Tag Archives: LZ Betty

Sample- The Special Patient, a love story

by john harrison

The large mud and wattle house with a traditional grass roof was burning fiercely. It had been the dry season for a long time and that helped the fire. They had started the fire with a standard red railroad flare held to the grass roof around the edges and then tossed the flare on top. The small Vietnamese man was very excited. He was gesturing wildly with both arms, but it was all too late. They had found arms in his house, so his home was burning. You could feel it, and smell it as you watched it disappear.

The American soldiers had already moved on in a classic open infantry formation. They were ready to fight in any direction. The young officer in charge of the platoon, named Marty Stone, moved them around to the left around a grave yard and toward a small house next to a big blue house.

The lead squad moved carefully through the trees, brush and cover to the left of the graveyard. The graves had mounded up earth on top in serried rows not unlike a military formation Stone reflected as they warily walked by.

Stone’s platoon cautiously walked up to the smaller house to the left of the big blue house. As they approached, a young man came out of the small house dressed in black pajamas. Actually he was pulling on the pajama bottoms as he walked. He was not wearing anything except the pajama bottoms and they seemed to be too big for him. They kept sliding off his hips. He seemed nervous, but anyone in this country of military age and in good physical shape was probably nervous at the approach of soldiers from either side.

There was a lone machine-gun firing off in the distance to the West and a full scale battle going on to the South. Stone and probably all of his men immediately recognized the machine-gun as an American M-60. The noise to the South was indistinct.

Some more people came out of the small house. There was also an old woman, her lips were stained blood-red by constantly chewing beetle nut, a mild natural narcotic. She would be the grandmother.  The beetle nut, when chewed, is a mild narcotic that is used almost exclusively by older people in Vietnam. As a grandmother she was entitled.

A young woman and some kids of various ages came out of the small house next. The old red mouthed grandmother and the young woman and kids stood together almost as a group, but the thin well muscled young man stood apart. The kids seemed excited by the soldiers, by their guns, and by the casual yet definite sense of purpose they displayed.

The American soldiers were young, but they were paras and they knew their business. These paras knew that they did not have to be cruel to be effective. War was already cruel enough and in any event being cruel did not make you any better or tougher, it just took longer. The young American paras were very practical, not cruel, selectively deadly, not random at all in their killing.

“Take you fire-team and check that house.” Stone said to a sergeant standing near him. He pointed to a big blue house next to the small house that the people had just come out of. The other fire-team from the squad was already going into the small house in front.

“Then set up there, until we move out again.”

“Roger L-T.” the sergeant replied and motioned to his fire-team to move out.  So far that day it had been quiet for them, but there were battles exploding all around them. So they were being careful.

The firing to the West picked up in intensity. Now explosions and heavy small arms fire joined the M60 machine-gun.

The rest of the platoon, staying more or less in formation, set up a perimeter anchored by the two houses in front. Stone sat down with his back to a small tree and took out a pack of unfiltered Camel cigarettes. He offered one to his radio operator and then lit one for himself.

The Vietnamese family was lined up against the small house near its back door. The young man was closest to the door way. Stone watched the fire team walking toward the big blue house. As he did, he leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, just for a moment to relax.

“Jesus Christ!” Stone said as the air around him filled with bullets, shrapnel and noise.

Automatically Stone flipped over to his knees and looked over at the big blue house where the fire team had gone. All he could see there was the big blue house and dust from bullets slamming into it from many directions. He reached back and his RTO (Radio telephone Operator) slapped the black plastic radio hand set into his palm.  .  .

Sometimes you can tell the truth better in fiction. The link below takes you to the rest of this short story. It is only available on Amazon in Kindle. What you have read so far is the lead up to a story about an Army nurse and her “special patient”. It is a romance, because even in war there can be love. This is only a sample, just the first part of the Kindle short story “The Special Patient”. If you have enjoyed this preview and want to find out what happens next, you may read the rest at:

http://www.amazon.com/Special-Patient-story-Women-Without-ebook/dp/B0169GQYYE/ref=la_B016FSEKQ0_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445175114&sr=1-3

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My Mother’s Machine-gun

by: john harrison

In October of 1967 my unit, the fabled 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment of World War II, Band of Brothers fame, deployed to Vietnam as part of the 101st Airborne Division. Although we did not know it then, we would be there for the bloodiest year of that conflict.

After a short orientation at Phan Rang, we were sent to the field, Search and Destroy the Army called it; but to us we were chasing Charlie as the saying went even though we rarely caught up with him at first. Since we were resupplied either every three, four or even five days in the field, and since I did not want my Mother to become accustomed to getting a letter from me on some regular basis, I purposefully wrote to her spasmodically, rather than regularly.

