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

 

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    WHAT I NEVER HAD

By Craig W. Tourt

I was sitting around my favorite watering hole yesterday after playing a game of golf, shooting the stuff with a few old guys my age. Because of the little event planned for the birthday coming up the discussion got around to “where were you and what did you do.” One of they guys talked about his time in the Air Force and how he saw the world and the various bases and countries he had been in. Another talked about his time in the Navy and the food on the ships and how his bunk was right under the flight deck and the noise it made. Another said that he was in the Corps but never made it Vietnam but had spent time at Twenty Nine Palms and Okinawa. Then one of the guys smiled and asked me where I was, while I was in the Marine Corps. Of course everyone knew where I was and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I tried not to make my story into a whine but I knew what they all wanted to hear. I started out with “I Never…”

I figure I spent, give or take somewhere around ten or eleven months, in Vietnam. Eight of those at Khe Sanh. The other times in Quang Tri after the Siege, guarding something way off away from everything. Anyway my story started off, “I never sat on a flush toilet, I never spoke to a Vietnamese, I never was in a town or large village, I never went into a bar, I never took a bath or shower from a forced water pipe, I never had hot running water, I never walked on cement or asphalt, I never saw a women except from a distance, I never slept in a bed, I never had a pillow or blanket, I never slept in sheets, I never saw a television, I never listened to a radio, I never sat in a chair, I never wore any under clothing, I never had my cloths washed except from a bucket, I never ate a hamburger or had French-fries, I never had any shaving crème, I never walked on a rug, I never had more than one pair of boots, I never stood near a heater, I never had more than one pair of socks, except for two occasions of warm beer I never had any alcohol, I never went to a USO show, I never went anywhere without a weapon, I never had nor wore civilian clothes, I never saw nor did I talk to any civilians, I never rode in a car…”

I think I stopped at that and looked around, I was kind of shocked to see the look on all of their faces, mouths were open and eyes were wide and strangest of all, no one said anything. I said, “I think it's time for me to go home” and I stood up and walked out. When I got home, I thought a great deal about what I had said and oddly the list got longer. I looked around my house and the list of “I never” just seemed to continue on forever. I hate the “my time was tougher than your time” thing because each has their own individual crosses to bare and after all, I was a REMF, so I know that my deprivation was much less than many and certainly less than those up in the hills of Khe Sanh. But for bar speak, it turned out to be a rather interesting topic, not a boast, perhaps more of a whine.

What I Did Have

Well if I “Never had” than what is it that I did have. Before the Siege we had some wood pallets down on the floor of the tent we called our “Bunker.” But we didn’t really have a bunker so to speak, more of an above ground tent with a few barrels filled with dirt and sandbags on top. I did have a rubber lady for a mattress but she didn’t last too awful long after I took her to the trench line and laid her down on the dirt. I did have some kind of left over sleeping bag from Korea but it got kind of wet and moldy and I finally ended up with a poncho and liner to place over me. I didn’t have a candle or electric light but I did have a lighter I think, or matches that came in the C Rats. Before the Siege we had a roll of toiler paper at the 3 holler but after the siege started it was those small pieces of paper again from the C Rat packet.

We didn’t have any way to wash our clothes except a barrel cut in half and hand soap, we hung our clothes on the concertina wire to dry. After the Siege we didn’t wash our cloths at all because of the lack of and value of water. I must have had a comb because I notice what hair I had was combed in the picture that Tom Horchler took of what was left of us, before we loaded up and left Khe Sanh. I must have had a T shirt of some kind because that is what I had on in the picture. I don’t think I had a uniform fatigue shirt any more by that time. I noticed none of us had a smile on our face in the photograph, but we did have our lives and at the time that was good enough. Also none of us are holding weapons, you know those hero photographs some of us took when we wanted to look like real warriors, I guess we had gone way past that after the Siege. I don’t think we felt very warrior like, mostly exhausted I think.

I’ve sat here trying to remember a few of those little conveniences that we did have before and after the Siege. We had hot food of course before the Siege, but as I said, I never thought is was very good. No sweets that I can remember and the water tasted pretty bad, even after we poured in the Kool-Aid type of mixture, and it was always warm. No movies but there were a few magazines flouting around, I think I had Miss month in my fighting position on the line before a rocket roared into it a few seconds after I had gotten up and out of it. No more Miss month, to bad I really enjoyed her and no more such magazines. I had a small camera that I was able to take a few photographs with, but that was stolen by the Army when they came up and saved us. I apologize about the lack of information in this little essay, I really thought I would have been able to come up with a few more “Did Haves...” Perhaps I just can’t remember the goods, only the bads, but then there was nothing good about Khe Sanh.


