All posts by efgrossman

About efgrossman

Graduate of the US Military School of Hard Knocks - Vietnam edition. Survivor. Advocate for my fellow veterans.

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘SNIPER SCHOOL’


 

“…Sniper School does not advertise its’ curriculum.  Anyone completing the course walks out with a certificate that can’t be shown to anyone, and a security clearance that should never be mentioned.  Some of the more important lessons seem to have little to do with shooting, but in reality, are crucial to the success of every shot.  The most important lesson was self control, and essential to everything else.  They taught us ways to calm our bodies in order to focus and eliminate all outside distractions; how to control our breathing and move in rhythm with our heartbeat, how to tune out everything from the extreme discomfort of the intense heat and humidity of the jungle, to the dirt and sticks poking into our bodies, how to ignore the bugs crawling all over us, and how to endure the tediousness of remaining still for hours, or days, while constantly scanning the terrain, watching and waiting for our target and opportunity.   In addition, we learned to appreciate the gift of duct tape; our last defense against the multitude of insects in Southeast Asia….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘TIME TO RUN’


 

“.…The C-130 rolled to a stop at the south end of the single air strip.  The four of us jumped off, and proceeded to unpack our gear.  The plane turned around, and slowly taxied towards the opposite end, to drop off the other 14 men and supplies, and to pick up any wounded.  This was a warehouse base for distribution of war materials to those allies cultivated by the spooks.  It was located approximately 200 miles from our camp at the border, and the spooks regularly flew in supplies.  It was just another spook base that did not exist, at least according to our government….”

“….We began the ritual preparation of stripping down for the field, and unpacking our gear.  As always, we were in the habit of helping each other to tape everything down, put on our camo, and prepare for war.  I was scanning the terrain through my binocs, when I noticed movement at the tree line.  I could see gray uniformed men coming out of the trees.  The NVA was in those trees, in numbers, and they were moving forward to that end of the airstrip…..”

“.…We were all scared, shitless.  There were probably as many as four or five thousand men, in those two regiments of NVA, attacking the opposite end of the air strip.  We knew if they found us, we were dead.  They might keep Uncle alive, for trade, but they would not keep the rest of us alive….”

“…..Trough our binocs, we saw the plane sitting on the runway.  Men were loading wounded, and within minutes, the C-130 was taxiing in our direction.  It lifted off, and we could see they had not even unloaded their equipment.  Paul informed Uncle that they would be coming back with reinforcements, and to pick up any wounded.  We knew that was not going to happen, and waiting would translate into suicide, so we took our chances and followed Uncle, hoping to make the border, and stay alive….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘TARGETED’


“….Our team was targeted after we got out of the firefight.  We cautiously threaded our way through the hills and jungle, then one of us would drop, and the world would change.  A sniper would cripple one of us to slow us down, or divert us from our escape course.  We knew the sniper was calling for his version of the cavalry.  He was forcing us to try and push by him, blindly.  Slowing down meant we all die, going faster also meant death.  We all knew there was no safety.  We also knew we had very little time left to evade the larger units that will soon be pursuing us….”

“….One hundred per cent casualties were becoming more common to LRRP and SF teams.  This was particularly true at the end of 1967.  That was when an American sniper killed the favorite nephew of Uncle Ho.  The NVA started an active policy of running teams to ground with huge numbers of troops.  Teams were vanishing in the highlands, and those countries we weren’t supposed to be in.  We were paranoid as hell, just being in that God forsaken country.  Laos was a dangerous place, without a safety net, or the hope of finding one.  We veered off, every time he fired, but stubbornly kept as close as we could to our east-southeast direction.  Swerving as we did affected all of us by multiplying our anxiety and feelings of desperation…”

