“A MILLION TO ONE AND LIVED”
COPYRIGHT © 2012
Clayton M. Peterson
“OUT OF THE DARKNESS INTO THE LIGHT”
COPYRIGHT © 2012 Barbara Jean Peterson (Bumblebee)
Chapter 1 – The Early Years
I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. You can’t know where I’ve been until you know a little of whom I am and where I have come from. When I was born in August of 1947, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; I was named the red, white, and blue baby by the nurses of the War Memorial Hospital. I entered the world as a normal red screaming baby, I soon turned pale white, and then later blue because of a slight case of pneumonia; this was cleared up in a few days and I became a normal healthy baby. One of my earliest memories is being at the Jefferson Grade School in my hometown of Sault Sainte Marie. It is generally written Sault Ste. Marie and we who are from there simply refer to the town as the Soo. I was three years old and had run away from home following my five-year-old sister, Janice; one block down Cedar Street to school, where she was starting kindergarten. I was sent home and started kindergarten school two years later. We went on a tour of the grade school library looking at the books and such. I found a book on World War II; it showed troops storming off a Navy Landing Craft onto a white pristine beach of a tropical island paradise. Picture Guadalcanal in a ‘quote’, “Dick and Jane” context, a chronicle of history sanitized in a tasteful way. I remember looking at the book and the words were just a jumble of strange symbols to me at the time. The next year, in 1953, I found the same book and I as excited because now I could read it, and little did I know, at that time, what a foretaste of my future it was.
Chapter 2 – Nose Job
My first encounter with doctors and nurses was not friendly, I was about six when it happened. I was on the floor coloring in a coloring book with a fist full of tiny broken crayons and my nose itched. So, I took a piece of one of the crayons and stuck it up my nose to scratch it, I inhaled and up it went. I took a few more of the small pieces and one by one tried to poke the other ones out but had no luck. After trying a few more times, I, eventually, gave up and went back to coloring. It was a couple days later that mom noticed my swollen face and took me to the doctor. I remember them finding the crayons up my nose. It took the doctor, using a very large pair of surgical tweezers, and four nurses to hold me down; to pull out those small bits of colorful crayons. It was a very upsetting experience to me as a little kid and I never repeated that again.
Chapter 3 – “Simple Pleasures”
By mid-1950 and into the early 60’s, we kids spent many happy and fun weekends at my uncle Leo and Aunt Helmi Kovisto’s cabin. Their cabin was on the Pine River in upper Michigan. We had exciting times with our cousins Eddy, Ronnie, and later Randy. We always found things to do, like playing cowboys and Indians; or swimming and fishing in the Pine River. One day, while walking back from fishing, we passed some ripe blueberry thickets alongside a gravel road that led up from the river to the cabin. We started up the slight hill to the cabin when we heard a commotion behind us, about one hundred feet away. We turned to see a small black animal burst out of some blueberry bushes and gallop toward us onto the dirt road. We thought it was my cousin’s small black dog; so, we started calling, “Here boy, here boy”. As it got closer, we realized it was a bear cub. We turned and took off on a run. We had only run about twenty or thirty feet when the big, angry mama bear burst out of the bushes, chasing her cub that was following us. We knew we could not outrun her or reach the cabin in time, so we veered off the road and shimmied up the first large tree we saw. We were safe because the cub couldn’t climb and was only hugging the tree, trying its best to ascend; then the mama bear knocked it off, and she began climbing up after us. We got up as high as we could and begin yelling, picking pinecones and breaking branches off to throw at her. After a few minutes she gave up and finally backed off and went down to her cub. Then with bellows and swats, she herded her cub back to the blueberry bushes to eat. We waited ten or fifteen minutes and then jumped down and ran into the cabin. When we got there, we told the adults about what had happened. They remained skeptical and did not believe us; thinking it was just a made-up adventure, never asked us anymore about it. Another weekend at my cousins we took several days to make small, two-foot wooden warships and sailboats. We anchored these with fishing line and threw them out into the midstream of the Pine River. We then went up and stood on the old iron-truss bridge that crossed the Pine River. We got our BB Guns and our 22 Rifles, and shot at our boats until they fell apart. We also hunted chipmunks and squirrels; would tan their little hides, so we could tack them up on our walls. On a really hot summer day, we’d go swimming. On one such day we walked up and down the path of the river bank so much that we wore the grass and sand down exposing the clean clay underneath. As the day wore on, the clay path got more swimmers on it that were dripping water which made the clay really slick, as slippery as grease. That gave us a new idea, so we pulled up the plants and dug down a couple inches until the clay path went all the way down to the river. After we were finished shaping the path, it kind of resembled a small Olympic Sled-run. Then one by one, we tried it out and it worked great. Soon we were shooting down the mud clay slide into the river like otters. Thus, we beat the water slide idea by ten or fifteen years and it was all free. Those were some of the simple pleasures we enjoyed back then.
Chapter 4 – “Encounter With Death”
I was eight years old in 1956 when death first intruded into my memory. We were having one of those happy family picnics one summer day; it was at Dukes Lake, next to Kinross Air Force Base. I loved its beautiful sandy beach. To the right and left of the swimming area the land became a bog. The floating masses of vegetation were strong enough to support us. Walking on it was like being on a trampoline or a waterbed. We had all eaten our hotdogs, potato salad, and other good foods; while we were sitting around the campfire. The men were drinking beer and the women were cleaning up the remains of the picnic; while we kids were enjoying our roasted marshmallows. Then two young couples in the next campsite over began to argue. It seemed to all who were listening that the two young Air Force men wanted to swim one more time because it was dusk and getting dark. Their two girlfriends tried telling them that they would get cramps and drown swimming so soon after eating. The two men laughed and jumped in for a dip. They swam out about a hundred feet and then they both began having cramps. When they yelled for help, I thought it was a joke. My brother John, who was nicknamed Butch, realized that it was real and yelled to the adults for help. At that time my dad and my Uncle Leo Koivisto grabbed a log and went out to them. They paddled the log out and pulled one man out and took him back to shore. Then when they went to get the second one, he had gone down for the third time; just as my dad was about twenty feet from him, he did not resurface again that evening. However, the next morning they did find his body; the really odd thing was that his name was John Peterson, which was the same name as my dad and my older brother. What are the odds of John Peterson drowning while a John Peterson tries to rescue him and as another John Peterson watches from the shore? So that was my unusual first encounter with death.
Chapter 5 – Dad’s Medals
When I was in the fourth grade in 1956, our teacher told everyone to bring a toy or something interesting for Show and Tell. When I got home later, I thought about what I should bring. My fireflies had all died in a jar, my ants had escaped, and none of my toys were new enough. I glanced up at the bookcase in our living room; there on the top was my dad’s metal box of mementos. I took it down and looked through it. Inside were his World War II Medals and his Pilot’s Wings. I thought, I’ll borrow them, and no one would be the wiser. But “The best laid plans of mice” and ‘little kids’ often times go astray. Things went fine the next day until after my Show and Tell Time.
During recess all of the popular boys crowded around and wanted to be friends. In a flurry of activity, I let some of the older sixth grade boys talk me into letting them show my dad’s medals around. Later a classmate, who was a friend of mine, came up to me and said, “Those kids over there have your medals!” Then I went over to one of them and asked, “Where did you get my dad’s medal?” He told me he had traded for it with one of the older boys and that it was his! So, he would not give it back to me and when I confronted the older boys about it, they just laughed and said, “You do not know what you are talking about!” I spent days trying to find them and to get those medals back but without success. I thought if I didn’t say anything no one would ever notice. Well, it worked fine for four or five months, but then one day dad was yelling. When I went to see what the commotion was about, dad was asking, “Who took my War Medals?!” He had the empty tin box in his hands; his face was red and he was angry. So, I put on my innocent dumb kid face and lied. I had lost his medals and there was no way I could fix the problem. Weeks, months, and then years passed; everyone had forgotten about the medals or so I had thought.
Chapter 6 – Switch-A-Rue
My dad worked at the tannery, and he worked long hours there where leather was processed and shipped out to places for products like shoes and belts; so, most of the discipline that we did get came from our mom. Like most kids, I viewed mom as the jailer and dad as the warden. You did not want to have the warden punish you when you were bad. When I was nine or ten years old, I got into trouble. I don’t remember why but it justified a switching. Mom usually went out back and cut a branch off one of the Choke Cherry trees to switch us with; but this time, she was pregnant and unable to walk very far in the summer heat. She handed me a small paring knife and said, “Go out back and cut a switch.” Well, I did and I was very careful to choose one that was dead and dried up and would break after a few whacks and I could turn the tears on so she would feel guilty and stop.
I thought I had it all figured out, so I smiled and brought it back to her. She took the switch and gave me a critical look and said, “Just who do you think you’re kidding?” Then she hit the palm of her hand with the branch, breaking it into a dozen pieces. As my other siblings watched, she handed the knife to my brother John and said, “Go cut a switch.” He grinned and ran out to do it. Well, my brother and I had a running argument over the chores as to whose turn it was to wash the dishes, so we weren’t on the best of terms. Sure enough, he brought back a green branch, the thickness of my thumb. Mom then dealt out my punishment with a few extra whacks thrown in for the dead branch. Well, I never tried that trick again; when she said cut a switch, I did just that. She was also good at washing out our mouths with a bar of soap to stop us from using bad words. We only had to have that done once to know to keep our mouths shut when we heard crude language from off the street. So until I was eleven or twelve mom had ‘the paddle.’ After that, I could out run her and wasn’t spanked anymore.
Chapter 7 – Fort Apple
After summer vacation and the beginning of the new school year, of 1956, we found a fun thing to do in our town. The thing did not cost us money and we did it for two or three years. Near the Jefferson Grade School, down the street from us, we found an old vacant house locked up tight. In the large back yard was an old, small, empty barn. It was worn out, rickety, missing part of its roof and in a state of disrepair. It had been that way for years and there were several apple trees on the property that the absent owners had ignored. The apples piled up on the ground and rotted into brown mush bags held together by their skins. With the fallen apples properly aged sometime in September, we would pick a Saturday and choose up sides. We flipped a coin to see who would get to be the defenders of ‘Fort Apple’, as we had named the old barn. The other side would be the attacking Comanche’s or Cherokees. We would have five or ten minutes to stockpile our ammunition, the rotten apples; then we would begin the assault. Soon we would be out of apples and would call a truce to replace our ammo and change sides. We would go outside and they would get the barn. Our positions would be reversed and we would start the battle anew. We would stop hours later, only when the soft brown apples were all used up. We would be so plastered with applesauce that we usually had to get a garden hose to spray ourselves down. We were covered from head to foot; still laughing and exhausted; but we were already looking forward to the next year. However, after the third year our secret war games reached the ears of the older high school guys. They came and took over our barn and stockpiled the hard apples from the trees. When we showed up, they bombarded us with their fresh supply. We knew we couldn’t lick them, so we soon found another project to occupy us. We found an old walk-in safe in the bushes behind an old deserted warehouse; “The Brewery”, down by the Saint Mary’s River; soon we spent our time turning it into a new clubhouse.
Chapter 8 – ‘We Have Lift-Off’
Since the Russian Sputnik Satellite went up in 1957, I have had a strong interest in spaceships, rockets, and science fiction magazines and stuff like that. One summer day I had nothing to do and all my friends were gone and my family wasn’t around. With my active imagination fixed on rockets, I decided to build my own, since I had so much time on my hands. I went into the house and dug around in our cluttered closets. I knew the fourth of July sky rockets were made with gun powder, so I borrowed nine or ten twelve-gage shot gun shells from my dad’s hunting gear. I took the powder out and then replaced the empty shells. I probably messed up dad’s hunting trip that fall. I took the gunpowder and put it into a 16 in. by 2 in. cardboard mailing-tube, which was ideal for the main body. I then ground up all the heads from some wood and paper matches I found and added them to my fuel mix. I fashioned fins and legs out of cardboard. I needed astronauts and so I looked around. Grasshoppers weren’t in season yet, but baby toads were everywhere. I soon found four or five small toads to recruit; they were the size of small, unshelled peanuts. I taped them into small cardboard chairs; the capsule even had a small cardboard door. Well, it was nearing noon and after hours of hard work, I was ready! I knew I should wait for my friends to show them but I was too excited. I set the rocket up out behind our old wooden garage in the driveway. That part of the back yard was hidden by trees from the view of our prying neighbors. I set the mini-launch pad up running the homemade fuse out; I had made it up out of tissue paper and ground up matches, twisting it all together like rope twine. When I was ready, I paused. If I waited for my friends to show up, my family and other adults might turn up instead. So, I lit the fuse and ran around the corner of the garage; a split second later there was a loud blast. I quickly peeked back around the corner and then I went over to where the rocket had been. All I saw was a three-foot wide circle of scorched earth and tiny pieces of paper confetti. I glanced up straining my eyes to see how far up the rocket had zoomed, but it was nowhere in sight. I looked around and it slowly dawned on me that my rocket was a true Cape Canaveral rocket; it had blown up on the launch pad, vaporizing my toad crew. I also realized that if I had been a second slower in running, or if I had stood next to it, that I would have been seriously hurt or killed by the blast. I had unknowingly made a pipe bomb. Well, I never built another rocket; instead I decided to turn my talents to building miniature cannons. I took 308 Brass Rifle Shells and drilled a hole in each of them. After that, then I loaded them with powder and shot BB’s out of them. Within a few years I went on to other things leaving rockets and midget cannons alone.
Chapter 9 – The Boat Flip
When I was 11 years old in April of 1959, I nearly drowned. It was a Saturday and a nice sunny afternoon. Dad was taking our ten-foot aluminum boat out for a test run downstream in preparation for a busy summer of fishing. Near the Sugar Island Ferry Dock, we parked at the boat ramp where the “Rock Cut” entered a main channel of the lower Saint Mary’s River. This was a small channel, then it passed the small white Coast Guard lookout tower and on out to the main river traffic of the Saint Mary’s River. We had planned to go up the river for a few miles and return. I put the oars and life jackets aboard; dad brought his small toolbox, gas tank, spare propeller, and seat cushions and put them in. Dad bolted the small 10 hp outboard Motor on tightly. Before we pulled away, he helped me put on my life jacket; while carefully checking to make sure it was secure, then he launched the boat. Ordinarily, I would just sit on the seat cushion, which served as a flotation device and that was sufficient. Satisfied that we were ship shape, he pulled the starter rope and the engine purred to life. As the motor idled, he pushed us off with the oar; the current in the channel swung us around and dad sat down. Then he yelled, “Stay seated and hang on!” We headed through the Rock Cut; as we moved along it became narrower, narrowing like a bottleneck effect. Huge boulders had been dumped on each side to prevent erosion and we zoomed past them. We had gone a short distance, when my dad saw more boats nearby; he then grinned at me and gunned the throttle. I was sitting on the front seat to help keep the bow down since the boat was so little. The burst of speed lifted it up and the waves began hammering on the hull. We shot though the rock cut quickly building up speed with the spray and wind ripping past our faces. We were both grinning like idiots. A rooster tail of spray was thrown up behind us; what happened next only took seconds. A large 25-foot Cabin Cruiser had been down river in the channel next to us. It cut across our bow; missing us by ten or fifteen feet, which was plenty of room, but we still hit its three-foot-high bow wave very fast. It was so fast that we went airborne and flipped. The next thing I knew it was dark, not totally dark; I noticed when my eyes adjusted, I could see greenish light below me. It was then that I realized that I was floating under the overturned boat. I looked around but could not see my dad and remembered that he was not wearing a life jacket. After a few minutes, I decided that the air might run out, so I got up my nerve and dove under the edge of the boat, not an easy trick to do when you are wearing a life vest. I popped up into the bright sunlight and the spray of water on my face. I could hear my dad calling my name. I turned slightly and I could see him ducking under the water looking for me. He came up and when he saw me, a look of relief came over his face and he swam over to me and grabbed a hold of me with his one hand and with his other hand he grabbed a seat cushion and pulled it over to himself and held on. The cabin cruiser had stopped by this time and was backing up. A man at the stern threw a lifeline with a rope attached and we grabbed a hold of it. Before we could be hauled in, a 30-foot Coast Guard Cutter pulled up. They pulled us aboard and then gathered the floating oars, cushions, gas can and stuff like that aboard too. My dad’s toolbox and the spare propeller were lost. We then tied the bowline from our boat to their stern and slowly we were towed back to the boat ramp, to where all the rubbernecking spectators were. On shore they wanted to give my dad a speeding ticket, but there were no witnesses; everyone seemed to have been looking in a different direction, including the Coast Guard men in the lookout tower.
This summer was one of the key summers of my childhood. Not because I almost drowned, but because that summer my dad lost his job of twenty years. The tannery where my dad had worked all those years was put out of business by cheap foreign factories. The water damaged the motor of our boat and it never ran again.
Chapter 10 – Blanks
Later that same spring, my family visited some relatives out on the Kangas farm in Michigan. My older cousins had an unusual war game that they played out in the far pasture and away from the supervision and the prying eyes of any adults. We split into two teams of three. We had dug foxholes in various spots and we took our 22-Rifles and hunted each other. Well, we were not complete idiots; first we took the lead bullets out of the brass cartridges and replaced them with paper wadding. One of the older boys assured me that as long as you didn’t aim for the face or the crotch, it was safe; but he was also the same one that had us join the ‘Pee-on-the-Electric Fence Club.’ The boys liked shooting the blank 22’s because you couldn’t cheat and say the shot had missed. When the paper wadding hit us, it would leave a black and blue mark the size of a golf ball on us. These homemade blanks were an earlier version of “Paintball”, and I still remember creeping up in the tall grass of the hay field to ambush, Paul Kangas, one of the other team members. I crawled up behind him; I couldn’t shoot him in the back as it just did not seem right, so I called to him. He ignored me and did not turn around, then the rest of my team charged and we had a real shoot out. I found out two things that day; one, that the 22 blanks left bruises that really stung for a long time, and, two, the reason the other boy ignored me was because he was a deaf-mute. So, my skillful, quiet stalking had fallen on deaf ears. Ten years later, I would find out firsthand what a real ambush was like and how it felt to be deaf, but I still remember the surprised look on his face when we opened fire.
Chapter 11 – Christmas and Winter Fun
Within a year my dad had to sell the boat and his airplane which was a small older yellow Piper Club. My dad tried to find work and he opened a gas station with a friend of his but it failed. So, after that the only other employer (a large company) in our town of Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, was the Union Carbide Plant and it went out of business too. With a couple of thousand unemployed men looking for work, my dad could only find part-time construction work. Sometimes he flew the airplane, a seaplane, for the Welch's Air Guides Tours over the Soo Locks, but this was only occasionally. My mom had to work at the Flair Restaurant as a waitress and then as a cook. The government helped us by giving out surplus food like powdered eggs and canned meat and it did help. That Christmas marked the time of poverty; we would not have had a Christmas that year at all, except the Salvation Army brought us a Christmas basket. With so many unemployed in the city, we were blessed to get a present at all. I received a fifty-cent Checker Board Set that was made of cardboard and plastic. It was the only present I received that Christmas. I played with it for days, even though I got bored with it. I did not want to make my parents feel bad as I saw how distressed they were with our financial problems. Our Christmas dinner was a small whole chicken, not the usual turkey dinner most families had. My dad was so devastated by these turns of events that over the next few months he began to drink heavily.
Occasionally, some of us went ice fishing down on the Saint Mary’s River. For fun, however; we practiced ice hockey on the frozen streets. When the weather was right and we had a nice layer of snow, the older boys would take turns spraying water from the garden hose onto the old dirt lot where we had played baseball and football during the summer. This was a 24/7 job, as we would call it today, and the older boys took turns all night to keep the water sprayed. This soon gave us a nice neighborhood ice rink to enjoy.
Once the basic ice rink was completed, it only needed an occasional spraying to keep the skate gouges repaired. We also had to shovel it after each snowfall. The boys my age had a fun game that we played on the icy streets. We would wait at signals or stop signs for a vehicle to stop or slow down enough for us to get behind it. We would run out and then grab hold of the rear bumper and squat down on our heels; hanging on and riding a block or two before letting go. After letting go, the thrust of the pull would give us enough slide to guide ourselves into the nearest snow bank; therefore, having an exhilarating time of fun. The older high school boys were the real dare devils, though; they would go to the nearest junk yards and pick up older car hoods that were boat shaped. They connected them to their rear car bumper with rope; making a beautiful medal sled that they could tow really fast. They would take them to the county roads where there were few cars and tow it behind with their friend on it, riding it like a toboggan. These fun winter past times were, unfortunately, very dangerous. Every winter someone would get injured or killed; but it did not stop the more adventurous ones of us.
Chapter 12 – Camp Out
In the summer we would mostly go fishing or swimming. We had a dirt lot down the street that we’d play baseball or tackle football on. At night we would catch fireflies. Sometimes we would crush them and smear the glowing paste over our hands and face. In the dark our glowing faces and hands appeared to float and we would have a great time chasing the girls. Many nights we would sleep outside in our back yard in our two-man Army Surplus Pup Tent. We could cram four or five kids into it at a time. We were too poor to afford flashlights or even kerosene for our stolen lantern; so, we had a better plan to get our needed light. The city street workers used kerosene to fuel their “smudge pots;” these were large, black, round metal lanterns which resembled a squashed bowling ball. They did not have a glass cover; just a large fiber wick and it looked a lot like a bomb. These held about one quart of kerosene and the city used them to mark construction sites and holes in the roadway. We would go out late at night and if there were four smudge pots burning, we would take half of the kerosene out of two of them. This was how we had kept our lanterns burning all summer. We would wait until our parents were asleep and we would be in the tent lying on our backs with our heads sticking out. We would watch the star-studded Milky Way looking for “shooting stars” and sharing one of our Lucky Strikes or Camel cigarettes. We would talk and tell stories until the frogs and crickets lulled us to sleep.
Chapter 13 – Bored
It was around this same time in my life when I was about thirteen, I remember sitting at the kitchen table after school and the empty house was so quiet. And I remember thinking, my life is so boring! I even have an average common name ‘Clayton, named after my uncle Clayton Oberlin in Ohio. I wished my life was a little more exciting. However, the only thing worse than not getting what you wish for, is to get it. I was a typical teen entering puberty and I wanted some excitement. So, it was then that I left the straight and narrow path and joined a teen gang. We did not even have a name, but the police called us the Eastside Gang in contrast to the older Westside Gang, which was made up of high school kids. It was the early 1960’s and we did not use drugs nor did we know anyone who did. We did not even drink like the Westside Gang whose specialty was stealing beer from the warehouses along the riverfront. However, we were not angels by any stretch of the imagination. The police rounded us up and took our knives, so we carried beer can openers. You know the old kind that was nicknamed, “church keys”; when you sharpened them, they were very effective for ripping leather jackets up. The leather jackets were very expensive to replace and most of us were dirt poor and so we did not have any. But after our first run in with rival gangs, word got around to avoid us crazy kids because they did not want their jackets tore up. So, since we couldn’t afford the jackets for all of us, we had only one. The jacket was only to be worn by the leader of the gang. For some reason the leadership of the gang was up for grabs. We had a very simple democratic method of election. We fought for it! Bare knuckles, no weapons and I won against all challengers. I never lost a fight although I did get my nose broken a couple of times by the Westside Gang. In one street fight a guy hit me in the face with a Volkswagen car bumper. I won the fight but my face was so sore I had to drink soup for a month until I was able to use my jaw without pain. Years later I found out it had been fractured. We were in a gang that was actually very mellow. We spent most of our time fishing and smoking cigarettes down on the river docks. Once we established our reputation, others left us alone. One time, two of our guys got slapped around by some high school boys and so our two guys went one night and burnt down their clubhouse. They told me about it, bragging, the next day and then I yelled at them and told them the clubhouse that they had burnt down had been built by my brother John and his buddies. Mostly, we did harmless pranks and goofed off not causing trouble just having good fun. Once, we rolled an old abandoned 1940 car into the river; just to see if it would float and we found out it didn’t! We were punks and thought we were cool; however, I was embarrassed one time when some girls followed me in the hall at my Junior High School, singing, “He’s a Rebel.” It really embarrassed me because I was basically a shy person, and I have yet to figure out why some girls are attracted to the bad-boy image.
Chapter 14 – Body in the Canal
Halloween; 1960, came and as kids, we really enjoyed the season. We were getting bored of our old scare tactics, like the paper bag full of dog poop that we set on fire on some old guy’s porch. Our imaginations ran amuck with new ideas, our favorite new one was our homemade dummy. We would stuff old work coveralls and an old long-sleeved shirt with rags and add stuffed gloves and socks for the hands and feet; then we would use a small pillow and a hat to make up its head. We pinned it all together with safety pins. We would spend nights throwing it out in front of cars; or dropping it from a tree and on to the sidewalk in front of kids who were walking by.
To avoid any complaints, so we would not get caught and be in trouble, we decided to dispose of the evidence. We carried it down to one of the bridges that crossed a canal that ran through our town. It was early in the morning when we tossed it in. By full light we had followed the dummy up to the last bridge on the canal. It ran into the Electric Power Plant run by the Union Carbide, which provided power for our town. Across the entrance where the canal waters fed into the turbines there was a strong metal screen with a small walkway on it. We watched as our prank unfolded, the fire department and the police arrive to recover the body from the metal screen where it was stuck. But, when they found out it was a dummy, we decided to leave the area. They never caught us, but we never did a prank like that again because it had caused such uproar and we also realized that one of the rescuers could have died. We understood that a prank or a joke could go too far.
Chapter 15 – Library Gang
The following year, 1961, when I had just turned fourteen, my cousin, Marty, and I went to our local library. Even though I was a gang leader, I still loved going to Carnegie Public Library because I loved to read. I had some books to return and so we headed there. We went down the stairs and into the basement of the library. We were in the section where the teen and young adult books were. Since it was late afternoon, the only ones in the library were the librarian and a young teenage girl. Soon after we got there, the librarian left to work upstairs in the office. I was scrutinizing some science fiction books when seven or eight older teens came down the stairs; I recognized them as members of the West-side Gang. Public places were, usually, neutral grounds so I told Marty to ignore them. As we were outnumbered by the older guys, I wasn’t looking for a fight. I was not sure why they did what they did; maybe they thought we were a rival gang looking for trouble. I was wearing my black leather jacket and while I busied myself checking out books, my back was to them. Suddenly, I was hit from behind and my nose was smashed on the edge of a shelf; I hit it so hard that my nose got broken. The sudden pain was like a blinding white flash, so intense that it brought tears to my eyes. The blood shot out of my nose like a water faucet. I spun around to see the leader of the group behind me and his laughing gang trying to close in on me to trap me. Marty told me later that he saw him sneaking up on me and hit me with his hands interlocked, doubled together, swinging them like a hammer, and because it happened so fast, he was unable to warn me. When Marty saw what had happened, he swept by and ran up the stairs to find the librarian. I knew he had gone for help and I realized that I could not fight them all and decided to fight one of them. I took off my black leather jacket and threw it against the wall behind me. I held my cupped hands under my chin catching the blood. “Oh! So you want to fight?” I said to the leader. Then I threw the blood that was in my hands into his face. “So then let’s fight” I said. I put my fists up and went toward him slowly. Well, the gang stopped its advance and waited to see how their leader would respond. The leader laughed and put his fists up and we were circling each other. The girl who was on the other side of the room jumped up from her desk and said, “I am getting the librarian!” She left and ran past us to go up the stairs. One of the guys followed her and stationed himself at the top of the stairs as a look out. We circled each other and I nailed the punk with three quick jabs. Every time he swung, I blocked or he missed. He began to look worried, “Come on guys, get him,” he yelled, but they wouldn’t. One said, “Hey it is your fight!” I landed a few more solid hits and he began backing up; I was mad and was feeling no pain and I figured if I was going down, I would take him with me. Their lookout came running down the stairs and yelled, “The librarian is coming!” The librarian was not coming; evidently, the girl had just left and not told the librarian anything and neither had Marty. The leader of their gang bent over and grabbed his coat off the floor and dashed for the stairs as fast as he could go. He then, told his gang, “Let’s go!” He flew up the stairs followed by the rest of the boys and they all disappeared. I stood there alone with a pool of blood two-feet wide on the floor in front of me. I put on my jacket and tried to stop my nosebleed but it was broken and did not stop immediately. I headed toward home a mile away, my nose hurt and I kept seeing stars flashing in white light each time the pain throbbed in my head. My mother was really upset when she got home from work. She called the police and the library but nothing became of it. After that, I decided to never turn my back on a fight and I still have a bump on my nose as a reminder of that day.
Chapter 16 – Forgery
I had flunked out or repeated, as they say, the sixth grade because of being hospitalized for a month due to a kidney illness. My regular school friends went on ahead of me to junior high, which may be why I gravitated toward the gang. One day, my mother asked me to stay home and babysit my younger siblings when I was in the eighth grade. And aside from changing a few diapers, things went smoothly. Unfortunately, a few days later the school called my home and told my mom that my absence excuse for that day was a forgery. My mom told them ‘no’ she had written it personally. The school told her that the signature did not match the parent signature card or the many other signed excuses that I had brought in that year. Well, needless to say, they were upset with my deception of me forging my mom’s signature. So, I was held back again and this time having to repeat the eighth grade. Part of the reason that I wasn’t enthused about going to school was because we were so poor. My parents tried to hide our financial distress from our other relatives. I am sure that my dad thought it was only going to be a short-term event; although, as the months turned into years, we felt the effect of unemployment. My clothes were worn and patched and at lunchtime I had to sit up on the bleachers in the gym, pretending to eat my lunch. If I was lucky, I had a slice of bread and butter sprinkled with sugar; I had no fruit, no cookies, and no drink except for the water fountain. I reused the same brown paper bag; but, oh well, at least I still had my gang.
Chapter 17 – The Apple Turnover Caper
It was 1962 when we pulled off the Apple Turnover caper. We quietly moved into the dark night stepping from shadow to shadow. We were between Cedar and Maple Streets, and followed an alley driveway until we reached the object of our mission, a home on Maple Street with a backyard full of apple trees. We had raided the trees that week and the owner had chased us off of his property. We were miffed at being chastised by an older man in our neighborhood for a few apples that he was just letting rot on the tree. It was late, about two or three in the morning; we stood silently staring through the wire fence. When we were sure it was clear, I jumped over the fence and was immediately followed by four or five other members of the gang that were able to sneak out with me. There was me, Kenny, one of the Jones’ boys, my cousin Marty, and one or two other guys. The object of our revenge was there before us. Parked in the back under the apple tree was a small, foreign, Italian car. It was the type of the car that had a door that took up the whole front and opened forward with a steering wheel attached to it. We liked it because it was a unique looking car and so we were, actually, very careful not to damage it. Our gangs’ honor was at stake. We all got on one side and lifted it up; then, we silently tipped it over on its side and rolled it upside down onto its roof. We stood admiring our work, no damage done except for a bent antenna. Then, we slipped out of the yard, and a block away we stopped and stated laughing out loud. I had told everyone, “Mum’s the word”. We wanted others to think one of the high school gangs from the Westside had done this prank. The next day the upset owner had it rolled upright. They were careless and broke one of the mirrors and a taillight. They never found out who had done the deed. The following day we celebrated our escapade and that fact that we did not get into trouble doing it. To celebrate, we had a shooting contest. No one was at my home and I had my dad’s 22-Caliber Rifle; it was a single shot. I set up cardboard targets on the couch in our living room. We used bird shot, small pellets, not slugs during our contest. It did not even go through the layers of cardboard. We were never caught and several years later one of the guys would swear that we had used a 410-shotgun for target practice, but it was only a 22-Rifle.
Chapter 18 – Summer Storm
Did you know you can drown in sight of dry land? I found that out in the summer of 1962. My older brother Butch had graduated from high school and had moved to Washington State to be with his fiancée, Merrilee, and her family. The reason they all moved was because of no jobs in our area. Before he left, he gave me the blue wooden eight-foot rowboat that he had built. I used it a lot in the next few years. Eventually, the West-side Gang found it and destroyed it with fifty-pound boulders. On one, particular, hot summer day I was fishing in the boat with my cousin Marty. We had bought a six-pack of Orange Crush pop, a bag of potato chips and, of course, a pack of Camel Cigarettes. All those vices helped us to pass the time away and enjoy our outing, even more. We rode out and anchored between the Consumer Coal Dock and the Coast Guard Dock and you could look down into the clear water and see the bottom. You could see fish, too, mostly pike and bass swimming slowly along the bottom among the cool shade of the seaweeds, hiding from the hot blazing sun. We hooked up our minnow bait and cast out our bright red and white bobbers and watched them slowly drift about. We were too poor to afford sunglasses, only the tourists had them; so, we had to avoid looking up at the sun and to keep our eyes squinted. We sipped our pop and puffed our Camels like the big boys; only the fish hadn’t bitten and we were soon catnapping. If we had stayed awake for a half hour longer, we would have noticed the rapid weather change brought on by a fast-moving storm from off of Lake Superior. By late afternoon, the tossing waves woke us up. We found ourselves far out in the shipping channels of the mile-wide Saint Mary’s River; the most heavily traveled river in the world because of the Soo Locks. They, actually, handled more traffic than the Panama Canal and Suez Canal combined. Much to our surprise, the wind and the current had dragged our rowboat down river working us past the 15ft drop off line. This allowed our anchor to be suspended below our boat, causing us to drift freely into the deep water. We looked around and we were surrounded by thick fog banks. As the winds picked up, the waves began to whitecap and some of the fog blew away; we quickly reeled in our lines and then I started rowing. Marty pulled in the anchor and I glanced toward the shoreline that I could see now occasionally through the fog. I was rowing vigorously and we had moved a couple hundred feet toward the Michigan shoreline, when I heard a loud foghorn blow behind our boat. As I watched, a huge Great Lakes Iron Ore Carrier, 500ft long at least, came charging out of the fog right toward us. I rowed even harder and faster, the ship swept past us. It pushed a seven to eight-foot bow wave right at us. We rode the wave successfully, as I rowed with great determination; and I managed to get far enough away from the side of the boat to avoid the suction of the huge propellers. As we breathed a sigh of relief, we noticed two things were drastically wrong! A drizzle had started and turned into a downpour and one of the oarlocks broke. It could not be fixed; so, I was reduced to sculling with only one of the oars the rest of the way. I was sticking the oar out at the stern and pushing it back and forth; which propelled us forward, but not as fast as with using both oars. Well, I started worrying because the rains and the winds picked up even more. Marty was yelling, “We’re sinking!” Because we were taking on water, I had him put on a life jacket; I gave him our tin bait can, after dumping out the bait, and then had him bail out the boat. However, time was running out. The savage action of the white-capped waves was pounding our sides and now we were into a full-forced storm. It was hitting so hard it was working the entire caulking out that was between the wooden planks. The water would actually squirt in when the waves hit. By now, we had drifted about three miles downriver and were about a quarter of a mile from shore. The water was soon up to the bottom of the seats; the rising wind and the continued heavy cold rain were sure making our situation look hopeless. I was very fearful and expected the next wave to swamp us for sure. Then, I heard a shout! There, coming from the direction of the boat moorage, was a twelve-foot aluminum boat with its gas-outboard motor running full force. When it pulled alongside, I recognized the lone teenager running it. He was a classmate of mine. We hurried to pass most of our fishing stuff over and then Marty quickly jumped over into the other boat. He was shivering from hypothermia. I grabbed the anchor and jumped in at the stern and used the anchor line to tow our boat up river. The water now had risen to only three or four inches from the gunnels. (The edges of the boat) It was about ten minutes later when we coasted into the calm, sheltered landing between the two Consumer Coal Docks. When we slowed down and got to shore, we jumped out and as soon as we did my friend threw the anchor ashore just as the rowboat sank. We thanked my friend for the rescue and he told us, “The only reason I was on the river today was because my dad had insisted that I put the motorboat into the boathouse for safety.” He waved and backed up and turned in a tight circle and gunned his boat back out into the white caps heading back down river to the boathouses. Well, Marty and I just stood there. Knowing we had just cheated death, we were grinning like two idiots staring at my sunken rowboat. We pondered on that truth for a moment and then began gathering up the oars and cushions that came drifting ashore. We lost our tackle boxes but we weren’t upset because we were just so glad to be alive. I knew we had been seconds from drowning in the sight of land. A few days later we went back and fixed the oarlock and put new caulking into the sides of the boat. We tied it back under the dock, where we kept it hidden. We never did tell any adults about our close call either.
Chapter 19 – Shooting Dad
I was not on good terms with my parents by this time. I had been arrested for vandalism; throwing rocks at a dredge tied up to one of the docks. All the kids had been doing it for weeks and so most of its windows were broken out. In Juvenile Court, I was put on probation and one night about a week later while I was sleeping upstairs in my room; I was, rudely, awoken by a loud argument between my parents. Over those past few years I had lost respect for my dad because he was unable to find a decent paying job and had started drinking. I had often gone to bed hungry and angry. My Dad had been drinking all evening that night and what he was hollering about to my mom was my arrest; he was telling my mom that he was going to teach me a lesson! Even though my dad had never hit me before; I was not about to allow him to start now. I reached over and grabbed the old 22-Rifle that was in my room. I put a single bullet in the bolt-action rifle; I was not thinking clearly, having just been woken up from a sound sleep. I then cocked the rifle and flipped the safety off, and I prayed, “God, if you don’t want my dad shot, then keep him out of my room.” My dad came storming up the stairs yelling and he grabbed the doorknob jiggling it and trying to open the unlocked door. He then began to mutter to himself and fumbled around outside the door. As I sat there pointing the rifle at the door, he left, going across the hall to his bedroom. He rummaged around for a few minutes and then went downstairs and out of the house. I sighed and unloaded the rifle. My dad never knew how close he had come to being shot.
Chapter 20 – Snakes
Besides all the trouble I was into with the law, things were not going too well at school either. I had decided to get extra credit in science class. The teacher had asked us to bring something from nature such as flowers, plants, insects, fossils, rocks, and so on. Well, that Saturday I had gathered up about a dozen black garter snakes which all fit into a cigar box. I brought them to school for my class project. It was almost my time to talk when I opened the lift top of my desk to check on them. The box was empty! I frantically searched inside the desk, but they were gone. Then I noticed a small round hole in the bottom of my desk, I sat back and thought. Everyone had been up front talking to the teacher when I first came to the class; I had told nobody about the snakes. So, I decided that I would just play dumb and keep it that way. As the other students presented their nature items, I was getting nervous because it would soon be my turn. Then a black snake slithered out from under the shoes of a girl sitting in front of me. She began screaming and then, as if on signal, more snakes made a break for it from various parts of the room with the boys yelling and trying to catch them adding to the chaos. In the pandemonium one of the girls fainted. The teacher reached her before she slid out of her seat. He picked her up and carried her to the large open window in hopes that the fresh air would revive her. He set her on the wide wooden windowsill and she began to fall backwards out of the window. He barely managed to grab her, keeping her from tumbling out of the third story window. The school bell rang for the next class and everyone ran out amidst the confusion. I hid the empty cigar box with my books and snuck out of class unnoticed to my wall locker to conceal it. No one ever knew where the snakes had mysteriously come from that day.
Chapter 21 – The Forbidden Fruit
Sometimes you come upon forbidden fruit and if you are smart you will pay attention. I was in the 8th grade but I should have been in the tenth grade, so I was older than my classmates and buddies. One day I was fishing off the end of the Consumer’s Coal Dock next to an old empty Coast Guard Station. I was visiting with my friend Kenny and another guy from my gang; we were fishing for pike, bass, and anything else we could hook. It was near noon and two brothers we knew showed up to fish and their sixteen-year-old sister had tagged along. She was a blond cutie and did not seem to be too interested in catching fish but just sat there smiling at me, I remembered her from school. About fifteen minutes later a sudden summer shower hit and it was a real gully washer. We grabbed our fishing poles and tackle boxes and ran through the downpour to one of our hidden club houses about a hundred feet away on the Coast Guard Station property. It was a small wooden building used to house the winches that pulled the boats up the ramp to the dry dock. It was only twelve feet square but there was a wooden ladder leading up to the small attic with a tiny window. We had put some old thin army mattresses up there and used them for naps. We settled down and lit the candle on the wooden box and then lit up some Pall Malls and passed them around, glancing out the small window and watching the rain. You could not stand up because of the low ceiling and we were just laughing and sitting there soaked to the skin from the recent cloudburst. Things seem to quiet down and the two brothers and Kenny started talking about sex and whose older brother was doing what with whom. Being the gangs’ leader, I became the focus of attention. However, when I said I was still a virgin and had no conquest to brag about, they said they had already figured that out and that was why they brought the girl along. As she sat there smiling and nodding her head in agreement, they told me that she had a big crush on me and wanted to do it right then and there. She was not bashful in the least and said she enjoyed sex. Well, I was not an angel mind you, but I had been raised Lutheran and my Christian background combined with my shyness made me dig in my heels in saying an emphatic, “No!” The more they teased and badgered me, the more I resisted. Soon, all of the rain showers passed and the sun shone through the clouds in all its glory. As I went down the ladder to pick up my fishing gear, my pole and tackle box, I could hear one of the other guys trying to talk her into having sex with them. She told them, “No! I only wanted him.” As soon as she came down the ladder, she left for her home. I fished the rest of the day with our gang of want-to-be Tom Sawyers. A few days later I heard one of her brothers tell how a sexual partner of hers had syphilis and that she probably had it too. It was then that I realized how close I had come to being pulled into a really sick lifestyle. I understood then why some fruits are truly forbidden; it is for our own good.
Chapter 22 – Caught!
Things for our gang changed one hot August in 1962. Though we did not have many vices, we did smoke cigarettes; at $.25 a pack, which was expensive for us. We never broke into or robbed private homes; however, we occasionally stole stuff like fishing poles and tackle boxes from the boats along the river in the summertime. Also, in the summertime our main source of income happened to be from the old Coast Guard station; it was deactivated and was only used for storage and salvage. When they decommissioned a boat, usually a thirty-foot cutter, they would strip it and burn the hulk in a sandy field next to the station. We would go there the next day and sift through the cooling ashes and recover copper and brass fittings. We would usually make twenty dollars per boat which was a good sum of money in the early sixties. You have to realize that candy was two for a penny and soda pop cost ten cents and the bottle was refundable for two cents, so our money went a long way. In contrast, during the wintertime we shoveled snow from driveways to make our money. We made it through the winter okay.One afternoon, we stopped at the docks to talk with the Coast Guard Sailor who was stacking the old lead batteries from the navigational buoys. He was stacking them in the storage yard and he mentioned that he had to burn five thirty-foot Coast Guard Cutters the next day and pointed to the ones that were lined up on the dry-dock. The radios, the engines, and other things of value had already been stripped out, yet he was still going to have a busy day of work the next day. Later he left and we fished for Northern Pike from the coal dock and, again, another sudden summer downpour started and we ran for cover. The cutters up on the blocks were the closest and so there were about seven of us and we climbed into one of the cabins to keep dry. We sat there smoking cigarettes until the rain passed. Kenny looked around and then he said, “Why do we have to wait until tomorrow to salvage the boats?” “Yeah,” said my cousin Marty, “it won’t make any difference if they are going to burn them anyway.” We had a short discussion and because I wanted to lead, as I thought was expected of me from the others, I flowed with the crowd’s opinions but gave the final okay on decisions. I could not think of any problems; we had it first hand from the man in the Coast Guard uniform that he was going to burn them the next day, and my thought was that they were useless scrap, anyway. After the rain shower passed, we went to work collecting our treasures. Two of the brothers in our group had smashed out most of the windows just because they enjoyed breaking things. We rounded up some Red Flyer wagons from the little kids on our block to haul stuff with. There were three or four of them and we worked together and managed to collect close to three hundred pounds of brass and copper. We also took some of the lead batteries and after smashing them, we got about eight-hundred pounds of lead. We made over twenty dollars each that day which amounted to approximately one hundred and forty bucks. That was not a bad day for an afternoon of work. However, things fell apart after that; the police came knocking at my door the following week. It seemed that the government had decided not to burn those five boats. A couple from the Lower Peninsula had paid ten thousand dollars each to add them to their fishing fleet in the Great Lakes. That was fifty thousand dollars’ worth of boats we had destroyed. So, this was news to us and we were put into Juvenile Hall Court and the FBI, the Secret Service, and local Police Department had confronted us with the evidence. We managed to convince them that we were just juveniles and not professional saboteurs. Each of the others got probation only, except for me; I was sent to the city jail for the weekend. Since I was the leader and had been on probation for vandalism, they wanted to make an example of me to the others. After I was in jail, I was also put on probation again for one year. My dad personally escorted me to the jail and on the long walk there, he put his arms on my shoulders and said, “Not to worry, things work out and we all make mistakes.” That was the only time I remember him saying anything like that to me. While I was in the city jail, I felt like a cool dude until they took away my leather jacket, cigarettes and books. I was given a blanket, a stained pillow and a thin, soiled, rolled up mattress. Now that was not too bad, but I had planned on doing school work and now I had nothing to even read. I was in this six-man cell all by myself. In separate cells down the hall there was a thief, a drunkard, and a prostitute. The judge and the probation officers hoped I would do some soul searching and take a closer look at myself, which I did. About the third day I knew that I would end up in prison if I did not change. In the early years of my life, I had been raised Lutheran and Episcopalian and had taken the Catechism Class at St. James Church, and have always been thankful that my mother sent me to church with my cousin Vern. I did memorize a few verses and it seemed that when I needed them, they were there. I knelt by one of the bunks and I said, “God, I am going the wrong way, please take my life and do with it what you want; I am not doing a good job of it myself.” After I said the prayer, immediately I felt a surge of joy. I was happy; I felt great. I knew I was different; I could tell something was new. I was so happy that I started singing every song that I knew. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” then other songs I could remember at that time. I even started singing songs I could remember off the radio. Shortly after this, an older man with gray hair came through the cellblock and offered a Christian pamphlet. The pamphlet explained how to accept Christ into your life. I read it and realized that that was exactly what I had just done. I had prayed and asked God to take over my life and to forgive me of my wrongdoing. I was born again just like that pamphlet had explained. When I got out of jail, I told the gang members that I would still be their friend but that I was no longer in their gang or the leader of it. I gave them my black leather jacket and told them that I would no longer be doing the stuff that they were doing. My friend Kenny became the next leader, but they did not last much longer after that. I finally got my life back in line and decided that I had to concentrate on my education because I was two grades behind. At this time my grades started to improve from D’s and F’s to C’s and B’s.
Chapter 23 – Coffee, Pills and Trouble
During my last few months of school, I tried to blend in and stay out of trouble, and I succeeded for the most part, with the exception being my first morning class. The teacher, let’s call her Ms. Green, was short, and under five feet tall. It was her misfortune to have some gang members in her class, not mine, but six other guys from a small nameless gang. Things went well until one day as the announcements were being read. Ms. Green left the class for a few minutes during which time one guy put a hand full of brass tacks on her chair. Then two more guys took her little step stool. She would use it to stand on when she talked into the old wooden wall phone which connected to the office three floors away. They tied the stool to the cord of the window shade and then hung it out the window. The last boy took the box of rubber bands and dumped them into her coffee cup. Everyone sat down and some of the boys started chewing tobacco and spitting into tin cans concealed in their lift-top desks. These were the older desks, which had to be at least thirty years old; the kind that had holes in them for glass inkwells. Soon Ms. Green returned. She took her purse out of the locked wall locker and put three pills into her coffee cup, tranquilizers, I think. She then returned to her desk and sat down and began to take attendance. Everyone waited for her to yell ouch, but nothing happened. She soon stood up and went to chalk board and begin writing the day’s lesson on it. She wore a tight dress and must have had a padded-girdle on because the tacks were all stuck to her fanny; the sight of this produced uncontrolled laughter. It did not take long for her to start yelling at the boys who were now spitting out their chew. She ran up and down between the rows of desks brandishing her wooden ruler and being rudely ignored by most. She ran back to her desk and took a large gulp from her coffee cup only to get a mouth full of rubber bands. Now she was screaming and ran to the phone, but was unable to reach the receiver handle because of the missing step stool. The class was in an uproar and someone lit a string of firecrackers and tossed them into the aisle. She climbed up on her chair and was soon standing up on her desk screaming and jumping up and down with the tacks still stuck in her backside. One of the boys behind me threw another string of firecrackers underneath her desk. They were popping off when the Principal walked in. The next day Ms. Green became one of the school librarians, which she enjoyed and was very good at. For the rest of the year the Principal was our teacher. He was a big guy and reminded me of a Marine drill sergeant. The class was quiet the rest of the year.
Chapter 24 – Change
In the long run, those two extra years of my schooling were beneficial to my growing up; a major change happened in our family. My mom and dad, who had been married over twenty years and had seven children, found that their marriage was falling apart. My dad had lost his job which caused my mom to have to look for work. It was not fun being poor; we had rats so bad in our house that we had to stand guard with a baseball bat just to go to the bathroom at night. You know that the rats are too large when they eat or attack your larger cats; dad finally had to use beaver traps to kill most of them. The change in my dad’s lifestyle had hurt his pride, broken his spirit, and broken the relationship between him and my mom. He had begun to drink heavily for the next three years. I hated my dad before I had gone to jail, but after I was in jail, I just felt sorry for him and knew things were out of his hands. One day when I was sixteen, things really became hard for my mom. She decided to separate from my dad and to take my younger siblings with her. Although, she was leaving and moving to another state, Washington; she gave me the option to leave with them or to stay with my dad. The reason she was going that far away was because my brother John lived there and he had a place for us to stay. My older sisters, Freda and Janice, were married and I was the oldest at home. My father had only corrected me twice in my life because my mom usually did the discipline. The same night that my mom decided to leave my dad, he had come
home drunk. He had slapped me and I tripped and fell down the stairs. I thought right then that I would not stay with my dad! I did not want to take the chance that I might become his punching bag. Don’t get me wrong, my dad had been a great father to us, but the last two to three years things had become
destructive. So, I moved to Washington State with my mom and the kids. This gave me a complete break from my gang and school chums, too. It was years before I reconnected with my cousins and the rest of the family we left behind. It was three years before we met our dad again civilly; and my parents never did reconcile their differences. They stayed separate with over two-thousand miles between them and finally divorced. The shock of my dad losing his job and then his family was devastating to him. He sobered up, was retrained as a welder and went on with his life. Even though our family went through these problems together and it was hard during that time; I still have many fond memories of my family and growing up that I would never trade.
Chapter 25 – Aberdeen to Los Angeles
In 1963, my aunt Hazel had moved to Los Angeles from Michigan and so she drove us to Washington State before going to California. It was a good thing that she had a station wagon because there were eight of us in that car. It was me, my three siblings, Jeanette, Arne and Mark; my two cousins, Vern and Howard, and my mom and my Aunt Hazel. My aunt dropped us off in Aberdeen, Washington, at my brother John’s and they continued on to California. I was a little hesitant to meet my brother again as we had not gotten along back in The Soo. (Soo is the nick name for Sault in Sault Ste. Marie) So, I was surprised when he noticed that I had only ragged shoes and a jacket that had holes in it.; he immediately gave me his extra shoes and the jacket off his back. The mystery, as to why he had changed was soon solved, in my mind; when I found out he had become a Christian, the day he had moved from Michigan. He has been an encouragement to me and close friend ever since that day. In the ummer of 1964, my Aunt Hazel called and told my mom that there were plenty of jobs down in California, so my mom decided to move there. We moved to La Puente and my mom got a job at a plastic factory. We stayed there with our Aunt Hazel for one month before we moved to El Monte, California. While I was living at my aunt’s house in La Puente, I met my girlfriend, Barbara, who would become my future wife. I had met her briefly a few days prior while walking down the street with my cousin Vern. The day that I really took notice of her was when I was sitting under a large tree in the front yard reading the Sunday funny papers. Barbara had run past me on the hot asphalt which was hot enough to fry an egg on and she was barefoot. But I was more impressed by the yellow polka-dot bathing suit she was wearing. The song “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini”, written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, was popular at that time. And to this day I cannot hear that song without thinking about her. We became friends and she taught me how to dance and to kiss. I think one of those California earthquakes happened right when she kissed me because I got light-headed and dizzy. She thought that was cute and funny, but the dizziness never went away whenever we kissed. If you were going steady with a girl back then, you were to give a Saint Christopher Necklace as a token of your pledge; but at the time all I had was my Identification Bracelet and I asked her if she would wear it until I could purchase the necklace. She agreed; but to this day she still claims the bracelet as hers, but the Saint Christopher I bought for her is long gone. I started my sophomore year at El Monte High School a couple months later. That school had a bad reputation for race riots; they had been occurring between the Blacks and Spanish Gangs. The local paper had just written an article that the police had to use motorcycles to clear the hallways at the school during one of the riots, but a cautious peace had endured during my stay. Some of the boys still had switchblade knives taped to their legs and some of the girls had razor blades in their puffy hairdos. This prevented hair pulling and cat fights. I still managed to call Barb from the pay phone near our apartment to keep in touch, but the place was a dangerous area. My younger brother Arne was beat up by a group of older teens. The woman across the street from us had clubbed her husband to death in the street and one of my friend’s dads was killed in a pool hall fight over a quarter. The only way I could see Barb was to walk the eight miles between La Puente and El Monte, California. On Friday after school I would walk to see her; I would stay at my Aunt Hazel’s house down the street from her house until late Sunday afternoon, and then I would walk the eight miles again to get back home before dark. This worked out fine and I only had one close call. One afternoon, I had walked the long dusty highway and was half the distance there; when a red convertible pulled over to the side of the road next to me. There were four pretty young girls inside, collage age, and one of them asked me if I would like a ride. It was a teenager’s ‘Dream come true.’ They slowly drove next to me and patted the back-car seats encouraging me to hop in, but I said, “No thanks, I am on my way to visit my girl and I only have a short distance to walk.” They followed me for quite a while and continued to ask me to take a ride. They were smiling and hyper, which was not unusual for southern California. I continued to answer, “No” and kept on walking. Finally, they drove off and left me alone on my walk. A while down the road, a half an hour later; I was listening to the local radio station when an announcement came on. They were reporting about a red convertible with four young girls who were high on heroin. Seems they had picked up a hitchhiker and had robbed him and stabbed him to death. It had happened a few minutes before, just a half-mile down the road from where I was walking at that time. I stopped and contemplated my fate and knew that I had been spared. I then walked the last mile to my Aunt Hazel’s where I told Barb about it. Even though that happened, I still walked the eight miles each weekend to visit Barb when I could. It was a sixteen-mile total trip there and back. Our romance was almost cut short one evening though. We were on the lawn of her best friend, Nyona, who lived next door to Barb. Because Barb was raised by a strict stepfather, she had to be in the house when her step-dad came home from work. We were startled to see her step-dad come into the neighborhood. When he entered the neighborhood, he usually tooted his Air Horn. He not only used his horn as a method to call the children home, but also to harass other drivers on the road when they were not driving up to his standards. That evening, though, he did not blow his Air Horn announcing his entrance into the neighborhood; but we happened to see him coming down the street. We only had time to run and hide and so we chose the closest place which was the flowering bushes in Nyona’s front yard. He rounded the corner and pulled into the driveway and started yelling for everyone to line up in the yard for his presence. He had been in the Army and liked to pretend he was a Drill Sergeant. Barb quickly ran around to the other side of Nyona’s yard, jumped the back fence and pretended to be sitting by the pool before she entered the front yard where “The Command Post” was located in front of her step-dad. The next day we were talking with Nyona and laughing about jumping into her bushes under her bedroom window. We all went to the bushes to show her where we had hidden ourselves. As I pulled the bushes back, we were greeted by a very large nest of baby Black Widow Spiders. We just stood there and tried to figure out why we had not been bitten. Well, the spiders may not have bitten us, but the love bug had. It was a fun summer and my cousin Brian had an old Buick which he loved driving us younger kids around in and we appreciated those rides, too. On one occasion some of our friends decided to take a trip to the beach. Barb’s brother and other guys in our group had their driver’s license and were able to do the driving. I did not drive or have a license until our first son John was born in 1978. I knew then I had to learn so I could get Barb to the hospital if she could not drive herself. On one of those trips to the beach we had a kissing contest; there were about three couples and Barb and I won the contest. We locked our lips for over thirty minutes on the way home. Well, good times don’t last forever and soon our time together would be cut short. My mom’s job was not working out and we had to plan to move back to Aberdeen, Washington, back to where my brother still lived. Telling Barb was one of the hardest things I had to do and so we moped around for a few days. Then one of Barb’s girlfriends told me that it would be better if we broke up and that Barb would get over it faster that way. She had a plan. When Barb’s sisters came around, she would act like we were kissing; then, Barb’s sisters Janie (Jan), Dorothy and Debby would go and tell Barb about it. This would make Barb jealous and she would break up with me. They felt that this would be of help to her. Since they were her good friends and all, they were just trying to protect her interest. I said, “No, I do not want to hurt Barbara or have her mad at me and besides that, I do not want to break up with her!”
Chapter 26 – Back Home
The day came when me and mom and the kids boarded the Greyhound bus and headed back to Aberdeen. Barb and I wrote each other letters through our remaining high school years. For the first year we were fine; then we decided to break up. One thousand miles of separation was just too great of an expanse to fan the flames of teen love, it seemed at the time, although it never did go out. After being broke up for a few months, I decided to write Barb and see if she would still want to write back. She agreed to do so and we remained friends. After a few weeks of writing back and forth again, I knew Barb was not dating someone and asked her to go back with me again. We continued to write each other and never did break up again. Our family was involved in a local church in Aberdeen and I started working at a bakery for my first job. Then, I got a job at the local 76 Gas Station just across the street from our local downtown hotel. At school I also worked at the Library and on the Stage Crew. We had fun putting on the play called “Bye-bye Birdie.” I was not interested in some of my Weatherwax High School classes. However, I liked history, so when my Contemporary World Problems class teacher told us we had to do a speech on a history topic, I was excited. I chose the American Civil War, the Union and Confederate navies. I was fascinated by the scientific advances that war produced. The Confederates had developed the first submarine to sink a warship in combat. The Union had produced the first machine gun, the Gatling gun. Both sides fielded an air force of gas filled observation balloons, and both navies clashed in combat with the first steam-powered ironclad warships, The Union, U.S.S. Monitor, and the Confederate, C.S.S. Virginian. I drew large charts and diagrams of all the types of ships. I then told how President Lincoln formed the Riverine force made up of Army and Navy units. He called his idea the “Anaconda Plan.” It successfully captured the Mississippi River and the Delta System splitting the Confederacy. I had thought, when class was over; why couldn’t I have been born in an exciting time like the Civil War? There is an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” At the very time I was giving my speech, a new Riverine Force was being assembled by the U.S. Military to be used to fight in the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam. Barb and I had never had classes together when I lived in California. When Barb and I were first dating, I had gone to a high school dance with her where Chubby Checker had performed. Now we were both graduating from high school and Barb invited me to her Senior All-night Party at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. So, I agreed to go. I had planned to go into the Navy and I could do that in Los Angeles just as easily as I could in Seattle.
Chapter 27 – Trying to Enlist
I had gotten my first notice and then I received my second draft notice while I was visiting Barb in California. It was then I got serious about joining the military. I was going to join the Navy because my dad had been a pilot, at the end of World War II; and my brother, Butch, had been a Weather Man aboard the 7th Fleet’s Flag Ship, the USS Topeka which was a Guided Missile Cruiser. He had sailed off of Viet Nam and near the Tonkin Gulf. So, the Navy sounded good to me; hot meals, shower, and a dry bed. I stayed at Barb’s parent’s house. They put me up in a camper in their back yard. Barb’s brother Arthur (Butch) was home on leave. He offered to drive me to AFEES, which was the place where you signed up for the Army. I had tried a couple of times by now to make it to an appointment with the Navy and for some reason; I did not make it there on time. One time we were on the way in a friend’s car and the car broke down; another time the alarm clock did not go off. So, I decided to take Butch’s offer and go along with joining the Army; after all, nothing else was working for me. Butch and I went to downtown Los Angeles; he only had a few days left before he had to return to Germany. By this time Barb’s step-dad had set me up with a job helping him with plumbing at a housing project he was working on. We finally made it to AFEES and found out that the Navy had a six-month waiting list and I would not be able to join right away and likewise did the Air Force and Coast Guard, but the Marines would have taken me the same day. I signed up as Army Airborne because Barb’s brother was in the Airborne and would get an extra thirty days leave if I signed up. Barb’s family allowed me to stay there until the Army enlisted me. I knew I was being drafted anyway, so I was more than glad to join. A couple weeks later, I was off to be a soldier.
Chapter 28 – Circle Of Shame
I went to AFEES in downtown, Los Angeles and once I was in the building to be enlisted, they swiftly processed us through the first day; then, they sent us to spend the night at a cheap motel. Our recruits took the whole fourth floor of the motel. My roommates when they were tired of yelling at the hookers out on the street, decided to drop water balloons out of the window and onto the street below. That continued until the cops showed up. We did not get to sleep until two or three in the morning; the next day we continued processing through. We had our eyes checked; our ears tested, and had several written exams we took. We also had to fill out papers for more information they needed about our personal life. Finally, in a big room we had to strip totally naked and stand on a mat on the floor in a circle; which was very humiliating. The doctor began to examine us and I found out that day what an in-depth examination meant. He then proceeded to the guy next to me and suddenly he yelled a swear word at him and said, “What in the world have you shoved up there?” The guy smiled and said, “Peanut butter, sir.” He, evidently, thought it would help him to flunk the examination. The doctor smiled and said, “It won’t work, you are healthy, you pass!” Now some of them were definitely not motivated about being in the service and they tried all kinds of tricks to not have to go. There were many who were passed, regardless, if they had physical imperfections. One guy had passed having only one of his kidneys, another had a broken back with screws in it, but these guys were passed and were not caught until they arrived at basic training classes.
Chapter 29 – Self Control
The Basic Army Training Classes I was sent to was at Fort Ord, California. The company was called D-23 BCT. Our classes lasted for the two months of August and September in 1967. It was about what I had expected, hard but tolerable; I could endure it. Although, untying the apron strings was a painful thing for some of the newly enlisted. For the first week it was hard to sleep because there were always those who had a hard time being away from home and you could hear them crying under their pillows. One guy, I remember, was having a very difficult time and he just could not adjust. He was a small, feminine guy and had been punched out by a few of the guys during the morning showers. It seemed that the sight of all the young naked men was over stimulating him, and he made sexual advances to some of the men. His sexual advances were being rebuffed and he could not handle that. At that time many of the young men who did not want to be in the service would lie and tell their officer that they were gay so that they would not be allowed to stay. But this young man told us that he had told his commanding officer and they did nothing about it because they were used to men lying about that. After the second or third week of being visually bombarded by all the young men, he finally snapped. He drank a bottle of Brasso Polish which was used to polish brass buttons and insignias; then, he jumped off a fifteen-foot-high roof. The ambulance took him away and he never returned to our company. Most of us agreed that he was too unstable and had a lack of self-control which is necessary to have in order to be in combat. Without that he probably would have gotten one or more of us killed.
Chapter 30 – Your Basic Draftee
I was just your basic draftee, nothing different about me. After our third or fourth week of training we came in off of the field dusty and dirty and when we entered the barracks, the sergeant handed us our mail. We were all looking forward to our mail call because many of us received boxes of cookies from home. Well, I opened my mail and was surprised to receive a letter from the Selective Service Board. It was my third draft notice and one of my officers laughed as he overheard me telling the other guys. He told me that I had better communicate with them or they will issue an arrest warrant next. He took my letter and taped it to the Company bulletin board and warned the guys saying, “Shape up or you could be up a creek like Pete!” When I had some free time, I sat down and wrote a letter to the El Monte, California, Selective Service Board and I said, “I just received your letter to show up at AFEES. I won’t be able to accommodate you because I have a new job which is full time and I will be traveling all over the United States. The pay is not high, but they supply my room and board.” I went on for a paragraph or two explaining more details about my new job. Then I wrote, “I’m sorry but I cannot report as you requested of me, but you can talk to my boot camp officer.” I then put my current address and my Commanding Officer’s name on it and mailed it. I never received any further communication from them.
Chapter 31 – Sunburn
Some of the men in basic were a little slow catching on to the new rules in the military life. One day we were at the Rifle Range and had to wait for ammunition that was coming on the ammunition truck from the depot. It was a hot summer day and one guy kept taking his hat off because he was sweating. The sergeant kept telling him to put it back on. The sergeants were gone for an hour while we were having lunch and they were trying to run down the missing truck that had all of our ammunition. Finally, they came and we all went to the Rifle Range where we received our M-14 Rifles and our instructions; then it was time to go back to the barracks. The next day, the guy who would not keep his hat on the day before showed up for sick call. Where his long hair had previously been, he was sunburned. It was so bad that it was blistering and he had to keep his head bandaged for a while. Two days later the captain sent him for a Court-martial for damaging government property. They gave him about a $100 fine; after that he did keep his hat on. Later, at dusk we were setting up for night shooting at the Rifle Range. The men ahead of me were all lined up and I was waiting my turn behind them. An officer said, “Lock and load, ready, aim.” About this time a small deer popped up from the sand dunes. It stared at us and we stared at it and then it ran across the Rifle Range in front of all the targets. The whole line erupted in gunfire for just a few seconds as that was all the time it took for that deer to run through our target area. There were four-hundred rounds kicking up sand all around the deer and not one bullet hit it. The deer escaped unharmed and kept looking our way as it continued to go in behind the sand dunes again. In the silence that followed, the officer said, “And you guys are going to Nam?” Yeah, we were obviously under- trained!
Chapter 32 – Special Forces Testing
We were in the last week of basic training in the fall of 1967 and were visited by recruiters for the Special Forces. (The Green Berets) They said they needed a few adventurous men, so the guys in our barracks talked about it that evening; most of us decided that we should try for it. There were about ten of us who were already signed up for Airborne anyway, which is one of the requirements of The Special Forces training. The testing started early the next morning after breakfast and continued on until after dark that evening. The testing consisted of every kind of conceivable mental questioning you could think of. We were given tests on perception, color, memory, language, math, etc., and it seemed that we took every kind of IQ test that there was. Well, I was lousy at math and so I thought I would last until noon, but after each test a certain five or ten percent of the guys were asked to leave. I was still in and we stayed for lunch and then completed the rest of the testing for the day. I was surprised when we finished that I was one of 37 guys left out of the 400 who had started at the beginning of the testing day. Before we were allowed to continue on to Special Forces, we had to go through AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) to get our light weapons training, then on to Jump School.
Chapter 33 – The Drill Instructor
After I left Basic Training, I went to AIT at Fort Ord, California. It was H12 AIT; we were there from October to November 1967. Half of our company was a group of National Guardsmen from Hawaii. The DI’s (Drill Instructors) had named them Pineapples. Now they were a nice bunch of men and they were not going to go to ‘Nam,’ so they were in an easygoing, happy-go-lucky mood. The only trouble we ever had from them was during inspections. The inspection officer usually left mad, having found out that the National Guards had collected an assortment of souvenirs to take home with them. These included a collection of live hand grenades, belts of Machine Gun Ammunition, tear gas canisters, and flares. Thus, one day after dinner a huge DI had all of us line up in company formation. He was angry about another failed inspection and it was making him look bad. After he yelled at us for about ten or fifteen minutes, he yelled, “I am the boss here and if any of you Pineapples or goof offs don’t like it, I will take my stripes off and we will meet around the corner of the barracks.” He glared at us and then proceeded to take off his shirt tossing it to the ground and sulked off around the corner. Everyone was quiet for a few seconds and the other DI’s smiled at us. One of the National Guards standing next to me, after glancing around the place, turned around and said, “I guess he wants to talk to us.” He walked across the grassy lawn and rounded the corner. It was quiet for a few seconds and then we heard some huffs, hums, and thuds. The young National Guard guy came back unruffled and grinning from ear to ear; the huge DI came back and hobbled from behind the building. We noticed he had a black eye, and he glared at the company and said, “Any other wise guys?” Another National Guard stepped out and they went around the corner. We heard more huffs, hums and thuds; and then the National Guardsman came out untouched and smiling. Then the DI came out with a lump on his cheek and glaring at us and then yelled! “Now, let that be a lesson to you, dismissed.” We had finished our afternoon training and went back to our barracks. A few of the National Guard guys were muttering that they had not had a chance to be disciplined by the DI and that it was not fair that they hadn’t had a chance to talk to him. It was then that I found out that half of the National Guardsmen were active in the Hawaiian Island’s favorite sport, karate. The DI’s in our company were careful not to push us too far after that, and word soon got around to the other companies that we were not to be messed with. The DI’s had a hard time telling us apart from the National Guard, so they just left us all alone. They got some revenge on us though. A week later a soldier in the next barracks died of meningitis and the doctor said that it was because of the lack of ventilation from having the window closed. All the barracks had to have their windows wide open even during the night and this was in October and November. Fort Ord got very, very cold at night as we found out. After that incident, the DI’s were very vigilant enforcing the new rules; maybe they thought it would cool down the cocky National Guardsmen.
Chapter 34 – The Mad Machine Gunner
Since the Special Forces required that we be cross trained in two different jobs for our service, our M.O.S. descriptions, my jobs were to be Light Weapons Infantry and Combat Engineer. So it was that I was in AIT and it was a time of change in the military. We were the last class to be trained with the M-14’s; the next classes were given the new M-16’s. Except for a soldier breaking his leg on Escape and Evasion (ENE), things had been normal for our company. We were at the Shooting Range being trained on M-60 machine guns and one of the men began screaming and stood up shooting his M-60 everywhere. It had a four- or five-foot belt of bullets in it. Everyone hugged the ground while he stood and shot up the white range tower. This thirty-foot lookout was used to control and coordinate the range for safety purposes. When the guy ran out of bullets, the tower had its windows all shot out and it was riddled with holes. The guy threw down the empty machine gun and started running toward the next machine gun on the firing line about twenty feet away. He was tackled by a large sergeant just as he was picking the machine gun up. The MP’s (Military Police) took him away and we never saw him again. We never did find out what it was that made him flip out. The officer and sergeant in the shot-up range tower emerged unscathed, a real miracle since the tower looked like a piece of Swiss cheese.
Chapter 35 – Broken Legs and Graduation
We took most of our classes outside in the warm sun. One day we were out on the PT (Physical Training) field doing hand-to-hand combat fighting; which consisted of a mixture of Judo, Karate, and ‘Street Fighting’. Things were progressing rapidly as we were side stepping other soldiers who were lunging at us. As we pivoted, we would kick at their legs as we spun. My opponent did it to me, then we would switch positions and I would sidekick him back. I heard what sounded like wood breaking and he collapsed on the ground writhing in agonizing pain. They called an ambulance and took him to the Army Base Hospital. I was told by the medic who was loading him into the ambulance that my kick had broken both of his legs. Two things happened from then on, one; everyone including our sergeants thought I was one bad dude and not to be messed with and secondly, those National Guardsmen (Pineapples) became my friends. I felt bad about breaking the guy’s legs and could have sworn that I had pulled my kick. “Don’t worry about it”, the Captain said, “It was an accident.” It still bothered me for a few days until one of my buddies came back from sick call. He had had the flu and had gone to the hospital. “Hey Pete”, he said, “I saw the guy whose legs you broke and he said to tell you thanks.” “What?” I said, “Yeah they found out he has brittle bones and he is getting out of the Army in thirty days and will not have to go to Viet Nam.” When I heard that, I felt much better that something positive came out of it all. However, there were a few men who were determined to find their way out of the Army, no matter what! One man in the next company shot himself in the foot but his aim was off and his foot was so damaged that it had to be amputated. He received a Medical Discharge from the Army, but was it worth the cost? Just as we had slackers like that, we also had those who wanted to be professional soldiers. One man in my company had two years of ROTC, (Reserve Officer Training Corps) which put him ahead of all of us. He was promoted to Squad Leader and a few of the DI’s thought that he was too smart and self-assured. He knew everything they were trying to teach him already and was so spit polished that they could not catch him in a mistake. They picked on him and harassed him all the time and if he saluted a fraction of a second too slow, they would have him scrubbing the latrine (bathroom) with a toothbrush until midnight. We told him it was unfair, but he said that a soldier must follow lawful orders even if they seem stupid; it helps to build character. He had taken all of the many weeks of harassment without a single complaint. We finally graduated and he was named the number one soldier in the company according to his test scores and fitness report, and he was promoted one rank to PFC (E-3). The officers in the company were excited because there was a visiting General at the graduation ceremony which was highly unusual. After the company was dismissed from formation, the General went to see our Captain in his office. The Captain went in smiling and expecting a compliment about how good he had done with our training, but soon came out white faced and called the rest of his sergeants and lieutenants into his office. There was some loud talking and I heard the General say, “You are there to make men and not to break men!” He also said, “I knew this was going on, but my son told me not to interfere; so, I waited until the training was over.” In a few minutes they all came out to the day room (TV Room) where we and some visitors were gathered. The nervous officers and sergeants apologized to my friend for harassing him unduly. He just smiled and said, “Okay.” The General glared at them and escorted his family out to his car muttering under his breath, “If this happens again, we will have some volunteers for Viet Nam.”
Chapter 36 – Jump School and the V C Spy
After AIT at Fort Ord, we proceeded to Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where we had three weeks of training. I was in class 503...44th & 48th Companies. Week one consisted of learning basic jump techniques called PLF; (Parachute Landing Fall) then lots of physical training to build us up. Our first jumps were from three-foot-high platforms into piles of sawdust. Along with the jumps we had to learn, we also had to memorize the nine jump commands. The pace was grueling, with many dropping out when they were pushed past their limits. The first week was called ‘Ground School’; because of all the classroom instruction and outdoor training. One day we had lined up to practice jumping out of the doors of a mock airplane. We were wearing full equipment and parachutes to practice exiting the airplane. While in Jump School, the officers did not wear their rank as they practiced alongside us because their graduating was not determined by rank or privilege but by performance. They were supposed to look like the rest of us privates, but when you saw a thirty-year-old who carried himself with authority, odds were that he was an officer. We also had many foreign soldiers who were training with us. On this particular day, the sergeants were going over something for the hundredth time, when a Captain walked up, closely followed by four or five MP’s. He stood and talked to the Colonel in charge of the Jump School; he then turned and led them over to where some foreign officers were standing. The Colonel pointed to a South Vietnamese Officer who the MP’s immediately seized and put him into hand cuffs. The MP’s then escorted him off to the stockade. Our instructor walked over to the Colonel and soon returned to tell us that the man was a Vietcong Spy. They had searched his room and found stolen training manuals, maps of some bases in the United States, and some Secret Documents. We were amazed that the communists could insert their spies’ right into our military bases from so far away and it felt odd to have a VC Spy as a classmate. In week two we jumped from a thirty-four-foot tower. While being hooked to two-hundred feet of steel cables; we slid across and downward until we reached the prepared mounds below. The next step was a drop jump from a two-hundred- and fifty-foot tower; descending as a live jump, freefalling. We then perfected our control of the chute by jumping from a 15-foot Swing Landing Trainer. (SLT) The Landing Trainer was nick named, ‘The Nutcracker’. In the third and final week, we made four regular parachute jumps and the final and 5th jump being an Equipment or Combat Jump.
Chapter 37 – The Last Run
It was the last long run of Jump School. I smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day, so even though I was in excellent physical shape, I got winded on long runs. This last one was four miles at a timed full run. In AIT Training we had a guy drop dead on one of these runs. The lieutenant that had chased him and kicked him in the backside to hurry him up did not know that the soldier had lied about a heart murmur when he had joined the Army. The soldier was only eighteen; when he had dropped dead of a heart attack. As I got my second wind, I thought about that incident and one by one some of the men dropped out. My lungs burned and I thought I couldn’t go another step. In front of me was the shortest guy in our company; he was so small that you would have taken him to be fifteen or sixteen years old. I’ll drop out after he does, I thought. So, I got my third wind but he did not drop out. Then I got my fourth wind and he did not drop out. We finished the run after losing about twenty percent of the men. I was at the point of physical exhaustion, but I made it. It was thanks to that young man; unbeknownst to him, who had never dropped out. He never knew that he was running for the both of us.
Chapter 38 – Dancing on Silk
On the first parachute jump you are always scared; you don’t know what to expect. After your chute opens, it is fun; however, you better have your prayer time all up to date. Once you leave out of the airplane’s door; you will not be in a mind set to pray. I had a real experience concerning this on my second or third jump. We jumped out of the old C-119 ‘Flying Box Cars’. The newer planes were being sent to Viet Nam. The design of the older C-119’s boom-tail tended to form a wind vortex at the rear of the plane and it could really throw you around. So, when I jumped, the wind blew me over and I swung to the side so that I drifted over the chute of the guy from the opposite door. As I drifted over his chute, I desperately pulled on my risers; the lines on the risers connected with the parachute. I was trying to spill air out so that I could drift away from him, as the guy below me was yelling for me to get away! I could not correct the drift and the wind blew me directly over his chute. What I feared would happen, did. His parachute stole the air from mine and it collapsed. I found myself standing on top of and in the center of his parachute; he started cussing and screaming at me to get off before his chute collapsed! If his chute were to malfunction, we would have both fallen over four hundred feet to the ground. My deflated chute started to slide off of his, so I ran to the edge of his chute. It was like running on a waterbed. I jumped off and dropped about one hundred feet before my chute fully opened. I had a hard but good landing and walked away with no injuries. We received $50 extra each month because the jumping itself was considered hazardous duty, and we both learned why that day.
Chapter 39 – Food Poisoning
I was in the final week of Jump School, when I had the misfortune of getting sick. I found out later from the doctor that it was probably food poisoning. I had made four of my five jumps; on our last jump the colonel in charge (Colonel “Bill” Welch) of the Jump School would pin our wings on before we left the field. He later played himself in the John Wayne movie, “The Green Beret.” So this one morning I woke up very, very ill and was throwing up and dizzy. I went on Sick Call at the army base hospital. The emergency room there was crowded; I had to wait quite a while and during the wait I passed out. I was treated and it took four days to recover. I missed my fifth jump and was bumped over to the next class. That class would not be until the following week. I spent some of those days doing KP (Kitchen Police or Kitchen Patrol) and it was there that I found out how I had probably gotten sick. We were scrubbing dishes on a conveyor belt that went into a large industrial stainless-steel dishwasher; it sprayed scalding hot water and steam onto the dishes. Some of the workers in the kitchen were there because they had flunked out of Jump School. They had to do KP until they received their reassignment orders and a few of them were very bitter and resentful about their failure. One particular angry guy was not rinsing the dishes properly but just waving it through the water faucet. He would then put them into the dishwasher with food scraps still clinging to the plates, so when they came out the other side, some food was still crusted on them. This is where I figured that I had contracted food poisoning. I tried to make the worker stop and clean the dishes properly but he refused. I took his place and re-washed the dishes and continued that job for the rest of that day. I pulled other work details until I could make my fifth jump in March of 1968.
Chapter 40 – Parachute Detail
One of the details or jobs we were sent out on was to go to Alabama to police up (gather up) the parachutes from that day’s jump. An easy job, sit around and watch the soldiers jump and then collect the chutes, pile them up into the trucks to be sent back to Fort Benning, Georgia, for repacking and reuse. We watched the men making their fifth and last jump of the class. You had to make four regular jumps and the fifth jump was with equipment. The equipment included backpacks and gun scabbards; instead of rifles in the scabbards, they put wooden two-by-fours because they often got broken on impact. Since it was the final jump, they had the visiting relatives gather on the field to watch the Colonel pin on the Parachute Badge (Wings) in the graduation ceremony. The planes flew over, all being in formation; they were flying at an altitude of twelve-hundred- feet. Soon men begin jumping out of the planes over the DZ. (Drop Zone) Later one of the guys told us that he wanted pictures of the jump. His mom and girlfriend were there and he told them to take photos of the guy with two parachutes because that would be how they would know it was him. He jumped out yanking the ripcord on his emergency chute; both chutes became entangled and could not fully open. He had what is called a ‘Roman Candle.’ We all watched as he was plummeted toward the earth. At about 1000 feet up, he began screaming. When he was 500 feet from the ground, he started running in midair by reflex. One of the sergeants on the ground was yelling up at him with his megaphone telling him to get his feet together for a PLF (Parachute Landing Fall). At about 300 feet he stopped yelling and running and did as he was told. The instructor tossed aside the megaphone and began running to where the soldier would impact. As he hit the ground, the sergeant tackled him and the falling man glanced off of his shoulder; hit the ground and bounced ten feet into the air. He bounced again three to four feet into the air, and last he bounced two or three feet into the air before he came to a complete stop. Both of the men lay motionless on the ground and we thought they were dead. The colonel and his men rushed up to them in a jeep, followed by an ambulance; the two men were taken to the hospital. We later found out that the sergeant had been knocked unconscious; his shoulder and one arm was broken, and he had minor skull fractures. He recovered and was promoted another rank, plus he was awarded a medal for bravery which he deserved. Finally, I was well enough to continue my class. I was in my barracks getting ready for my fifth and final jump when toward evening another man joined our group. I found out that he was the jumper I had watched fall onto the sergeant the previous week. I sat watching the group of young men gather around him as he related his tale. He had only been bruised and had no broken bones; the doctors were amazed. One of the guys asked him if he had been scared, “No,” he said. “I just remembered what to do.” I almost said something but then I thought, he probably did not remember the fall and even if he did, he had still done the correct thing before he hit and lived to tell his story. So, I guess he deserved to brag a little; besides that, a lesser man would not be there to make his fifth jump over again. The next day we all completed our fifth jump. I lined up on the field with the rest of the men and Colonel Welch walked down the line pinning our Jump Wings on us. We could now be called, ‘Troopers’ and wear our wings proudly and our special jump boots, too. I have to admit I felt great pride at having completed such a difficult task.
Chapter 41 – Special Forces Day Room
After Jump School was finished in 1968, we left for our assignments. We went to the Special Forces Training group, part of the Army’s JFK Special Warfare Center, located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I did not know quite what to expect, although, my Secret Clearance came through okay. The FBI had interviewed my Juvenile Probation Officer in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and a letter of recommendation was sent promptly from them. I was pleasantly surprised by my new concrete barracks; we had five-man rooms and not the regular open barracks like the wooden WWII ones. They were new, modern, and concrete, and looked much like college dorms. One of the guys soon pointed out visiting retired Sergeant Barry Saddler and his red sports car in the parking lot. He had bought it with money he had earned writing the song, ‘The Ballet of the Green Berets’. From April to September of that year, I was in what they called Phrase One Training at that time. Everyone was professional and looked sharp. It was great being in the top fighting unit of the Army. I was assigned to Engineer Training Class number 69-46; this is where we were trained in Combat Engineering and Demolition and Explosives. The class lasted from March 1968 to December 1968. I joined the ‘Airborne Association’, a parachute club on April 30, 1968. Ironically the card number given to me was 18113 which ended in the number thirteen. This card expired on the same date I would later be wounded in Viet Nam. I soon settled into a routine of weekday classes, evening study, and weekend passes to relax. One day I had a thought, just why were these guys here? I knew why I was there; it was because I wanted to be part of the best the Army had to offer. Later in the day I was watching TV in the Company’s day room. The first person I approached and asked why he was there was a Negro who told me, “Seriously, I’m a Black Panther. I joined so that I could go back and blow up white people.” I said, “Okay”, but I hoped he was joking. I went to the next guy and asked him, and he said, “I am a Hells Angel; I joined so I could learn how to make bombs to blow up a rival gang.” I asked a few more and was told non-committal responses from them all. This was an eye opener for me. I figured 80 percent were patriotic and the other 20 percent were there for their own gain. I had made some new friends and one of them I will call Tom. He was seventeen, but looked to be only fourteen. He was a small, freckled red head and when I asked him what had made him sign up for the Green Berets, he said he had little choice. He had lived in a major city back east. He had been caught driving the get-away car for some Mafia hoods. He had a pistol under his driver’s seat. Tom’s dad was Postmaster General of that city. The judge was his friend. So, the judge gave Tom a choice, he could serve five years in the Military or ten years in prison. This was a real no-brainer decision for Tom and so he signed up. Tom had a nice Austin Healey Sports Car and he would drive me up as far as Pennsylvania when we had weekend passes. He was visiting his relatives and I would catch a bus to visit my sister Freda in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Chapter 42 – April 4, 1968 M. L. K.
I was in Bridgeport, Connecticut visiting my sister Freda and her family; it had been several years since I had seen her. I had taken a train up from North Carolina and the ride was noisy because of traveling college students. Other than that, the ride itself was very enjoyable because it was the first-time riding on a passenger train for me. I met my sis and her little girls; it was weird to have them call me uncle. In the afternoon the news was reporting the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Leader. Soon reports of riots starting all over the country were coming in. I decided to go back to Fort Bragg three days sooner then I, otherwise, would have gone. I took the Grey- hound Bus back to the base; as we drove along the Toll Ways, every major city we passed had smoky pillars of fire set by looters. The Toll Ways were clear of most cars; the few vehicles I could see were fire, police, or military. It was toward evening when I arrived at the base; the 82nd Airborne had been called out and some would be manning a machine gun nest at the White House front door. They were called because the police could not handle the mobs and the rioting alone. I signed into the company and the OD (Officer of the Day) sent me to the captain. He said, “We are being put on standby to protect the DC area if things escalate further.” The captain told me that my records stated that I would be a good team sniper until the regular one came back from leave. We put on full combat dress and went for our briefing where we received our assignments. My orders were to shoot to kill on sight anyone carrying a weapon and any recognizable leaders of the riots, especially those carrying mega phones. This order would only come from the President if the riots degenerated into organized urban warfare. All leaves were canceled and all military personal had to return to their home bases nationwide, as far as I knew. Finally, word came down from the Pentagon and we were put on three-minute standby. This required sleeping on cots in full combat dress, including our boots; our weapons were next to us for quick access. I was given a modified M-14 Sniper Rifle. The team leaders, the sergeants, had our ammo in boxes ready to disburse as we left. Out front of the barracks trucks and jeeps were lined up with their engines running and driver inside. We called it the ‘convoy into chaos’ because if we had to go, there would be severe upheaval. Fortunately for us, the 82nd Airborne and other military units managed to keep the riots from spreading. We waited on three-minute call for two days and the third day we were put on fifteen-minute standby and could actually take our boots off. Our team sniper finally showed up and I was assigned to the Assault Team with an M-16 Rifle. As the days progressed, the mobs tapered off and then quit; they probably just exhausted themselves and there was nothing more to burn. Our company and its teams went back to our normal twenty-four-hour standby and gradually things returned to normal. Thus, concluded my short time as a team sniper; the national crisis in our country came to an end, as well.
