A landlocked sailor
This story or series of events should properly start with the age-old phrase that launches every great sea story … “This is no shit…”As a young and terribly inexperienced hospital corpsman assigned to one of the more legendary CAPs in the Combined Action Program, I was careful to observe the demeanor and style of the Marines around me. I noticed right off that the saltier Marines were more likely to have certain eccentricities that set them apart from the herd. As the days and weeks went by, I began to emulate my mentors and develop my own set of quirks.
I was on the small side, at only 5’6” and 145 pounds (soon down to 125), so it was hard to find jungle utility trousers that I thought were flattering. I adopted the practice of the RF’s and a few Marines and took my trousers to the village tailor. For a couple of hundred dong he tailored them to fit. I then lost my blousing garters and always wore my trousers unbloused, at a stylish length just above the leather portion of my jungle boots.
CACO 2-7 CO Capt. Bob Mallard and the company Gunny asked me on more than one occasion where the hell my blousing garters were and shook their heads when I replied, “Combat loss, sir.” The Gunny would scrounge up some new ones and I would blouse my trousers until I left CACO and then toss them away, or use them to roll my poncho, or anything except blousing my cuffs.
Then one night we were out in the grave mounds during a bright full moon. As I lay on watch, I felt a slight tickle on my right butt cheek. That was immediately followed by a severe burning sensation as if someone had put out a cigarette on my baby-soft skin. I clutched my cheek, jumped to my feet and began stripping out of my trousers.
Soon I was standing butt naked in the moonlight, cursing up a storm. Trapped in the folds of my discarded trousers I found a half-dead centipede that had crawled up my leg and bitten me on the butt. The next day I had a welt the size of a saucer on my cheek, which burned like fire for two days. After that, I bloused my trousers at night, but kept my more casual style during the day.
One of the guys in the CAP had a sister attending Southern Illinois University. She sent him a gray T-shirt with “S.I.U.” across the front in large block letters. I don’t remember how, but I soon became the owner of the T-shirt and wore it faithfully in the bush, day and night. I was wearing it when one of the group pictures was taken that is now on this website.
To complete my casual ensemble, I added a pair of faded orange swimming trunks inherited from someone. I felt quite civilized lounging around the day haven site (aka “Patrol Base”) until the day the Big Sergeant Major came to visit CAP 2-7-2 and I had to bail out the back of the day site and disappear until his visit was over. After that I kept the T-shirt, but 86’d the swimsuit.
Then came a period when, for a variety of reasons, I was never able to assemble a complete uniform for my visits to the medical supply shack at CACO. I became adept at infiltrating the compound and entering the medical shack from the rear so that no one saw me come or go.
Then one day I got cocky, decided to walk over to the club for a cold drink and ran into Capt. Mallard. He commented on my failure to salute and my lack of proper headgear, to which I gave my usual, “Combat loss, sir.” He made sure I got a new cover on the next resupply run.
Sometime later, the word was sent down the chain via the senior corpsman, that I was no longer to refer to myself as “Superduck” on the radio, but was to use the official term for corpsmen, “Lame Duck.” I guess they don’t issue a sense of humor at Quantico.
The final episode came when we were running a combined op with some line units and other CAPs. For some unknown reason, I was once again left behind with the gear and the radio with the “Alpha” call sign. The group on the sweep answered to “Bravo.”
I got a call from CACO asking for the position of our Bravo unit, so I radioed Willie and asked for his coordinates. He replied that they were wading across the chest-deep paddies that separated An Tu from the rest of the ville, and couldn’t shackle coordinates at that time. CACO couldn’t hear his end of the conversation, so I told CACO the Bravo position was unavailable.
Over the next five minutes I got another four requests for the Bravo position, but got the same reply from Willie each time. On the next request, I radioed Willie and said, “I need your position, they’re bugging the shit out of me for it.”
Before Willie could answer, I heard the crystal clear tones of Capt. Mallard, saying “Two, who is this on the net?” I replied, politely, “Echo 4 Delta, the lame duck.” The captain replied, “I want to see you in my office at 1400 today! Now get me that position!” So I called Willie back, and he was able to give me his coordinates, which I relayed to CACO.
I spent the rest of the morning figuring that I would thereafter be known as Echo 1 Delta, or maybe the Dead Duck, but hey what else could he do? Cut my hair and send me to Vietnam? I was worried though. After the sweep was over, I pulled together a uniform and hitched a ride to CACO, arriving about 1345.
As usual, I went to the medical shack to see Rick Uht the senior corpsman. He told me he had heard I was in deep shit with the CO, and asked what I was going to do? “Get my ass chewed off, I suppose.” Rick smiled from underneath his big, bushy mustache and said, “Get the fuck back to your CAP and lay low for awhile. I already talked with Capt. Mallard and he’s cooled down, but you better watch it for awhile, or you’re gonna end up busted.” So, with a great sigh of relief, I hitched back to Thanh Quit, got back into my S.I.U. T-shirt and counted my blessings.
I never really did shape up and fly normal, but I did manage to meet Capt. Mallard one day at CACO — with a hat on and everything — and give him my best parade ground salute. He almost passed out, then growled at me and said, “Get your ass out of my sight, Doc,” so I guess bygones were bygones.
Many years later when I was myself a captain and later a major, I remembered How Capt. Mallard cut me some slack because we were all out in Indian Country doing a dirty, tough job. He tempered his discipline with a genuine concern for the troops in the field. So when faced with similar situations, I always asked myself, “What would Capt. Mallard do in this situation?”
That rule never failed me, because he taught me that as long as your troops know you care about them, they will do anything for you.