“…Wounding any member of the team was a most effective method of causing us to slow down.  We were all paranoid about being captured.  In truth, the prospect scared the shit out of us, and was never far from our minds.  Months earlier, the team had taken a ‘no capture’ oath, nothing romantic, or dramatic, just a soldier’s tontine.  A bravado pledge, made under alcoholic duress, promising ‘No living wounded would be left behind, and if cornered, the last man standing would make sure no others were captured, especially if they couldn’t prevent it themselves’.  Knowing we had committed ourselves to such a promise, added to our tension.  Because after we’d seen what the NVA do to American captives, there was no doubt in any of us, our pledge would be honored.  We promised each other, no matter what, we’d never let them take us alive, and we were all honor bound.  It was a grim topic, never discussed more than once, but it was never far from our minds….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘RUN FOR THE BORDER’


“…We did our best to put distance between us and that airstrip, on the first afternoon. We double-timed our march till darkness stopped us.  We made the forest and spent the night squatting on our heels at the base of trees, in sight of each other.  The next morning, we were on our way when the sky lightened.  The pace our CO set was grueling, but it was necessary, so no one complained….”

“….Then, by mid afternoon of the second day, just about the time we started to feel safe, a shot rang out, and Jim hit the ground.  His leg was covered in blood, from the thigh down.  The bullet did not hit bone or an artery, and that was good.  He was not going to die from the wound.  It slowed him considerably, along with the rest of us.  The urgency we felt to move faster was frustrating us, and making us short tempered.  It took the sniper two days to hit two more of us, and by then, we had become so jumpy, we were ready to shoot each other for snapping a twig….”

“….We were moving as fast as possible, but we had started to veer off course with each shot.  The Laotian border was becoming an abstract in our thinking.  We had to make the crossing before we could request extraction.  There were few exceptions to that rule, but not many.  Exceptions were on a need to know basis, and the powers that be figured we had no need.  Anyway, we were obligated to make the border.  There wasn’t a chance in hell we’d survive if we got bogged down in another firefight….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘THE CONTEST’


 

“…The contest, I was invited to compete in by Captain Wilson, was much larger than I expected.  There were fifty-six men, counting myself; twenty men from the 101st, twenty Marines, and fifteen from Special Forces.  He extended the opportunity the previous weekend.  I saw it as a compliment and it went to my head.  With little or no thought, I proudly accepted….”

“…Drawing the attention of a Special Forces Officer with a reputation for success in the field has its hazards, but that never crossed my mind.  There was a quality about Wilson that made me, and others, trust him.  He spoke with authority, not from his rank but from his words, because the things he said were always pertinent and thought through.  In the twenty months of serving under his command, I can’t say how many times he would say something I was thinking.  But I was slow compared to him, because he had thought through thoroughly, an idea that had only just germinated in my mind.  I think he knew he could out think the men around him, and when he did, I never once heard him ridicule someone for not keeping up….”

“….As soon as I saw my competition included my former sniper school classmate, Conrad Powell, I knew I had little chance of taking first place in this tournament.  Conrad was an easy-going, soft-spoken, gentle mannered Southern boy, the most modest of shooters, and an immortal shot.  Shooting a perfect score came easily to Conrad, and far too often.  There were a lot of men in that competition that I did not know, but I knew Conrad would be the one most difficult to beat.  I felt confident that I would be close behind him, as I was in Sniper school, but I had learned to be content with second place, whenever I shot against him.  I was a very good shot and did not have any doubt of it, but Conrad Powell was the best shot I had ever seen.  And then, the son of a bitch got to the shooter’s line, and the bastard shot another perfect score.  I was probably the only man in the competition who was not surprised…”

“….My ego did soar because, later that morning, I came in third, behind Conrad’s first place, and the Army champion’s second place score.  When I did, Captain Wilson made an offer that appealed to both Jim and me.  He sent our vanities soaring, preventing either of us from thinking beyond the reply, “Thank You, Sir….”

“….Wilson offered to make our temporary assignment last to the end of our tour.  Both Jim and I felt honored and we accepted with enthusiasm, doing our best to not show Captain Wilson how excited we really were.  After he dismissed us, we spent a good long time patting each other on the back for being so great…”

 

 

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘RUMORS’


“…From the time Jim and I got back to Vietnam, from our ‘back to the world’ vacation, all we heard about was ‘troop buildup’, on the part of the NVA.  It was nothing specific, just the rumor that was flying around the military.  Everyone was talking about it, but there were so many rumors, that no one paid much attention.  We even heard rumors that the spooks were asking for a couple of battalions of Marines to take into Laos, to help them.  At that point, we knew something was going on, but we did not seem to be on the Army’s ‘need to know’ list and we were kept too busy, to dwell on it….”