Chapter 43 – ‘The Hook’
Our class finally reached the part of our training where we had instruction in Demolition and Explosives. Our classrooms were old WWII structures converted from barracks. We were excited to be getting into the fun stuff, blowing things up. Our instructors were excellent, but unfortunately, it was a very hot muggy day. The building was not air conditioned unless you counted the opened windows. Today our instructor was ‘The Hook’; he had fought in Korea and in Viet Nam and his right hand was gone. It was replaced by a metal hook, hence the name ‘The Hook’. We were required to do one parachute jump a month in order to qualify for our Hazardous Duty Pay. We had jumped that week and the ‘Hook’ had been two men in front of me in my stick (Line), and when the jumpmaster said, “Hook up”, he really did. He used his hook. Today, however, it was sweltering and even the best of teachers was hard pressed to keep their students awake. The one we called ‘The Hook’ was teaching us about land mines. It was very boring and hard to concentrate on with all the types and numbers of explosive devices. Some of the students had been out late on weekend passes and were nursing hangovers. As ‘The Hook’ droned on, heads were nodding and I had to bite my lip to keep awake. The guy who was sitting in front of me slowly put his head down on the top of the desk; he fell fast asleep and begin to snore. Our instructor kept talking but quietly walked over to the sleeping student. Suddenly, he slammed his hook on the desk top with a loud bang. The student jumped up wide awake along with a few others who had begun nodding off. The sergeant yelled in his face, “You will not sleep in this class! I lost my arm in Nam due to some idiot who had slept in class and did not know what he was doing.” He paused, then muttering a string of profanities, he turned and walked back to the chalkboard and begin writing on it and continued lecturing us. As the afternoon wore on, we soon found ourselves fighting sleep; within a half hour, the same guy was snoring at his desk again. The sergeant kept on talking as he quietly walked up to the desk. Only this time, he pulled his pant leg up and pulled off his right leg and began pounding on the student’s desk with his plastic leg, the kind that fits you from the knee down. Everyone jumped, all wide eyed. ‘The Hook’ yelled, “You will not sleep in this class and kill your own men in combat due to something you missed! I lost my leg because an idiot did not pay attention; I hope you are on my Team when I go back to Nam because I plan on returning even if you don’t.” He then swore rather prolifically as he made his way back to the front of the class again, hopping on one foot. He sat on his desk up front and strapped his leg back on and then went back to his lecture as though nothing had happened. The class was silent and attentive the rest of the day and nobody fell asleep. I think they were afraid of what part of his body he would take off next to pound on the desk.
Chapter 44 – Roman Candle
“But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” Matthew 19:30. Nothing was out of the ordinary, it was another scheduled Pay Jump, and the weather was perfect. They assigned our boarding positions and I was happy to be in the number one slot, the doorman. I would be the first jumper out followed by the whole stick, about twenty men. I would have the privilege of being the first man to land on the Drop Zone. I was feeling great about the whole set up. After we were airborne and heading toward the DZ, an officer, a second lieutenant, walked up to me from the other end of the stick. He had gotten on at the wrong end and he ordered me to go back to the end of the line where he had been; taking my place at the head as the doorman. I fumed but orders are orders and so I concentrated on the jump at hand. I decided to enjoy it rather than to let the officer ruin it for me. Soon we were approaching the DZ and it was, “Stand-up, hook-up, and stand in the door.” The green light went on telling us to jump; the doorman went out followed by the rest of the stick. As I went out, a gust of wind buffeted the plane causing me to spin around as I exited the plane. When I opened my eyes, I grabbed the risers on my shoulders, but I could feel myself falling and not floating. I looked up and the lines going off of the risers which were connected to the fabric of the parachute were tangled. They overlapped the chute so that it was not fully opened. This is the feared ‘Roman Candle’. The only thing worse than that is a complete failure of the chute to open; when that happens, it is called a ‘Major Malfunction’. As I was looking up, I passed through the stick of jumpers from my plane. Their chutes were open and some of them were yelling at me to, “Pop your chute.” They were referring to the small emergency parachute fastened to the harness on my belly. I had two choices: Pull the handle on the belly chute, and more than likely, get the two chutes tangled or I could try shaking the risers, hoping to untangle the lines. I did not hesitate one second; I began shaking the risers like my life depended on it, which it probably did. I continued to fall; in seconds I was falling through another line of jumpers from a previous airplane. That meant that I was probably 400 to 500 feet up. These men, too, were yelling at me to open my chute and I scarcely missed hitting them. Then my chute untangled and popped open and I only had a second to glance up making sure there were no blown panels or tears in the canopy. I looked down and the ground was rushing up at me; I just had seconds to get into a PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) and then I hit the ground. The planes had dropped us on the edge of the DZ; so, the wind would carry us into the center of the plowed field, which was approximately two miles square. The field was surrounded by what seemed to be old woodland forest. I hit hard, rolled, and sat up on the ground; there was a deep impression in the soft sandy dirt where I had hit. I looked around and I was only six feet from the edge of the plowed field near where the trees began. I had landed between two telephone poles that were laying down, sticking out from the forest, and protruding into the forest about twelve feet. My feet stung like someone had hit the soles of my feet with a flat board, but I was running on adrenalin and very happy to be alive and in one piece. I gathered up my parachute and began running across the DZ to the pickup area where the trucks were parked along the road on the other side. Soon, the parachuting men were settling all around me with guys from the plane that had jumped in front of us. Being careful to avoid the men as they landed, I dodged my way across until I reached the center of the DZ and once again more men were landing all around me. One man landed about fifty feet in front of me; as I ran by, he joined me hugging his rolled-up chute. “Wow, what a great jump”, he said. I said, “Yeah!” He looked at me startled and then said, “Weren’t you on my plane? Didn’t I take your seat?” I smiled and said, “Yep.” He kept glancing at me as we ran, “So, how did you beat me down?” I just smiled and left him with a very confused look on his face only because I did not think he would believe me if I told him how.
Chapter 45 – Karate Grandpa
It was a Friday evening when my four buddies and I signed out of the company using our evening passes. We had planned on seeing a movie and later shooting some pool. I do not remember the movie we went to see; it was probably because it did not impress me much. Later, though, we had stopped at a pizza parlor which had pool tables; so, we played some pool and had some dinner there. It was dark outside and Fayetteville, North Carolina, was not a soldier friendly town. Those who ran the bars were, of course, friendly because they wanted the soldiers’ money as well as did the prostitutes which attracted some of the men. The city had a large student population because of the colleges there and the Anti-war Movement was just getting up steam about that time. Unfortunately, there were groups of students (20-30) who had been jumping soldiers and beating them up. They would steal their hats as trophies to prove that they had beaten up a Special Forces Soldier. Most of the soldiers were too drunk to fight back and the students would always pick on them after they knew they had been drinking. We were just about finished eating and we had been keeping an eye on a group of about ten college guys across the street who were hanging around in the Dairy Queen parking lot there. A white Volkswagen pulled up and parked near them and a short, chubby, balding man got out. We recognized him because he was one of our sergeants and instructor in explosives. He had just gotten off duty and was stopping on his way home to get dinner for his wife and kids. If you took away his uniform, he would look just like someone’s grandpa. With his uniform on, though, it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull to those college students. They started catcalling him and jeering at him when he went to the window to order his food. We watched for a minute or two while we finished eating our pizza. “Let’s see if he needs help?” one of our guys suggested. We moved toward the door so we would be in a better position to help. The sergeant was carrying a cardboard tray full of hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. The college guys surrounded him yelling and pushing at him, then one snatched his Green Beret off of his head and danced around with what he thought was going to be his new trophy. We looked at each other and rushed out the door and onto the sidewalk, waiting and watching with anticipation. Across the street the sergeant put the food tray on to the top of his Volkswagen and turned to face his antagonists. We had started running to the other side of the street, but we stopped in the middle of the street because of what we saw. There in the parking lot all ten of the bullies were laying on the ground moaning and holding various parts of their bodies. The sergeant had moved in a blur, he was so fast. I did not know anyone, let alone an old chubby man, could move that fast. We stood speechless and watched as he bent over and picked up his Beret and setting it on his head; he took his food off the top of the car. He put the food into the front passenger seat and got in and quietly drove away. He did not even see us there and had not said a word during the whole time. I found out later that he was also a Black-Belt Karate Instructor. When we went back to the class the following Monday, we sat with a little more respect while he taught us. The harassing students helped us new soldiers to understand why some of the troops had a general attitude of dislike to the city of Fayetteville.
Chapter 46 – Swamp Gun Swap
The Special Forces course required training in jungle fighting. We lived in the field for a month and they gave us enough combat rations for one week. After two weeks when everyone was really hungry, they gave each platoon a live goat and a thirty-pound bag of onions. We then had a class on killing it and cooking it for our meal. When the food was cooked and divided up, I had a piece of goat meat the size of your fist. It was burnt on one side and partially raw on the other, I salted it thoroughly and put it in my jacket pocket. I remembered it four or five days later and did it taste good. We spent most of our nights practicing combat patrols and setting up ambushes. One night we had to hike six miles to set up an ambush; we were out of food and very, very, hungry. If the ambush went off correctly, we would capture a truck carrying a case or two of C-rations. (Food) This particular night it was extra dark, there was no moon as it had set earlier and the low overcast blocked out the light from the stars. When we moved into the thick swampy woods, I could barely make out the trail or see the person in front of me very well. After a few miles we came to a small stream; it was about fifteen feet wide and approximately three feet deep. Our sergeant shone a faint light and by its glow we could see a log stretched across the stream; it was wide enough to walk on and it was covered with moss. I was the third man to cross and our wet, muddy boots tore up the moss and the wood underneath became very slippery. The fifteenth or sixteenth guy crossing slipped and fell into the creek. We fished him out by grabbing his arms and pulling him up onto the muddy bank. The sergeant told us that we would all be dead because of the carelessness of that one person; that noise could have alerted the enemy. He then sent the man back into the water to fish out his M-14 Rifle that he had dropped. The soldier grumbled and felt around in the mucky bottom; and finally, he said, “I got it,” and climbed out carrying his muddy rifle. We continued with our training, but that messed up our convoy ambush that night and we went to bed hungry. We would do better on the next one, I was sure. The next morning, we sat around the campfire eating crackers and drinking coffee. We had a Weapons Check coming up and we had to clean our rifles for it. The guy who had fallen into the creek said, “Boy, what a mess”, as he scraped off the mud, “Look at that, it is starting to rust already.” The sergeant looked over at him and commented, “Didn’t I tell you to clean it last night when we got back?” The soldier replied, “I was too tired.” He then sat down and cleaned his M-14; it took a while, but he eventually had it all cleaned and oiled. A few weeks later our jungle training was over and we walked to the ‘Deuce and a Half’ truck and then we were driven back to the base at Fort Bragg. We spent the rest of the day at what we hated most, ‘weapons turn in’ at the Armory. It took all day for us to clean our weapons; often, we had to have it inspected up to twenty times before it was accepted as clean. The guy behind me finally had his rifle cleaned and accepted by the sergeant at the desk. The sergeant checked the serial numbers on each rifle as they were turned in. When he checked that one, he looked up and said, “This is not your rifle, the serial numbers are different.” The soldier argued that it was his and if it was not, then whose was it? The sergeant turned and pulled a file out of the cabinet behind him; he leafed through the papers and then pulled a sheet out. “This rifle was lost two years ago on a Night Training Exercise; you brought the wrong rifle back.” “Fine”, the guy said, “Take the rifle as a replacement for mine.” They argued and finally the sergeant said, “Thanks for finding our lost rifle, but you still have to pay $150 for your rifle.” The soldier was mad but he ended up paying for it, as he had no choice. He asked if he could keep the one, he had found, but the sergeant said, “No, this is government property.” So, he lost out all around!
Chapter 47 – The Bravest Man I Ever Saw
It was time for another of our monthly pay jumps. I was always amazed that the Army paid us $50 a month to jump. I would have done it for free. As our plane, a C-130, bounced around to the drop zone I glanced at one of the guys in the stick (Line) ahead of me. He was a slightly chubby guy from Arkansas or Oklahoma; he had to have been tough to have made it through Jump School, but he sure did not look it. The other guys called him ‘Hillbilly or Okie’. He began to fidget and get nervous as we approached the drop zone. The plane was buffeted from side to side by the cross winds, a few guys had gotten airsick before it had climbed to a higher altitude. Soon, we were hooked up and going out the door as the green light came on. Everything went just fine until the ‘Hillbilly’ got to the door where he froze in place; he refused to budge. The sergeant (who was called the Jump Master) put his foot against his back and gave him a shove out of the plane door. Blocking the door was a big mistake, because the plane only had seconds over the drop zone. If you delayed, you would miss the drop zone ending up in the trees, power lines, or even the river. Hesitating, at that moment, could be fatal! Hours later, back at our barracks, some of the men wondered why or how such a coward even got into the Green Berets. The next month it happened again; this time I noticed that the Friday night before the Saturday jumps our ‘Hillbilly’ would go out and get very drunk; he had a serious hangover. Once again as our plane was over the drop zone at 1200 feet, he stood frozen in the doorway, gripping the doorframe so tightly that his hands turned white. The Jump Master kicked him but his feet held firm; then an officer and the Jump Master kicked him at the same time. He let go of the doorframe but spun as he fell out. Amazingly, he caught the threshold of the door jam and he hung by his hands out of the door, flapping in the wind stream. His eyes were wide open, almost all white and his face showed a mask of terror. We’d have to circle the drop zone and jump late if he did not let go! The two men hammered on his hands and tried to pry his fingers lose but couldn’t. The officer stood up and stomped down on his fingers and he still did not let go. He became desperate and then begins kicking the guy’s fingertips like you would kick a rock down a sidewalk. He let go of one hand and continued holding on with the second hand until the officer kicked it free. He fell away from the plane and the rest of us continued out the door. Later in the evening some of us sat around our room talking about it. We wondered why he keeps jumping when he was obviously so scared. One of my roommates cleared his throat and then said, “He does it for the $50 Jump Pay.” We all sat in silence as he continued; “He has a young wife, a baby, and some old grandparents that depend upon him for money. He is the only bread winner and his check pays the rent and feeds them.” We quietly sat there thinking about it for a while; his motives became clear to each of us and we respected him all the more. The next month’s Pay Jump came around; again, he had a hangover, he had frozen in the door, and had to be pushed out into the sky against his will. Later as we rode in our trucks back to the base, I realized that I had witnessed an act of courageousness. Because he had faced his greatest fear and still went through with it regardless of how scared he was. This, to me, was true bravery. It, also, showed how much he loved and cared for his family.
Chapter 48 – Club Blast
I had just gotten back from an evening pass. I had been out eating, shooting pool with my buddies, and drinking a few beers. I did not like beer, but I drank to be with my buddies so we could let off some steam. I had started changing from my ‘Civvies’ to my fatigues, (Everyday informal Military Uniform) when I was startled by a loud commotion outside in the hall. I went out and followed some other men to the company office. There were three sergeants that were washing blood off of the face of another soldier. He had been beaten badly; the captain came in and asked what had happened and in not so nice of words, too; he was very upset! The sergeant in charge explained to him that the soldier had been to a certain nightclub in town. The bouncer there hated Green Berets and had viciously attacked other soldiers before just because they were Green Berets. This soldier had been pistol-whipped and severely beaten about the head; then he was thrown out of the club. The Captain looked at one of the sergeants and said, “You know what to do, don’t tell me anything; I will take him to the base hospital for treatment.” He then left with the soldier whose face looked like hamburger and was still bleeding profusely. The head sergeant gave many orders to the other sergeants and then turned to us students standing there. He gave out various assignments or jobs for us to do. I was to be the lookout at the main intersection one block from the nightclub. In a few minutes we had four cars lined up at the curb; our duties were explained and quickly reviewed. Steps were taken to hide the numbers on the license plates and then the other sergeants climbed into the cars carrying canvas bags. It was around one in the morning and we began speeding down the road in our cars. When we arrived in town, we approached the same nightclub where our fellow soldier had been beaten up. All the lookouts were dropped off; I stood on my street corner watching for cops and military police. We’d wave to another lookout that was posted in front of the club if we spotted anyone. The cars then swept in and stopped in front of the nightclub. The men rushed in and soon all the customers came running out. I found out later that they had pistol-whipped the bouncer with his own gun. After he got out of the hospital, he never caused us any more problems. One of the sergeants had cleared out the nightclub by holding up a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit yelling, “They had sixty seconds before it blew.” The other sergeants quickly wrapped explosive charges on the open exposed rafters of the ceiling. This was all done within one minute of time; they then raced out quickly, dragging the unconscious bouncer to safety. At the same time, the scattering customers were rushing away from the building to save their lives. The bouncer was left on the sidewalk and the soldiers jumped into their cars to get away. Each car stopped to pick up one of us lookouts before speeding away. I jumped in and the driver said, looking at his watch, “Right about now,” and the club blew up. We had seen the roof fall into the collapsing building as we drove off into the darkness of the early morning. In fifteen minutes, we were back at our barracks and the sergeant said, “You saw nothing, you heard nothing, nothing happened!” We said, “Yes,” and everyone scattered and went on their way. The next day the local news carried a report of a bombing of a local nightclub. They had no suspects but thought it was a rival gangs’ fighting or a Mafia feud.
Chapter 49 – The Movies
After our class was over one Friday; a few of my buddies and I went to see a movie. The show that was playing was called, “The Green Beret”, starring John Wayne. I learned later that Hollywood had refused to produce it or any movie that was not antiwar, so John Wayne had formed his own company and used his own finances to produce that hit movie. We sat up front watching the action on the wide screen while enjoying our popcorn and our drinks. One of the movie’s heroes who died in the movie was named Sergeant Peterson. One of my friends looked at me and said, half-jokingly, “You had best not go to Nam Pete, as this was a bad sign!” I said, “Yeah, sure”, and laughed. The movie started with John Wayne’s character talking to the same Lt. Colonel who had pinned onto us our ‘Jump Wings’ while we were at Fort Benning, Georgia. It also showed the Gabriel Demonstration Area where I had worked earlier with medics who demonstrated their expertise on life-like dummies. This was done for the benefit of our training, as well as for demonstrations to those visiting there. Many of them were foreign politicians and military personnel, but mostly officers coming to watch. The movie was fairly accurate; however, we noticed a few mistakes and the most glaring was the use of white parachutes for a daytime jump into enemy territory. We laughed at the idea because the parachutes should have been dark or camouflaged and the jumps would have been executed at nighttime, too. Our laughing became very loud and the management told us to, “Be quiet or to get out!” We were in civilian clothes and so they probably thought we were college students out for a good time. We managed to quiet down and finished enjoying the rest of the movie; we left and went back to the base. For months after that, my buddies teased me by calling me, “Sergeant Peterson.”
Chapter 50 – Angels Unaware
I had gone out on an evening pass to forget what a lousy day it had been. I saw a show but I don’t remember the name because it was a lousy movie. When the movie was over, I went to a pizza hall where my friends were shooting pool and had a couple of beers. They tried to get me drunk but did not succeed as I stayed drinking my one beer. As the night wore on, my friends met some ‘Southern Bells,’ college girls with sweet-syrupy accents who were acting very immature and childlike I was not impressed, to say the least. My drunken Army buddies, on the other hand, sure were. (The Power of Beer) They tried to talk me into going along with them as they were leaving with the girls but I stayed a while longer and then headed back to Fort Bragg, it was near midnight. I caught the bus out front; it was very crowded, but I found a seat next to a familiar face. We had a couple classes together and he was heading back to the base too. We talked for a few minutes but then I began to get irritated because the guy sitting behind me was hitting the back of my seat. I turned around and said, “Hey, knock it off!” He paused for a second and then continued hitting it even harder. So, I turned around again and said, “Knock it off, buddy!” I said it so loud that the entire bus became quiet. This guy was getting on my nerves for sure. My friend sitting next to me looked back; he could see the guy sitting behind me better than I could. He got a wary look on his face and leaned over and whispered into my ear, “He’s not kicking your seat, he has a switch-blade knife out and is sticking it into the back of your seat and the seat is all cut to ribbons!” Fortunately for me the seat had a steel-back plate that the seat cushions were fastened to and the knife could not penetrate it. I sat quietly for a while; he had stopped knifing my seat, but it was obvious that he was trying to pick a knife fight. I was sober enough to realize that I could not win a knife fight when I was unarmed. My stop was located across the road from the Special Forces parking lot next to our barracks. The bus stopped and I quickly walked to the front, as I took the last step off, I turned and saw that the guy with the knife had gotten up to follow me. I started to run across the six-lane road and the next thing I knew I was hiding behind a car in the center of the parking lot. The guy with the knife was standing by the bus door with a perplexed look on his face. I am sure he wondered where I disappeared to so quickly. Finally, he folded his switchblade knife up, shook his head, and returned to his seat as the bus was leaving. When I stood up, I noticed that my shoes that I had just purchased earlier that day seemed to be feeling different. When I looked down at them, I noticed that both heels were gone from them; I glanced around and out where the streetlights shone onto the lanes, I could see both of my heels lying there in the center of the roadway. I walked over and stood in the empty street looking down. I could not figure out how I had run that quickly for the heels to separate from my shoes like that and how I had disappeared so fast. I figured it must have been adrenaline or that an angel had jerked me to the other side. I lost a good pair of new shoes but it was worth it; otherwise, I would have been in a serious knife fight.
Chapter 51 – Birthday Surprise
It was early August and I was awaiting reassignment while they changed my orders. The holding company I was in was used as a labor pool for Special Forces. In the last few months I had worked at the Gabriel Demonstration Area, guarded the Special Forces Headquarters, been Honor Guard to raise the flag, worked as an Aggressor in the Jungle Training Class, did duty at the Special Forces Museum, been a temporary cook, and did numerous other jobs as well. I was glad to be off duty because I had been up all night on Guard Duty and was very sleepy. The rule was twenty-four hours on and forty-eight hours off, so I was off and it was my 21st Birthday. The plans were to get some much-needed sleep and then in the evening to go and celebrate with some buddies of mine. I did not even take a shower I just got undressed and plopped into my bed at six in the morning. An hour later I was rudely shaken awake. The sergeant informed me that one of the guys assigned to KP had gone AWOL (Absent without Leave) and since I was the only one around, I had to take his place. I pleaded with the sergeant and to no avail! I roused myself up and went on my way and I was very upset about it. I knew the sergeant in charge of the company cooks; he liked my cooking and appreciated how fast I worked. The sergeant, the head cook, asked me what was wrong and so I told him. He said, “Pete, sit here and relax, drink coffee and you don’t have to do any work. If anyone asks you what you are doing, you tell them you are in charge of the coffee pots.” He pointed to the huge coffee urns steaming behind me; we talked and soon I was in a better mood and it ended up to actually be a nice quiet morning. I had to guzzle many cups of coffee in order to stay awake; but I still wished I could have been sleeping. It was three o’clock in the afternoon when they brought the AWOL soldier in to do his KP; I returned to my barracks to finally catch up on my sleep, I did not wake up until nine that evening. All of my friends had left about six o’clock and so I had to go to town alone. I met up with some of them and went to the show and afterward we ate and drank beer. They said their job was to get me plastered on my birthday and so I had drunk enough to be feeling very relaxed but was not yet drunk. It was near midnight when we were walking down the sidewalk; they dragged me into a topless nightclub. I had been raised in a Baptist family and one did not frequent topless bars. As they dragged me in, I snatched my glasses off and shoved them into my coat pocket. It was dark, noisy, smoky, and everything was a blur with my glasses off. Everyone bought me birthday drinks and we spent an hour there. I finally left telling my friends some pretext that I had to meet someone. Outside, I put my glasses back on and took some deep breaths of the cold night air and caught a bus back to the barracks. Once there I signed in and collapsed on my bed sound asleep. So ended my birthday surprise and it was not what I had planned.
Chapter 52 – The Sheriff Taxi
I was coming back from Bridgeport, Connecticut; I had been on a weekend pass visiting my sister Freda and her family. It was around one o’clock in the morning that I found myself hitchhiking on some back road in New Jersey. Nearby was an airport that I had planned to catch a Military Hop at. It was a pitch-black night with no street lights; I was standing next to a no hitchhiking sign with my thumb out when a car pulled up. I glanced at it and it was a Sheriff’s patrol car. The officer pointed to me and I pointed to myself in question. He nodded his head and pointed to the front seat next to him. I figured I was in trouble and would get ticketed for hitchhiking; I climbed in and the officer begins driving. After a few moments of silence, he said, “Going to the Airport?” I said, “Yes, just trying to get to Fort Bragg before my leave was up.” We drove on in an awkward silence for a while; then he told me, “My Kid Brother is in Viet Nam, I will make sure you get to the airport okay.” I sat there after that and smiled and relaxed because I was no longer concerned of trouble. When we drove up to the front of the main entrance of the brightly lit airport, there were crowds of people everywhere; most of them were young college students traveling because of the holidays. The Sheriff smiled and shook my hand and wished me good luck as I got out of his car. I thanked him for the ride and begin walking into the airport. He sat there watching me to make sure that I got inside with no trouble. As I reached the front doors, the students and some hippies crowded around me saying things like, “We have to hitchhike, and he gets an armed escort from the pigs,” and a few catcalls like ‘Baby Killer’.” I ignored them and went inside; I soon found the military desk where I inquired which military hop, I had to take, to get back to the base. That is the only time I have had a Sheriff-taxi ride.
Chapter 53 – August Dream
In August of 1968 I awoke one morning and I remember having a strange dream. It wasn’t scary, just a little spooky. I pulled out some paper and decided to write a poem about it. This is the poem about it:
I had a dream that was so clear
all my family and loved one's dear
Standing in a room so dark,
while I stood all aglow and set apart
I was all amazed at the sadness I saw
at the grief and sorrow, I glimpsed from afar
For I was full of love and joy
I smiled at them like a small boy
I told them not to worry;
I was going to a happy place
and I'd see them again after a space
Three months or maybe five
was all I had before I died?
This is what I dreamt August last
Soon the sand will run out in the glass
A dream is a dream, or so they say
I'll have to wait till my big day
This is a sign of where I'll be
So please don't feel sad over me
Because when you die and go away
I'll meet you there, night or day.
© Clayton M. Peterson-February 1, 1969
I had thought about this dream for a few days afterwards, but soon the routine of Army life and everyday living pushed it to the back of my mind and I had forgot about it until years later when I was going through my personal things. When I found the poem, I decided to share it with my wife Barbara. Looking back now, I know that God was preparing me mentally for what I would be going through in the future.
Chapter 54 – Airport Bullies
In September I had a fourteen-day pass and was traveling with five or six of my buddies who were also Green Berets and we were heading home on leave. We were in a large airport awaiting our flights; there were some hippies the ‘quote’ “Make Love Not War” group, and some of them were really violent. They gave us dirty looks, gave us the middle finger, and called us all sorts of nasty names like “Baby Killers.” They were trying to start a fight so that we would be arrested and spend our leave locked up! We ignored them and sat by our travel bags off to the side; some were reading their paperback books and others were talking. One of my buddies was traveling with me as far as Los Angeles; he stood up and asked me to watch his duffle bag, then walked across the large waiting room to the bathroom on the other side. I was chatting with a Marine next to me, keeping an eye on my friend as he went through the restroom door. My friend wasn’t much to look at; rather short, mild looking, always smiling, and a slim guy with medium built. To look at him, you would think he was still in high school. Four hippies stood up and left the group that had been heckling us and headed to the same restroom. Since they were only a few feet from it, they were quickly inside. The other hippies were laughing and pointing at the restroom and I did not like the looks of what was going on. I told my buddies that trouble was brewing and that we had better get over there! We stood up and the Marine said he would watch our duffle bags for us and he told us to ‘Kick Butt’! It took less than a minute for the four of us to make our way half way across the crowded room. I notice many of the regular passengers watching to see what would happen. We were about twenty feet from the door, when our short smiling friend walked out by himself straightening his Green Beret on his head; he walked with us back to our duffle bags, standing taller than before. “What in the world happened?” I asked. “We saw those guys go in after you.” He smiled and said, “They were pretty mouthy, but I ignored them; then while I was at the urinal, one of them snatched the Beret off of my head! When I retrieved it, they jumped me with their fists swinging and so I bounced them off of the wall. I tried not to break any bones, I only wanted them to hurt and feel pain.” Just then the restroom door opened and two hippies came out helping another one. When the fourth came out, he was holding his arm; they all looked in serious pain, sort of like they had just fallen down a staircase. In a daze they rejoined their group; some of the people who had watched this smiled at the ‘peaceniks’ discomfort and a few of them gave our buddy the thumbs up sign. We sat back down and went back to reading and waiting for our flight to be called; it was a quiet and uneventful wait.
Chapter 55 – The Dead Jumper
One Saturday I was sitting around reading and studying for my classes the following Monday when a friend came into my room; we were bunked five men to a room. He said, excitedly, “Did you hear the news?” Before I could answer, he informed me that one of my roommates had been killed. He was a member of a Civilian Jump Club and had died parachuting. He had been doing what we call ‘A Cut Away’. This is where you jump from a high altitude and after opening your parachute, you would float for a few minutes and then you would cut away your chute by unsnapping your buckles on the shoulder harnesses. You would then free-fall again and open your second chute; but when he had done this, one of the buckles stuck. When he opened his second chute, he became entangled in both of his chutes and fell to his death. My friend who witnessed it had said he saw him bounce ten feet into the air. When they ran up to him, he was still alive and he asked, “How bad is it?” They said he would make it but he died seconds later; he had hit the ground so hard that he made a depression. He was still wrapped up in his chute; his legs were broken and had come through his chest like spears. All in all, it was a quick and painless death. We met his parents at his funeral which was held at the Special Forces Church there on base. Later in the day, his dad came to our barracks and brought his sons’ parachute into our room and said he wanted one of his son’s buddies to have it. Most of us saw the blood-stained parachute and said no thanks, but one of our buddies took it and said, “I could wash the blood off and I am not superstitious at all and I would be honored to keep it.” He transferred out of the company months later and I never knew what became of him.
Chapter 56 – Drug Bust
One day in January, I had noticed that one of my roommates was not doing too well. Our room held six bunks and the guy next to me had been fighting the flu for weeks now. He had been going to sick call and getting out of KP and other work details. It seemed like all he wanted to do was sleep. We had just returned from breakfast at the Mess Hall and were getting ready for work. Our sergeant burst into our room and yelled to everyone, “Fall out for Inspection!” We grabbed for our hats and ran outside to line up in formation. A group of officers and sergeants drove up in jeeps; they stopped and went into our barracks. The inspection dragged on room by room until me and all my roommates were called back to our bunks. As we watched, the officers finished inspecting my area; I had no problem for everything was in order. When they inspected the bunk next to mine, they took it completely apart. They pulled a string they had found and out of the hollow leg of his bed popped a white plastic bag. The officer said, “Heroin.” The guy whose bunk it was just stood there staring at the floor. The MP’s came in and put hand cuffs on him and lead him away to the stockade. The rest of the inspection only turned up minor infractions; it was obvious that they knew he was using. He received a Special Court-martial and never returned.
Chapter 57 – Friday the 13th Jump
It happened on September 13, 1968 that we were required to make a “Pay Jump.” We were required once a month to do a jump to keep us in practice and to collect our Hazardous Duty Pay; which was an extra $50 a month. We collected our chutes and boarded our plane; everyone was joking about it being Friday the 13th. Someone commented that our plane was a C130; (13-0) another one said that there was a 13 in the serial number on the tail. After we sat down, I counted down the line and found out that I was the 13th man in the stick. By this time, some guys were giving me nervous glances because I was number thirteen. As our plane lifted off the runway, I glanced out the window and noticed the numbers 1-3 on the pavement below us. As we flew to the drop zone, we were informed that it was a mass jump for the benefits of some bigwig politicians including General William Childs Westmoreland. So, our flight consisted of about 15 airplanes and we were informed that we were plane number 13 in line. Although it was a clear day, there was a lot of wind turbulence at 1,200 feet, our usual jump altitude, so the pilot informed us that we would be at 1,300 feet where it was smoother. The jump was scheduled for noon, but was delayed due to changes in altitude which put us at 1300 hours. By this time the guys were looking for the number 13 everywhere and I do not remember how many more their active imaginations turned up. As we neared the Drop Zone, I sat there checking my chute, adjusting the buckles and straps as our routine training taught us to do. All parachutes have a little tiny booklet about the size of two or three inches and it is tied by a string to each parachute. These booklets record who the packer was, where it had been packed and when it had been packed too. I causally opened the booklet and read it. I told the guy next to me, “Look,” I chuckled, “it was packed by packer number 13.” The guys on each side of me glanced at the booklet in my hand, and then both of them scooted a few inches away from me and were silent for the rest of the wait. Finally, it was time to do our jumps; I was nervous because anyone who jumps feels a mixture of euphoria and fear. It is not normal to leave a perfectly safe plane and to step out into thin air over 1,000 feet up; however, once your chute opens, it is pure joy. The commands came, “Stand Up; Get Ready; Hook Up; Stand in the Door; Go”; so, out we went and it was a perfect jump; so much for the superstition of that number.
Chapter 58 – Hitchhiking In Hollywood
I was on a thirty-day leave around Thanksgiving time and had flown into San Francisco on a Military-hop Flight. I did not have much money and was hitchhiking down to Los Angeles to see my fiancée, Barbara. Another soldier friend of mine and I had ended up getting a ride from a plumber in his pickup truck. You have not lived dangerously until you have ridden on the coastal U.S. Highway 101 with a slightly drunk driver. I glanced over at the paratrooper next to me and he was so scared that his knuckles turned white as he gripped the door handle. He might have jumped out, but there were thousand-feet drop offs in some spots. The other side of the highway had a five-hundred-foot cliff towering above us. With the road having very little shoulder and flimsy wooden rails that needed fixing, it was a treacherous road and ride to say the least. I did not think that structure would stop a motorcycle let alone a fully loaded down plumber’s truck. We made small talk trying to keep the driver alert; it was a seven-hour drive that he made in six hours. I did get nervous when he hit a speed of 90 miles per hour on the straight stretches. At least he sobered up along the way by the time we arrived in Los Angeles. We got out on the first off ramp we spotted just north of Los Angeles. “Never drive with nuts and drunks,” my friend said. After waiting five or ten minutes a large limousine pulled up. Wow, I thought; now we are traveling in style. The windows were dark so you could not see the chauffeur. The passenger rolled his window down and asked us, “Want a lift?” He seemed okay and so we jumped in and took the ride. We had traveled only a few miles when the man invited both of us up to his mansion. He told us we could have lunch with him and it sounded good until he started bragging about his large art collection of etchings. When he talked, he moved his hands around in a limp-wrist fashion. When he started to giggle, I decided it was time to leave. I said, “I have to get off at the next off ramp in Glendale.” The chauffeur took the Western Ave. exit, near Hollywood Hills, and dropped me off. I had tried to get the other soldier to leave with me, but he wanted to go the five more miles to his home. When I saw him back at Fort Bragg, he told me that he had a nice lunch, a few beers, and had made it home safe. I, however, was stuck at the off ramp for hours before getting a ride. After a few hours of waiting and hitchhiking, I made it to Barbara’s, in La Puente, that evening. I discovered that trying to hitchhike in Hollywood while wearing a uniform was not a good idea!
Chapter 59 – Demo Range
After we had finished most of our classroom instruction on Demolition and Explosives, our teacher said it was time for hands on experience. This is what I had been waiting for, blowing up stuff! We had about fifty soldiers in our class and at the Demo Range we had a refresher course on safety. We then went down range to blow up some TNT Blocks; it was a nice sunny day. We were put into groups of five or six; each group gathered in a separate circle with a sergeant showing us how to cut the fuses so that all of the charges would blow up at the same time. As we squatted down on our heels to watch; he gave us each a number corresponding with the length of our fuse, I was number four. We cut our fuses and put on the blasting caps and igniters. After a final check, the sergeant said, “Number One”, and the first guy pulls his igniter and started his fuse burning. I glanced at the guy next to me, number five, who had the shortest fuse of our group. His fuse was smoking. In his nervousness he had popped his igniter too soon. I looked at him, but he just stared transfixed by his explosive with its smoking fuse. I waited for a few seconds for him to say something but he stayed frozen in place. I glanced up at the sergeant who had been lecturing on when this type of set up would be used. So, I said “Sergeant; he’s lit his fuse,” pointing to the guy next to me.
He swore and then yelled, “Everyone, pop your fuse;” then he turned to the sergeants of the other groups and yelled, “Fire in the Hole, pop your fuses.” In seconds everyone had their fuses burning and the sergeant yelled, “Up to the bunker, double time.” Within a moment, they had all run the two hundred feet to the bunker and were safe inside. We had only been there for another minute or two when the ground shook as the whole down range area blew up. Needless to say, the student who had frozen up was run through the ringer by the lieutenants and the sergeants.
On the other hand, I got an admiring comment of, “Good work” and a pat on the back from many. It was not until a several years later that I realized how close we had all come to death. I was told by a family member that a distant cousin of mine who was in the Special Forces on that very same Demo Range was killed there five years later. He and his training class were doing the very same set up that we had done. My family member continued telling me, “Back when that happened; the lunch truck had showed up and set up their hot-chow line but no one was around for lunch. After waiting a half hour, the cook went looking for them. He checked the bunker, and then he went around the berm (Dirt embankment that surrounded the Demo Range). He then walked out onto the Demo Range and looked around. He froze in his tracks! Startled by what he saw before his eyes, he then turned and ran back to call for help, but it was too late for that. The whole class of fifty students; including the sergeants and officers were all found dead and some of their bodies were scattered in pieces across the field.” When I heard of that, I realized sometimes we walk close to the grim reaper and never know it.
Chapter 60 – The Last Day of Class
We were hyped up because our classes were over and we had completed our tests. We sat nervously waiting for our instructor, a sergeant; who was going to let us know who passed or failed. The scores were posted on the bulletin board in the hall of the building that we were in; and I had earned a 365 for my score. Since you needed a score of 345 out of the 400 possible; I was happy to know what my score was. However, we were in for a big surprise because the sergeant explained to us that some ‘pencil pusher’ had overestimated how many combat engineers were going to be needed. So, the new passing score was set at 385 instead of the 345. Out of our fifty plus students only three or four would pass under these new rules. So, our two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of training was for naught. The sergeant piped up and said, “There is a need for COMO men.” (Communications and Crypto) “It seems that the radio man was one of the first men the VC snipers picked off; so there was a severe shortage.” Many of the men were angry and discouraged that a half-year of their life had just been wasted and they would never be able to be certified as a Combat Engineer as they had worked so hard for. Those that did not want to be retrained for a new M.O.S. (Job) would have no other option but to transfer out of the Special Forces for assignment overseas. Until that time, we would go to a holding company and do various work details until our new orders came. This would take approximately one month; but for a few of us, we waited for four months. The next day was hot and sunny and the beginning of a new routine for us. The sergeant was cranky; we had fallen out for noon formation; some details had been canceled and he was left with forty troopers to baby-sit. He would have rather been drinking and shooting pool with his friends. As we waited for new orders to come down, he yelled, “This front lawn looks like a disaster area, get down and pull all the weeds out.” So, we were on our hands and knees ripping out weeds; the lawn was brown from the long dry spell that we were in. One smart aleck on his knees called out to the sergeant, “Sergeant, there are more green weeds then brown grass in this lawn.” The sergeant glared at him and then looked closer at the lawn. “Well, you are right trooper, so let’s just leave the weeds and pull up all the grass, now!” So, we spent an hour or two pulling up the grass and it was a lousy day in the hot sun; this was the beginning of many of what we called ‘Mickey Mouse’ orders. We had been moved over into a Holding Company to await our new orders. When I had joined the Army, I had a friend who had told me, “Never volunteer for a work detail.” He also said, “Just blend in by staying in your company formation.” He was right! I noticed that the first ones picked for the dirtiest work details were those who wore eyeglasses. I guess it was the old ‘four-eyed’ syndrome; the glasses somehow made you look smarter. The sergeants wanted to let you know who the boss was and so they picked ‘four-eyes’ for their dirty jobs. When I noticed this, I started taking off my glasses before getting into formation; I immediately started getting the easier details. These included working at the Special Forces Museum, Special Forces Headquarters, The Gabriel Demonstration area, and being the Aggressors. The Aggressors were the ones who attacked during the War Games in the swamp. I worked at many places from September 1968 to February 1969; it was during that time that five other guys and I had our orders lost.
Chapter 61 – Assassin Teachers
It was a hot dusty day and I was working on a detail at the Special Forces Museum on base. I had finished my job early and the sergeant told me, “Get lost, and don’t come back until after lunch at 1300 hour. Stay out of the way of the officers if they spot you, they will put you on another work detail.” So, I took off and walked around for a while and then stopped by some classrooms for a smoke. I went around back of the building and leaned against the white World War II Barracks that were being used as classrooms. I lit up a cigarette and was relaxing when I heard voices coming from the open window near me. I saw one of my teachers at his desk in the empty classroom talking to another sergeant who had just walked in. “Where have you been, I have not seen you for four or five weeks?” The other sergeant sat down and said, “I was out of country; do you remember that Chinese governor who was executing our captured pilots on the North Vietnamese border?”
“Yeah”, the other sergeant answered. “We had to eliminate him; I got into his house and booby trapped everything. When he went to take a shower, everything lit up.” The other one nodded and said, “Then they got the message and will stop killing our captured men over there. But, of course, it never happened.” Our teacher smiled and then started talking about football.
I quietly moved away and walked to the mess hall for lunch. The sergeants never knew that I had overheard them, but now I knew what some of my instructors did when I thought they were at home or on leave. Later in the afternoon I stopped at the supply warehouse where my friend was on duty and the sergeant in charge was selling two or three extra camouflaged blankets (Poncho Liners); they were in short supply and made of parachute material and very light weight. They were an excellent thing to have out in the field and so I bought one for $20 and I still have it to this present day.
Chapter 62 – Medal Man
Our company was lined up out front of our barracks; everyone was ready for the Full-Dress Inspection which we had once a month. I was in the front row and the man next to me stood out a little bit. That was because while most of us were young twenty or under, he was about thirty-five years old, which was unusually old for a private. I had talked to him before in a casual way, he was writing a book about the branches of the military service. He had already served four years each in the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force. When he finished with the Army, he planned to transfer to the Coast Guard. Whenever he transferred, he always started at the lowest rank each time. When he completed his final tour, he planned on publishing his book; he was definitely a different guy. The Lieutenant walked up and down the lines of men checking each of them before the higher officers arrived to inspect. He was what we called a thirty-day wonder; young officer trying too hard and full of himself, he stopped in front of the one guy next to me who we called the old guy. He glanced up and down him and then loudly asked him, “Are those all of your medals troop?” Referring to the three ribbons he wore on his chest, “No Sir,” the man replied. The officer glared and said, “This is a full-dress inspection, you go and you will put all of your ribbons on!” The private saluted him and said, “Yes Sir,” and he then trotted back to his barracks. He returned a few minutes later just as the Captain and other officers were getting out of their vehicle; he quickly got into the line next to me. The inspection started and proceeded normally until they stopped beside me. I glanced out of the corner of my eyes; the officers were looking at his six rows of ribbons from four branches of service. They asked him about his ribbons and awards, some of which they were unfamiliar with. As they questioned him about his previous service, I learned that he had been an E-8 but had requested that the Army start him out as an E-1. Soon the inspection continued and a rather dumb-founded Lieutenant followed the officers away. Later I asked my friend why he had not worn all his ribbons and awards to begin with. He smiled and answered, that “He did not want to be labeled as a bragging private or show off, especially since he had twice as many ribbons as our Captain had. After the war I wondered if he had made it back to write his unique book.
