Red Clay Newsletter of the Veterans who served at Khe Sanh Combat Base, Hill 950, Hill 881, Hill 861, Hill 861-A, Hill 558 Khe Sanh Village, Lang-Vei and Surrounding Area

 

Home      Red Clay Index
INCOMING  
 
 
 
         
     

FLAGS

By Craig Tourte

I always fly my flags during the Memorial Day (3 day) holiday. I have a fairly bright American flag and a rather old faded Marine Corps flag. Of course Memorial Day is not the only time I erect the flags outside of my home. I also put them out on January 21st and on the Marine Corps Birthday. I was driving around town yesterday and I noted a rather lack of flags flying from the neighborhood houses and businesses. I don’t think it is a lack of patriotism but rather an exhibition new generations have not yet recognized. We all know there is a war going on, but to be perfectly honest the war seems to only touch those who have a hand in the conflict. For the most part, Americans continue to just go about their business and only slightly follow the sacrifices made by so many, a familiar experience I might add.

Years ago I had a small California flag I flew from a pole over our bunker at Khe Sanh before we moved into the trenches. We soon realized that what we thought of at the time as a bunker was really no more than some barrels filled with dirt and a few sand bags over the top of the above ground target, which proved inadequate. Somehow, in all of the confusion and craziness, that little red clay stained, faded and tattered California flag made its way back home with me. I kept it in the sea bag I had with all of my other Marine Corps memorabilia, too small uniforms, covers and other assorted odd and ends. For some reason I liked keeping the stuff around, but at the time I wasn’t sure why. As much as that poor little flag went through; the Vietnam War, the Siege at Khe Sanh, Okinawa, El Toro and back to MCRD San Diego, it somehow managed to survive all the moves I made as a young man finding his way after the war.

Unfortunately, my little flag didn’t survive my biggest struggle and greatest failure of all, my first marriage. There was something about" why are you keeping this old junk around the house?” You know, wives can sometimes just drive one crazy, and I’m afraid my little flag didn’t survive the marriage either. I don’t know why, but I find myself wishing I still had that little flag, something to remember and look back on, a very personal time for me and for so many others. Now when I fly my American and Marine Corps flags, I know deep down and see in my heart, that little flag flying proudly with them.

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
     

“OLD JUNK”

By Ron Main

When I left Khe Sanh in July 68, I threw my flak jacket into a crate that we had for damaged and worn out 782 gear. A week later, and back on Okinawa, and on my way home, I saw the crate in the VMGR 152 supply warehouse. I stood over the crate looking at all those torn and red clay stained flak jackets and web gear and the smell of Khe Sanh.

I dug through the crate, kicking up a cloud of red dust, and found my flak jacket, and helmet. I took the torn helmet cover, and my flak jacket, put them into my sea bag, and they came home with me. Both sat in the rear corner of my garage on Long Island, New York for 20 years. When I moved to Colorado in the mid 80s, I left them with my Aunt. She put them in her garage. When I came back to Long Island for a visit, I wanted to take them back to Colorado. But I learned that my chronically neat grandfather (Pop), who I loved dearly, had thrown out my flak jacket. I asked him why.? He said, " Why do we need that filthy old thing around. " I pictured my flak jacket sitting in a pile of garbage on the curb and it broke my heart. I don't think " normal people " get it. They often mean well. But they just don't connect with what so many things we feel. Anyway. My cousin, hid my helmet cover so Pop couldn't get to it. He gave it to me and I took it back to Colorado. It sat in my closet for years.

In 2003 my niece went to Vietnam as part of a campus at sea semester in college. My sister Diane went to meet her in Saigon. I gave Diane my helmet cover and told her to take it back to Vietnam and bury it somewhere. Naturally she wasn't going anywhere near Khe Sanh, but I told her that was OK. Just bury it back in the soil of that country where it belonged. She took the helmet cover, and when she was somewhere in the Mekong Delta, a honey farmer buried it with a little ceremony in his family plot. You can't make this stuff up.

Here's where it get interesting... When at Khe Sanh, all my gear got torn up by incoming one day in mid March. I couldn't find my helmet. So I went to a pile of discarded gear near Charlie Med, and got another helmet that had been worn by a marine who had been either wounded or killed. He'd written on the brown side of the cover: " You haven't really lived until you've faced death.. Khe Sanh 68. " Knowing that he might be dead, I couldn't look at it. So, I turned the cover over and put the green side on (didn't stay green for long.) Well, at the last minute before my helmet cover got buried, my sister saw the Khe Sanh inscription. She cut that piece off, and took it back to me. All of the rest of the cover is now back " in country."

