Dear Mom and Dad,
My new address is:
P.F.C. C.R. Thornton 2579640
HDQS 2D CAG, III MAF
FPO San Francisco, California
This will be my address for about a month. I’ll be here at headquarters for two weeks of sentry duty and then at Da Nang for two weeks of CAP school.
When I leave CAP school I’ll be assigned to a CAP in a village so my address will change slightly.
Our compound is about 75 meters square with a dirt dike 8′ high around it. We have concertina wire in continuous layers up to 30 meters from the burm line (dirt dike).
We have 15 bunkers with M-60 machine guns and 4 towers with .50 caliber machine guns, also two truck mounted .50s. Two 81mm mortars provide our C.F.S. (Close Fire Support).
Our compound has been attacked seven times in seven months. The road I rode over yesterday (Highway 1?) has been mined 13 times in the last two weeks.
We share the compound with a Navy PBR unit. They patrol the river about ten meters from our main gate in 30′ fiberglass hulls mounted with four .50 caliber mg’s. One of these boats was blown out of the water by a contact mine ten days ago.
Theres a company of armored ARVN’s about 100 meters downriver and a company of Korean Marines about 2 kilometers past that. About 2 kliks (kilometers) downriver and one klik inland, there’s two batteries of 155mm howitzers. When they fire it sounds like four freight trains going over at 500 mph.
Our supply truck was fired on about 100 meters down the road today.
I’m enclosing 5 cents in Military Payment Certificates. We call it funny money. American money can’t be used because of its black market value. We can use it for warm beer or soda but not much else.
Gotta quit. Will write again soon.
P.S. Am about 20 miles South of DaNang near An Hoi (Hoi An?).
Sorry communication is so rare but I haven’t had much time.
I just took my boots off for the first time in three days. My jungle boots are really comfortable otherwise I’d go crazy. I’ve been riding shotgun on convoys during the day and standing guard at night.
(This sounds exaggerated. It seems pretty unlikely that I would have had to wear my boots for three days, especially working as an extra body at 2nd CAG HQ in Hoi An. Maybe I was just too scared to take them off, expecting Charlie to hit our wire at any second?)
The night I wrote my first letter to you, somebody sneaked up to our wire and threw a grenade at my hootch. It landed about 30 feet from where I was sleeping (trying anyway) and scared the holy hell out of me. Somebody yelled V.C. and I dove off of my cot and started hunting my boots. It took me more than five minutes to find everything, get it on, and get outside. By that time the excitement had died down and we all went back to sleep. Nobody was hurt.
(I remember there was an explosion, but I doubt this was a VC attack. More likely somebody on guard duty was bored and had an extra frag. You’ll note I had my boots off when THIS happened.)
Riding shotgun is really fun. The countryside is beautiful and many of the people are friendly. All of the trucks go at full speed to avoid ambushes and command detonated mines. It’s fun bouncing along, waving at the boy-sans and girl-sans, and mama-sans. There’s not many men around and those that are, are very old or in uniform.
I haven’t been shot at yet and I’m beginning to think this war isn’t as hairy as it’s chalked up to be. I see all kinds of Army choppers and I keep wondering if John is on one. How’s he doing.
I just got off of guard duty. Time is 10:30 P.M. I stood tower watch with a guy from Nebraska. When I started laying out ammo and grenades for ready use he hastily informed me that the chances of attack were close to non-existant. He was puffing some pot while I sucked on a Hershey bar and we talked for four hours. Hard liquor cannot be obtained by Marines under the rank of E-6 (S/Sgt). Many guys use this as an excuse to smoke pot which is as available as ordinary tobacco.
I had a hell of a day today so I think I’ll quit.
P.S. I had a chance to get a camera + tape recorder but I’ve recently learned that all CAG personnel must live on what they can carry in a pack. Clothing takes most of the room and is very heavy. Anyway they would quickly be smashed or soaked.
We had a Korean USO show here at My Khe (at CAP School in Da Nang) today. It was a lot better than I thought it would be. They sang American rock songs and had at least two singers who knew their stuff.
The band was better than lots of bands that have been to Winfield. (my hometown)
The show only lasted an hour but everybody dug it.
To tell the truth a lively chess game is an attraction around here. Sleeping is the major passtime.
I drank three cans of warm beer and I think my resistance is down because I’m high. Not drunk, just feeling good.
The biggest enemy in Vietnam is boredom. Our compound hasn’t had a real attack in two year but I still have to stand guard from four to ten hours of guard each day. I’ll be glad to get through CAP school and out into the bush.
Hasn’t been any other excitement this week. The Villagers in My Khe are getting to know me by name and I like to talk to them when I’m on guard. The kids keep asking for cigarettes and money which hacks me off. I don’t give them any. I still don’t know when I’ll start CAP school, it should be sometime next week.
Guess I’ll quit.
P.S. got a letter from Carole Keller yesterday
Sorry I haven’t been writing much, no excuse.
