Prior to being shipped to V'nam everyone regardless of rank, MOS, or prior 'Nam service, was first required to go through a week of "Republic of V'nam Orientation and Training". The name designating that course turned out to be a misnomer.
Because the Army had a habit of assigning abbreviated nomenclatures to all of its operations, organizations, and programs, the Republic of V'nam Orientation and Training course was shortened to "ROT". Although some students saw dark humor in the name others didn't think it funny when the CO told them they were "scheduled to ROT" after graduation.
Most of the larger stateside posts that provided AIT also provided a ROT program. Over the entranceway of Ft Gordon's ROT center was a sign that read, "GO WEST, YOUNG MAN. GO WEST." Everyone passing under the sign knew that by traveling west from any V'nam debarkation point in the U.S. would mean ending up in the east, the very Far East.
Ft Gordon's ROT center was located in a remote corner of the base surrounded by a natural barricade of trees that prevented surveillance from the spying eyes of civilian anti-war protesters. The front gates of every military base from California to New York were haunted by protesters anxious to insert a few flowers into the barrels of our rifles.
Mixed in with the 100's of GI's attending ROT were groups of civilians from private companies and government agencies that had commercial or diplomatic interests in Vietnam. Included were industrial contractors, journalists, bankers, import and export companies, mine workers, postal clerks, intelligence and State Department personnel, and a variety of other people whose employers were encouraged by the DOA to have their Vietnam-bound employees receive pre-RVN indoctrination.
Most of the civilians were snobbish and chose to cluster in segregated groups away from Army personnel. They acted liked they were afraid the OD-green color of our uniforms would rub off on their golf shirts and corduroy pants. Other civilians, who realized they might need the protection of a few GI's one day, were openly cordial and circulated among us. They seemed very sympathetic to the fact that although all of us were going to be spending time in the same country, GI's were pulling 100% greater hazardous duty but getting 1,000% less pay.
The ROT course was designed to introduce and familiarize GI's to Vietnam, it's people, culture, peculiarities, and the war before arriving there. and five short days was all the Army figured we needed to prepare us for what some veterans were calling "a year in hell." Also, this was the first and only time GI's were given "official DOA information" as to what was really going on in Vietnam.
Prior to this briefing everything else we'd heard about V'nam was by way of gossip, war stories from veterans, or whatever was written in the newspapers or seen on TV. Even though we were on active duty and closer to the source than anyone outside the military, our information about V'nam was no greater than that of any well-informed civilian. After finally arriving in V'nam we learned that the DOA had intentionally kept us uninformed. They must have suspected a lot more GI's would run to Canada had they known what 'Nam was really like before they got there.
The ROT course was set-up in a classroom format offering a wide variety of indoor and outdoor subjects. Among some of the subjects were field maneuvers, combat readiness drills, weapons training, personal hygiene, malaria prevention, helicopter boarding and de-boarding, water purification, and of course, the subject most of the men were interested in hearing about, VD. (1)
The "worst kind VD known to man," we were told, was the Black Syphillis. It was said to be so strong it could "rot your dick off in less than a week." and because "no one has survived" the Black Syph, the only known cure was "suicide." Or, for the guys who found committing suicide distasteful, "self-murder." Not many people in ROT found that funny either.
Although everyone was required to attend the general classes listed above, certain MOS's were required to attend additional classes specifically related to their professions. For example, men with security clearances, such as myself, were de-briefed on the secret information we were exposed to in training and briefed on the sensitive information we would have access to in Vietnam. "10-Up" (10,000 dollars fine and 10 years in jail at hard labor) was the penalty for disclosing classified information, even to others who may have had Secret or Top Secret clearances but did not have a specific need to know what we knew. To frighten us from disregarding that rule we were warned that our integrity would be tested "frequently" by undercover ASA or CID agents who "might be assigned to work with us from time-to-time."
