A Wild Journey Through Hell

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic


I'm on a plane right now, making my way to Nam and ready for a wild experience to jot down, or at least I think. Whatever this place is like, I will find out.

Submitted: April 28, 2018

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Submitted: April 28, 2018

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February 11, 1969 Tuesday

How could I be such an idiot—I mean really—believing that volunteering in the military to fight in a war would solve all of my problems? Okay; I felt like going to war would be the perfect place for someone with nothing to lose, I guess. All that did was cause greater issues for myself, obviously. What an escape route that was.

I'm private Michael Carson and I don't mean to sound like I'm somebody special to all the readers out there; I'm just some random 18 year-old kid in the United States Army labeled as a rifleman with the Infantry. The whole point of me even starting this journal—or diary—is to give people a taste of what it's actually like being over here in Nam as a soldier in war. Already, I wish to leave this place though; I've experienced enough for the day.

At the moment, I’m in this oven-hot bunker sitting with my back against a wall of dirt while jotting this stuff down in one of the non-touched notebooks of mine. I'd say it's about chest deep into the ground with me being 5'7 and standing in it. I guess it's deep enough to get down and take cover if hit with some heavy enemy fire.

This bunker's not that bad; It could probably fit about ten people in here, so the spacing is good as well. It's just ridiculous how much trapped heat is in here. I'm constantly wiping the sweat off my head—using an issued towel the Army provided me. Just glad I actually have a towel.

I do like the fact I've been given a green towel since it's my favorite color. Yea I said it. Pretty much everything I was issued has a touch of green except my M-16; can't say I'm not ready for St. Pat's day. I know this isn't all that important but just trying to get things off my mind, at least for the rest of the day.

It's a bit impossible—honestly—when there's so much going though my mind that I try to ignore. It’s my very first day in Vietnam—the wild country the news is always talking about, so dealing with this melting hot habitat will take some time getting used to. That's for sure. Now I just hope I make it out of here alive with both arms and legs attached . Even if I didn’t sign up, I’d probably get drafted eventually anyway—like some of the kids I went to school with.

I signed up not knowing what to do with my life anymore. My ex and I split over some dumb things. My grandma has cancer—which she's been fighting for almost two years now. She's the nicest grandma you could ever have. She's also a champ and will fight this cancer till the end. About two weeks before I signed up for this, I lost a good friend of mine. The only good thing is my ex and I got back together some time after already signing up for this mess.

My friend Bobby was killed in a terrible car accident. His pops allowed him to use his car and I heard he most likely fell asleep on the wheel at night when he ran the red light and was T-Boned by a pick-up truck. I remember another friend of mine coming to my apartment in the morning, releasing the bad news. I was hoping it was just one bad dream and wake up. Going to the funeral was the saddest moment of life—my mind being left with emptiness and feeling completely lost. The depression lasted over a week before I was able to accept and move on.

When I realized a purpose was in my life, it was a bit too late to turn back. Next thing you know, I'm in Nam. I don't have any babies but my family back home are probably worried as hell about me being over here. When I broke the news to them about signing up, they went crazy: Momma, my sister Shannon, and my little brother Will. I'm surprised he actually cared. Seriously, we were always enemies.

The bright side to this is that it could be worth the money to help my family. Mama doesn't spend much time at the house; she's always working and struggling to pay off the bills. It's time I do something that'll help. The apartment building they stay at is nowhere near safe. It may be worse here but I still wanna get them outta there. They should be living somewhere better.

I’ll never forget fighting those eight straight weeks of Basic Training—otherwise known as Boot Camp. My drill Sergeant, Jim Hardy, was no joke; I never worked out so much or hard in my life. Several cadets and I were always exhausted and strength-less off of getting a very tight amount of rest but we motivated each other to push through it. I consider them my second family.

Now I'm pretty much stationed on an outpost that's build on the peak of some wide hill around the jungle. Castle Hill is what they call it. It would possibly take about a forty-five minute walk or so to get to the very bottom. It's the tallest in this valley, actually. We're here to observe everything and prevent our enemy from using this valley as a base camp; I was told if they do, flushing them out wouldn't be quite easy. They're planning on wiping out our mother base at Cu Chi—and yea, I know it's a funny name.

