Things Can Get Real Dumb In The Combat Zone
by James Glaser
October 15, 2012
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Being in a war is horrible, and those horrors seem to be what gets implanted on a veteran's mind, and for the rest of his or her life, those are the memories that seem to pop up most often. However, all the memories, good and bad, of your time in combat are also recorded in your brain, but recalling most of them gets to be impossible.

Last night I was watching 60 Minutes, and they did a segment on Veterans with PTSD. I was watching and thinking how their symptoms were the same as mine. One guy being interviewed said something about something being dumb, and at that moment my memory banks shot out what can only be described as the dumbest thing that happened to me in Vietnam.

I landed at Da Nang when I arrived in Vietnam. It took a while but I found my unit and checked in with the Sergeant Major. He got me all my combat gear. Well, that's not true. He sent me to supply where I got all my gear, and then I reported back to him. As soon as I walked in the door he said, "Phu Bi. I'm sending you to Phu Bi."

Really, I didn't know where Da Nang was, and I never heard of Phu Bi, but heck I was a Marine Sergeant and finding Phu Bi should be easy. I asked how I would get there thinking a plane or a truck or maybe a jeep. He told me no, I would hitch a ride on a chopper. He told me who to check in with when I got there and gave me a set of written orders.

That seemed simple, and I asked where I would find the helicopter that would take me there. He told me how to find the landing zone (LZ), and I asked him if they were waiting for me. He said, "Yeah right, we have a fucking chopper sitting there waiting to take Sergeant Glaser to Phu bi." Then he asked me if I were nuts.

Well, I found the LZ and started asking questions. Every time a chopper would land, guys would run out and shout to the door gunner asking where they were headed to next, and if they were going where you wanted to go, and if they had room, you could get on. I learned later that in midflight they could get rerouted to someplace else which could be very bad. They might have to haul out wounded or bodies or pick up some big shot, and you would get dumped at some LZ to make room for some Staff Officer that just had to get some place else. Then you could be sitting at a hot LZ with little traffic coming in or out.

I did make it to Phu bi, and I did find my unit. They checked me in and assigned me a hooch to sleep in. This Marine compound was set up in a big grave yard behind a Navy Seebees compound. There I was - a wide eyed new guy who had no idea of what was going on. There was a pretty cool dragon next to my hooch. The dragon was a 25 foot long concrete dragon that had faded paint on one side. It was one of the Vietnamese headstones in this cemetery.

From where I was in this Marine Corps compound in this cemetery, it was about 100 yards to the perimeter that was made up of rolls and rolls of concertina wire with sandbagged bunkers every so often. Right near us were two sandbagged little buildings up on the biggest telephone poles I had ever seen. Their sides were sandbagged as were their floors. There was a long ladder going to the top, and they kind of looked like military forest ranger towers, but the guys in them were not looking for fires, they were looking for the enemy trying to infiltrate through that wire on the perimeter.

That first day I met just about every Marine in the unit, and I was a higher rank that almost everyone. I had been to the Nam for 3 days, and I was supposed to be in charge of guys older than me who were on their second or third tour of duty. I was so happy when I figured out these guys did not give a shit if I was in charge. They knew what might get them killed, and they were ready to set me straight on what they would or would not do. I quickly realized that these guys could keep me alive.

That first night I was there, the only other sergeant asked me if I wanted to go out to the cot. I had no idea what or where the cot was, but it didn't take me long to figure out that it was the place these guys went to smoke dope.

Turns out the cot was literally two sleeping cots out in the middle of the graveyard, and guys could sit on the cots and face each other and talk and pass joints around. I never had smoked dope before, and I knew if I didn't go out there, every guy in the unit would look at me like I was a potential CID (Criminal Investigation Division) man. I knew many of these guys were going to be with me for more than a year, and they were all Marines, armed to the teeth. I had to not only work with them, I had to tell them what to do. We headed out to the cot just before dark. There was a twisting little path that took you right there if you knew where to look.

So, stop for a minute here and think back to the first time you got stoned, and then think about what would have happened if you and the people you were with had 800 already rolled big thick joints ready to light up. Well, that was what was sitting on one of the cots. A brown paper shopping bag filled with ten packs of joints. Think about this. Each ten pack cost one dollar, and if you bought in bulk you could get them for 75 cents a pack. So all those joints only cost $60 bucks.

It really didn't take all that long before I was too spacy to smoke any more, but I was sitting in this cloud of smoke as these guys could keep smoking till morning. It was hard to understand what they were saying because I was new and didn't know the slang they were using. However the word fuck was in every sentence at least one time, and usually several times.

After a couple of hours, it was total dark. I couldn't see much except some lights in the Phu bi and a few at the CB compound. I was sitting there trying to figure out how I could walk back to my hooch and go to sleep. I wasn't real sure I could walk, and really even though I had no idea what these guys were talking about, I was almost constantly laughing at their jokes. At least I think they were jokes. I was stoned, but after a couple of hours these guys were toast.

All of a sudden the sky turned into bright daylight and this flare was floating down right over us. I remember one guy saying, "Fuck we're busted. Stash the dope!" Another guy says, "I got it." I looked to my left, and a guy was running full-tilt right at us, and another was coming from the right. I was thinking they must be the CID guys. About then, the flare goes out and having lost our night vision it was pitch dark out.

One of the guys running toward us let out a horrible scream, and then he started yelling for help. The guy next to me yelled, "Is that you Anderson?" and the guy said, "Yeah, fuck, I broke my leg." The guy next to me said, "What the fuck are you doing out here?" This Anderson guy said, "I was trying to get the parachute from the flare." Later on we found out the other guy running at us was doing the same.

So, these guys who had done two or three tours took charge, and the first thing they thought to do was to locate that bag of dope. The guy who said he took care of it said he grabbed the bag, rolled the top closed, and threw it as far as he could. After about five minutes of frantic searching, I found the bag about three feet behind the cot I was sitting on. In fact, all I had to do was lean over and pick it up. I did say these guys were wasted didn't I? The guy who threw the bag explained he tossed it behind himself, and maybe he followed through too much before he let go.

That Anderson guy was no longer screaming but he was putting out some awful moans. When we could see again we made our way over to him and found that he had flipped over the tail of one of those dragon monster headstones, and the bone on his lower leg was sticking out in two places. The guys I was with knew just what to do, and Anderson not only got to go a trip home early, he ended up with a Purple Heart for being wounded in action.

I did learn one thing that night. If you get stoned and something gets your adrenaline pumping, you come down and back to normal in no time at all. I never tried to get to the point that I could keep up with those guys smoking dope, but it didn't take long to figure out that they knew when to smoke, and they knew when not to. They were professional Marines to the max, and when they had to be, they were as smart as anyone could be, but when they didn't have to be smart, they got really dumb.

Oh yeah, that flare? It seems the guys in those two towers looking with night spotting scopes could see the flickering of a lighter when a joint was lit and then the little red glow on the joint when somebody took a toke. Both towers were talking back and forth on radios, and they knew what we were doing because they have been to the cot before, and they thought it would be cool to freak us out. So they had called for illumination, and somebody in an artillery unit far away lit up our night. Like I said, "Things can get real dumb in a combat zone."

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