“DEAD GUYS STINK”
December 9, 1970
Dear Mom and Dad,
It’s been raining for two days and nights. Last night I slept sitting up wrapped in my poncho. My unit is called CAP 2-7-10. (Combined Action Platoon 2-7-10). There’s about 10 Marines and a Navy corpsman named Doc Donoghue from Mass. We also have a War Dog handler who has a red German Sheperd named “Lucky” who sniffs out booby traps. During the day we kind of hang out in the villes and go on patrol and at night we saddle up and go out into the boonies and hunt the VC. On patrol we check people’s ID cards and look through their houses for weapons and stuff. The leader of our team is Sgt. Thomas, but he says to call him “Tom”.
Last night CAP 2-7-1 got into a firefight with the VC about a click (kilometer) away and we sat there in the drizzle watching the light show. Far out. They killed a couple and dragged the bods up to the hiway. This morning, a dude named Paladin–he kind of looks like the guy on TV–took me up to the redline. Mom and Dad, I saw them. One guy had his intestines all blown out. I didn’t throw up but I couldn’t eat my chow because I got stuck with the C-rat spaghetti. And dead guys really stink. But as long as it’s the zips and not us.
Mom, maybe I didn’t explain myself good enough: we’re nowhere near a phone. This is the boonies. No running water, no electricity, no cars. People cook their food over little fires and the closest thing they’ve got to transportation are water buffaloes. The houses (we call them hooches) are made of rice and straw and old c-ration boxes. These people crap in the bushes. I don’t think there’s a phone within 25 miles of here.
Terry Pollard, Mike Burns and John “Bones” Conrath, who were in boot camp and ITR with me are all here in 7th Company. Pollard went to 2-7-4, Conrath to 2-7-3 and Burns is at 2-7-1. (Last night must have been his first firefight.) Burns also went through machine gun school with me but I won’t be carrying the “pig” here. They’ve already got a gunner and say they’re going to make me hump the radio, once I figure out what’s going on.
Whatever you do, don’t worry about me. The USMC is the Finest Fighting Force on the face of the earth…and the deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle. Say hi to Jeff and Joyce. Tell Grampa I’ll write soon. Groovin’ in the Nam.
Al the Kat
“IN THIS CRAZY PLACE”
December 13, 1970
Dear Mom and Dad–
I got the package of Kool-Aid. Thanks. I don’t want you to cancel your Christmas. I think it’s a dumb idea and it would bum me out. I’d be more happier knowing the Christmas tree was up back home. I’d like to think the world is normal somewhere, cuz it sure ain’t normal in this crazy place.
I’ve been carrying the radio, the PRC-25. It’s pretty heavy along with all the other garbage I have to lug around. I had a great Marine K-Bar knife that I lost under a woodpile during a knife-throwing contest in the day haven and I couldn’t find it under there. Sure could use a new knife, maybe for Christmas, if you get my meaning. It’s got to have a sturdy long blade and it can’t be too shiney, but a good size hunting knife. Thanks. Take care you guys. Tell Grampa I got the Slim Jims and they were great.
ATK Al the Kat
“BAPTISM OF FIRE”
December 21, 1970
Dear Mom and Dad–
Yesterday afternoon, Paladin, Chief, Red Lynch, Doc Donoghue and me went with Cpl. Boutwell on patrol back in the eastern part of our AO (Area of Operation). We stayed in a treeline and sent our PF’s (South Vietnamese soldiers) on ahead across about 200 meters of rice paddies toward a treeline we call VC Ville. When they got near the ville, they started taking big time small arms fire. We ran react.
Man, we ran our asses off through knee-deep paddy water and the whole time I was doing just like they told me to do, jabbering on the radio to Captain Mallard back at company HQ. He had to tell me, “Now, calm down, son,” cuz I was talking so fast and running at the same time.
Then we got close to the ville and some PF’s were wounded and I was next to Boutwell kneeling on a rice paddy dyke about 25 meters in front of this treeline, firing my M-16 with my left hand, holding the radio handset in my right hand, bullets snapping all around. (Jesus, Dad, you wouldn’t have believed it!) And we just kept shooting at everything and anything in these trees.