What I Had!

By Mac Milton McNeely

What I had was being a part of history on the making end as a doer not a spectator.

What I had was the chance to see if I would stand and serve or cut and run.

What I had was much more than those that have not been there can possibly ever understand.

What I had far outweighs what I did not have.

What I had is what has made the person I am.

What I had was the opportunity and honor of serving God, Country and Corps with some of the finest individuals and greatest true heroes that our nation has ever known.

The older I get the more I recognize it.


THE COMEDIAN

By Craig W. Tourte

I attended another social function last night comprised of approximately 200 lobbyists and business types. This event took place in a nice restaurant which was completely reserved for the occasion. Most of the folks were younger than myself as they should be, since I am now old and retired. The seating were tables that held six people of which I knew only one other. The lady sitting next to me engaged me in conversation and revealed that her son was 27 years old and was in the Army and currently serving in Iraq. She told me that he had served 4 years in the Marine Corps but because of his extensive tattoos the Marine Corps refused his request to reenlist, so he joined the Army. When he left the Marine Corps he was a Lance Corporal and when he went into the Army they made him a Sergeant. She continued that this was his 3rd tour in Iraq as he had served in Iraq once as a Marine and this was his second tour as a solider.

I told her that I was sure that she was proud of him for his warrior spirit, which just could not be explained. That there are those who are called to serve, who just have to go where the action is. Not that he wanted to go but that something deep inside told him that he had to go. We discussed how hard those decisions were on the family and love ones but it was an unfortunate reality for those that have that spirit. She had a tear running down her cheek about then so I thought it best to move on to something else, but I knew she appreciated my understanding of how she felt.

The conversation continued and her husband (not the father of her son) asked me if I had served and where. So of course the subject of Khe Sanh came up. He told me that he was familiar with Khe Sanh. Although he had not served in the military his father and uncle had. He was very interested in Khe Sanh and compared the experience to Belleau Woods and other Marine Corps battles. I asked him how he was so aware of that event and he told me that he was a student of history and was very familiar with the Siege. He was very kind and I hate to say this, but seemed kind of awe struck and enthralled with me and kept saying “I cant’ believe that I’m sitting here with someone who was at Khe Sanh.” We discussed the little book of essays I’m putting together and of course he said he wanted to buy one as soon as it was published (I put him on my list).

The entertainment for the evening was a well known comedian of political satire. I normally stay away from these types because they inevitable say something that just gets me, but since it was a primarily conservative crowd and I was a guest, I hung in there and tried to maintain a pleasant smile. Of course he got around to George W and the Iraq war. Now I don’t want to make a political statement because we all have our opinions on these issues but he mentioned with great laughter all of “the lies” (you have heard them before) about why we were in Iraq, why we're staying on and on. I glanced over at the lady who was sitting next to me and her face was stone cold and from where I was sitting I could feel the chill running down her back. You see, regardless of how one feels about this whole situation, if you’re a parent and your child or loved one is in danger, you want, you need to feel that their potential sacrifice is worth it. At the very least, you don’t want to be sitting in a room with 200 other people who are laughing about it, knowing they don’t understand your pain and to you, it’s not a laughing matter.

She handled the situation better than I would have been able, given the circumstances and I’m sure she expected something like this and she did not seem to take it personally. But when the event was over and she and her husband got up to leave, I saw the look on her face. The look that said she was all alone, and no one else would understand, except I did.


28-18-36

by Craig W. Tourte

I’m sure I have forgotten more than I remember. I can’t remember the important stuff, let alone loads of useless information I have heard over the years. I can’t remember my first wife’s middle name or even when I married or divorced her. I can’t even remember the date I married my current wife, but I do remember her middle name and I wrote down her birthday so I wouldn’t forget.

I have moved around a lot over the years, throwing out junk and even stuff I didn’t want to get rid of, but the EX got tired of seeing some of the stuff around the house and to avoid another argument I gave them a toss. I miss that little California flag I flew at Khe Sanh. It was a sorry little rag, full of shrapnel holes and red stained from the clay earth. For some reason I think about the little flag even to this day, I see it waving proudly in the fog, kind of lonely but bravely making a statement that American’s are here. It all seems so long ago.