Since my MOS required only 2 additional ROT classes I spent my spare time attending other MOS classes. I was surprised to discover there were a million tiny details separating one ROT MOS from another. and although some of the details were intimately unique to certain professions, no one MOS could have survived very long without the support of another. For example, Armored specialists were taught techniques on how to keep their tanks and armored personnel carriers (APC's) cool in Vietnam's hot climate. They were trained how to negotiate their vehicles around punji-stick fields and how to spot the unique types of homemade land mines and anti-tank traps used by the VC/NVA. The RTT ROT didn't teach us that. and later on, after arriving in Vietnam, having learned about punji sticks from Armored helped me to identify them while on a communications mission. (2)
To illustrate why Armored specialists shouldn't light their marijuana joints near the fuel tanks of their vehicles, a 5-gallon drum filled with napalm was blown up during an outside field demonstration. The 2-foot deep crater left by the blast left me convinced that marijuana could be as hazardous to your health as a punji-stick.
Personnel clerks were informed that paper and leather products deteriorated 50 times faster in Vietnam's tropical climate than in the States. This, however, did not motivate them to work any faster. Otherwise known as "Procrastination Clerks", their professional code seemed to be to put off doing paperwork as long as possible.
Cooks were taught to keep the natives who worked as dishwashers, potato peelers, and janitors away from their storerooms. American food was considered a high-theft item in Vietnam, even more important than American weapons. Cooks were also taught that hygiene was the "golden rule" in food handling. They were told, "If you're going to screw a native on a sack of flour, be sure to lay a sheet or apron over it first. Then be sure to wash your hands afterwards!"
Because everyone received a remedial amount of infantry training in Basic, the Army deemed it unnecessary for GI's with non-infantry MOS's to receive additional combat training during ROT. Each infantry MOS had its own ROT class. After attending several of them I concluded they should have been required attendance for everyone going to Vietnam. Everyone who missed out was deprived of literally 100's of valuable experiences passed down by combat veterans whose hard-earned skills helped them survive countless situations. Many of those experiences, which could only have been passed on by word-of-mouth, may have saved a lot of lives if everyone had known about them.
Going a step further than what infantrymen were taught in AIT, the latest in V'nam combat experience was taught. The purpose was to reduce OJT in "the 'Nam," to a minimum. To help facilitate a grunts combat readiness, a tiny mock-up of a V'namese village was built. Constructed of straw, leaves, mud, and complete with pigs, booby traps, "VC" infiltrators, and palm trees, infantry MOS's were encouraged to participate in as many simulated raids as they could, or at least until they felt comfortable they could do it in real-life.
"Raid parties" were scheduled on-the-hour, every day. I attended 7 because 7 was supposed to be a lucky number for grunts. They believed if you made it past 7 S and D's you stood a good chance of making it past 70, or 700. I realized after my first raid that it really didn't matter how many practice runs I went through, having to do one in real-life was more than enough for one lifetime.
Infantrymen were given other tips about real-life combat that weren't included in their training manuals. One tip was how to "avoid telegraphing your positions" to VC snipers by removing shiny objects like rings and watches before going out at night. Having the moon and stars reflect off a wedding ring caused more "unscheduled divorces" than daylight casualties. Another tip was how to prevent our boots and helmets from biting us before putting them on. "Checking them first for poisonous spiders, snakes, and rabid rodents will save you a trip to the hospital and a 2-week series of painful injections in your navel."
2 of the most important tips were, "Don't run over to pick up a can of beer if you see one laying in the jungle. The chopper gunner who accidentally dropped it will probably be jumping right down after it." And, "Never screw a native in the jungle until you've first inspected her vagina with a flashlight and pair of pliers." VC "giveaways" were known to insert "razor-blade ticklers" that could ruin your whole day.
Because the VC were capturing more infantrymen from the Army and Marines than any other MOS, (outside of Air Force pilots), there were also a few scarey stories about being captured and tortured. One instructor informed us "the VC like to shave the skin between a POW's fingers and tie them together until they healed up like duck feet." Asked why the VC did this, he said it was done "to prevent the GI from ever being able to use his trigger finger again."
Another instructor stated the VC enjoyed "ambushing GI's in village brothels." He explained, "After the house madam escorted a GI to his room and undressed him, a female VC pretending to be a prostitute would come in and start doing her thing. After getting him hard her male comrades would rush in and beat the ---- out of him. After spread-eagling him to the bed, they would shove a glass thermometer into his dick and push it all the way down to his balls. Then, after breaking it by slamming his dick with their fists or a rifle butt, they would leave him tied up, dying from slow and agonizing mercury poisoning."
