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By Darryle Purcell

 

I wrote this column at a daily newspaper in 1996 for Memorial Day. Twenty years later, it appeared in Reminisce Extra magazine. –Darryle

 

It was 1966. The Huey formation flew low over the Vietnam jungle.

“Anytime now,” the sergeant hollered.

We prepared to exit the choppers quickly.

 

The helicopters stopped and hovered a few feet over the top of what looked like thick shrubs. I quickly stepped out on the strut, tossed the outer ring of a mortar into the air, grabbed the strut with one hand, swung down and dropped into the “shrubs.”

About the same time, everyone realized those shrubs were the tops of some very thick, very tall jungle trees.

As I broke branches all the way to the ground I remember thinking in third person, “Holy ****, Purcell!” Dazed, bruised and embarrassed I heard the formation fly off to find a better LZ (landing zone).

I gathered my rifle and equipment. The outer ring is probably still up in one of those trees.

Within a couple of hours the platoon found me. Sarge was mad. My friend Speer thought the situation was hilarious. He chuckled through his description of my head vanishing into the foliage.

“Someday you’ll think back on this and laugh,” he said.

Speer used that line on me several times during my year in Vietnam. And though I usually failed to agree with him at the time, he was eventually right.

I think of the night at Pleiku Pass when Sergeant Moore taught me I wasn’t a good poker player. It cost me every dollar I had, but the lesson was worth every cent, as I haven’t played poker since.

I remember our platoon leader, Lt. Hayes. He was one officer, unlike many I had to deal with, who was well respected. He went on patrols with the rest of us. Other officers just sent out squads led by an E-5 (buck sergeant). Along with his M-16, he carried a captured Thompson, which he planned to somehow send back to the states so he could, jokingly, be “king of the block.”

Hayes made me an RTO (radio carrier) and attached me to recon. That kept me in the field, on patrols, and away from other officers. He knew I had a tendency to get in trouble when I was around the brass.

I think of Carly, who was 17 when he came to Nam. When the rules changed that one had to be 18 to be sent into combat he was offered the chance to return to the states. He decided to stay out his tour.

Carly was a pretty good guitar player. When we were in base camp he would attempt to teach me the instrument. I had paid 800 dong (eight bucks) for a Vietnamese guitar. At the time I didn’t know I had no musical ability. Anyone who listened in, however, knew.

Lt. Hayes, Sergeant Moore and other officers and NCOs tolerated privates like myself, Speer and Carly. We were still kids. We did our jobs, made mistakes and always had a Bilko-like scheme going which usually rewarded us with KP or other extra duty whenever we returned to base camp.

As with all veterans, there were close calls, twists of fate, and just plain insane situations that we all would have a good laugh about, after the fact, over a few Beer LaRues.

Speer and I finished our tours and returned stateside. Lt. Hayes, Sergeant Moore and Carly, like so many more, came back in bags.

Speer was right, though. Sometimes I think back and laugh. But sometimes I just think back.

Former newspaper editor and political cartoonist Darryle Purcell writes and illustrates Buckskin Editions’ Hollywood Cowboy Detectives series. He also has written a Vietnam War murder mystery novelette, Jungle Rot, which appeared in Heater mystery magazine. Jungle Rot (in Kindle format) can be found in Heater, Vol. 4 No. 2, available on the following author page: amazon.com/author/darrylepurcell

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