“Tell Me Something New*”

*(Originally posted on richwrapper, this version includes a longer commentary.)

 

Tumult is old hat:

dire is done near every day;

I have egg AND beer!

 

*(My first experience with “Egg in Your Beer” was on the road. National Highway 1 a mile South of Song (river) Thu Bon bridge in southern I Corps of South Vietnam. The Thu Bon River bridge demarcated the split from mountainous West – the Que Son Mountains, poised like a spearhead thrust towards the uderbelly of DaNang, South Vietnam’s second-largest city and after Hue City and Saigon its third most-important historical and cultural venue and was without peer in the South as a seaport – and the coastal plains.  My Thu Bon bridge was relatively new.  the remains of the former railway passage across the brownwater slowly moving alluvially enriched river stood stark reminder of the war that we Americans think started just yesterday but in fact went into a thousand-year mist in which the French, Japanese, Chinese and so many others killed and died in quest of this gentle land of sudden passions and life and death in a great wheel. This bridge which connected Highway 1  from Saigon to the Demilitarized Zone of death and legend ran right outside the doorway to my 7th Marine Regimental press center I had just joined as a newbie boot-to-veet-nahmb writer (and photographer) shitbird, disgraced and court-martialled-and-busted to Private First Class fascinated me.  There were twin concertina barbed-wire with German razor-wire tanglefoot emplacements between the concertina and the dusty brown-and-orange claylike soil that fronted the southern riverbank and its bridge abuttments: inside and among the tanglefoot were landmines – ours, theirs and who knows whose – and there I was after a couple of days in company with John Gentry, a whiskey-swilling steam-roller of a photographer who bragged his first five kills of the seventeen he claimed were all ARVIN (Army, Republic of Vietnam) soldiers, our allies of nominal description; Frenchy LeBreque, another Sergeant photographer; Leo Dromgoole, the alleged senior Sergeant of the Marine Corps combat correspondents, a supposed drunk who’d murder a dozen opium soaked joints of marijuana a day (when the monsoons returned in November his 1,000-stick stash, hidden in a sandbag atop the Division Rear press enlisted hootch (sea hut) back in Danang would burst open and his carefully horded backup would wash away in a brownish deluge and leave the shorttimer disconsolate and with a case of the clap he was to take home in but a couple of weeks; Don Darby and I were snuffy privates out to get our cherries broke in the easiest way possible: with the tender mercies of the th ree aforementioned old hands in the company of Alpha Company, First Battalion, Seventh marine Regiment (A/1/7) and its Combined Unit Pacification Program (CUPP) teams running along from former Americal Division (USArmy) northernmost reaches at Landing Zone (LZ) Baldy, which only a year or so before had fallen sway to United States Marine Corps tactical operations area-hood, though Leathernecks had fought, bled, killed and themselves died over this dark and fertile land below the Que Sons ever since they broke out of their DaNang airbase bounds after landing on Red Beach in the Spring of 1965.  In the Spring of 1970 it finally was my turn.  The CUPP program was unique and just recently started – an offshoot of the venerable, and successful, Combine Action Platoon, it consisted of a heavily reinforced Marine squad, nominally 13 or 14 men but in this case reinforced with its own Naval Corpsman, several radiomen, some machine gun teams and odds-n-sods accompanied by a platoon (30-to-40 men) too young, too old, too infirm and recently retired and sometimes fortuitiously reassigned veteran soldiers of the Vietnamese army…they had the 60 millimeter moarter “artillery” the team enjoyed along with the usual suspects, 105-, 155-, and 175mm howitzers and guns of the regiment and battalion stationed at Baldy, as well as on-call fighter bombers of various stripes, including one World War II vintage former Naval workhorse, the AD-1 SkyRaider propeller job flown by the ARVIN air force and, of course, helicopter gunships.  The squad and live-in part-timer Regional Forces-Popular Forces (Ruff-Puffs) were emplaced to deny the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and what few survivors of the failed TET Offensive of 1968 Viet Cong -perhaps the real motive of the offensive was to kill the local indigenous Vietnames military, political and social communist leaders in a failed overthrow attempt to rid Hanoi of its internal, local competition. Whatever.  The NVA had a company surrounding the bridge and more in the hills pointing downward at that vital spot.  In time I would get to know the area, the people, the enemy and the allies well.  In time I would get to know the Marines leading me down Highway 1 back towards LZ Baldy well, too.  In time I would become like them…a little. In time I would drink beer and else besides.

French and Gentry led our little patrol in a staggered column down Highway 1 to the ville (village – which is just marginally larger than a two- or three-hut hamlet – opposite the main entryway to LZ Baldy and home of the Seventh Marines Press Center hovel and hangout and unsobering point located all by its lonesome, being shared with an equally disreputable Army Cyclops light team.  To our  South was th e Counterintelligence and Interrogator/Transleter teams hootch, the intervening 20 or 30 yards of space devoted to the big volleyball court in which we struggled mightily to defeat the forces of goodness and righteousness – and a couple of Korean Marine “ringers” who served with karate chops – TaeKwonDo they corrected constantly, but that was all before David Carradine – We could not find a 6-by 2-1/2 ton truck to stop and pick us op or a couple of willingly empty jeeps, so we humped our gear, packs, cameras and combat stuff down the road, two men to each side, staggered so as to keep us from all getting killed in the same mine sweeper-missed blast from what now is euphemised as an improvised explosive device: we called the box mines, surprise firing devices (like IED, an improvised euphemism from high up to be substituted in copy for the real word: booby trap).  Leo walked drag – or Tail End Charlie, backwards, sweeping left-to-right continuously.  We all had prices on our heads, we were reliably informed.  U. S. military journalists and photographers were assigned “bounties” upon getting the military occupational specialty (MOS) number that designated them in the eyes of communists everywhere as propagandists and worse and thus were to be killed and captured whenever possible – after, of course, officers, doctors, corpsmen, radio men and machinegunners.  But we were worth gold to our killers.  We knew that. And here we were walking towards a ville full of potential collectors in search of us as we were in search of beer.

The beer – Bierre La Rue – Tiger Piss – or Bahn Me Bahn (sp?) signifying the number 33  – was designed to liberate the mind and body and leave worse in its place.  And, yes, I had tasted piss before. And no I will not tell you when, where, how or even why.  Bahn Me Bahn (Bah me Bah?) made piss lemonade with a vodka topping.  We walked into a darkened hootch with a flip-up side facing the street, shook our heads no at the proprietor’s pointing gesture to the proffered stools outside and Leo said in passable pidgin beer with all.  So the big dirty tumblers were filled from one-liter bottles – warm which meant chilled in temperature terms – and cracked a raw egg in each, added a dash of tabasco sauce and a shot of soy sauce and a dollop of fermented fish sauce that would peel varnish off stuck-on paint.

Leo stirred mine with his bayonet.  I would not have stuck in my Randall knife for fear of corroding the Orlando, Florida-made handcrafted eight-inch bowie-style knife a gift from my younger brother which he ordered the day I left for Parris Island and boot camp.  I was contemplating just chugging it all down like medicine.  But Leo, the astral bastard knew better.  “Here,” he smirked. “This will make it all taste worse than it really is, Fuckin’ New Guy.  Welcome to The Nahm!  We all drank. and drank another. And aanother.  and we later rolled in to the gate at Baldy sining a bawdy Marines Hymn to the tune of “Running Bear.”

And that is my first Vietnam beer story.  I will adjust fire. Later.

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