After hearing those stories I made up my mind that under no circumstances would I allow myself to be taken alive. POW was re-defined by the infantry to mean "Personally Owned Waste." Meaning, if you got captured it's because you weren't smart enough to avoid it.
Later, after I got to V'nam and had more time to think about those stories, I wondered if they weren't told just to get infantrymen to come to the same conclusion I did about not being taken alive. Although it was in the GI Code never to give up trying to escape capture, I wondered if the Army preferred that all POW's kill themselves so a post-war Administration wouldn't have to go through the compromising process of buying us back from a profit-minded enemy government. Although the thought didn't seem to be above the integrity of some Army officers, nothing from an official source, directly or indirectly, indicated the DOA preferred that POW's commit suicide.
The most informative of all the classes were those held exclusively for Special Forces personnel. Although 5th Group (RVN) members took their ROT at Ft Bragg, Special Forces ROT classes were given on most training posts for Green Berets who took additional AIT training after completing their Special Forces training.
Staying with the tradition of keeping their words brief and their "actions swift and decisive", Special Forces ROT went a few steps further than regular infantry ROT.
"Green Beret's," we were told, "don't talk on patrol, we communicate by hand signals, eye movement, and ESP. We don't wear ponchos during the monsoons, we pull out a bar of soap and take a shower. We don't interrogate prisoners, we give them an opportunity to blab before terminating their misery. We don't screw natives, we toss her one of Charlie's sawed-off thigh bone's and tell her to have fun on her own time. We don't believe in executing our missions with extreme prejudice, we're prejudiced, period."
Although most of the general exercises we were taken through during ROT were generally informative, a good many of them were asinine to say the least. and of those, the more ludicrous moments were spent in the Post Auditorium for classes everyone was required to attend.
To give the sessions an air of collegiality our auditorium classes were referred to as "lectures" by the instructors. All of whom were V'nam veteran Sergeants except when audience laughter was so disruptive a field-grade officer had to be brought on stage to re-establish control.
All of our lecturers delivered their classes with the same exuberance football coaches use during high-energy pep-talks in half-time locker rooms. Integrated into the lectures were some of the Army's classic brainwashing techniques. Most of the subliminal propaganda neatly inserted into the supplemental films and reading material were so obvious their inclusions would have been absurd had the Army not considered them necessary to employ.
An example of overt propaganda was included in one of our "Fact Sheets." Throughout the text of the sheet, which talked about recent events in Vietnam, certain words were highlighted in darker print. In one sentence the word "we" was highlighted. In another sentence the word "must", and in another "win!." Read together, all 3 words formed a statement. Other highlighted words formed emphatic statements like "Victory is complete!" "America forever!" and "Better dead than red!"
By design, most of the lectures were staged one right after another to reduce the amount of time a GI had to think about how they were presented. The Army knew it would be dangerous for its troops to have too much time to seriously think about what they were actually letting themselves in for. By the time ROT ended, the fever-pitched, round-the-clock lectures and exercises, added to the 15 or so vaccinations swimming around inside our bodies, made us feel as if we'd played in a dozen Superbowls.
Because of increasing incidents of racial conflict between blacks and whites in V'nam the Army added the subject of race relations to the agenda of lectures everyone was required to attend. Unfortunately, because the racial prejudice blacks complained about in V'nam had by this time become a natural way of life over there, the addition of this subject did little to reduce tensions as the new personnel who attended the class made their way across the pond. When arriving there everyone learned quickly the best way to survive was to go along with the program. and since racism was traditional trying to change it wasn't worth the risk of making trouble for yourself.
Although most whites seemed to be open-minded in the race-relations class most blacks thought their cordiality was superficial for several reasons. One was the fact that the class was being given here in the States, not in V'nam where it was really needed. Open racism by a white commissioned and non-commissioned officer on American soil was already a well-established no-no. Skilled racists in the states had by now learned to be subtle about their dirty work. Another reason was the fact that whites who attended the class continued to avoid intermingling with blacks, banding together among themselves as they always had. Probably the most decisive reason was the fact that blacks made up almost 50% of ROT, a new experience for both black and white servicemen. One black GI even opinionated that the liberal attitude expressed by some of the whites during class was because they probably felt intimidated by the extraordinarily large numbers of blacks.
