Vietnam: Glasses, Chaplain and Coke

A Chaplain holds a service in Vietnam.

There was always something to take you away from your regular duties. My diversion was that I needed glasses. I can’t remember what happened to them. Either I lost them, or they broke. Anyway, after going without them for at least a month, I finally realized that I should try to get them replaced—mainly, so that I could see what I was shooting at.  Yea, that might be important. So, I reported my situation to the commander and they sent me to hill 65, right down the road. I don’t remember exactly how I got my glasses, only that it took a while. I was on that hill for about two weeks waiting for them to come.

But while I was waiting, they put me to work. I remember so well what happened on the first day I arrived. An older high-ranking Marine came to me and said, “We need someone to make salads in our kitchen, You’re our man.” He didn’t ask me if I thought I could do it; he just assumed I could. Next, he led me into the kitchen, showed me the weekly menu and what time to have the salads ready. I was a little surprised that he had so much confidence in me, without really knowing me. It was almost like he was commanding me to do it, and at the same time believing that I could. Well, just because he had so much trust in me, I felt motivated and empowered. And you know what? I made some pretty good salads. Every day of the week I made a different kind of salad. Monday was shredded carrots and raisons. Tuesday it was coleslaw. And Wednesday it was something else. Hey, I was a cook! Hard to believe. And no one complained. Oh, by the way, in case you’re wondering, hill 65 was more than your typical fighting unit, hence the hot chow and even a kitchen.

Another memorable experience on hill 52 was when the Chaplain came and brought hot food and a bag of gifts for everyone. The hot food: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, etc., was so good, but I wasn’t use to it and it made me sick. Everyone in Vietnam had dysentery, but the hot food made it worse. Oh well, I guess it was worth it. I also really liked the gifts the Chaplain brought: a little living New Testament, some stationary, and a few other things. Everyone like it when the Chaplain came. He was like Santa Claus. And they liked it also that his sermons were short.

Another vivid memory was one day when our squad was out in the middle of nowhere on a very hot day on a security detail, and along came a Vietnamese boy on a bicycle with a case full of ice-cold cokes. At that time a can of coke was only about 5 cents, but he was selling them for 50 cents. He was making quite a prophet, especially since it was so hot and everyone was buying them. I remember marveling at his salesmanship and shrewdness. And there were also, occasionally, girls coming by, selling their bodies. Surprisingly, most of the guys gave in, but not me. God had shielded me from that particular temptation.

I want to mention one more memorable thing that was constantly going on within visual range of hill 52: the day time bombing missions in the air, and the evening fire fires on the ground. I remember watching the fighter jets sweep down on a target, and then, when they almost hit the ground, turn sharply at about a 90% angle, and head up to the sky again. It was quite a show. And they were doing that constantly it seemed. But I never knew what they were shooting at. Maybe nothing. Maybe it was all practice, or just to give us a show.

As far as the fire fights below, that was not just a show. We could see intermittent tracer rounds going back and forth across a field (On a machine gun, usually every fifth round was a tracer round: a round that appeared as a red streak, with the purpose of gauging how close you were coming to your target). On one side, to our right, the bullets were coming from Marines guarding a Vietnamese village; and on the other side there was a tree line where the Vietcong were hiding. I often wondered how the Marines were doing, and if they were suffering casualties.

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