“….Two weeks before the Tet offensive, the spooks warned of a major enemy troop buildup in Laos and Cambodia, and requested large numbers of Marines and Army Infantry to send in.  The political environment forbade that option, so the government’s response was to send 18 Special Forces soldiers into Laos to deal with the situation.  Uncle, Paul, Jim and I, were in that group.  Hog was unable to join us, as he was still in the hospital, recovering from a previous adventure….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘WELCOME TO THE NAM’


 

“….Tragically, the Guerilla Infantry remained experimental; because in the first hour Da Nang, while waiting for orders, we were placed in a large Quonset hut that was destroyed, forty minutes after our occupancy.   The enemy dropped a huge mortar shell on that hut, and ended the experimental unit.  Before that explosion, I was a member of the first company of the Guerilla Infantry to land in Vietnam, about 280 men.  Most of us were nineteen years old, and didn’t think for a moment that we could be a tempting target for anyone.  We felt safe in that giant military base.  When crowded together, we made one great target for some Viet Cong mortar team, and they could not resist.  We were all talking, nervously staring out the mosquito netted windows, when the shell hit….”

“….I recall annoyance at the guys behind me for shoving, or so I thought for a fraction of a moment, then my face hit the net, my feet left the ground, and my head burst through it.  I was out of the hut, flying through the air, my body stinging on one side, from the slap I received.  I rolled and bounced a few times, as I hit the ground.  When I stopped, my ears were ringing at a painful volume, and I wanted to take a nap.  I fought that urge, and got my knees under me.  It was difficult to open my eyes.  My fingers felt the reassuring warmth of the earth, as I got on all fours, but I was dizzy and could not get up for a minute.  I waited for it to pass.  My eyes opened.  There was a terrible smell all around me.  I had a sheet of something on my right shoulder.  I was wondering what happened, when it slid off and made a plopping sound.  The instant I looked at what fell off my shoulder, I vomited.  It was a long stringy sheet of skin, with a tattoo in it.  I retched, over, and over, until I was empty.  I was not sure if I could hear yelling, or if it was my ears ringing.  I got to my feet, and saw others doing the same.  The stink was incredible.  There were sounds of trucks and voices.  My dizziness was passing.  I was wet and looked to see why, a decision I’ll forever regret.  Blood and shit, and bits of intestines, were all over me.  I shuddered in revulsion and stripped off my clothes, unable to stop the convulsions of a new wave of violent retching.  I was naked when I stood, the second time.  A couple of guys joined me, after a few minutes….”

“….One of them said, “Let’s get away from this shit.”  We all agreed, and walked toward the closest tent.  There were six of us when we got there, but no one would let us in because they watched us walking toward them, and every one of us had to stop along the way to retch.  We gathered in front, not capable of arguing.  Then, an angel of mercy came to our rescue, in the form of a sergeant with a hose.  Six naked cherries stood groaning in gratitude, as he hosed us down.  The sergeant hosed us, patiently, and said the only words I remember that day, “Welcome to the Nam, boys….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘BURIAL GROUND’


 

 

“…We moved through the jungle, struggling to be as silent as shadows.  Unexpectedly, we came upon a clearing and froze before trying to cross.  Why the jungle stopped growing was a mystery to all of us.  Even the normal sounds were absent; no birds, no insects, no rustling of twigs, just silence, still and oppressive.  The atmosphere was uncomfortable and vaguely familiar.  The slightest hint of death wafted through the air.  Someone whispered ‘burial grounds’.   Nodding in unison, we remembered the eerie adventures of exploring neighborhood cemeteries, as children.  Our eyes darted furtively, the hair on our necks needed rubbing.  As our hands massaged away our tingles, every one of us noticed, every other one of us, busy doing the same thing.  A group snort of self-conscious embarrassment huffed away the quiet….”