Chapter 63 – Wedding Bells
In the fall of 1968 Barb and I had made plans for a December wedding. Two of my friends in the Special Forces came with me to California to our wedding. I had asked Craig Seeley to be my best man and the other one, Jan Hensley, to be in the wedding party. The wedding was in Rosemead, California, at the Church of the Nazarene on December 28, 1968. Barb had been raised Catholic and I was raised Baptist and so we choose a neutral church that Barb had been attending with her friends, Nyona and Judy. Barb’s stepdad caused problems at the wedding and was threatening to hit Barb’s mom! Fortunately, Barb’s dad, Arthur, was there and was a truck driver at the time. One of his good friends, Mr. Puente, was also a truck driver and an off duty-police officer. When the trouble began, the two of them took Barb’s stepdad, Ed, aside and Mr. Puente opened his suit jacket and showed him his service revolver. He told him, “We do not want any trouble here, do we?” Ed fumed and went out to his vehicle for another drink. In the parking lot he started yelling and getting physical with Barb’s mom, Eleanor. My two Army buddies happened to be out there and saw what was going on; the three of us were all dressed in full uniform. They convinced him to settle down and go into the church for the wedding ceremony. Ed was a World War II, Army veteran himself and had respect for soldiers like the Green Beret. Even though I knew all this was going on before our ceremony, Barb did not. That is why in our wedding photos I look so serious; I was waiting for the preacher to ask, “Does anyone know of any reason these two should not get married?” I thought Ed would jump up and cause a commotion; which I knew would end up in a ‘slug fest’. Everything did go on as planned and we were soon celebrating our honeymoon. As leaves go in the Army, the honeymoon was cut short and we both had to go our separate ways for a while until we would meet again in a few months.
Chapter 64 – Aggressors at Camp Jackson
One of the work details I did enjoy the most was being on the Aggressors Detail for Jungle Training. I enjoyed this because our work mostly consisted of setting up night ambushes for the ‘Cherries’ as we called the new students. This left our daytime hours free to sleep, clean weapons, and just plain goof off. We had plenty of C-Rations to eat and the sergeant in charge went to local farms that were on the edge of the swamp; he would buy whatever extra food or supplies we wanted; we would just have to pay for it. Our main camp which we nicknamed ‘Camp Swampee’ was located in the center of the swamp on a small island. Our second site, Camp Jackson was a complete firebase built along the lines of those I would later see in Viet Nam; complete with bunkers, trenches, towers, barbwire, and firing positions. The final battle at the firebase in the movie “The Green Beret” was filmed here. It was a hot day and the sun was blazing down on us in ‘Camp Swampee’. To cool off we all decided to go skinny-dipping, we only wore our Green Berets so our heads did not get sunburned; we knew the nearest civilians were approximately five miles away. We jumped in and the cool water felt great; we swam and splashed around until a huge Cottonmouth Water Moccasin turned and chased us around for a few seconds. A bunch of brave and naked soldiers splashing around with an angry poisonous six-foot snake trying to bite them was not funny and was not what I imagined our training to be like. Finally, one of the guys killed it and took it off to prepare it with our dinner on the fire pit back at camp. This whole escapade had tired us out and so we decided to sunbathe on a small grassy hill. We covered our private areas up with our Berets and dosed off for a short while. Suddenly, the sound of a helicopter woke us up; before we could move, it had flown by some thirty-feet overhead. We recognized it as the General’s and he was leaning out looking; he had a clear view of our naked bodies’ sun bathing on the knolls below him. After passing over, the chopper turned and started to come back for another look see; but by this time, we were up and running to cover! He flew on and before too much later, a Captain was sent to our camp to check up on us. Everyone was dressed, busy, and appearing normal when he arrived. The next day the General sent word down to our sergeants that, “Uncle Sam was not sponsoring a nudist camp and he better not hear of it again, or heads would roll.” A few nights later we were back at Camp Jackson for more training. The ‘Cherries’ had to send out scouts to spy on us as part of their reconnaissance exercise. I was sitting on a wooden box loading my M-14 Clip with blanks and nearby two sergeants were sitting on logs and talking. One of them who was in charge, let’s call him ‘Scar’; was thumbing through some personnel files while speaking. “That Lieutenant is a cocky and smart-alecky young man!” We heard him use a few choice words before he continued his comments. “Thinks he is Mr. Tough Guy and that by bluffing and being arrogant makes him a leader.” The other sergeant nodded his head in agreement and said, “Yeah, he told me that no VC could break him if he were captured and that he did not intend on being caught!” “Well, we will fix that improper attitude”, replied Sergeant ‘Scar’. A week later, it was time for the ‘Cherries’ final exam. This consisted of attacking specific targets at Camp Jackson, then escaping into the night. Our patrols captured about a dozen ‘Cherries’ and soon they were being put through the regular torture class. We had tall metal wall lockers lying down and buried in the ground so that only the doors were exposed; we put our ‘POWs’ in them. Some of our ‘Cherries’ were wearing only their underpants; our guys pounded on the metal doors to keep them awake and threw ice cold water on them every fifteen minutes or so. “Well, well”; Sergeant ‘Scar’ said, “Lookie here.” Before him was the cocky Lieutenant, his hands were tied behind him and he was striped to his boxer shorts. He was straddling a log and had sand bags tied to his ankles. He yelled at us, “You’ll get nothing from me”; and proceeded to give us only his name, rank, and serial number. I was carrying a box of flares to shoot off and another box of blanks for our rifles. All around there was shooting, bright flares in the sky, and yelling, a sort of controlled chaos for instructional purposes. I edged over closer to listen to Sergeant ‘Scar’ who then whispered to us guys who were watching, “Anyone can be broken and you don’t need physical torture.” He then turned and walked over to the Lieutenant who was by now angry and very uncomfortable. The other instructor handed ‘Scar’ the officers’ wallet. The men had been warned not to bring their wallet or personal effects out on patrol. ‘Scar’ smiled and said, “What have you got there?” He thumbed through his wallet looking at the ID and the photos as the Lieutenant glared at him. “Gee, I remember her”, he told the other sergeant showing him the photo of the Lieutenant’s wife. The Lieutenant hollered, “You never met her!” “Sure”, said the other sergeant. “Wasn’t it at Fort Ord last year?” “That’s it,” ‘Scar’ said! “She said her husband was at some language class, Chinese I think.” By now the Lieutenant was almost foaming at the mouth, “Liar, liar,” he yelled at them! But the two sergeants just ignored him. “She was great, took on just about every NCO for months.” The Lieutenant by now was emitting strangling sounds, he was so mad he could not talk. Sergeant ‘Scar’ scratched his chin and said, “She had a tiny moon shaped scar below her bikini line and three moles on her left breast.” It was about this time that the Lieutenant broke down into heavy sobbing, they soon had him so broken and confused that he blurted out all of his patrol information and the names of his team members. Sergeant ‘Scar’ came back to us and said, “I got his wife’s medical information and his travel pay records last week. The VC has spies here stateside and they would do something similar.” He lit up a cigarette and then said, “He’ll be okay after we debrief him and he calms down.” It was a hard lesson to learn but it would have been harder on him to learn it while prisoner of the enemy.
Chapter 65 – Bluffing the Officers
One day another guy and I were picked to stand guard at the Special Forces Headquarters. I had been there before on other details such as Honor Guard and reveille to raise the flag at the start of day. This day we were assigned to guard the rear entrance that was actually more important than the front entrance. People who did not want to be noticed like those from the CIA and foreigners would use the rear entrance to the building. The entrance had a large foyer with the usual desk, file cabinets, coat racks, and shelves for hats. We also had to take care of the huge coffee pot with its usual sugar and powdered cream containers. Our shift started at 6 a.m. and we would not be relieved until 8 p.m. that night, so it was going to be a long, boring day. After lunch we sat sipping coffee and checking those who entered, some officers and mostly those dressed in civilian clothes. Our guard detail was mostly for show; we did not have any weapons or side arms available. The boredom reached a peak and so I picked up a clipboard full of blank forms and papers from off of the desk in the foyer. “What are you doing?” My friend asked. “I’m going for a walk,” I said. Picking up an ink pen I told him, “Cover for me if the sergeant comes around checking up on us.” He replied, “Okay, I will.” I could see the curiosity in his eyes and the quizzical look on his face. I walked out and began my hour long, unofficial, grand tour of the headquarters. Whenever officer or other personnel approached me to see what I was doing, I would immediately glance around and pretend to be taking notes. They always backed off and left me alone each time I used that technique. The civilian workers, mostly secretaries, did their job and ignored the Military Personnel; so, I was left alone as I took my causal tour. I eventually ended up in the General’s Office; I was at his desk and I examined all the plaques, photos, and souvenirs that were hanging on the walls. I had spent fifteen or twenty minutes browsing around like I was in some city library. I had just left his office when a young lieutenant started to walk up to me with questions. I stared at his nametag and began scribbling something onto the paper on my clipboard. He stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and returned to his desk; I had bluffed him, too. I slowly strolled back to my guard post for a cup of coffee and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the security of the headquarters. In the foyer, I hung the clipboard and papers back on the wall next to three others. My friend waited until I was sipping my coffee and then said, “Well, what happened?” I blew on my coffee to cool it down and then told him of my little excursion into ‘Officer Land’. He then asked, “What if they caught you?” I laughed and replied, “So what, what will they do? Send me to Viet Nam?” We laughed at this standing joke among the troops in the holding company. We were awaiting our new orders and were probably going to be sent there anyway. “Yeah, he answered; then he grabbed the clipboard from the wall and said, “My turn, cover for me; tell them I am in the latrine.” “Okay, I said, “But, remember, act like you belong there. If anyone tries to talk to you, you ask them their name and pretend to take notes. They will probably think you are from the Inspector General’s Office or something.” He waved and went off to see the sights. I took over his job of scrutinizing and signing personnel in and out. The coffee pot was for the officers, but my buddy and I had been drinking most of it. He returned about an hour later and I handed him a cup of coffee. “Everything go okay?” I asked. He burst out laughing! “Everyone left me alone; one captain did start to cross a room to speak to me, but when I pretended to be interested in his name tag, he turned on his heels and left. I nosed around the general’s room and even sat in his chair. I had just left and was in the hall when he and a group of officers went into his office. Boy what a hoot!” We stayed at our post, but did another tour through the headquarters later that same day. We may have been of low rank, PFC’s (Private First Class), but we knew how to amuse ourselves.
Chapter 66 – Strong Minds & Weak Wills
It was nearing dawn as I returned from Guard Duty at the Weapons Depot; I stood at the second-floor window gazing out at the parking lot below. I yawned and stretched looking forward to a hot shower, and then I would hit the bunk. It was then that I noticed one of the guys in my company; he was walking across the parking lot carrying a case of beer on his shoulder. He was an okay guy, an X-MP, (Military Police) the kind you would want on your side in combat or a fight. His only problem was a major one; he had an odd hobby. On weekends he would go bar hopping and when he was good and drunk, he would start knife fights. His arms and chest were covered with knife scars. He was walking on the sidewalk leading to our barracks when the Company Commander drove up. The captain parked his car and got out looking at the soldier and his beer. He walked up to him and said, “Trooper, put that case down! You know beer is not allowed in the company area, hit your bunk and sleep it off.” However, the trooper pulled out his fighting knife and just smiled. No forty-year-old officer was going to separate him from his beer. He dropped the case of beer on the grass and then went after the captain. In about three quick moves the captain promptly knocked him out cold! He didn’t even look ruffled; he went into his office to call the Military Police. A few minutes later the MP’s arrived and dragged him to their jeep and took him to the hospital. He later received a Court-martial and was confined. A few nights later I went down to the company laundry room to do my clothes. I was surprised to find ten or eleven other soldiers there listening to a man sitting on a dryer. I loaded my washer and listened in too. He was about twenty-five years old, older than the rest of us. One man interrupted him and said, “I heard the LSD (Referring to the illegal drug) can give you dangerous flash backs!” The older man smiled and said, “I’ve had 389 trips and not one bad one; it is all a matter of mind control. LSD is not for the weak willed. The strong minded can control it, look.” He then stared at the brick wall across the room from him. “The walls are melting like ice cream”, he said. Suddenly he ducked a little and watched something that we could not see. “There, a witch just flew out and went across the room”, he paused. “Now, I am concentrating and everything is returning to normal.” He grinned around at the group and said, “See, you just have to have a strong mind.” As I left my clothes to wash and went back to my room, I was thinking, there is one guy I don’t want to be in the same firefight with, he would shoot at anyone. When I went back an hour later to get my things, the room was empty. I had forgotten about it until two or three days later when the sound of feet pounding up the stairs woke me up. Soon everyone was awake as we could hear the loud noises coming from the room above us on the third floor. We decided to go up and see what the ruckus was all about. While we were on the stairs, two medics ran past us and we followed them to the room above ours. We all entered the room together and stood there watching as the medics observed the man on the floor. I recognized him as the same older guy who was bragging about the LSD a few days before. Now, however, he was acting like a baby sucking his thumb and was on all fours grunting and honking like a pig. Then he was clucking and strutting around like a chicken. He paused for a second and flopped down to the floor and began hissing and slithering snakelike. We all stared at him dumbfounded. Suddenly, he sat up and began hopping around and making sounds like a monkey. The medics looked at each other and the man curled up on the floor into a fetal position and began sucking his thumb again “He just repeats the cycle over and over,” said one of his roommates. The medics finally took him away and he was never heard from again. So much for the ‘LSD Strong Mind’ theory!
Chapter 67 – The Dream
One night I had another unusual dream. It was so odd that as soon as I woke up, I wrote a poem about it on the first piece of paper I could find.
“Left Over Dream”
When I get up in the morning and see the deep blue sky
It leaves my heart aching to know I soon will die
Some say earth is really a living hell
but the way people act today, I can't really tell
Flying like an Eagle, spinning to the ground
There among the grassy knolls my body will be found
Is life a long dream? And our dream looks at reality?
I am soon to wake up and see how things really be.
© Clayton M. Peterson; Feb. 18, 1969
I wondered about the dream for a few days, but soon the everyday Army life pushed the memory of it into the recesses of my mind.
Chapter 68 – Home on Leave before Nam
My orders finally came and they were for Viet Nam. Our missing records had been found behind a steel filing cabinet after being lost for three months. Soon my orders were processed and I went home for thirty days leave. The officers and sergeants in charge of the Mess Hall wanted me to stay and be an assistant cook as their cooks were going to Viet Nam. I had pulled KP so often that I had gotten so I could cook two hundred and fifty eggs on the huge grill in twenty minutes. I said “No thank you, captain,” for I knew it would only put off me going to Viet Nam for a month or so and I wanted to go as a soldier, not as a cook. I signed out of the company at Fort Bragg and told my friends goodbye. I then flew to Los Angeles to meet up with my new wife, Barbara. After a few days we left for Washington State. My father-in-law drove us up there in his car and we arrived in Aberdeen, my hometown, a few days later. We took our time driving up the coast to enjoy the scenery. We spent time visiting with my mother Georgia, my stepdad Curly, (Lawrence Larsen) and my brothers and sisters. Everyone was very supportive and tried to make my time with them enjoyable. I caught up on some good home cooked meals and taking my wife and father-in-law to see some local sights. One of the places we visited was a shipwreck, the SS Catala, which was at Ocean Shores, Washington. It was half submerged on the sand dunes; and was the only shipwreck on the west coast that you could, actually, walk up to and climb onto from just a few steps from the sandy beach. Curly, had salvaged the huge wooden steering wheel from the Catala for his boss. The ship had run aground in 1962 during the Columbus Day Storm. We explored the rusty hulk and had a very nice day. We crammed many events into a short few days before I had to leave for Viet Nam. It was hard saying goodbye to everyone and I know that it was hard for them, too. On the last day before I left, Curly came up to me and handed me a silver dollar. He told me to make sure I brought it back to him and that it was not for luck but as a reminder to me of my family back home. He had led a very rough life. He had married a Navajo Princess when he was only sixteen and was a sheepherder for them. At that time, he had a child with the Princess; later we found out this child’s name was Jim. While he worked as a sheepherder, he became involved in a brawl with his wife’s uncles and it involved knives. He had shot and killed one of his wife’s uncles in self-defense. Because of that, he was forced to flee the state and never saw his wife and baby boy again. To the day Curly died, he had wondered what had happened to his first son. He remarried years later and had two sons, Lonnie and Frederick; and two daughters, Emily and Louise. Lonnie had polio and died at a very young age; and Frederick (Freddy) had died in Viet Nam in 1968. He had served in the 3rd Battalion 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. When they sent Freddy’s body home, there was a mix up and when the coffin was opened; it was discovered that his son’s body was not the one in there. They had sent the body of someone else’s son. Curly had a heart attack because of that! Eventually, they found the correct coffin and straightened things out; it was a very traumatic time for my stepdad. When he pressed the 1921 Morgan Silver Dollar into my hand, I knew that with all of his own son’s gone that he was expressing his love to me as one of his own. It was April 10, 1969 and when we woke up in the morning, it was gray and gloomy; I had to catch an early bus at the Greyhound Bus Station in Aberdeen, Washington, and head to Fort Lewis. A few hours later I was being processed into a holding company for those bound for overseas. We had to turn all of our American money in and exchange it for foreign military currency. I only had thirteen dollars and thirty-eight cents on me. I put the silver dollar in my wallet and carried it on me everywhere I went, even on my patrols. The rest of my stuff I boxed up and sent home. We were issued our combat uniforms and equipment and had to attend classes on how to conduct ourselves in Viet Nam. We learned about their customs, their culture, and we were given a Viet Nam Language Booklet to help us with our communication skills. After we received all of our necessary items, we headed for the buses. The buses took about two hundred of us to McCord Air Force Base where we proceeded to board the civilian passenger jet which was waiting for us there. The jet was soon in the air and we were off on our tour of duty. Hours later we landed in Hawaii for refueling and were allowed to go out and stretch our legs. I bought a post card for my wife and mailed it from there. The stopover was only a short one; I have never been back to Hawaii since then, but my Barbara still has the post card I sent her and her dream is to go to Hawaii someday. Everyone on the plane was quiet and reserved and lost in their thoughts. The stewardesses were trying to perk us up but were not very successful. Many of us knew that some of us would not be coming back alive. As the hours passed, most of us dosed off; I am sure some of them hoped that their mother would wake them up, calling them down for breakfast and to catch the school bus. But it was not a dream, it was very real; and for many, it was the start of a nightmare.
Chapter 69 – Welcome to Viet Nam
On the long quiet flight across the Pacific Ocean, I managed to fall asleep; it was April 13, 1969. I glanced out the window and watched as we approached the airport at Cam Rah Bay. The stewardesses came on the intercom to tell us that the runway was under mortar attack! The jet plane rolled to a stop and then the door swung open wide! In just seconds, we went from a quiet, air-conditioned plane out into a hot, noisy, and muggy combat area. It felt like walking into a sauna bath—instant sweat! As we were leaving the plane, we grabbed our bags and lined up at the door. Because of the mortar attack going on, the moment the door was opened we were to run down the gangway (Steps) and across the tarmac to a large hanger for processing. So more than one hundred of us quickly debarked from the plane; we were greeted by a world of explosions and strange smells, such as the burning diesel, cordite, and a mixture of tropical aromas. Inside the hanger, we were quickly put through ‘In Processing’. The next day we had to go flying again and this time it was in a Twin-Engine C-7A, (Caribou) a small cargo-transport plane. We flew south toward Saigon and on to the base at Dong Tam. After landing, we hung around waiting for transportation; as we sat there, in the shade of the hanger taking everything in, a jeep rolled up packed with a driver and four officers who were in full jump equipment. (Parachutes) About fifty feet from us the jeep stopped and the four officers walked over to a Huey Helicopter that was idling its’ engine. Once they were all aboard, the chopper lifted off, flew across the runway about one hundred feet and hovered over the grass strip there three feet up. I was puzzled when all four officers jumped off and then walked back to their jeep, still wearing their unopened parachutes! They all laughingly climbed abroad and left. I looked at the soldier standing nearby and asked him, “What the heck was that all about?” He had a disgusting look on his face before replying, “Well, they use the choppers altimeter reading instead of the three feet as their jump height; this qualifies them for Combat Parachute Wings!” It took me a few seconds to realize that they were either ‘Lifers!’ (Career Soldiers) or future politicians who thought the medal would look good on their resumes! We were taken to our barracks at the holding company and were warned to stay away from the French Brothel next to the base during our tour of duty as it was owned by the Viet Cong. In the morning we got up and after breakfast went to the Rifle Range. We all had to qualify with the M-16 Rifle; this would be my third time qualifying. At the range we had to stop our shooting when a VC sniper started taking pot shots at us. No one was hit and a patrol checked it out, but nothing was found in the area where the shots came from. Seems that this was a regular occurrence and luckily, he was a lousy shot! After lunch, we attended a class on booby traps. One of the instructors was a Chieu Hoi; he did not have a shirt on, and he had deep pitted scars across his chest where he had been shot. I found out later that he had been recruited by the Viet Cong when he was around the age of twelve to carry their weapons and to fight against us! His family had allowed U.S. Soldiers to get water from their well and so they were put to death; when he complained about it, he was shot and left for dead. He had a burning desire to avenge his family’s murders, so we trusted him. He showed us how to detect booby traps and the VC tricks in camouflage and we all took it to heart knowing how important it was for our survival. After the booby trap class, the sergeant told us we had two hours to take care of business such as laundry, mail, and/or just taking a nap. I decided to take a tour of the base and as I walked around, I passed an artillery detachment. The men were out doing maintenance on their Howitzers, (Cannons); these supplied fire support for our men out in the boondocks. I noticed that everyone wore the same clothes and had the same haircuts and I guess that was one of the reasons we had to wear our nametags! Years later I found out that one of those men had been my cousin Alan Peterson from Michigan. He later died from the effects of Agent Orange. A couple years before he died, he had moved to Aberdeen with his wife Candy; I was glad to have been able to spend time with him then. It was getting late in the afternoon and I decided to check out the barbershop because I needed a haircut. Inside were four girls and a guy, Vietnamese civilians who worked on base during daylight hours. The girls cut my hair and gave me a head and neck massage and it was very relaxing; then they lathered me up for my shave. The older man came over and shooed them away, saying, “I shave”! He took a large straight razor and rapidly honed it on the leather strap attached to the barber chair. He gave me the best shave that I have ever had. All the time he was shaving me, he was chattering at me in small talk about the weather and trivia things. When he finished, he placed hot towels on my face and left them there for a minute or two. I then paid him and left a nice tip because I was very satisfied. The rest of the day was uneventful. It was later that night when we were awakened by a barrage of shells and rockets. The sergeants assigned to us as our armed escorts hurried us down to our sandbag bunker. Since we were new in Country, we did not have our own weapons. We huddled half-awake in the dark listening to the explosions and gunfire all around us. Two of the sergeants ran up to the door of our bunker and yelled to our escort, “We’ve got sappers coming through the wire! If they get to the ammo-depot, we are dead!” Just prior to this during the 1968 Tet Offensive; the VC had blown up the same ammo dump, killing many of our troops. Our sergeant cocked his M-16 and said, “Stay here, don’t make a sound no matter what!” He then ran off with his two buddies into the dark, leaving us new guys unarmed and alone in the dark bunker. I was near the door and I could hear a violent firefight going on outside about a hundred feet away near the Concertina Wire Fence that surrounded our base. This went on for about five or ten minutes and then the gunfire tapered off with an occasional mortar shell or rocket still coming in. Our sergeant, eventually; returned and in response to our questioning looks, told us, “It was a four-man sapper-team and we got them all! The last one made it to the last strands of the barbed wire and almost made it through there.” He paused, and then went on to explain, “The last man was found to be the base barber who had, evidently, been spying on our base and looking for weak spots.” So, I had two close shaves from the same Viet Cong that day; we learned that the enemy could be anyone and everywhere!
Chapter 70 – My New Unit
After a day of processing in, I finally found out the name of my new unit. The 9th Division Mobile Riverine Force; my mail would go to Co. D, 4th Bn. 47th Inf., and 9th Infantry Division. The more I learned about my new unit, ‘The River Raiders’, the more familiar it seemed to be. Then I remembered two years before in 1967 at Weatherwax High School I had done a report in my history class. The presentation was on the American Civil War Navies of the North and the South. The Union Navy successfully split the south by gaining control of the Mississippi River and Delta. This effectively signaled the defeat of The Confederacy. My new unit had the same basic military objective; we were to chase the enemy (VC) out of the Mekong River and Delta. One of our assault boats was even called ‘Monitors’ after the famous Civil War ship. The reason for me and the other Army soldiers being connected to the Navy soon became evident. Uncle Sam had run out of Marines, so we were called in to do the job. Here I had tried so hard not to be recruited by the Marines, Ha! Ha! The land base had support, supply, and artillery units, but the bulk of the combat troops were stationed or billeted on Barrack Ships. These were converted from old WWII LST (Landing Ship Tanks). I think mine was named the USS Benewah County. Each one held four-hundred to five-hundred troops, about four companies. How confusing! I was in the Army being a Marine on a Navy ship. I had thought that the Special Forces had a dangerous job, but in Viet Nam the Riverine Forces had three times their causality rate. So, it appeared that I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire! The Benewah sent a boat out to pick us up at the dock and to take us to the LST in the middle of the river. After reporting in and getting settled down, I was assigned into the 1st Platoon and within that platoon I was assigned to the 1st Squad; the rest were put into various others of the sixteen platoons on the ship. I took a breather and went topside and walked out onto the fantail (Stern) of the ship. I smoked a cigarette and watched the small swift boats that were circling our larger ship. The previous year in November of 1968, the VC had bought scuba gear on the Black Market, which came from our own PX. (Post Exchange) This sneak attack had planted mines and almost sunk the LST 1167 (West Chester County) killing sailors and soldiers alike in the largest Navy Combat loss of the war. Because of that attack, the big ships never anchored, but constantly moved about on the wide river. The circling patrol boats I had been watching stopped; a few of the soldiers came up to the rail next to me and we watched as the sailors pulled in grappling hooks, dragging a large barrel with wires hanging from it. They quickly cut the wires, making the controlled detonation mine harmless. I did not know how sound I would sleep that night knowing there could be mines floating that close to our hull. Later in the day, I went out on deck to get some fresh air; I was thinking about this new unit I was in when somebody came up behind me. He said, “Pete!” I turned around and recognized a guy who had been stationed at Fort Bragg with me. In June of 1968, I had worked with him a few times at the Gabriel Demonstration Area. He was a medic and we had performed first-aid demonstrations for visiting politicians, foreigners, and officers. I don’t remember his name; it is lost in the trauma and the fog of war. He shook my hand and we exchanged greetings. We talked reminiscing about old friends like the ‘Hook,’ and brought each other up to date on what we both had been doing. He had been in the unit for approximately four months and seen hundreds of our men lost in action, far, too, many close up and personal. Finally, he glanced at his wristwatch and said, “Well, us ‘Green Beanies’ & ‘Snake Eaters’ have got to stick together! Don’t worry, I will keep an eye out for you, got to go now and will see you later.” As he walked away, I thought to myself, well, that is a nice surprise, a friendly face from home!I had tried to join the Navy and so I was happy to be stationed on a Navy ship. We did not have any long missions; usually we were out for only three or four days at a time. After our short mission out, we would usually come back for a few days rest before our next operation. When returning the captain would have a barbeque complete with steaks, burgers, and all the makings. There was watered-down beer to drink and soda drinks for those that did not like alcohol. This all took place on the Ammo Barge that was tied up next to the ship where we cleaned and turned in our weapons and ammunition. This barbeque, “Three Hots and a Cot”, plus hot showers all helped to take the edge off and were things land troops seldom received. That night I got off a short letter to Barb and then prepared my equipment for the next day’s task.
Chapter 71 – Combat
Our company’s main transportation in the Delta was not choppers, they were secondary; we usually used armored landing craft as our primary mode. Our landing craft were the same type that was used in WWII on D-Day. For added protection, we had bar armor (Metal bars that formed a fence) to stop ‘RPG’s’ (Rocket Propelled Grenades) by making them prematurely detonate, we also had extra armor plating. For firepower, we had a 20mm Cannon and two 50-Caliber Machine Guns up top where the wheelhouse was. The wheelhouse is where the sailors steer the boat, also known as the cockpit. Four more 30-Caliber Machine Guns, two on each side; were mounted along the sides near the wells (Cargo Areas) where the troops were carried. Over our heads, we had a canvass top which was supported by a metal frame; this provided shade from the hot tropical sun, protection from the ‘Monsoon Rains’, and best of all it helped deflect hand grenades that were tossed into the boat. For every four of this type of boat (Tango) the fifth one had its canvass covered with a metal platform helipad for medevac’ing the wounded. These landing crafts were nicknamed “The World’s Smallest Aircraft Carriers. (ATCH) We checked out our weapons. I had an M-16 and my personal K-Bar Knife; we carried our combat load in our Alice Rucksacks. My load included 4 canteens, 6 boxes of C-rations, 8 clips with ammo for my M-16, two bandoleers which held a couple hundred extra rounds of ammo, a 3-foot long belt of bullets for the M-60 Machine Gun, 4 hand grenades, and 4 blocks of C-4 explosives. Along with what was in there, we also carried a rain poncho, our extra socks, and other personal items we wished to tote along. There was extra equipment which was divided among the troops and included ropes, shovels, hatchets, machetes, claymore mines, trip flares, inflatable raft or mattress for crossing streams, a starlight scope; and many other items, too numerous to mention. This was the method used to spread out the weight of the equipment among the soldiers. We rounded out our equipment with a steel helmet and flak jacket, which all totaled approximately fifty pounds. While standing on the Ammo Barge waiting to board our boats, I noticed soldiers in swimming trunks stationed alongside the barge. It was obvious to me that they were there to prevent any of us from drowning in case we fell into the murky, muddy water. It was then that the sergeant standing next to me told me why I had been assigned to the Riverine Force. It was not because of my Special Forces Training, but the mere fact that I could swim as they had lost too many troops who had drowned in the Delta. Soon the order was given and we boarded our landing craft. These were called ATC’s (Armored Troop Carrier); the Navy called them Tango Boats. The men sat down and tried to get comfortable as the boat rocked and rolled as it carried us out to war. Over the next few days, I observed the men acting in a professional but cautious way, doing their jobs without complaining or being foolish. We had no room for ‘Glory Seekers’! We were conducting ourselves as skilled soldiers; our units saw more combat action in one week than some of the regular units saw in a three months’ period. This was because we were in ‘Victor Charlie’s home territory. On one patrol I was up on a small rise. Below me and to the left were four other soldiers; off to the right in the open forest two VC’s, in Black Pajamas, were carrying AK-47’s had popped out of a spider hole and were running! My reflex was quick and I shot a small burst at them as they dove into another spider hole where they disappeared out of sight. I do not know if I hit them or not. Some of the guys in front and to the left yelled at me for shooting so close to them. They were spooked and afraid of friendly fire from a ‘Green’ or new guy who had not learned the ropes yet! It irritated me, but I could not blame them for being outspoken. During my tour of duty, I was only in three firefights, so I barely got a taste of combat. My first firefight was fast, furious, and only a few minutes long. I only saw muzzle flashes, smoke and explosions. I did not see a single enemy soldier and when it was over, the sergeant came up to me and handed me the arm of my buddy in front of me and said, “Take off the watch and ring and give it to the captain.” I took the arm and asked him, “What do I do with the arm?” He replied, pointing to a burning hut, “Just throw it into that burning Hooch.” So, I did as he ordered and then a group of us chopped out a small clearing in the bamboo for the loach (Light Observation Armed Chopper) to come in. When it landed, the wounded soldier, minus his left arm was medevac’d to the nearest hospital. So, I quickly became adjusted to the cruel consequences of combat.
Chapter 72 – Firefight
One of the areas that we searched on regular patrols had previously been Rubber Plantations. These were owned by the French before WWII; however, the communists had chased them out and controlled the area for the last twenty years. The deserted plantations reverted to jungle as nature ruled. One day we were on a jungle trail and we came upon a large house, a mansion really; it looked like it had been transferred from New Orleans. It had four large white pillars in front holding up a second-floor balcony where the sagging remains of a wrought-iron rail fence were visible. The walls were pocketed with bullet holes and trees poked up through where the roof used to be. It was so out of place and unexpected that it seemed like something out of the ‘Twilight Zone’, the popular television series. We passed it in silence and our long line of men was soon swallowed up in the dark shadowy jungle. As we neared one small village, a bunch of grade school children came out; they were selling cigarettes and soda pop to our troops. Although, I smoked four packs of cigarettes a day back then, I did not have any desire to buy cigarettes from them. This was because of one of the Viet Cong tricks they had! They would lace the cigarettes with dope and when the GI’s would stop for the night and unknowingly smoke them and fall into a deep sleep; the VC would sneak up on them and kill them. The soda pop was also sometimes tampered with and could be laced with battery acid or even ground up glass; so, I did what the other GI’s did, I brought a bottle of Coke and had the kid take a sip. When I was satisfied that it was not tampered with, I drank mine. A few minutes later, however, I thought what if the kid did not know it was poisoned either. I decided never to do that again. During my second firefight the man in front of me was wounded. A piece of shrapnel from a grenade had given him a bloody nose. The captain had him evacuated to the Barrack Ship by a Tango Boat. He told him that there were no pain nerves in the brain and that he could be seriously wounded and he would never know. His concern over what seemed to be a minor wound was explained to me by one of the soldiers standing next to me. He said in a low tone, “The Captain was always running around giving orders when he first got here until a sniper got him in a fire fight.” Then, pausing, he continued, “He looked barely alive and after the shooting was over and he was medevac’d out, we figured we would never see him again. A week later, though, he walked up to us and said the bullet had deflected down and came out of his neck, missing every nerve, blood vessel, and bone! He did not even need a stitch, only two bandages and had no serious after affects, but watch him when we stop.” So, the next time we stopped for a break, I watched the Captain closely. He always got down behind a tree or some kind of cover whenever he stopped walking around. I thought maybe I was being fed a line of malarkey! The Captain did have a small scar between his eyebrows and it would explain his concern for the soldiers’ nosebleed, so I concluded that it was probably true. A few minutes later we boarded our Tango Boats and the Captain asked me if I was qualified to shoot the M-79 Grenade Launcher. This was a single shot weapon that could shoot grenades, flares, or shotgun rounds. The shotgun round was like shooting ten 12 gage shotgun shells at once and was very effective. “Yes,” I said. “I practiced with it in A.I.T. and in the Special Forces back at Fort Bragg.” He handed me the M-79 and said, “You are our M-79 man now, take his pack and leave your M-16 and pack on the boat.” So it was that it took two guys getting wounded to put me behind the Point Man of our squad. Then I heard the news that our men, ‘Long Range Recon Patrol’, (LRRP) had found a VC Base Camp and that the artillery and jets were pounding it.
We were on our way to clear the camp out. It was not too long before we approached the island. Jets screamed by overhead and bombs and shells were tearing the enemy position apart. We got ready putting our packs on and loading our weapons for what we knew was coming. I was supposed to have a 45-Pistol like the officers had. This was a backup weapon since the M-79 was a single shot one; however, the medevac’d soldier had not left his pistol for me. Soon men manned the side machine guns and began spraying the shoreline as we neared it. The bombs and shells had stopped. I barely had time to prepare myself mentally when the boat hit the riverbank and the front landing craft ramp dropped down because it all happened so fast. Off we went running through the brush. I thought to myself, this is just like a ‘John Wayne’ movie except that I could hear the real bullets cutting through the leaves around me like angry bees.
We charged into the VC camp; it was a maze of bunkers. You would not have noticed them but for all the trees and foliage being blown away. The terrain looked like a moonscape full of craters. We could not find the enemy because they had pulled back into the jungle. We were consolidating our perimeter when we heard bad news from our Captain. The bunker complex indicated that five hundred VC had been there. There were only one hundred of us which made it that we were outnumbered five to one and night was rapidly approaching. Three of us were ordered out on an L.P. (Listening Post) and we were given a Starlight Scope, which was a night vision device used for surveillance. The Captain came up and said, “If you are being overrun, remember to smash the Starlight, we cannot have it in VC hands.” Now this new piece of electronics was rumored to cost $15,000 and to have to destroy it would be a great loss, but for it to land into their hands would be worse. We picked up a ‘Walkie-Talkie’ hand radio and headed out to the jungle. We went around one hundred yards and set up our L.P. in a clump of logs which was well camouflaged so that we could hear the enemy coming. My adrenalin was high, so I said I would take the first watch of three hours. Darkness fell quickly as it does in the tropics and soon the other two guys were fast asleep. I was carefully scanning the jungle around us keeping close watch to the front. I would occasionally see movement out in front of us; it was a good one hundred yards out and scattered. They were not massing (Organizing to Attack), but were just keeping an eye on us. I was getting ready to do the one-half-hour Como. Check, when I saw movement up closer and it stopped about twenty-five yards away. I knew how sound traveled further at night, so I could not speak without giving our position away. I choose not to use the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. Hours passed and I became more and more tense. At this point, I heard the radio crackling softly and could hear a faint voice over the radio calling us to check in. I reached for the radio when suddenly I had a mental flash back. When I was in third or fourth grade, we had a substitute teacher who had decided to teach us phone etiquette. She was rude and impatient with us and ridiculing our mistakes. My family was too poor to have a telephone, so I was anxious when my turn came. She began to make fun of me and the harder I tried the more blank my mind went; it was one of my worst childhood memories. As this flashed through my mind, I picked up the ‘Walkie Talkie’; the same thing happened, my mind went blank! I could not remember the call signs and I could not talk. I did not want to wake the other two guys up because of the nearness of the Enemy’s Listening Post in front of us. I silently kept watch until near dawn when the enemy pulled back their L.P. and then I woke up the other two guys by shaking their shoulders gently. The radio crackled again with a message from our Captain; one of those two, who had awoken, heard the radio and answered it this time. He told the Captain that we were fine and had not been overrun. When I tried to explain about the enemy’s L.P. that had been out front, I don’t think they believed me because the enemy left no evidence of their nighttime activity. I was angry at myself for not handling things properly, for freezing up because of a childhood memory, and for not using the knowledge I had at my disposal. My training I had been through had prepared me much better than my actions produced in that situation.
Chapter 73 – Daybreak
In the full light of dawn our Listening Post was pulled back to the main perimeter. The sergeant had accepted my explanation of what had happened; however, he said, “Next time wake someone up, no matter how close the enemy is!” With the dawn, however, came some good news: three more companies had arrived and now we were up to a total of four hundred men. After breakfast which consisted of C-rations and lukewarm water, we lined up and moved out. Our job was to sweep across the island catching the enemy in a vice between us and the River Gun Boats on the other side of the island. It was our company’s turn to be out front on point; it was my platoon’s turn to be the point platoon for our company, and our squads turn to be point for our platoon. The Army was very democratic like that, rotating us so that each group would, eventually, have the same exposures to the dangers of combat. As we crossed the island, we left the cratered landscape behind us and the jungle became thicker and denser. It soon reminded me of a ‘Tarzan’ movie with its vines, thick foliage, big leaves, and large banana trees. We stopped at noon for a lunch break; there was no contact with the enemy yet, but we knew they were still out there. After grabbing a bite to eat, I settled down and lit up a cigarette. Ordinarily, you would not do that as the enemy could smell the smoke and be alerted to our presence. The enemy in this case already knew we were coming and so it did not make a difference. I sat behind some brush enjoying my cigarette, when another GI with his cigarette dangling from his lips sat down next to me and begin talking to me. “Don’t you know smoking is unhealthy for you?” “Yeah sure,” I replied and we both chuckled. It was at this time that the sergeant ran up to us. “Get forward, the Captain wants you!” He was talking to our whole squad, and we made our way forward to our squad leader who was with the Captain crouched down by the trail. It was at this time that I found out my squad was to be point for the company. We got down and crawled up to where they were huddled; the Captain began to explain the situation to us, as it was put to him by the sergeant. “The jungle trail ahead of us does a sharp curve to the left and then to the right again and then leads into a clearing. The clearing is about the size of a basketball court. Except for a few small stumps in it, the field is clear with the grass cut low to the ground. The trail crosses through the clearing and then into the jungle on the other side. On the right and left side there are old irrigation ditches left over from some Rubber Plantation. They are eight to ten feet across, with a couple feet of water and a couple feet of mud on the bottom of each ditch.” He continued to warn us that, “These ditches usually have leeches; occasionally have small red crabs, and more often than not have poisonous snakes.” After the briefing, we settled down and waited for about twenty minutes, silently listening for sounds but we heard nothing. That stop was holding up the men behind us in our company and all the other troops behind them. There were at least four hundred men who were not being able to proceed forward, until we cleared that area. Finally, the Captain said, “Okay, let’s get going and keep a sharp look out.” The point man stepped out of the jungle and into the clearing; he had been in Nam for seven or eight months and knew what signs to be looking for. He looked for wilting leaves from hidden machine gun nests, trip wires, and booby traps; these things were done for our protection and are what made his job so dangerous. He carefully scanned the ground, trail, and the jungle as he slowly moved forward. When he reached the center of the field, I stepped out onto the field to follow him. As I moved forward, I flipped the safety off of my M-79 and thought to myself, man this is a great place for an ambush. I brought the weapon up closer to my chest and scanned the jungle and the trail carefully for signs of something out of the ordinary, but it looked peaceful and untouched. Just as the point man was five or six feet from stepping into the jungle ahead of him, I reached the center of the clearing. It was at this moment that my squad leader, a sergeant, stepped out and started following behind me; this put the maximum number of men out in the open. A sound or something made me turn to the right, but before I could see what was over there, I was enveloped in a huge explosion and I was sent up into the air and was surrounded by smoke and flames. Later reports stated a command detonated mine had gone off. Thus, began my third and final firefight.