Before I went to Vietnam I put some little tokens in a box and kept them in the closet out in the garage at my aunt and uncles house. I’m not sure why I kept them, I guess at the time they seemed important to me, things I knew I’d never use again, but all the same, they had become a part of my life and the mere possession of them, picking them up, handling them brought back memories. These little trinkets were of no value really, just silly little things that were only important to me. When I’m gone whoever comes across them will have no idea of their value and meaning to me, it will all die with me, just as well I suppose. I’m sure they’ll ask, “Why did he keep these?”

I came across a couple of those little useless items the other day. They were in a dusty box stuck way back in the corner. I didn’t know what it was at first, until I opened the box up and saw them. I sat there for almost half an hour with tears running down my face for some reason; old man’s sentiments I suppose. They brought me back to boot camp and platoon 1145 at MCRD San Diego. Mike Powers (D/1/26) and Bill Poland (HQ/1/13) were in my platoon and we all three served at Khe Sanh during the long bloody Siege 40 years ago.

One of the objects was the little red plastic shaving kit we’d carry to the showers. It had a small rip on one side but other than that it was in fairly good shape. The thin plastic isn’t holding up well, but I think it’ll survive what years I have left. It serves no purpose now, just a memory of those cold walks to the showers and the shouts of, “Hurry up recruits.” The other object was a small combination lock that we placed on our footlockers. Some would forget to lock up and all of their belongings would be thrown on the deck by the drill instructor. I never forgot to lock mine; the punishment was much too severe. I learned quickly. I have not looked at, nor held that little combination lock since I got out of boot camp in 1966. I apparently packed it around during my various moves, and it was one my few possessions that survived my first marriage, but I didn’t remember even having it. I certainly haven’t spun the combination for over 42 years. I noticed how clean and shiny the chrome was as I picked it up and took it out of the old brown box. It looked as if it had been issued to me today, not 4 decades ago. I turned it over in my hands a couple of times, each turn in my hand was another memory as I gazed at the hard plastic combination dial. Without hesitation I quickly turned the dial, 28-18-36 and the little lock sprung opened; I guess there are just some things you never forget. Yep, that little lock opened up a lot of memories.


THE P-38
The Army's Best Invention

Story by Major Renita Foster
Courtesy Soldiers Online Magazine

It was developed in just 30 days in the summer of 1942 by the Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago. And never in its 52-year history has it been known to break, rust, need sharpening or polishing. Perhaps that is why many soldiers, past and present, regard the P-38 C-ration can opener as the Army's best invention.

C-rations have long since been replaced with the more convenient Meals, Ready to Eat, but the fame of the P-38 persists, thanks to the many uses stemming from the unique blend of ingenuity and creativity all soldiers seem to have. "The P-38 is one of those tools you keep and never want to get rid of," said Sgt. Scott Kiraly, a military policeman. "I've had my P-38 since joining the Army 11 years ago and kept it because I can use it as a screwdriver, knife, anything."

The most vital use of the P-38, however, is the very mission it was designed for, said Fort Monmouth, N.J., garrison commander Col. Paul Baerman. "When we had C-rations, the P-38 was your access to food; that made it the hierarchy of needs," Baerman said. "Then soldiers discovered it was an extremely simple, lightweight, multipurpose tool. I think in warfare, the simpler something is and the easier access it has, the more you're going to use it. The P-38 had all of those things going for it." The tool acquired its name from the 38 punctures required to open a C-ration can, and from the boast that it performed with the speed of the World War II P-38 fighter plane.

"Soldiers just took to the P-38 naturally," said World War II veteran John Bandola. "It was our means for eating 90 percent of the time, but we also used it for cleaning boots and fingernails, as a screwdriver, you name it. We all carried it on our dog tags or key rings." When Bandola attached his first and only P-38 to his key ring a half century ago, it accompanied him to Anzio, Salerno and through northern Italy. It was with him when World War II ended, and it's with him now. "This P-38 is a symbol of my life then," said Bandola. "The Army, the training, my fellow soldiers, all the times we shared during a world war."

Sgt. Ted Paquet, swing shift supervisor in the Fort Monmouth Provost Marshal's Office, was a 17-year-old seaman serving aboard the amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans during the Vietnam war when he got his first P-38. The ship's mission was to transport Marines off the coast of Da Nang. On occasional evenings, Marines gathered near Paquet's duty position on the fantail for simple pleasures like "Cokes, cigarettes, conversation and C-rations." It was during one of these nightly sessions that Paquet came in contact with the P-38, or "John Wayne" as it's referred to in the Navy. Paquet still carries his P-38, and he still finds it useful. While driving with his older brother, Paul, their car's carburetor began to have problems. "There were no tools in the car and, almost simultaneously, both of us reached for P-38s attached to our key rings," Paquet said with a grin. "We used my P-38 to adjust the flow valve, the car worked perfectly, and we went on our merry way."

