Chaplain Larry Haworth
2nd Qtr 2017
Let’s start this conversation with a true story that was sort of controversial when it happened and is a lot more controversial now. This is about guns. Yep, guns. When I was a mere boy in the late 1940s, my dad took my brother and me out and bought us each a toy. I forget what my toy was, but my brother got a new toy cowboy six-shooter. Yep, a toy gun. It was a silver cap pistol. If you’re old enough, you’ll know what a cap pistol was. If you’re not that old, ask your grandpa. Anyway, as we walked out of the store a lady we’d never laid eyes on before, spotted us on the sidewalk. She came over and kindly told us that guns were very dangerous and little boys like us shouldn’t have guns, not even a toy gun. Don’t worry, we just walked on and minded our own business. So that establishes that guns, even then, were sometimes controversial. Later, especially during the Viet Nam War years, having guns became very controversial and they still are, at least with politics. “What’s the point of my story?” you are probably wondering. Nothing earth shattering. I just thought I’d tell it because toy cap pistols were great fun for little boys like real guns are great fun for grown men, when used properly, of course. Since fun is the topic of our discussion here, I thought I’d open with this little story about having fun.
As you may (or may not) know, my first tour in Viet Nam was with helicopters at Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta. One day, the leader of one of our gun ship platoons invited me to come along on a flight to test a gun ship (heavily armed Huey helicopter). It had been in for maintenance. I could come along and ride in the Peter Pilot (co-pilot) seat and have a good time. We flew up over a no-man zone where we could test the guns without doing any shooting except to test the equipment. (No-man zone meant no enemy expected there that day). Captain K had instructed me how to fly the helicopter and I was doing OK. Now he says he’ll show me how to shoot the grenade launcher that spit grenades (like hand grenades) out the nose of the gun ship (like “bloop bloop bloop“). I did quite well, I’ll have to say. “Why are you telling me this story?,” you ask. I reply, “because flying that helicopter was huge fun for me that day, we weren’t doing war at the time, just maintenance, and where else could you do such a thing and have fun?” There’s a sequel to this story, but we’ll save it for another time.
One of my best having fun stories in Viet Nam is “Mad Minutes”. Mad Minutes involved a whopping lot of “expending” ammunition. Mad Minutes happened at any unpredictable time during the dark of night, when the commander would give the order and a lot of guns, maybe all or maybe just a lot, on the whole perimeter, would open up and shoot like mad into the jungle for a couple of minutes. We didn’t know of any enemy out there. Hitting a target wasn’t the main purpose of Mad Minutes. The purpose was that, if there was any enemy(s) out there, he would be completely surprised, scared out of his wits to come near us and be real confused. Mad Minutes kept the enemy way off guard which gave us a nice advantage. They also gave our troopers an advantage of security, the noise being so horrific and bullets flying into the dark jungle where the enemy could be lurking. Also, they were a lot of fun for our guys. Mad minutes were better, louder, and more spectacular than Fourth of July fireworks at home! Our main guns and machine guns put out a lot of fire power when turned loose all at once! That was having real fun!
Here’s another having fun story. Bear with me if you’ve heard it before (you probably haven’t). It’s about destruction derbies. You can imagine, if you haven’t experienced one, what exhilarating fun it is to drive around in a cleared area of a rubber plantation and smash into other vehicles just for fun. In Cambodia there was a French rubber plantation that had recently been abandoned because the war was fast coming their way. When the plantation manager flew out of the area, he said our troops should take whatever they wanted because the VC/NVA would take it anyway. Troops took the plantation’s black French Citroen sedans over to the grass air strip and made like the old days of destruction derbies back home: 45 ton tanks vs. little Citroen cars bashing and mashing. Were they having fun? What do you think?
More fun was had at our rear area at Di An. We spent time there before the regiment moved to the bush for good. I learned of a way our troopers had fun: We shared space with another cav outfit. It might have been 1st Air Cavalry. Regardless, there was an enlisted club at the other end of the base in infantry territory. You can imagine the “discussions” that took place in the bar. I remember a prime subject was “who was the real Cav.” Since the 1st Cavalry Division was really airmobile, our guys “discussed” their opinion and the others “discussed” theirs. Of course, fights broke out over heated opinions and everyone had a real fun time.
Another pleasant time I would call fun was just sitting around in the evening when all was quiet. Guards were posted and all were alert for obvious reasons. But relaxation could be had. Armored Cav often carried some comfort items like five gallon water cans, cases of C Rations, even folding chairs bought from mama-sans in the villages. They could carry a few cases of soda and beer. No one could drink much, but even a little was fine, even Carling Black Label beer or Fresca soda, which was barely drinkable. Sometimes we operated with infantry in the field. Then our troopers would share with the foot-sore grunts. Evenings like this made for a lot of bonding, sharing personal stories, and life-long memories. That was fun too.
We’re about at the end of my article so I’ll close off. Maybe we can get together and talk about fun in Viet Nam some more. Meanwhile, be thinking for yourself about good, pleasant things from your time in Viet Nam. Remember the fun things.
Here’s our final thought. It’s from Psalm 146:5-10: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them -- the Lord who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow…. The Lord reigns forever, your God for all generations. Praise the Lord.”
Looking back after so many years, It’s helpful and healing to remember fun, pleasant times. Through it all, I believe the Lord looked over each of us, you and me included. Through the good times and the bad, the tough and the easy, the fun and the miserable, always keep your balance intact: when you remember the hard war things, always remember the pleasant, positive, and the fun things too.
God bless you. God loves you. So do I.
Chaplain Larry, LEHaworth@aol.com