Chapter 74 – The Third Firefight
From this point on I was in shock and everything was in slow motion. The sound was like I was under water, it was surreal; I kept passing out and coming to. I opened my eyes and I was lying on my back; I could see my legs bent and twisted. Two to three inches of bone was sticking out of my left leg, my ‘Alice Pack’ (Rucksack) was ripped and hanging from one strap on my right arm. The metal frame was bent and twisted and as I looked at the pack, I saw smoke smoldering up from it in a curling fashion; then flames started shooting up into the air. My pack contained over thirty shells for the M-79, four hand-grenades, a belt of M-60 Machine Gun ammo, five clips for an M-16; some blocks of C4 explosives, and an assortment of flares and smoke grenades. Those explosives added up to about forty-five or fifty pounds. I reached out with my right hand and beat on the burning pack until the flames went out. It was then that I noticed a hole in my upper right arm, it was big enough for a golf ball to pass through and I could see the white from my exposed bone. I fell backwards on the ground and passed out. A few seconds later, I came to and was feeling no pain. I sat up; I had my M-79 in my left hand and I could see that the point man had been hit. He had been wounded in the head and arm and was down and unconscious. I heard later in the hospital that he had made it. I turned to my left and could see the sergeant behind me; he, too, was down wounded in the head and chest, unmoving. Once again, I passed out for a few seconds; when I awoke, some movement caught my eye. It was then that I saw one of the men who had shot us. He was standing in the ditch to my right somewhat to the front of me. I could see him from his waist up; I could tell he was an NVA Officer. He wore Khakis and, on his belt, he had a pistol; and what was a surprise to me, was that he was carrying a captured M-79 Grenade Launcher. He was unloading the grenade and ejecting the empty shell; it flew through the air spinning and trailing behind it was a spiral of smoke. Both of my legs were broken, but I managed to get to my knees, my training took over and by reflex I started to swing my M-79 toward him. At the same time, I was yelling over my right shoulder, “Machine Gunner, Machine Gunner,” because I knew we had to lay down covering fire to pull the wounded back. I wasn’t being brave or anything, but just doing my job as a trained soldier. As I turned, I saw bright flashes of light like a flash camera going off. The flashes were coming from the end of the ditch on my left side. The ditch wandered off into the jungle just where the flashes came from. The dirt was being kicked up all around me as the bullets hit the ground; it was flying about five to six feet up into the air. Suddenly, a bullet hit me in the jaw; it was painless, but reminded me of the time I was kicked by a horse while on a church Youth Campout. The impact spun me around on my knees three times; I remember because I counted the tree branches off to the side of me in the jungle as I was spinning and I counted the same branches three times. After spinning three times, I then collapsed on the ground from the shot that later would be called the “Million to One” shot. The doctors later told me that a 45. Slug had entered the left side of my jaw at the joint. The bullet had split in half with one half deflecting up into the roof of my mouth while the other half continued on and exited out the right side of my jaw. In one second all my facial bones and my jaw were broken and my Cortaid Artery was completely severed. The roof of my mouth and sinuses were blown apart; my tongue was cut in half, and some of my teeth and part of my tonsils were removed. When I hit the ground, I blacked out again. At this time, I did not know it but besides both of my legs being broken so was my left arm and some ribs on my left side. A few seconds later, I came to again and I was so weak from loss of blood that I could not get up to my knees like I had done earlier. I did manage to roll over on my belly and I was still clutching my M-79 in my left hand. The enemy machine gun on the left had stopped firing; it had either jammed or they were reloading. The NVA Officer on my right side was still in the ditch and he too was holding his M-79 as he was ducking for cover in slow motion. I swung my M-79 around and squeezed the trigger, “You shall not kill” flashed through my mind, one of the Ten Commandments. I know now that the original Hebrew says, “You shall not murder.” Otherwise, David could not have killed Goliath or Joshua could not have killed those at Jericho either and still had the blessing of God. Mutual combat is not murder, but I was not thinking about those things until I came home from the war. I think I got him but I will never know because it was then that I found out why he was ducking down. He had reloaded and his second grenade was in the air; it landed behind me and the explosion lifted me up and I was surrounded by flames. There was a loud hum like a high-tension electric power line and then suddenly everything went black. It was as if a light switch had been flipped off. I later found out from one of the doctors that someone had shot me numerous times with an AK-47 Assault Rifle. One round destroyed my right ankle and the second round went through my right calf; the third one blew out the back of my right knee, the fourth one hit my right thigh. The fifth one ended up behind my right kidney; the sixth one stopped behind my heart. Then, the final bullet ended up behind my right lung. Later on one sergeant wondered if I had been used as a human sandbag for men to take cover behind thinking I was dead. I do not know that to be true, but I hope if it was that it helped one of my buddies. Needless to say, the Flak Jacket is not bullet proof; I did not know this until sometime later. After the second grenade had gone off, I was dead to the world. What followed next was awesome and hard to describe. I cannot, with one hundred per cent, find the right words; it is like an Eskimo trying to describe his arctic environment to a Bedouin Arab who has never left the Sahara Desert. The communication gap between the two would be frustratingly awkward.
Chapter 75 – The Room
When the darkness overwhelmed me, suddenly; I found myself floating on my back. It was like being in the deepest outer space, yet, without all the stars included. It was a vast emptiness, time was all different; it was stretched, frozen, slowed, and expanded all at the same time. It seemed like I had been there for thousands of years. I could not think or remember anything while I was there drifting; I just knew I existed. The closest I can compare it with is being a tree. It’s a living, growing species but without memories. After what seemed like years (I had no understanding of time) the darkness began to lighten up and it became gray. It then brightened up to a soft white glow, by now I was conscious, observant, and alert. I was enveloped in a white cloud; it was glowing as a soft white light and it reminded me of fluorescent lighting. There I was standing up! I knew both of my legs were broken and so I quickly glanced down. I could not see my legs, feet, or any part of my body. I could see the glasslike stone floor that I was standing on. The foggy light had withdrawn into the floor and walls which were glowing with a bright white light. I could physically feel the cool floor. The room I was in and the floor I was standing on were physically real. Later in my recovery I had delusions and hallucinations caused by a high fever; resulting from malaria, gangrene, and the triple doses of morphine. I know what is real and that I was not dreaming or having hallucinations. My bare feet on the cool floor reminded me of being in a shower standing on a tiled floor. I remembered the golf-ball sized hole in my arm and so I brought my arm and hand up to look at them. Even though they were right in front of my eyes, I could not see either of them. I wiggled my fingers and I could feel them, but I still could not see any part of my body. It reminded me of when I had worn my father’s heavy Navy Pea Coat out in the rain and how relieved I was when I took it off. I felt that same relief standing there without my body. The real spiritual ‘Me’ was standing there and my physical body was back in the hot jungle. I’m dead, I thought and I said it three times. Not panicky, just a calm realization of clear facts. I began to look around because I had noticed that the bright cloud had retreated into the floor and walls which I could clearly see now. They were eight feet high and enclosed a room about the size of a tennis court, roughly forty by eighty feet. I was standing in the center of the room and I glanced up; there was no ceiling. It resembled a tunnel that narrowed and stretched far away; I could barely make out a small black opening with a few stars twinkling in it. Mentally, two major things happened during my stay in what I call ‘The Room’; first of all, emotionally I was happy, full of great euphoria. Pick your happiest childhood memory and multiply it by a million and it will not even come close to the happiness I felt. Later on in the hospital they thought I was going to die because of the severity of my injuries; and with my severe nerve damage causing me so much pain, they had given me double doses of morphine. They continued the dose at four to five times a day for over two straight months. The drug gave me a euphoric high and I compared this with the feeling of joy that I had felt in the room. It was like the morphine was a flea and the euphoric feeling that I had in that room was a huge whale; it was beyond comparison. Secondly, I had heard of some people who had total recall; in the room my mind was similar to that. It was completely open like an organized library of memories to be viewed any time I wished. I reached in and pulled out a memory; it was just a small one, but it was quick and easy to do. The memory was about my cousin, Alan Peterson; he and I were playing in a sandbox and I had a small red toy car. We were only about five at the time, just little kids having a fun day. The memory was just like being there in person because it seemed so real to me. Then I put the memory back just as quickly as I had taken it out of the organized file. I then scanned my memories and noticed some of them were gone. I could not comprehend any exact memories of the missing ones, just that there were no memories which were evil, bad, scary or sad. For example, I had no memory of any profanities or unkind words. It was like water had been poured over them and they were all washed away. I could not remember specifics, but I knew they were gone. I had spent years in a teen gang fighting and swearing and all the memories of those days were gone. I thought to myself, great, this is really neat! Time was progressing at a normal pace now; I looked around and the room was bare. The walls and the floor were made of that clear glass stone substance, and it looked beautiful to my sight. To my left front toward the corner there was an odd sight; there stood twelve people. (Beings or creatures as I can only explain) I questioned this because I could not distinguish what they were. They were lined up in three rows of four each like a choir; however, they were not singing. They were silent as they seemed to be waiting for something. I then thought of a jury, but no, they were not that either. Because I knew as a Christian when I had accepted Christ into my life as a teenager that my sins past, present and future were nailed to the cross and that I had already been judged. Naturally, curious I peered intently at them; they were human shaped and I could see their outline was three-dimensional. I could see their head, neck, shoulders, hips and their arms were hanging at their side. It was like they were wearing robes because their clothed; shining outline went straight to the floor, covering their legs and feet. There were radiating light as bright as the sun but it did not bother me to look at them. I tried to see the details of their faces but I could only vaguely make out their eyes and facial features because of the brightness. They varied in height from five to six feet; I could not tell if they were male or female, nor could I tell what their ages were. However, I could sense that they were intelligent living beings. I did get the distinct feeling that they were patiently waiting for something, but I did not know what it was. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to discover more, but the figures were still silent and brilliant as the sun. I glanced to the corner on my right front; having been distracted by the figures of light on my left I had not noticed this corner until now. There was a curtain and it stretched from the top of the wall and down to the floor; it was approximately eight feet high and eight feet across. It appeared to be as thin as silk and a breeze slightly moved it. It hung in ripples like a regular curtain would; however, it was no ordinary curtain for it was made up of light. Stars and sparkles were streaking through it so that it resembled a waterfall of beautiful lights. Years later I would find a verse in the Bible which states “Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:” (Psalms 104:2) I contemplated this amazing sight; I sensed that behind this curtain there was a door. It was logical to me because there were no other doors or windows in the room. I strained to peer through the thin curtain and it was then that I could sense or feel something big was behind it. It stretched off into the distance; it was powerful, huge, awesome, but not angry or belligerent. I sensed a vast intelligence and it was attentive. As I tried to communicate with or to see what was there, I began thinking about my family back in the states and the problems it would cause if I were to stay there. My mom and Curly will be really upset; because a year before that; Freddy was killed in Viet Nam, Curly might have another heart attack! I don’t want him to die from the shock of finding out that I was dead too. My thoughts then turned to my new bride, Barbara; we had gotten married in December just four months before; so, my thought was, I could not leave her a nineteen-year-old widow; that would a lousy way to start her adult life out. As I contemplated these facts, I said a short prayer to God, “I would like to stay here, it’s a beautiful wonderful place; but I would like to go back and let others know there is something after death and it is nothing to be afraid of.” I paused to listen, but there was no sound, no music, only silence. By now I sensed another fifteen minutes had gone by and as I glanced at the wall in front of me, I noticed that it was clear now. It was eighteen to twenty inches thick, what the Bible calls a cubit. The wall was seamless and clear. Beyond the wall I could see a different terrain. The best I could describe it is that it reminded me of a rolling golf course, covered with an inch of pure white snow. There were more of the figures of light out there; they stood in groups of two or three, and were never alone except to move from one group to another. They moved in what seemed to be a gliding fashion, and their robes went all the way to the floor, preventing me from being able to see their legs or feet. There were dozens of them and then hundreds, and as I looked to my left, there were thousands. The whole wall on my left side was also clear now and I could see thousands of thousands of them standing there. They stretched out into the distance as far as I could see them. They were all totally silent and I had an eerie feeling like I had interrupted some happy event. The best I can explain it to you is for you to picture yourself at a large event like a county fair; as you walk in, everyone stops talking. The music stops, the rides stop, the animals stop making noise, even the children stop laughing, and the babies stop crying. It is total silence and like they are all waiting for you to go away so they can go back to their fun and food! As I looked behind me, I could see that other wall was clear also. The figures of light, however, were thinning out until I came to the right-side wall. This wall was still full of the foggy light; I then realized that I was looking back at the curtain. I had looked three hundred and sixty degrees without moving my feet. I felt like an owl, but it was just that I was not limited by my physical body. The ‘people’ of light puzzled me; I had been raised Lutheran and Baptist and was taught that angels had two wings and looked mostly like women with blond hair and blue eyes. If these were angels, they were not the ones I had been told about. Later on, I searched the Bible for every word concerning angels and wings. I was surprised to discover that there was not one mention of a two-winged angel. I found six-winged and four-winged angels. (Seraphim and Cherubs) Other angels could temporarily take on the form of regular humans and lastly there were angels of light who had no wings mentioned. As I stood looking at the curtain of light, sensing the powerful presence there, if the curtain would have parted or opened, I would not have come back because the Bible says no man sees God face to face and lives. Exodus 33: 20 “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” It’s because a Holy God has to judge anyone who comes into his presence. We know that people saw Jesus before and after the resurrection and that they also saw the Holy Spirit in the form of the burning bush and pillar of fire in the Old Testament; and in Matthew 3:16, “and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him;” (Jesus) at his baptism so we know it has to refer to God the Father who has not been seen. Time was passing normally and it felt now that I had been in the room for about forty-five minutes. Suddenly, I was snatched back out of the room and into the starless blackness. I could see the room and it was now the size of a small box of matches as I was moving away from it. It was inside of a huge ball of light that glowed and shone like Mother of Pearl. It was shrinking at a fast rate and made me think of a gigantic weather balloon with the air quickly going out of it. I only glimpsed this for one or two seconds when I was yanked back into the room. I knew that I had gone through the blackness to get there and so I figured I was going back to live. I only had time to say, “Thank you, God,” and I was once again floating in the timeless blackness for what seemed to be a thousand years, flat on my back. Soon, however, I noticed things were gray and I lost consciousness again. As I awoke, my eyes were closed but I could feel the hot air and the ground shaking under me from explosions. Off to the right, I could hear a machine gun shooting; when I opened my eyes there was a man standing over me with a bloody knife in his hand. He had just cut my throat! Fortunately, I realized he was my medic friend; he had just given me a tracheotomy so I could breath.
Chapter 76 – K. I. A.
The medic worked feverishly cutting the rags of my shredded uniform off of me and putting Combat Dressings (large bandages) on my wounded body. The captain ran up to us in a crouch with his radioman close behind. “How is he?” The medic paused for a second and said, “I was working on a wounded soldier’s arm when I glanced up and saw him jerking around inside his poncho. I ran over and yanked him out and began treating him!” It was then that I noticed that I was lying on a bloody poncho. Next to me were a couple more bodies wrapped up in their ponchos. All of us soldiers had been given a poncho to carry for protection against the rain and elements. The monsoon rains were to begin in a few weeks from then. If someone died in combat, the poncho became their shroud until their bodies were taken off of the battlefield and then placed into a body bag. “How is he?” the captain repeated. The medic glanced up and said, “I thought he was dead, he had no heartbeat, respiration or bleeding, and his eyes were fixed!” The captain was shaking his head with a mystified look on his face as he stated. “Well I’ve got a Medevac Chopper coming in! How long does he have?” The medic paused for a second and then replied, “Five minutes!” The captain turned to his radio man and said, “Tell the chopper to hurry up; we have one knocking on death’s door.” Well, I was lying there calm and full of peace because I had an afterglow from the ‘Room’ and I knew everything was going to be all right. However, I did not want them to worry about me, so I sat up and said, “I’m okay!” But I doubted that they believed me as I had spit out blood, teeth, and pieces of bone as I was telling them this. They probably thought that I was in my final death seizure, so both of them put their hands on me and pushed me back down onto the poncho. One of them said, “Everything’s fine, you are going to be okay.” The medic must have given me some morphine as I was really drowsy and did not feel any pain and felt myself going into unconsciousness. From then until a few days later I was drifting in and out of consciousness. I was sleepy but something was sloshing over my belly. In high school I sometimes read a book while soaking in the large old-fashioned bathtub we had. Occasionally, I stayed too long and fell asleep only to be awakened by water going up my nose. Great, I thought, I have ruined another good book. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was being carried in my poncho! It was swinging like a hammock and bumping on the ground as they ran with me. What I thought was water splattering over me I soon realized was my own blood and then I blacked out. When I next opened my eyes, I was on an army stretcher but it was not green but blood red. I was being carried past a group of wounded and bandaged soldiers waiting under a tree. They stood quietly staring as I was stark naked; I had so many wounds (Over 38 major ones) that I was covered with battlefield dressings. The explosions had blown off my glasses, wristwatch, dog tags, and my wallet with my silver dollar in it. The Medevac Chopper dropped out of the sky and settled close to us. I glanced up as it landed; it had a large white background with a red cross in the center and a red flashing light on its belly. The troops continued on with me toward the landing zone. Back in Los Angeles, California, my new wife Barb had just started getting ready for bed. She closed her eyes to say her prayers and while still wide awake and alert she saw a red flashing light and my face without my glasses on. She sat up worried and almost woke up her dad who shared an apartment with her. She wanted to tell him something had happened to me, but she thought he would think she was crazy! So instead of telling her dad, she glanced at a stand-up card she kept on her dresser that said, “Pray For Our Boys in Viet Nam,” then she said a short prayer for my safety and that of all those in the Viet Nam war and eventually she drifted off to sleep. As the men put me on the chopper, I could see that I was taking the last spot for a stretcher. The door gunner leaned over to make sure my stretcher was strapped down tight; he glanced at me and seeing me looking back at him he said; “You’ll be fine, you are okay,” but I could see in his eyes that he did not believe it. The helicopter jerked into the air as we lifted off! The V.C. started shooting at us and the door gunner was blazing back at them with his M-60 Machine Gun. I thought, “That’s great! To get shot down now after everything that has happened.” When the helicopter was over the treetops and at a safe distance, the shooting stopped and I drifted back into gray unconsciousness. I woke up when we landed at the hospital in Long Binh and was carried into a wooden building put up by the 24th Evacuation Hospital. They rushed me inside as I kept blacking out and coming to. I opened my eyes one time and found myself in a hall next to a sign that said X-Ray. Another time I opened my eyes to be greeted by the Chaplain who was reading to me in Latin out of a little book. I told him, “Hey, I am not dying and besides that I am not Catholic.” His eyes got wide and showed a lot of white as he jumped back. I did not mean to scare him and I soon went back to sleep while he was quietly standing by me. They soon transferred me from the stretcher to a wheeled gurney. One of the Medics reached down and picked half of a 45-Caliber slug off of the stretcher where I had evidently spit it out. I opened my eyes as I was being wheeled into a large operating area. There were about six operating tables and only one of them was being used. Around that one was gathered five or six doctors who were talking as another doctor sewed up another patient’s arm. They all paused and glanced up at me. I sat up for a better look at them. The Medic firmly pushed me back down and said, “Take it easy and lay back down.” I saw the concerned glances of all the doctors and a nurse standing by. They immediately began working on me and soon had me under and they spent the next hours in surgery taking out bullets and shrapnel. They tried their best to repair the damage done to my body. I found out many years later that some of them were Dr. John Baldwin, Dr. Don Barnett, Dr. Donald Brief and their Head Nurse Jean Mitchell. Thus, I became one of the 1,642 wounded Americans that Dr. Baldwin had operated on during his tour in Viet Nam. Because of my massive blood loss, it took many transfusions to keep me alive. Keeping me supplied with plasma and blood was Medical Specialist John Bell, who I would become pen pals with twenty-five years later. I was also the very last patient that Dr. Donald Brief did surgery on before his tour in Viet Nam was over and he left for the states the following day.
Chapter 77 – You Don’t Want To Go There
Being shot in the face by a high caliber slug has a tendency to radically alter your appearance. I was fortunate in that when I arrived at the 24th Evacuation Hospital, there was an oral surgeon off duty, Dr. Donald Brief. He was making his rounds and checking on his patients. He went to work immediately and while the other surgeons were repairing the injuries to my body, he worked on my face and mouth rebuilding them. I would not be able to open my mouth more than a quarter inch and would be spitting out pieces of bone for up to three months later. He did an excellent job on putting my face back to the way it was because he was on the scene and able to attend to my needs quickly. I have very few scars on my face. With all of my emergency surgeries completed, I was put into intensive care to be watched closely. It was there on the second day that I awoke from my drugged stupor. The doctors were making their rounds in the wards and checking on all their patients. I squinted through my semi-closed eyes pretending to be asleep. The doctors stood at the foot of my bed looking at my medical chart and discussing my many injuries. Finally, one of them said, “He’s only got a ten-percent chance of making it through the night.” I knew that I was going to live but I was, too, drugged to tell them. They finally moved on to the bed next to me and I listened as they discussed that patient’s chart. He was a young navy sailor who had inhaled flames during an attack; he did not have a scratch or a mark on him, however, the flames had blistered and seared his lungs. One of the doctors commented, “This one’s got about a fifty-fifty chance of making it through the night. It all depends on if we can keep the fluid out of his lungs.” I glanced at the sailor, but he was definitely unconscious. I drifted off then and soon fell asleep again. It was hours later that a commotion woke me up! Doctors and nurses were crowded around the sailor’s bed; one of the nurses pulled the curtain around obstructing my view but I could still hear the urgent whispers as they worked. I must have fallen back asleep because the next thing I knew it was an hour or so later. A male nurse was pushing a wheeled gurney with the sailor on it. He was covered up but I knew it was him because his bed was empty; he had died and they were transporting his body to the morgue. Despite the injuries to my mouth and my drugged condition, I managed to mumble to the male nurse, “Where is he going? He must have understood me because he stopped what he was doing and glanced at me with a real sad look. He then said, “He is going someplace that you don’t want to go.” He then pushed the sailor’s body into the dark night.
Chapter 78 – Human Sacrifice
On my third day in the hospital, I jerked wide awake out of a morphine dream. It felt like a red-hot knife was in my chest and somebody was twisting it. The pain was so unbearable that I screamed! It was one of the most painful things I have ever felt in my life. I tried to grab my chest but my left arm was in a cast and my right arm was in a splint strapped down with IV tubes coming out of it. Although it was late at night, the room was soon swarming with doctors and nurses. They bared my chest and begin swabbing it with the yellow-orange surgical disinfectant. On my left were trays of surgical implements and the doctor said to me, “We are going to have to remove the bullet but we cannot wait for the anesthesiologists. You are going to be awake for the surgery.” A nurse came up and stood by holding ugly looking clamps and tools. The other nurses helped the doctors to garb up; but they did not have time to find masks! As I watched, in those few seconds, it reminded me of something I had seen in the history books; the way the Aztecs would cut hearts out for human sacrifices. The doctors stood next to me with scalpels in hand as they rapidly discussed how they would crack my ribs to begin operating on me. Suddenly, the pain stopped; I was seconds away from being cut open. All of the frantic action stopped, all the doctors stood and waited and after some minutes; one of the doctor’s said, “Looks like the bullet moved, his heart attack stopped!” They visibly relaxed and after waiting for fifteen minutes, to be sure that I was stable; they canceled the surgery. As I had been given only a ten percent chance of living through the night, I doubt if I would have survived the surgery. Years later I would still carry the bullet behind my heart in my chest until it evidently moved and fused itself against the rib cage in my back. It is still there to this day, along with a bullet behind my right lung and another behind my right kidney.
Chapter 79 – True Compassion
It was close to midnight on the fourth day when I woke up to find two doctors having a quiet argument at the foot of my bed. I watched through my eye slits as I pretended to be asleep. One doctor said, “We have to amputate his left leg or he will die.” The other doctor was shaking his head, “No! No! He is barely hanging on now; if you take off his leg, he will not make it.” The other doctor interjected, “But he’s got gangrene and it will kill him if we leave it alone.” So, they went back and forth for a few minutes in a heated debate in low tones. Finally, they reached a compromise and decided to shoot me full of antibiotics and keep a close watch on me. They would come by at the end of their shift for a look-see to determine how I was doing. They left the room and I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. When I woke up at six o’clock in the morning, I found the doctors examining the three-inch-square hole that had been cut into my leg cast just below my left knee. They removed the bandage packing to expose the raw open wound; it looked like a bear had taken a bite out of me. The doctors were amazed because when they looked, the green gangrene infection was gone! For a few days after, a number of doctors came by to examine my leg because they had never seen gangrene disappear in just six hours. Later that evening I heard the nurses talking as they were changing shifts. The head nurse was telling her replacement nurse the condition of each patient and the degree of injury and treatment. They walked from bed to bed; the man in the bed next to me had a fifty percent chance of living. When they came to my bed, she told the other nurse that I had a twenty per cent chance of living through the night. This made me happy because I had improved ten per cent since the day before; throughout the next week I got better and better. At the end of the week, a doctor was talking to the blond nurse that worked in my ward. He told her to hold my right hand firmly; he was getting ready to remove the packing that had been placed in my sinuses. These long strips of gauze bandages had been used to shape my sinuses that the surgeons had rebuilt. I was feeling kind of loopy and I thought it was nice that the nurse was taking time to hold my hand. The doctor grabbed the end of the gauze that was hanging out of the end of my nostril. He told the nurse that he would have to work fast as the blood vessels had begun growing into the bandages and that it would hurt when he pulled them out. He then began pulling it out hand over hand. It kept coming and coming and I thought it must be twenty feet long. My head was jerking around like the end of a fishing pole with a big bass on it. The pain brought tears to my eyes and I yelled! I stopped yelling when he finished and got ready to do the other side; it was then that I noticed the young nurse who was gripping my hand tightly had tears running down her face as she sobbed quietly. I thought to myself, I can’t let her know it hurts because it was upsetting her. As the doctor grabbed the other gauze bandage, I clenched my jaw and gritted my teeth; I refused to make a sound. Once again, my head bounced around as he repeated the same procedure. It seemed like forever but, realistically, it was less than thirty seconds before he was finished. The nurse’s tears of compassion meant a lot to me and she stood by me with the same comfort I know I would have received if my wife or my mom could have been the one holding my hand; she had such empathy for what I was suffering. After a few minutes of tidying up and checking on me the doctor and nurse left and I fell back into my painless sleep.
Chapter 80 – How to Scare A Nurse
After a week of recovering, I was spending more time awake then asleep. There is not much you can do, however; with both your legs in casts, your left arm in a cast, and your right arm strapped full of IV’s. The tracheotomy in my throat made communication very hard; most of the time I was also plugged into an oxygen ventilator. Because of the gun shot to my mouth I could not talk and so I had to communicate with the nurses with pantomiming and using hand signals. On this particular day, I managed to communicate that I wanted a cigarette. When the doctor came in, they asked him if that was okay and he replied, “After what he has been through, I doubt if it would hurt him.” So, from then on I was allowed to have three cigarettes a day as long as a nurse was present with me. The reason for this is that the morphine would sometimes put me to sleep at any given moment and the lit cigarette could cause a fire. A few days later when I was just finishing up my morning cigarette, the nurse told me that I would have to hurry because she was leaving her shift soon. I took a deep drag on the cigarette and held the smoke in. She quickly picked up the dirty ashtray and walked out of the room. A few seconds later, a new nurse came in to start her shift. She walked briskly up to my bed and asked, “And how are you doing today.” I then let out a stream of smoke that I had been holding and it gushed out of my ‘Trachea’ hole into the air making quite a cloud. She screamed, thinking that I was on fire and glancing at the oxygen tanks next to my bed. I burst out trying to laugh and when she realized that I was joking, she became quite mad at me! Some nurses have no sense of humor. Later on, I found that with a little practice, I could blow endless streams of smoke rings out of my tracheotomy.
Chapter 81 – Souvenirs and Stitches
I was sleeping less now and staying awake for longer periods of time. It was around the second week of my stay that I laid in bed watching the doctor make his rounds. He stopped at the bed next to mine and smiled at the soldier. He reached over and pulled the tape-gauzed bandage off the man’s chest and handed him the deformed bullet that was nestled there. He shook his hand and said, “Here you go! When you get home tell them this is the bullet that almost got you.” He then turned and walked on to the next patient. He completed his rounds of the ward ending up at my bed. He was looking over my chart and I asked him “What happened to the stuff you took out of me?” He replied, “Well, we took a double hand full,” cupping his hands together as if he were to drink water; “That’s how much bullets and shrapnel we took out of you.” He shook his head slightly, “We thought you would not make it and if you did make it; we thought you would not want anything to remind you of what had happened.” So it was that the only souvenirs that I brought back from Viet Nam were the bullets left in me and assorted small pieces of shrapnel. A few days later the morphine was losing its power to dull the pain. I began noticing aches and pains in my arms; buttocks and legs that I hadn’t felt before. It was weird and it felt like I was sitting on pins and needles; I finally told the doctor about the pain. He checked me over and said, "You have healed enough for us to remove the stitches.” He then called a nurse and proceeded to do just that. I watched in amazement as he worked with tweezers and wire cutters; cutting out the wire stitches. He talked as he pulled and snipped and he explained that they had to be used to close deep or massive wounds involving the muscles and tendons; but that they would, unfortunately, leave big scars. He would clip and then drop the stitch into a metal tray with a clink. This snipping and clinking went on for a half hour. He started on my left arm, then my right arm, then my ribs; finishing up the front of my legs and then he rolled me onto my side to complete his work. When the procedure was finished the doctor had removed enough wire stitches to fill a coffee cup. I felt like my dog must have felt, one time; when I had to remove the porcupine needles from her face, and I almost cried doing that! It sure did feel good to get those stitches out, though.
Chapter 82 – Visit from a General
It was the third week in May, 1969, and I was continuing to improve. My condition was changed at that time from critical to serious. I was trying to enjoy television and had great difficulty doing so because I had not had my eyeglasses replaced yet. Right at that time the nurse came around and told each of us patients that we were to have a special visitor. A short time later Major General Harris Hollis (The commander of the Army part of the Mobile Riverine Force) walked in, followed by his assistant and a photographer. The General went from bed to bed talking to the wounded soldiers, presenting them with a Purple Heart Medal and shaking their hands. The photographer would then take a picture and write each name onto his clipboard. The Army would take the photos and make sure they were sent to the soldier’s hometown newspapers. He finally came up to my bed. After the nurse whispered into his ear something about me, he then shook my hand carefully. He took the Purple Heart from his aide and pinned it to my pillow; he hesitated and then said, “I don’t guess that you would want your picture taken for the paper back home?” I knew that I looked bad with my face so swollen and all the black and blue marks still present and that my general appearance in itself was not very presentable, so I agreed with him, shaking my head no and managing to mumble, ‘Uh Huh.’ The General nodded his head and said, “I didn’t think so.” He shook my hand a second time and then moved on to the next bed. My Purple Heart Award is dated May 15, 1969. A few days later while I was sleeping, another General came to visit our hospital. I briefly woke up during that visit and missed most of it. The next month they finally moved me out of country to Camp Zama Hospital in Japan. The Riverine Force (Navy) later issued me a second Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal when I retired from the Army.
Chapter 83 – No Face
When I arrived at Camp Zama Navy Hospital in Japan, they processed me in and I was soon settled into the new hospital routine. The first week I was there, I needed money to purchase the everyday stuff like toothpaste, postage stamps and my cigarettes. After lunch one day, a sergeant came in and I could tell by his patches that he was in Special Forces and he informed me that he was on temporary duty as Army Paymaster for the soldiers in the hospital. He was to make sure that we got our back pay and finances straightened out. We talked for a while and I told him that the previous year I, too, had been in the Special Forces at Ft. Bragg. As we continued to talk, my curiosity got the better of me and I finally asked him, “What happened to your face?” Because he did not really have a face, he had no nose, no eyebrows, no teeth, his right ear was missing and he only had half of his left ear. His face was a mass of scars and I doubted that he would be able to appear in public without causing some people to be scared of the sight of him, especially women and children. He smiled at my question or at least I think he smiled because he also had no lips either. He said, “Our base camp was mortared and rocketed; I was in a fox hole when the barrage stopped. I peeked out over the edge of the hole and a mortar shell hit directly in front of me and blew my face off.” He paused before continuing, “My glasses saved my eyes but now I have to stay here until I go through a series of reconstructive operations over the next six months to a year. He then gave me my $75 paycheck and I asked, “How are your wife and family taking this?” Well he answered, “I’ve been divorced for years and so now I am a career soldier, a ‘Lifer’ and so there is no problem there. When they do the plastic surgery, I get to choose my own nose and chin. I have always wanted a Roman nose.” He laughed and then waved good-bye and left the room. Some people do not realize just how much some soldiers have given for their country. The next time I saw him he had eye brows that they had made by transplanting hair from the hairline on his neck. Instead of a hole in the center of his face where his nose should be, he now had a bump and they had also fashioned lips of a sort. His missing ear was also in the process of being rebuilt from the cartilage in his knee and he was quite pleased with the improvements so far. In the short time I was in Japan, I watched his transformation through a series of surgeries until they finally began to bear fruit. By the time I left, he had a fairly normal looking face and they had rebuilt his half ear to be a full ear, his missing ear was now a half ear, the missing hair on his forehead had been transplanted from the back of his head, he had a nice set of false teeth, and with all things considered, he looked remarkably good. He had scars, but his face was presentable. You would think he had been in a serious car accident and now recovered from it. He said that he was happy with the results and would only have a few more minor surgeries to touch up his face; he would then be reassigned to Europe to continue his military career. We continued chatting for a few more minutes and then the man with ‘No Face’ left with a face.
Chapter 84 – Kenny's Gone
I had only been in Japan for a short time, when I had an odd dream. I saw the face of my old childhood buddy from back in Michigan, Kenny Verrett. His face peered out of the darkness and stared at me. He had the saddest look in his eyes. I said, “Kenny, how are you doing?” He never said a word and faded away. When I woke up, I knew something had happened; he had been killed in Viet Nam just one month prior to me being wounded, March 31, 1969. They did not want to tell me while I was in such critical condition and so my mom waited that full month before telling me. I don’t believe in ghosts because the Bible says that our spirits go up to be with God and never to return. I think God, however, does give us dreams or visions to prepare us for bad news like the death of a friend. After forty years, I still miss him because he was a good friend and we had a lot of fun time together.
Chapter 85 – Divorce Question
In my first month in Japan, Barb and my mom had checked with the Red Cross to enquire about coming to see me in the hospital there. The Red Cross quickly talked them out of it. They explained that I was in such severe condition that visiting would be of a minimal fashion and going through all the shots required for such a short visit would not be beneficial to me or to them. They were also told that there were no places for visitors to stay near the hospital and it would be very expensive to travel here and to pay for a place to stay. So not long after they had spoken to the Red Cross, I received a call from home. It was Barb and she was anxious about when I would be coming home and how I was doing over all. I’d had a few weeks to think about the future and had decided that it was not fair to saddle her with my problems. We talked in generalities for a few minutes and she explained to me that I sounded like Donald Duck and that it was difficult to understand me, but that she could. I explained to her that the hole in the roof of my mouth was the size of a fifty-cent piece. Barb had no problem understanding me even though I did sound like Donald Duck. The reason that she could understand me was because I was able to teasingly talk just like Donald Duck before this. Barb even told me jokingly that it was a good thing I had done that because it made it easier for her to understand what I was saying to her. I wanted to talk to her about her getting a divorce; but because we were joking and laughing, I did not feel this was the time to bring it up and besides that she was very concerned about my medical condition too. A few weeks later I did write a letter to Barb while I was still in Japan. I told her that if she wanted a divorce, I would certainly not stand in the way of it. She immediately wrote back to me and told me that it was out of the question completely. She explained to me that at the time I needed her, why would she leave me? Besides that, I was her husband and she loved me no matter what! She did stand by me not only physically (no divorce), but emotionally and spiritually too. In that letter she stated, “Your mom sent me a letter to let me know that all her friends and her church congregation are praying for you and so are my family, friends and all the ladies that I work with. So, you just take care of yourself and don’t be concerned about us back home; you just make sure you get here.” So, I had great support from my wife, my whole family, my church family and even from strangers I had never yet met. During that time of my recovery, I so appreciated all that support. So, the question of divorce was answered.
Chapter 86 – You Want My Foot?
While examinations and several operations such as tendon and skin grafts were being done, my time at Camp Zama was full. One day the nurses noticed that I was running a fever. The doctors then gave me an extra thorough going over; when they finished, they stood around my bed and explained the problem. They had discovered that I had developed a serious case of gangrene in my right foot. A bullet from an AK-47 Assault Rifle had pulverized my ankle bones and had done serious damage to the nerves and tendons there. Finally, the head surgeon cleared his throat and said, “We don’t know how deep the gangrene has gone into the bone. I’ll be honest, don’t be surprised if you wake up and your foot is gone.” I looked at him and thought; well after Viet Nam, I was just happy to be alive. I told him, “Well, you are the doctor and you know what’s best; if you have to take my foot, then go ahead and take it.” The doctor looked relieved that I was taking it so well, he smiled and shook my hand saying, “We operate in the morning; see you then.” The next day, the surgery went fine and when I awoke the first thing I did was sit up and look down at my feet. There were two bumps where my feet were supposed to be and so I smiled and said, “Thank you Lord,” and plopped back on my pillow and fell asleep. Hours later the doctor visited me and explained how the surgery had gone. He said, “All the gangrene had been cut out along with most of your shattered ankle bones.” He went to the foot of the bed, lifting the sheets so that I could see the tubes coming out of my foot. “These tubes are carrying a saline solution full of antibiotics; this tube goes in from the IV,” he pointed with his finger and then pointed at a second tube coming out the other side of my foot. “It’s then pumped out on this side and this tube carries it down to a large glass bottle under your bed.” It reminded me of a fish tank filtration system. Happily, I was only hooked up to it for just less than two weeks. I was healed and got to keep my right foot, but with its’ many scars.
Chapter 87 – Major and Doctors
Because of my many surgeries the doctors determined that I should be in a private room, not in the ward with thirty other patients. These private rooms were usually reserved for high-ranking Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) and regular officers. As they moved me down the hall on my bed, I was surprised to see that they had moved a major out of the private room so that I could go in. He was reluctant to lose his private room and stood in the hallway complaining. As he was arguing with the nurses, he clutched his leather shaving kit to his chest. After a few minutes, he finally accepted to be relocated to a four-man room when the doctors refused to back down. I rested in my bed waiting in the hall until they cleared up the matter with the major. It is not often that the Army procedure uses a lower ranking soldier to upset a major, but the surgery doctors do know how to pull strings that no other officers can. Later on, as I relaxed in my room, I thought about what had just happened. I really don’t know for sure, but I believe that because of my severe surgeries I was having at the time, that they thought I needed more privacy and quietness to heal faster. The nurse came in at medication time to give me my pills and a shot. However, when she gave me the shot of morphine, it did not feel right! I did not feel that slightly fuzzy lightheaded high. In the previous weeks they had been giving me triple doses and so I figured that the shot was not what I had been getting. I said to the nurse, “That was not morphine, was it?” She hesitated and then said, “The doctors had decided that it was time to slowly wean you off of it.” Therefore, I was to get a shot of distilled water every other shot. That sounded reasonable to me and so I lay there and soon both of my legs begin to burn. At first it felt like I had gotten severe sunburn, then it was not long before the pain increased. It felt like my legs were in an oven and being cooked. I lay there clenching my teeth and staring at my legs! By now I fully expected the sheets on my bed to burst into flames because the burning was that severe. I soon blacked out and I remember hearing somebody far away yelling and cursing at the doctors and calling them sadists and somebody was throwing and smashing things! Abruptly, my mind cleared up and I was wide awake like I had come out of a nightmare. My bed was in the middle of my room, my metal nightstand was flipped over, and broken glass littered the floor. From the doorway, doctors and nurses were cautiously peering in at me. “What happened?” I asked. The doctor told me that they were going to keep me on morphine for a little longer as my nerves were still not healing. I stayed in the private room for approximately one more week. Regardless, it was nice and quiet while I was there. I wanted to be back in the main ward. ‘Silence is Golden’ as they say, but I also didn’t like to be alone. When I was moved back into the main ward, I was surrounded by other patients and even though we did not talk much, I felt a bond with them. This was the day that truth would call. The truth can hurt sometimes; occasionally, one’s perception of it can be wrong. The head doctor thought that I had healed enough and that it was time for a man-to-man talk. Three or four doctors came in and only one of them did the talking. He glanced through my medical chart and seemed to be gathering his thoughts. He then began to speak slowly and very clear, making sure I fully understood. “Your body is healing nicely; you are well down the road to recovery.” He paused, glancing at the other doctors who then left us alone. He then continued speaking, “Your injuries were very serious and massive. Much has been repaired, but you will need future skin, muscle, nerve and tendon grafts.” I thought to myself, nothing I had not already guessed. He continued, “You will never walk again, you would have been better off if they had just amputated both of your legs. That way you could have been fitted with prosthetic legs. You’ll never be able to talk normally again because of the deformation caused by the bullet. One of my main concerns, however; is that you will have a drug addiction problem because of the large doses of morphine that we have had you on for the last couple months.” He paused and cleared his throat before continuing. (It was obvious to me that he was not happy to have to deliver his words) “The wounds to your genitalia, the loss of one testicle is bad enough by itself; but together with the massive amount of medications that were given to you, I cannot predict or give any prognosis except to say, don’t get your hopes up. Just face facts and go on from there.” He stopped and stared at me awaiting my response. Then I asked, “Will I be able to have regular sex and children?” He then told me, “That all depends on how your reconstructive surgeries go when you get stateside. That could take up to two years and it is best not to get false hope.” He did not believe in sugar coating anything and that was probably best.
He asked if I had any more questions and I said, “Nope.” He left and I laid on the bed deep in thought. I told myself, take one day at a time and don’t worry about next week, next month or next year. I reached over and turned on my new cassette player on which I had previously taped one of my favorite songs played by the local Japanese station. It was called, ‘You Belong to Me’, by the Duprees; I thought about my wife and tried to ignore tomorrow for the time being.
Chapter 88 – In the Ward
Later that week when a nurse came on her regular rounds to give me my shot of morphine, I told her that I did not want it anymore! She got a surprised look on her face and went to get the doctor. When he arrived, he asked, “Are you sure?” Probably, remembering my previous black out! I said, “Yes, my legs felt like a bad sun burn, but I fell that I can handle it.” He said, reluctantly; “Okay.” I never needed morphine again on a regular basis but only when having major surgeries. The hospital at Camp Zama, Japan was really a nice place to be. While I was there, I was able to physically recover and to go through numerous corrective surgeries that I needed. Being around severely injured men day after day can wear you down. I think that is why God had unusual events happen. Like one day I was staring out the window watching the Japanese gardeners; I was really bored and seriously thought of counting the leaves on the trees when an earthquake struck! The trees were swaying back and forth like in a hurricane and everyone was screaming and panicking! My bed and the nightstands were dancing around like bumper cars. I had been through a few earthquakes on the west coast and this whole thing struck me funny and so I started laughing. I quit laughing though when two patients who were in leg casts jumped to the floor and went under their beds. A couple of nurses also crawled under the beds with them. No one was hurt but we were all very shook up. No pun intended. Another time was when I was watching Japanese television and a John Wayne movie called, ‘The Fighting Sea Bees’ was on. It was hilariously funny because John Wayne was speaking Japanese as he fought off the attacking Japanese troops. I then noticed that the Japanese workers who were sweeping and mopping the floor had stopped and were watching the movie with me. At that moment, John Wayne gunned down a squad of attacking Japanese. I thought, oh, great; now we have offended them. I was surprised when they burst out cheering and yelling for John Wayne. It seems he was a big star over there and the whole scene was just ironic to say the least. I was eating normal food by now, however; hospital food tends to be boring and bland. We were pleased and surprised when the head cook came by and offered us two fresh lobsters in place of the frozen T-Bone Steaks that were on the menu. Well, I love lobster, as many of the others did and we had no problem with the trade. The lobster was delicious and we found out later that the Japanese fishermen sold them for less than one dollar. Our steaks, on the other hand, sold for ten dollars. It was a monetary killing for someone but we did not care because we enjoyed our seafood feast. I was visited by the doctors one day after I had been off of the morphine for a while. They were getting ready to ship me home and wanted to reevaluate me. They wanted to see if I was able to be off the morphine permanently; so he asked me, “Does your neuralgia hurt much?” “Yes,” I told him. He then asked me, “How would you describe the sensation?” “Well,” I paused, thinking. “Imagine having your legs so sun burned and it is blistered and you are unable to touch it; then someone beats you in the legs with a baseball bat a few times.” The doctor looked uneasy as I continued. “But I can stand it.” They then tried to give me stronger pills and I refused because I knew that I would just build up a tolerance for them and would probably need them when I was older. So, I was determined to stay free of painkillers and narcotics. The doctor said, “Okay, if that is what you want!” After he left, I sat there in deep thought reading a paperback book I had bought and smoked a cigarette. As I read, I knew reading was just a form of escapism from the boredom and pain but it did help to pass time. After a few pages, I went to take a puff of my cigarette that was in my left hand and was surprised to see that all I was holding was a stick of ashes between my two fingers. I blew the ashes away and could see that my fingers had burns and blisters that did eventually leave a scar. I had not felt a thing because of the nerve damage to my left arm and hand. Well, I thought, one smaller thing to remember. Do not hold cigarettes in my left hand, what else would I have to adjust to? The highlight of my stay in Japan was watching the Apollo astronauts walk on the moon. I thought, “If they could walk on the moon, maybe I would be able to walk on this earth again, too.”