This larger concentration of blacks, for any Army group, was something new for both the blacks and whites in the Army. Blacks who found it refreshing to be around more of their own people also found seeing so many in the group headed for V'nam a gross imbalance. Other blacks, more sensitive to the issue, cynically felt the large-percentage of all minorities going to V'nam was an intentional plan devised by the Pentagon and the White House.
During his Presidential primaries Richard Nixon had been unsuccessful in getting prominent blacks to vote for him. Outside of wealthy blacks like Wilt Chamberlain and Sammy Davis Jr. Nixon was unable to attract the black political leaders he needed. After the election Nixon's Chief of Staff Robert H. Haldeman boasted that Nixon succeeded "despite not receiving the black vote." He stated they realized early in the campaign they couldn't attract the black vote because Humphrey was a liberal so they decided to simply ignore the black vote and any issues concerning them.
While standing outside the lecture hall looking over an Army race-relations brochure I had a conversation with another black who also found the large percentage of blacks during ROT interesting. During that conversation we were to learn something we hadn't been aware of before. It was to be a history lesson regarding the first (general) black participation in America's foreign wars. The lesson was to come from a white GI who knew more about blacks than we did.
My reading was interrupted by a voice behind me.
"Lots of brothers out here, ain't it?" Someone asked.
Turning around, I noticed a black GI walking towards me.
"Yeah, there are." I replied.
Introducing ourselves, he told me his name was Harry O'Connors.
"O'Connors, huh? You don't look Irish." I smiled.
"You mean the O?" he laughed. "Yeah, brothers always ask me about that. Actually it was a later addition, we used to be just Connors."
"My family name used to have an O in front of it too." I told him. "We used to be O'Kohlmann."
"Sounds like German-Irish."
"It is, so was one of my great-grandfathers. He changed it to Coleman right before WWI because it wasn't so hot being German back then. He regretted it later when he found out German scientists invented plastics."
"That's America for you." He smiled. "One generation you're up, the next you're down."
"I don't think there were any Irish in our family." He went on. "My family name came from the white people who owned my Great-great grandparents."
"That's probably true for every brother out here. I met one the other day whose last name was Schwarz."
"Yeah, you're probably right. I didn't think there were this many brothers in the whole damn Army, let alone goin' to 'Nam. You'd think white people thought we were valuable or something."
Before I could reply a voice from behind us entered the conversation.
"You are valuable!"
Together, we turned around to see where the interruption came from. Leaning against a nearby wall was a young white GI staring at us. Dragging on a cigarette, he waved. We didn't wave back.
Harry and I looked at each then back at the stranger. He looked like he'd been dragged-out from under a rug. His clothes were wrinkled, his blonde hair uncombed, and he needed a shave. He had a large peace medallion hanging from a shirt pocket and his gold Second Lieutenant bars looked like they'd never been polished. Apparently unworried about a senior officer chastising him for his appearance, both Harry and I figured he had to be a general's son or Jesus Christ's little brother.
"And who the hell are you, George Patton's kid?" I asked him.
Taking a long drag on his cigarette, he smiled.
"No GI, I'm not Patton's son."
"Who the ---- are you then, or rather, what the ---- are you?" Harry asked.
His smile widening, he walked toward us.
"What am I?" he looked at Harry. "I'm one 100% Irish. You're Irish by name. and he's 4th generation mixed-Irish."
Harry looked ruffled.
"Don't get uptight, bro," he looked at Harry. "Under the skin we're all Irish."
Reaching out his hand, he introduced himself. "Walt Whitman O'Toole, gentleman. At your service."
Tugging Harry's arm I started to pull him away. He looked ready to deck the guy.
"Wait a minute, don't leave!" He called us back. "I didn't mean to piss you guy's off. I was just commenting on the uneducated observations you were making about the number of minorities being shipped to 'Nam."
"And what the ---- are you here for?" Harry frowned.
He laughed again. This time it snapped Harry's tolerance. Raising his arm, I pulled it down.
Harry was like a most blacks, and admittedly, me included. The slightest irritation and we were ready to fight.
As we turned to walk away a second time he called us back again.
"Wait a minute! I was just kidding."
"Well we don't kid mother----er." Harry answered back.
"Yeah, we steal cars!" I added.
Harry glared at me. His expression told me I should take a serious tone.
"It was just your comments I was kidding about." He continued. "You guys've got it all wrong."
"And what's the truth?" I looked at him.
"The truth is that it's not white people who are responsible for so many minorities to the 'Nam, it's A. Philip Randolph."
Unfamiliar with the name, Harry looked at me.
I shrugged my shoulders. "He must've been before our time."
"He's one of your leaders." We were informed. "And he wasn't before your time. In fact, he's still alive and still doing as much damage to your people as he's ever done."
"What's he got to do with blacks going to 'Nam?" I asked.
"Back during WWII headline-hungry white boys didn't want blacks in the service. They wanted to keep all the war glory to themselves. A. Philip Randolph led the campaign to get the military integrated and blacks involved. He wanted your fathers to get some glory and headlines too...."
"No brother is going to try to get another brother killed!" Harry broke in.
"But it's true. The Army was a real racist company back then. If white people had their way a long time ago you guys wouldn't be here now."
"So blacks got themselves into this ----, huh?" I asked.
"Yeah. and the white boys said 'If these niggers really want to fight so bad, we'll stick 'em where the action is and watch 'em run home to their Aunt Jemima momma's."
"This is all total bull----!" Harry yelled at him.
Taking another drag on his cigarette, O'Toole was unmoved by Harry's disbelief.
"And another thing," he continued. "You can't argue about it when your black leaders keep demanding the quotas be maintained."
"What quotas?" I asked.
"The rule that blacks should make up at least 20% of the military since they make up 20% of the population."
"But there's more than 20% out here in this crowd!" Harry interrupted.
"That's because the rule says at least 20%. It doesn't say the Army can't go over it."
"Anybody can get numbers to mean whatever they want." Harry contested.
"I think that's what he means," I told Harry, "He's saying the Army is using numbers the way they want to."
"To white people you guys are like VC. and to the VC you guys are like enemy VC. That's why brothers adapt faster and kick more ass in 'Nam. You guys think like them."
"Is that what you meant when you said we were valuable?" I asked.
"Exactly. By sending a lot of blacks over to the 'Nam the country gets to kill 2 birds with 1 stone."
"Now wait a minute," Harry stopped him. "You keep adding more ---- to the list. What the ---- is this other stone?"
"The way the Pentagon sees it you guys are a threat to white America's domestic tranquility and you can't blame them. They probably think they're performing their civic duty by removing what a lot of white people see as the future participants of a possible revolution. Don't forget the riots."
"But it was our own neighborhoods that got burned down, not theirs!" Harry reminded him.
"Doesn't matter. Plus you've got to consider the fact that the Army just provided well over a million ghetto brothers tactical and weapons training."
"Do they think were going to start giving brothers on the block military training?" I asked.
"They don't think you guys are smart enough to do any organizing. People like J. Edgar Hoover are more worried about outsiders like the KGB getting you organized."
"That's pretty ----ing heavy." I shook my head.
"Let's face it, the Russians'll help anybody who has a complaint with the United States."
"And where'd you hear all the ---- you've been spouting?"
"Simple Harry, books. I read a lot of books."
"Yeah, well sometimes I think you white people read too many ------- books. That's why white people think they run the ----ing world!"
"But we do, Harry. and that's because having book smarts is better than having street smarts."
"Well what's so good about being book smart, mother----er?"
"Simple Harry, book smarts pay more!"
Harry went silent.
"Books smarts taught me another reason why there are so many minorities going to 'Nam." O'Toole continued. "It's something American generals learned from German generals during World War II?"
"What's that?" I asked.
"The Germans set the rules for fighting risky and ----ty battles. Back when Germany was attacking Russia, Hitler's generals wanted to use anti-communist Polish and Chekoslovakian militia to spearhead their invasion of Stalingrad because they didn't want a lot of German boys to get wasted by the first waves of Soviet resistance..."
"Let me get this straight," I cut him off. "What you're saying is that American generals are using minorities in V'nam to save white boys from getting wasted?"
"Other than getting rid of potential rioters, doesn't it make sense?"
"It would if there weren't a lot of white boys out here also!" I observed.
"They've got to send some, besides, you won't find the cream of America's gringo crop in this crowd. Look around, you don't see any DuPont's, Heinz's, McDonnell's, Hewlett's, Ford's, or Chandler's, do you?"
"Who are all those people?" Harry asked.
