“I must explain that this story is written in the first person in order to depict more clearly the horror, fear, joy, and sorrow that practically every line doggie experienced during his tour in one of history’s most unpopular wars. Millions of other stories are even more dramatic than those in this book, and every trooper who carried a rifle and rucksack in Vietnam now carries around in his own mind a book full of stories similar to these.
Written some sixteen years after it took place, this story tells how I envisioned the Vietnam War during the late 1960s. I was young and inexperienced and had no doubts that my country was doing the right thing by its involvement in this faraway land. I knew practically nothing about the political relationship between this small country and mine, and merely accepted the fact that “we were right” and “they were wrong” and that was that. Being a product of the post-World War II baby boom, I was brought up hating communism even though I knew very little about it. Serving a year in Vietnam instilled in me the knowledge that communism was truly a reign of horror, and though I still feel our cause was just, I now have doubts and questions that I fear may forever go unanswered.”
—Charles Gadd, from the Author’s Note
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||4 MB|
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It was snowing lightly that morning of December 14, 1967, when our C-141 Starlifter ascended from the runway at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We were a well-trained group—A Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry—an element of Uncle Sam’s proud 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. Most of us were replacements from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, belonging to the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps. Back in July, our names had come down on a levy from the Department of the Army, which had assigned us to various battalions in the famous 101st. We were originally from every aspect of training that the Army had to offer—military police, armor, artillery, mechanics, clerks, cooks, signal, and many others—but three months of intense infantry training and schooling at Fort Campbell had honed us to the sharpness of expensive cutlery. By December we had trained together in weapons qualification, defensive and offensive tactics and maneuvers, ambush, night movement, and all the other types of training that make an infantry company what it should be. We were proud, gung ho, well trained, and most of all, anxious to leave behind the boredom of garrison duty in the States and find out for ourselves what combat was truly like. A handful of troops from our battalion was returning to Nam for a second tour, and we rookies sensed, through them, that our future was not to be as full of glamour and excitement as we hoped. Little did we know that these men knew what hell was like, for they had been there and back and were about to return.
We pictured ourselves as gallant soldiers going off to war for God, country, and the cause of freedom. None of us could guess that history would record our efforts as being fruitless, and that someday we would confess that “Yeah, I went to Nam, but I’d rather not talk about it!”
We were a small part of a massive airlift of the remaining two brigades of the 101st Airborne Division that had not yet been deployed to Vietnam. The 1st Brigade had been in Nam since 1965, and now the remainder of the division was embarking for “somewhere in Southeast Asia.” (It always amused me that our officers were instructed never to admit that we were going to Vietnam. They always used the term “somewhere in Southeast Asia.”)
Since we were not traveling by commercial airliner, but by military airlift, we left the States in full combat dress, with helmets, web gear, and rifles stuffed under our seats, and footlockers full of ammunition and grenades strapped to the loading ramp at the rear of the plane. It was not a comfortable flight at all, since the seats had been crammed into this cargo craft and bolted down for the flight. There were no windows, but by some stroke of luck, I happened to sit by a door at the front of the aircraft that had a small circular porthole. During the flight, there seemed to be very little talk—mostly sleeping, reading, and wondering. We stopped first in California for a meal and refueling, then on to that forgotten historic blemish in the vast waters of the Pacific—Wake Island. It amazed me how even the radar at our pilot’s fingertips could pick out such a dot in the mighty Pacific. We arrived around midnight and laid over for about two hours for more refueling. Several of us walked down the beaches and stood in awe as we read the monuments to those brave few who had fought so gallantly during World War II for this small, desolate piece of real estate. I walked back into the terminal and bought a postcard to mail to my parents. I had suddenly felt lonely and thought maybe this would break the hollow feeling that welled within me.
The silence on this lonely island was broken by the howl of jet engines as a large plane landed. Some of our group shouted, “Hey, it’s a Delta commercial flight. Maybe there are tourists aboard, and we’ll get to meet some girls.” Everyone nonchalantly walked outside to the “stretch 8.” I’m sure most of us were feeling that this would be our last chance for a long time to be seen in uniform before American civilians, and to be able to say, without words, “Yes, we’re going to Nam—please be proud of us.”
