Killing For Peace Living, Fighting And Dying In Vietnam

Like a lot of other young men who came home from Vietnam, I was angry; angry at the waste of young lives in a war that would eventually be repudiated by the majority of the country which had sent us there. I was bitter that the friends I had lost vanished in the ether, with very little to mark their time on this earth. I vowed to not let their names be lost to history, that I would find the time to write their story in the little vignettes and scraps of notes that I had kept during my time in the war.

I tried to write in the voice of the time. At times the language and the attitudes portrayed are harsh. I mean to offend no one, merely to tell it as we lived it. I wrote how I felt about it while it was happening. It is a little different than most stories about young men in war. I hope you will feel the emotions that we felt.

War is a pretty grim business, but there are chuckles and laughter along the way. I’d like to share the highs and the lows with you. I hope you enjoy the tale.

Garry
www.garryfarrington.com

an excerpt from my story.

Seven

Two days passed, and morale was still at rock bottom. We were still pissed off about our dead buddies and embarrassed for having been suckered into an ambush. Battalion sent out a dog team to walk point for us–a day late and a few lives short. The dog was supposed to detect any ambushes before we walked into them.
Our dog was a big, mean, German shepherd. He couldn’t be touched by anybody but his handler. He was definitely one of those dogs that if the handler got shot, you had to snuff the dog too. He was bad.
We set up our defensive perimeter for the night just before dusk. There was still about half an hour before we lost the light completely. Time for boony-troopers to take a crap. Taking an entrenching tool a few yards outside the perimeter, you’d dig a little hole in the ground, squat down and let nature take its course. Most of us were constipated all the time, and only took a dump every three or four days. But when you felt it coming on, there was no holding back. The alternative to constipation was diarrhea, which was ten times worse. A bad case of the runs had immobilized the company for two days on a mountain top up north. Tainted food was the culprit. Constipation was definitely the better way to go. At least you could still move around.
I was leaning back against a tree having a smoke as the evening **** detail began to sort itself out. I was still a couple of days away from feeling the urge, so I just sat and smoked a rancid Chesterfield from a box of ten year old C-rations. Proper crapping etiquette demands that one go far enough outside the perimeter so as to not endanger others who might step in your **** in the dark. We all like a little privacy too, so the crappers all found themselves a quiet little stump or bush, just outside our positions.
I watched Denny, our artillery forward observer, go behind a large leafy clump of bamboo on the edge of the perimeter. Ten seconds later, Denny let out a scream, and came bursting through that clump of bamboo with his pants around his ankles. His *** was hanging out, and rather than stop to pull up his pants he was doing a furious duck walk. Right behind him was that big ugly dog! From the shredded look of Denny’s fatigues, the dog had already chomped him a couple of times. I have never seen anyone move that fast, bare-assed, in the crouched position. Straight through the middle of our perimeter he waddled, cussing the whole way.
“Shoot that dog. Shoot the son of a *****.” Denny yelled.
Nobody moved. We couldn’t. We were laughing too hard. Denny kept yelling for help and finally collapsed in a bare-assed heap in the dirt when he couldn’t waddle anymore; resigned to feeling the fangs of his tormenter on his bare flesh. What he didn’t know was that the dog had reached the end of its chain a good thirty yards behind him. It was no longer right on his heels, just straining at its chain to get at Denny’s ***.
The gloom that had hung over us since the ambush was broken by Denny’s dog act, and we began to return to normal. From that time on, however, we always “located the dog” before dropping our pants.

I was beginning to sort out what was expected of a rifle platoon leader. Each day in the jungle heat was extremely grueling. I remembered back to Survival School in Panama, and the line the Panamanian instructors had used over and over: “Ghentlemens, the Hjungle can bee your Fren, or the Hjungle can keel you. The Hjungle doesn’t care.”

They were right. I didn’t give a rat’s *** about being friends with the jungle, but I sure didn’t want it to kill me. Respect for the jungle, common sense, and extreme caution were going to be necessary if I was going to survive. The heat, dense foliage, humidity, bugs, the physical strain of humping fifty pounds of rucksack, a weapon and 400 rounds of ammunition day after day wore you down, and could make you less cautious–then you were ripe for the taking. I couldn’t let that happen.
Captain Lutz asked me if I was ready to take over the second platoon. Sgt. Ice, the platoon sergeant, had been running the second platoon since we had left the old Two-Six on LZ Mustang with his broken glasses. I was just getting comfortable with the mortar platoon, but my future was with a line platoon. “Yes sir, I’ll take it,” I said, and the transition was almost complete. I was a grunt–a rifle platoon leader with a very short life expectancy.
Sgt. Ice was happy to see me take over the platoon. He was armor like me, featured a short flat top haircut, and piercing ice blue eyes. A ten year veteran from the midwest, he was having his first go at the infantry. We both got a good chuckle out of two “treadheads” leading an infantry platoon. We were supposed to have fifty tons of steel wrapped around us, and here we were walking around on foot in the jungle.