I've been writing screenplays for years, and in 2003 I was at the Austin Film Festival with Kelly, a very pretty friend of mine who also writes screenplays. We were both quarter finalists at the fest competition. Her husband John is a movie accountant and he works on all of the big Hollywood movies. At the fest, she introduced me to screenwriter Bill Broyles, who she met on the set of " Castaway " when John was working on that movie. Being both former marines (Bill was a platoon leader with 26th Marines in 69) Bill said he was writing a screenplay for Tom Hanks about a chaplain at Khe Sanh. I said, " Do you mean Chaplain Stubbe..? " His eyes lit up and he said: " You were at Khe Sanh.. I want to talk with you.." Bill, me, and he and Kelly's mutual writing coach were supposed to meet for lunch, but Kelly and I went to the wrong restaurant. I never saw Bill again.

In 2005 I asked Kelly how Bill was doing. She said he was very down because the studio Fox 2000 didn't want to make a depressing movie about Khe Sanh because the younger audience wouldn't be able to relate to it. I sent Kelly the piece of my helmet cover with the Khe Sanh inscription to give Bill encouragement. When she opened it Kelly said it smelled, but she would send it to Bill anyway. When Bill received the helmet cover at his home in Wyoming, he became very emotional. He told Tom Hanks about it, and director Ed Zwick (Courage Under Fire, Glory, Blood Diamond, etc) who was to direct the Khe Sanh movie. Bill told Kelly to tell me, that little piece of the helmet cover is now their " battle flag " to someday get their Chaplain Stubbe movie made.

Because of this, last year I made Bill, Tom, and Ed, Associate Members of KSV. I often think of that marine whose helmet I wore, who wrote: " You haven't really lived until you've faced death.. Khe Sanh 68 " Wherever he is, or whoever he was, he has not been forgotten. Should he be alive and a KSV member, and happens to read this posting, he'll remember writing those heart felt words on his helmet cover, that now speak so eloquently for all of us on this Memorial Day Weekend. I have to thank my little sister Diane for seeing the profound message in his words, and bringing that little piece of the helmet cover back, to continue its journey. Perhaps it's because in July 68 when she was 17, and I was again back at Khe Sanh, she went to visit my friend Ronny Vivona (G 2/26) at the Philly Navy hospital 7th floor " white lie ward " after Ronny lost his legs on hill 700. She told me only recently how the sight of seeing so many torn and suffering young marines her own has never left her, and how it was something a young girl shouldn't have seen. Perhaps she became one of us that day. Perhaps she knows the true meaning and message of our " old junk."

Very Best to all of you on this Memorial Day.. Good to be alive...

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
     

ANOTHER REUNION STORY
Tough Guys

By Craig W Tourte

I met a lot of tough guys at the reunion. Men who I had only met on two occasions (reunions), but who I have known for 38 years. I was kind of a tough guy too. I had a long career dealing with people who had problems and tragedy in their lives. I often had to be the cool, calm and collected one to make sure certain events turned out successfully. I comforted victims of assault and violence. I have had guns and knives pointed at me, cut down the suicide victim from the rafters of their garage while their families stood and watched, removed the gun from the hand of the dead after they had shot themselves. I have dealt with a wide range of troubled individuals in our society. I tried to show compassion certainly, but that compassion was not necessarily coupled with emotion. As the years progressed, I found it a little more difficult to express emotion, even when dealing with my own family issues. The word coldness comes to mind, and there were times when I wondered if I even had the ability to feel any emotion at all, an issue I'll admit, that concerned me.

There were a lot of tough guys at the reunion, perhaps not so much in body any more, but certainly in spirit and character. Combat Marines, veterans of brutal fights and various battles. Men whose toughness was honed by years of hard living and conflict. Men who could easily describe the brutality of war and the witnessing of sometimes-indescribable death of their friends and comrades. Men who had committed the necessary acts of war on other individuals and to coin a phrase, didn't blink an eye. Men who had gone through several marriages, because they were now unable to express emotion to another human being. Men whose families and friends still cannot understand their coldness. Yep, there certainly were a lot of tough guys at the reunion.

