Dont let anybody tell you the Army dont take care of their own. Every
four weeks like clock work we lucky guys received our own personal care package! It
was a huge box issued to each tank crew and contained the following goodies:
|3 ea bar soap||1 box tropical candy bars|
|4 ea cartons of cigarettes||1 box chickletts|
|3 pkg writing paper||1 Lg box double bubble gum|
|3 ea pens||1 box matches|
|4 ea disposable razors||1 box jelly candy|
|1 can shaving cream||2 ea chrome can openers (P38)|
On the great day this sundry box arrived it always caused a big stir. It was like Christmas. Everybody wanted the same items so myself, being in the position of Tank Commander, had to be the one who decided who got what. Strickland and Harry usually got the writing paper and pens (they wrote home a lot). Bill and I were the only smokers so we got the smokes (we traded off the menthols). And the other goodies we split up. Nobody wanted the tropical chocolate bars (we couldnt even give those away!). They were designed for hot climates, they wouldnt melt! What ever they did to make them do that, also made them taste horrible. The rest of the gum and candy would go into a cubby hole somewhere in the tank.
Our tank was a M48A3 and fired .50 cal and .30 cal machine guns. The main cannon was a 90mm cannon and we carried a variety of main gun ammo. We had H.E.. or high explosives, and we had SABOT. It was armor piercing and last but not least there was the canister round. There were 2 types. The new one looked like a large bullet. It had a timer built on the top ring of the round so that you could set the flascet arrows that were inside to go off at a given distance after being fired. The round held 40,000 small metal arrows about 1/2" long called flascets. The old style canister round looked like a shot gun round being black in color and flat on top.
One day we were getting a refill of ammo. This involved 2 men from each tank going into the middle of our tank circle (logger) and breaking down ammo crates then carrying the ammo back to their own tanks. The whole crew would then load the ammo into the tank and fill up all the vacant spaces. On this particular day Strickland dropped one of the old style canister round on its side and the top cap fell off. These rounds had many layers of tightly wrapped metal pellets inside the top portion. Well the top layer of pellets fell on the ground. I was on my way over to chew out Strickland when I heard him say, said whoa, thats cool! Lets pack it full of double bubble gum and put the lid back on. So thats what we did and the first of many double bubble bullets were born!
We always rode with a round loaded in the main gun but we couldnt put the old style canister round in because it would come apart due to vibration. Once we left the security of the base camp we always had all weapons loaded with the safety on. Only when we returned to the base camp did we unload our guns. But at night we loaded our special round in the tube. On one dark rainy (that good ole monsoon season) night our perimeter was getting probed. I alerted the crew and we were all in our positions listening to the radio to hear where and if the VC were trying to get into the perimeter. All of a sudden a trip flare about 50 yards in front of our tank went off. I gave the command on the way and fired the main cannon. Strickland reloaded the main gun while I sprayed the area with 50 cal fire. We fired 3 main gun rounds and 1 box of 50 cal ammo in about 10 minutes. The two tanks on our flanks also opened up.
Everything quieted down after that and it was a sleepless night until
dawn with the exception of parachute flares dropping into the darkness and providing us
with a sense of security. Thank God for those mortar crews who worked all night to
help keep us safe. The next morning our unit sent out a recon patrol to search the
area. You wouldnt believe what happened next. They came back and
reported they had found 5 dead Viet Cong soldiers and that one of them was completely
covered with what looked like bubble gum! At least they said it sure smelled like
it! My crew and I didnt say a word, but soon after somehow word got out and
every tank had a few double bubble rounds on board. Even the old mans
tank! Of course he didnt know it!
Following the inprocessing that we all experienced upon arriving in
Vietnam, I was assigned as a Platoon Leader in M Company, 3rd Squadron.
It was early in the evening of February 27, 1970, when I boarded the Huey that was to fly me to join the troopers of Mike Company. As the chopper gained altitude, I recall thinking our beautiful the countryside was. The only sounds I could hear were the rotors beating the air. In spite of the falling darkness and the airspeed, the air was hot. The faces of the door gunners were serious as they peered into the darkness below. I knew the instant we were over " Indian Country!"
Thousands of questions wandered around in my mind as we continued to fly. Was I prepared to lead men in combat? Would I possess a calm demeanor under fire? Would the troopers in my platoon have confidence in me? The most nagging question was, "why were we flying at night to land at some location that would perhaps present difficulty for the pilot and, worse, present a tempting target for "Charlie" as we descended using landing lights.
As we started the descent, the pilot told me he was taking me to my platoon's location. I thought, "great, now we're landing in some remote, night lagger!"
The 2nd platoon was located some distance from the rest of the company. As the ground swelled up to meet the skids, I counted five M-48's in a reasonable representation of a circle due to the terrain configuration. Darkness had now fallen and as the chopper lifted off, I remember thinking what an opportunity had been missed by "Charlie."
