PCS: Destination Vietnam
…and other similar myths
"One of each??"
My military "suitcase"
there are several messages in that communication aside from the need to dye
white underwear OD. You can’t buy underwear in RVN. Well,
crap --- if you can’t buy underwear there, what else can’t you buy? The
possibilities staggered me. Bring it
with you if you plan on wearing it! And if that were true, all of the other
stuff we need or use for day-to-day existence probably should be taken, too.
Socks, toothpaste, deodorant [Hell, what did I know then about life in the
boonies?], shirts, shoes, stationary, pens, stamps [yeah, I know],
handkerchiefs. Well, the list gets pretty big. And it all sounded necessary.
a month before I was scheduled to get on that big bird, I started building a
pile of the things I thought I would need. The pile began taking over our small
guest room. A trickle of letters send home from guys already there to
girlfriends and wives began to surface, suggesting things I hadn’t considered
yet. A good waterproof flashlight
and batteries. A portable radio. And
spare batteries. A couple of civilian outfits for those times when we might have to
relax in a rear area. And it seemed like everyone else I knew who was headed
there was going through the same process.
were 5 of us getting ready to go from 1/73 FA; all 2nd LTs; all
without a clue about what we would soon face. Unfortunately the other officers
and NCOs didn’t know either. Same for everyone else in DivArty.
each began hoarding stuff we thought we would need sometime in the coming year
and not be able to buy. I knew, for example, that I could probably find gin
someplace and would have difficulties smuggling it into RVN. So gin had to be a
commodity that I procured locally. It was the cocktail onions, a critical
ingredient for a good Gibson’s martini, that became a ‘must have’ item for
my growing mountain of essential supplies. Vermouth was not necessary – just
the gin and the cocktail onions. I
went out and bought a case. My
family, not knowing that you could buy OD underwear at any Army surplus store,
dyed a half dozen boxers and half a dozen briefs…..but they weren’t OD. It
was something like mottled and splotchy pea green ~ not something I wanted
anyone else to ever see. But it sure was a thoughtful gesture and waste of
otherwise good underwear. A dozen t-shirts were destroyed the same way. In the
end, when I actually began packing, I found an
ideal use for the pea green
underwear. They became the perfect packing materials for the case of cocktail
onions I took with me. For each skinny little bottle, I drained the juice and
replaced it with gin. Hell, preparations for leaving were
beginning to become fun!
have to admit that I packed some things that, even in my demented state, seemed
frivolous. When Mom was dying the underwear, she so thoughtfully tossed in a
couple sets of sheets for "emergency
So I had 4 sheets the right size for
a military bunk bed and two pillowcases, all the same mottled and splotchy pea
green as the underwear. Mom made me promise to take the sheets
even when I protested
that we would probably be using cots [like I knew something!]. After all, she
reasoned, we wouldn’t be out tin the field all of the time and when in a rear
area, wouldn’t I like to have nice, clean sheets from home? Now who could
argue with logic like that?
I began actually putting my stuff into suitcases, it became clear that mere
suitcases would not be adequate to the task. I bought a standard issue foot
locker and about half of my stuff was jammed into that wooden box. Next, I got
my Army issue duffle bag. Between the foot locker and the duffle bag, I could
get everything I thought I would need packed and ready to go. The standard,
black, indestructible, 3 ¼” Samsonite briefcase
completed my traveling ensemble. The
footlocker weighed, according to Braniff Airlines, 73 pounds. The duffle bag
added 58 more pounds. But I had everything I needed.
Everything. Hell, I was packed for a PCS to
so was everyone else on the plane. It was a horribly long, exhausting flight
we arrived at the repo depot, we were dropped off at a bunker line with
instructions to dive inside in case mortars start falling. Then the bus drove
off, leaving about 40 of us in pitch black. With
no gear other than what we brought
with us. One of the guys wandered around and discovered there was a mess hall
about 1/10th of a mile away. A really pissed off Major who was a
member of our little group of lost souls took charge, selected someone to guard
our bags and sent the rest of the group to the mess hall. We had a feast of
cheese and/or peanut butter sandwiches. When we got back to the bunkers I tried
unsuccessfully to find my flashlight in the darkness, punctuated occasionally by
flares popping about a half mile away. Some of the men saw the flares and
thought we were under attack. They fled for the safety of the bunkers. I slept
fitfully on top of my bags. They were just too heavy to
move and I was too tired to do
anything else. It rained. I couldn’t find my spare poncho in my bags. Oh-oh…did
I forget to bring one of those?
