Almost thirty-four years ago a small group of young men gathered to say goodbye to acquaintances and traveled together as a group to a very dark and bleak future. They were members of a basic training group at Fort Sill Oklahoma. They did not cry nor moan their predicament but because they were young and brave they accepted this fate and any thing else that might follow.
It was not long before this group was joined by several fatherly figures who were to guide them through the next few months. These fatherly figures were the "old soldiers" who had been following the news about the activities in SE Asia. And then there were the young officers who were just out of OCS or college and lack the experience to provide the leadership. But the men, NCO's and these fine officers bonded and learned together.
It was hot as they trained and worked together in order to form some kind of cohesiveness . . Each day brought new experiences and they were eager to learn but their ultimate challenges were still ahead. The evenings were spent with loves ones either in person, via telephone, or through the postal system. And the endless packing and repacking of bags that were not designed to hold all that they wish to take on the upcoming trip.
Many had never seen the ocean but in only a short time they were aboard a ship heading to certain death for some of them. The weather was calm but as landlocked individuals many became seasick and became weak and discouraged as the trip took many days and even longer nights.
It was kind of quiet during those nights. Oh yes, you could hear some snoring but as they lay awake in the rack they wondered what the morning might bring.
They dreamed of home, girl friends, wives, children and mother and fathers, and still could see the tears as they said goodbye only a few short days ago. The rolling of the waves and the churning of the engines would soon rock them to sleep with the dreams and memories of those they left behind.
As they neared their destination it was now time to worry about the unknown. What lay ahead? Would they be sacred ? What was the country like ? Were they prepared for the challenges which certainly lay ahead ? Would they return home to their loved ones? So many questions but so few answers.
And then the expected day arrived. Directions were given and one by one they off loaded the ship and stepped on to foreign soil that they had only read about in the papers. Vietnam was really not quite what they expected. They did not storm ashore dodging bullets but marched ashore with rifles at the ready, only to be ushered into a staging area on the beach to await the remainder of their equipment. Soon they were married up with this equipment and the enemy greeted them with the first of many rocket attacks through out the night.
Decisions were made and the group of men soon split up. The smaller group stayed in the vicinity of where they were off loaded from the ship, but the remainder began to move northward to a hamlet known as Dong Ha. Reaching Dong Ha they were greeted by another group who they soon recognized as marines. They were dirty, with long hair and beards and moved about slowly as they knew the rest that they were getting would be soon finished and they would find themselves in the jungles trying to find another group of men who were hostile to their cause.
This group of men were different. They looked different, they ate different food, they had little clothing and equipment, they spoke a different language, but they had a cause that they too were willing to give up their life for. Some people called them slang words (gooks, dinks, etc.). but they were not that. Just like the black men of America are not niggers, nor the little people of Japan are Japs, nor the Italians friends are Wops. They were a well trained army who could live with meager means, fight hard and then sink back into the jungles to await another target of opportunity. They too had girl friends, mothers, sisters, and daughters that they left behind and they knew quite well that the chances for them returning home were very low. And today, we must respect them for fighting so valiantly for what they believed.
After the initial shock of no protection, little support and with each man fearing for their lives, they began a routine. The first order of business (they thought) was to build some type of protection, however that was not the case. The first order of business was to furnish supporting fire for those marines who were struggling through the jungles. Between fire missions, monsoon seasons, and the passage of time those boys soon became men. They worked hard and were soon fairly well protected from the elements as well as the constant rocketing of their position.
Additional fire bases were soon occupied and the firing of big guns could be heard as the gun sections manned their guns 24 hours a day to insure that all the fire support possible could be directed toward an enemy they could not see, but feared. Food, water, sandbags and mail from home were the most important elements in their survival. The food and water sustained their physical body, the sand bags stopped most of the penetrations of steel and the letters from home always offered a glimmer of hope. Mixed in between where some SP packs, an occasional hot shower and the bonding of friends that would last a life time.
They worked as a team, the ammo haulers bringing in ammunition and mail, the truck drivers who were constantly hauling in supplies and replacements. The track and wheel mechanic who worked long hours to insure that the guns were ready to respond on a moments notice. The medics who risks their life while bandaging wounds and holding dying men. The cooks whose ingenuity turned K rations to hot meal under adverse conditions and with little spices and condiments. The supply personnel as they traveled mine invested roads to secure much needed supplies and equipment. The clerks of personnel who insured that RR and DEROS dates were met, and families notified. And lets us not forget those who tried to make ice cream for the men of the DMZ; nor the metro people on whose job we depended on to insure the accuracy of firing missions.
The closeness and the comradrie that the men enjoyed was soon to be diminished, as replacements began to arrive. Those replacements were also good soldiers and fought side by side but the original group were more like brothers and outsiders were accepted only after they proved themselves.
For over four years these men laughed, cried and even died together. Their short timer calendar provided the morale factor that each needed, knowing that they would return to the land they loved if they could only stay alive for the next year. The men of the 8Th Battalion 4th Artillery served gallantly., and their willingness to die was the cement that molded them together. FTA was not in their vocabulary, as they met each challenge with "it ain't no big thing," as they supported one another.
Today they live thoughout the United States. They don't talk much about those years as the world is really not too interested. They are the truck drivers, the doctors, the warehousemen, the lawyers, the plumbers and electricians. Most have made their mark in life and are now enjoying the fruits of it. They smile and enjoy their grandchildren as they struggle with their home work but who are really not interested in the exploits of Vietnam. Their wives are busy with their activities and they have little time to just listen. So during the stillness of the night we still hear the moaning of the wounded, the crying of the scared, the shrill of incoming artillery, rockets, and mortars, but we drift off to sleep remembering those we left behind.
Joe L. Talley