I really don't recall meeting many troopers at that time, as many were already asleep on cots tucked under the back decks of the tanks. I must have had contact with the legendary " Trip-flare" Hays, my Platoon Sergeant, as I found myself sitting in the cupola of one of the vehicles, listening to sitreps from other platoons on the troop net.
I knew the Commanding Officer was Captain Charles O'Brien and the First Sergeant's name was Vernon Nevil. As I sat there wondering what these men were like, little did I know that I would soon be talking with them under circumstances, I will never forget.
I've lost track of the actual time, but I seem to recall that very late that night, as I stood in the cupola, lost in private thought, I was alerted to a sound I had not previously heard: incoming artillery rounds.
For the next few minutes, time slowed and ripping explosions shattered the calm of the night. I had dropped to the floor of the tank instinctively. Scared, yes. Able to function, yes. I immediately called the company call sign and I'm sure in an excited voice explained that the platoon was receiving artillery fire.
I was immediately calmed by the voice on the other end of the radio who told me to stand by. The next morning I would be introduced to " Top" Nevil, a man who would be there for me for the next five months. As an aside, I would like to use this story to express my thanks to him for the guidance and support he gave a young officer during the trying days of War Zone C and Cambodia.
I spoke with Captain O'Brien and was told everything possible was being done to find the artillery unit who was using my platoon's location for H & I fire. Mercifully, the shelling stopped and I dismounted to evaluate our casualties.
Due to the darkness, the confusion, and the subsequent lift-offs, I awakened the next morning, not knowing the name of a fallen trooper. Our company experienced daily contact for the next thirty days and I quickly became hardened to the realities you all understand.
Over twenty-eight years later, I could not name the trooper who fell on February 27, 1970 in some remote plateau surrounded my jungle in Vietnam. How many times did I wish I knew his name. A distinct hollowness filled my soul for, I would lose other men in combat, but I knew their names; Bruce Elkins ,Clarence Young and John Bell.
It was during a reunion, that I met Johnny Riley, who, along with his wife, Delores, would become close personal friends. As we sat in the bunker, sharing experiences, I chose to recount my first night in combat. Before I had uttered a few sentences, Johnny finished the story as he was one of the crew members who lived the horror of that evening. Johnny rotated shortly after the incident and I simply did not remember him being there that terrible night.
As I expressed my frustration at not knowing the name of the soldier who lost his life that night, Johnny put his arms around me and told me his name was Johnny Joe Gallardo from Wasco, California.
Tears flowed as years of pent up frustration left me. I finally, after over twenty-eight years, knew the name of this gallant soldier and I felt peace.
To Johnny Joe Gallardo: I did'nt get to know you that evening. Tragic circumstances would not allow us to talk over a cup of coffee the following morning. Someday, at Fiddler's Green, I'll buy you one and introduce myself. I just wanted to tell you that even though I never knew you, I've remembered you every day of my life since that night.
Thank God for our reunions. Thank God for each of you and for the strength we bring to each other.
Together Then-Together Again.
Im writing this story for me but I thought Id share it with you, my readers. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Its 3:00 AM Friday July 3, 1998. I just opened the garage door and as Im on my way back into the house to get my coffee I can hear the deep mellow sound of the dual exhaust on my classic baby Sweething, (a 1960 Chevy El Camino) echoing off the garage walls. Im on my way to visit the burial site of my good friend Chris Cordova. After doing many hours of research and with the help of my wife Sue we were able to find out where Chriss home town was and with Sues magic fingers on the keyboard of the computer we even had a phone number for Robert Cordova who turned out to be the younger brother of Chris! After talking with Robert and finding out exactly were Mosquero, New Mexico was I decided that Id like to go and make sure Chris had a nice plot and headstone. Plus I wanted to once and for all close some doors so that I could open some new ones. So with coffee in hand I pulled out into the street watching the garage door close behind me. Seven hundred miles and fourteen hour from now Ill finally be with my friend of over twenty eight years ago.
I left Las Vegas and soon was going over Hoover Dam. Being so early in the morning the traffic was lite and before long I was climbing the canyon wall heading for Kingman, AZ. The trip was nice as it stayed cool all the way to Flagstaff before I had to roll down the windows to pick up a breeze. I love driving across I-40 because being an old car buff I really enjoy driving 70MPH and looking in everybodys back yards along the way seeing what kind of old cars they have parked there. Especially around Gallup! On this trip I didnt hear the normal, stop looking around and keep your eyes on the road, my wife would constantly be telling me. This trip I was on my own. This was my quest, something I have wanted to do for a long time.