truck pulled up before daylight and the driver called out names of people who
were supposed to go with him. I was one of the names he called. A couple of guys
helped me get my bags into the truck and off we went back to the airport. The
driver handed us a mimeographed sheet of paper that, when it got light enough to
read, was a listing of our unit assignments. I was heading for 4th
Infantry Division DivArty –
a rough flight, we – I would really like to say "touched
but that wasn’t what happened – slammed into the PSP runway at
the fun began. I would drag the duffle bag 50 feet and put it down, returning
for the foot locker. Being an official issue footlocker…..the wooden kind with
NO HANDLES, dragging it across the PSP just wasn’t going to happen. Lifting
it, as tired as I was, also wasn’t going to happen. I had to remove the tray
from the locker and carry that separately. Without the tray, I could lift the
end of the locker and drag it across the PSP.
that’s the way it went: walk about 50 feet with the duffle bag and briefcase,
drop them and walk back to get the footlocker tray and carry it up to the duffle
bag, walk back and get the footlocker and drag it up to the duffle bag and tray
and briefcase. I felt like a
contestant on “Beat The Clock”.
when I said the "terminal"
was about a mile away? I was pretty sure I was moving in the right
direction…….50 feet at a time. But every 50 foot segment meant I was walking
250 feet with all of the fetching and dragging!
That meant I would have 150
of those 50 foot segments before I got to the terminal.
With each segment 250 feet because of the dragging back and forth. And in the process would
walk 5 miles with all of the carrying and dragging. It was gonna be a very long
day! Being in the
wasn’t out there alone. Planes were busy landing and taking off all the time.
I waved every time one passed me, hoping that one of them would notify the tower
that there was some crazy guy out on the runway with big bundles. Sometimes, the
helicopters would slow up so they could get a better look. It must have been
pretty obvious what had happened. From one look at my stateside khaki uniform,
anyone could see that I had just teleported from CONUS into the middle of the
airfield landing pattern for the 4th
had gone about half the distance to the terminal…..i could actually see the
tower…..when a small truck came flying down the runway. After the excited
exclamations [“Are you plumb fuckin’ crazy??!!
Don’t you know you’re in the middle of the busiest airport in
Nam??!!”], the driver and the guard, both armed for combat, allowed me into
the back of the truck, with bags and they took me to DivArty. What an auspicious
way to start the year!
day later, I was in Duc Pho with the 3rd Brigade and was assigned to
2/9th FA, The Mighty Ninth. I had the good fortune to be there when
Ed Thomas, a legend among the FOs, was in base camp. He saw me drag my bags into
the small tent where I would spend the night, bit his tongue as hard as he could
to keep from laughing, and offered good advice. "If
you haven’t needed it by now,"
Ed said, "you
probably won’t need it out in the field."
He knew I was assigned to C Company, 1/35th Infantry as the
new FO – the "old"
one had been killed. So Ed helped me pick a few things to
take with me out to the field. He even made a special pack for me – a sand bag
with shoulder straps. “Don’t take too much or you won’t be able to keep up
with the company and may become a casualty yourself.” So I packed everything
up, took the few things he picked for me into the sandbag and the next morning
Company. The difference was
about 200 pounds…or so it seemed.
didn’t see the duffle bag or the foot locker for more than 12 months. By then,
anything that could support jungle mold had done so. Probably several
generations of mold cultures had lived and died in my bags, each breeding a more
prolific and odoriferous generation of mold. It was kinda like the Galapagos Islands
where species became unique due to separation with the mainland. My bags became the birthplace for the
smelliest molds ever!
can bet I wasn’t going to drag that stuff across an airstrip!
That was in September, 1968. I was back in January, 1971. For the second tour, I
brought the [same] standard,
black, indestructible, 3 ¼” Samsonite briefcase and a small gym bag. It
was all I needed and all I was willing to carry in case I got dropped off on the
Lt Bert G. Landau
FOOTNOTE: Thanks to Lt Don Blankin, we know the final outcome of all that meticulous list preparation and tedious packing when it's time to DEROS. Not counting the weapon and the newer bag on the right, here's what your "barracks bag" looks like after it sat in some base storage locker for a year: