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Vietnam's Most Unjust
By THOMAS E. WARE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Mr. Thomas E. Ware
All rights reserved.
Vietnam's Most Unjust
Saturday March 2, 1968, I received my Draft Notice and was ordered to report on March 15, 1968 to the Induction Center in Milwaukee, WI. I was allowed to reschedule the induction date to March 26, 1968 because my grandmother, Jetter Ware, passed away and I was allowed to travel to Lexington, MO to attend the funeral. During the funeral my mother talked me into enlisting for an additional year to hopefully avoid going to Vietnam. I took her advice. I flew to Ft Bliss, TX, was sworn in to the Army and started basic training on March 25, 1968. My time at Ft Bliss was uneventful, with the one exception of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's., assassination which took place on April 4, 1968. During that time, Ft Bliss did shutdown, and we were advised not to riot.
My Advance Individual Training (AIT) was at Ft. Polk, LA. My Army Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) duty was a 36K10 (field wireman). Training involved eight weeks of climbing telephone poles, laying wire and operating a switchboard. Because of my spirited nature, I had an ongoing competition with one of the soldiers to see who could obtain the class's highest score. I won with a 96.4 average, he had a 96.2. I was awarded a trophy. My victory was short lived and I quickly realized that I was the real loser. I soon discovered that I would be the only person of the entire unit that would be assigned to Viet Nam. When orders were passed out to the class, eighteen soldiers remained state side, thirty soldiers went to the 25th Infantry Division, 29 went to Hawaii, and only one uneasy young soldier had orders to go to Vietnam. ME.
That very day I was taken to the firing range, to qualify on the M-16, (my first encounter with this rifle). With very little instruction I was expected to know how to manage the weapon. It jammed on me after a short burst of three rounds. I didn't know and was not shown how to correct the problem. The rifle was taken from me and that was the extent of my training. I was then sent home for two weeks leave. I was very, very heart broken and depressed about going to Vietnam.
Sept. 4, 1968 I arrived in Oakland, CA. We were told to make every flight manifest, to see if our name would be called. September 6th, my name was called and I found myself on a plane bound for Vietnam. Many young men were afraid of the foreboding future and we were all warned that if anyone tried to run away, the guards would follow orders; 'to shoot to kill'. Next we were bussed and placed in the stockade.
We flew in a C141 for 22 hours with refueling stops in Hawaii, Guam, Wake Islands, and the Philippines. I arrived in Vietnam Sept 8th around 4 am. During the flight, I managed to swallow four meals which remained in my stomach for some time to come.
Our welcome was us being ushered into a bunker. The base camp was under a mortar attack and we were being rushed off the airplane to seek shelter.
Soldiers sat around waiting to be assigned to a unit. While awaiting my assignment, I was put on "shit burning" detail. The smell was so nauseating that I walked away and silently challenged the sergeant in charge to find me among the masses of soldiers. I was one of many soldiers loaded on the back of a duce and a half truck, en route to the 25th Infantry Division Replacement Center, at Cu Cui, Vietnam.
My first meal in the mess hall was green sausages and green pancakes. I passed it up, walked away, and went to the PX to find better.
On the way to the PX, I passed the company area of the 2nd Battalion 27th Regiment Wolfhound A.K.A. "Second Wolfhound". It looked like the Addams family house, in the middle of downtown Las Vegas. Everything about the area said to me, "Don't you come in here". The motto written across the company archway was "Second Wolfhound, second to none". At that time I had no idea what a Wolfhound was.
That night, at the NCO club, I lost all my cash on the slot machines. I lost $90 trying to win $50 and vowed never to play the slots again. Later that same evening I was sitting on top of a metal bunk bed with no mattress and felt the earth rumble. The impact shook all the beds from one end of the hooch to the other. I was later told it was a B-52 raid ten miles away from us.
A few days later two of us were trucked to a base camp outside of Saigon. I was assigned a tent, which contained a canvas cot to sleep on. I was put on duty as a switchboard operator, and told to retrain PFC Robert Conrad 36K10 a white man on the switchboard. Robert was a 25-year-old virgin from South Bend, IN.
I took him under my wing because he seemed so vulnerable and he reminded me of the nerd actor on the Chunky candy bar commercials, whose line was "What a load of chocolate".
He was unable to man the switchboard so I told him to "paint Vietnam" that is to say beautify the company area. When other soldiers found out about his virginity, they tried to force him on a boom-boom girl but he surprised us all by his hidden strength. True to his convictions, he valiantly fought the GIs off declaring that he was saving himself for his future wife.
Walking to the Air Force Base to eat lunch, an Air Force Major stopped me and locked my heels for not saluting him. I was pissed. It was a very large mess hall which served an abundance of food. This was strikingly different than what was served at Cu Cui.