Our feelings of pride and arrogance were suddenly washed away in the warm night air when, to our surprise, about 150 suntanned, khaki-clad GIs off-loaded the airliner and strolled into the terminal. They were Vietnam vets on their way home. Some of them mingled among us and talked quietly. I’m not sure who was more nervous, them or us. It seemed as though they weren’t sure whether or not they should be conversing with these so-called “elite troops,” and we weren’t sure what to say or ask them, since they had been to Nam and we had not.
Our next stop after Wake Island was Manila, where we had breakfast and another hour layover. Every time we got off that airplane, we had a meal, and then were served another meal shortly after taking off again. I remember someone commenting that they were fattening us up for the kill, but those of us who got the joke did not laugh.
Our arrival in Vietnam was around dawn on the morning of December 15th. We landed at Bien Hoa air base, just outside of Saigon, and off-loaded via the tail ramp that was lowered to the apron. Since I had been able to hang on to my treasured porthole seat at the front of the aircraft, I was one of the last to exit. The pilot was a gray-haired, distinguished-looking gentleman, who looked more like a senior senator from South Carolina than an aircraft commander. He had hurried back to the tail ramp to bid us farewell and to say those meaningless little things you say to a total stranger whom you know is going off to participate in real-live war games. Everyone was shaking his hand and saying things like “See you later,” “Thanks for the ride,” and “Take it easy,” but for some reason I felt a need to crack this verbal monotony, so I told him, “Meet me at this same spot, at this same time next year, with this same airplane, and I’ll let you take me back home.” He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Son, you just keep your ass down and don’t try to be a hero for the next 365 days, and I’ll be right here waiting on you.” I felt as if I had known this man for a long time, and even though I never knew his name, I’ll always remember his sincerity. I think he felt he had just delivered us to some unknown fate, and he might be able to ease our nervousness by shaking our hand or telling us “So long.” I admired him for this, for he could have taken the easy way out by simply staying in the cockpit until we were gone. Instead, he chose to play the double role of saying good-bye, and at the same time welcoming us to the far-off land of “Charlie Cong.”
We boarded several of those olive-drab army buses that sounded just like all the army buses back in the States. It seemed as though some prank-loving mechanic on the assembly line had welded a toy whistle inside the exhaust system so that when the engine accelerated, there was always a distinct whistling sound.
My very first impression of Vietnam was a strange and sickening odor I had never before smelled. Someone asked the bus driver what that awful smell was, and after laughing out loud, he boomed back over the whistling bus engine, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to that. It’s just Willie, the shit burner.” We all laughed as though this simple answer cleared all doubt from our minds, but my friend Bud Dykes leaned over and said, “Who in the hell is Willie the shit burner?” After riding through what seemed to be miles of Quonset huts and tents, we concluded that what Willie did was exactly what his name implied. Willie, as he was always called, was the local Vietnamese senior citizen, usually too old to serve in the military, who was hired by the GIs to dispose of human excrement. All of the base camps had latrines constructed of plywood and screen with a boxed-in bench on the inside, and ten-inch-wide holes sawed in the bench. On the outside rear of these outhouses was a hinged door for placing or removing a sawed-in-two steel drum. These drums served as the receptacles for the latrines and consequently had to be cleaned out daily. This is where Willie came into the picture. The poor old fellow who was unlucky enough to get this job assignment had to open up the back door, slide out the drum, and pour in kerosene, while stirring with a steel fence stake. It usually took about half a day to burn out these barrels, and you could count on finding ol’ Willie stooped over a cluster of billowing barrels, always smiling and stirring.
Our bus ride ended at a group of newly constructed buildings that appeared to have been built especially for us, for someone had hung up a banner that read, “Welcome, you bastards of Bastogne.” It seemed ironic that we were not associated with the current, unpopular war, but rather with past history and a much more popular conflict.
We spent the rest of the day there and took care of menial chores, such as exchanging our greenbacks for MPCs (military payment certificates), which looked like multicolored play money. I never did figure out who those women were who appeared on the faces of those funny-looking bills. Someone figured they must be the mistresses of all the presidents who appeared on real U.S. currency.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
i went to the library looking for a war book not just about a hero but just about the life of a soldier in vietnam. I found the book i was looking for and more. Line doggie is a great book about the ups and downs of vietnam from the stand point of the auther who has 3 purple hearts, and many many more. i recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in war books.