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A Letter To The Wall

After 49 years . . .

The LCU hit the beach with a long WHOOOOOSH. The high bow plate was slowly lowered, and we saw men in bathing suits sunbathing and several blue air-conditioned buses with steel grates over the windows to take us to the Qui Nhon airbase, where they would load us onto a C-130 for a flight to Pleiku. I recall two things about the trip to the airbase. One, the teeming movement of people and poverty I had never seen before. The heat was no issue, since I’d been raised in south Florida above the Keys. The other thing I recall was looking out the window and when the bus stopped for traffic noticing a young kid, maybe ten, out the window. He seemed older than his age. When he saw me, he flipped me a bird.

Our company ended up attached to the 25th Infantry Division based in Pleiku. In an odd coincident, the second day I was in Vietnam, the 25th Division flew my brother back from an operation out by the Cambodian border; I hadn’t seen him in two years. I was soon sent with seven other direction finders to firebases in the same area as my brother, all part of Operation Paul Revere. We were three teams of two given jeeps equipped with PRD1 DF radios that we had used to learn DF principles at Fort Devon, Massachusetts. We had been told the PRD1 was an obsolete WWII piece of equipment. When not using the jeeps, our teams were dispersed in the woods in armored personnel carriers or by helicopters. We envisioned ourselves romantically as foul balls sent to the boonies from the main company -- a squad of rogues. We were kids and part of a huge army, and we felt we were special.

Our job was to spread out and locate tactical enemy radios, which amounted to a Vietnamese radio operator sending five letter coded groups of Morse code with a leg key along with a comrade working a bicycle generator. If we were lucky enough in the incredible mountainous terrain to get a tight fix from three bearings, we’d pass it on to division intelligence, who would process the coordinates and send out Air Force F4s, an artillery barrage or a unit of infantry. The Vietnamese knew we were looking for them, so the radio operators did their transmitting away from their dug-in headquarters. Over time, locating the same operator every day for a month, a pattern would become evident. We located them; others did their best to kill them.

We were REMFs -- rear echelon mother-fuckers. On one operation, when my team partner and I were dropped by chopper onto a huge rock atop a mountain overlooking the border, I felt I was really out there. The half-squad of “grunts” also dropped onto the rock looked at the job of protecting these two REMFs as vacation duty from the normal task of humping the boonies.

story | by Dr. Radut