Chapter 89 – Peaceniks & Fire Crackers
It was late July when I woke up to find myself on my way home to America. I was now crossing the Pacific in a Military jet full of other wounded servicemen. Although I had been wounded in a firefight months before, most of the men in the plane had been in combat just hours before. Our plane finally landed in an airbase on the outskirts of San Francisco where huge white buses awaited us. They had been converted into ambulances to hold stretcher cases like ours and we were soon put aboard. I remember glancing out and not knowing if it was dawn or dusk only noticing that the stars were overhead. Our little convoy of vehicles headed for the main gate of the airbase; we were on our way to go to various hospitals on the west coast. Going through the gate, I could see protestors outside and then the sound of bangs, pops, and long strings of more bangs and pops. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was firecrackers. Some of the wounded men were awakened from their morphine stupors and they reacted in panic thinking they were still in a firefight, wounded and without their weapons! A terrifying thought when you realize that the enemy was known to kill the wounded or captured. The popping noise finally stopped and we were past the crowd with their Anti-War Signs who were yelling angrily. A nurse was trying to calm down the wounded. “What is going on,” I asked. The nurse told me that a well-known movie star and some hippy protestors had thrown firecrackers under the ambulance in front of us. The nurse then mumbled, “Love your brother, sure!” I slumped back on my pillow wondering what was wrong with those people. I eventually fell back asleep, lulled asleep by the humming of the wheels on the highway.
Chapter 90 – Long Beach Naval Hospital
Our ride to the Navy Hospital in Long Beach, California brought me within fifteen minutes from my wife. The ward they put me into had six beds and the other five men did not have combat injuries. One had broken his leg in a motorcycle crash and another had his appendix out, for example: The five were marines and sailors and I was the only Army patient on the ward. It felt good to be lying in bed as I was finally freed from my leg and arm casts and had no IV or catheters in me. I lay there quietly just absorbing my surroundings and thinking deeply. Suddenly, my wife appeared in the doorway, with two of her friends Kathy and Kathy who had brought her there because she had no transportation, otherwise. She came into the room very excited and was so pleased to see me that she ignored hospital rules and jumped up onto my bed to give me a big kiss. My wife told me that she was prepared for me to be very disfigured and stated she was happy to see how well I looked except for how much weight I had obviously lost. (57 pounds) The doctors and nurses did not bother us and allowed her to remain on my bed with me. We chatted for a very long time before she was asked to not sit on my bed any longer. I talked about some of my injuries and operations and mentioned that I could no longer hear out of my right ear. I also told Barb that I could hear ringing and chirping in that ear. I mentioned that the right side of my face from my nose down to my lip was numb and teasingly I told Barb that I would now have to kiss her twice to get a full kiss. We snuggled and hugged under the watchful eyes of the other patients, nurses and two friends she brought with her. They enjoyed this and were very happy to see our reunion. I finally asked her not to bump my legs and she moved slowly away. She asked, “Does it still hurt? Maybe you should ask for a pain pill, how bad does it hurt?” I thought for a second and then told her. “It feels like I have a bad sunburn and I cannot feel the bottom of my left foot or the top of my right foot. My left foot is hyper sensitive; if you touch it with a feather, it feels like broken glass. Hopefully, future operations will correct these problems.” We visited until late into the evening and then Barb had to get a ride home from the girls; they both had to work the following day and so it was time to leave before visiting hours were over. The stay at the Navy Hospital was more enjoyable it seemed because it was newer and more cheerful then the previous ones were. I also think the fact that there were fewer combat injuries being dealt with there had something to do with the morale. Of course, it was also more enjoyable because I was closer to my wife. The doctors gave me a more thorough examination and, quickly, put me into physical therapy. While I was at one of my regular appointments, I laid on my gurney awaiting my turn. Physical therapy was really important to get me on the road to recovery. The nurses would bend my legs and arms, stretching my atrophied muscles and tendons. This was very painful because of scar tissue and shrinkage caused by weight loss and nonuse. Like they say, “No pain, no gain” and I did want to walk as quickly as possible, even if it took a lot of pain, sweat and tears. After physical therapy, I went to the whirlpool baths which had two benefits. One, it felt good and two, it made your dead skin and calluses slough off. It made your skin feel soft as a newborn baby. The down side of this was watching the dead skin float around me. After a few bouts in the whirlpool, finally the sight of dead skin vanished. The physical therapist worked us hard, ignoring the occasional cry or tear. I admired them because it was very hard and demanding work for them to do both physically and mentally. They forced us to go beyond what we thought we were able to do and it eventually paid off.
Chapter 91 – Old Friend
In the course of being sent overseas, I had lost contact with all of my Special Forces buddies; once hospitalized, I lost my Riverine buddies, too. It was odd, in combat you would die for each other; but back in the real world you would quickly lose contact. One day, I was on my gurney going to physical therapy and was talking with a Navy Corpsman as he pushed me into a line of guys who were also waiting. “Pete, is that you I hear Pete?” The guy next to me was talking to me. I looked and for a second, I did not recognize him. “John?” I asked. He had been with me throughout my military training. When I went through the processing center in Los Angeles, he was right behind me in the line, so that his serial number was only one different than mine. We had gone through all of our training together. However, in the Special Forces he had been trained as a Radioman (RTO) while I was trained as a Combat Engineer. He had completed his training and had been sent to Viet Nam on an A-Team three months before I was sent there. I reached over and grabbed his hand, “John, where have you been, what happened to you?” We exchanged war stories and I found his to be very traumatic. He was the only survivor of an ambush, being rescued by a helicopter which dropped a “Jungle Penetrator.” This is a special device with a harness designed to fall through thick jungle foliage. He had been lifted to safety but not before being shot nine or ten times by an AK-47 Assault Rifle. He was too shot up to stay in the Army and so he was retiring after his rehabilitation was through. While on his A-Team he had been living with the Montagnard (The mountain people of Viet Nam) and while living there he had to follow their tribal customs. These included smoking marijuana at their get-togethers they had to socialize! Being the only survivor had deeply affected him and he was not the happy-go-lucky guy I had gone through training with, but was now quiet and introverted.
Chapter 92 – A Million to One
I was still spitting out bone chips four months later and I was sent to the Navy’s Dental Oral Surgeon. We talked for a while and then he did a wrap-around X-Ray of my jaw. He was concerned because I could only open my mouth 3/4 of an inch. When he came back into the room with the X-rays he was holding, he was very excited and said, “You don’t know how lucky you are.” As he was showing me the X-rays, I said, “Oh, yes I do.” “No,” he said, “you don’t!” He pointed to the X-rays and explained, “I could dope you up with curare which would paralyze your muscles and you would not even be able to blink your eyes. I could then put your head in a vice, totally immobilizing you; I could take the same 45-Caliber weapon, calculate the angle and all the same variables. I could shoot the gun twelve inches from your head and the odds that it would travel the same pathway would be a million to one.” He stopped to point at the X-ray. “If the bullet hit an eighth of an inch higher, it would have blown the top of your head off. If it would have hit an eighth of an inch back, it would of taken your neck and the back of your head off, an eighth of an inch forward and your face would have been removed, and an eighth of an inch lower, your lower jaw and neck would be missing. Any other spot and you would have been dead in seconds.” He stared at me and repeated, “Million to One.” Before I left, he told me that the roof of my mouth was healing nicely and that the bone fragments that I had been spitting out would soon stop, but that I would have a soft palate. He was right on both points.
Chapter 93 – Sweating Blood
The first time in physical therapy (which was still at the Long Beach Navy Hospital) that they put me on a tilt table, I passed out. Because I had been flat on my back for months my body lost its ability to regulate my blood pressure, especially to my arms and legs. This caused all the blood to rush to my feet when they tilted the table upright, which is what caused me to faint. After a few treatments on the table, my body finally adjusted and I could progress to parallel walking bars. I wasn’t ambulatory; however, being confined to the wheeled chair and only doing physical therapy for a couple of weeks at this point. In the following months I had an odd thing that happened. The white socks I had been wearing had brown colored blotches on them, like they were stained with a shoe polish. However, I only wore slippers and it would be another five months before I would wear shoes again. I was mystified but a male nurse explained to me what was causing it. He said that because my blood pressure was still fluctuating that the blood was pooling in my legs and feet causing blood to force its way into my sweat glands. So, I was sweating blood and sweating from the physical therapy, too. This unusual circumstance stopped within the year, around the same time when I began learning how to walk again. The stains stopped and my blood pressure went back to normal; a minor oddity on the road to recovery.
Chapter 94 – ‘Hospital Humor’
After about one week at the Navy Hospital, I really messed up! It had started out harmless enough, but I became a victim of my own ‘Hospital Humor’. This type of prank is sometimes called crude or offbeat humor. Long stay hospital patients use them as a way of coping. It was my 22nd birthday and my wife showed up with a six-pack of beer for me since I could not have a party. I thanked her and we had a nice visit and she soon left to her job at the beauty salon. After lying there in bed bored and feeling a little bit down, I began watching one of the medics as he unpacked cardboard shipping boxes in the supply room across from our room. As he unpacked stainless steel bedpans and urinals, he would carefully rinse them out and put them on the shelf. This gave me an idea for a joke. I asked him for one of the new urinals and he said sure. He took my old one away and gave me the new urinal that he had just cleaned. I pulled the six-pack of beer out from the nightstand next to my bed. I didn’t care for beer, but Barb did not know that and thought it would make me happy on my birthday. I then asked the Marines and Sailors in my room if they wanted one; they said yes. One of them in a wheelchair passed them out for me since I was unable to get out of bed yet. They gave me happy birthday wishes and told me thank you, soon making short work of the five beers. I took the other can of beer and just before the doctors were due for making their rounds, I opened it. Under the watchful eyes of my roommates I poured my beer into my new metal urinal and placed it in its holder on the side of my bed. I lay there and pulled out a paperback book to read just as the five Navy doctors came in. They did what they usually did which was to talk to me for two or three minutes. They would then go to the other patients spending at least fifteen minutes with each of them. This was irritating because they managed to do this while staring at me from across the room! I never understood why they spent such a small amount of time with me. I pretended to read my book and when there was a pause in their conversation, I cleared my throat and coughed so as to gain their attention. I then reached down and grabbed the urinal and took big gulps from it spilling it down the front of my pajamas. I then noisily rattled it while putting it back into its holder. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and returned to reading my book. It was total silence and then the doctors quietly lined up and walked out into the hall where I heard one of them say, “Well, he is just back from Nam you know,” and that was when all the men in my room burst out laughing. It did not take long for the doctors to figure out that I pulled a major prank at their expense! A few weeks later I received new orders transferring me by ambulance to Fort Ord, California, which was a six-hour drive for Barb to be able to come and visit compared to a fifteen-minute drive before. They would have eventually sent me to an Army Hospital anyway, but because of my prank I believe I ended up there much sooner than I would have. So, they had the last laugh on me and in my opinion, some doctors have no sense of humor.
Chapter 95 – Room Full Of Hope
I settled in at my new hospital at Fort Ord and was soon in a regular routine there, but I missed my wife’s daily visits because now she could only come every other weekend because of her job. She would have to take the Greyhound Bus to travel the six hours and stay in the guesthouse when she arrived. She would leave Los Angeles at 3a.m to get here by 9 in the morning. Needless to say, I was not very happy about the distance between us and especially since I was only back from Nam for a few weeks. After a short while there, the doctors noticed that I had become quiet and moody. One day they informed me that they were moving me down the hall temporarily to another wing of the hospital. I was placed in a smaller room with four other patients who were worse than I. They said it was because I needed more privacy then the twenty-man ward allowed me. I was wheeled into the room on a gurney, a stretcher type bed on wheels. I settled in and begin talking to the guy next to me. He had lost both of his legs. We swapped war stories and I told him it would be a bummer to lose both legs. He just smiled and said, “I could have my car fixed with special controls and still be able to drive” and nodded his head toward the guy in the next bed and said, “He is blind and he will never be able to drive.” A few minutes later he wheeled me around the room to visit with the other patients. The first person he wheeled me to was a blind man. We introduced ourselves and had a conversation. I told him it was too bad about his eyes and he replied, “It could have been worse, look at the guy in the next bed, he has no arms; at least I can hug my wife, play the piano, and swim but he can’t!” Next, we went over to visit the armless man and I told him it must be rough losing both arms! He said with a grin, “Yeah, but I have my legs and I can see and the girls cannot resist my good looks.” (And he was a good-looking guy, too) “Look at the guy in the next bed, he doesn’t have a face.” After a few minutes we went over to talk to the faceless man. He actually had a face but it was very much scarred. We talked for a few minutes, the usual stuff like where we had been, who we were, and what had happened. He was very upbeat and said, “Yeah, my face will never be the same, but you know it could have been worse. I have two arms and two legs and two good eyes and I can drive a car.” As my new comrade wheeled me back to my space, I begin thinking about all I had just observed. Everyone looked at what they had and not on what they had lost. I stayed in that room a few days and then was sent back to Ward-D. Things were not as bad as they had looked before and it was then that the doctors told me why they had moved me to the smaller ward. One of them said, “Pete, we were concerned about your depression and it was the reason we wanted you to be with those other patients.” I found out at a later time that it was not the first time those men had encouraged other patients like me.
Chapter 96 – The Psych Ward
While I was staying in the small five-man room, I used to go and wait in the hall as doctors performed procedures or examinations on one of the other guys. A soldier sitting in the chair bummed a cigarette off of me when I was lighting one up and so we sat talking and smoking. He was visiting a friend in the psych ward across from my room and he related that his friend had joined the Army with his twin brother. When they went to Viet Nam, they were put into separate platoons but in the same company; this was standard procedure to prevent more than one family member from being killed in the same battle. The story that he related to me I had heard a few weeks before from another patient and I heard the story again years later from another fellow veteran. I still do not know if the story was true or not. My new friend told me that his friend’s brother had gone out on patrol to set up a night ambush with his squad. During the night the men of the firebase heard a ferocious fire fight in the direction of the missing squad and all radio contact had been lost. When morning dawned, the twin of the missing soldier volunteered to be on the team that went out looking for the squad. Later that day they found the whole squad dead. Two of the men had originally been captured alive but wounded. It was obvious to the medic and to the soldiers that they had been tortured to death. The missing twin was one of those two men and his own brother had found him crucified in a tree. He had been hideously tortured, mutilated and dying from what the medics said was a death of a thousand cuts. (There were other things seen there that are too graphic to explain here). The brother was traumatized when he found his twin and was never the same again. He began volunteering for every patrol and ambush obviously wanting revenge. For every enemy that he killed, he cut an ear off, smoked it dry and hung it on a necklace. When the officers heard about this, they confronted him and told him he would have to turn over the ears for disposal, as it was not allowed under the laws of warfare. The soldier flipped out and went berserk, suffering a complete mental breakdown. The officers retrieved his necklace and they counted thirty ears, which was one for each enemy he had killed in battle. We sat in the hall puffing on our cigarettes and I stared at his eyes trying to figure out if he was telling the truth. He then continued nodding his head toward the psych ward telling me, “That was why my friend is in there and they were both such nice and regular guys.” Such was the horrors of combat, that it was hard sometimes to separate rumors from the truth.
Chapter 97 – War Trophies
I was back in the main ward at Fort Ord when a new patient came in and got the bed next to mine. I learned from him that he was stationed with MACV (Military Assistant Command Viet Nam) in Saigon. He was an office worker and his jobs were to record and analyze items captured by our combat troops, such as weapons, clothes, books, and maps. He said he was injured in a traffic accident when his jeep had crashed. Both of his legs had been broken and he needed some corrective surgery that he could not get in Viet Nam and so they sent him stateside. A few weeks after he had moved into our ward, his parents showed up for their weekly visit. Since he was sitting in the next bed, I could hear the conversation clearly. I continued reading my book and pretended not to listen. His dad said that a crate had just arrived from Viet Nam and that he had it out in his truck. My friend said, “Bring it in.” So, his dad recruited two other men to help him carry it in and they placed it at the foot of his bed. His dad took a hammer and a pry bar and opened the crate. By this time other patients in the ward and I was watching with curiosity. Inside were two AK-47 Assault Rifles with folding stocks, AKS Rifle, VC Uniforms, and assorted other war trophies. He checked everything out and then told his dad to nail the lid back on and to store the crate in his basement for him. Later after his parents had gone, I talked with him some more and found out more of his story. The weapons were full auto and not welded or fixed to be inoperable and by this time I was really curious and had to ask him how he had gotten all those rifles. He informed me that at MACV when his job was finished that they would keep some of the items for themselves to trade for booze and so on; sometimes they would sell them to Military and Political visitors from America. Occasionally, they would set some aside to send home as their own souvenirs which was the case with him. I later sat there for a long time quietly thinking and I was angry at first, but then I realized this had probably happened in every war in history. For me it was personal as the only trophies I brought home were the bullets and shrapnel in my body. And he, on the other hand, was a victim of a military traffic accident and had never even been in combat. He had come home with a crate full of war trophies that he had never earned. I liked the guy and I probably would have done the same thing if I had his job. However, I was glad when he finally got well enough to be transferred to another hospital. I know it was being selfish at the time, but it just seemed so unjust that he would have those trophies and the soldiers who were evacuated from the battlefield directly to a hospital and then home, like I was, were unable to bring any stateside. During World War II, my uncle Henry Mynor Olmstead fought in Europe and was able to bring home two duffle bags of war trophies and I felt proud to be able to look at his trophies because I knew he had earned them.
Chapter 98 – Webbed Feet
By late September of 1969 I was on the road to recovery; but I still faced many surgeries and it would be nine months before I was able to walk again. On this particular day I was having my third body cast removed which I had been in it for almost one month. It was great to be able to scratch myself unobstructed. The bad thing about casts is that your sweat mixes with the plaster dust and forms into tiny hard granules. These are a constant source of irritation and they make you to itch like crazy. I was relieved to be free from the cast and nurses brought me water and stuff so that I could give myself a sponge bath. I had them draw the curtain around my bed for privacy and I began at my chest scrubbing and washing and working my way down to my feet. It felt so good to me and was like 7th Heaven as best as I can describe. At this time, I made a discovery; I tried to wash between my toes but was unable to. So, I called the nurse over and said, “Something is wrong here, look my toes have grown together.” She looked at them and then went to get the doctor on call. He examined me and then said, “Yes, this happens sometimes when you wear a cast too long and your fingers or toes are compressed together tight. The skin occasionally grows together like webbed feet on a duck. It is no real problem; I will just separate them now.” Soon the nurse brought the instruments and he snipped and cut the skin that was between my toes. I liked to swim and so I wondered, maybe I should have kept the webbed feet. Ha! Ha!
Chapter 99 – “I Believe You”
I was recovering from surgery when a new man was brought in and got the bed on my right. His name was Bob and he was recovering from a motorcycle and car accident. He was a Viet Nam Vet like me and had been through eleven months of combat without getting a scratch. Upon his arrival home, he discovered that his marriage was destroyed because of his wife’s drug usage. After failing to save his marriage a friend was driving him to the airport on his motorcycle to go back to Viet Nam for another year which he had signed up for. He had signed up for it only to be able to get a leave to come home and hopefully restore his marriage, but to no avail. That was when an eighty-year-old drunk man ran a stop sign and hit them on the motorcycle, killing his friend and paralyzing Bob from the waist down. It was a few days later after mail call that I showed Bob a get-well card that I had received from a well-meaning friend of the family. In it she said that she was sorry to hear about my accident. I said to Bob, “It was no accident; those people were trying to kill me.” It was then that he said, “Pete, what happened to you in Nam, how did you get wounded?” I told him the facts and I paused at the part where I was in the room of light and I said, “You are not going to believe this but this is what happened.” Then I told him the whole story about my experience. When I finished, Bob was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “I believe you.” I was startled and surprised that the first person that I told the story to would believe me so quickly. I asked him why he believed me, and he said, “I remember the wreck and ambulance ride; I blacked out and I remember something about a white room. The doctors told me that I had died three times during that ride but that they had managed to be revive me each time.” “Well,” I said, “Maybe the white room was the inside of the ambulance or the emergency room?” “No”, he answered, “The ambulance was blue inside and the emergency room was a light green, I believe you.” That was a real encouragement to me. I had wanted to tell my wife and my family about what had happened to me; but I was hesitant because I did not think they would not believe it; now I knew I would be able to tell about my experience with confidence.
Chapter 100 – Sadistic Surgeon
One day after this talk a new doctor stopped by to talk with one of my roommates about putting in a permanent catheter. I sensed that he was trying to pressure him into having this surgical procedure because I heard Bob say to him, “No way, I might improve or even walk again and I do not want a permanent tube hanging off of me!” When the doctor realized that he couldn’t change Bob’s mind, he became angry. “Fine”, he said and he pulled the curtain around Bob’s bed so that you could not see what he was doing. However, I could see through a crack in the curtains. The doctor proceeded to yank the tube out of Bob’s bladder, which had been sutured in. The tube came out and on the end was a one-inch plastic waffle type ball. There was a bloody mess because of the doctor’s sadistic way. You see this plastic ball had to come out through a very tiny opening. Bob asked for a pain shot as he clenched his teeth, but the doctor just laughed at him and stomped out of the room. My guess is that he was mad because he wanted to add this surgery to his list on his resume that he would need when returning to civilian life. An hour later, Bob’s parents came during visiting hours to see him and when they noticed his discomfort, and inquired of him what was wrong; he was hesitant and slow to explain. I told his parents exactly what had happened and then Bob opened up and confirmed it, but was still in a lot of pain finding it hard to talk. His parents were nice ordinary people, but became very upset when they heard what happened. His dad was so mad that his face was turning red and said, “I am going to make a phone call.” He left and went into the hall where the pay phones were. He was talking so loudly and angrily that we could clearly hear him where we were. He called the White House and left a message with the secretary for President Nixon. Later, Bob told me that his dad had raised money to help get Nixon elected. It was just a few hours later when the Commander of the Fort Ord Army Hospital came in to see Bob. His parents were still there and getting ready to leave but they were still very upset. Behind the officer followed the sadistic doctor, escorted by four other high-ranking officers. The commander said, “The President contacted the General of Fort Ord, who in turn contracted me! I believe the doctor has something to say.” Everyone was staring at the doctor, who by now was visibly shaking and pale faced. I had never seen an officer so scared; I thought he was going to wet his pants. The doctor started talking and apologizing to Bob and his parents for his unprofessional and careless treatment. He said he was sorry about the whole ordeal and kept apologizing about every detail and he kept talking like that for close to five minutes. It was a scene of a very pathetic groveling. I think they had threatened him with a trip to Viet Nam at some small fire base, but it was just my assumption. Finally, the Colonel stopped the doctor from babbling and proceeded to apologize to Bob and his parents. He told them that he would take personal interest in his case to make sure he would be getting the proper treatment. Bob and his parents were pacified and the officers and Bob’s parents left. Bob was given a morphine shot, but still seemed to be in quite a bit of pain. It was good to see that this doctor did not get away with that kind of treatment. It made me feel somewhat assured that we would all get better treatment while at Fort Ord Army Hospital.
Chapter 101 – Not Me
It was soon after this that I had my personal run in with ‘Dr. Pain’ as we had named him among ourselves. Things had quieted down when he appeared one day and sat down on the end of my bed to review my progress. He told me that I would need some more surgery in my private area. The reason he wanted to do this surgery was to remove scar tissue. But after witnessing his treatment on Bob, I did not want him experimenting on me and so I asked him, “What happens if I have the surgery?” He gave me his professional doctor smile and said, “You’ll be immobilized and in bed with a tent over you for a few weeks since you will not even be able to have a sheet on you.” He then went on to describe the surgical procedure and ending with a smile he said, “Then after about two months, you will be healed and doing fine.” So, I asked, “What happens if I do not get the surgery?” He lost his smile and stated slowly, “The scar tissue will soften and stretch for two or three more months and then you will be fine and it should not cause you any more problems.” He paused and so I said, “If I get the same results by waiting and have no surgery, then I would rather wait and let my body heal naturally.” He tried to change my mind but finally gave up and left the room. A male nurse came over to me later and as we made small talk, we discussed the doctors’ treatment of patients. He agreed that mostly they were excellent doctors and concerned about their patient’s treatment and recovery. However, he said, “There were a few of them who viewed their time in the service as a chance to experiment and do operations that they would never do in civilian life.” I guess that some of them viewed us as trophy patients! I was glad that I had not encountered any other doctor such as that; the most of them that I met were very professional and caring people.
Chapter 102 – The Colonel’s Beer
I had been bedridden for about six months when a doctor came in to discuss my medical condition; he was a colonel who was the head dietitian in charge of the hospital menus. He was concerned that I had only gained back twelve pounds of the fifty-seven I had lost. My current weight of 110 pounds was not enough to aid my recovery. He wanted me to be healthier and was troubled and thought my improvement would be hindered unless I gained more weight. He had tried every diet in the book that he could think of to no avail; I had just not gained the weight he wanted me to. Finally, he said, “So, we’ll try an old tried and true way of putting on weight. You have heard of a beer belly? Well, let’s try it because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain! I hope you like beer?” He then reached to the floor and picked up the paper bag he had set there when he first came into the ward. From the bag, he pulled a six-pack of a popular beer; I looked at him and said, “I really don’t care that much for beer!” He frowned and replied, “Well, too bad; this is medicinal alcohol and I am ordering you to drink three cans tonight.” It was a Friday night and he continued on, “Drink three cans tomorrow night and don’t share it with the rest of these jokers.” He laughed toward the rest of the patients who were in hearing distance to us; so that they would understand not to even think about asking for some. He took three cans and put them on my nightstand saying, “Now, drink up! The other three will be at the nurses’ station in the 'frig' for tomorrow.” He smiled, got up, shook my hand, and whispered to me in a joking manner; “Remember, don’t give any of these bums a beer because I will find out!” He continued smiling as he left my bed and headed towards the door. I hesitated because beer, hospitals and I were not a winning combination as I remembered what happened at the Long Beach Navy Hospital I had come from. However, orders were orders, so I opened up a beer to drink. I would find out later that he had bought the beer himself from his own wallet and thus began a weekly routine for the following two months. The colonel would appear on Friday to drop off the six-pack of beer before going home for the week end and he would visit with me for a few minutes each time before he left. A few weeks later a new guy a few beds down watched speechless as I opened a can of beer and drank it. He glanced at the male nurse who was working at the next bed; telling him, “He can’t have beer in here; you don’t want him to have to go for a Court-martial, do you?” The male nurse looked up from his work and said, “I am not about to tell a colonel that he can’t give someone a beer, will you? He will be back on Monday if you would choose to do so.” He finished what he was doing and went off to finish his rounds. The new guy sat up in bed and said to me, “Alright, what do you have on him? Are you CIA or something?” I just smiled at him, opened up another beer and went back to reading my science fiction book. At the end of two months the colonel came in on his usual beer run for me. However, when he put the six-pack on my bed he stated, “Well, you have gained almost thirty pounds and so you are doing fine. This is your last six-pack and you will have to buy your own beer from now on.” Like I commented before, I did not like beer and so that was just fine with me. By this time half of the ward believed that I was involved in some secret project, a “Black OPS” or that I had very important friends. I never could convince them that the doctor had simply put me on a semi-liquid diet of sorts.
Chapter 103 – Surgery and Visitors
I was lying in bed contemplating my most recent surgery which was to repair the nerve damage on the inside of my left arm near my elbow. The reason for the injury was because a large piece of shrapnel had bounced off of my rib cage, ending up in my arm. The operation had left a scar like the letter ‘Z’, like in the movie, “Zorro.” I was staring at the cast that I would have to wear for the next month, watching my curled fingers that were regaining a little of their feeling, when, I remembered something that had happened way back in the sixth grade; it concerned myself, my friend Kenny, and my cousin Andy. We had been waiting for one of the Smith boys to come over. I had put my dad’s old Army ‘Pup-tent’ up in the back yard for a summer camp out. As it got darker, we had lit the kerosene lantern and were stretched out on our backs stargazing. Our parents would check on us every now and then but mostly left us alone. It was a warm summer night and about two in the morning we started telling stories. I lit up a cigarette that I had taken from my mom’s purse and decided to tell them a new joke that I had heard that day. So, I started, “there was this kid you see. He had a crippled left hand and his fingers were curled like a claw.” I then curled my fingers to show the kids. “He did not want to be a cripple and so he prayed to God.” I then put my hands in the air with my left hand bent like a claw and the right hand held out straight. I mockingly prayed, “Oh God, please make my hands the same.” Then I slowly curled my right hand so that both hands looked crippled. We all laughed at the joke; a sort of be careful what you pray for kind of dark humor. Then it was Kenny’s turn to tell a joke. My joke, however, had left a bad taste in my mouth and I never told it again. I knew it was bad at the time. So here I was ten years later with a crippled left hand and finding out what it was like to have the joke on you; so, to speak, and it was, sure, not funny now. A few days later, I had a surprise visit from my family. In walked my mom, my step-dad, Curly, and my three younger siblings, Jeanette, Arne, and Mark. I was signed out for the afternoon, put in a wheelchair and taken to a nearby motel. We spent the day visiting with each other. Curly insisted that we toast my return with good old Bourbon, and so we did. Seeing my family warmed my heart and the drink warmed my stomach. While we were visiting, I brought out a 1921 “Morgan” silver dollar. I had bought it to replace the one Curly had given to me before I went overseas. I told him that I was sorry that I did not have his original one, but during the fire fight it had deflected and stopped a sizable piece of shrapnel from going through me and left a scar the size of a silver dollar on my back side. As I explained this, I handed Curly the silver dollar. His eyes swelled with tears and he handed it back to me and said, “You are back now and that is all that matters, you keep it.” I kept it and still have it as a memento. We visited but soon the afternoon was past and I had to return to the hospital. That was one of the few times I had seen Curly get teary eyed; he had a rough and tough ‘cowboy’ exterior, but down deep he had a heart of gold.
Chapter 104 – The Broken Heart
I was doing what I did best while in the hospital and that was lying in bed and reading a book. Our ward consisted of about thirty guys; after lunch one day another wounded soldier was added to that number. The doctors put him in a bed across from mine. Over the next few days most of us in the ward stopped by to say a hello and to chat with him. From our talks and “Rumor Control” we learned a little bit about him. He had volunteered to go to Viet Nam when he was only seventeen; so, he had to have his parents’ signed permission. When he went overseas, he had asked his best friend to keep his eye on his girlfriend while he was gone. After he had spent a year there; much of it in heavy combat, he came back stateside without a scratch. His joy at his home coming, however; was cut short when his girlfriend greeted him and he found out she had had a baby. In all of the letters that she had faithfully written him while he was in war, she never mentioned that she had married his best friend and had his baby. She had not written him a “Dear John” letter because she was unsure of how it would affect his mental attitude while in combat. The poor guy had been devastated and with his broken heart and his dark grief he had jumped off of a freeway overpass a few days after he heard the news. When he landed, he did not hit the concrete; he landed on the grill of a speeding semi-truck. The fall and the impact together had broken every bone on one side of his body. That explained the casts on his right arm and right leg. Over the next week or two we continued getting to know him better. A parade of psychologists and doctors analyzed him and picked him apart! His parents came often to visit and to support his recovery phase. They seemed to be very nice people and concerned parents. Finally, the good news came; the doctors approached his parents who were visiting. They told his parents that all the psychological tests and evaluations were concluded. Their united verdict was that he was remorseful and would not attempt suicide again! The son nodded and looked their way with a smile saying, “Yes, that was a stupid thing to do!” I listened and watched the relief on the faces of his parents and by the time the meeting ended, every one present was in a good mood. Later that evening after eating he asked me if he could borrow a carton of cigarettes. I had two cartons and said, “Sure” and gave him one of them. I usually stayed up late waiting for my pain pill and sleeping pill to kick in. It was around one in the morning and everyone else was asleep and I was reading my paperback book. A few hours earlier he had asked the male nurse to draw the curtain around his bed. We all did this occasionally for privacy. I was thinking of calling it a night reading the last page when in the quiet of the darkened room, I could hear soft crying coming from the bed across from me. I waited a minute or two before I pushed the call button for the night nurse. He promptly showed up and asked what I needed, but I just explained that the guy across from me was crying in his pillow and it sounded as if he was in real pain and I wondered if his broken arm or leg was hurting him. The nurse said, “Okay, Pete: I will give him his medication now even though it is a half hour early.” He walked over to his bed and pulled the curtain back. He asked him, “Do you need a pain pill?” When all he got was a moan, he reached up and turned the bed light on which lit up the whole area. Both of us let out a gasp at what we saw! The bed was red with blood; blood was on the wall and the curtain and had sprayed as high as the ceiling because the guy had slashed his wrists. The nurse had immediately wrapped towels around his wrists to stop the bleeding. When he tried to wipe the blood off the guys’ neck, he realized he had also slit his throat. The nurse quickly ran to the front nurses’ station to get more help from others on duty. It was only a minute before doctors and nurses rushed in and all the lights were turned on. All the patients were awake now because of the commotion of it all and were watching as the drama unfolded. The doctors began stitching up his neck and wrists while nurses were putting IV’s into his arms. They were almost finished with the stitches and he came to and started thrashing. He thrashed around and took his fingers and ripped the stitches right out of his neck. He, then, tore the IV’s out of his arm and threw them across the room before going unconscious. As the doctors tried to stop his life blood from draining out, they decided to rush him into surgery as he was close to death. They grabbed a hold of his bed and pushed him straight out of our ward and down the hall to the operating room. No one in our ward could go back to sleep after that. We talked among ourselves as we waited word as to how he was doing. Finally, an hour later our night nurse came back with the news that they had not been able to revive him. It was one of the bloodiest things I had seen anywhere including while in Viet Nam. The whole event was tragic and unfortunately sad because he had cheated death in Viet Nam; only to die at his own hand needlessly. This is why I lean toward the side of discretion and caution concerning medical advice and would suggest to seek a second opinion when a life is hanging in the balance.
Chapter 105 – A Rude Awakening
I was sitting up in bed, having finished breakfast, and the guy in the next bed to me had just had surgery that morning and was still groggy. He asked me for a cigarette and the nurse who was attending him said, “Yes, it would be fine; but the rules there are that someone would have to watch him because of his condition.” I lent him a cigarette and as we smoked together, we made small talk with each other. He had almost finished his cigarette when another nurse walked up to his nurse and told her she was needed at the nurses’ station immediately. My friend said that he was done and told the nurse on duty to go ahead. She watched as he snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray he had balanced on his stomach; satisfied that he had finished, she went to see what she was wanted for. My friend gave a big sigh and drifted off to sleep as he was still heavily sedated. I glanced at him and then went back to reading my book. A half hour later I smelt something burning and I glanced up from my book to check out the smell. He had turned over onto his side and his ashtray slid off and landed upside down on his blanket. As it continued to smolder, his blanket produced a cloud of smoke. I hollered for the nurse as I hopped out of bed onto my wheel chair and rolling to his bedside, I pulled the blanket off of him and tossed it to the floor. I tried to wake him up but he was still into a deep sleep. The nurse came in at a run and began stomping on the blanket. The mattress, however, had flames coming up, so I took the water pitcher off of the nightstand drenching the burning mattress as fast as I could do it. It was a chaotic few minute, but we finally had the fire out. A hole as big as my hand had been burnt clean through the mattress and the smell permeated the whole ward. Happily, my friend was unharmed by the whole unfortunate, event. From then on, I was more diligent than before while I was smoking in bed to make sure my cigarettes were at all times put out completely. It was later that week that we had a new arrival. The soldier had been wounded in Viet Nam only two days prior. They put him in the bed to the left of me. He was sound asleep and deeply drugged because of his injuries. After he settled in, I enjoyed a quiet uneventful day reading and listening to the radio. We enjoyed a nice dinner and soon the night shift had come on duty. One of the nurses was an officer who went strictly by the book. She came into the ward and began dispensing our evening medications to us. After a minute or two, she approached the new guy’s bed next to me. One of the other patients spoke up and said, “Ma’am, I wouldn’t wake him up if I were you!” She glared at him as she retorted her reply, “It’s time for his sleeping pill!” She continued walking up to the foot of his bed. Another patient piped up saying, “Don’t touch him, just shake his bed or get a broom and tap his foot first because he is just back from Viet Nam!” She ignored everyone’s comments and when she got to his bedside, she grabbed his arm and began shaking him. He immediately sat up and began swinging at the nurse and hitting her three or four times. She fell back sitting on the floor stunned by what had just happened. She scrambled to her feet and began screaming at the patient, “You struck an officer and I will see that you go to prison for that!” She then ran out of the ward with anger obviously showing in her stride. All of us men who had observed this action looked at each other in shock. The nurse soon returned with some more officers, including a colonel who was in charge at the time. The colonel inquired of the nurse to explain what had happened. She was now sporting two black eyes and yelled, “He beat me!” The officer glanced at the wounded soldier in the bed as he tried to sort out the situation at hand. One of the patients spoke up and stated, “Sir, we saw it all, she grabbed him and shook him awake and he is just back from Nam.”
The colonel looked at her and said, “You shook him awake?” “Yes”, she replied indignantly. “It was time to take his medicine.” “What medicine”, questioned the colonel? To which she replied, “His sleeping pill.” The colonel was quiet for a few moments and then stated, “Lieutenant, a person is not legally responsible for any action for the first sixty seconds after they wake up; this patient is just back from combat and you are lucky he did not kill you! From now on, use a mop or a broom handle and tap the end of his bed to wake him up. If he is sleeping, do not wake him up just to give him a sleeping pill!” He shook his head like he could not believe she had done that. He turned to the soldier in question, and said, “Sorry, soldier, go back to sleep; there is nothing to worry about.” He turned about to leave and spoke to the nurse, “Lieutenant, I want to speak to you in my office.” Everyone left the ward and we all breathed a sigh of relief; you rarely leave an officer with two black eyes from a confrontation and don’t go off to the stockade for it. The next day when the same nurse was on duty, she tapped the end of his bed with a broom handle to wake him up for dinner; it was good to see that she was a quick learner.
Chapter 106 – The Thief
It was another typical day in the hospital; I was in my fourth full body cast recovering from surgery. I was using a straightened wire coat hanger to scratch my back. The plaster powder of the cast mixed with sweat on the muggy days, and then it dried and formed granular likened to hardened sand crystals. The man in the bed next to me had gone through surgery that morning was waking up. He had begun complaining about the pain he was having, I thought at the time that this had become a common occurrence in our ward in those last few weeks. After my own surgery, I too had been in severe pain; but I had a high pain tolerance and was soon off the shots and onto the pills instead. He kept complaining until the nurse finally came and gave him a morphine shot. In a few minutes he was still moaning in pain and gritting his teeth, demanding another morphine shot! The nurse refused and told him to, “Wait for it to take effect.” When the doctors made their rounds hours later, he was still twisting in pain. The doctors became suspicious because the morphine should have knocked him out. They went to the locked medicine cabinet at the nurses’ station, which I could see from my bed. Upon checking the morphine bottles, they discovered small needle holes in them. While examining the contents, they discovered that someone had been replacing the morphine with distilled water. This prompted a precise investigation and the culprit was soon found out. One of the female nurses, an officer, had become addicted to morphine while serving in a field hospital in Viet Nam. She had been unable to deal with the stress of being around all the death, pain, and suffering of soldiers. She had been able to hide her addiction while stealing small amounts, but as her addiction grew, she had begun substituting the distilled water in greater and greater amounts until the day she was caught. It was found then that she had advanced to taking the whole bottle and only giving the distilled water to the patients. The irony is that in her attempt to deal with her own pain caused by seeing the pain of others, only caused more pain to those she was trying to help. She was removed from duty and Court-martialed. Many of the patients were angry because she had caused them more pain then they had faced while being wounded in combat.
Chapter 107 – Home Sweet Home
When Christmas 1969 rolled around, I found myself back in a full body cast again. Barb was due for another visit and so I gritted my teeth and put on my happy face, which, by the way she can always figure out if I am for real or not. However, when Barb walked in, it was she who was grinning from ear to ear. “Guess what?” She excitedly asked. And before I could reply, she went on to tell me that she had spoken with the doctors and was going to take me home for the weekend. Now, either she was very persuasive or they needed my bed; but I didn’t hesitate I said, “Let’s go!” I found out that she had met another Army wife who was taking her husband home too. He also had a leg cast and was able to sit up and ride in the back with me. Barb had finagled a ride home with them because they only lived ten miles from us in Los Angeles. They had it all arranged ahead of time and Ron and Petra were so pleased to be able to do this for us. We all shared expenses on the way home and had a wonderful trip together. Eventually, the station wagon rolled into our Apartment Complex in Norwalk, California, on Imperial Highway. When we arrived, Barb’s dad (Red), and her Uncle Howard were assisted by a couple other men who lived in the apartments to lift me out of the station wagon and to carry me into our apartment. At that time, Barb’s parents lived in the same complex, but in separate apartments because they had been divorced for several years. It was nice that they were still best of friends. So, we had apartment number 10 on the ground floor purposely because of my needs. Red was in number 15 and Eleanor was in number 12. A bed had been set up in our living room just for me and I found it to be comfortable enough, especially, after being in a hospital bed for that long. Soon, Red rolled my bed up to the kitchen table and he said, “We are going to teach you how to play pinochle.” (Double deck) I shook my head and said, “It’s a waste, my mom and others have tried to teach me and gave up on me.” “Oh, you will learn”, Red replied. He was called Red because of his bright red hair he had in his youth. So, it was that I played cards the whole time I was home. Sometimes, it was until 3 o’clock in the morning and I thought they were a little fanatical! But they were right, I soon learned to play the game very well and I still enjoy it to this very day; and it was nice to have something new to occupy my mind with.
Chapter 108 – The Hornet’s Nest
At Fort Ord, I had been through a period of no medical treatment or surgeries, which lasted about three months. Discouraged, I had written my mother complaining, worrying that I would be discharged without the needed corrective surgeries. This alerted my mom Georgia and her friend Maryanne to write their congressmen and senators. They knew that something had to be done and the sooner the better. Because of their prompt attention in getting their letters out Senator Warren G. Magnuson, Senator Henry M. Jackson, U.S.S., and Julia Butler Hansen, House of Representative from the 3rd District, Washington, I received the help I needed. These letters prompted an investigation. When the Pentagon received questions from those authorities, things began to happen. The letters quickly made their way to the General of Fort Ord, California. This, in turn, stirred up a real hornets’ nest. I soon found myself being visited by a large number of Officers; Colonels, Majors, and Captains. After talking with me and my doctors, they soon had me on the fast track of those long waited for surgeries. The first major surgery that I faced was called plastic surgery which was combined with skin grafts. It was very necessary for me to have this done and especially because of someday wanting a family; so the surgery was on my “Family Jewels”, as they say. So once again, I had a new belly button because of the inserted catheter into my bladder during and after the surgery. I endured weeks of strong medication and sleeping pills to keep me sedated during the healing process. This was a very painful process because of allowing new skin to become attached where necessary. I had the catheter in for approximately two months during the process of receiving those skin grafts. The doctor still wanted it in longer; but I demanded for it to be taken out. His main concern was to give the scar tissue the time to heal between each operation. There was a series of four or five surgeries before the corrective surgery was completed. Late one night, I sat on my bed contemplating all that I had gone through in the past few months. Up until this time, I had to use a catheter, a bed urinal or had to sit on the toilet in the latrine to urinate. I thought, now is the time and I hopped out of my bed and into my wheel chair. I glanced around because everyone was asleep. I quietly rolled my wheelchair into the latrine. I could not walk, that would still be weeks away, but I could stand up. For the first time in almost a year, I stood up and used the wall urinal. I was glad that no one else was around to see me, as I had tears in the corners of my eyes. I knew it was one more step or victory down the road to recovery. My battles had not ended when I left the combat zone, but they continued day by day as I recovered. I had decided early on that I would live only one day at a time. One morning soon after that, I sat up giving myself a sponge bath. I still could not walk to a shower and the Army had not discovered bathtubs yet.
