The Reason for Being by Jim Masencup

I joined the Army because I wanted to. I wanted to because I had to. If I hadn’t joined them they would have joined me.

At the time of my induction I had been out of high school sixteen months. During those sixteen months I had been working during the day as a Volkswagen mechanic, taking flying lessons in the evenings and college classes at night. I could not afford a full time college schedule so the draft was breathing down my neck. I chose, took the test for and was accepted to the Warrant Officer program rather than face the draft. If I was going to do it I wanted to do it on my terms.

I chose delayed enlistment so I could finish a semester and also so I could try to talk as many as possible of my friends in the same position into doing what I was doing. If I was going down I wanted company. If it worked out to be something good I would be the hero for talking them into it. I never thought of a downside.

Of the twelve of us from the same graduating high school class who had breakfast at my mothers table the morning we left for the induction center six graduated flight school. Of the six, three came home. What had I done?

For me, beside their deaths the most disturbing fact was I was stateside when they died. I was a flight school honor graduate and was supposed to have my pick of schooling upon graduation. In the Army’s intelligence (oxymoron) with the pick of each school came the addition of volunteer indefinite and another year of service owed. I had earned nothing. They wanted me to pay. As graduation approached I was still in limbo (“In Limbo” became the name of my last boat). I had refused all the orders for the schools I selected and I finally received orders to report to Ft. Polk La. I was there for seven months before I went over to Vietnam.

When I arrived in country “I didn’t care”. I had already screwed up. Friends were dead. All the hard work in flight school had meant nothing. I was just another Newbe flying slicks. I set out with the mindset that “if this is the end let’s do something right”. I didn’t care how long or how short of time was involved, just that what I did made a difference, if to no one else but myself. Lock my heals, make me say “Yes, Sir!” I knew sooner or later when we got into the air it would be my show, “I didn’t care”.

The only mission I begged out of was the one mentioned in some of the stories for late March, early April 1971. This mission was to be the last push into the Tri Border Area and I’m sure it’s the mission mentioned in the story of James Young. I did so because of the initial briefing. We were told we could not drop out of a flight to recover a downed crew until the insertion was completed. This was totally against everything prior. I was short (two weeks) and had the right to refuse on those grounds alone. No suicide mission for me. Now that I have read the stories, about what I believe was this mission I’m glad I sat it out. Enough is enough!

Since Vietnam, anywhere I have been when the shit hits the fan people have asked “How do you remain so cool? Nothing upsets you!” I have attempted to explain and stopped. There’s only a few who would understand. When it comes down to life or death, do you understand? Few do. Those who were there and lived do. When asked, I just look and smile. I know.

Justin, strap in. Casey, clear left? Nolan, clear right? Clear overhead? Here we go! Don’t let me pull more than 50lbs of torque!

The stories I’m telling you are true. Some are embellished. Most without names to protect the guilty but as factual as I can recall after thirty years. “This ain’t no bullshit”. I have been told, many times through the years I should write a book. Sometime I might attempt one if only the chapters would stop coming. Vietnam would be only a small chapter. It was thirty years ago and lasted 364 days, but that small chapter could rival a James Mitchner novel of late in length. Every day was a new story.

Vietnam affected all of us at the time. Those of us who were there were affected in different ways. Some can talk about it and some can’t and some can write about it and some can’t. I never really spoke much about my experience because I felt that first, most people wouldn’t believe it and second, if they had not been there they wouldn’t understand or would misunderstand what I was telling them. This is my first attempt at writing about my experience. For the first time it feels right, that this is the right media and the right audience.

Copyright © 2001 by Jim Masencup, All Rights Reserved