I have made an observation about myself at these reunions and it is that it usually takes me about twelve hours or twenty minutes talking with Neil, before this tough guy is reduced to pretty much a blubbering, sobbing idiot. Of course I'm over stating this, but certainly I get overwhelmed with emotion, the tears uncontrollably run down my cheeks, and I certainly feel like a blubbering idiot. I have tried to be circumspect about this unusual occurrence in me, this uncontrolled emotional feeling. It is not depression, sadness, nor is it sensitivity to anything that is said or discussed. I think it is just a feeling of humanity and humility and respect for those I am around. I think of these men who 38 years ago shared the most personal and intimate moments of their lives together and although it was a long time ago, it seems like yesterday. I think of my friend Chuck, who was one of the few who survived the rocket attack on the CP (in fact he survived two attacks) and Bruce, who was the one who pulled him out. Chuck credits Bruce with saving his life 38 years ago. Chuck said, "I hope Bruce is here, I would like to meet." I was not present when Chuck and Bruce got together that evening at the reunion, but just the thought of that moment, chokes me up.

There were a lot of tough guys at the reunion, you could tell who they were, they were the ones hugging each other with tears running down their faces. I didn't want the reunion to end, I didn't want to leave, and I wanted this moment to always be. I didn't want to leave these fine men who I had met twice before, but who I had known for 38 years. I was humbled to be in their presence and even though I was so proud to be accepted by them. If you're a tough guy and a Khe Sanh Veteran and you have never been to a reunion, you should think about going, there will be a lot of tough guys there, and you'll never be the same.

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
     

Khe Sanh Veterans Son Performs Above The Call of Duty

By Carlton B. Crenshaw

The son of one of our own has performed a terrific act to assist children of what is approaching 1,000 Marines who have been killed in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. On 8 July, 2007 Travis Prentice swam 20 miles, nearly across the English Channel from England to France, and only missed his goal of a channel swim completion due to a sudden change in the current as he approached the French coast. Travis had wanted to find a meaningful way to contribute to his country after 9/11. Over the years Travis has been well acquainted with the Marine Corps. His father, Glenn Prentice, fought at Khe Sanh with Charlie Battery, 1/13 and was assigned to India Company, 3/26 on Hill 881 South during the entire 77 day siege during the January-April period of 1968. Glenn was both a radio operator as well as a forward artillery observer who helped fend off the nearly 3,000 NV A who were dug into our hill.

Travis dedicated his swim to the children of some of the finest people who have lived in America. His efforts will assist many children who will not know what it is like to receive encouragement and support from their father or mother as they move through life. The funds that are being raised as a result of the heroic accomplishments of this young man are being channeled through the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. I would like to encourage the Marines who fought with me and Glenn Prentice to make a contribution in Travis' name to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation 121 S. Saint Asaph Street Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3119.

Travis Prentice lives in the San Diego area and works for the prestigious investment firm Nicholas-Applegate.

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
     

SOMETHING TO HATE

By Craig W. Tourte

I was reading an essay today by Tony Quinn who was an Army information officer in Saigon in 1966 and 1967. This article was amongst several written by a number of authors comparing the war of today with that of Vietnam in response to the presentation before Congress given by General Petraeus now, and that given by General Westmoreland at another time. Now don’t go nuts, although the premise of his article was to make a political point, my post is not going to be a political statement of any sort, so you don’t have to prepare to write me nasty responses.

Mr. Quinn made the observation-and I think the same ones made by the numerous Khe Sanh Veterans who have visited Vietnam-that, “Everything the United States wished for in 1967 has happened by 2007. There is not a more pro-American country in Asia than Vietnam, a friendlier people and a more entrepreneurial capitalist society. As in China, communist flags are everywhere, but the real story is an unfettered capitalist economy the government has fostered.” “…you can hardly find any sign that Americans were ever in Vietnam.” “…a special display marks the collapse of the socialist subsidy economy in the late 1980’s and its replacement by, do moi, the free market. “…in the heart of old Saigon-nobody uses its communist name, Ho Chi Minh City.” Mr. Quinn goes on to describe a clean, vibrant Vietnam, open and welcoming Americans and other tourists.