Truth is, a hill is the last place I'd like to be stationed. Who wants to be on a highly exposed hill that says “Hi enemy, were right over here if you want to fight”, but complaining isn’t gonna solve anything though. I’m not here to feel safe, I get it. Thing is, there’s only one company up here—we're Bravo Company. We have three infantry platoons and the Weapon's platoon to back us up with some 81mm Mortars along with a couple recoilless rifles. Hopefully, those guys are all the protection we need.

We actually have Fire-base Black Stone right outside this valley if we need some heavy fire support from the artillery guys. I was down there earlier and wasn't paying much attention. I almost got hit by a truck. Luckily it didn't happen or this first day of mine would've been spent in the hospital. The driver did curse me out though.

Well, I'm over here trying to figure out what to do about this heat right now. I had to go shirtless, my uniform is soaked with sweat from all that trapped heat. Not much of the guys up here have theirs on anyway. These guys have some dirty, and faded looking uniforms though. You can easily spot me out as being one of the newbies up here.

Due to the sun, I'm already catching a headache that's kicking my ass right now. There was a guy who actually fainted up here today. Majority of the soldiers in the outpost were rubbernecking as the docs were doing their job. I couldn't see much since it happened on the other side of the trenches. I heard he was out for a few minutes and woke up saying “I was just sleeping.” while trying to get them out of his face. It was a bit funny. He eventually stopped denying and accepted the fact he blacked out.

Not too long after, a chopper came through to pick him up. I saw the guy get carried out of here in the dust-off—a nickname for the medevacs around here, from what I've caught on to; it's even written in white paint along with the red cross on the sliding doors of that UH-1 Huey. Glad the guy's okay. It's no joke out here.

Drinking water isn't a problem for me, I'll tell you that much. I've been provided with two canteens I filled all the way up this morning and was just about empty once I made it to the outpost—which took some very long hours after landing in Nam. This hill has a lot of these water jug canisters for you to fill up your canteens with, luckily.

I was brought to the outpost by hitching a ride on one of those Hueys down at Black Stone. I'm not a big fan of heights but I'll take that long plane ride back to the States in a heartbeat. No doubt about it.

I had a conversation with one the door gunners manning the M-60—wanting to know how he feels about heights and being an open target to the enemy. What he tells me is he never felt so alive and loves the dreadful feeling, surprisingly. He loves being in the sky, looking down at everything and getting to tear the place up with the machine gun. He's been doing this for four months and has only had three encounters with enemy gunfire from below, he says. This crazy guy finds it to be the greatest job on the planet.

You can actually feel the nice cool breeze up there in the sky. It's like air-conditioning on a boiling hot day. He's a bit lucky for that one reason only. With the propellers keeping it noisy, we had to yell to each other the whole trip towards the hill. Even with the flight helmet headset the crew wears on their head, it's still gotta be rough understanding someone in there as it is for them to understanding you.

The others up there barely said a thing to anyone. They all stayed to themselves and looked bummed out. Who knows what they've been through. I'm not sure if I even wanna know. One of the guys gave me the look like I had no idea what I'm about to experience. He wasn't apart of the the chopper crew—just one of the guys hitching a ride. It honestly kinda spooked me.

But moving on, as we were approaching the hill, I could see some green smoke rising into the sky from the hill peak, which I figured was pretty neat—and yes I admit, I'm a bit of a geek. Smoke grenades really come in handy now.

When the chopper finally touched down on the LZ(Landing Zone), that guy I spoke about got off as well. I could tell he's been through stuff—especially with his neck all stitched up on one side. As I was getting off that thing, there was a guy close by who asked if I was new then walked me through the trenches and showed me the CP(command Post), where I ended up waiting for some time on the captain to show up.

When he finally came through, he looked busy and stressed. The Captain led me to 1st Platoon's area on the hill which didn't take long to get to. The perimeter of the outpost is round and would literally take five minutes or less to walk from one side to the other. He had me speak with the lieutenant then went off in a rush to get something done.

Lieutenant Steele took care of me from there and left me in a bunker with two squadmates smoking cigs and chatting. I did my best dealing with the fumes and trying to play it off like I wasn't effected by it. Merrimack and O'Hanlon—also known as Grunt—have been in Nam for a good while. They acted as if I didn't exist for a while but they were cool enough to eventually introduce themselves and have a 3-way conversation—mostly gave me some war survival tips. With the experience they have, they’ll make it out of crazy ol Nam when their tour is up.

The leader of my squad—known as Specialist Dickerson—walked in the bunker and assigned Merrimack and I as Battle Buddies. Before introducing himself, he had me understand it was not a joke about him being a specialist and his last name. Merrimack and the Grunt gave a slight laugh about it. “He's referred to as Dick” Grunt yelled, giggling away. Dick got back at him saying “I've always been known as the humble squad leader but I'm gonna say this for once. Fuck You! ” while shoving his hand in his pocket and pulling out his middle finger. They were all just having fun in there.

Grunt and Dick ended up leaving the bunker, but I will say these guys are too damn funny. It's good to know I don't have a boring squad. In the fighting hole, Merrimack and I got to chatting and was told a little about his old Mexican battle buddy, Guerrero. He said the guy was a real Gung-Ho soldier and the most fearless in the squad. He left some days ago when his tour ended. I'm pretty much the replacement. It kinda makes me feel like quite a downgrade for a replacement but wouldn't wanna go around trying to be someone I'm not.

One thing that's true, I'm a bit homesick already. Especially missing out on them good big meals mamma would make for the household. The plates would already be made too. Whenever she'd yell “Food's ready!”, my sibs and I would make it to the kitchen within ten secs no matter where we were in the apartment. I'm just gonna have to used to this food the military provides for us. Over here, our food's given to us in what they call C-rations. Can food basically.

Being the cherry—the new guy, it's quite difficult making friends in the platoon. I'm more like a ghost around here and like I don't fit in very much. Back in school, everybody wants to associate with a new kid in class. It's the complete opposite around here. The ones in my fire-team are the few friends I made really; that's our team leader—who is Corporal Dee, Merrimack, and The Grunt. O'Hanlon's got this deep Irish accent with red hair so of course we got an Irish guy in the squad. The other two and I are black but race doesn't seem to cause an issue.

One rude guy in the squad told me earlier in the bunker that if I ever get them in deep shit, he would frag me. Such a warm welcoming to Nam, I tell you. That guy I've never seen before popped up looking for O'Hanlon but noticed me laying against the dirt wall, writing away instead. What he said to me sounded pretty serious. What did I do? He didn't stay long. Merrimack urged for him to get out the bunker. I just got back to writing so that it wouldn't get under my skin.

In the meantime, I gotta get back to writing a letter to my family. I know they're probably worried and wondering how I am. I don't know what to tell them. I'm scared as hell in the inside and can't wait to get out of this place. It's best for me to lie and say everything's alright, I guess.

 

February 12, 1969 Wednesday

Later on yesterday, there ended up being a fire-fight. With our hill? Nah, but we had a good view watching green and orange tracers fly back and forth through the late evening sky from a distance. I was told some of our gunships were out there tearing up a Viet Cong village on one of the hills along the valley. We could see tiny lights from helicopters flying all around shooting rounds of bullets and missiles, leaving that whole place in flames—looking like hell. The battle lasted about thirty minutes or so; that was our entertainment for the night.

It gave me chills and reminded me how real this stuff actually is though. This is no joke; I was watching a real battle with people actually getting killed. It's good to know there's less bad guys to worry about—the bright side of it.

While Merrimack and I were watching from our bunker, Dick came walking in with a mouth full of chocolate telling us not to leave the fighting hole in case some of the Viet Cong plan to attack us for that village incident. Merrimack and I could hardly understand squat he said though. He may have been difficult to understand but I went ahead and checked my rifle with my hands shaking uncontrollably. “I'm not ready for this crap. I can't be here” I said in my head.

Merrimack was able to calm me down saying it was a ninety percent chance nothing would even happen. That calmed me down just a little—at lease. I don't know how any of these guys do it, so I asked. He looked at me saying “Sometimes you gotta get high like the sky my friend.” That would make sense I guess.

I've never gotten high before so I wouldn't know exactly what it's like; I didn't tell him though. He grabbed a bag of weed out of his pocket saying “This is some good stuff right here my brother.” I could tell by the strong scent of it. He's probably gonna try getting me to smoke with him eventually.

This is a bit unrelated but Valentine's Day is right around the corner and wish my girlfriend & I could see each other. Spending the 14th without being able to see her face to face will be a real bummer; I love her to death. She's probably at home laying in bed thinking about me as well. There's a picture of her in my wallet but it's not the same as seeing her in person. It is what it is, I guess.

I overheard some guys this morning mentioning that Dickerson would be leaving on Valentine’s Day. He didn't mention it last night. Lucky him. There’s also some other guys in the platoon leaving soon. They call them the short timers—meaning their tour in Nam is almost up.

Dick seems like an alright leader. Everyone in the squad seems to like him. He looks like a nerd with the black glasses but Merrimack says he's the real deal when it comes to being in firefights. I hope the replacement squad leader won’t be an asshole like that other guy in the squad.

Merrimack listed Lieutenant Steele as being the worst leader he's known his entire life. He's always messing things up and getting the platoon in deep shit out in the bush, I've been told. Merrimack also said the Staff Sergeant, and Lieutenant Steele argue about where they are on the map sometimes when the platoon's out on patrol. Who would like to be lost out there in the middle of the jungle?

The platoon’s going down in the jungle for patrol tomorrow. I was told we patrol every Monday & Thursday. I’m a little nervous about it too but hopefully everything goes well.

Today, at some point, Merrimack had me hanging with some of the guys in the squad. I didn’t really say anything, just listened to their conversation. They were talking about stuff I didn’t even know. Half of them were smoking and making it tough for my breathing again—just like day-one when I was in the bunker while Merrimack and O'Hanlon where smoking their asses off. I could never understand how people smoke those cancer sticks.

One of the guys had an issue with me hanging with them. You guessed it; he's the one who said he would frag my ass if I got them in deep shit. His first name's Tim but some call him Slim Tim. He kept staring at me with a cigarette in his mouth and suddenly told me to my face that he hated FNG's and that they give him bad luck.

I walked up to Slim ready to fight, I had enough of him. Some of the other guys in the squad laughed but my battle buddy stepped up and said to keep his crap to himself. Merrimack got in front of us. Next thing you know, they began arguing. Merrimack was told by Slim that he ain't in charge of a damn thing and to sit himself down. Things eventually cooled down and I tried my best to keep away from Slim or else hands may get thrown. It's my second day with this crew of mine and drama is already starting to pick up.

I didn't even know what FNG meant—but I knew it had to be the opposite of a compliment—so I later asked Merrimack. “The fuckin' new guy” is what he said. I don’t get why everyone hates the new guys. My best guess is because we have the least amount of experience. So be it though, all I can do is try my best to do everything right. Maybe I'm allowing myself to stress. I never expected being over here would be like this.

Actually, being over here so far, I've seen some terrible things that I’d probably remember for the rest of my life. I hate being boxed in but getting off that hot C-130 cargo plane I took to Nam, I noticed there was a number of filled body bags lined up along that huge run way of Da Nang. I wanted to go AWOL bad, thinking if I didn't, I might end up getting shipped home in one sooner or later.

The Viet Cong is doing a number on us. At this point, there's not much I can do but man-up. I may be a little nervous...well more than a little about being here but I will put my M-16 to work if I have to. I cleaned her well this morning, so there should be no way she's gonna jam anytime soon.

Also, I forgot to mention what these bunkers are like. I actually feel protected in mine. It's pretty much square shaped and above ground, there's a faded green sandbag wall covering the whole side on both left and right of the bunker, very middle on front side, and most of the back—except the entrance dug up connecting to the trench. They were stacked about three feet high with a wooden board atop of that, which covers the whole bunker. Even the board is stacked with sandbags. This is as safe as I can be in there. But, if a mortar comes crashing down on this bunker, things may get ugly.

I'm actually in the bunker right now enjoying my free time while I can, away from the sun, even though there was still heat in there but it wasn't as bad with a little wind blowing in today. Merrimack’s in here reading a book with his radio on low. It's good to have some relaxing time before patrolling the next morning.

February 13, 1969 Thursday

That was an interesting first day on patrol. The platoon sluggishly started off squeezing through the jungle, walking close enough to a strait line on trails of dead squashed leaves. There's no way you can go sneaking around in the jungle when there's a crunching sound coming from every step you take.

There were quite a few trails leading to different directions. Green vines were hanging all over the place. Probably couldn't see anything more than ten feet away on both sides of the trail. You could smell the jungle, it has it's own little unique smell. We also walked across a couple narrow low-flowing creeks along the way, no wider than the height of the tallest guy in the squad when it comes to feet. It was nice.