Naturally, we had point duty on my first day. We were still operating in very thick jungle. Third platoon was flanked out about 150 meters to our right moving on a parallel course. We moved slowly to the west, hacking and slashing our way through the brush with machetes. We had a firm policy against walking on any more trails, so we always had to cut our own way. Three-six and I kept in touch by radio and attempted to keep moving on the same compass heading. Periodically we’d stop and listen for the sound of their machetes to make sure we were keeping close to each other.
As platoon leader, I was seventh in line behind my point men and one of the machine gun teams in the platoon. In one day I had moved from the relative security of the fourth platoon up to the very front of the column. I was very tense and nervous.
We broke out of the brush at the intersection of two trails. The same **** was starting all over again, only this time I was out front. There was a small lean-too hooch along the side of the trail that had the ashes of a cooking fire in it. I fanned my men out, and checked the hooch with Ed Lumbert, the squad leader.
“Ashes aren’t hot, but they’re real fresh,” whispered Sgt. Lumbert.

“So are these ******* fish cans. This place stinks like gooks.” I added. It was time to locate the flank element for a little safety in numbers.
“Three-Six, this is Two-Six, over.”

“Three-Six here, go ahead,” came Herb’s voice through my handset.

“Herb, we’re at a trail junction with real fresh signs of gooks. I haven’t heard you guys chopping for a while, and I want to make sure you’re close by in case it gets ugly.”
“Yeah, I know the one you mean. We passed by there ten minutes ago. We haven’t had to chop our way as much. It’s not that thick anymore. We took the left fork. Follow it up to us and we’ll get reorganized. We’ll wait for you.” Herb signed off.
Feeling much better, I passed the word back that we were going to catch up with the third platoon. Sgt. Lumbert and I stayed with the point men as we moved out to catch up with the third platoon.
Something was not right. I fumbled for an answer while we moved quickly down the trail. Something was definitely wrong. I just couldn’t get it. What is it? What is it? Suddenly I knew!
Thirty G.I.’s had supposedly walked down this trail no more than ten minutes ago. If third platoon had used the trail, where were the signs? Where were the cigarette butts, the chewing gum wrappers, the discarded C-ration cans? Where were the signs of the all-American grunt who litters his way through the jungle like some modern day Hansel and Gretel? There were no signs. The answer washed over me–wrong trail, wrong ******* trail!
I stopped. “Get off the…”
The staccato pop of an AK-47 cut me off in mid sentence. The heavier throb of a machine gun kicked in, and dozens of jungle birds screeched their alarm.
I was stuck in mid-air diving for cover behind a tree. It seemed as though I was in some damn slow motion blood and guts movie. When the **** was I going to make it to that tree? I wasn’t hit yet. I might make it, if I could just get out of the air! Oh God, please no booby traps! No Punji stakes! Shoot me, but please don’t maim me, please God! I landed like a sack of **** next to the tree. Move, move, do something! My mind was screaming at me.
“Get that machine gun up here! Spread out, move your men up on line,” I barked instructions to the squad leaders. I needed firepower online in a hurry.
My new RTO, Bill Maynes, was burrowing in at my feet. I could hear Captain Lutz on the handset calling for a report.
“What’s going on up there, what’s going on?”

I was stuck in the middle of whatever it was we were in, and I didn’t know what was going on. How could I explain to the C.O.?
“****, Bill. Just tell him to get some people up here fast,” I said.
“Six, we’re in some deep **** up here. Two-Six says get some people up here fast,” was Bill’s transmission back to Bad Barron Six. Certainly nothing vague about his message. It said it all.
Little by little, the men in my platoon crawled up to where we were stuck. The squad leaders fanned their men out to the left and right and our volume of fire picked up. I felt better. We made it through the first few minutes, and nobody was dead yet. My heart pounded rapidly, and my breathing was shallow and quick, making it hard to get any air. I struggled for control, and began to move my men forward.
We leapfrogged our way, yard by yard, through the brush with the two M-60 machine guns laying down covering fire. The gooks appeared to be pulling back and their firing dropped off noticeably. Breaking through a last line of heavy undergrowth, we finally saw what we had walked in on. Another massive bunker complex! Defensive trench lines all around it, permanent buildings, livestock for food, complete with a well in the middle; all neatly tucked away under the protective canopy of the lush jungle.
We were lucky. Only a few gooks were in the complex. The rest must have been out on an operation just like us. Those that were home were running like hell out the back way. We worked our way slowly past the trench line. I was determined not to get suckered in like we had before.
Inside the complex we had a little more room to move, and I could see well enough to direct an assault. We whooped it up like a bunch of kids, throwing grenades into bunkers, blasting away at anything that moved, and little by little clearing our way through the complex. We were getting carried away with the thrill of the bloodlust. I was actually enjoying it. Most of the gooks had hauled ***, and the only fire that we were still taking was coming from a bunker in the center of the complex by the well. My gun teams were blasting the **** out of the bunker and I crawled out from behind the well. I crawled toward the bunker. I was determined to frag that gook, and then jump in on top of him. He was my gook. I wanted a piece of him!
Puffs of dirt kicked up around me as I crawled toward the bunker. I felt something tug at my right boot, and suddenly I was being dragged backwards.
“Come back here, Two-Six. Can’t you see that gook is shooting at you?” Top Webb had a hold on my foot and was dragging me back towards the well. The spell was broken. I scrambled back behind the well.
“Thanks Top, I guess I was getting a little carried away. Hey, where’d you come from anyway?” I grinned at him.
For the first time since the fighting started, I took a look behind me. We had fought our way through the whole damn complex. I had lost all track of time. I had no idea how long it had taken for us to come this far. I had been totally wrapped up in it.
The firing from the bunker stopped abruptly as three frags flew in the doorway, and blew the **** out of it. Ed Lumbert’s squad applied the finishing touches to the bunker, and nobody had to jump in on top of any live gook. Top Webb and I resumed our conversation.
“When your RTO hollered for help I hauled *** up the trail. Finally caught up with you here just as you were crawling out there to get your *** shot off.”
“Yeah, well, thanks a lot, Top, I appreciate it.”