Around 3:00PM I pulled into Tucumari, NM and started on RT 54 toward Logan, NM. It was nice to get off the interstate and travel on the back roads again. The weather was great! Hot but still very nice with white clouds cutting off the heat of the sun every so often. Once I arrived in Logan I followed the old main street through the city. You could see that at one time it must have been a busy place but now a lot of the stores were closed. Just as it must be in a lot of small towns in this country. As I kept going North the road seemed to be getting smaller and smaller until I finally turned onto to RT39 heading for my final destination of Mosquero. Now the road was a narrow two lane highway that seemed to be darting out into nowhere. There was nothing but green rolling hills all around with only a few ranch houses scattered about to interrupt this gorgeous land. By now I was starting to get really nervous. I kept thinking about all the things I have wanted to say to Chris. And I was nervous about meeting the Cordova family! Did they want to meet me? Have they put everything in the past or would they want me to tell them everything I remembered from 28 years ago? I guess I really didnt know what to expect.
After going about 20 miles I was approaching the base of this beautiful mesa. I was sure I would drop off toward the right side and go into a valley where Mosquero would be found, but instead as I reached a fork in the road I started to climb right up the side! It was very steep and I was just hoping my old car would make it up through these steep sharp curves. As I slowly maneuvered my way through this wonderful mesa I came upon a huge wall of rock and saw it was covered from top to bottom with names and dates. I wondered if Chris had maybe put his name there when he was a boy. As I finally reached the top there was nothing but green rolling hills with Jeniper trees scattered about as far as you could see. It was nothing like I had expected the top of a mesa to look like. I thought it would be flat and rocky. I was hoping there would be a gas station in Mosquero as I was down to a 1/4 of a tank and still had to travel the 30 miles back to Logan later in the day.
I soon was approaching the very small town of Mosquero and I mean very small. With luck I saw a single old gas pump on the right side of town with a big sign saying open leaning against it. As I pulled toward the old gas pump I couldnt help but think why would anybody want to live in this little spot in the road place? I stopped my car and as I was getting out an older man approached and asked how I was doing. I returned the greeting and as he was removing the front cover on the pump so he could reset the meter by hand (the old pump had broken 3 years earlier) I asked him if he could answer 2 questions for me. One was where was the cemetery located and the second was where did Robert Cordova live? He replied with, oh sure thats easy. Then he said hed just call Chris Cordova (that was Roberts son who had been named after my friend) he was the town marshal and was always around. As the man was filling my car with gas I was looking over the town. I could see a volunteer fire dept building with a closed sign in the window and next to it was a small market with and even smaller bar attached to the side of it. That my friends was downtown Mosquero, NM. Other than the post office I saw later.
A few minutes later a pick up truck pulls up and a young Mexican man walks up to me. I assumed it was Chris as I put my hand out and said, hi Im Jack you must be Chris. He said, yes and I would be happy to take you to the cemetery as soon as you get your gas sir. In a few minutes I was following him down the road to where my friend was. We only went a short way when we turned off onto a gravel road and soon my car was getting covered in a great cloud of white dust. I remember being upset about that and then feeling ashamed at such a time because I was about to see Chris and worrying about a little dust was really stupid! Within five minutes we had pulled in the grave yard. It was on about a 1/4 acre plot of land with a small fence around the outside of it. I guess there was about 30 grave sites in all.
I was feeling really nervous now. I had so many things I wanted to tell Chris. As we approached the first grave I could see it was Chriss fathers grave as it read PFC Jose Cordova died 1945 in Germany WWII. As a lump was forming in my throat I was all of a sudden thinking to myself that Chriss dad was here and was taking good care of him and that Chris would be alright. Then came the real hard part. I walked up to Chriss grave site. There was a small stone just like his dads. It had his name, rank, where and when he had died on it. There was a small patriotic flag made of flowers in front of it. They had long since died but you could tell Chris was being thought of and not forgotten. His nephew put his hand down and moved the wreath so I could see the complete head stone. As I knelt down something very strange happened to me. It was as if I somehow knew Chris had heard all my thoughts I had about him during the last 28 years and I didnt have to tell him anything at all because he already knew. With tears in my eyes all I could say was, its good to see you buddy, as I patted the top of his headstone. I just sat there patting the headstone for maybe 5 minutes as Chriss nephew backed away to give me some privacy. Finally I said one more time, its good to see you Chris, and I stood up and walked a few steps backward just looking at the grave. I really felt a sense of peace as I finally turned and walked back towards my car wiping the tears from my eyes. I didnt want to break down and cry as I knew I still had to meet the rest of his family in a few minutes. The tears would come later as I was driving out of Mosquero.