Then when the shooting stopped, we got on line and swept through the treeline and found 3 bods. One of them had a mapcase and a 9mm pistol. Boutwell said he’s a VC lieutenant. Then Doc patched up the PFs–they could walk okay–and we hogtied the bods to bamboo poles and humped them back to the day haven. What a rush!
Sgt. Tom said I did a great job. He was hopping all around, slapping everybody on the back. He says he’s gonna put me in for meritorious lance corporal. Paladin says now I’ll get my C.A.R., my Combat Action Ribbon. He says I did all right, my first time. Captain Mallard sent a truck to get the bods and brought us a case of beer from CACO. Can’t write anymore now.
“HOT FOOD AND BEER”
December 25, 1970
Dear Mom and Dad–
Christmas greetings from the Land of the Little People. What’s happenin’, guys. We’ve been having a pretty righteous day, considering. We blew off pop-up flares just after dawn and we’re staying at a pretty safe day haven today we call “Frenchy’s Place”, right on the redline. This morning a truck from 2nd CAG brought hot food and BEER. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatos (fake ones of course) and the Chaplain came out. Doc Donoghue and Chief Billy Fragua got some scrawney old twig and decorated it with beer can pop tops for a Christmas tree.
Last night Christmas Eve, was quiet. We were out in an ambush site in a graveyard and I was up around midnight, looking up at the stars. They’re southern hemisphere stars and really weird. And there are zillions cuz there’s no air pollution. No factories. No cars. And there I was staring at the stars and I hear the radio. It’s the dude from the comm-shack at CACO, I forget his name, and he was delivering a Christmas message over the tactical net. He was drunk off his ass. He was telling us how much he loved all us guys and was proud to serve with us and all that. It was really funny. He went on for about ten minutes, slurring his words but whispering, cuz he knew that everybody listening was squatting out in some ambush somewhere. He was all mushy.
Dad, got your package yesterday. REALLY REALLY dug the Old Grandad in the plastic baby bottle! I shared it with Paladin and Chief. Good stuff! We are allowed only 3 beers during the afternoon–when we can get it–but you can’t have any 2 hours before sundown cuz they don’t want any of us hammered when we saddle up to move out at night. Thank you, guys. I miss the snow. But I’m all right.
Love– Al the Kat
“A BIG BLADE”
December 27, 1970
Dear Mom and Dad–
We got hit again last night moving to our night ambush site, just after dark, crossing a wide open area of dry paddies and took AK fire from a treeline about 150 meters east. Everybody hit the dirt and I lost my helmet and couldn’t find it in the dark. So anyway we opened up on the treeline and I called in lume (illumination flares fired from artillery) and we expended a bunch of ammo for about ten minutes but nobody got hurt. Didn’t find any bods or bloodtrails. Charlie drags his dead away. I found my helmet.
Have you guys found a knife for me yet? I’m talking a big blade. Sure could use one. Hope everybody’s okay. We’re at a place we call “The Old Ba’s.” We had c-rat bacon and gook bread for breakfast. Far out. Your boy in the trenches,
Love Al the Kat
“24 HOUR R&R AND CAPTAIN MALLARD’S EAR BOARD”
December 30, 1970
Dear Mom and Dad
Happy Birthday, Dad! How’s it feel to be 52? I’m sitting back having a beer for you right now at the “club” at 7th Company HQ. It’s a little plywood building but it’s got a beer cooler and an oven for cooking frozen pizzas. Pretty cool. Every once in awhile one of us gets to come here for 24 hours and it’s my turn tonight. I get to sleep on a real mattress in a hooch with a roof. I even took a shower in the outdoor stall. And I got sandbags all around and a dirt wall, so I’m feeling pretty groovey. Nasty little VC bastards ain’t gonna rain on my parade tonight.
We are saving up pop-up flares for New Years. I have 6 already, 5 green ones and a red. Also I’m sending my entire paycheck of $163.00 home. And tomorrow I’ll be back in the bush and we’re starting a 7-day operation to rid the river region of VC. Right now I’m looking over at Captain Mallard’s Ear Board…it’s a chart with all the 7th Co. CAPs listed and ear silhouettes marking how many dinks each CAP has waxed. CAP 10 is doing pretty good with 7. I don’t know since when. Hope to make it 8 tomorrow.
Your bloodthirsty boy in Southeast Asia
Love–Al the Kat