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Stories from Nam

The following story was submitted by Lynn Hyland
 Last Guard

You're a tanker in War Zone C for months on end, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Living outside, your roof a tarp, the floor red dirt. Bone tired, living on the edge, death in the next heart beat! Blackness of sleep takes you down. Creeping out of the darkness it comes to you, its touch is warm. It shakes you and in the distance you hear words.

"It's your turn for guard, get up. Come on you're up, lets go."

Sitting up on the cot, waves of sleep and pain come. The driver is already laying down with his boots on.
Pull on and lace jungle boots, no socks, ever. Move out. The jungle night is damp and cool, a million years old. Damn tank is always taller to mount at 0300.

Rearrange weapons on turret deck, climb down in the commanders hatch. Stand, face the M2 HB .50 cal machine gun. Weapon cocked and locked, 50 cal round through the firing butterfly. Ready.

Look out over the wire, try to remember where the logs and stumps are. The moon beams make them move. Killed some myself once!

Detached voice of a too tired radio operator stumbles out of the hand set speaker, "13 Sit Rep." "13 negative," as I punch the button on the stolen MP hand set.

Sit on commanders hatch cover, inhale the night. Damp dust, rotten vegetation, mold, wet steel, shit, and diesel fuel. Become the night, think like the enemy. Night birds, lizards, and a zoo of animal life, nocturnal, all scream and cry. All in the 125 foot tall trees, where the night shows its ancient shapes with the consent of the moon.

Night vision getting better. Claymores still out there. Leave yourself on guard duty, but think of many things. Beauty of the full moon jungle night, life, death, friends, home, tank crew, the enemy.

Watch the Milky Way. Wonder where Apollo 9 landed on the moon last year.

" Time check," some sleepy tanker asks. The radio speaker drones "0345."

Boredom and then sleep attacks. Nod until 0400 when the CP track ghost radios "90 Mike Mike in zero one." Boredom and sleep lose to this one. Check main gun, turn on turret power, move turret with foot on commanders override, flip manual safety off with left hand. Pop up in hatch, put on CVC tankers helmet, turn around and squeeze helmet to shoulder. Wait with manual fire cord in hand.

"FIRE!" Pull hard on the cord, huge nose bleed blast, heat, dust, and large amounts of burnt powder smoke pour out of turret and bore evacuator on the tube. Gun recoils twenty four inches, hot brass spits out and lays smoking on the turret floor.

Same scene played out in every tank. Gun smoke fills your senses. Makes you remember even today.

Wait a few, then crank engine, run ten to fifteen every couple of hours. Shut down V12 engine. Already reloaded fifty four pound canister round in main gun, tossed hot brass.

Every hour brings an M79, 40MM grenade mad minute. Three or four rounds each time, most fired like mortar, butt down on turret.
Forty five minutes between mad minutes is a long time to be at your tired mind's whim.

0515 it's a M60 mad minute which allows blasting at your favorite tree or stump. Machine guns rip the night, tracers bouncing high into the night sky. Stops too soon.

Last hour the worst, the fuzzy half world seems unreal. Then you remember the NVA regiment loves to assault just before day break! Blood now pumps faster. Sun light is slowly mopping up the night. Tree line comes out. Chopper pad appears.

Minutes tick by as the armored city appears. Day dream about todays recon in force mission. Very dangerous, been there before. The last guard cranks up the engine.

Four hours sleep, then three hours guard makes you feel somebody else got your sleep!

0630 chow call, hot food, eggs, toast, Frosted Flakes, dust and milk. Eight thousand miles from home. Mom never cooked like this.

After chow, kick back for ten or fifteen minutes. Think about this crazy war and life. You can piss on Cambodia from here. Who cares, you survived last guard. Now it's another day in the field. But hey that's another story!

The following story was submitted by John Hien
John Ortiz - KIA

This is the story of Sgt. John Ortiz. John was one of several tank
commanders I had during my 1-1/2 tours in Vietnam. John commanded H-23, an
M48 tank that took a 'lickin' but kept on 'tickin'. John left a deep
impression on me, as I was all of 19 years old. I recall the end of a day
on a mission in the middle of nowhere in Vietnam. We pushed the jungle all
day, buttoned up and leading the armor column as we searched for the enemy.
As late afternoon approached, we 'circled the wagons' and made camp for the
night. I remember John saying he had to write to his family. I don't know
why, but I can still see John standing near the back of the tank, turning
to walk away, saying he had to write to his family. This occurred a few
months before he died.