“No sweat, your boys did a good job here.” The First sergeant clapped me on the back. I was elated, almost euphoric! I leaned back against the well and smoked one of my ten-year-old Chesterfields. It tasted fantastic. My hands shook and I laughed out loud. The massive adrenaline jolt to my system was still on high. I couldn’t calm down. We had done well. I was alive! My men were all alive! No casualties. Nothing else really mattered. Somehow we had made it.
The rest of the company caught up with us and my platoon rested while 1st and 4th platoons searched the complex. I sat and talked to Captain Lutz while we watched third platoon straggle in from the right flank.
“Hey, nice call on that trail junction, *******.” I couldn’t resist ragging on Herb. He was very apologetic and we all had a good laugh about the mix-up.
We had blundered into our second NVA base camp in less than a week. Lucky for us there was only a skeleton crew minding the store, or the outcome might have been a little different. Most of the enemy had run for it.
All that squawking back at the beginning had been the geese, chickens and various other animals that the gooks used for an early warning system. Very primitive, but effective. We killed all the animals except for a small myna bird. We kept him for a mascot and named him “Bad Barron.”
The euphoria of coming through a fire fight is exhilarating. Daredevils say that nearness to death heightens the sensation of life. Your body rushes when you’re close to death. The adrenaline that is dumped into your system keeps your heart going a mile a minute and a deranged leer appears on your face. Taking time out for a cigarette when it’s all over seems like the greatest pleasure you’ve ever had. Sitting there drenched in the stink of your own sweat, the rush doesn’t last for long, but for a few moments, you’re on top of the world.
There I was–a rifle platoon leader, proud of my men and the job we had done together. They were proud of me too. I wasn’t a cherry any longer. The trust and confidence necessary for us to work together had a beginning. Our fire fight meant nothing to the war as a whole, but to us it was everything. It meant we had fought and won. We were still alive and could dream of surviving until we could go home.



A sack of mail came on the evening re-supply chopper. In it was a letter from Cathy. It wasn’t exactly a “Dear John” letter because we really hadn’t been together in a long time. She said that too much time had passed, and although she would always have a soft spot in her heart for me, she had been with Denny for quite a while. They were making plans to get married. Seemed like a good choice. Denny was a good guy. She enclosed a St. Christopher’s medal to keep me safe. I put it on, not so much as a religious symbol, but more as a nod to superstition. What the hell. It couldn’t hurt.

garryfarrington garryfarrington
66-70, M
4 Responses Jan 14, 2013

I am very grateful for and made a better person by your story. My dad was WW2 vet and a man I love more than any man I have ever known is a vietnam vet. Your blog helps me know I will always underestimate the effects of his vietnam experience no matter how hard I try and how much he says I get him... your story helps me keep love in my heart while I have to suffer from his absence. I know the PTSD is the thief, but reading what it's like to live those experiences consoles me. thank you so much

Many of us have been there, and many of us can never really talk about what was done there.

It was a silly war any time you have to have permission to return fire when you are taking fire. the war need to be stop and let congress and the rule makers play the game.

They wonder why we like those weapons well for me. It is easy my life had to depend on that type of rifle.

The worst loss for me over there was my wife, she was killed 1/14/1967

I never had any experiences like that, but I can appreciate how you feel. I commend you for your bravery want to thank you for your service and welcome back

Good story also Check out I Share Vietnam War Memories group. Lots of stories there that's Frank and seasoned

My first husband was a Viet Nam Vet who could not bring himself to talk of his ex-periences. I never pressured him but was oh so curious. He was a marine. He later died of cancer from direct contact with Agent Orange. Thank you for sharing your experiences they helped me tremendously to understand. Three years after we married, he had a boast of mylaria and while dilarious from a high fever he revealed some experiences calling out in a dream. I am thankful for your sacrifice and doing what you thought was right for our country. You received a bum rep. for all wrong reasons. You have my upmost respect. With faith in God thru Jesus death on the cross we all all made perfect and sinless. God bless