Six Degrees of Seperation
by Chuck Nowotny
The summer of 1965 will always remain very special in my memory. I had just finished my second year of college and was living on a community Lake South of St. Louis (TISHAMINGO) and was having the time of my life.
Vietnam was some where in Southeast Asia and it didn’t have any effect on my life whatsoever; until Lillian Duncan, my best friend Henry’s mother and a lady I referred to as mom also said one day ” did you hear that Jim Magle had been killed in Vietnam.” She said that it had been on one of the covers of Life magazine.” I was absolutely stunned. Someone that I knew was killed in a “war” in Vietnam?
I pondered a bit and then realized that I had seen the magazine article most likely in a barber’s shop. I had glanced at the black and white cover and had perused the pictures inside referring to the cover but I had not read the content of the article. I did not recognize Jim from the photos. Lillian said something about not recognizing his name or getting it spelled wrong in he article. None the less I immediately ran down to a Marine recruiter and signed up for a three-year tour like John Wayne.
In those day’s all males were expected to do a stint in one of the armed services either by choice or you waited around until the Army got you.
God! I had just seen my first Volkswagen Van full of grubby, long haired, raggedy assed, guitar strumming hippies drive through the University of Missouri campus just a few weeks earlier. I didn’t even know what a U.S. Marine uniform looked like other than the dress blues and the John Wayne herring bone fatigues which I had only seen on a black and white television.
I was getting a ticket out of St. Louis and going to the land of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. I had never seen a palm tree. It was my mid western life long dream to get to California and see Disney Land and Knotts Berry Farm. I had some extended family out there and one of my first child hood friends had moved away to California some years before and I had always been envious of his good fortune.
Funny thing however, I never did go back and read the article. I never gave it much more thought. I most likely used the whole episode as an excuse to bail out of the… You know if you have ever been to St. Louis in the summer or winter or for that matter Spring or fall!
I tested and got a very high score. I was told that I was qualified to fly and if I extended my enlistment a year I would be aviation guaranteed. WOW! I always wanted to fly. When I was in Lutheran elementary school I would draw pictures of Jesus on the cross and a jet would be zooming across the Jerusalem skyline.
Well I partied my pants off until I had to take a bunch of FNG’s from St. Louis to a place called M.C.R.D. San Diego in California. I can flash back with out the aid of any drugs to the grey cattle cars. The little yellow footprints, the first lance corporal who had absolute control of everybody and every thing in sight. The hair cut, the boxing of your civilian attire and the mailing of those vile and trashy vestiges of “your mother” home.
I vividly recall standing erect for 52 hours without sleep. Shots and more shots. Guys fainting and no body giving a darn. The cool concrete floor where I managed to nap for a second while showing my fellow “maggots” how to prepare a bed in a military manor. I had been in R.O T.C. in college and was somewhat more familiar with what was going on than most of my fellow”F——G Puke Animals!” I knew sergeant Trajillo very well. He was my Dad in uniform. No problem! My dad although raised on the street did not use all of the adjectives flowing from the sergeants constantly snapping gums and teeth.
I went to Memphis after I.T.R. and began my training for helicopters. There I met Bill Zubey, Michael Parks, Tom Kennedy, Jerry Walker and so many other guys. We learned to drink some to smoke, to lie with a passion and to work on reciprocating engines on CH-19’s and CH-34’s.
It was in MAD NATTIC NAS where Jim Farley turned up with Jim Magle’s bloody flack jacket and poster board with the article from life magazine on display. He was assigned as an instructor but I can’t remember what classes he was teaching. All I remember is that I approached him and identified myself and explained how that article had been the impetus for me to join the Corps.
After Memphis I went to New River N.C. and was assigned H.M.M. 261. 261 had CH-46A’s. They didn’t burn Av-gas. They didn’t have pistons. There were two horizontal whirly gigs on the top instead of one big whirly gig and a little one on the eppenage. (Can’t spell it but I know what it is) I had paid attention in one of my classes while in Memphis.