"They're not just people, Harry, they're families. Some of the richest families in America. They keep their names out of the public eye as diligently as they keep their sons out of the military."
"Where you from?" I asked.
"You go to school there or live there?"
"Both. I taught there. Black History. 2 1/2 years. and 3/4's of my classes were white!"
"I thought all you college dudes were getting deferments." I told him.
"Most are. Some aren't. I'm obviously not."
"Because veterans get federal benefits, federal grants, and faster promotions. and Professors of American History who also happen to be V'nam veterans have more credibility when they talk about V'nam than those who aren't. and right now V'nam is an important chapter in American History."
"You're a Professor, huh?" Harry asked.
"Associate Professor now, full Professor when I get back from the 'Nam and go back to school."
"----! A year from now the world could be blown up and there won't be any Berkeley to go back to." Harry quipped.
"It may be a year from now for you Harry, but it'll only be a couple of days for me."
Just then a Private walked out of the training room with a loudspeaker. Calling for everyone to return to the classroom, our conversation was cut off. As the 3 of us started to walk in, Harry tugged at my arm holding me back.
"That dude is strange, bro." He whispered.
"That dude is smart!" I whispered back.
The next time I saw O'Toole was slightly over a month later in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. The circle of our association would close for us there. The eye-opening lessons he taught me at Ft Gordon and Bien Hoa will always be remembered.
Of all the orientation lectures, none stood out as more interesting, or had more of an emotional impact, than the final lecture we received on our last day. It was a good idea for the Army to save this particular lecture until the end. It would have been a hard act for anyone to follow.
After the contraptions used by the previous speaker to illustrate his lecture were removed from the stage, two highly spit-shined MP's escorted the final speaker up the small flight of stairs leading to the stage. His severe limp was evident of a injury he had received in Vietnam. The scars on his face were worse. Stretching from the corner of his left eye down to his collar bone were several bright red, 1/4-inch grooves. His left eye was disfigured and barely visible. Both his eyebrow and eyelash were completely gone. Half of his mouth appeared to have been torn off and clumsily re-attached. and one nostril had been seared flat to his face. He had obviously been through more than his share of the war and contracted more than his share of Vietnamitis. was classified as any injury that left a GI still alive but permanently disfigured. It was considered to be the worst disease a GI could catch. The only way to prevent getting it was complete avoidance of Vietnam.
I was puzzled at first why the MP's were present, or why they remained on-stage. But as the speaker got into his speech it became evident they were there to add official impact.
I expected the speech to be like all the others preceding it, which mainly bored us with things we already knew like brushing our teeth regularly, washing as often as possible, and remembering to take the monstrous, orange malaria-prevention pills. But his speech was completely different. Always with one hand bracing his wounded left leg, and his face slightly twisted in an obvious, but vain attempt to shadow his scars, he spoke about the "physical sacrifices" he had made for the spirit of "freedom, apple pie, and Mom." Unlike the other veterans who frequently gesticulated as they spoke, and mixed sexual innuendos and jokes with their subjects, this veteran spoke with little movement or inflection. His solemn expression and monotone voice seemed almost mannequin-like. Although after what he'd been through very few things were probably funny. Least of all sex, which for him must've been hard to come by.
He spoke about having endured a "great deal of painful and tortuous" North V'namese brutality before escaping from a POW camp in Laos. He told us that because he had been a prisoner he was given the opportunity to resign from active duty but "stayed on because he felt it was his obligation to warn us of the slanty-eyed communist gooks" that were "right now in the planning stages of storming beachheads in Santa Monica and San Francisco."
"The invasion we all thought would hit us on our east coast is starting off our west coast. The Russians are using the gooks to wear us down and burn up our manpower."
He told us that unless we "totally commit ourselves to the eradication of their sub-species while we were in V'nam we would not be able to avert the communist tidal wave the Russians were starting over there. and it won't stop until it floods our own back yards here in the United States."
He talked about the "hordes of lecherous gooks" that would "rape our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. They will even go after your pets. Did you know they eat dogs and cats over there? Well they do! Are we supposed to let them to come over here and eat Lassie and Morris?"
He told us, "the very destiny of not only America, but of the entire free world was in our hands", and that our job was "to detain those inhuman mongrels while they were still in Vietnam."