I’ll admit that since my experience in Vietnam, it has been difficult for me to just “get over it,” without feeling that certain kick in my gut when I read the words, “Made in Vietnam” on some of the products I purchase. I am afraid I am just lost in time and unfortunately I still carry some old scars and harbor-I am aware of misplaced-feelings about the-even present day- Vietnamese, most not alive during my little adventure into their country forty some odd years ago. During the reunion, Dennis I think, and others brought albums of photographs of their recent visits to Vietnam. I sat alone at the table where the albums were offered for viewing and looked at each photograph carefully. I noted the people of Vietnam today, the landscapes, the little shops and villages, the streets and houses, I looked at the schools and churches and the children, all clean and well nourished. I noted how much the area around the Khe Sanh Combat Base had changed. I saw the now wide, paved roadways, where once small dirt paths had been, the once dusty dangerous avenues in which Bravo, Delta, Charlie and other proud American fighting units had walked so carefully many years ago and where so many Americans, some I knew, had fallen years before. I was searching for the old and familiar, and I guess I was looking for something, anybody or anything to hate., But I found only the now smiling and welcoming faces of a seemingly emerging and by Asian standards, the now prosperous Vietnamese. While I sat there at the table, open albums in hand, I was looking for something inside of me, a sort of awaking or awareness, anything that would tell my soul that it was over, that was then and this is now. I guess I was looking for something in myself that said, “get over it.” And although I have a fairly well educated understanding of Vietnam and its history of a thousand years of fighting off invaders and the fact that the Vietnam of today welcomes the West and Americans, I still struggle.

There was a short time when I thought I was over these feelings. I mean, how much more of an understanding of the historical view of this situation does one need to change one’s mind and to be truthful, I am really talking about my heart. I bought a golf cap the other day. It says White Hawk on the front and I paid twenty dollars for the cap at a really nice golf course and one I could only afford to play once a year. I wore that hat every time I played, but it got so sweat soaked and dirty I stuck it in the washing machine. When I pulled it out of the washer I was kind of stretching it out when I noticed a small label that read, “Made in Vietnam.” Something kicked me in the gut and I realized that I have not as yet came to terms with myself and I have not gotten over it, and at my age-rationality aside I don’t think I ever will.

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
     

COMPASSION
More Dreams

By Craig W. Tourte

Today I found myself talking to this man I have known for over 15 years. We have not been good friends, just happened to work together a few years ago. I knew that he had been in the Army in Vietnam, had a purple heart and had a rather rough time of it but he didn’t discuss this with anyone and to tell you the truth when I worked with him was prior to my involvement in this whole Khe Sanh thing and before my first reunion and my understanding of PTSD.

Of course a lot of things have changed for me during these past five years, getting into the PTSD program thanks to Neil Kenny and Tom Horchler and a lot of others I have met at the Khe Sanh reunions. I have been able to get a handle on this thing and manage pretty well now, in fact I have helped others to understand, like others before have helped me. Anyway, this guy and I are having this discussion about Vietnam, I wait for the man next to me to leave, him not being a Vietnam Veteran I didn’t want to say anything around him because I knew that he would not have understood our discussion and if he heard our conversation he most likely would have misconstrued what we were talking about.

I start the conversation by asking, “You got a heart in Vietnam, didn’t you.” He answers, “Yes I did.” I tell him my story, about sitting next to this former Marine I knew, telling him I was about to go the my first Khe Sanh reunion but not really looking forward to hearing a bunch of old men talk about the war because it was not something I thought about any more. The guy looks at me and says, “Craig, Vietnam is something I think about all of the time.” You have heard this story before from me, but I wanted to lay the foundation for you. When he said this I was shocked knowing that in fact I had thought about Vietnam every day and until he said that to me, I hadn’t realized I had in fact had dreams or thought about Vietnam.

Back to this guy I used to work with. I tell him the same story and then I look at him and say, “Those dreams I had every morning and every night are the same dream that you have now, aren’t they?” I was not really sure what kind of reaction I would get from this guy; I mean he is one of those rather formal individuals who keeps his emotions to himself. He looks at me kind of in shock and says, “How do you know what dreams I have?” My response is, “I know because they are the same dreams I and ever other Vietnam Veteran I know has had.” He swallows hard and tears come to his eyes. Now this man is 63 years old and it’s in a public place in the middle of the afternoon and he has never talked to anyone about his experience before. I was not quite prepared for his response, but his starts to tell me about his experience in Vietnam and how it has affected life. How the smell of the dirt in his yard reminds him of the tunnels he used to go into. How when the top of the tunnel touched his back it scared him and he is always reminded of this when he feels and smells dirt.

We talked some more and I gave him my email address and telephone number and told him to think about what we talked about and to call me later if he thought he might like to file with the VA and perhaps talk further and that I knew what it was like to feel all alone and be in our world, you know the world where you can’t explain the pain to anyone else?