Soon we were pulling into the front yard of Roberts house. It was a large wooden house with new and old cars scattered through out the yard. Robert walked into the yard to meet us. For just a moment I thought it was Chris they looked so much alike. We shook hands and I could tell this was as awkward for him as it was for me. He introduced me to his sister, his wife Francis and their older son Floyd. I was then invited into their house and was offered a beer that I gladly took. I am not really a beer drinker but I really needed it now! We all sat around in the living room making small talk as I was trying to figure out how to give them a copy of the story I had written about Chris. I decided to just pull it out of my pocket and hand it to them so thats what I did.
I gave it to Robert and watched as he took the 2 page story
from the white envelope. I was so scared at that moment. I took another large
gulp of beer while wondering if they would like my story or not. How would they
act? Did I do the right thing? I just waited. The story was passed from
one person to the next with only a few nods of their heads being any sign at all of what
they read. I could see Roberts eyes had gotten a little red but other than
that not a word was spoken! I was offered another beer and after a few minutes of
prodding I accepted a plate of home made enchiladas. While all of us sat around the
kitchen table and I ate Chriss (Roberts son) wife entered the kitchen doorway
and said, that was a really nice story you wrote about Chris. We all liked it
very much. That was all that was ever said about that. But it did make
me feel much better and a little more at ease. After I had eaten a few more bites of
dinner out came the photo albums! There must have been a hundred pictures of various
sizes already in the living room with a separate special area for each one of the sons and
cousins who had served in the military. Chris had his spot with his medals hanging
next to his basic training picture and next to him was Roberts son Floyd.
Floyd had served in the Persian Gulf but was now on disability from a back injury.
After the two beers things started to get better. All the stories of Chris and Robert, who was 2 years younger, started pouring out in this small room atop of this beautiful mesa in NM. Robert told me a doctor who had lost his in Vietnam and had built a memorial and chapel in the little town called Angel Fire, MN. It was 80 miles north west of Mosquero. All the boys from the surrounding 4 counties who had died in Vietnam has their pictures and some personal effects placed in the memorial building. Chriss picture along with his dog tags were there. Every week a different picture was placed in the chapel and that soldiers family was notified. Robert called that place Holy ground. A lot of the conversation was about how the two boys grew up and how their Uncle Joe had taught then to hunt, fish, and swim in the local swimming hole. Soon with a third beer in our hands, Robert, Floyd and myself were heading out the door and on our way cruzin, as Robert put it. My feelings of being a stranger was now fading as I realized I was being accepted as a friend.
There couldnt have been more than 30 houses in this small town. Many of them were boarded up as the people who had once lived there were now long gone. When Chris had been a boy here there was probably 300 people living in town but now there was only around 100. Most of the small ranches had been bought out by three large ranches in the area. Francis still worked at the Bell Ranch but Robert now worked at a small chemical plant 30 miles away. As we left the house we went a half block away and saw the small white buildings that were the elementary and high school. Robert told me a picture honoring Chris was in the main hallway of the high school. We then drove by the church and the little hospital, that was closed over 10 years ago. It was now the school superintendentss house. Every time we drove past a house everybody would wave and I would wave back. I could imagine what they must have thought at the site of this strange gringo riding around in Roberts green pickup truck! Everybody knew everyone else in this town. It was like one huge family. You just couldnt help but fall in love with Mosquero, NM!
Robert drove us down the Bell Ranch road about 40 miles. As we drank beers more stories came out about Chriss funeral and how Robert was on his senior class field trip to the Lake of the Ozarks when he was notified of Chriss death. The class (all 5 of them) cut the trip short and returned early. He said the whole town of 300 turned out as well as the Honor Guard from the Air Force National Guard in Clovis, MN. Bob told me about the wild elks in the area and how many he shot each year. Floyd pointed out the local sights like the two Indian caves and when we got to the end of the Mesa they pointed to an area across the valley where dinosaur foot prints were. We had a really nice talk as we returned home and I felt I now know more about Chris than I had known the whole year I had lived with him.
Robert wanted me to stay the night and kept asking me over and over again but I didnt feel right about staying. I didnt want to ruin their holiday. But deep inside I really liked these new found friends and could have stayed longer. But I knew I had to get home to my own family.
I had finally closed my door with Chris but I also knew I could open it again and be welcomed not only by him but by his family and friends as well. I left at dark and as I was driving out of town the impact of what had happened hit me again. I had to wipe the tears away as I climbed back off the mesa and headed for the busy world below. I couldnt help but think of the past and how my wife had told me go ahead and write this book of how I felt about the way Vietnam really was. How it was about good men just doing a job as best they could. Not killers or heros but boys just like Chris. And of how when I said I wanted and needed to go see Chris she said, go do it, well get the money somehow. Just go and do what you have to do! Shes not only a good wife but she understands me sometimes more than I understand myself. Thank you Sue for helping me close my doors.
with the "Tales" go HERE