Then I was trucked to Dau Tieng. While crossing a bridge I could see a lookout tower overlooking the river and I knew this is where I was going to be stationed.
The first day there I was taking in my surroundings and I was assigned a hooch and a canvas cot along with other 36K10 field wiremen. There were 18 wiremen assigned to my hooch. I learned later we outnumbered the First Wolfhounds. It seemed to me that there were far too many 36k10 field wireman in the company. There were more than 40 soldiers, enough wiremen to lay wire all over Vietnam.
I didn't feel safe and kept asking for a weapon. Finally an M-16, A1 model was given to me. I asked the captain, a white man in the tactical operations center (TOC), where I could go and fire the weapon. He then took me to the southeast edge of the base camp and I started firing the weapon. The noise was deafening and I had to hit the ground quickly, because the entire countryside fired back at me. That was the scope of my fire practice. I later traded that M16 for the less deafening E1 model.
I started nightly guard duty at a location at the first bunker north of the main gate. That evening, on the way to guard duty, I walked passed a sleeping long-range recon patrol (LRRP) white soldier in a jeep behind the main bunker. A few moments later the biggest black wolfhound scout dog I ever saw sat up with his black handler on the main bunker that blocked the front gate. The scout dog sitting looked to be about five feet tall.
Once on top of the bunker I was on my own to learn how to operate an M-60 machine gun which I had never seen before. I pulled the trigger and a few rounds fired off. Suddenly the village opened fire on me; I ducked down to avoid getting shot. There was an M-72 rocket launcher next to me, I fired it, missed the village, and almost hit the lookout tower at the river.
The next day while sitting on my cot on the west end of the hooch, a black wolfhound walked in on the east end. He looked like "he knew what was going on in Vietnam". He was a Wolfhound and was about to rotate home. I sat there staring at him wide eyed, but he wouldn't look my way. Another soldier came and tapped me on the knee, saying "The soldier told me to tell you, you're making him nervous", he said, "Look a wolfhound in the eye, and he will cap you". I was still innocent and didn't know what a wolfhound was at the time. That was the day I learned the valuable lesson and began looking at the ground in submission to the base camp. I was convinced and worried I could get capped by a Wolfhound.
That black wolfhound I saw proudly carried an M-79 grenade launcher, and confidently spoke of how he could "put a round in a VC's back pocket." He was a short timer and would be going home soon, so I asked him if I could keep his grenade launcher and his vest with grenades ... he gave them to me.
I was starting to get acquainted with some of the guys in the troop. There was PFC Montgomery, a black man from Chicago; I called him Wes, after a famous guitar player that I admired.
PFC Preston, a black man from either Dallas, or Houston. He acted cocky and kind of looked like Terrell Owens. I also got to know Sp-4 Davis, a short timer from NY or NJ who wrote songs and played a three-string guitar. When I asked him about Tet of 68 he became visibly stressed and jumpy and I never asked him again.
That night I went on guard duty again, which was now located two bunkers north of the main gate. Sitting on my bunker, another short timer black soldier took my M-79 and said "these m%t@%rf*&ker want you to think you are in a safe zone". He then fired a round and it hit a rubber tree just inside the perimeter. The village opened fire on us. I ducked below the sandbag on the top of the bunker. I then listened attentively to where the shots were coming from. I looked over the sandbags and saw flashes coming from a tunnel under a woodpile. I proceeded to put a round from my M-79 in his back pocket. This was a new experience for me and I wondered whom I should report my first kill to. I knew that I wasn't going to go into the village to check for a body. Guard duty soon became a nightly routine.
My next assignment was running the message center. For two days, two 'short timer' soldiers provided my training in the message center. I happily thought this was going to be a cushy job. I assumed that I was going to be able to sit around and run a mimeograph machine and meet the arriving plane daily for bags of documents. Little did I know what was in store for me!
The Message center was part of a bunker complex at headquarters. There are two doors to the bunker; one to the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) and the other, fifteen feet east, was my door to the Message Center.
The one time that I went into TOC, I observed it to have five 8x8x8 foot steel conex (container) arranged like a five point star. There were a couple of tunnels inside the bunker that led out to other locations. Next to the bunker complex was a Stucco building owned by the Michelin Rubber Plantation Company, it looked like an H, two buildings with a raised walk way between them.
I am now working 12-hour shifts in the message center beginning at 7am to 7pm every day. I asked PFC William Sams, a black soldier, to work the other shift.
Sams was from LA and was a 32-year-old smooth talking soldier that everyone liked. He told me that he was given the choice of either going to jail or into the Army. The base camp was right in the middle of the rubber plantation.
