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Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day


We give you this story today from a friend of CARDINAL COUPLE

It was a pretty crazy time in the history of America. The war was at full tilt in Vietnam and there had just been an election. Nixon was the new president. I was graduating from high school. No plans on college, no money to go even if I did and no idea what I was going to do after graduation. Louisville was a manufacturing town back then and I figured I could go to one of the plants...had friends at International Harvester, GE, Ford and Phillip Morris...get a factory job and take on the next part of my life. 

Uncle Sam had different plans for me. With a low draft lottery number and no physical disabilities, I was prime fodder for the armed services. And, sure enough, I got the notice, got the call and a couple of days after a wild "send away" party that a few buddies threw for me..I was on the bus and headed for basic training.

Me (sitting on right). Neville (middle) and Don (left)
Our drill instructors hated us, we all figured. I didn't know anyone in my squad but we soon started making friends, forming alliances. I was part of the "stoners" the underacheivers... and we got through basic training in North Carolina after a series of misadventures that had us in the bull ring more than once and doing more pushups than heavyweight prize-fighters. I was assigned infantry.

I ended up... after the longest trip in my Vietnam. I had never been past the state of Oklahoma in my it was all quite new and a little baffling to me at first. The first couple of weeks, it seemed advice, orders, and instructions were coming from everyone. Three of the guys from basic were with me in our unit. We soon formed a bond with a few of the "stoners" in the unit and the days went on.

We sat by that river in tunnels and cutouts day-in and day-out. We'd fire at them and they'd fire back at us. They'd try to come over the bridge sometimes, we never did..we were there to maintain control of the bridge and ensure safe river traffic and we did. Days went by slow. I was trained to be a tunnel rat...that's what they called us small guys. Taught how engage in tunnel warfare. Never got to use it, though until one day the shooting stopped. They weren't returning our fire. Went on for a couple of days. Air re-con confirmed they were gone. We finally went over the bridge.

We discovered the tunnels. They were really quite well designed...compared to ours...and seemed to go forever. None were rigged or booby trapped you got a false sense of confidence as we explored them. Days were pretty easy for a while. Mapping, charting and exploring and getting stoned. The guess was that they were gone for good. We still had to watch the bridge, and the river, we were split up on either side of it, doing that.  

Days went slow but very easy. We'd grill out almost every night. We'd barter with boats going up and down the river. Then, the Cong returned. With a vengeance. The early radio communiques were scary. Command decided to get us all back on our side of the river, but not before we set traps and explosives in the tunnels. I was back over for just a few hours before they came back. And, then it was hell.

I don't remember much about the explosion. I woke up as we were evacuating, in the back of a transport. Every part of my body hurt. They gave me more morphine and I woke up in a MASH Unit.
the next time. The doctors told me that they thought they could save my legs but weren't so sure about my left arm. My war was over.

I was one of the lucky ones. Two of the guys that I had done basic with...Don and Neville...and was in the platoon with in Vietnam...  died in that offense. I think about them from time to time...Don and his Bob Dylan impersonations. Neville lip syncing to the Temptations. Still talk to Don's wife from time to time...she re-married...second husband died of cancer last year. David, the third guy, got out unhurt. Hadn't talked to him in years. He's in Michigan still, I guess. He's a dairy farmer. Married his high school sweetheart.  After rehabilitation, and after they were able to save my legs and left arm, I was sent back to the states. Went back to Louisville, eventually. Ended up at the post office and just retired from there two years ago. We moved to Ohio and live next door to my wife Carol's sister Sally and her husband Dan now in their mom and dad's house. Three miles from my oldest boy. I miss Louisville sometimes. Had good neighbors and a nice little shotgun house there. Ohio is OK, though. Carol and her sister Sally are close and that's important.

I miss my dad sometimes. He was like your Dad, Paul. He lived to 93. Outlived my mom by 14 years. My younger brother Larry and my sister-in-law took good care of him like you did with your dad. Larry is still in Louisville. I told you about my other brother "Slick". He's still in Owensboro. Dementia getting worse for him.

I get asked. Vietnam. Was it worth it? I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. I did what my country asked me to do. 37 guys died in that 36 hours of hell. I probably should have, too.

I'll spend this Memorial Day at my oldest son's house. I'll have a few beers, he'll cook out and I'll watch the cornhole games, may try my luck in a couple,  probably play a few hands of nickle and dime poker and talk about the Reds, the Cards and Cats and this latest news about Tressel quitting at Ohio State. Mostly, his and his families' friends. Ohio State fans. I'll get back home tonight and check out the war movies on AMC.

Was it worth it? I guess it was.  Would I do it again? Yeah, I guess I would. We lost that bridge, though and control of the river in that section. That's one thing I'd change.

(I hope this was the kind of stuff you were looking for, Paul. Carol helped me write it. You know how bad I write. Ha-Ha. Gotta tell you, I got choked up a couple of times...Have a great day, buddy,)


(You did just fine, Ken. Thank you.)

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