So Many Ways To Die
by James Glaser
October 6, 2010
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What I'm thinking about is all the ways our troops can die in a combat zone. Sure some are shot, some are blown up, and others die in an accident, like the troops who were electrocuted in the showers in Iraq. Sometimes a tank or truck will drive off a bridge into a river. People in the military have heart attacks and get diseases like anyone back home can. An ever increasing number of our troops commit suicide.

It is kind of weird to think about, but one way of dying bugs me all the time, and I think about the guy I know who died this way in Vietnam way more often than I like. My part of the story starts out in a bunker in Dong Ha. That was up north, pretty close to the DMZ in Quang Tri Providence.

I remember it was a nice clear hot day, and I was covered with that red Dung Ha dust from digging around our bunker. Dong Ha was a big base, and I would guess I was a quarter mile from the perimeter. I was walking down this road to where they had showers set up, hoping that the sun had warmed up the water tank. If you happened to time it just right, which didn't happen very often, you could get a warm shower. One could always hope.

So, I could see the shower, and nobody was around, and that was a good sign, but as I got close, I heard the sound of a round coming in. After a while you could tell by the sound if an artillery round was incoming or out going. The first round landed smack dab on that water tank next to the shower. So much for my chance to get a warm shower or any kind of a shower.

I didn't stick around to see what happened as I was moving toward the closest bunker which was this little sandbagged trench that you could get into from either side. I don't know if I dove in or what, but I got in there very fast. As soon as I took my first breath, I knew somebody was smoking dope because the place was filled with that sweet smell. There was this Marine Lance Corporal, sitting there with a big grin on his face, and he asked me what was going on.

I don't know why he picked this bunker to get high in. It was small and right on the road, but then again who would think anybody would go there to smoke? About the time I got sitting kind of comfortable-like, rounds were hitting all around us, that guy said not to worry, because he had been in Dung Ha for over six months, and that bunker never took a hit. He said it was his lucky place.

The guy was in my unit, but I didn't know him at all. To tell you the truth, he was pretty spacey. I learned that he was doing perimeter guard duty, and I was mostly doing convoy stuff. We were sitting in there for about an hour, and I was pretty wasted by the time I got out of there. I headed back to where my bunker was, as there would be no shower that day.

Over the next few weeks this new "friend" and I talked more and more. He was kind of a loner, and so was I. You didn't really want to make friends, because you could lose them in the blink of an eye. Either they died, were wounded, got sick, transferred to another unit, or their tour ended, and they went home, or yours did.

Well, this guy or I needed somebody to talk to, and I guess we ended up using each other as a sounding board. He was young, but then we were all young. What was pretty strange was that he was married and had a child. In the photo he showed me, his wife was beautiful, and I guess his daughter was cute, but being as young as I was, I had no idea of what kids were supposed to look like. Having a child wasn't even in my thought pattern.

As time went on, I learned he only had about a month left in the Nam, and then his 13 months would be over. He was a "short timer" and my having ten months to go, I was just a "Boot." One afternoon he told me this story that had him freaked out. He was down in Da Nang, where our unit's headquarters were. He got into the front of a six-by to hitch a ride down to the airport for a flight to Dong Ha. Just before they started off, the Commanding Officer (CO) walked up, opened the door and told this Lance Corporal to hop in back as he was going down for a flight, too.

Well, he hopped out and got in back and the CO said, "Hey, you left your bag up here." He said it wasn't his bag. The CO opened the bag and surprise, surprise, it was filled with ten packs of joints. That is how you bought pot over there, in pre-rolled joints, ten to a pack. At first the CO figured it belonged to that Lance Corporal, but after a day of questioning and asking around, they figured out it was not his. Some Spade Dude (African American) took the fall, and he went to the Da Nang Brig (jail) for six months.

Now, time in the Brig, does not count as time in the Marine Corps or time in Vietnam. Here is how somebody described that Marine prison:

The U.S. Marine Corps' prison in Da Nang, Vietnam, was the scene of a massive riot and outbreak in 1969. Frustrated American inmates, many of them black and Hispanic, released their pent-up anger over inhumane prison conditions and guards' sadistic brutality by burning down more than one-third of the brig; its recapture took a high toll in soldiers' lives, with Americans fighting Americans.

Now, my story happened in 1968, before that riot, but life in that brig was bad. The Spade Dude figured that this Lance Corporal dropped the dime on him, and he was pissed, as you can imagine. When I met the Lance Corporal, he had just returned from his week-long R&R in Hawaii with his wife and new daughter, only to return to Dong Ha to find out the Spade Dude was out of the brig and back in his unit.

I think that was the reason this corporal had become a loner. I don't know what was the real story, but most of the unit believed that this Lance Corporal was the reason the Spade Dude went to the brig. Marines don't go for that kind of stuff. I have known Marines who took the fall for things they didn't do, just so nobody could say they ratted out a fellow Marine.

So, here I am getting to the original point I was trying to make. There are a lot of ways for troops to die in a war. About a week before this corporal was to head home, he was killed. I wasn't there, but the story in the unit was that the gooks attacked our section of the perimeter, and they never fired a shot, but they did throw a grenade into one bunker, and that was the bunker that Lance Corporal was manning by himself.

That Spade Dude was there for another six months, as he was supposed to go home the same day as the Corporal, but he had those six brig months tacked on to his tour. He never said anything, in fact nobody ever said anything. The Marine Corps had an investigation, but it was soon apparent that nobody was talking, and it was dropped.

I am sure the Lance Corporal's family got his Purple heart and a letter telling about how he was killed in action. Today, there is a movie out about how Pat Tillman, the NFL football player, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and how the Army tried to cover it up. People are shocked, but most combat veterans are not. "Shit happens," is the way foul-ups are described by the troops, and that covers lots of things.

Troops die in war, and Soldiers and Marines, Sailors and Airmen die in all sorts of ways. When the number of those deaths gets high enough, Washington ends that particular war... only to start another some place else. Then the counting of deaths starts all over again.

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