While in New River I met *Brad Craddock, Vic Soto, McMillian, (STARLIGHT GUYS) Don Weller, Gary Lee Brown, *”Bondo” Bonderowitz, Vic’s cousin Napoleon, *Captain Fredricks, Major Ralph Nelson, mountain, Esau, and so many others. I learned to be a crew chief and flew and flew and flew. I had no clue of what I was getting into but it was a great adventure.
In the early spring of 1967, I found a fork in the road. Either I could go to Quantico and become an officer or finally go to WEST PAC and RVN. I jumped at the chance to go to D’Nam as by this time I had already used up two years of my four year enlistment and soon I might not qualify for my tour in D’nam.
Gee’s I get to go back to California for a month or so. I finally got to go to Wally World and Knott’s. I never got the chance after boot camp in 1965. I met my cousins and listened to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band and Jim Morrison. I fell in an out of love like a newborn baby goes through diapers.
One day I got on a Continental Boeing 707 and flew to Guam of all places. Then after gassing up we were off to Okinawa. Visions of all of the “Victory at Sea” shows. In Oki I went to Naha, Futima and B.&C. street and found out what money was really made for. After a few days of whatever, I found myself on another Continental Jet and it landed in DaNang international airport.
I looked out and saw no craters, no burned out buildings, no smoke, no gray skies like on Combat with Vic Morrow. I saw people selling stuff. I saw guy’s grabassing around. Welcome to RVN.
What now? I had to go to some place called Marble Mountain. “Where is that?” I asked people and they said “over there, maybe eight miles.” “How do I get there?” I asked. ” I dunno, catch a ride with some one.” There were no formations, no musters no military regimen no nothing! A group of us FNG’s hitched a ride to the Mountain. We checked in. We asked what now? We were told, “Not my problem, go to the beach, go to the PX or go get laid.” We found where replacements were supposed to check in and sleep. Got a cot, a pillow, a sheet and an official U.S.M.C. horse blanket. We went to the beach; I bought an Instamatic, a Kodak 126mm from the PX. Got sunburned, got very tired and went to sleep. It was very hot and uncomfortable. I could not sleep, so I took my cot and my stuff outside where at least there was a breeze. I began to snooze when EYOWWWWGRRRRRRRRAM. After burning jets and buzzing m’skeeters woke me up and sent me scurrying inside the sanctuary of he hard floored squad tent. I fell asleep again because the nighttime had grown cooler. The clock ticked about 0130 or 0200 when KERUMP, KERUMP KEERUMMPRUMP. Some idiot began yelling “INCOMING, GET OUT, GET OUT INTO THE BUNKER!” I sat up and began dressing. First the pants, then the boots. “Hey! It’s dark in here, I can’t see much.” ” GET OUTTA HERE AND INTO THE BUNKER DIPSHIT!” Someone yelled. Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I finished dressing and walked out side. To my left was a bunker made of sandbags. I went inside. Just as I got inside and turned around to look out the little hole used for a door; I saw a giant flash and a humongous fireball rolling up into the night sky. A few seconds I felt and heard a loud explosion, which rolled my eyelids back. Some one said, ” they got the ammo dump at Danang.” Then a black kid named Tubbs said one of those inevitable lines from a Samuel Turner movie, Tubbs really said, “If anyone say he not scared, he lyin.” Then I heard the unforgettable voice and chatter of M-60 machine guns from the perimeter. I realized that I did not even have a weapon issued to me, after all it was my first day and night in Vietnam. It was July 1967.
Then a lot of stuff happened. Then Tet 1968.
A heck of a morning, January 19,1968.
It was as I recall a Friday morning at 3rd Mar Div Recon. My CH46 was picking up a recon team for insertion in the hills. I was in HMM 164 and I was Crew Chief on YP-6. My wing was YP-1. We inserted and flew medivac’s, recoverys and more insertions all morining until the first insertion ran into trouble. Hand to hand, grenade exchanges. We flew in three times to pull you out and got shot out of the horsehoe valley twice. On the third (THREE ONNA MATCH)We got you to move from cover and get aboud. I recall we lost one of you guys with schrapnel inthe left shoulder. Shock!. On the third try we got you out. You guys treated me like I scored a touchdown for the championship. Got some great photo’s but no names. Later went to Khe Sahn and were flying in when the ammo dump went up on the 21st as I recall.
submitted by Chuck Nowonty