December 31st 1967
Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. You heard right. Vietnam is hot. It's muggy. It smells different. It looks different. That don't mean everything is different though. People are still people and fuck yes New Years Eve is still New Years Eve.
The last day of December 1967 and goddam if we weren't still riding high off Tam Quan. This shit was what we here for. This shit was one hundred percent the shit that I was here for. Every single one of us who was here to be here had gotten some this December and after we got done getting some and we got back to what passes for civilization out here you know god damn well we got some. If you weren't getting it from someone in your unit you were getting it somewhere. All of it. Sex, booze, smokes, weed, acid, speed, uppers, downers, zips, zooms, and whamwhams.
We'd just been walking the fences since then. Baking in the sun. Sharing stories and bodily fluids with each other. Training together, talking shit together, playing cards together, listening to music together, killing time in the armpit of the world man, together. There were so many of us, it was so goddamned hot, and we were all still so pepped up on Tam Quan. That was where I met Betsy. Fucking Betsy man. Thinking about her gets me antsy again. Ooo wee.
See December had jumped off quick. Word came down in the tail end of November that Intelligence had heard the PAVN or Vietcong or LASV or some group was heading on down to Bong Son so we were ready. We were itching. PAVN, LASV, Vietcong, those are all just slight variations on enemy. Sure enough in the first few days of December they headed down Highway 1 and started moving on our boys, that's ARVN, Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The good guys, second place anyway. America is Number One and all that shit. So that's how it started, the Battle of Tam Quan.
December 6th and they send the 9th Cav in to investigate. They're pinned down quick so they call in the 8th Cav and they send me with 'em. Goddamned Captain America shit here we go. Hey bartender get me a beer yeah? Whatever you got. Yeah that's right I drink this shit. It's beer man. No. Fuck no they ain't gonna poison me, I'm a regular customer and these are friendlies. Plus I'm just too damn good. Look at me. Just look at me.
You know how we do it. 1725 Hours they tell us to go. 1800 Hours my feet hit the street and I've got a new dancing partner. Helicopter crew was worried, they smelled it so they hooked me up with my girl. Betsy. You know where Betsy came from brother? Goddamned General Electric. No, I'm not kidding. General Electric. This sweet piece of ass is a scaled down M61 Vulcan. She can put out 4,000 a minute before she overheats. That's more than your mom. Goddamn, right?
So like I was saying. 1800 Hours we're landed, by 2100 we've got the 9th Cav on their way out and we're setting up perimeter. Betsy wanted to dance. You should really see us go. We do a mean Mashed Potato.
What happened next? Yeah, sure I'll tell yeah. Let me just get a drink. Long story. Shit gets real you know? You want one? I got you, it's no problem.
Tam Quan, Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam
We just about always came onto the scene the same way. Hot, fast, and spitting lead with a fury that spirit of vengeance those preachers are so fond of might find familiar. Not everyone is in it. They never are. Enough folk have second thoughts, enough don't really want to be there. Me and my boys were right where we wanted to be. I was right where I was made to be. My element.
My assistant gunner wasn't much of a killer. Isaiah Green. Maybe Greene with an E, I never did see it spelled out. He wasn't any good behind a barrel but he was goddamned fearless. Shouldn't have been here, got into a whole pile of shit for dating the wrong white woman and didn't let those sons of bitches just beat him to death. Got his pick between life behind bars and death out in the jungles of fucking Vietnam. He was good people. He painted my face up right every morning and he kept Betsy dancing all through the night. He shouldn't have been here but thank fuck he was. Kept me from getting myself into too much trouble when I was feeling myself a little too much.
And god damn if I wasn't feeling myself that day. Bare feet hanging out the chopper, and I was just looking for a target, someone that wanted shooting. Sometimes the pickings were slim and these were definitely some slim pickings. Made our job easier but a lot less fun. No one for me to shoot, no need for Isaiah to keep my belt fed, just a quick landing and we all met up with the 50th Infantry and piled into their ACAV armored carrier. Took us straight into Tam Quan no fuss no muss. They come in from LZ English and took us all the way in. By 2100 Hours we had the 9th Cav on their way out and we were setting in for the fun to come. Night Perimeter. Whole lot of nothing. Hair trigger tension. Sweat beading out and trickling down your face. Bugs eating you up. Just watching the seconds tick and waiting for the shit to kick. Shit never did kick, not all night.