“…Aware we were walking into something unusual, we cat walked and tip toed, while entering the clearing.  We didn’t wish to intrude, wanting to respect the privacy of the dead.  A silence hung over the graves and violating it felt sacrilegious.  The occupants’ resentment of our intrusion seemed palpable to the air.  The place felt menacing and aware.  As if the agony once experienced by the dead, remained.  The place blocked out the world.  We felt dread strong enough to make us clutch our weapons tighter….”

“…Hidden away in the highlands, forgotten by the world, a troop of soldiers lie buried.  Whoever they were doesn’t matter, now.  Their last battle was fought, long ago.  They are at peace.  They do not wish to be disturbed.  Their grave markers have rotted into implied forms, leaving only the slightest trace of having ever been.  Even the grave mounds have flattened out.  We stood on the same ground where those nameless men gave their all, and realized we were following in their footsteps.  Here we were, enthusiastically taking our turn to fight and die.  We were looking at our own future, and knew it.  How many years would pass before some future invader would stumble upon American graves?  What would he think?  Would he wonder who we were?  Would we have died well, in his opinion?  Would it matter?  That was the first time I realized Vietnam was a land of unending war.  A thousand years of invasions had flooded this land with blood.  Nameless thousands of soldiers had died, fighting countless battles here.  No one remembered and nothing was accomplished, the soldiers kept on coming, and kept on dying….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘DOWN TO THE CHILDREN’


“…My military career had taken a direction I never expected.   A Demolition Team later established the explosives were strapped to those kids, so I was justified.  The children couldn’t get out of the harnesses.  Somehow, Charlie had forced them on a suicide mission.  The VC had radio-controlled detonators and probably watched from nearby.  Possibly, Charlie wanted the kids to walk near our C.O.  Perhaps it was part of the never-ending psy-war against us, designed to prevent relaxation, anywhere.  The war became something else for me on that day.  Charlie became contemptible in my eyes.  What kind of human kills children to kill a soldier?  I had lost all feelings of respect for my enemy.  Why we were fighting became unclear.  Maybe we were fighting because that’s what soldiers do.  Just a mean little war, fought for nothing more than the sake of fighting, and testing new weapons systems.  It was going to be a very long time before I saw anything human in Vietnam.  I had taken my first step into the madness that is common to soldiers.  It is extremely unnerving, knowing your enemy hated you with such intensity they were willing to kill their children to get at you….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘THE MORNING AFTER’


 

“…It was the spooks that dropped us in the wrong camp, after a very savage night in the foggy jungle.  When they let us out of the chopper, it was dark, so I had no idea of the condition of my uniform.  It so happened I was covered in blood and had forgotten about it, in all the excitement.  I looked like hell and had no idea, because I hadn’t seen myself in the light.  I had been in a very dark place, all night long.  My partner was spotless.  It was just my bad luck to be dipped in shit by a very hostile night in the woods.  It was one of the most terror-filled nights of my life.  When it ended, I was on an elated emotional high because I was alive.  It’s an insane feeling to be so happy after living through terrible things, but it was common.  ‘Survivors’ joy’ is probably why there is so much ‘survivors’ guilt’….”

“….Anyway, uniforms aside, we ended up being dropped off in the wrong base by the spooks.  We had handed over to them more than two hundred pages of papers that were a diagram to a huge tunnel complex that was full of weapons and ammo.  It was so important to them that they called in a massive air strike, almost immediately, and managed a direct hit.  The sky was glowing before we were disembarked, and everyone seemed pleased at what we brought them.  When we got off the chopper, we had received so many pats on the back that our hats no longer fit our heads.  We were two twenty year old soldiers, stunned by our success and the praise of men we didn’t trust.  They promised our performance would not be forgotten.  We got off their chopper with orders to grab a bite, and get a flight back to our base at 0700.  We had two hours and it was still dark.  We walked through the camp, fully equipped for the field, feeling like Caesars, laughing out loud, and confident we could kick the ass out of all the gooks, on our own.  That’s when it hit.  The aroma of bacon and eggs cooking stopped us in our tracks…..”