There was a funny situation to happen though. I ended up tripping over a rock while trying to walk across the stream and fell to my front side. Yup, first patrol went great for sure. It was pretty embarrassing looking like I went for a swim—gave the platoon a reason to laugh their ass off to.

Other than that, it actually seemed peaceful out in the jungle with those chirping birds, even though I couldn't see them and not having to deal with any enemy contact. I was more focused on my surroundings while the rest of the squad were busy debating on what football team is the greatest. I don't know too much about football—just now getting into it--but even if I did, I'd rather be focused on what's out there.

But, there was one thing to freak out to, and that's hearing leaves moving from wind and critters moving around out there. Some of the guys got their machetes out, chopping up some of the vegetation in our way.

After making it out of there, we ended up searching through a spaced-out hamlet by the treeline close by. The villagers didn't seem all that friendly. Some just stared at us like they're sick of us coming through as if we own them. I can understand. Well all of the children there were excited to see us. Dee handed them some melted chocolate and sweets. Both times I asked him for a chocolate bar, he was out or so he says. What's it take to get some chocolate around here?

Everything went well as far as patrol though. We went to five hamlets in the area then headed on back to the wire. It’s extremely tiring, having to carry two heavy M-60 belt-rounds around your neck, and a utility belt with two ammo pouches stuffed with assault rifle magazines weighing you down. There's one guy in the squad who carries the M-60 pig, and they call him Dallas. I guess you could say he's the most built guy in my crew. Merrimack carries the M-79 grenade launcher while the rest of us just have the plain ol' M-16 assault rifles.

After that long morning of patrolling, the majority of the crew and I hung around Dallas and Cross's bunker for some time. Dallas brought his acoustic guitar out and ended up playing it to some popular songs that we hear on the radio back at the States. While stationed on a boring hill like this, it really hyped up the day.

We actually rotate out from Outpost Castle Hill on the very beginning of March. In the whole battalion, there's four infantry companies. Because if it, it's only fair that all companies have to spend three months of their tour up there. The rest of the Battalion is stationed at Firebase Black Stone.

While being so far away from home, I can only imagine what’s happening back in the States. At the apartment, I would always watch boxing whenever there was an event on television. Muhammad Ali, he's a wild motherfucker—I'll tell you that much. When it comes to sports in general, Boxing and football has got to be the greatest ever created.

But when it comes to football, there's a guy in the platoon that can tell you everything you wanna know about the Packers. You would've thought he was on the damn team. His own squad even gave him the nickname Packer Boy. If he was the biggest fan in the world, neither one of us would be shocked.

Another thing to talk about is the five guys in the platoon who's been getting a lot of the spotlight since I've been here. Dickerson and Dee are two of em since they're short-timers who'll be outta here this month. The other three—Big Doug, Wildman Diaz and that other Mexican guy who's real short and skinny—I'm not sure of his name—are all from 2nd Squad. Hope they all enjoy their lives returning back to the States. I also wanna mention just how weird it is that each person I mentioned has a last name starting with D—Dickerson, Dee, Doug, Diaz. What the hell? And for anyone reading, you're probably thinking there's some kind of gay message but no. It's just very ironic.

Well, Merrimack was telling me O'Hanlon the Grunt and Slim were actually supposed to be heading back this month also. They plan on staying around for another one-year tour though. These guys are insane including Merrimack since his one-year tour was up last month.

He explained to me this platoon is the only family he's got. His family back home is nothing but drama and doesn't even feel much like a family, according to him. He moved to another city just to get away from them. Must be some family.

He's also from Virginia—Hampton to be specific—but he talks about possibly wanted to move to South Carolina in the long-run around Myrtle Beach. That sounds like one peaceful place to go to after being here for so long.

Merrimack's actual last name is Brown. He basically got the nickname from being a Hampton guy because of the whole crazy Monitor vs Merrimack thing—also known as the Battle of Hampton Roads.

 

Moving on though, shortly before I began writing in this journal today, I sent off a letter to my family at the household and my grandmother fighting cancer, and my girlfriend for Valentine's. It was to let them know how much I love them and care about them. Hoping to receive some mail tomorrow as well.

 

More to come.....


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