He stated that people having "almond-shaped eyes made them our common enemy." "God," he said, "made 2 kinds of people, one group with round eyes and the other with slanted eyes. and if you look in any bible you will see that all the pictures of the devil have slanted eyes."
He told us that it didn't matter if we were white, black, red, or brown, "just having round eyes makes us common brothers under the skin. All of us in this auditorium may have different colored skin, but that's only because of sunlight. If not for sunlight all of us here would look the same."
This was the first time in my life I'd ever heard a racist white person admit to a physical feature blacks and whites had in common. But it was obvious the statement was made to inspire anyone in the audience who had problems getting along with the opposite race to bury their domestic squabbles and unite against a foreign race with cultural differences as well.
He told us that "the key to peace, freedom, and most of all, the way to get out of uniform" was "to vigorously fight the war that would end all wars. By lynching Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Mihn while they were still over there we can keep them from coming over here. "Don't," he cried, "let them come over here. Stop them while they're still in Vietnam."
"Officers and enlisted men alike, you are being granted a privilege only make-believe spies have been granted in the past, and that's a license to kill. and if your maximum ability is to carry only 50 pounds of ammunition, I suggest you practice with barbells while on your 30-day Leave. I carried 75. and if you get caught by the VC, don't wait for them to do to you what they did to me. Just get mad, count to ten, then take all ten of those son-of-a-bitches with you!"
I didn't know the guy seated next to me, but noticing him watch me silently shake my head in gross disbelief to what we were hearing encouraged his feeling safe to whisper in my ear, "----, I wonder if I can get that dude up there to go back and take my place in 'Nam while I stay here and protect his wife from some of them sleazy gooks that might slip in under the wire." He then began laughing.
Part of me wanted to chuckle at his comment but another part of me got angered by it. His joke made me realize that there were a lot of people in this country who seriously believed every word the veteran spoke. Many of those people were either running the country or in a very influential position with those who did. and it was they who were responsible for keeping the war going day after day. They were also very willing to send everybody elses kids but their own to Vietnam. But I couldn't complain, I volunteered.
The speech the veteran gave had to be the grand finale. His act just couldn't be surpassed. After finishing his lecture he stepped back from the podium and saluted the audience. After being escorted off-stage a Chaplain was quickly brought out to lead the audience in a prayer asking God to make our victory in V'nam expedient and with as little loss of American life as possible. As he spoke I wondered how many of these group prayers had been given since the start of the war and how many men who prayed in them were now having prayers spoken over them at Arlington. Whatever the number was, their prayers had either fallen on deaf ears or God was working on the side of the North Vietnamese. Because up to now none of them had worked.
The previous 4 days of listening to redundant lectures, testing the M-16, chasing snakes, raiding the Viet Cong village, jumping on and off the rusted frame of grounded helicopter, getting fitted for our new uniforms, and being made a human pin cushion with more than a dozen injections, everyone was pretty much done in by the end of ROT. Most of us were already tired of V'nam and ready for a vacation.
Unless you were of command rank or your job was waiting for you, 30 days Leave was standard for all V'nam bound GI's and I anxiously looked forward to it.
It had been over 6 months since I'd last been home. I planned on making the most of my Leave before I had to step into a winged cigar shaped-tube and fly for 22 1/2 hours following the sun across the sky. Then to step out of it into a world that 3 1/2 years ago existed for me inside the glass and wooden box plugged into a little socket on my living room wall. The "TV War" of 1965 became the real-life war of 1969. I would arrive in the Republic of South V'nam partly confused, partly mystified, and not totally believing I was actually there.
For some of the other guys, realizing they were now on their way to a place where for the last few years of their lives they'd heard a lot of good, bad, terrifying, but mostly unpredictable things about, it was like having a recurrent dream or nightmare come true. The difference between whether V'nam frequently entered their dreams, or became nightmares, depended how afraid one was of going.
It was worse for the guys who had nightmares. They didn't wake up when they got to 'Nam. For the next 365 days they drifted deeper into it. For many of those guys the nightmare would never end. For others it would simply be subdued and held in check. For me, I decided not to let V'nam be any more stressful than Basic Training. I told myself I would try to make the war both a lesson and experience. I told myself if anyone ever had reason to question my behavior, I'd be so old they'd have to call it senility.
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