Sunday, April 28, 2019

Landing Zone Levity (Humor in Uniform)



now the time was then
and as history repeats
then the time was now*

(*From my “A Sentimental Journey” linked haiku blogged here in 2017)


Landing Zone Levity (Humor in Uniform)

If it wasn’t for flashbacks, I’d have no memory at all.

The message being passed down the line was that this part of our search and destroy operation was considered finished and we were going to join up with the rest of the battalion at a different location for another operation already in progress.

The final helicopter was dropping down through the jungle and into our LZ’s small clearing. The vegetation around the landing zone was dense in every direction, and soon as the copter touched the ground all the remaining Marines started to scramble toward it. I was to be the last one onboard, and was walking backwards, toward the copter, from the perimeter, while exchanging fire with a group of hidden Viet Cong who had decided they were going to have the final word before we departed. Incoming automatic rounds had produced a straight line of bullet holes near the hatch running up toward the Door Gunner, who with his M-60, was also firing at the VC. Suddenly and simultaneously, the UH-34D was ascending, I was being pulled up and inside by my pack and the back of my utility belt, and a pair of hands were wrestling my M-14 away from me to make sure the safety was put on. Instinctively grabbing for my rifle, I saw that the hands belonged to my stern-faced lieutenant, who then handed it back to me.

No one spoke a word as we continued to climb up through the bush and finally leveled off.

To break the silence, I said, “Reminds me of the fig-owl-we Indians.” There wasn’t any response, but several quizzical faces looked in my direction. Continuing I said “You know, that group of Indians who were wandering the desert and finally climbed the highest mesa, looked around and said ‘Where the fig owl we?’” There were some guffaws from the others, and a slight grin from the lieutenant, as he shook his head, so I figured I was still in his ‘good books’ . . . for the moment anyway. . .

Andy Syor

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Remembering an extended USMC Operation in I Corps with 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in 1966



Nothing future holds
could ever compare to this
exhilaration *

(*From my “We’re a Lot Like You Were” linked haiku blogged here in 2019)

                                   

I sheathed my ka-bar after winning a territorial battle with a scorpion for a foxhole that was surrounded by sandbags. Returning to heating my C-ration coffee, it felt good to be stationary for a while after climbing so many mountainous hills. The days had turned into weeks and I had lost track of how many weeks, or even which ongoing operation we were now part of. All I knew is we were at a very high elevation and had been butting heads with some North Vietnamese Army regulars for some time now.

Like the majority of my peers, one constant on my mind was anticipating becoming a “short timer” and returning to “the world.” I figured it must be early fall and two thirds of my combat tour should soon be finished with only the one third remaining. The Rolling Stones song "The Last Time" had been my mantra over the past eight or nine months and was keeping me centered. I had found, in the repetitiveness of combat, even the rounds whistling past your ears became routine. I guess that was due to the sixth sense of awareness you acquire, a “combat edge" I called it, in these somewhat difficult situations. Personally, I'd always thought life was as complex as you make it and tried to remain as good natured as possible.

Being rested and available for guard duty, several of us drew straws for perimeter guard duty and I got one of the outposts. Then me, myself, and my M-14 left to check out our new digs.
    
The outpost was situated at the crest of a steep hill set back about one hundred yards from a barbed wire outer perimeter further down the incline. I was just settling in as a familiar Force Recon team, I knew casually from several of the past operations, walked up to my bunker. I joined them as they headed out toward the perimeter saying "So, where are you all off to?" as I opened the break in the barbed wire to let them out. "We’re going to grab one them NVA’s and bring him back for the interrogators, should only take an hour or two, so keep an eye out for us returning" was their reply. "Sure," I said, while securing the barbed wire behind them, "Hey, see if you can pick me up some of them French postcards that are going around while you're out there." They got a good chuckle at that as they were leaving and I walked back up the hill to the outpost to await their return. In a relatively short amount of time my adrenaline kicked in when I caught a glimpse of them storming back up the hill toward the gate with a blindfolded NVA. There was a hornet's nest of enemies behind them and soon the complete side of the hill was under heavy fire. I immediately headed toward the barbed wire, ending up crawling on my belly, and got to the gate just before they did to let them in. "What about my French postcards?" I shouted. "Get the hell out of here!" was their laughing response, just as our perimeter defense opened up, eliminating everything that was approaching outside the barbed wire.
With that ending well, I went back to contemplating on the next four or so months before I was to return to the "world" . . .

We're a Lot Like You Were (Linked Haiku)

                                         (USMC WW 2 Okinawa)


We’re a Lot Like You Were

Chopper blades turning
first real moment has arrived
training now instinct

copter touches down
leaping out through turbulence
vigilant alert
 
expectation gone
we are at calm in this storm
ready for the next

all moving as one
ultimate esprit de corps
flowing through our veins

duels on battlefield
are definitely answered
making us stronger

nothing future holds
could ever compare to this 
exhilaration

life after combat
spent slowing down to catch up
this our enigma

Andy Syor

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

In late summer 1966 SLF BLT 3/5 goes ashore in Viet Nam to a permanent base




Civilians at ease
water buffalo, tiger
and cobra observe *

(*From my “USMC Combat Tour Haiku Trilogy” blogged here in
2015)                                       



In late summer 1966, as the helicopters were picking us up at the end of an operation, we knew our Special Landing Force designation was over and we would not be returning to the converted WW2 aircraft carrier USS Princeton that had been our cramped home for the past few months. Before we deployed, we had staged our sea bags to be sent to some squad sized tents that had been set up on shore. The time of our floating days as Battalion Landing Team 3/5 had ended and we were moving to a land base camp somewhere in the suburbs of Chu Lai. 3rd Battalion 5th Marines would embark on all future search and destroy operations from there.

