn't fucking matter. New, old, in-between, it don't fucking matter! They killed him, they fucking killed him!" I was awake now, not fully. I didn't want to be awake fully. I didn't want to even be in here with this. This is bad! Don't know what yet, but this is bad! Middleton was shaking and burning leeches off his legs, more than shaking really, he was jumping around having chills, complaining about leeches. "Are there any on my back? Are there any on my back? Oooohh, leeches. I hate leeches!" Post #6 had been assaulted. They came across a field of rice paddies at around 3 a.m. running, charging, yelling at the top of their lungs. At least I think they were yelling. I believe Middleton said he was yelling, but I'm not sure. I was sound asleep. Post #6, secure post. Post #6, right across from Dog Patch, never been assaulted before?! But the Marines on Post #6 were ready, ready Freddie! Nobody gonna take Post #6. Moonless night, "dark, baby, dark." Post #6 let's go a "pop-up." "Pop" daylight, eerie flare daylight. Who was the kid on the sixty? Nobody knows, but he didn't waste no time "getting some." Spent shells flying around Post #6, M-60 chattering its deadly machine gun music, M-16's pop, pop, popping. The assaulting squad, caught! Caught big time. Open field, all lit up, M-16's and a sixty spitting lead at them. One man killed instantly, face down in the muddy leech-filled paddy water. Yeah bro, leeches. Fucking no good, blood-sucking, slimy leeches. Middleton got his leeches off now. He's crying and I've got to get back to sleep. I'm tired. Tired from work, tired of this shit, tired man. You know, tired! I was walking between the hootches today on my way to chow and I heard some shitbird say to another, "I think I'll write that kid's mom and tell her the truth man, she oughta know." I didn't say nothing, just kept heading for chow. Hope he didn't though. Hope he didn't.



IT'S FUNNY ABOUT heroes. Big Rock was a hero, 'course he don't think so. But there's a few who know. On a dark night when nothing went right, Rock went to the side of a fallen brother. His brother was pale and Rock didn't recognize him, matter of fact, his brother was a stranger. Rock picked him up with those oak-like arms. Determination sat on his ebony face. With mud sucking at his feet, Rock started a dangerous journey home. Rock carried his bro in, past Post #6 without getting so much as a scratch. We all know now what happened that moonless night at Post #6. Nobody told Rock thanks, no medal hung on Rock's barrel chest. I don't think it was even mentioned again. But there's a few that know, and God knows, Rock. God knows. It's sometimes funny about heroes.



DAVE HIT AN explosive today. He was operating wearing his flak jacket and helmet. None of the others did, too hot. We don't know what he hit, 250 lb bomb maybe, anti-tank mine. Don't know? It tossed the Dozer about a foot in the air, blew off the right track and rollers, cracked the blade in half. I wasn't there, all I know is he lived. Shrapnel scraped across his forehead and dented his helmet. His whole face was bloody. The corpsman was afraid to take his helmet off . Afraid of what he might see, and I'll be, all Dave had was a scraped forehead and one hell of a headache. He gave the peace sign to the guys as the med evac chopper flew him out. Three days later he was back in the rear with us. He got a Purple Heart and a scar. Cool, huh? Yeah right. Another day, another little story. Go Noi Island, 1969.



MONEY MAKES THE world go round. So, I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was naïve, still full of duty ad honor and thought we had a cause. Little things kept happening that would chip away those feelings, but the night the money changed was a real eye opener. Troops all over Viet-nam used M.P.C. Funny money, monopoly money, play money, all little bills, no coins. You had 5¢ bills and 10¢ bills and 25¢ bills. You could have a wad of bills and still not have a lot of money. Now, I wasn't so naïve that I didn't realize that some people make money off of wars and that Viet-nam had drug dealers and prostitutes. All societies have their dregs. Well, anyways, the U.S. Military realized the Vietnamese had gotten their hands on a lot of M.P.C. and this was a no-no. So, without warning, they changed the money. Now, us troops could turn in our old M.P.C. and be issued new M.P.C., but Viet civilians couldn't, because they weren't supposed to have any in the first place. So, a lot of Vietnamese people went from riches to rags overnight. Now I realize that's a bummer, but I was taught a few things about ill-gotten gains, which I still believe Anyways, I was on guard duty that night, and oh man, the whole 1st Marine Division Area lit up. We got rockets and snipers like crazy. Every Vietnamese in the Da-Nang area must have picked up an AK-47 that night. I mean, wow, I thought we were here to help these folks, and they're so fickle, they're hitting us because of money change. Oh well, just like they say, our motto here. The unappreciated, doing the impossible for the uncaring.


Excerpted from "Down South & Other Places"
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Copyright © 2018 Eric Koplin.
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