Not Where One Wants to Be
An Khe, VN, 28 May 1969 (LZ Uplift, in the field)
I am sure I am writing this to you by the grace of God. Today we went on a foot patrol over to the villages by the lake here. We searched through many houses finding mostly old men or women and children or small children. The cruelty and belligerence shown by our troops and the Viet Namese interpreters didn’t swing any sympathy to our side.
When everything we did at that part of the place seemed to draw a blank, the Lieutenant said to move on up the trail and search out more houses (The last thing we did at the small group of houses was to burn them. I remember well because I was inside admiring the workmanship of the wood beam structure when someone ignited the house). The column started down the trail with our sergeant (Keith Janke) and a soul brother (Clarence Taylor) in the lead then five men then me. We had moved about 500 feet when a VC blew a Claymore mine. Sergeant Janke and Taylor were killed outright and 3 of the next 4 were injured seriously. I patched up the three wounded and the radio operator got in a heaven sent dustoff (helicopter ambulance) in 8 or 10 minutes. We loaded the living and then the dead sadly on the helicopter and sent them to the hospital in Qui Nhion and then on to Japan.
The wait for the tracks to come pick us up gave us lots of time to count our blessings and pray for the men. The Lt. came around and asked if I would change my mind about being a conscientious objector. I told him no but he didn’t understand. When I got back to the others, someone said “Well maybe you still feel that way now but it’s 100 to 1 that you won’t by the end of 12 months”.
Tell Anne and Don the news. Will write again soon. You please do too.
Pray for me and God be with you.
An Khe, VN, 4 June 1969 (LZ Uplift, from the Hawk’s Nest)
When I last wrote I was out in the field and things weren’t too good. I guess God saw that enough was enough. So, at this writing, I am on top of a 2103 foot mountain in what is called the Hawk’s Nest. The view to 360 degrees is excellent and I am taking pictures of it with the Lieutenant’s camera on my film. You will probably see what I am seeing in a couple of weeks. Charlie doesn’t bother us up here because it is too difficult to get here (we can ONLY get here by chopper).
The accommodations are not too fancy, but the weather is comfortable because of the altitude. It rained today with us right up in the clouds which blew and flowed all around us. Looking at the top of us, here is what you see.
(Map scanned from back of letter)
I received the package in excellent condition and the plastic jar is now holding my drinking water. Thanks much for the contents – do it again sometime.
I don’t know how long I will be here, as usual, at least 7 days. It is comfortable, beautiful and quiet so I don’t mind a bit. Must go now and take more pictures.
God be with you, Love, John
Sometime toward the end of my stay in the Hawk”s Nest there was a loud explosion about a thousand feet down the flank of the mountain. We all looked at each other with no small amount of apprehension. Someone said call HQ on the radio and HQ was quick to say they were not doing anything to cause an explosion. Call the Navy! Before contact could be made, there was another similar explosion, this time about half the distance from us. We urgently asked if our water borne buddies were doing anything. Their answer was “No, It’s a slow day and we are making some practice shots to see if we can hit the top of that mountain.” I don’t remember our exact words, but the firing stopped, NOW.
An Khe, VN, 27 June 1969 (LZ Uplift, from the Hawk’s Nest) … Today is very pleasant – a cool wind is blowing in from the ocean with bright sun. I did a wash and it is getting dry very rapidly. Yesterday I got finished with the bunker: 4 shelves for the amo., flares, grenades and such; 5 shelves for my stuff including medical stuff, towel racks made from amo. box latches and cord, clothes bar made from aluminum flare tube, tools hung on the wall and drains & waterproofing on the outside. I think I am ready for the monsoons when they get here.
An Khe, VN, 6 June 1969 (LZ Uplift, from the Hawk’s Nest)
I have been thinking about something about the people whom I was with when they were killed, especially Sg. Janke. He and I were talking about a life after death and such just the day before he was killed. He said that he hadn’t given it too much thought, but he thought that he would go to Heaven. I explained some things about the thief going to paradise and so on to the effect that paradise was here on Earth and not to be too surprised if he did not go to Heaven.
What I was wondering is; What are the chances I would be present when he is resurrected? What do you think? It would be interesting for him to wake up to a familiar face and remember what I said.
I am still on top of this mountain and will be for 4 or 5 more days. It is beautiful and cool at night and in the evening. When I am down in the rice paddies, my world seems to be about as big as a football field and the heat and dust seem to be the only things that matter, but up here, I realize how big the world is and how small the people are and how stupid war and hate are. If all the time and money that are spent fooling and feuding around were spent on constructive endeavors, Viet Nam would be a wonderful place to be and the people could enjoy the beauty and the blessings that they have.
As it is now, there are no roads and the only railroad that was ever built through this part of the north is blown to uselessness and shows no sign of being fixed. The average papa sahn, that is what all the (local) men are called, has never been beyond his house and field and the market place, at most an infrequent trip by bus to Qui Nhon on the only paved road there is (the main North-South highway).
There are no trails, roads, paths, tramways or anything to the top of this mountain. I would venture that, at most, very few people have been to the top of this mountain before we blasted the top off and put an observation post on it. The scrub forest is too thick to walk through and is 15 to 20 feet high. The Lt. says that the upper part of the mountain was napalmed and defoliated prior to the engineer’s work here.
Just before I left Co. A the action for the previous 3 nights had been; on the first night a dog tripped a trip-flare (a bright ground flare that is set off by a wire stretched along the ground) and the whole platoon opened up with M-79 grenade launchers, 50 caliber machine guns, M-16 rifles and hand grenades but missed the dog entirely. The next night someone shot a dozen rounds over our heads and again the unit opened up with everything they had. The outcome: Three children wounded, one old man shot in the leg, and one very small baby killed. All of them were friendly civilians.
This brings me to another subject. Most, but fortunately not all the GIs, feel that all the Viet Namese soldiers and Viet Cong deserve to die on sight and since the farmer by day and the VC by night could be anyone you meet and since the friendly civilians don’t all rush out and kill the VC and the VC sympathizers, ALL the people in South Viet Nam are Gooks (which means strange). If we manage to kill one gook by hook or crook it is “just great”.
There is “officially” a Chou Hoi program going on. This is the open arms program that welcomes all VC and NVA (North Viet Army) to safety if they will only put up their arms and come to our side. However, the GI’s idea is that the gook with his arms in the air yelling “Chou Hoi” is an excellent and deserving target. “Chou Hoi, hell. I’d shoot the (bleep) gook.
Going back to the old man and the children that were injured; we did send them by helicopter to the hospital after I had treated them as best I could. This won’t undo the suffering and death.
Another example of the low GI opinion of the Viet Namese populace is a popular expression: “If you can’t f— it, Frag it.” (frag being an abbreviation of fragmentation grenade) At least 65% of the GIs have sexual intercourse with the Viet Namese and VD is as common as breakfast.
All of this has only strengthened my low opinion of this useless war.
Fortunately, I am taking a vacation from the war and strife except for what I hear on the radio messages that we relay up here. We pass on or listen to all the communication that the Army generates in this area.
It seems that this letter has degenerated into a complaint sheet, but my feelings funnel into my pen because there is no one here who understands things as I do.
I haven’t heard from Chester Lamar or Fred Singleton since the letter that you sent, but I hope to soon. I don’t get mail up here often; about once every 5 or 6 days. Tell Karen I remember her often and Aleta too.
God be with you all as He has with me. Love, John
“The 1st Bn (Mech), 50th Inf also worked out of LZ Uplift in the Phu My District of Binh Dinh Province, the center of our second general AO.” Internet Info
Early in September after we had the tents set up and things in order so that we could tend to the medical assignment we were there for, Sergent Trotter, who had NO respect for conscientious objectors, decided the only thing to be done was to punish the three of us with hard labor. From the beginning of the duty day till the end, he had us fill sand bags and stack them. When we asked what the bags were for, he said to “Shut up and keep shoveling.” At the end of the day, I was in my bed, wide awake, with my eyes shut, angry and afraid. A feeling came over me that I was lifting up from my bunk, through the top of the tent, accelerating upward to a thousand feet or more. As I saw the earth dropping away, Sgt. Trotter became of no consequence. The war seemed to be small and temporary. The promise of peace for the Vietnamese people was in the air. I descended to my body and my bunk after a time of personal peace. I slept well and in the morning learned that Sgt. Trotter was transferred to somewhere far away never to be seen again. I hope he has come to his own peace.