That night the company area got mortared again. We all ran to the underground bunker next to a hooch. The first soldier, a white man, got to the bunker first and hit his head on the PSP (steel plate), this was holding up the sandbags. It sliced the skin on his skull right along the front hairline and down the part in his hair. Once inside the bunker, he ran out yelling that there was a huge water moccasin in the bunker.
I didn't like to carry my M-16 by the handle or with the barrel pointing upward slung over my shoulder. So I changed the sling so that my M-16 would hang down in front of me, with three magazines taped together, locked and loaded. I also carried 18 magazines in a pouch; this was my everyday going to work attire. I placed a piece of cardboard in the top of my jungle hat. It looked like a green Zorro hat. This allowed me to be in submission to the basecamp.
A few evenings later, there was a quarrel next to my hooch, a white soldier had loaned his cookware to a soldier belonging to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and the ARVN refused to give it back to the soldier. This ARVN put a 45. Caliber pistol to this "white soldiers" head and ordered him to leave their hooch. Upon hearing this and with weapons drawn, all us black soldiers poured out of our hooch's, and surrounded the ARVN's. Sp-4 Davis spoke for all of us soldiers who surrounded the ARVN. He demanded that he give the soldier back his pots declaring, "To bust a cap on someone, "something to do". I felt unsafe with the ARVN's hooch being located kitty corner to mine so I said they had to go. The ARVN was soon escorted off the base camp.
The next evening after dark a Major, a white man from the TOC, came to the message center and ordered me to drive him to the south perimeter. A bunker had been hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Unable to see the bunker, I accidently drove off the base camp. When I realized this, I backed the jeep up onto base camp. While standing behind the bunker there was a huge blast that knocked me to the ground, I wondered what caused it. I stood up and saw a silhouette of a 38-foot 175mm Howitzer; it fired again and knocked me to the ground.
A few days later a captain from S-4 (supplies) ordered me to follow him. We boarded a plane and flew to Long Binh. While walking around Long Binh I do recall walking passed L.B.J., which stands for 'Long Binh's Jail'. It was the most menacing looking prison that I never wanted to be in. Not only did a prisoner have to worry about being shot by a guard, there was always the worry of a mortar attack.
We moved to and were at based in Cu Cui, and we slept in small hooch's. The Captain was in one hooch and I was in another. I manned a switchboard with only two lines, with one main line coming in and the other line going straight to the captain's phone.
It's the first day of October and its payday, I was expecting to receive $40 in pay but instead, I received $240. I assumed that the Army just had not started taking out the $200 allotment that I allocated for my mother.
We drove to a base camp at Binh Hoe. I went to the PX and used my ration card to stock up on four cases of beer, three cases of sodas and four Fifths of whiskey.
Always being in submission, I wondered how I would know who the captain was. I soon came to recognize his boots for I never saw his face. One day I noticed an APC parked next to my hooch, I got in and had someone take my picture which is now forever lost. Some days later we convoyed back to Dau Tieng. I was happy to see some friendly faces again. Every morning I'd go to the message center and when I returned to my hooch I noticed that someone was drinking my beer and whiskey. There was no way to hide or lock them up and there was no respect for my personal belongings and it pissed me off.
One day while walking to the TOC, Master Sergeant Jones, a white man from Oklahoma in charge of the communications, ordered me to man the switchboard. Defiantly, I handed him the only key to the lock to the message center. I ordered him to get his M-16 and open and man the message center himself! I had clout. There was a sergeant whose job was to change the crypto on the radio. He always gave me a left-handed salute when we passed. This was in respect of my office.
It is now about the middle of the month, and I have my first encounter with the Colonel. Someone had placed 105mm shells on the ground so I had to park my jeep behind them. One afternoon, it was too hot to stay in the message center; I slept in my jeep under a rubber tree in the TOC area. I woke up because I felt someone getting in the right seat of my jeep. He had his back to me. I started to sit up to see who it was getting in my jeep. He said to me, "you turn and look at me I'll cap you". At first I was pissed, but I also understood that was the law of the land. "If you look a wolfhound in the eye, he'll cap you". He directed me to the south perimeter, I know now we are on top of a mountain. We drove over the concertina wire and started down the hill; the jeep speeds up to 40 mph. The Colonel reached over and turned the engine off, and then he turned the vehicle to the left, to the east. The vehicle was coasting. My thought was, "What's next?" He pushed the jeep everywhere we went, placing me in the shadows of the night. It was daylight when we returned.
The Master Sergeant, a black man from S-1 (administrative) stopped me and said, "The message center has been closed for two days. Where have you been son?" I thought about it for a moment, all I could think of at time was 'Vietnam'. I couldn't speak a word. I just turned and walked to my office.
Excerpted from Vietnam's Most Unjust by THOMAS E. WARE. Copyright © 2013 Mr. Thomas E. Ware. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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