I don't think I will ever forget when I first got off the plane at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, in early 1967. The blast of heat and rancid smells that hit one in the face when you first laid foot on the tarmac airstrip. The feeling of excitement and danger boosting your adrenalin to maximum capacity. The tepid, metallic taste of fear in your mouth that almost completely dries you up.
And then getting on the bus, yes, that infamous bus. The one with the wire mesh that covered the outside of the windows that the driver told us was put there to keep charlie from lobbing grenades in at us.
The long drive out to the Long Binh In-Country Processing Center. The tents and newly constructed two story barracks were an exercise in contradiction. Very transient, very hot, yet a feeling of coldness, aloneness that bore its way into the very core of your soul.
The first nights sleep in-country, loneliness, sadness, and sorrow mixed with the nerve-stretched waiting for the first rocket attack or mortar to drop in.
The first guard duty on the outskirts of the compound. Watching the flares drift across the lonely night sky as you think to yourself, "what is it that we are looking for? Is it the enemy trying to find his way into our perimeter? Is it a squad of stealth-like sappers? Are they perched on the edge of reality, waiting to make their death run through the compound? Will they be in search of our teen-aged souls in an attempt to snuff out our life's breath?" Only those who launched the eerie glowing flares to ignite the cloudless night sky knew. We were kept in the dark on such knowledge. We did not have the need to know.
Waiting in the hot, humid formations twice each day, trying to guess which unit and where in Vietnam you would be sent. Then after a couple of days of this treacherous waiting, you could care less where you were to be sent as long as it was anywhere but Long Binh!
Finally, getting your orders and discussing the place you were to be assigned with a complete stranger, him being equally blessed with the ignorance of where in the world Qui Nhon or An Son was in relation to where we were now.
The plane ride to brigade headquarters in Nha Trang. Same song, different tune. Again, the waiting. Looking up at the moonlit sky, wondering what your family, friends, your girl was doing at that very moment. Hiding your face from others for fear of revelation of the tears rolling down your face. Wishing desparately that you would awaken from this God-forsaken nightmare. Only for reality to blast away the sleep from your cobweb-laced mind at reveille.
And then the short helicopter flight to your assigned company. Now you can settle in and start feeling at home. Now you are one of the guys. Now you can hide from your ghosts behind the comaraderie of your platoon.
You now find out the true meaning of FNG. You now know that you are truly the scum of the earth! You know now that you are a F--king New Guy!
God be with me for these next 360 plus days.
Copyright © 2001 by Don Johnson, All Rights Reserved