Chapter 109 – Valentine’s Day
After a few weeks I was out of my body cast and back into a wheelchair. I was in the hallway with a buddy from my Ward C-7. We smoked our cigarettes and did what my wife calls ‘people watching.’ I was always amazed at the variety and diversity of the visitors. We soon became bored and started wheelchair races in the hall. This led to our wheelchairs being confiscated for the day. It seems that our wheelies scared some people. The Red Cross soon sent over some workers to our ward. They came to get us involved in some crafts so that we could have a hobby to keep us from being bored. Soon, we were making leather wallets, cooper plaques, and other hobby stuff. It did keep us occupied. Ten months after being wounded I had progressed with intense physical therapy. I had progressed from being bed ridden for the first three months of my recovery. Then, I was able to be rolled up on a gurney and slid up to the tilt table; by slow increments I was tilted upright. There were times when I was so light headed that they had to stop and put me back to my bed. Eventually, I was able to be tilted to a complete upright position. Later I was advanced into my wheelchair and soon they had me working out on the parallel bars. Even though the progress seemed to me to be very slow, there were certain days when it was all worth the effort. One of those days was in 1970, on Valentine’s Day. Barb was visiting and I told her that I had a surprise for her. I was sitting on my bed and I reached for my walker that the therapist had just graduated me to. I held on and stood up for Barb for the first time in ten months; we hugged and she cried. She told me that was the best Valentine’s gift she could have received. I did have a box of chocolates for her too. Those who were in our ward were also so excited. Bob, the one who was paralyzed from the waist down, told me later. “Pete that made me so happy to see you standing up to hug your wife, it brought tears to my eyes.” In the next few months, I would progress to walking on crutches and finally walking with a cane. As my time approached for leaving the hospital and the military, I was pleased with all the medical attention I received and all the caring hands of those who served not only because it was their duty but because they had compassion.
Chapter 110 – Processing Out
At the beginning of my hospitalization, as I stated before, my philosophy had been to take one day at a time. My last few months had been a flurry of operations and physical therapy that kept me somewhat occupied. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the process of leaving the Army. I had to visit one of the “Pencil Pushers.” (Those paper shufflers, I guess, that every organization needs.) The processor went through my documents with me and had me sign in the appropriate places. He smiled and handed me a paper and said, “Here’s your promotion to Spec-4 and congratulations to you.” I was somewhat confused and commented to him, “I have been Spec-4 for over a year.” “Oh,” he replied; we will fix that, but you will have to stay in the Army for two more weeks and I will rush your promotion to go through.” I answered him, “Just forget it! I am signing out and getting my discharge papers tomorrow and I just want to go home and be with my wife and family.” “Okay,” he said and continued to finish my paper work. That is how I retired as an E-4 instead of receiving the promotion I had earned. The next day Barb arrived and my tomorrow finally came; it was my last day in the Army. After going through the tedious process of checking out of Fort Ord, we finally came to the last stage which was to collect my personnel file containing my private information including my medical records. We walked into the office together with great anticipation. Barb in her happy go lucky stride and myself shuffling along and aided by my cane. I had only used my cane for a brief time and my legs were still very weak and shaky. We were both smiling and in a cheerful mood about the occasion before us. As we approached the desk of the head Medical Transcriptionist, she glanced up and asked my name. I said, “Clayton Peterson,” and she looked at me in surprise searching me from head to toe and commented. “Well, I’ll be! I’m the one who typed up your medical records and I expected you to be pushed in here in a wheelchair or on a gurney.” Barb smiled and told her, “Yes, he is recovering better than anyone thought. He started walking a few weeks ago.” She handed me my thick stack of papers, which she took from my file and said. “Well, you sure don’t look 280% disabled,” referring to what she had typed up. She had added up the total of each individual disability percentage I was granted; of course, only 100% could be given. “Congratulations on your recovery and have a good retirement.” She smiled and shook my hand and it was then that I realized that the rest of the secretaries in the office had all stopped typing to look on and to listen to her little speech. Finally, I had my papers in hand and we were on our way out the door to head home to Los Angeles. I was an inch shorter and still twenty pounds underweight but I was processing out and going home.
Chapter 111 – Retirement
So, it was on June 18, 1970 I left the military and retired; I moved into our apartment with Barb in Norwalk, California. We played pinochle with Barb’s family many evenings late into the night. We also took advantage of the swimming pool at our apartment which was advantageous for my recovery. Yet, all this free time soon became very boring and I was missing my family in Washington. The following November we decided to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Within a week or two, Barb noticed that a mild headache that she had for years had stopped. We had such a good time visiting my family and we both enjoyed the area so much that we decided to make the move out of state. Well, for Barb it was out of state but for me it was heading home again. When we returned to California to say our goodbyes to family and friends down there, Barb’s headaches came back again. She realized that the smog in Los Angeles was the reason for her headaches. When we pulled into Los Angeles, Barb had to pull the car over onto the shoulder of the freeway because her eyes were so watery from the smog. We soon said our goodbyes, packed our U-Haul and headed off to Washington State. We rented a nice place, a duplex apartment in Aberdeen, and not long after that Barb and I both felt at home again. I bought fishing equipment for me and Barb and some camping items. We spent much of our time camping, traveling, and fishing when we could. We enjoyed fishing for trout and bass in the area lakes and rivers near our home in the Pacific Northwest. Barb joined the local YMCA and also joined a women’s Slow-pitch Baseball Team. She played for Walt Failor’s. (Mr. Failor was the Mayor of Aberdeen at that time and also owned his sporting goods store) Their team took State Championship the year she played. We traveled wherever the team went and it took much of our time being involved with the team that summer. Soon after baseball was over, Barb took up bowling and joined a Monday evening league. We both started taking college classes at Grays Harbor Community College in Aberdeen. Barb was taking a secretary course and I was taking general classes. Once I finished my general studies, my brother came to me one day and told me about a carpenter class the college was offering. He was planning on taking the class and wanted to know if I would take it with him. It was the first time that Grays Harbor College was offering this as a course. I decided that since I enjoyed working with wood, I would take the course with my brother. The teacher was a professional contractor, named Chet Ekman. He was a nice, personable, and down to earth type of guy; who always had a quick smile for everyone. The first year we built a house up on a hill, the following year our class began helping to build a new sanctuary for South Aberdeen Baptist Church. It was our last year in the class; although, the college class helped the church for another year after that. The community leaders, along with Chet, continued to do projects that benefited the community and also enhanced the teaching experience for the students in that class. My wife and I were members of South Aberdeen Baptist Church, at that time, and we became very active in our community; our state had a program set up for volunteers to help in the community. Barb and I both signed up to visit the elderly in nearby nursing homes. This helped relieve the financial burden on the state and also helped the elderly to have visitors. Some of them did not have any family left alive or living nearby them. Because we had no children at the time; we had free time to volunteer. Barb and I both loved children and had wanted to have a dozen of them. However, as the years rolled by, our family and friends who were our ages started their families but we remained childless. We prayed and went to our doctors for advice and were told there was nothing wrong with either of us. We became more active in our church. I worked with the Boys Brigade Club and Barb worked with the young girls in G.M.G. (Girls Meeting God) Club. We, eventually, worked with the Youth Group of our church, too.
Chapter 112 - Full Circle
Getting involved in church activities was spiritually fulfilling to me. It was a time of serving others and for personal growth in my own life, as well. In those early years of our marriage, I served as a Deacon, a Sunday School Teacher, a Leader in the Boys Club, and taught an evening Bible Study. One summer I went with Barb and many others to a Conference in Seattle to hear a speaker. He specialized in resolving conflicts developed or ignored in one’s youth. One day the weeklong event dealt with the importance of seeking out those we had wronged and asking forgiveness, but of great importance was to make restitution. I made a list and took steps to follow through. The library in the SOO received a book on German I had stolen as a 7th Grader, plus a German language set of books to replace the other book I had lost. I also sent them a set of very large books about nature and wildlife. Going back to individuals I had offended face-to-face was even harder. By the end of the week, the key speaker asked if we had taken the steps to correct the damaged relationships we had ignored over the years. I was feeling pretty good until God told me I had to talk with my father about stealing his war medals. When I hesitated, He said, “You could offer your medals in replacement of the ones you took.” OK, I thought; but my dad lived 2,000 miles away in Michigan and I knew I had to get busy and write him a letter. When I arrived home, I wrote to him and packed up all my war medals and awards. There were two Purple Hearts, an Army Commendation Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge, Parachute Wings, and numerous other ones. I told him about the incident that happened many years ago when I was in grade school; then I asked his forgiveness for it. I told him to keep my medals and that I did not want them back. Within a week I received a nice letter from my dad that said, “I forgave you and that was a long time ago.” He would send the medals back, but he wanted to show them to his friends and family back there first. So it was that decision brought closeness between my dad and me. Little did I know that my dad would only live a few more years after that. Dad made plans to come out for a visit and some salmon fishing about a year later and he did not bring my medals with him. In January 1977, we got word that my dad had died of a massive heart attack. He had gone out ice-fishing and while there, a snowstorm blew in from the Great Lakes. His truck was stuck in the snow and he was attempting to dig it out when he had the attack. All of brothers and sisters and I went to his funeral. After we settled his small estate we started going through his belongings. The hardest part was going through the 700 to 800 photographs. Then my brother, Butch, handed me the box containing all my war medals and the letter I had written. He said, “I believe these belong to you.” So it was that the medals and awards traveled full circle. Years later I would use them as part of my visual display when I did public speaking.
A New Generation
After seven years, we decided to consider adoption. We looked into this and it seemed all the doors were closed. We, eventually, decided to be Foster Parents. The child we became Foster Parents for was a little girl named Shannon Marie. She was five years old at the time. She had been in thirteen Foster Homes since she was eighteen months old and had been in six of those homes in the previous year. She was a hard to handle child with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy along with a mental disability. She was a very sweet and pretty little girl, but if you touched her, she would scream. She sometimes screamed up to eight hours without stopping. Within a year, she calmed down and improved her behavior enough for us to see that she was capable of better behavior. Our friends and family were very helpful in accepting her into our circle, and soon she became very close to our hearts and the hearts of those she was around. We decided to attempt adopting her, but there was red tape to go through. It became a long process of paper work, demands and procedures that we had to follow in order to be able to adopt her. We went through all the hoops, so to speak, and our day of adoption finally arrived. It amazed us that our Court Hearing was set for July 15, 1977, which was the very day we had taken her into our home and hearts just one year prior. She was six at the time we adopted her. We had the option to change her name if we chose to do so. We decided to leave her name as it was because she had already gone through so much instability in her young years that we felt changing her name would be cruel. Just two short months later, Barb became pregnant with our first child, John Arthur (Named after both his grandfathers). It was 1978 and after that over the next six years we had four more children to add to our family: Samuel, Georgia, Lori, and Matthew. Each child that was born had to be delivered by C-Section. After Matthew was born, the doctor told Barbara that it would be dangerous to have more children; so we both made the decision that it would be best to have her tubes tied. Well, we did not get our twelve children; but at the present time we have been blessed with eleven grandchildren; our youngest was born in October 2012. We home schooled our children for most of their elementary grades and each of them entered public school in their Junior High School year. We remain involved in our local community affairs and continue to attend our church. All our children are fine citizens in our community and are all good workers. We are very proud of each of their successes. Shannon still lives with us at home and is now forty-three years old; and continues to improve her skills of dressing herself and she enjoys cleaning up after the grandchildren have visited. She is a very strong prayer warrior; she has told me several times over the years when someone needs prayer. John has three children a son Skyler and a daughter Raylyn. John enjoys writing songs and producing his own music and works as an online sales person. Raylyn has a sister named Tayalyn Hensler and their mother is Sheena Hensler. She works at one of our local casinos. Samuel is married to Brenda and they have three children; their names are Tahlia, Allden, and Catherine. After our local Weyerhaeuser Company shut down, Samuel began classes for surveying at a college in Olympia and, presently, works at a local chemical company. Brenda works as a Medical Assistant. Georgia is presently working full time at a Juvenile Detention Center and enjoys performing with their band she and her husband Ryan. He, presently, works at a restaurant in Olympia. She and Ryan have a son named Morrison. Lori has worked as a Banqueting Director in a local casino nearby and is presently helping her boyfriend Jake in his business. Jake has two daughters, Madeline and Noel. They have a son named Patrick Clayton; Lori is working on a Business Degree and continues taking classes when she can. Matthew recently served five years in the United States Navy and was stationed on the USS John C. Stennis CVN 74, one of the Aircraft Carriers. He is married to Karla; he presently is working at a local hospital as an Ordering Clerk for their medical supplies, etc.; Karla works at a local bank as a Debit Card Assistant.
We have been finalizing this book for the past ten years and I have also authored several other books as one of my hobbies; which will be published in the future. I have a total of eighteen books in the making and ten of them are ready to finalize. Our family is our number one priority; therefore, it has become a slower process than we anticipated in finishing this book. As all families everywhere, we are looking forward to the future and are excited for another new generation. In the following section titled: “Out of the Darkness into the Light”, my wife expresses the experience from her perspective, a synopsis of her life and how we met, and a commemoration of our first few years together.
OUT OF THE DARKNESS INTO THE LIGHT Barbara J. Peterson
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This section is the result of many people encouraging me to write my side of the story. I hesitate to say names least I forget to mention some; but those who have encouraged me to tell my story are: Pastor Gordon and Phyllis Hyde, Eleanor Edwards, Sharon Godinez, Arthur E. Cotter, Sr., Sewell Edwards, Jr., Dorothy Edwards, Georgia Larsen, Carol Lindgren, Lin LaTrajet, Vicky Bizer, Lauralee Peterson, Nyona Vetterick, Bill and Ann Stewart, Louise Hatcher, Darlene Friberg, and Merrilee Peterson.
DEDICATION To my dear and loving husband, Clayton: My special friend and encourager; and next to Jesus the strength of my life. He is an excellent and loving father and grandfather and an intelligent, gentle man. To My Lord Jesus Christ, My Indwelling Holy Spirit, and my Loving Heavenly Father. To those who have lost a loved one to the war; all those who hurt and are in need of healing; all those who wait for answers to their long-awaited questions; all those who search for truth in the midst of pain and the unawareness of tomorrows.
INTRODUCTION This section in this book is about life and the way to handle trials in a seemingly sometimes ‘God forsaken world’. When bad things happen, the first thing we do is turn to God who is higher than us; yet sometimes we reach out in a faith that goes only to the ceiling. This book explains some of those feelings and a real life situation. It will hopefully be an encouragement to many who read. To some it may be disheartening and to others a source of joy. No matter what your conclusion may be, this is a true happening in the life of one person united with another. Genesis 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
“OUT OF THE DARKNESS INTO THE LIGHT” Navy Brat I was born as Barbara Jean Cotter on the Navy Base in Jacksonville, Florida. My dad was discharged one day before I was born; but they still allowed my mom to deliver me in the hospital on the base. You might say I was a true Navy Brat; not only was I born as one, I was also a true one growing up. I read one of my mom’s letters to my dad that she had written when I was still a crying baby. She told him in the letter, “Maybe someday Barbara Jean will sleep at nights." It is funny because I still do not sleep at nights; I am a night owl by nature, I guess. Anyway, back to the beginning again; as I grew older there is not much to tell except I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio until I was four years old. My mom, me, and three other siblings of mine moved to Los Angeles, California. I grew up and lived there until I was twenty-one years old. Hard Rock & Scratches In our small neighborhood there were many children to play with and as it would be some of them became friends and others of them became enemies. Well, I guess it was not that drastic, but there were some in the neighborhood I used to fight with literally and sometimes even throw rocks at. I never hit anyone with one that I remember, but that does not mean I was not trying to; so it was that I was into hard rock before it’s time. I finally made it to school and then there were the playground fights. One time another girl was in line for the slide and I pushed her out of the way. She pushed back and I scratched her in the face. When we were in high school, she reminded me of that day on the slide. People remember those kinds of things and she told me then that she could not believe how nice I turned out to be. Thank God for that and that it did not leave her scarred in any way, mentally or physically. I did not even know I was a ‘Navy Brat’ and I still lived up to the name. Once I reached junior high classes I had calmed down somewhat. One day there was a confrontation concerning a certain area me and my friends liked to eat our lunch. There was a cubby hole where the stairs met the stage door and we used to eat at the top of those stairs so we could be in seclusion. One day when we arrived a couple other girls had taken our spot. We asked them to leave and they refused and said what are you going to do about it? I was less than five feet tall and very petite, but that did not stop me from fighting. A girl who was about twice my size stood up and waited for my reply; I immediately walked up the stairs and grabbed her and wrestled her down. They all got up and left and we never fought for our space again. I want it understood I am not proud of any of those actions; I was young and immature and I do not condone that kind of behavior. Beginning of Faith I had a varied experience with churches growing up. I was raised as a Catholic; but I also went to a Nazarene Church with my best friend, and attended one Baptist Church in my teenage years. My faith was somewhat distorted. In the Catholic Church we were trained to pray in church and they spoke in Latin at that time, which I did not understand and that was very confusing to me. I had many doubts growing up not just because of the different churches I had attended, but also because of the rough home life I had. There was fighting and continual abuse both physically and mentally. It was the kind of home that would be called dysfunctional by today’s definition. Needless to say, it was not a nice atmosphere to grow up in! As time passes on, we grow in many ways. I did finally grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, too. (Because of my shortness in height, I am sometimes accused of not being grown up yet; especially by six-foot tall teenagers.) We always have room to grow more, no matter how many years we work at it. When I was fourteen, my girlfriend, Nyona and I sat on a curb and cried our eyes out. The reason we were crying was because we did not have a boyfriend. Oh, both of us had our crushes and she had gone steady with a couple boys. I had not gone steady with a boy; even though I had been asked a couple times, I refused. I was very shy and unless I knew the boy very well, I never let them know I had a crush on them. I tried to let one boy know, but when I had sprayed perfume on his neck in our class, it did not go over so well at all; but to this day, he is a good friend of mine and I am thankful for that. Just a week prior to Nyona and I sitting on that curb crying, there was a song on the radio called “Someone Else’s Boy.” I had a friend at the time that I wished was my boyfriend and his nickname was Buddy. In the song it said, “But he doesn’t know how much I really love him so.” I would sing it like this: “Buddy doesn’t know how much I really love him so.” The rest of the song went something like this: “Oh, how I hope and pray to the Lord above, he’ll send me down a boy, one that I can love, who’ll be mine alone and not someone else’s boy.” I prayed that deep from within my heart and meant every word of it to God. A few weeks later I met a new boy in the neighborhood and not too long after that, I realized a prayer of mine was answered and that was the beginning of my faith. I don’t know who taught me this, but I always had a saying that I still live by today. “God knows the truth, and I know the truth; and that is all that matters.” Wow, it is profound when you really think on it. It is all that matters. But knowing God is what matters, because He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. John 14: 6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” I would like to quote A. W. Tozer now: “The man who has God as his treasure has all things in one, and he has it purely, legitimately, and forever.” That, too, is very profound. God’s word is truth and knowing God is where any faith begins. I did not understand that in my younger years but as I grew to know God better, it was then that I realized that He was introducing himself many years before I ever knew. He draws people to himself by his love and forgiveness He offers daily. Now quoting a scripture from his word I encourage you, if you don’t know him yet; please consider getting to know him by reading his word. Romans 10: 17 “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” And also in Hebrews 1:11 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” God has our life all planned out, but that does not mean we follow his plans. He hopes we listen and go the way he is directing us; but He also gave each of us our own free will. He wants us to come to him because we want to and not because He forces us in any way. He will continue to reveal himself to us and wait for our decision. This is what makes him a patient God because many times he waits for years for one to make a decision toward him. So as time went on and as season’s changed, I, too, began to change and to grow in the faith that began years ago as a child. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I shall die before I wake, I ask the Lord my soul to take.” This was a prayer I learned as a child; but now as an adult I realize it goes right along with God’s word. In Psalms 23:1 A Psalm of David, it states: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” As children, God wants us to be simple and brief in our thought process. One day, my granddaughter, Raylyn; when she was just four years old, told me the that she knew that God made her and that He teaches her how to learn things. This is so true and for her to understand that at her age is so amazing to me. But God wants our faith to be just like that, to come to him as a child and ask simple things for him to do and to explain to us. Yet we try to understand everything before we go to him and then we expect him to explain things in our terms; He wants us to become as little children: Matthew 18: 3 “And said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” He wants us to be simple and honest as a child is. A child cannot hide things from their parents and nor do they really want to. They are honest and simple and trust their parent to take care of them and provide their security. So, just as my granddaughter is growing in her faith; I also learned and grew in my faith and it is still just the beginning for the both of us. There is always so much to learn and to grow in with God; so, I hope you as the reader will continue to allow God to encourage you to grow. A Warm Summer’s Day It was a warm summer’s day in 1964; I was on my way to the grocery store. I knew this boy named Vern, in the neighborhood, and he was walking down the street heading to the store with his cousin who had just moved from Washington. He was staying with Vern’s family for a while. I asked Vern as he was passing by, “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Vern replied, “Later man.” When they were a block away he turned and yelled, “Hey, Barb this is Clayton.” Well because they were a block away, I had thought he said Clayton’s name was Clinton. Eight days later I was introducing another friend of mine to Vern and Clayton. When I told my friend this is Clinton, Clayton said, “That is not my name, my name is Clayton.” I apologized and went on my way very embarrassed. That day we were all working on putting the decking around our built-in swimming pool. Clayton was working with the other neighbor guys and my friend Jackie was watching him work. She said, “Wow, he is cute.” I told her, “Well you watch him and I will watch Buddy.” Little did I know, that soon I would be watching Clayton, too. Time after time he came to our house with his cousin and slowly we became friends. Well, the swimming pool was in now and we had much fun swimming and having friends over; we had a pool table in our recreation room, too. I got a chance to play that game growing up and became very good at it. We were getting ready to swim one afternoon on a hot California day; many of our friends were over including Clayton. I had a friend named Sherry and she started telling me that Clayton liked me, so I asked her how she knew that. She told me she had been watching him and every time she looked his way, he was watching me. So I started watching him a little more after that. I realized that he was very nice, kind, and was a very good looking guy. The Bracelet Another hot afternoon that month, we were having friends over again for swimming; Clayton was asking my mom if she could put his bracelet some place to keep it dry. She took it and turned to me, “Barb, put this in that drawer over there.” We had a patio and a kitchen table which had a drawer at the end of it. I headed toward the table and on the way there I was looking at his ID Bracelet and was reading the inscription on it: C L A Y T O N; the question entered my mind, I wonder what it would be like to wear this? I continued on to the table and did not think any more about it. We swam that day and I started looking at Clayton thinking, Jackie was right, he is very good looking. After that I started watching him closer and going out of my way to talk to him more. We teased each other occasionally and just had fun swimming, talking, and playing card games together with my family. I did not realize that I was starting to become attracted to him. One day my friend Judy and my sister Jan called me while I was working with Nyona at her parents’ business. It was a small portable restaurant that they had set up just outside the industrial area there in Hacienda Heights. The city is now called “City of Industry” very appropriately. They told me that Clayton was going to ask me to go steady with him that night. As I was sitting at their wooden table in front of their restaurant, I scratched Clayton + Barbara onto it. When I arrived home, I found out it was just one of those cruel jokes that teenagers will play on others and that there was no truth to it. But that got me thinking and wondering what it would be like if he did ask me to go steady. Another day I was walking down the street in my bathing suit to ask a friend to come over and swim with me. Clayton was sitting in his Aunt’s front yard reading the newspaper and listening to the radio. I teased him and said, “Always reading the newspaper.” I kept walking because I was brave; after all I had my friend to walk back with me. Well, she was not able to come over and so I had to walk back alone. As I was walking passed his house, he yelled out; “At least I am not running up and down the street in my swimming suit.” I was so embarrassed and I took off running toward home as fast as I could go; all the while wrapping my towel around me. Another time a few days later, he was over and a group of us were playing a card game. He told me he had a good name for me and I asked him what it was. He said, “Sommer Sprousen." I thought he was calling me a name, I did not know what it meant. I went to my room and cried and when I came out later, he said it means freckles or summer spots in German and that he liked my freckles. I was comforted after that and we had a fun time the rest of the evening playing cards together. After that I felt more relaxed around him because I knew that he was a kind person; and I admired that about him, and also his sense of humor and his wit. I remember one day he said, “I am just ‘joshing’ you.” That was the first time I ever heard that phrase. There were many times he had to explain what he was saying to me because he would always use words I was not familiar with, and to this day he still does. I struggled as it were, with the English language itself and reading. Although, I did graduate from High School with a scholarship to go to The Designer’s School of Hair Fashion in La Habra, California; school had always been an effort for me. I graduated from there and worked as a beautician for a couple of years in Hacienda Heights, El Monte, and Paramount, California, before moving to Washington State. During the summer just after finishing the ninth grade; my two girlfriends Sherry and Mary came over and asked me if I wanted to meet with the guys for a, friendly, get-together that evening. I asked them, “Who was going to be with who?” Sherry told me that I was going to be with Clayton and I said, “How do you know they will go for this?” Sherry said, “Well, we are going to ask them right now.” They came back one half hour later and told me that the guys agreed. I said, “You mean Clayton wants to be with me?” Sherry answered me, “Are you kidding, he could not believe you wanted to be with him!” I was so excited and could not wait for our time together that evening.
The Get Together That evening July 16, 1964 Clayton and I met for the first time on a one to one conversation. I was amazed at the knowledge this young man had; again that kindness and gentleness came clear to me as we visited. We talked and shared for a few hours. We both found out that neither of us had gone steady with anyone before and shared with each other about where we had grown up. I knew that Clayton had moved to California from Washington, but I did not know until that evening that he actually came from Michigan which amazed us both because I lived in Ohio the state just below there. We continued talking and we listened to records (45’s) on our phonograph player and danced to the song “I Believe” and also shared some snacks. I had been to several home parties where we all danced so I knew how to dance. Clayton, on the other hand, had never danced. I encouraged him to try it and that slow dancing was easier and he decided to try and he did very well. Our party ended at an early time of eight-thirty. My brother and I had to be in the house by nine o’clock every night and we always made sure we were. We stood in the front yard and talked some more before heading to our homes. The girls were talking on one side of the yard and the guys on the other side. Sherry said, “Butch asked me to go with him and he gave me a Saint Christopher.” Mary stated, “Vern asked me to go with him and he is going to get me a Saint Christopher tomorrow.” They both turned to me and Mary said, “Well?” I said, “Well what?” They both informed me that Clayton had told them that afternoon that he was going to ask me to go steady. Well, “He must have changed his mind”, I said. Butch walked Sherry home; we were at Mary’s house and so she went into her house. Vern and Clayton were across the street and I headed kitty-corner toward my house. Vern yelled out to me, “Hey Barb, Clayton wants to talk to you.” I said, “Okay” and I headed over to where they were. Vern gave Clayton a shove off of the curb pushing him in my direction and then running home leaving Clayton standing there alone. He stumbled and kept himself from falling and then he walked back up onto the grass past the curb. I followed him and asked, “Yes, what do you want?” He said, “Don’t look at me, you make me nervous.” I said, “What do you want me to do, turn around?” He said, “Yes.” So, I turned around with my back to him. About thirty seconds later he said, “Okay, you can turn around now.” I turned around and he handed me his bracelet with his name CLAYTON on it and said, “Would you like to wear this?” I said, “Yes.” We both went our separate ways and headed to our own homes. I put the bracelet under my pillow that night and was very happy to have him as my boyfriend. I slept very well that night. I Believe Just remembering back to that night; I am always reminded of that evening when I hear the song titled, “I Believe” and I also remember other songs that remind me of memories, too. For example: I love the movie (the newest one) “Parent Trap” and two of the songs in there bring back memories to me. First there is "Soulful Strut” from 1968. That one reminds me of my dad because he never danced; (Or at least that is what he always told me) but when that song came on one day, he moved his hands to the music and said, "This is the most of what you will ever see of me dancing." We both laughed together at the same time and that is such a nice memory of mine. Secondly, the song titled, "In the Mood”, by Glen Miller, from 1940 was in the movie; which my mom used to play on the piano quite often when I was growing up and it brings back precious memories of her. When I was five years old my parents divorced; when I was fifteen, I finally got to meet my real dad through a process of events. My sister wrote to the last address she had for him and soon she received information as to his whereabouts. From there she looked him up and made arrangements for the three of us (his children) to meet with him; it was 1965 in the summertime. I knew nothing of this until my brother who had the same name as my dad asked me if I wanted to meet him. I said well, that is your name. He stated, “Yes, but it is our father’s name, too. Do you want to meet our father?” I answered, “Yes, of course I do.” The next day after school my brother and I went to my sister's house to meet our dad for the first time. We had waited there for over thirty minutes, he had not arrived yet and we were very much disappointed! We had to get home soon and could not wait any longer, so we left her driveway. We had not gone that far; (my brother was driving because he had his driver’s license) when a car drove by us and before it turned into our sister’s drive way, my brother said to me, “That is our dad!” I said, “How do you know that?” He replied, “Because I look just like him!” We turned around and headed back to my sister's and had a very short but nice visit with him there that day. It was wonderful to us to finally get to meet our real dad. Off and on from that time forward, we all got together and began to know each other better. We did not tell our mom for quite some time that we had met our dad because it would have caused friction in our home. Eventually, we did tell our mom and she was very happy for us that we got to meet him. Although at the same time, she seemed somewhat agitated! Our stepdad heard about it eventually, too; and he was very upset with us for looking up our real father. A few years later in 1969 my mom and step-dad divorced; (they had been having severe marriage problems for years) my mom moved to the city where my dad and I lived and rented her own apartment. It was then that I realized that my mom’s agitation was because she knew in her heart that her present marriage was almost over and that the love in her heart for our dad was awakened again. After that my parents got to know each other again. They were always friends with each other, but now they started doing things together again. They continued their friendship in their later years too. Although they never remarried or lived together, they were still in love with each other, but never desired to be husband and wife again. They remained friends until my mom died. So I enjoy that movie ‘Parent Trap’ for that reason too. One of the songs from 1949 by Perry Como was dedicated to my dad from my mom. After my dad died, I found a letter to him from my mom in his belongings. The words in the song were, “Forever and ever, my heart will be true sweetheart, forever, I’ll wait for you. We both made a promise that we’d never part. Let’s seal it with a kiss forever, my sweetheart.” So, even though years and circumstances separated them, their love for each other never ended. Music is such an important part of our lives and especially for memories. I knew that evening when I got to know Clayton better that I believed that we were meant for each other and would be good friends the rest of our lives. Since we started dating, we have chosen several songs to be our own and “I Believe” is one them. Every once in a while we will still dedicate a new song to one another. And all of them are special. I also know that what it states in our very first song “I Believe” is true: “I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard; I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word,” because I am certain that mine and Nyona’s prayers were heard and I am thankful every day that they were. No Minors Allowed! The six of us who were in ‘Our Little Crowd’ as I called it were planning a trip to Pacific Ocean Park. We had a nickname for it, P.O.P., as it was known in our area. It was an amusement park out in Santa Monica, California, on the beach. We worked for months saving up the money to plan for our trip. We had planned for a neighborhood father of one of my friends (Sonia DeLeon) to drive us there. We had the gasoline money, permission from our parents, and all the arrangements made. Each of us had saved $33 per couple for the day's outing. Just a couple days prior to our scheduled time, our driver ended up with emergency dental care and could not take us. We all got together and worked out different plans. We got permission to walk ten miles to down town La Puente and off we went for the day. Our first stop was at our local Trampoline and Miniature Golf Park. We stayed there for almost two hours enjoying the nice September weather in California. We left there and headed for the bowling alley which was still another two miles up the road. Along the way we stopped at a pool hall and shot some pool, had some drinks and headed out for more fun. Clay and I had our first spat over some minor misunderstanding and we were both pouting and refusing to walk with each other. I was walking behind him and singing in a very low voice so that only he could hear. I was singing a song called ‘The Most Wonderful Summer’; “I want to thank you for giving me the most wonderful summer of my life” were the words I was singing. It was meaning to tell him that we were breaking up! It may not sound that way but at the same time I was swinging his Saint Christopher in my hand because I had taken it off of my neck. It was what he had given to me a few weeks after we begin dating. We came to a small ice cream place and everyone decided to order malts. Clay brought my malt and set it on the table; I was still very upset over our misunderstanding and so I knocked the malt off of the table onto the ground. One of the others came over to Clayton and teased him about a lover’s spat; and he knocked his malt off the table, too. At this point we all started to laugh and it broke the ice (no pun intended) and I visibly put the Saint Christopher back on my neck so that Clayton could see that our spat was over. We continued on to enjoy the rest of our day together. We finally reached the bowling alley and spent a good two hours there bowling. Most every place we stopped we had something to eat or drink. At the beginning of our day, we all decided to keep track of the days events and we would all choose one couple who we believed had the most fun and spent the least amount of money. Well, Clay and I had certainly wasted some of our money throwing our malts on the ground, but all of us were having fun. We left the bowling alley and headed back toward our homes. We decided to stop and have some pizza at this cute little café. When we walked in we noticed a juke box and headed there to begin to pick some songs to listen to. When we turned toward the counter to order our pizza, we noticed a sign that said, “No Minors Allowed!” We told the man that we did not know that and just wanted to order a pizza and listen to some music. He said, “Okay, just this once you kids seem like a nice group.” So we sat and waited quietly listening to the music and being very well behaved. We ate our pizza and drank our sodas and quietly got up to leave. All of the sudden there was a big crash and we heard glass breaking and pizza pans hitting the floor. Clayton did not know it but he had tucked the table cloth in with his shirt as he was getting up from the table. There were three or four ash trays, our glass glasses, and the pizza pans that hit the floor. Clay offered to pay for the broken things. My brother, Butch, got such a laugh out of it that he told Clay that he would pay for it. He said, “To see that was worth paying for”. We were all relieved and thanked the man for allowing us to be there. When we arrived home, Clayton and I had the most money left over and the whole crowd agreed that we also were the ones that had the most fun; or provided the most fun for the group. The Poem As the years went on “Our Little Crowd” soon became parted. Clayton and I were the only ones in the crowd that stayed together and slowly our little crowd became one. When the last person moved out of the neighborhood, I wrote a little poem explaining just what happened to ‘Our Little Crowd’ and I include it on the following page.
“Our Little Crowd” There were six of us in our little crowd, we’d always have fun and laugh out loud Then one day in August someone moved away, he means the most to me up to this very day About a year went by, two girls moved away, it was the month of July; they knew they couldn’t stay Then next year in June, my brother joined the service, he knew he would be leaving soon; so he moved out on purpose Now on the first of July, the fifth one moved out I guess I could just cry, it’s better than to shout Yes, there were six of us who used to have fun. Six in our little crowd; but now there is only one.
High School Dance Since we started dating many years ago now, we have continued to become best of friends. It was five months that we had gone together then and we were very open about most things in our conversation. He would walk eight miles to my house each weekend just to stay at his Aunt and Uncle’s house so that we could visit each other a few hours. On Sunday afternoon he would head back home and we would not be able to visit except via telephone the rest of the week. It was hard to get through those times because I enjoyed being around him very much and little did I know my heart was getting prepared for continual separation in our relationship. My stepfather was a very strict disciplinarian and very seldom let us stay out past nine in the evening, but we could have friends at the house later then that, so we would use that time to play card games, watch TV, and sometimes have night swims with our friends over. As the days moved on and winter set in, we both became busy with our own school functions, including that dreaded thing called ‘homework’. My school was having their annual Christmas Dance and I invited Clayton to come with me. He graciously accepted and we were excited about our first school dance together. While we were dancing I had an embarrassing thing happen to me. My bra strap broke and I did not know what to do about it. So I told Clayton that I had to go outside for a few minutes alone. He took it wrong and thought that I was mad at him or meeting someone outside. I stood out in the parking lot for about five minutes trying to figure out what to do about the predicament because for some reason which I do not understand now, there were no restrooms open for us to use. Soon, Clayton came out to see if everything was okay, he suspiciously questioned me about who I was meeting with outside. I became very quiet and upset within myself and then I had to explain with embarrassment why I had gone outside. He felt very bad that he had misinterpreted my intentions. I asked him to turn around and watch that no one was coming. Then I took my strap and tied it secure so it would stay; but just as I was finishing, a police officer, who was patrolling the school parking lot; came up to Clayton and asked, “What are you two doing out here?” It was a school dance neither one of us will ever forget; me because I had to explain it to Clayton and for Clayton because he had to explain it to the officer. The Break Up – Almost There was only a week left after the school dance because Clayton and his family would be moving back to Washington State. Clayton did not tell me about that and had a very hard time having to do so. One of our friends thought it would help if we broke up because they felt I would get over things better that way. She said, to Clayton, “Why don’t you and I kiss when we see Barbara’s sisters come and they will run and tell her. Then, she will get mad and break up with you and you won’t have to tell her you are moving and things will work out better.” He refused to do it that way and decided to tell me that evening that he had to move. It was a cold winter evening in more than one way. The winds of love, cold weather, and heartache were thrusting upon our lives. When I was told he had to move, it was the first time I realized what a broken heart could feel like. He made it clear that we were not breaking up and that we could write to each other if I would like to do that. I agreed that it would be the best and what else could I have done. I cried many nights going to sleep and knowing we would soon be separated made it very difficult. We were just beginning our sophomore year in high school and even though we went to different schools in California, now we would go to different schools in two different states. It was a very hard Christmas that year for me; and Clayton and his family just made it to Washington before the snow set in on the passes. They traveled there by bus to Aberdeen, Washington; where his brother, Butch, lived. Butch lived there with his fiancé, Merrilee, and her family; and he rented an apartment for Clayton and his family until they could get settled. It would be a long two and one half years before we would see each other again. Many things happened during that time; we both went with other people on dates and decided that it was best that we should break up. We had been broken up for a good four months when he wrote me a letter. He asked me in the letter if I was going with someone and if not, would I like to write to him again? I wrote him a letter and let him know that I was not dating anyone and told him all the news he had missed in four months. We wrote back and forth a few more times; and then he asked me if I wanted to be his steady girlfriend again? I said, "Yes," and we have been together ever since.
A New Heart and Hope for the Future
Some teach that if you cannot tell your testimony in one minute; then it is too long. Well I am not so sure I believe that unless you were trying to communicate it in a real emergency. Well, all that to say this: The Lord is great and He saves, it does not matter from what walk of life you may be from; and it does not matter what gifts you may have to give to the poor or what talents you have to give to the world. All the gifts and talents come expressly from our Father in Heaven anyway. What I am trying to express here is the fact that many attribute their salvation to the good works they do. Now please don't get me wrong, everyone should do plenty of good works for the Lord Jesus. What amazes me is the fact that no matter what good works anyone accomplishes; those good works are never good enough to receive salvation. Good works come only through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and is always a result of our salvation.
I assure you this is no minute testimony: When I was a young girl, I was raised Catholic. I have nothing against Catholics; in fact, I do believe that is the reason I have a good foundation of faith in my heart. I learned about Jesus dying on the cross; his death, burial, and his resurrection. Anyway, when I was 16 years old, I decided to question my belief in God. I was going with a young man and he was attending a youth group and continued to write to me about his faith in Jesus. I remember writing to him and asking, "Who do I pray to?" He wrote back and explained to me that you pray to Jesus because He was the one that died on the cross for you. Well, I knew that he died and I believed it, so that was not hard for me to understand. Yet, I was very confused because many things about God were never explained to me.
So, he continued to tell me that I needed to ask God to forgive me of my sins; again, I had no problem with that because I had been taught all my life that I had done wrong things. I was always getting into trouble for lying, stealing and other bad things I was doing. So, therefore, I had no problem admitting that I had done wrong things in my life.
In the letter my boyfriend had told me that there was a verse in the bible that stated that you should pray to the Father in secret and that you should enter into your closet to pray. Now, you must realize that he was only eighteen at the time and just a new Christian himself. He had enclosed a little booklet called "The Four Spiritual Laws". I read this little booklet and came to the conclusion that I needed to be forgiven, and that I needed Jesus as my Savior. I believed what he wrote to me. It was 1966 and after reading his letter, I went into my bedroom closet and prayed to God the Father in heaven for Jesus to come into my life. When I came out of the closet, I ran to my best girlfriends’ house next door and told her what I had prayed. She was already a Christian and was very excited for me. We are still best friends to this day and have known each other since second grade. During that time in my life it was a struggle to live each day because of being in an abusive home atmosphere. I was not happy with many things going on in our home; more or less the way I was treated. So, when I asked Christ to come into my life; many things in my life began turning around to the better. I know now that the reason that changed was because God gave me hope for my future.
My boyfriend who sent me that letter is now my husband and we have six children, 11 grandchildren, and 44 years of marriage in December 2012. Our God is continuing to bless us daily and I am so appreciative for my salvation which He gave me freely on the cross. I pray that as you are reading this, you will be encouraged to share your faith with others and that as you do; God will grow you up more. Seven years after I accepted Jesus into my heart, I had not grown in His word or in fellowship with other believers. I was attending a seminar with a church group and the man up front said, "Are you sure you know Jesus"? I had to stop and think about the answer. He said, "If you are not sure, you can be sure today." He continued to explain, “If you have never asked Jesus into your life and would like to do that today, then from this day forward you will be sure you know Jesus. If you have asked Jesus into your life many years ago and you do not remember, or you just don't know if you did or not; then do it now, and you will be sure you know Jesus today." I thought about all he had said and decided to commit my life to God that day. From that day on I have known and I do know that I know Jesus. I John 5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God."
My husband was put into jail when he was fifteen years old for destroying coast guard cutters in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, as you have read. He asked Jesus into his life because an old man came through the jail and handed out the booklet titled, "Four Spiritual Laws." He had nothing else to do but to read and after he read the booklet, he asked Jesus to forgive him and to come into his life. Less than two years later he shared his faith with me. God has an awesome plan for each of our lives and if we follow that plan to the best that we know how, we can never tell who we will reach. He did not know at the time that he was leading his future wife and the mother of his children to Christ. What an awesome God we have!!!