Got your letter day before yesterday and one from Joel yesterday. Joel’s was a one-pager as usual but I’m not complaining. (Actually, that does sound like a complaint.)
Nothing very unusual has happened. The Navy PBR unit at Hoi An lost a man in a counter-ambush a few nights ago. They set up an ambush in the same place for three nights in a row. They got hit on the third night. Trust the Navy to screw up when trying to do something that is a job for the Corps. All of the PBR guys think that they’re John Wayne so they lose people they shouldn’t.
I want you to send me your pistol. (sentence crossed out) I just want a weapon I can have in reach 24 hours a day.
You’d better wrap it in foil so it’s not shaped like a gun. Send all the ammo and wrap it up too. I think it’s in my drawer or the hall closet. You might bury the stuff in a box of cookies, also wrapped in foil for a double disguise.(what a little smuggler I was!) Chocolate chip seems to stay tasty longer or pfeffernuss (sp) all my buddies like those.
I bought an instamatic camera yesterday (had a buddy get it for me). It was cheap, I guess, at $14.95. I looked at some nice, expensive, 35mm’s but all were too complicated, heavy, and fragile. I haven’t got the time or inclination to figure out the workings of a good camera. I also don’t want to lug it around. Also, if I have to travel light or in a hurry it’ll be less painful to throw or give it away.
The colonel was just in here. I’m “working” at HDQs all day today. Mostly I’ve been working the switchboard and running errands.
This is supposed to be winter here and it’s hotter than blazes.
Things are boring, boring, boring. We can’t go outside the compound and there’s nothing inside the compound.
I guess I’m finished.
It’s very hot here even in “tropical” cloth utilities. I guess we’ll start CAP school next Monday. I hope so. Guard duty isn’t bad but it is boring.
I unloaded a truck load of lumber today with a working party of Vietnamese, mostly women. It was early this morning so the heat wasn’t too bad. There were eight women and three men and me working.
The Vietnamese are tiny people, very few of the older ones came as high as my shoulder. (I was 6’1”) The women must average about five feet.
They worked hard but are so small that I unloaded about three or four times as much wood as any of them. Some of the women looked as old as Mrs. Clark. (my high school English teacher, in her 60s) It was a little strange seeing women do labor like that. It wasn’t too hard on them because they work in pairs, sharing the heavy loads.
They were kind of shy with me when we started work but by the time my T-shirt was wringing with sweat we were all pals.
After the truck was unloaded the driver bought us all sodas. They would all point to their can of grape soda and say, “Numbah one, numbah one, Marine.”
The kids around the compound are always saying, “Hey Marine, gimme chewing gum.” I always claim I don’t have any but then they say, “Bullshit, Marines got beaucoup chewing gum.” What can I say to that.
The other day when I was on Tower No. 4 one little kid distracted me while another one threw a packet of marijuana cigarettes over the wall. I saw it and turned them over to the OOD. Nobody knows why they give us marijuana but a lot of Marines smoke them. When I’m not on duty and I see somebody getting pot I just turn my head. As long as they don’t screw off on duty and endanger my hide I don’t care if they “do their own thing.” (Gee, the ’60s in a nutshell.)
I’m hacked off about the rifle I was issued. It’s one of the old XM-16E1’s that had Congress in such a hassle two years ago. It’s not only obsolete but it’s supposed to jam easily. What really makes me mad is that the Army and even the Vietnamese Army, Korean Marines, and Local Militia units are equipped with brand new M-16A1’s. Trust the Corps to get screwed when it comes to weapons and equipment. Did you know the Marines landed on Guadalcanal in 1942 with 1903 Springfields (bolt action). A year later the Army was getting its ass kicked in North Africa armed with the new M-1’s.
CAP school is two weeks and is a cram course on; weapons, intelligence, explosives, Vietnamese language, counter-guerrilla warfare, etc. When you complete the school they hand you a blue badge which is the symbol of a CAP Marine. The Vietnamese call it a “butterfly.”
To qualify you need a high GCT score, a clean punishment record and have to be recommended by an officer.
P.S. I think there is an article about Hoi An (IInd CAG HQ) in the Jan. or Feb. issue of the Leatherneck
I went on patrol night before last. (A “practice” patrol in the ville outside the My Khe compound) I had to hump a radio and it nearly killed me. We were walking in soft sand and I was carrying about 50 lbs. (Not much compared with what we carried in the bush)
We didn’t see anything interesting. Another patrol 300 meters away got fired on but nobody was hurt. (Seems unlikely in sleepy My Khe!)
This morning we went out to practice forward observation for artillery. It was too misty to observe fire so we just came on back.
I got a letter from Patti Walker this afternoon. We had mail call while we were filling sand bags and I got the envelope all sweaty before I got it open.
Classes are pretty interesting. It’s hard to stay awake, though, when you’ve been out on patrol for four hours the night before. Language class is going pretty fast. We’re supposed to get just enough here so we’ll be able to learn the stuff on our own out in the ville.
Did you ever get the power of attorney I mailed to you? I guess if it’s lost or stolen it might cause trouble.