Steve Houghton and Bob Smalincas asked me to tell my story. This is my feeble attempt to do just that.
many of the men that were in Nam, I had a service number that started with US. I didn't go to Nam because I didn't have anything
to do that year, I didn't go because I was patriotic, and I certainly didn't go so that I would have something to talk about
thirty years later, I went because I received a letter from the selective service system that started with the word "GREETING."
I was inducted Janurary 17, 1967. That letter is now in a frame and hanging on a wall in my computer room. I spent eleven
months and twenty five days in country. This short story is about some of those days.
My first three
months in Nam were spent with the 196th as a mortarman. I was then infused into the 199th in September or October 1967.
While waiting to be processed, a Lieutenant came through the door dressed in Tiger Fatigues with a black T-shirt on under
his fatigue jacket, boots were bloused, and he was wearing a Green Beret. This man turned out to be Lt Tillish, our XO. He
looked around at all of us and said, "I need six vlounteers". You know what my first thought was! :) While he
was talking I started to think about what he was saying, after all I hated being in a mortar platoon, it was the pits. I
asked Lt Tillish a few questions, then turned to my friend Frank Puma, from the 196th, and asked him, "well what do you
think". He said something like, "are you nuts, these guys have to be crazy, they go out in six man teams, they
get dropped off in the middle of the jungle, and have to do it all with just six men." I said something like "does
that mean you don't want to volunteer." Needless to say I volunteered, and I have never regretted it. I'm not sure
who the other five guys were who volunterred. I may be wrong, but I think Ron Ratliff and Roger Blanchard were two of the
volunteers. They were also my teammates. It's funny how you can remember some things like it was yesterday. Other things,
(dates, names, faces) are very fuzzy. The one question that I didn't ask Lt. Tillish was, why he needed six men to volunteer?
I found out later that day when we got to our base camp in Cat-Lai. It seems that one of the teams had a Claymore turned
on them in a night halt position. When the shit hit the fan, and someone blew the Claymore, the results were, well you all
know. If I remember correctly, all were lost but one. I then realized why Lt. Tillish needed six volunteers.
While in Cat-Lai we went through a training program that included map reading, lots of map reading. We were taught basic
ways to use code for our radio transmissions while out in the field. Then there was the "march". I hated that
one. Full gear with ammo and grenades. Full rations, a lister bag full of water, and a 25 lb. sandbag in our rucksack. I
don't remember how far we had to go, but I remember that we had thirty minutes to finish, and I ran most of the way. I had
a couple of guys pulling on me at the finish line, as I was about to drop. I think one of the guys was Barry Alton. (short
legs vs long legs)
We went on training missions even after we made the move from Cat-Lai to Long Binh. That's
when I found out I couldn't walk on rice paddy dikes. Until I got my legs, I must have slipped off a hundred times. One
time I slipped off and landed in the water and my leg got all muddy. I started to wipe the mud of with my hand. A few seconds
later, I realized it wasn't mud I was wiping off! Yep that damned water buffalo had to relieve himself right where I fell
in. I washed off what I could, but it still smelled for the rest of the mission.
We went on a training
mission in December 1967. Acting Sgt. Ron Hammerstrom was the teamleader. We were supposed to be in a "safe zone",
whatever that was. It was a training mission alright, all hell broke loose! We were walking along side a well used ox cart
trail in the jungle. We were somewhere close to Long Binh base when the shit hit the fan. I remember diving into a rut in
the trail and laying down a field of fire to my right. Everyone else did the same. Then Hammerstrom stood up and started
running down the trail firing his 45 in the direction of the enemy fire. He was wounded in the chest area. I remember thinking,
"why did he do that", it happened right in front of us. When the shooting stopped,we went over to Ron and started
tending to his wound. He was having a hard time breathing. I thought he had a sucking chest wound, so I tore open a dressing
and applied the plastic to his wound to seal it up. The choppers came soon after that. Ron died on December 7, 1967. God
rest his soul. Safe zone, my ass! Here I am 32 years later still trying to figure out why he ran down the trail like that.
We had good times too. The LRRPs seemed to be able to get a party going in no time, with a full trailer of ice
and beer. And we even got the mess to make us cakes. The "Donut Dollies" attended one or two of those parties.
We had to guarantee their supervisor that we would pick them up and drop them off safely, and at the appropiate time. Of
course we could guarantee that, we were LRRPs! Everyone tried to talk to the girls. It was nice to talk to a female that
could speak English. After awhile most of us had quite a bit of beer to drink, and kind of forgot they were there. Of course
there were always of couple guys that never left their sides, thinking they had a chance with them. (you know who you are)
It seems there was always music playing in the barracks. I remember "The Doors" playing all the time,
I think John Malinski liked the "Doors". Barry Alton liked Frank Zappa, he liked a song called, "Brown Shoes
Don't Make It". I also remember someone playing "Johnny Rivers" a lot, particularly a song called, "Tracks
of my Tears". We had a small dog for a mascot. I'm not sure where he came from, I think he had Rickets or something,
as he was bowlegged. His name could be nothing else but "LRRP". There is a photo on this site of Bob Smalinckas
holding "LRRP" as a puppy. The Vietnammese people used to walk by him and look at him. I always thought they were
trying to figure out a way to make a meal out of him. You didn't see many dogs in Nam.
Then there was the
day Bob Denver (Maynard G. Crebbs-also Gilligan from Gilligan's Island) came around to visit us. He seemed like a pretty
good guy. He caught his share of shots from us, he also gave it right back too. He posed for a photo with us. There is
a copy floating around somewhere, who knows maybe it will appear on this site soon.
Of course there was no "Gilligan's
Island in 1967, we all knew him form the "Dobie Gillis Show". He was the first and only television actor I ever
As I surfed through this site, I read that Steve Houghton said, Dave Wolfenbarger was known to carry
a recurve bow on missions. I will attest to that. He was on a mission with us and carried his bow. He and I were talking
about it one day, he said he had a bow and would like to take it on patrol. I told him I thought it was a good idea. It
would be a slient weapon if we ever needed it. I'm not sure if he had it with him in country at that time, or if he sent
home for it after we talked. I'm also not sure if it was approved by Lt. Tillish or Lt. White. He may have just taken it
without asking. I am sure he did carry it on a mission. He was pretty good with it too. Dave also taught me how to sharpen
my survival knife. He always said, "cut the stone Rick, cut the stone". Hey I was a city boy, what did I know
about sharpening knives. Still today I cut the stone when I sharpen a knife. Thanks Dave.
Everyone has memories
of their tour in Nam. Some good, some bad. These are just a few of mine. Some of the facts can get blurry after so many
years. I have tried to be as accurate as possible with my story. This is how I remember it.
One thing for
sure, we were all brought together as strangers and when we rotated back to the States, we were happy to get home. But when
we left, it felt as though we left family members behind in harms way. There was a feeling of trust amongst us. We trusted
each other with our lives. I would like to thank all of my family from the 71st LRRP's for helping me to get home safely.
If it were not for you guys I may not be here today writing this story. I apologize for the sad stories, but they are part
of memories, as are the good stories. It seems as though many men want to forget that part of their lives. I can't blame
them for that. I will never forget.
Thanks to Steve Houghton and Bob Smalinckas for encouraging me to author
Thanks to my old teammate Roger Blanchard for keeping in touch with me these past few weeks.
With Much Respect,
Rick Del Prince ( US51774521)