nt reasons for being in Vietnam. These men were mostly high school and college age guys. One man entered the Maarines after he graduated.1 He said, They helped me grow up. I grew up in Vietnam.2 One seventeen year old joined the Marine Corps because he that he would end up in court because of some past actions.3 The man at the draft office gave him ten bucks to pay off a woman to sign for him to join.4 He left a note for his mother before he left for boot camp that said: Mom, I went to Parris Island Ill be back in a couple of months.5 He said, I had no idea what I was getting into.6 After a retaliatory prank involving another students cadaver, a Johns Hopkins Medical School student was given a leave of absence because of his actions.7 He said, A week later I had my draft notice. They turned me right in to the Board.8In the field officers did not tell a soldier what to do, that was the attitude toard officers.9 Dress codes and regular military protocol were dropped in the field.10 If an officer gave you trouble during a firefight, he was shot, these were acceptable actions.11 When a general would come visit a base camp once a month, when he would arrive the men would go out and fire at his helicopter until he turned around and left.12 They only allowed the general to land when he had news crews with him.13 Enlisted men had no love for the officers in Vietnam.
The war had an effect on the men who faught it. They becme hardened and cool in their experiences. A man who just arrived in Vietnam observed: They were kids, but they werent kids. There was something in their eyes that made them absolutely different… There was something very old about them, but I still felt like a kid.14 To some, the war became enjoyable. They did not mind the violence going on around them. One such soldier said, In Fact, I started to enjoy it. I enjoyed the shooting and the killing.15 Another man observed, It took a long time to adjust to the fact that I wasnt killing people out of anger. They didnt piss me off. That I turned my mind off to it scared me later.16 Some men lost their fear of death over there. A soldier describes another guy from his company: At night he lit a cigarett- flash- right there in front of me, right by our position where we could just be blown away. I panicked and yelled, What are you doing? The other guy responded with, When its time, its time, God only knows.17
Atrocities played a part in the wars effect on the men who fought it. A new guy learns how to deal with death as taught by the experienced members of his squad, he must kick the head of a dead body until the brains begin to come out.18 A soldier remembers a man in his squad: We had this one dude who would go out shooting people, then yell, Snake! Like, dont worry, I just killed a snake next to the trail.19 On a road, a jeep driver bet the he would hit an old lady was walking beside the trail; he won the bet by swerving the jeep and killing the woman.20 Body parts became trophies to the men who were fighting in Vietnam. A group of soldiers raped a girl, then killed her, cut off one of her breasts after she was dead, and left her body there mutilated.21
In a combat situation , camp proided nothing more than a place to sleep. The men lived in bunkers mostly and had problems with rats and mosquitoes. One soldier said that at night he could not go into his bunker because of the rats. All of the rats were assumed to be rabid, so if you received a bite you underwent the rabies shots.22 One man spole of his old sleeping habits. Hee would wear his flak jacket, helmet, long sleeve shirt, and with a towel wrapped around his face with a little hole for his nose because of the mosquitoes.23 One group of guys was told to sleep completely wrapped up in their blankets, so that they could get out, but nothing could get in. One guy did not do as he was told and a rat jumped on him and bit a piece of his face off and that wound sent him home.24 Sometimes the luxury of sleeping in a bunker was not available, so they made do with what they had. One soldier said, I used to just take a cardboard box from C-rations and lay it out to sleep on.25
While at camp watch was one the main duties of a soldier in Vietnam. On watch there was not much to do. The American troops initiaited no combat, they waited to be attacked.26 They posted a sign that said Keep the Beer out of the Bunkers, to remind them not to drink on duty because if they drink and pass the enemy slips in and kills people.27 One soldier spoke of how he spent his time on watch, So we used to beat off, masturbate. I did it sometimes as many as four times a night in a four hour period – which I wish I could do now.28 The men came up with ways to spend their watch, from thinking to mastubation. These were about the only things they could do.
Casualties are a part of a combat situation. They range from injuries to deaths, but each makes up part of every mans story of Vietnam. A soldier spoke of a casualty in a firefight: A guy gets wounded and you dont hardly want to pick the poor fucker up, because you can hardly make it across the field yourself. But you do pick him up.29 An injured man in a field hospital watched a Viet Cong get out of his bed, break a bottle, and kill an Australian soldier mest to him. At this point the doctor grabbed a .45, stuck it in the Viet Congs mouth and shot him.30 Sometimes the casualties occurred away from the fire-fights. A new kid in vietnam decided to have a good time the night before his first big operation. A prostitute brought a satchel charge into the kids APC with her. When she left it blew his arms and legs below the knees off.At the hospital, he was blasted with morphine every time he started to open his eyes until he died two days later.31 Sometimes a soldier would see a man he knew dead and could do nothing about it. One man said, I noticed Heath, from the first platoon, was laying in the pepper field. He was quite obviously dead.32
Men humped their packs all day on patrol. They performed search and destroy missions and provided support for other units. Everyday wed hump rucksacks that weihged over a hundred pounds. There were only two guys in my company who could put on a rucksack standing up.33 On a search and destroy mission one squad would walk through a village and then walk on for a bit past the village and radio for help; under heavy contact. Then the village would get bombed. Refering to General Krulak: Anytime the shit would hit the fan anywhere, he would call us in to help.34
The use of hlecopters in the war was common. They were used to drop supplies to the troops and to evacuate wounded soldiers from the field to hospitals. The men on these helicopters would take advntage of their position to use them for a little fun. A guy on a helicopter made a bet with one of his friends that he could sink a sampan with a rock. They received a radio message that a suspected gun runner was coming down the river they were patroling. When he saw the sampam coming, the guy who made the bet leaned out of the helicopter and dropped a large rock in