Paquet"s P-38 is in a special box with his dog tags, a .50-caliber round from the ship he served on, his Vietnam Service Medal, South Vietnamese money and a surrender leaflet from Operation Desert Storm provided by a nephew. "It will probably be on my dresser until the day I die," Paquet said. The feelings veterans have for the P-38 aren't hard to understand, according to 1st Sgt. Steve Wilson of the Chaplain Center and School at Fort Monmouth. "When you hang on to something for 26 years," he said, "it's very hard to give it up. That's why people keep their P-38 just like they do their dog tags. ... It means a lot. It's become part of you. You remember field problems, jumping at 3 a.m. and moving out. A P-38 has you reliving all the adventures that came with soldiering in the armed forces. Yes, the P-38 opened cans, but it did much more. Any soldier will tell you that."
 


THANK YOU ALASKA

Submitted by
Mike Fishbaugh

State of Alaska. Governor Proclamations
Full Proclamation Tet Offensive 40th Anniversary Remembrance Month.

WHEREAS, in early 1968 there were Alaska men and women serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, in uniform or as civilian employees within the military environment, during a time of armed conflict in Southeast Asia.

WHEREAS, these citizens of Alaska in Land, Air, and Sea forces who with countrymen, Republic of Vietnam forces, and international allies, all stood fast together and did what was right when the enemy launched a massive surprise assault early in 1968 against the populace and the legitimate government of the Republic of Vietnam.

WHEREAS, the fighting raged for long months at fixed installations and outside the perimeter wire from the delta to the DMZ, in bambooed hamlet, ancient city, along forested tracks and rice paddy dikes, in red clay valleys, up sheer hills, under triple canopy, in the air, on brown rivers, and out on blue water close to white sand beaches, and to twisted canals in massive swamps growing from the mighty Mekong.

WHEREAS, our forces properly and completely held at every point around the compass, in spite of heavy direct and indirect fire; first, stopping, defeating, and then pursuing the enemy in their many thousands from Hue, Dong Ha, and Khe Sanh, among others, in the north, and in the central highlands around Pleiku, Nha Trang, Cam Rahn, Dalat, Tay Ninh, Cholon, the ends of the runways at Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa, the joyless streets of the capital city, down through the Rat Song to the southernmost tip of an embattled land.

WHEREAS, because it was so far from U.S. shores, families and friends in Alaska homesteads, people overseas, as well as citizens all across our land, heard fragmentary reporting of the great Tet battles, without context: and other than direct communication with those who were there, the American people at large have often been saturated with faulty accounts coming from the self-serving of media and academia. It is time for the bottom line truth of Tet 1968 to be told: the enemy’s battle was lost, and freedom – at least for a time – was sustained.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim February 2008 as: Tet Offensive 40th Anniversary Remembrance Month in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to remember the courage brought forth in support and defense of freedom and render long overdue honor and respect to those who were there, drew fire, and sacrificed so much and tell them WELCOME HOME.
Dated: January 10, 2008

 

   
         
 
 
 
         
   

A FOREST FOR THOSE WHO FELL IN VIETNAM

Khe Sanh Veteran Geoffrey Steiner, H CO 2/9
Buried his anger and hurt and made a place for vets to heal

Ten years out of Vietnam Geoffrey Sterner was still fighting. He tried suicide, did time in a VA psychiatric ward, wrestled with an alcohol problem, got divorced. He ended up in a trailer on a dead-end dirt road near Cushing. "I walked out of society and into the woods, just like so many vets," he says.

And there, at last, he found peace: by planting one tree for each American · who fell in Indochina. The forest on his 100 acre plot is now Minnesota's official testament to the veterans of the Vietnam War; it may be the nation's only living memorial.

Steiner has planted some 32,000 trees so far-'more than 35 varieties, from one-foot-high pine seedlings to six-foot poplars-burying his anger and hurt about the war in each hole he digs. He draws strength, too, from the visits of other vets and their families. A minister from Minneapolis stopped by recently; he'd lost a son in Vietnam.

"It did him good to see the trees," Steiner says. "People can come here and heal."

The State of Minnesota donated some saplings, but Steiner, 37 then pays for most of the trees out of his disability check. That can be a strain, but he and his new wife say they trust the Lord to provide. 'Says Steiner,

"I am here if there's hurting, if there's any way I can help."

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