During the war in the republic of Vietnam there were times of little sustenance. I mean by that statement is, at times I was as hungry as a run away slave, and that is hungry.
The year of 1966 found me at fort Dix New Jersey and being introduced to the ways of military life. I spent many hours viewing movies in mass while seated in a military theater. These movies were from the department of the Army and these movies gave you information on how, what, when and now of the military.
Movies on UCMJ, personal hygiene, preventive maintenance, survival in a hostile environment, and what to expect from good old Uncle Sam, was drummed into my mind. One movie was about the diet and the number of hot meals that a soldier could expect while in the service of his country.
The movie started out by saying that an army moves on its stomach, in other words, if you donít eat you donít move and you canít win. The army movie stated because of this statement (which was taken from the annuals of military history) the United States army is the best feed force on the planet.
The movie also went on to say that a soldier in the field gets three hot meals a day. The hot meals are flown in by chopper, and the food is secured in marmite containers. These containers are designed to keep food hot until delivered and then consumed by the troops. The service information video also said that the food was prepared by army school trained cooks, so you know that you are getting the best chow, so that you can perform at your best and defeat the enemy and win.
The time is now 1968 and the place is South Vietnam near the DMZ and the weather is rainy. The swift moving low laying clouds obscured the vision of all to see thus making supply delivery by chopper impossible to complete. The choppers had no radar so they flew VFR (visual flight rules) so flying blind in the mountains meant crashing and burning on some lonely mountain side.
The weather could be miserable for days and even weeks. My unit was in the mountains looking for the elusive enemy the NVA and the weather wasnít helping by continually pounding us (B Company 3/187 ABN INF) with sky water and sheets of smothering fog.
The weather conditions did not stop us from combing our assigned AO. Up and down the mountains slipping and sliding our way to a new map location. While doing all this recon, our stomachs began to howl in protest feed me.
The beginning of every mission, when at base camp or fire base our basic combat load consists of three days rations and all the ammo you could carry. The C rats you carried had at least three cans per meal and three meals per day which meant you carried a minimum of 36 cans of C rations per three day supply cycle. What happens when this 3 cycle is interrupted? This question was and has been answered by all infantrymen. You continue the mission and scrounge for sustenance until you can be resupplied.
Up and down across and over ridge lines, mountain tops, valleys and streams. It was a never ending cat and mouse game being played on a non forgiving playing field.
I believe the company was placed in an area that would give us the maximum chance of finding the enemy and that place was his back yard. There was no sand box in this back yard but a game of tag and blind manís bluff was being played to the death, and we were the score keepers.
My company had been given the assignment to begin the makings of a fire base. Every day I and the other company members became pack mules loaded with gear. This gear consisted of sand bags, Constantia wire, ammo, and food stuff. This gear would be placed on our backs at the bottom ridge line. We looked like ants climbing up an ant hill with our secured booty.
The company was being rushed because the call of bad weather was approaching fast and the need to be secured and set up in case of enemy assault was paramount in our minds. We knew the NVA was watching us because our patrols on continuous bases found evidence of their being in the area.
The weather changed from gloomy to down right shitty. The clouds opened up and pounded us with rain and when the rain stopped thick dark foreboding fog blanketed our not completed fire base. This fog stayed for days on end smothering any attempt for our supply choppers to get to us.
Our food supplies began to run out and still no go with the choppers. The lack of supply did not stop our mission which was to patrol and make contact with the enemy. This constant movement up and down mountains loaded with combat gear calls for one to have energy and your energy comes from the C rations you eat. Stomachs began to growl, tap dancing against your back bone. The men began to complain and thatís all we could do because the mission comes first and all we heard from the high mucky muckís was drive on. This we did but at a slower pace.
My squad had the responsibility to keep over watch of the trail that led to one of the entrances to the uncompleted fire base. A base of fire was set up and the word to chow down came from the LT
The squad sat down in a circle and began to go through their rucksacks and at the sometime I did the same. The look on our faces after our searches foretold our plight. We were going to be some hungry GIs this day. The total list of booty found is as follows. One small C rat can of peanut butter and one large sweet onion that I carried to liven up my canned meals.
I looked at my squad and said this is it. The other squad member gave me the peanut butter and I took out my blade and began to slice the onion into equal propositions. I then placed some of the PB on the slice and handed the men in my squad his share of the prize.
I placed my shared sliced onion in my mouth and holy shit did that ever taste divine. Telling this story has mouth watering still. The smile on the faces of my squad members was one to behold that little bit of sustenance was a moral booster, because the men stopped the bitching and continued to drive on.
The next day a break in the weather, the sun was up and dully shinning through the clouds. The sound of rotor blades shattered the serine calm, we are saved.
The supply chopper set down on the ridge just long enough to have its precious cargo of Cs to be thrown on to the ground of our mountain retreat. Oh happy days. The food was distributed to the men and we continued our mission.
To this day I donít take anything for granted because you never know when the smallest thing can be the biggest thing in life.
The members of my squad still talk about our adventures and misadventures while in the NAM. It is a beautiful thing LIFE, and living it to its fullest.
The story continues.
WM Roland Hayes.