Morning start up and I smelled it. Fuck if I know what it smells like but you do the right time and you can smell it. No mistaking it. Not ever. It was coming and when shit like that come you gotta be ready or you'll be dead. Gotta take inventory of who you got and what you got. Gotta be able to judge a man. I'm a goddam killer and no doubt about it. Isaiah wasn't no killer. His business never was killing, but he got down to anything else with a fear of nothing but God. Rumlow was solid too. Killer just like me except he was pay for play, wasn't in no ones service but his own. Damn good though, good man to have on your side and a horrible man to have for an enemy. Most of the other men I knew by face and reputation. Not much sense in learning names at the rate we were dropping.
Sat there with Isaiah talking shit out. Man had a keen mind. We did that more often than not. I knew one side of it, the killing. Isaiah had a sharp mind for all the other shit. The shit that meant me and mine could keep on killing without getting killed our damn selves. Vehicle positioning, traps, assignments, that was mostly his doing. Lead where you can right but know your limits. While he was going over all that I finished my preparations. Cheap shit MRE, watery mashed potatoes. Helped them out with a Red. Broke it apart and mixed the innards in with the potatoes. Isaiah kept talking and time kept on ticking. Threw another Red in there. I smelled it. The boys would be busy soon enough.
Most of them weren't killers but you didn't have to be a killer to be a soldier. You had to follow orders or at least try to. In Vietnam a lot of men died trying. Lot of men decided not to try and a lot of them we saw sure to dying. Wasn't nice. War never was. By the time we got clear to Tam Quan we'd cut most of the fat.
Lean meat. All around the perimeter. Betsy front and center behind a couple of barrels. Dancing shoes strapped tight. Vehicles positioned up front for cover and early detection. Traps laid. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. The best of America just waiting for what every one of us knew was coming, and then it did.
0725 that morning they hit the vehicles hard. Blew the Jeep apart and tore up the ACAV pretty decent. Poured a shit ton of artillery fire in too. Too far away to be accurate and we were dug in well. Only suffered one casualty. Youngster got his with a bolt from the Jeep, pulped his head. Quick death. No pain.
From there it was all action. Reinforcements got flown in. More men, more weapons. ARVN, 40th Regiment. We reformed the perimeter and then me and my boys set out to get some. Sent Rumlow out to the East, where they was coming from, to rustle some shit up. Flamethrowers, grenade launchers, our last Armored Personnel Carrier, half diversion half retribution. They pushed hard. That Rumlow was a hard son of a bitch. Pushed hard East, got around those bastards and pushed them back. Back to us.
I always liked to keep shit simple. Direct. Lethal.
Colt Commander .45, my M60, my KA-BAR, a few grenades. That was my standard issue. 8 round magazines for the pistol. Belts for the M60. She was a hungry bitch too, ate them belts up fast. Gas operated, short stroke, open bolt, more than 500 rounds per minute. That was my kit. Sometimes I took some extra goodies, but I kept it simple today. Simple is good, simple is predictable.
Rumlow did things different and today, with Betsy, it all worked out just fine. Just fine.
That day and the days that would follow, the Battle of Tam Quan. That's Vietnam in a nutshell brother.
Us and the ARVN holding the line. A bunch of American boys in the middle of Vietnam standing beside a bunch of Vietnamese boys while another bunch of Vietnamese boys come at us. Screaming bloody murder, opening fire, running out of the tree line. My brothers firing on them. Their brothers firing on us. Blood. Fire. Smoke. Oil. Clouds of CS coming out from behind them, flushing the Vietcong out. That would be Rumlow's work. The gas and the fire. Chaos on chaos. Can't hardly hear a thing over the shots. Can't hardly see a thing over the flames and the smoke. Just shapes running at you pointing sparking sticks at you, and then they're gone.
It's a nightmare. It's a dream. And there I am. Flag paint mostly washed off ages ago from the sweat and the heat but I got a new paint. My own paint, got opened up a bit at some point. Didn't even notice it. Was a bit busy. I notice it now in this one instant. This postcard memory of Tam Quan.
I'm standing there in the middle of it. Fucking rooted. Blood leaking from my head, trickling down my chest. The heat of flames drying it out, dancing on my skin. The sight of the smoke. The sounds of our guns and occasionally the sound of one of their rounds zipping past our heads. Betsy dancing in my hands, Isaiah keeping her fed. The smell of coppery blood, oil, and the lavender scent of the gas Rumlow was using to flush the enemy out. If I hadn't been so hopped up I might be running too.
Probably not though. Would have missed out on this. Couldn't do that. Not ever. Can't forget it. Not ever. Couldn't tell you what day I took that little mental snapshot. Some time between December 6th and the 9th. That's Vietnam baby. It all bleeds into one.