For me, the shipboard life had combat seasoned myself and our Battalion, and was part of an "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die" adventure I'd read and thought about as a child. I enlisted in the Marine Corps mainly because they knew what they were doing from the jungle combat results of the Pacific theater in WW2. 

Our base camp was relatively peaceful, having only the occasional whistling of an incoming mortar round. We were in and out quite frequently on operations and it was nice place to come back to where you could feel better connected to those inhabitants of Viet Nam we were fighting for.

Most of the residents spoke Vietnamese, French, and/or broken English. The only Vietnamese I knew were the swear words, but I did have two years of high school French, and I was as fluent as the two years of paying extra attention to my attractive blond French teacher could have made me.
                       
Our assistant cook, who was Vietnamese and employed by the base, took a liking to me as we got to know each other. Having perimeter guard duty while at the base, I usually ate in the mess hall at different times from the rest of the battalion and had the time to chat with him. One day he invited me to his home for dinner with his family and I said "of course," but first I needed to clear it with the "powers that be," who said okay.

His family was very warm to me and filled me in on their local history. I thoroughly enjoyed the home cooking menu they had prepared which was ox and noodles, barracuda and rice, with local vegetables, both delicious and exotic and much better than the regular mess hall chow.

When the evening of socializing and dinner came to an end, I left their home and walked back to base thinking to myself "what a shame it was the 'state side' reporters never wanted to hear any of the good stories that were available."

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Transferred to MP's at Danang Airbase for the final third of my 13 month combat tour.



Out of the jungle
transferred to urban combat
adjust momentum *

(*From my "USMC Combat Tour Haiku Trilogy" blogged here in 2015)


Third Battalion Fifth Marines was the last battalion of the First Marine Division to land in Viet Nam and would stay in-country for five years (1966-1971.) The tour of duty per Marine was to be thirteen months, so transfers had to be made in country to keep the battalion at full capacity and not have all the original Marines leave at one time.  My transfer came in late 1966, after two thirds of my tour, to the 1st MP's Battalion at the Danang Airbase, which was pleasantly different from the previous fifteen to thirty days jungle and rice paddy multiple search and destroy operations I had become used to with 3/5.
Having a Government driver’s license, I was the CO's driver and occasionally the Captain would tell me to get a jeep to do a convoy routes security check in and out of the base. We were on a first name basis and it always felt to me he was the sheriff and I was his deputy. Whenever we ran into a skirmish, or some other problem, he would go one way with his priorities and I would go another way after mine. When I returned, if the jeep was still there, I waited for the Captain, and if the jeep was gone, I found my own way back to base usually by hitching a ride with a passing convoy going in that direction.
Another interesting duty I did with the MP’s was to a walk along the jet fuel pipeline that ran into the base from the tankers in the harbor. This was a dusk-to-dawn mile or so long patrol where you would walk back and forth to the beach from the base, making sure everything remained secured.  During the daylight there was a lot of work being done along this pipeline, but after dark there was a curfew and everyone, including the local police, knew this was a “free fire zone” no-man’s land and you could be shot on sight.
This reminds me of the time a Force Recon team I knew from several operations in my 3/5 days, made known they were walking toward me on the pipeline one night. I said “Man, can't I hide from you guys anywhere?" We all laughed, and then they explained they were not interested in checking in and wanted me to get them a case of 45 caliber rounds for their grease guns. I told them I would stop by the ammo dump before my duty began the next evening and bring them a case. I didn't mention their presence to anyone and the following night I brought them their rounds and they were on their way. 
There was, also, a duty patrol that was an "on call" type of roaming around the base, sort of like walking a beat. On this patrol I once was sent to quell a disturbance at the EM club between some Marine convoy drivers and some Seabees. There was a brawl going on when I arrived and I was not able to get anyone’s attention, so I fired a round in the ceiling. Seeing me standing in the center of the room with the MP band on one arm and a raised 45 in the other was all that was needed to let them know it was time to move on. I quickly got on my radio with the results, "disturbance handled, all secure" and moved on myself, before anyone at my dispatch heard about the discharging of a pistol on base. Not being one for excessive paperwork and reports, I tried to use the "all secure" response as much as possible. Similarly, there was an occasion where I'd found one of the UN "Observers" snooping around near a restricted area. I told him where he was and to “get the hell out of there.” I then personally mentioned that incident to my CO.
Having a lot of freedom between duties, if I heard someone from my old battalion was on the hospital ship in the harbor, I would make arrangements to visit them.
For my last week in 'Nam, the only duty I had was to man one of the sandbagged bunkers on the base perimeter. I would have much rather done a foot patrol somewhere, but that's the way it was when you were “next” to return to “the world.” On my last night, there was an incoming mortar barrage, and I spent the night listening to the whistling of the rounds, wandering where they would hit.
As for my total Viet Nam tour, a line from a Led Zeppelin song says it all for this grunt everyman, “Good times, bad times, you know I had my share."

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Fading Away (Linked Haiku)





Fading Away (Linked Haiku)

vented adventures
from hardened participants
of another time

encounters evoked
weapons of their age recalled
fallen remembered

forever preserved
the horrors and the raptures
delivered by war

sharing sensations
Warriors pause to reflect
long ago conflicts

feeling envious
of others who continue
this lasting poem

Andy Syor