High School Graduation It was the summer of 1967 and we were both graduating from our High Schools. His graduation was approximately two weeks before mine, so he planned to take a bus to California and go to my Senior All-Night Party at Disneyland with me. He was only going to stay two weeks and then join the military. He arrived in Los Angeles on June 13, which was, ironically, the very same date in June that we had met in 1964. My stepdad took me to the bus station to pick him up and it was so good to finally see him again. We went to Disneyland the following evening after I graduated and we had such a wonderful time together with all our friends. I still have a stuffed animal he bought me that night and I have all the good memories, too. The two weeks turned into two months and Clayton tried to get into the Navy a couple times. Finally, he decided to join the Army instead and it was August 27, 1967 when he enlisted. There were about three visits after his basic training that I was able to see him face to face, as at that time, the Army only allowed him short leaves. It was now March 1968 and I received a very nice gift in the mail and was very much surprised by it. I did not know it was coming at all. When I opened the small box, I realized he had sent me an engagement ring. (He had asked me to marry him on July 9, 1967, before entering the Army and I said yes, of course.) It was the most beautiful ring I had ever seen; I put it on with pride and wore it to work and all around to show my friends and family. Everyone I knew was so happy for me and we planned our wedding for December 28, 1968 via letters and short visits as we had the time. We wrote to each other continually during the times of separation and it was always good when we were able to visit. I was still in beauty school and lived with my mom and step-dad until June of 1968. I graduated from college then and found a part time job near home. It was then that I decided to move to my friends’ home in El Monte, California. When I arrived there, I had to find a different job and so I started working at Bobbett’s Beauty Bar. I enjoyed working and eventually moved to Norwalk to live with my real dad. I then worked at Louise’s Beauty Shoppe in Paramount, California. Our Wedding I think this is as good of place, as any; to give a little more understanding as to how I knew my parents were both still in love with each other. When we began making arrangements for our wedding, I decided that I wanted my real dad to walk me down the aisle. I figured that he did not get to raise me because of circumstances beyond his control. I knew my other sisters would have my step-dad walk them down the aisle at their weddings and that I was my dad’s last daughter to get married. For those reasons, I felt he should be the one to escort me on my special day. I had just a slight problem, though. At that time, my mom and step-dad were still married. Out of respect to my mom I decided that I should ask her permission first. I took her out to lunch so that we could talk in private and I explained what my wishes were. She said, “Have you asked your dad and does he want to walk you down the aisle?” I said, "No, I have not asked him yet because I wanted to make sure it would not cause you any trouble." She paused for a few minutes and I could tell she was thinking very deep. She finally said, “That would be okay with me if this is what you want” I replied, “Yes, Mom it is what I want. She said, “You know your dad and I cannot be friends?” I said, “I know that mom and I am not asking you to be.” She said, “No, you don’t understand what I am saying to you; I mean we cannot be ‘just’ friends.” I made no reply to that but I knew in my heart exactly what she was telling me. We just continued to make plans concerning other things for the wedding and the subject was changed. The next day, following the conversation with my mom; I did ask my dad if he would walk me down the aisle. He replied, “Are you certain this is what you want, and did you ask your mom about this?” I said, “Yes, Dad, it is what I want and yes, I asked her and she told me yes, if it is what I want.” He replied, “Then honey, of course, I will and I will be honored too.” He had a bit of a tear in his eye or was it a twinkle or both? We both smiled at each other and I was so happy that my wedding plans were going so well. A few months before the wedding my dad and I were at home having a quiet evening. I noticed that he was crying and so I asked him why. He said, “I am sorry honey, but sometimes I just look in the corner over there (he was pointing to the corner in our apartment kitchen) and I just wish your mother was standing there because I miss her so much and I would just like to see her.” I said, Dad, you are still in love with my mom aren’t you?” He replied, “Yes, I am honey.” I just hugged him and we both cried together and I told him not to worry that everything would be alright. Here I was giving comfort to my dad and at the same time, he was giving me comfort, too, because I felt a deeper love for both he and my mother. So, I knew from both of my parents’ own mouths that they still had feelings for each other, but I said nothing to either one of them about it. It was around December 26, 1968 when Clayton’s flight landed in Los Angeles. I remember that I was so excited to see him that I got lost on the freeways and instead of heading to the airport; I was heading the opposite way toward Long Beach. I realized it soon enough not to be later than thirty minutes than he was expecting me. When I finally arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport, I found him standing close to the curb waiting patiently for me. It was the first time I had seen him wearing a mustache and I almost did not recognize him with it. I was still very nervous and excited on the way home and got lost again trying to find my way back to Norwalk. Most people who know me know that I can figure freeways out very well and, yes, I do still get lost sometimes, but I knew my way around Los Angeles. It was just the nervousness of getting married, the stress of all the planning, and seeing Clayton again; he seems to do that to me. As we got close enough to Norwalk where the apartment was, we stopped at a nearby park to visit because my dad had to work early in the morning and we did not want to disturb him. When we did arrive back at the apartment, my dad had already left to work. So we were all alone two nights before our wedding. I must admit, it was very hard being so close and still waiting two more days, but we resisted the temptation. The following morning and next day were very busy with running around and making final preparations for the wedding. It was now the evening before the wedding, so Clayton went out with the guys for a night on the town. I never knew quite what they all did, but I know they enjoyed themselves. My sis Sharon and I were getting things ready for the wedding the following day. One of the things we did was to make some punch. We had a five gallon bottle that was used for water and decided to make the punch in it. We put all the ingredients together inside the jug and then we realized we had a problem. We could not lift it very easily! So the both of us grabbed it the best we could and started shaking it up and down and from side to side with great strain as we rocked ourselves to and fro. As we were doing that, we were laughing and I commented, “If someone came to break into the house tonight; they would look through the window and run. Because when they saw us shaking this big jug, they would think we were crazier than they were!” Sharon and I had such a laugh about that one, we have never forgotten it. As some weddings go, everything did not turn out as planned. First, I had made an appointment with a friend of mine; for myself, my mom, and my sister to get our hair styled. She scheduled three hours just for us and felt that would be enough time. Well she did not get us finished in time and because of that, we were forty minutes late to the wedding. Clayton did not know what was going on and little did I know, secondly, things were going on at the church that I would not find out about until some weeks later! It seemed that my step-dad was causing some trouble at the wedding. He had his guns in his truck showing them off; and was fighting with my mom in the parking lot. Two of Clayton’s army buddies who were also in uniform went up to my step-dad and just stood there glaring at him with authority! This stopped my step-dad in his tracks and my mom went on into the church. My real dad had a friend there who was an off duty policeman. His nickname was Stash and he had a gun ‘stashed’ inside his suit jacket; he was appropriately named. He went up to my step-dad and told him, “See,here, we do not want any trouble at this wedding, do you understand?” While he was saying that, he opened his suit so that my stepdad could see the concealed weapon he was carrying. My step-dad told him, “Yes, I understand." My step-dad would not allow my two sisters Dorothy and Debby to light the candles as was planned. My dad told me that the candles had been loaned out by the church and that the people who had borrowed them had never returned them. So you see, things don’t always go as planned, but the wedding itself still proceeded and I had my real dad walk me down the aisle which was a blessing to me for my a long anticipated Wedding Day. Even with all the trouble of being late, fighting in the parking lot, and what we were calling later, ‘A Shot-gun Wedding,’ we actually had a wonderful and eventful day. We continued our celebration with a nice reception following our ceremony. We had many guests, many presents, and many good memories, too. Our Honeymoon Meals One of the presents we received for our Wedding was three nights and two days stay at the Hyatt House Hotel in Long Beach, California, which was just off the I-5 Freeway. Now I can’t speak for other brides; but I had an escape plan if it was necessary. I had put six dollars in my suitcase for a taxi ride home. After ditching my sister on the I-10 Freeway, we made our way to the 605 Freeway and then onto the I-5 Freeway. It took us approximately one half hour to arrive at our destination. The first evening of our honeymoon, there was a knock at the door and a gentleman handed Clayton a bottle of champagne. Clay did not know it had already been paid for by his cousin Brian, so he handed the guy a ten dollar bill and asked, “Will this be enough?” The guy gave him a big smile, shook his head yes, and walked away. We found out later when checking out, that the champagne was listed as paid on the receipt so no wonder the guy had such a big smile. After the ‘Bubbly’ was delivered we decided that we had better check our money and see just how much we had for meals; I had forgotten about the money I had stashed in my suitcase. We figured we had enough money for one meal and we were staying for three days. Well, do you know that old saying, “You can live on Love”? Well, that is just what we did and we waited until Sunday morning to order breakfast. We had food back at our apartment and so we were not worried about where our next meal would come from. I have to back up just a few years here so that you will understand something about my cooking. When we were first going together, my mom told me to invite Clayton to stay for dinner one evening. She sent me to the store to buy items for the meal. I was to get frying chicken and ‘Shake-n-Bake’ for chicken. Instead I purchased stewing chicken and ‘Shake-n-Bake’ for fish. When I arrived home my mom would not let me exchange it and told me to cook the meal anyway. So I cooked it and you can imagine just what happened! At the dinner there were several comments made: “Does anyone need new soles for their shoes or how about a leather belt?” “I never had chicken that was flavored for fish!” So, needless to say, I was very embarrassed! I quickly left the table and went to my room to cry. Since that time I had cooked several meals for Clayton before we were married; so when we arrived back to our apartment, I started preparing for our first home cooked meal together as a married couple. I served pork chops, a nice salad, some vegetables, mashed potatoes, and applesauce. He so appreciated that good meal and thanked me, too. I found out sometime later that he did not think I could cook and that he was very surprised. All the meals I had cooked for him previously, he had thought my mom had cooked. My mom taught me how to cook and would give me instructions one step at a time. I did all the cooking, but she supervised it. Since that ‘Bad-chicken Day,’ as I refer to it back then, I have been known as a good cook. The Dating Game & The Real World Well, it was but a few days that we were together before Clayton had to go back to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, for his continued training before being shipped off to Viet Nam in April. To pass the time away, my dad and I would spend time traveling and going to various places together. One day we went to Hollywood and watched the live showing of ‘The Dating Game’, and it was very interesting to say the least. I tell you sitting in the audience is a real eye opener; and it was exciting to see them in person doing that show. Now, of course, she did not pick the guy that I thought she should have picked. Now in the real world where I was, I know that I picked the right guy for me and that is all that mattered! And my guy was getting ready to enter the real world of the present day Viet Nam War; and our dating game was on again because it would be another three months before we would be seeing each other. It is true that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and this time our next date would be just prior to his tour in Viet Nam. So I kept myself busy working, going to the beach, bowling and attending a few weddings; all of which helped me to pass the time away. We also wrote many letters to each other which also helped us. As often as we had been apart, that turned out to be the hardest separation we had to endure so far. Little did we know that we were being prepared for an even harder and longer one in our real world of romance. Even though the dating was few and far between in our relationship; the romance continued to grow in our hearts toward one another. April Showers It was now the beginning of April 1969 and Clayton had finished his training at Fort Bragg. He would be having just a few days left of his leave before heading off to the war in Viet Nam. My dad drove Clayton and me to Washington to visit with his family before his expected departure from Fort Lewis, Washington. We took our time traveling and stopped at many nice places on the way to visit his family. It was beautiful weather and I really enjoyed getting out of California. Even though I was a California girl at heart and love the hot weather, it was refreshing to see the April showers of the northwest that always seemed to bring out the newness of the wet land. The smells of the wet forest pleased my senses and still do, even though I have lived here for several years. We all had an enjoyable time visiting Clay’s family and friends; it was also nice getting to know them. It was nice that my dad was with me, too, because I would not have to travel back home to California alone. We went fishing and camping during this time; went to the movies, had dinners, and just an all around time of relaxing and fun with his family. It was now April 10, 1969 and time for us to say our good-byes to each other. It was more convenient for Clayton to take a bus to Fort Lewis then for us to take him there and drop him off, so we drove him to the nearby Greyhound Bus Station in Aberdeen. It was just as hard for his mother to let him go as it was for me that day. We both cried and gave our hugs as Clayton got on the bus for his tour. It was more than just rain that caused those April showers in Washington that day. My dad and I left to drive back to California the following day and I went back to keeping busy at my job and doing things with my friends. Supervisors I worked at Louise’s Beauty Shoppe in Paramount, California. The place was large and we had around twenty-five to forty workers on the job on any given day. Each lady would have at least three to four clients sitting on the bench and waiting to have their hair done. We were fast workers and known to get clients in and out in a hurry. Many of the ladies came to us so that they could get in and out fast. I am telling you this so that you can understand why there were so many clients waiting on benches. I will say, they only had to wait a few minutes because if their regular girl was too busy they would go to a new person just to get out fast. We had a couple supervisors over us and they would be the one who made decisions as to which of us would get a new client. There was this one who I will call Pat; she would always show favorites when she decided who would get a new client. Sometimes when one of us had no clients waiting on the bench, she would give a new client to another girl who already had three or four waiting. I did not like that and did not get along with Pat because of it. Oh, I was nice and never spoke to her with any disrespect, but I was not happy with the way she supervised. Our other supervisors did not do things the same way; they were very fair with their decisions. I had been working there for almost six months and was making good friends with several of the workers and our floor supervisor. Our floor supervisor swept up our messes after we did hair cuts or perms; washed our towels, combs, and brushes, too. She also cleaned up all areas around our work stations. She was one of the reasons we could work as fast as we did because she was such a support to all of us. She did her hired position very well and she used to go around humming and sometimes even singing songs. Her favorite was “Jesus Loves Me." Back in the sixties it was okay to do that and no one ever complained. We enjoyed hearing her and so did our clients. I never once heard a cruel word said about ‘Lilly.’ She indeed was one of my favorite supervisors. She gave me the title of ‘Little Barbara’ because I was petite and there was another Barbara who was over six-feet tall. So everyone called me ‘Little Barbara’ to distinguish between the two of us. All the supervisors also called me by that name too. Red Light and Clayton’s Face I had just finished a long day at work and it was time to head to bed. I had a sign on my chest of drawers in my bed room which read, “PRAY FOR OUR BOYS IN VIET NAM” and each night before I went to sleep I would do just that. Funny, in the Catholic Church we were taught to pray, but important praying was to be done at church because they believed that was where the authority and power was. It was in the ‘Priest or Father,’ as they were called. But we were always taught to say our prayers at night and mine were simple. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” After that I would pray God bless and the names of those I wanted Him to bless would follow in my praying. Now, I am not putting down that way of praying because I know even now that God hears our heart and not what our words are. My heart was right and God knew I was sincere. But now that I have grown in the Lord, I know that He will keep my soul, I do not have to ask that every night as a repeated request. Now, I thank Him that He will do that. Anyway, this particular night I had climbed in bed and said my normal prayers. As I was closing my eyes to concentrate, I clearly saw a red flashing light in my mind's eye and Clayton’s face. He did not have his glasses on. I knew in my heart of hearts that something had happened to Clayton. I had only known my dad for four years at that time and was not sure I could talk with him about things like this. I wanted to get up out of bed and go to the other room where my dad was and tell him that I believed something happened to Clayton. The more I thought about doing that, the more I figured that he would think I was crazy! Never in my life had I had something like that come to me in such a real way. So I kept it in my heart and pondered it in my own personal way and the next day I went off to work. My mom worked in Los Angeles at this time and had her apartment in the same motel that my dad and I lived in. My mother-in-law was at home in Washington and she received a telegram that Clayton had been wounded in Viet Nam. It was April 29, 1969 and she was concerned that I would receive my telegram and would be home all alone when it came. She immediately called my number; and my dad was at home alone. When my dad answered the phone, she told him the news and asked where I was. He told her that I was at work and she was very relieved. He thanked her and then he waited for my personal telegram to be delivered. When it arrived, he signed for it so that he could bring it to me after work. That particular day I worked a split-shift schedule. I went in at nine until one o’clock and then was suppose to return for a four-to-nine o’clock evening shift. My dad called my mom at her job and let her know what happened. She drove to where he was and they both came to pick me up from work. Before they came, they called my boss and let her know what had happened. Remember, now, how large my place of work was and how many people were there. That day we had approximately two-hundred women in there including all the workers, clients, and the supervisors. After a few minutes everyone in there knew what had happened to Clayton except for me. Now if you think of it, that in itself, was a miracle to have had all those women keep their mouths quiet; not even giving me a hint of what they all knew. Well, Pat had heard about it, too; and when she came up to me that day she tried to comfort me without letting on about anything. She put her arms around me and said, “How are you today, Little Barbara?” I tell you I was caught off guard for sure; I thought, what is up with this? Yet, I kept working and finished my hour out before I left to go home. My dad had already planed to pick me up between my shifts and so when he came to get me, I did not suspect anything. When I was leaving, though; one of my bosses said, “Barbara, if you do not want to come back in at four, don’t worry about it.” My second boss who was also standing there nodded her head in agreement. I said, “I will be back,” and I might add the thought went through my head again as I gave them both a questionable look, what is this all about? When I got to the car, my mom was there with my dad. Now that was unusual because I knew she should have been working and I figured for some reason she just got off early. We got into the car and were all sitting in the front seat. My dad was driving, my mom was in the middle, and I was on the passenger’s side. We went just a few blocks down the road and my mom looked my way and said, “Barbara, there is something for you in the glove-box.” My dad quickly nudged her very angrily and said, “I thought I told you to wait until we got home to give it to her! Well, now that you have told her, go ahead and hand it to her.” She opened the glove-box compartment and pulled out a yellow envelope. She, slowly handed it to me; at that time I noticed she had a very concerned and somewhat sad look on her face. I took it and opened the telegram and before I even read it; I knew by the envelope and my mom’s face that it was about Clayton. The envelope said telegram right on the front and I knew he would be the only reason I would be receiving a telegram. I started reading, “Your husband Clayton M. Peterson has been seriously wounded in action.” It went into great detail explaining all the areas on his body that were affected by the wounds. I did not realize, because of being a young wife, that if your spouse was killed, they would come and tell you in person, so I thought that Clayton had died, and I threw the telegram into the back seat. I was crying and my mom put her arms around me and comforted me saying, “He is not dead honey, he is still alive.” I composed myself while my mom retrieved the telegram from the back seat and handed it back to me. I finished reading the rest of it, acknowledging that I would be kept up to date on his recovery and that there was great concern for his injuries; and they were giving him the best care possible. I think I was in a semi-shocked state of mind for part of that day. There are some things I do not remember happened that day. The next thing I remembered was that my mom was not with us and that my dad and I drove out to Los Angeles. There was a tavern there that my dad went to often, and he had taken Clayton there with him when he was home on leave. He wanted the people there to know what had happened to Clayton and I agreed to go with him. When we arrived, he asked if I wanted to go inside with him and I said, “No, I will just sit here.” He was gone approximately twenty minutes. As I was sitting there all alone for the first time, my thoughts went to God. I told God I needed to go to a church and pray. A voice in my head told me, “No, God will hear you right here.” I thought, yes that is true and so I started praying. “God, I want Clayton to live; but if he is going to be a vegetable and not be able to live a productive life, then please keep him with you. Whatever is best for Clayton, please take care of him.” I felt a peace come into my heart and mind immediately, and did not think much more about my prayer. I did remember at that time the vision I had had the night before and it had made more sense to me then. But I still could not understand why I had seen a red flashing light. The Mysterious Old Man I sat quietly and an old man approached the car coming from the direction of the tavern; where my dad had still not returned from. He offered his condolences and explained he had heard what had happened to my husband. He continued to say, “I would like to tell you a story.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “It is about my grandmother who got a ticket last week.” I said, “What did she get a ticket for?” He continued, “She was speeding on the freeway on her motorcycle.” I, of course, started to laugh and so did he. He then just walked off. When my dad came back to the car, I asked him who the man was that came out to talk with me? He answered, “Honey, there was no man that told me he was coming to talk to you and so I do not know who he was.” I often wonder if God had sent me a guardian angel that day just because he knew I needed a laugh. It always reminds me of that song, ‘It’s the little old lady from Pasadena', by Jan and Dean in 1964. And so even in the midst of tears there can be laughter and a sense of humor too. The Bible tells us that laughter is good medicine: In Proverbs 17:22 it says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” And that is how God works in our hearts when we are in deep sorrow, trials, or troubles. He balances those things with cheerful people, cheerful thoughts, and cheerful memories, too. So when you are going through a hard time, make sure you balance it with laughter. Watch a good movie, visit with fun friends, or read a good book. And God also tells us in the Psalms as well as other places in the Bible that feeling down is expected; but he does not ever want us to remain there. To this day I never found out who that old man was, but his little grandmother story sure made me laugh even in my time of my deep sorrow, and I thank God always for that mysterious old man and can’t wait to meet him and his grandmother some day in glory. Mom Georgia Mom Georgia and I talked often in the next few days and weeks after Clayton had been wounded. We decided that we would plan to fly to Camp Zama, Japan where Clayton had been sent for more of his surgeries and stabilization time. We had it all planned that we would call the Red Cross and ask for their advice and directions as to how we could accomplish our trip. After talking with them and about all the red tape, getting shots, securing passports, the expensive cost to go, and a lack of a place to stay once we arrived there, we decided against going. All of this decision did not happen in a short time. The Red Cross contacted their department overseas and they in turn contacted the local unit stationed there at Camp Zama. They visited Clayton and checked up on his ability to have visitors and also how well he was doing physically, emotionally, and mentally. They found him to be in such a state physically that they did not think it would be good for him to see us nor for us to see him. They told us that his face was very swollen yet and that they felt it best all around that we should wait and not continue our plans. We found out later from him when he finally came to the states that he was the one who had told them he did not want us to come. His face was swollen as large as a basketball at that time; and he did not want us to see him that way. He was also concerned about the money we would have had to have spent to travel all that way. Mom Georgia and I were very disappointed but we took heed to their good advice and agreed to keep waiting; even though it made us sad, we really did believe it was best for all of us under the circumstances. The Waiting And Good News I tried to keep busy working and spending as much time with my friends and even going on my dad’s truck with him to work some days. It did help the time to go by more quickly, too. I was still working at the beauty salon and some mornings I had off and would go into work later in the day to work the evening shift. This particular day on July 28, 1969 I happened to work the early morning shift. I would get a ride to work from my dad because I did not have a car at that time. I was preparing to leave for work and before I left, I took the time to write Clayton a short letter. As I was writing the letter, I had an inclination that I was going to see him soon. In the letter I explained to him that it seems like I will see you soon and I sure hope my feelings are true. I sent the letter off on the way to my job and forgot all about it the rest of the day. My dad met me for lunch that day and brought to me a telegram that arrived after I left for work. When I opened it I was pleased to see that our waiting would be over. The telegram informed me that Clayton was sent to San Francisco from Japan and would be transported down to the Long Beach Navy Hospital and that he would arrive there that afternoon. The visiting hours were included and I was encouraged to visit him as soon as possible. When I went back to work to tell my friends, they were just as excited as I was. I had one problem; my dad had to go to work and I had no transportation to get there. Right then both my friends named Kathy said they would take me. So, I said we can all go and that evening after work Kathy Dymus drove the three of us to the hospital. When we entered the hospital, I was prepared to see a mangled person from the way the telegram had read and from what I knew he had gone through. I was so surprised when I saw him and to me he looked the same. His weight was the only apparent difference; other than that, he was still my same smiling husband as I had last seen him. I did not even think about hospital rules or anything and I just jumped right up onto his bed and gave him hugs and kisses. The doctors passed through and just looked and smiled at us. My two Kathy’s were very elated to see our reunion and just stood there with big smiles the whole time. We did not stay very long because we had all worked hard that day and had to go back to work the following morning and besides that, Clayton was also very worn out from his travels. It was so nice to be near him and to have him close enough to visit every day. The waiting was long and hard but when when that telegram, finally, arrived; it was the best good news I had in quite a while. In the morning when my dad got home, he got up early enough to stop there again for the two of us to have a quick visit with Clayton. I then went to work and dad went back home to sleep a few hours before he had to get up and go back to work that afternoon. He dropped me off at the hospital on his way to work and I had a friend pick me up to take me home later that night. This time I stayed a good few hours and we got to have a very nice conversation, finally. Hot Rods And Drag Racing I continued working and we saved money to purchase a run around car. It did us well for quite a long while until the motor went completely out. I had to depend on friends and family for my transportation needs for quite a while before we were able to purchase our own car again. As cars go, sometimes they last and other times; well you know. My first car was a 1958 Ford Fairlane that I had purchased for under $500 at the time. I drove it for almost a year. One day my mom used it and forgot to put water into the radiator, and, needless to say, that was one of the cars that did not last long. At that time Clayton was in the service, we were married, and I did all the driving. He had no interest in getting his driver's license then and because I loved to drive, it did not bother me. In any event, the next car I purchased was a bright red 1962 Corvair. Those cars had the engines in the back and the trunk in the front of the car. It was very convenient and especially when the motor itself drops under the car and gets dragged along the road. I was exiting the freeway because the car was going about ten miles per hour and I was driving on the shoulder of the road heading to the next exit, (which, of course is not legal) when I heard a loud noise! Thankfully, there was a gas station just off the exit, I made a quick turn into the driveway of it and parked the car promptly. When the attendant came to see what was wrong, he just stood there shaking his head. I had been driving the car with half of the engine attached and the other half dragging on the ground! He could not believe I drove it like that and it did not catch on fire. Two bolts had come loose and only half of the engine was hitting the ground; the other half was still held up by the other bolts. He fixed it and it was going to take my whole pay check of $130 (that was what I made a week). When I explained it was my whole check, he graciously relented and only ‘dragged’ half of it from me. That day was a literal drag; and although I was dragging my engine, it was one of those races in my life that I did not win. Clayton was not at the Navy Hospital very long because the Army only had him there temporarily. They sent him there because they wanted him close to me for visiting when he first arrived in the United States; they were waiting available space at Fort Ord Army Hospital. My transportation was not good as you have read and soon the Corvair had broken down completely too. When Clayton was moved to Fort Ord, I had to take a Greyhound Bus up there to visit him. The ride was six hours long, I would leave the Los Angeles Bus Station at three in the morning; arrive at Fort Ord around nine o’clock. As I was traveling to Fort Ord quite often, I met other girls who were also traveling going there to see their husbands. Sometimes I would ride with them and save bus fare, plus have company along the way. My Morning Dawning One day on the long ride to visit Clayton a song came on the radio and I was fascinated by the words because it said exactly what my heart was feeling. And, of course; leaving at three in the morning certainly made the ride a beautiful one, watching the California sun rising and lighting up the morning sky. I had not heard the song in years either but I still remembered the tune and how cheery it was. I looked it up recently and enjoyed it again. I share the words of that song with you.
‘Early In The Morning’ “Evening is the time of day I find nothing much to say Don't know what to do But I come to When it's early in the morning Over by the windows day is dawning When I feel the air I feel that life is very good to me, you know In the sun there's so much yellow Something in the early morning meadow Tells me that today you're on your way And you'll be coming home, home to me Night time isn't clear to me I find nothing near to me Don't know what to do But I come to When it's early in the morning Very, very early without warning I can feel a newly born vibration Sneaking up on me again There's a songbird on my pillow I can see the fun in weeping willow I can see the sun You're on your way You'll be coming home When it's early in the morning Over by the windows day is dawning When I feel the air I feel that life is very good to me, you know In the sun there's so much yellow Something in the early morning meadow Tells me that today you're on your way And you'll be coming home When it's early in the morning Very, very early without warning I can feel a newly born vibration Sneaking up on me again.” By Ciff Richard Healing All Wounds My morning was certainly dawning because of knowing he was home at last. But there was still a long road to recovery and the two of us would anticipate that together. I just want to explain here for all those who were wounded even in a small way that recovery is a continued process. And even when wounds are healed up, there are still scars to deal with. Sometimes the scar tissue causes pain in itself; there are not just physical scars there because in this type of injury, there are emotional, psychological, and mental scars as well. My emotional scars were beginning to heal as I knew we would be able to continue our relationship in more of closeness to each other and to move on into a new phrase of our life. After all, we had only been married for a short four months. I missed our togetherness and as the old saying goes “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It certainly did just that and made us both thankful for the time we were able to share together and to be together in each other's presence. The time between visits to the hospital were usually short; but occasionally, I would not be able to get two days off in a row and that made it difficult to travel that far away. Sometimes it would be three weeks before I was able to go and visit him, but each time we were able to be together we appreciated it. Psychologically, the process was slow and not as easy to adjust for the both of us. For Clayton, as you have probably read in his writings; it took him a while before he could talk about his experiences. Not just the after death experience but also many of the goings-on at the hospitals. Even, as we were writing together, he would hesitate on some of the chapters because it was still very hard for him to deal with the memory of his buddies dying. Time seems to heal many things but when a buddy dies right close to you, it never goes away. These are some of the mental scars that always remain and are just as real as a scar from a physical wound to our body. These scars are sometimes harder to feel the pain from than the physical ones, because when the pain hits, it sometimes hurts deeper. Our emotional, psychological, and mental scars will always remind us of the physical trauma our bodies have gone through. God is our source of strength in these times of the healing process and that is why he says, “Lo, I am always with you, even unto the end.” We need to remember that God understands all of our pain and He will work in our lives as we give him permission to do so. He wants to comfort us and to give us his healing balm in all these areas of our life. I, too, still go through emotional pain because of what happened to my husband. Yet, I know that God is with me and that He is continuing the process of healing. I hope if you are healing from something that you will not give up and that you will realize it is a process and God is at work in you. Clayton has had to deal with many things that other men don’t deal with. For years he was unable to work in the work field and then for a short time he was able to enter there. Things like that are hard for a man to deal with and even if he is receiving pay from the government he still desires what other men are able to do. He has been unable to do the fun things that others can do like run, long walks, and sports that require endurance, for example. These things have been hard for him to deal with; but he has excelled in other areas of his life. He is a very wise person and does much reading (always has) and this has helped him to heal from the other areas of disappointment in his life. He is very gifted in teaching and although he sometimes feels inadequate, I know he has blessed many people in his life because of his ability to teach and not just biblical lessons, but a variety of other subjects, too. I am always amazed at how much history he knows and I wish I could retain more of it, but for me that is hard. Yet, he seems to retain and understand so much of it. One day our daughter told him, “Dad, you should be a History teacher.” He is also a good artist and, of course, as you see, a good writer too. He has several more books in the making and hopes to get them published in the not too distant future. This book has taken us over thirty years to accomplish. Clayton speaks to many groups of people and has done so since 1972. When he tells his story, sometimes it is easy for me to listen and I always enjoy his talks. Yet, there are other times when it will just bring tears to my eyes because I relive the experience in my memories. These times are not easy for me and I know, too, it is not easy for him either. There have been people in our lives who have criticized Clayton for collecting money from the government. I have to tell you, he does not like it any more than anyone else out there who is not able to make a living on their own, and I say to anyone who would be critical, “They have not walked a mile in Clayton’s shoes!” On one of Clayton’s birthdays I found a card to give him from the children when they were little: It had a jungle on the front and inside it read: “Thanks, Dad for taking me through the jungle.” Now, of course, it was meant to be from a grown up adult and thanking their dad for getting them through the teenage years; but I thought it was appropriate for the other metaphor too. In other words, thanks for making it through the jungle (Viet Nam) so we could be here. All of our children know that Clayton being alive is a miracle and that because he did make it here, so did they. I used to always say to John, our oldest son, when he was a little boy, “You are precious, you are a miracle, and Jesus made you.” Of course, as our children get older we neglect to remind them of that so much. We need to rmind all of our children that they are precious, a miracle and that Jesus made them. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that she said to her granddaughter, “Hi, Precious”; and her granddaughter said, “My name is not precious, my name is Lilly!” Well, our children all know they are special and I don’t want this to sound like other families are not; but this is how God worked in our family and how he has dealt with the healing process in our lives. When I was a senior in High School, I had a math teacher, Mr. Rhodes, who when he explained the stock market and making investments for our future, he would speak about raising children and the importance of planning for your future. When he would speak about children, he would always make the statement, “If you are so blessed to have them,” and I never forgot that. God did bless us with six wonderful children and now with eleven wonderful grandchildren. This was all after being childless for several years of our marriage. The final process of our healing will be when we reach our eternal home in glory when there shall be no more pain, no more sorrow, and no more tears. Someday, all wounds, scars and the memory of them will be healed. Revelation 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” II Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I Corinthians 15:51-54 “Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” II Samuel 22:30 “For by thee I have run through a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall.” All scripture quoted herein are from: The King James Version Holy Bible
Thank You Letters from Students
These letters are from a Grays Harbor County Middle School that I spoke at for their Viet Nam History Class. Although, I do not include the students’ full names, the contents of their letters remain intact, including punctuation and spelling as written by each of them. The first letter below was written by their teacher.
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and personal story of the Vietnam War with my students. You are an excellent speaker, and your pictures, books, bullets, and medals added a lot to your talk.
My students gained a huge appreciation of what our service men and women do for our country. Thank you for helping them with this! Most sincerely.”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to our class and sharing with us your wonderful, but scary experience. I think you were very brave to protect our country. Sincerely, William” “Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to Hoquiam Middle School. I liked the story you told us about the war. I thought the stuff you brought in was interesting. I liked the story about when you went to that place and you couldn’t see anything. Sincerely, Nathan” “Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to our classroom and telling us your story about Vietnam. I like listening to storys about war and I also like watching war movies. I’ve never met a real soldier before you seem like a really nice person. You had really good description in your story. Know matter if somebody says its fake I say the story is 100% true. Sincerely, Jeff” “Dear Mr. Peterson, I would like to think you for coming to our class. We really enjoyed your story about Vietnam War. You experience more stuff than anybody that I know that was an awesome story that you told us. Mr. Peterson did you have anybody in your family that died in the Vietam War? I recognized that the war was really important so I should start to read more about the war. P.S. I would really like one of your books when it comes. Sincerely, James” “Dear Mr. Peterson, I think your probably the bravest person I’v ever met! You taught me two things out of your speech. One is never trust the person cutting your hair or shaving you. Second is to never give up. Thank you so much! Sincerely, Jaima ps I like your shoes” “Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to my class room on Friday. It was really interesting and exciting. It was kinda gruesome, but cool. That must have been really scary for you. I don’t think I could of done what you did there. I think you are the most bravest person I ever met. Thank you again for coming. Sincerely, Heather” “Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to our class and sharing your terrible but amazing experience. Some of the details were exciting, but others were very vivid and are yet still etched in my mind. I’m happy that you came out of your injuries alive and well. I’m also happy you don’t have any flashbacks or terrible memories. I wish you well and thank you again. Sincerely, Eric” “Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to our class and talking to us. I really liked the bullets and other items you brought. I thought it was interesting hearing about the war. I liked the X-ray with the bullet in your chest. I hope you have a great rest of your life. Sincerely, Colby” “Dear Mr. Peterson, I appreciate you for coming to tell us about your true story at the Vietnam War. I bet that was really scary for you. Your story was very scary to me. I hope we don’t have anymore wars like that. I hope you come and talk to us again. Sincerely, Brittny” “Dear Mr. Peterson, I just want you to know that you amazed me! You’ve had many accidents that were fatal, but guess what? You lived through them! That made me just drop my mouth and say, “WOW.” Your Vietnam War Stories are very interesting and I wish I could of heard more. Although, your stories made me nautious, they kept me interested. Thank you for coming! Sincerely, Amanda”
November 8, 2013:
More Thank You Letters from
Robert Gray Elementary School, Aberdeen, Washington
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for making me see that life and time are very important. Thank you for serving this country. I learned that a person, who wants to change, can go to any of the forces and that loving anyone or anything can get you out of a lot of things. I am thankful that you are still alive because if not, I would not have learned all I did Wendsday. My dad died 3 times and he is still alive today. Sincerely, Ronni PS Did you know a Leo Halthaway? He was my grandfather. He was in Vietnam too.”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for telling us that story, it taught me so much. I learned that you have to do special training to get into the Army. The test when you have to jump a plane to learn how to use a parachute? It looks scary. I am grateful for you, your step brother, and your friend and everyone who served the Army. Thank you Sincerily, Manuel”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for fighting for our freedom. I learned that miracles can happen. I am greatful that you survived! Thank you so much. Sincerely, Trinity”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to our school and telling us about your story. I learned that veterans fight and died in many wars. I liked when you show us your slide show. I am thankful for my freedom. Sincerely, Rachel”
“Dear. Mr. Peterson, Thank you for teaching us that people live under ground in the Vietnam War. I learned the soldiers gave the children medicine. I am thankful that veterans fight for our freedoms. You’re the best. Sincerely, Marisol”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for serving our country. I learned about the spider holes. I think it is really cool that all that stuff in there. I also think it was cool when you died for 45 minutes and came back alive. Sincerely, Greg”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for being a veteran for us. Thank you for giving us freedom. I learned that it was a hard war. Sincely, Connor”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for telling us about what you did in the Vietnam War. I learned lots of things. Thank you for coming all this way so you could tell us about your life. We had fun and once again, thank you. I am thankful for you serving are country. Sincerely, Brooke”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, I learned that you would help the orphanage by giving them and going to villages and keeping them safe. I know 4 people that were in a war. I am thankful for fighting for our country. Sincerely, Emma”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for serving in Vietnam War. I learned something new today. That they hid underground and poped up and shoot you in the back. Thank you for telling us. Sincerley, Trayton”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, I learned about how the enemies in Vietnam War hid in tunnels underground that are called spider holes. I am thankful for veterans saving our country and making us free. Sincerely, Callie”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for showing us cool facts about the war. When you died and came back to life, that was incredible. I like the rat hole and those guys wher under ground and didn’t come out for six months. I liked that he got captured. That was cool. You showed us the woman with the bomb that was attached to her. Why would she do that? I am thankful for veterans that fight for our country. Sincerely, Angel”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, I learn that the Vietnam solders live undergroung and about the lady that killed herself and others. I liked the big grnade layncher. I am thankful that I am safe. Sincerley, Alex”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, You are a great proclaimer out there!!! I learned there are a bunch of bad guys that lived in the holes. I bet you assisted many people and made a lot of ruckus. I am thankful for my freedom. Forever in your Deit, Daniel”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for fighting for us so much. I think that your one of the most amazing people I’ve met. One really cool thing I learned was there were under ground hostipals and houses and things. Sincerily: Beyna”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Some things I learned from you was that veterans aren’t just our heros, but friends and family are our heros. I’m also grateful for you risking your life to protect us and everyone else. And to make our country free from being overpowered by bad people. Sincerely, Andrew”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, I learned about the enemies. I learned that they dig holes and pop out and shoot you. I’m thankful that you served are country at Vietnam War. That was really cool when you said that you came back to life. Sincerely, Jadyn”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for coming to our school and telling us how they hid under ground. I am thankful because you served our country. Sincerelly, Iannen”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for sharing your most amazing story. I learned that there is an under grown place in Vietnam. My granpa died five times in the Army. Sincerely, Kiley”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, First of all I would like to thank you for serving our country and giving us choices. Second of all I want to thank you for teaching us about your experiences in the Vietnam War. I am grateful for people like you to protect us from harm. Sincerely, Brian”
“Dear Mr. Peterson, Thank you for teaching us about the Vietnam War. Especially, telling us about the spider holes where they had kitchens, hospitals, and other things where the communist lived in and they poped out and shot you in the back. I am relly impressed you were dead for 45 minutes and survived. Sincerely, Devin”
Comments and Commentaries
Letters: Two doctors from the 24th Evacuation Hospital, Viet Nam.
From Dr. John Baldwin
“You may use anything you like. I want you to look at these two sites for information that I have written, the one site is speeches, and personal things, the other has the DVD on Nam of the 24th Evac. Hosp; in there you will see Dr. Brief, and the OR and all the rest of the gang, including my wife, Jeannie. The DVD is about 30 minutes long and has sound...A patient I operated on (brain shot and living today) took my slides and his wife, put it in this format: A list of my various speeches and the DVD is on there, "Multimedia Tour" about three from bottom: http://iwvpa.net/baldwinjn/index.php Some of my more memorable "rants" on society; America's disintegration and politics, many have been published nationally: http://iwvpa.net/baldwinjn/club.php This site was set by a helicopter pilot who was with the Royal Australian Air Force. He flew Aussie casualties into my operating rooms and we became fast friends. I never thought he would live through the war, as he was shot up and down many times. He has visited us here in Twain Harte with his entire family. For this site, which has over 25,000 entries and 10,000+ authors, he was awarded Australia's highest award, the "Order of Australia" by the Prime Minister; two years ago. Best to everyone, JOHN B” April 22, 2009 “Dear Clayton: (Clayton Peterson in Montesano, Washington) Thanks for checking into the fabulous 24th Evac website created by the late/great Ed Fortmiller my Wardmaster and now kept going by his devoted wife, Joan; who forwards messages to several of us. Yours is especially great to see, because I remember you so well...zipped up in a body bag, left in a stack, but someone saw the bag move and you came to our doorstep. Wow, I went to your website and your description is excellent, and the out of body experience which you spoke about I have heard of many times before...So, this April 29 is the 40th Anniversary of that save....how incredible. Your carotid artery probably was repaired using the saphenous vein from your leg, but Don would remember...either way, it is one in a million. And the orthopedic surgeons were excellent working with us on your broken legs and ankle. I remember your addressing the famous reunion in the Mayflower DC as if it were yesterday. We had over six hundred back for that in 1993; can't do that anymore; many have been lost by the wayside over all the years. I believe it was Dr. Don Brief and I who operated on your carotid artery, which was completely transected and occluded by the gunshot. Don is one of the best technicians and minds that ever took up the surgery profession. He remembers all his cases; especially ones like yours, fabulous case, and great save. Your life is a living testimony to the “second chance.”
The following letter is from my brother-in-law replying to a question I wrote and asked him:
Subject: Re: An e-mail from Dr John Baldwin (Viet Nam) “Clayton, I was amazed enough, I thought, about what I knew of what happened to you. But, a completely transected carotid artery is amazing. Put your fingers on the side of your neck just under your chin to feel the pulse. That's the carotid artery. Very large and it takes all the blood to that side of your brain. When cut, and transected means entirely cut through, or when occluded, that is completely stopped up by blood clot;
(Or was it the bullet itself? Probably blood clot) obviously the blood from the heart has no way to get to that side of the brain. Your brain only survived because your young artery (no atherosclerosis) from the other side of your neck or arteries at the very back of the brain (or both) could let some blood be shunted by natural connections with the arteries that should have been fed by the transected/occluded carotid artery. With this anastomosis (extra connection) that we all have to some degree (but not always enough of a degree to be useful), your whole brain got enough blood spread into all its arteries that you're still with us. Good result, from your own arterial anatomy and from those great surgeons. Google carotid artery and you can probably see a meaningful picture on some site or other.” Roy H. Rhodes, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pathology, Director, Neuropathology Medical Director, Electron Microscopy Services-Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, One Robert Wood Johnson Place, MEB 212, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 USA
Listed in the Encarta Dictionary (North America)
1.Carotid artery: A large artery on each side of the neck that applies blood to the head. 2.Anastomosis: Surgical union of tubular parts: SURGERY: The surgical union of two hollow organs, e.g. blood vessels or parts of the intestine, to ensure continuity of the passageway. 3.Occluded: 1. Transitive verb to block or stop up something such as a passage. 2. Transitive verb to cut off or prevent the flow or passage of something such as light or liquid. 4.Transected: Cut across something: to divide something by running or cutting across it. 5.Saphenous vein: either of two major veins in the leg that run from the foot to the thigh near the surface of the skin.
“Dr. Donald Brief:
Dear Clayton, I do remember your case well for several reasons, one being the fact that you were the last case I operated on in Nam. I finished my tour of one year the next day and went home so I never fully heard how you made out. Thanks for the follow up. Cases like yours amplify how important our contribution was to your effort. It gives me great pleasure to see your fine family that wouldn’t have been possible without the care that was afforded our GI’s. Our sacrifice as MD’s drafted out of practice at age 35 with 4 kids, leaving my wife at home was well worth it when I think about a case like yours; continued good luck in the future: Donald Brief MD.” “April, 2009 From Dr. John Baldwin’s daughter: Dear Mr. Peterson: My father is Dr. John Baldwin, who lives in Twain Harte, CA. He forwarded on to me your incredibly moving website. I read the whole story, glued to my computer and chair, amazed at your courage, inspired by your complete faith in God and stunned to read about your multitude of injuries only to read further to know you survived. You are the kind of hero I want my boys (I have three of them: Connor-12, Zack-9 and Nick-8) to know about and learn the real life lessons from; certainly not the "hero" types the media shove down their throats! I will save this website for them. I appreciate your service to your country and most of all, your true service and complete trust in Jesus. It is amazing and inspiring, to say the least. Best wishes and my sincere thanks to you, Mr. Peterson, Cindie Luchtefeld”
Web Site Information and Articles of Importance Carl (Carlton) Molesworth did an interview with me in 1979. He entered his article in a contest of editors which covered four states; Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana; he won third place for this article in the early 1980’s. The original article he wrote was published in the “Daily World Newspaper, in Aberdeen, Washington on December 10-12, 1979. Web Sites http://www.homestead.com/millionto1vet1969/lived.html http://www.homestead.com/milliontooneandlived/million1.html
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- http://www.homestead.com/millionto1vet1969/lived.html http://www.homestead.com/milliontooneandlived/million1.html
are copyrighted by Clayton M. Peterson and Barbara J. Peterson and may not be copied or distributed to the public except for viewing here without Clayton M. Peterson and Barbara J. Peterson’s permission.