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Letters Home from Vietnam – Chapter 8, Military Justice

Military justice in Vietnam can be swift but only if it is carried out by the victims. There is a feeling here that I can’t explain. It’s a kind of lawlessness that lends itself to a vigilante form of justice. At the same time I somehow thought we were all brothers and had each others backs but it was naïve to think there weren’t a few bad apples in the bunch. We are stuck in a place where the justice becomes ours and ours alone.

May 31, 1970 Danang, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

Some Marines stole a bunch of my stuff last night. My radio, my wallet, my watch, two bottles of booze and my bunkmate’s camera. I had $5 in my wallet. I had my MACV card in my wallet. Without a MACV card in Vietnam you can’t make any kind of money transaction. Even if you send me a money order I wouldn’t be able to cash it. I can’t cash a check either. I’ll have to borrow money until I get the red tape to go through. I reported it to the APs (Air Police) but they don’t do anything. I just figured if they found my wallet I’d get my stuff back. Last week we caught three drunks busting up stuff and breaking into lockers. Two of the guys ran and the other decided to fight. It was just like an old western. He got tossed from the top flight of stairs to the middle flight. He was knocked out so when he was kicked off that landing to the ground he didn’t feel a thing. One guy kicked him in the ribs and another guy kicked him in the face a couple of times. I’m going to be waiting tonight.

One by one we were called to headquarters to have a visit with the First Sgt. It was about the guy that ended up in the hospital. None of us, of course, knew anything about any fight or how this thief ended up taking a beating. The First Sgt. was acting like he was my friend, talking about a letter from my parents that he then somehow lost. I don’t really remember my parents every saying they had actually written a letter to him. Whatever he said or how he said it wasn’t going to make any difference to me. I wasn’t going to give up any information. I’m not sure what happened to the guy that ended up in the hospital. I know we never saw him again. Maybe he got a ticket back to the states or maybe he was shuffled into some obscure job in a dark corner.

June 2, 1970 Danang, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

I went to see the First Sgt. this morning. He said he had a letter from you pertaining to me being in the hospital. Then said he lost the letter somewhere. I’m really feeling down and having my stuff stolen doesn’t help. We have to start locking up all our stuff now. It doesn’t seem right but that’s what we have to do. I got a letter from one of the guys that went to Phu Cat. They have only been hit twice since he’s been there.

The Band

There is nothing like a party to take your mind off the war. I don’t remember there being much of an announcement in advance, it just seemed to happen. I guess the lifers organized it. On at least one occasion we even had a band. The bands all came from the Philippines. Most did a pretty good job of playing the songs except that the words were a little strange. “Rolling on a river” became “wolling on a weeber” but we didn’t care. We were just happy to have them here.

June 7, 1970 Danang, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

Our shop had a party at the barracks. We had beer, chips, beans and steak. It was great I had three steaks. It started at midnight and went until 4 or 5 in the morning. When I woke up at 10:00 there were still some guys playing cards. I’m laying in front of the runway bunker right now. The sun is just now going down and there is a cool breeze. It could almost look like summer back home except the clouds are heavy looking cold type fog clouds. They’re starting to move in on the mountains around the base.

Turning night into day. It’s a form of night pollution but I say bring it on. The only thing I have to ask is why they are lighting up the sky around the base? Is there something out there we should fear?  As I looked around I realized not only is everything outside the perimeter visible but so are we. The smoke from the flares drifts through the air creating an eerie fog as the parachuted flares float back to earth. The bright light creates shadows that move with the drifting flares. I start to wonder what might be lurking in the shadows.

June 9, 1970 Danang, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

The flares are starting to go up around the base. They really light this place up at night. They launch the flares from mortars. They do this whenever they think a sapper might have sneaked onto base.

M61 20mm Gatling Gun – 4F-E

Weapons loading doesn’t always mean you are doing it while the plane is on the ground. And since one of my skills was cranking ammo I was asked if I wanted to volunteer for flying on the gunships. I thought about it for a few minutes then declined. Being on the ground and less exposed to the enemy seemed like the safer thing to do. Besides I wasn’t really onboard with support for the war anymore. I do have to admit it is amazing to watch them in action at night. They find their area of attack, the pilot puts the plane into a 30 degree bank and then all hell breaks loose. From a distance and in the dark of the night the tracer rounds create a red waterfall. We often see the planes lighting up the night sky not too far away from the base.

June 9, 1970 continued –

The gunships are just taking off. They are called “Stingers”. They’re C-119 “Flying Boxcars” with two 20 mm Gatling guns and two 7.62mm mini Gatling guns. We had to scramble two of our alert birds to shoot down one of the Stingers. The crew bailed out but the plane kept flying.

 I guess getting an award is a good thing but honestly, I’m not really sure what we did to get this one. We pretty much do what we are told to do and for that I guess we get a medal. What is really amazing is how the Air Force has the capability of letting each and every one of our hometown newspapers know that your favorite son just got an award. I’m sure the guys that are loading and shooting the cannons around the base got medals too. I guess they keep us safe but I don’t think anyone really knows for sure. One thing for sure, they are really loud and annoying.

June 11, 1970 Danang, VN

Dear Mom and Dad,

Our wing was awarded an outstanding unit citation with V for valor. It’s because we experiment to see what types of munitions are best for what types of targets. We fly every type of weapon that’s flown in Vietnam. They start shooting the canons about this time every night. I guess it is to harass the VC. They shoot in the areas where the VC typically launch rockets. There are five 175mm canons around the base and one is right next to our barracks. When they go off this place really shakes.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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