I liked John. He was fair, firm, & consistent his crew. More importantly, I
remember him as compassionate, and a man of honor & integrity. I heard him
talk of his family several times. Besides his wife, I he had a little boy &
a little girl back home. His kids are all grown up now. Although I never
met them, I understand his son became a doctor, and his little daughter is
now a mom. I'm certain John is proud of them.

Toward the end of my first 12 months in country, I, along w/the others in
my crew (except for John), extended our tours of duty for six months. We
extended because of the bonds of friendship that formed serving together.
As a tank crew, we were 'tight'. I never had such friends before & haven't
had such friends since. I extended my tour sometime in December '67. While
home, I watched the news on TV, listened to the reports & saw the film
clips from Vietnam. The TET offensive had started and I knew what I was
going back to. When I returned to Vietnam, I learned John dead.

As the years went by, I looked for my fellow crewmates on the wall. They
weren't there, except for John. Finally, in 1990 or so, I learned that one
of them now lives in Texas. I obtained his phone number & called. Although
over 20 years had passed, my friend said he was thinking of me just
yesterday. In one of many conversations I've had with my friend, I asked
what happened to John. Below is what I was told, to the best of my memory??

Johns was in an armor column searching the jungle for the enemy. While not
the lead tank, he was near the front of the column. As the lead tank broke
into a clearing, it was fired on from the other side. The lead tank
returned fire. The vehicles immediately behind the lead tank moved from
their position in the column to the flanks of the lead tank & also returned
fire. John also moved from his position in the column to support the
growing firefight. As he broke into the clearing, he fired a canister round
from the tanks main gun. At almost the same instant, the enemy fired an RPG
at John. The RPG struck Johns vehicle and exploded. It was a glancing blow.
The explosion did no damage to the tank. The blast, however, caught John
full in the upper chest & head. I understand he death was instant. John was
not ordered to do what he did. Like the commanders of the other vehicles,
he took himself in harms way for the sake of his fellow soldiers. I'm sure
his goal was not to kill the enemy, but to do what he could to ensure his
fellow comrades were not injured or killed.

I'm now over 50 years old. Like John, I too had children, two daughters.
Unlike John, I was able to watch them grow up, with all the trials &
tribulations that go with raising babies into adulthood. John did not have
this opportunity. I find I think of John and the people I served with
often. They were (and still are) the best of the best America had to offer.


Poems by " Beau Richards " 

Hello Hco. I was with Hco.2nd/11thACR for seven months 69-70 Cu Chi,Dian Lai Kai, Quan Loi. Hello John we met in Sacremento and Philly at the reunion. My name is George "Beau Richards" Suchorowski. My time with the Cavalry was the memorable to say the least and it's good to see the site.Heres some poetry from my book. Hope you like them.

Medic! Medic!
Who? Will save the medic?
From fruitless years
Lost to horrors within
Medic! Medic!
Who? Will save the Medic?
From soul drifting
Through swords and gauntlets
From parading Ghosts
Ripping any semblance
Of the man
Medic! Oh Medic!
Let us now help the Medic!
Our Angel of Mercy
21 / 37
I saw the blood trails
Through the mornings mist
I swore I saw them!
And so I did!
And died a little inside
Before justifying my survival
Sixteen days and a wake-up
And if God wills
I will have beaten the system
That holds this youth hostage
To the horrors ageing me
At twenty-one (21)
IÂ’m thirty-seven (37) in the mirror!
Thank Jesus itÂ’s raining
To hide my tears
My fears of returning state-side
To Apathetic Americans
I can still see the blood trails
In endless nightmares.
My dreams?
OK! LetÂ’s talk about them.
Somehow I find it hard to believe,
You really care!
As if it matters to anyone?
But the Lord above!
Who is there to sooth me,
when I call!
As intrusive nightmares,
jolt me in sweat-soaked sheets
My stomach in knots
As I return to Vietnam horrors
And every night I sit outside,
in my lawn chair with a Jack Daniels & Seven
Light a great cigar,
and pray!
Because my friends!
We all deal with memories
Or we remain as dead as the Brothers & Sisters,
We left behind.....GOD BLESS!
Contact  Beau Richards for more information
about his book of poetry