When we got to Pleiku, they made us brush our teeth and gave us more vaccinations, including antibiotics, to kill off any germs we brought along with us and to ward off new ones. Then we got the tour of the base. But it wasn’t all about where we ate, slept, and shit. It was also about things we’d never seen before.
In one area, they set up all the known booby traps so we would recognize them in the field. We followed a little path through the traps. We were explicitly told to stay on the path. There were Punji Pits with sharpened bamboo sticks at the bottom of a camouflaged hole, as well as mines and all the ways the enemy set up trip wires—all kinds of things. We had learned about these things in training, but we’d never seen any in real life until then. It was good we did. Real life was very different than pictures.
At the end of the tour they sat us down in this room. There were about sixty or seventy of us there, all crammed on foldout chairs and told to wait, for what, we didn’t know. After a few minutes, a guy came in and it soon became very clear his job was to pump up the troops.
The man paced, energized and pumping his fist. “We are the best trained and the best army the world has ever seen! We can kick anyone’s ass! We will win this war and nobody can stop us!”
He went on and on like that.
We all fired back, “Yah! Yah, Yah!”
Even I was getting excited.
After his rally speech, he gave us instructions. “All of you with combat MOSs, all of you that were trained combat, stay seated. The rest of you go out front.”
After all the shuffling of guys moving around and leaving the room, there were only about six of us left. Just six combat soldiers out of seventy.
They brought the six of us down front, and this time a different guy spoke. He definitely didn’t have the same tone. “Okay, I'm going to tell you the way it is. Before any of you men leave here, you will be wounded. It will be terrifying when you get out there in the field. You won't know what to do.”
We all looked at each other, a little shocked. I liked the way the other guy talked better.
He continued. “You'll laugh too. You'll come across things that will make you laugh so hard you'll cry. Things will come up like that.”
And he was right. We all had things that were so out of the ordinary that you couldn’t help but laugh, and no combat solider left without wounds. It was at that point I started to get the reality of what was really going to happen.
Then came our orders. Our mission was to find the Ho Chi Minh Trail. That was the task of our whole platoon—find it, so we could disrupt their supply line. And it wasn’t like it was a straight road with a sign. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a network of trails, footpaths and roadways that were as vast as veins in your body. I was nineteen. The last job I worked was pumping gas at a gas station.
“Now, in a couple hours, you boys are heading out to your respective field units. Good luck.”