The Writers Voice
The Other Casualty of War - Chapter Eight
They asked if I was scared. At the moment, I didn’t think so. Hell, all that fighting was only on TV, and I didn’t think I would be sent to where the real fighting was. After talking with my friends, the reality of going to Vietnam and being involved with what I was seeing on the news was slowly settling in. It wasn’t just talk and training any more…
The day finally arrived and I was on my way. I left on United Airlines for Washington. We stopped and changed planes in O'Hare International in Illinois. We had a layover for about an hour. Then it was back on another plane for the rest of the journey.
At the airport in Seattle, the U.S. Army had busses waiting for us. I think there were about 6 busses or so and every one of them was full. The busses took us to Fort Lewis. Once there, we were processed in. We were given shots to prevent any diseases that we might encounter while in Vietnam. We were told so much in such a short period of time. I was beginning to panic a bit. I felt as if the message was, "hurry up and listen and remember this, or you’ll die!” Just like it was in the RVN training.
When we cleared the company at Fort Lewis, we were put on busses to the airport. Once there, we were to get on Flying Tigers Airlines to fly to Vietnam. Upon arrival, we discovered the plane was in for repair and wouldn't be leaving for another day. We couldn't go back to the base because we had already been cleared. So, the U.S. Army paid for us to stay at a Best Western Hotel.
When we checked in, we were told that if we called for any room service, or if we made any phone calls, we would be responsible to pay for them ourselves. I called my parents and a couple of friends back home. When we were leaving the next day, the desk clerk told me how much I owed her and I responded that, “I didn’t have any money.” There was a lot of laughter from the other soldiers, except from the Sergeant in charge of us. I guess Uncle Sam paid for my phone calls. I felt that I was going to Vietnam and didn’t know if I would ever have a chance to speak with my family or friends again. So if I didn’t pay for the calls, what would they do? Besides, I didn’t eat any supper that night because I was too nervous to eat. So I figured we were even.
Once again, we were put on the bus and brought to the airport; I hoped that the plane still wouldn’t be ready. No such luck, it was at the gate waiting for us. I was now going from nervous to scared. I had butterflies in my stomach. I knew once we boarded the airplane, there was no turning back. As we lifted off, I looked out the window and wondered, would this be the last time I'd ever see home?
Thoughts of the 6:00 pm news reports of the fighting in Vietnam were still in my mind. We were in for a long flight. Everyone on the plane was quiet. Real quiet. I didn't know anyone on board. I was alone. After an hour or so, some of the guys started talking and laughing. This was going on all around me. Someone that was sitting next to me was laughing with the guy sitting behind us. Some were walking around and socializing with others. It was obvious that some of these guys were friends with each other, or so it seemed.
Some were going back to Vietnam for a second and third tour. I wondered why. Hell, I wouldn't go back. Not if I made it home alive. Why would they want to go back? I would later understand why. While looking out the window, I was listening to some of the stories they were talking about. Bases being attacked, or being over run… It was all about killing and dying. It was as if nothing else was going on. I was beginning to feel the fear creep inside me. This was becoming a reality. No longer was it a news story on television about a war in Vietnam.
Now what do I do? The plane landed in Alaska for re-fueling. They let us off the plane to stretch our legs. Thank God! My legs were cramped from sitting for so long. We stayed in Alaska for about an hour. I looked out the window and saw nothing but snow. Being from New England I had seen a lot of snow, but nothing like this! Next stop was Japan, to re-fuel one more time before arriving in Vietnam. All the way to Japan, I kept hearing stories of ambushes, and friends. This part of the journey was a much longer flight, but I don’t think I ever left my seat. I was captivated by the stories I was hearing.
We arrived in Japan, re-fueled, had a bite to eat in a burger place at the airport, and then got back on board for the final leg of our journey.
"Fasten your seat belts," the pilot said. "We'll be landing at Cam Rahn Bay, South Vietnam."
I don't remember how long it was from Japan to Vietnam, but it honestly seemed like 15 minutes. The fear was almost uncontrollable. I was even shaking a little. All I could think was, “why am I the only one that feels this way?”
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