A few months later, I was sitting on an LZ in the field near Phan Thiet on the coast and more or less the center of Vietnam waiting for a resupply when I realized that I owed my Mother a letter. It had been two re-supplies already, over six days, since I had last written. However, I could not think of anything to say to her.

As usual, I had started the letter with the date in the upper right hand corner followed by approximately where I was in Vietnam. So, I wrote “January 25, 1968”, followed by “Phan Thiet, RVN”, but that was as far as I could get. Then, I looked down at the last page of a Stars & Stripes newspaper in my lap and it had a small article about a strike at the Colt Patent Firearms Company plant in Connecticut that made the M-60 machine-guns we used. Each platoon usually carried three of them but since one of mine was in for repair, I was in the field with only two machine-guns.

So, I started the letter, “Here I am in Vietnam short one machine-gun for my platoon and these Bozos are sitting safe at home and are out on strike while we are fighting a war. . .” That got me started and I went on with the letter talking about how quiet it was where we were, how hot the temperature was, how beautiful the South China Sea was, how safe Phan Thiet was, then some more about the missing machine-gun and so forth. Then, I sealed it; ran it to the helicopter, and thought no more about it.

When my Mother arrived home from her job at Georgetown University on February 3, 1968, she was already worried and wanted to watch the evening news.  The battles of Tet ‘68 had started and they led the news. Therefore, she was particularly happy to see a letter from me in the day’s mail. She got herself a glass of wine, turned on the television to the CBS evening news, and sat down to read my letter.

She opened my letter only moments before Walter Cronkite’s face appeared on the screen; she just had time to read the date, and location when Cronkite’s famous voice intoned his lead story:

“Today in Phan Thiet, Vietnam, there was savage fighting as the Viet Cong tried to seize the normally sleepy provincial capital. Units of the 101st Airborne Division met the enemy head on in a series of exceptionally violent battles that started early in the morning and continued all day. There were heavy casualties on both sides. . .”

My Mother sat there stunned. She read the top of my letter again; she read the name of town on the screen; she read the top of my letter again; she read the name of town on the screen. She started crying. Then, mercifully the news program broke for a commercial. The news from Vietnam actually got worse from there. She continued to cry, and sip her wine.

For those of you that do not remember, CBS’s Walter Cronkite was a god, an oracle of truth at the time, and unfortunately he was not at all upbeat about the chances of even the legendary 101st Airborne Division to hold on to the town of Phan Thiet under such a ferocious assault by a well armed, well supplied and numerically superior enemy.

It was about the only time Phan Thiet made the national news, but we made it big time that night. According to Cronkite the fighting was severe everywhere, up and down the coast of Vietnam, so there was no possibility of reinforcements for the embattled 101st Airborne Division in Phan Thiet. This dire prediction was his close off line for the extended news program.

Except getting up for more wine during commercial breaks, my Mother watched it all. Then, she sat there in her living room staring at the now blank TV screen.  She cried for a while, then she finished reading my letter and the rest of her bottle of wine, her dinner forgotten. Her son was in trouble, and he needed a machine gun. She was sure of that.

A little after midnight my Mother called her mother in Savannah, Georgia. A Depression era baby, it was a testament to her worry that my Mother did not once think of the cost of the long distance call. She had opened a new bottle of wine as well.

They talked for a while. They both cried for a while. They talked about machine-guns repeatedly but not very knowledgeably, but they knew all about war. Both had lived through World War II and the Korean War by then. Finally, around two in the morning, her mother, my grandmother said:

“Let’s call Dickie.”

It turned out that “Dickie” was Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr., the senior senator from the State of Georgia and probably the most powerful Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee ever. However, many years before he had been a young boy in my grandmother’s, then Miss Varina Bacon’s class for two years at the Seventh District Agricultural and Mechanical School in Powder Springs, Cobb County, Georgia. In addition, Senator Russell’s mother, Ina Dillard Russell, was a teacher and was my grandmother’s best friend.

That was probably why my grandmother had Senator Russell’s home phone number, which she talked an AT&T operator into making a conference call to at about 3:00 AM. The two women just cried on the phone together as they waited for the call to be put through.

With Senator Russell on the line now, the three of them discussed machine-guns, and why Lieutenant Harrison’s platoon, did not have enough of them. My grandmother wanted to know exactly what Senator “Dickie” Russell was going to do about this problem of national importance, how had he let it happen in the first place and could he also see to it that the strikers were put in jail, or better yet, shot.