The point of all of this is that I think it is important to have compassion for others who are, even after all of these years, still trying to get a handle on all this stuff. It’s important for them to know that they are not alone and that what they have dreamed, felt or are going through, is a road that many of us have already traveled.

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
     

WELCOME TO VIETNAM “MACHO MAN”

By Craig W. Tourte

I just finished “…Macho Man,” written by Ernest Spencer (Copyright 1987 by Corps Press) and as a result, I’m exhausted and mentally drained. I tend to read more than one book at a time, often moving between books as time allows and the mood strikes me. I settled down on the couch the other day, intending to read just a few chapters of Macho Man but I found I couldn’t put the darn thing down, it emotionally consumed me. Mr. Spencer was the Commanding Officer of Delta Company, 1st Battalion 26th Marines during the Siege of Khe Sanh, occupation of Hill 881 South, along with other battles and operations. It is his story written in the raw-and to some I’m sure shocking-vernacular of a combat Marine. Within the first few pages we learn that Mr. Spencer’s college major was philosophy, which explains his often subtle philosophizing interjections.

When I was a young police officer soon after returning from Vietnam, I used to have dreams about firing my service weapon, I could see the bullet leave the barrel of my weapon in slow motion as another undesirable pointed his gun at me, the dream ended there, never completed, I woke up sweat soaked and agitated. It may have had something to do with almost getting shot on more than one occasion, you know those alley’s, armed suspects, dark houses, walking down the hallway, that sort of thing, those days before SWAT was introduced into law enforcement agencies. I thought mine was an unusual dream until I had a conversation with a friend and patrol partner who told me he had the same dream. In fact one day at the range when he fired his weapon the bullet did just that, left the barrel of this service weapon in seemingly slow motion and traveled about 20 feet before it fell onto the ground, a failure on his part to properly maintain his weapon and ammunition.

I have had many dreams about my time at Khe Sanh, none that really frightened me, but they were there none-the-less. Within the last year or so, I have been having the same dream about Vietnam, peculiar since my experience at Khe Sanh has been so long ago. I was thinking I was the only one who has had this dream-as I thought I was the only one who was having that dream when I was a police officer-which seems to be occurring more frequently. What is also odd, I spent my tour in Vietnam as a “Poge” synonymous with REMF. In the chapter titled, “Fantasy,” I was shocked to read Mr. Spencer’s dream has been my current dream. Mr. Spencer has a right to our dream; I’m not so sure I do. “…I am invisible…I go out alone at night…I make my way silently and invisible through enemy lines…” Why I ask myself, is our dream so similar when our experience was so different?

I was particularly fascinated with the chapter titled, “Crazy.” When I was a young police officer and too soon after my experience at Khe Sanh, I responded to a possible bomb at a bank, a common call in those days and a very real possibility in the 70’s. I took the package outside and stuck my face real close and then opened it up. I didn’t care, what happens, happens. As I now reflect back, I think that act may have been something left over from Vietnam. Mr. Spencer relates in “Crazy,”, “…I can’t think of any guy who goes through Khe Sanh who doesn’t get strange...I never take a guy out of the field for just being strange…I also know I am strange.” After all of these years, I now feel vindicated for my occasional “strange” behavior and I am certainly aware that I am still a little crazy.

I thought “Welcome to Vietnam, Macho Man” was an outstanding read. Upon reflection, I think regardless of one’s MOS or experience there is a little Macho Man is all of us. One cannot read this book without seeing some of themselves in its characters, sense the dangers or recall the sounds of incoming and remember the horrors of war. Mr. Spencer was truly the Macho Man.

There are a few first editions still available, which I am sure Mr. Spencer would be more than happy to send to you if you were to contact him via his address in the directory. I know the publishing and bindings of the hard back editions are expensive to produce, so you might consider that when ordering, but your historical copy will be autographed by the author. The paperback edition can be purchased by going to Amazon or www.corpsproducitons. com. Just for information, I purchased mine and Mr. Spencer was kind enough to autograph it for me.

 

   
             
 

Back To Top
 

 

 

 

This website is owned by the Khe Sanh Veterans Inc.
maintained by Tom Eichler and John "Big John" Pessoni
Copyright 2009 Khe Sanh Veterans Inc. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form

This Web designed to be viewed with Internet Explorer version 5.0 or above and a screen resolution of 1024X768