After midnight, both my grandmother and particularly my Mother could be of a seriously violent inclination. My Mother was the one that suggested shooting the strikers.

My father had always said that United States District Court Judges, United States Senators and any truly pissed off American mother could cause more trouble than anything else in the world. Here we had two angry, very scared American mothers and a powerful but sleep deprived United States Senator. Things were sure to be interesting in the morning.

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet '68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet ’68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.  This is what it looks like.  We were using trucks this time because the VC had shot up so many of our helicopters we were saving the ones we had left for Dust Off.  Photo by Jerry Berry.

Meanwhile, the battles in Vietnam continued. Luckily, my missing machine-gun had been repaired and returned before the start of Tet because we had been busy. Finding Charlie was no longer the problem.

JEH Under Fire

We were actually being shot at when this picture was taken.  One of my men sent it to me several years ago.  I am left middle in front of my RTO, Hal Dobie of Yakima, Washington.  That is “Bull” Gergen, a full blooded Cherokee Indian member of the Ranger Hall of Fame and our First Sergeant, coming up on the right.  It was his second war, third tour.  James Philyaw third from right.  I am standing looking over a hedgerow.  We are on our way back into Phan Thiet.

A day or so after the telephone call to Senator Russell my platoon was embroiled in some of the fiercest house to house fighting of the war in downtown Phan Thiet when my RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) Hal Dobie of Yakima, Washington, handed me the radio hand set saying there was a man that said he was a Colonel on the radio asking for “Lieutenant John Harrison” in the clear. This violated so many Army rules and regulations that he had not answered the transmission.

I truly did not know what to do. After the third time I heard him identify himself as Colonel something or other, I have forgotten his name, and again asked for Lieutenant John Harrison I just said “Yes.” rather than saying, “This is Alpha 2-6”, meaning, Alpha Company 2nd platoon leader, as I usually would have identified myself.

The Colonel then said he had a machine-gun for me and where could he put his helicopter down so he could deliver it to me. I said I was pretty busy at the moment—after all a lot of people were shooting at us.

He reminded me that he was a Colonel, that I was 2nd Lieutenant and he demanded in the most forceful manner a landing zone, immediately.

Since he was so insistent, I said that the area in front of my platoon was wide open, plenty of room to land a helicopter, but then I had to warn him that he would be under heavy fire, both machine-guns and rockets as he landed. His choice. I think the pilot talked some sense into the demanding Colonel and he decided to leave the machine-gun back at our base camp, LZ Betty.

When we finally got back to LZ Betty a couple of days later, the Company armorer was still cleaning that machine-gun. The Colonel had tried to deliver an M-60 machine gun, to an active firefight, encased in a wooden box, enveloped in thick plastic shrink wrap, and full of thick cosmoline, but with no ammunition.

It took our armorer, Carl Rattee, three days and a tub of gasoline to get the machinegun ready to fire. But when he was done, it was beautiful.

My nick name for the gun was

My nick name for the gun was “instant fire superiority”, and all but one time that was true.

Strangely, unlike every other weapon in the battalion this particular machine-gun was assigned directly to me, to Lieutenant John Harrison. It was my very own machine-gun, from my Mom. I liked it and when the Army made me give it back when I left Vietnam, I thought about calling her, but then, I thought it might make her angry.  .  .

 

There’s more, this story and twenty four more like it can be found in my new book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive which is available on Amazon both as a paperback and on Kindle. Please give it a look. See; Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968

Recent Reviews of Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive: “John Harrison does an eloquent job writing what it was like being in the infantry during the Vietnam war. I know, I was in the infantry in Vietnam. There is a statistic which states that only 1 out of 10 who served in Vietnam were in the infantry. All of us have been asked what that was like at one point since our return. It is an impossible question for most of us to answer in part much less in full. John Harrison manages to do this in his book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive. So, if you are inclined and wonder what it was like, or you want to tell someone else what you went through, buy this book. Show it to your friend. It tells that story. To, “LT” John Harrison- thank you Sir.Salute.”

“John Harrison’s book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive, is a series of short stories, told mostly in the first person, that weaves together the humor and violence that only a talented writer can accomplish. The result is a compelling book that is hard to put down. John’s words flow easily on the pages, making an easy read. I highly recommend this book to anyone that has been there and did that, or anyone wanting to know a personal record of one lucky Lieutenant in Vietnam and the people that made it possible for him to return home.
Dan Hertlein, helicopter mechanic with the 192nd AHC at LZ Betty 1968″

“John is the soldier speaking the truest story of Vietnam. I will confirm his action as I was in a different company same battalion, fighting the same battles.”