by Dave Shade
This is a story how looking cool could be hazardous to your health, if not fatal, in a war zone.
One of the things they teach in the Army is………….not only are you a number, but you are also a letter of the alphabet. Everything is by the numbers or by the alphabet. You line up in formation alphabetically, if your last name starts with an “A” you are at the head of the line or at the first row of a formation.
I was a “S” so I was almost always at the end of the mess line, shot line, or what ever line we were in. It stands to reason that you get well acquainted with the guys closest to you in line…..the other “S’s” or maybe a “R” or a “T”. After all, they even assigned you to your bunk alphabetically.
One of my closest buddies was Michael Squibb….another “S”. He was a tall guy, about 6’2″ with blondish hair and wore glasses. As luck would have it we were together from Basic at Ft. Bliss Texas through AIT in Ft. Ord, California, and to my surprise he turned up with me at Camp Eagle in Viet Nam. It was great to have a friend when you got to a new place, especially in a war zone.
It was bad enough being a “Cherry”, but if you had a buddy that was as Cherry as you it made it much easier.
There we were together at Camp Eagle, and we were very proud to be wearing the screaming eagle patch on our shoulder. We took pictures showing our shoulder patches to the folks back home. Of all the units we could have been assigned to, the 101st with it’s history was just great.
There is something that comes with that patch……….sort of a requirement, an obligation, courage, a sense of duty, and honor.
Our first night at the CP (1/327 Co. D) was an experience neither of us will ever forget. Not only was it our first night “at the front” but we were told that we were to be sent out to 1st platoon in the morning. We were told to sleep in the room between the CP office and the supply room. We laid there trying to go to sleep but we were just too nervous to sleep.
All at once the premature opened up!! It sounded like all hell had broken loose. Squibb and I donned our steel pots, grabbed our 16’s and charged out of the building, armed to the teeth, dove behind the first row of sand bags, ready to repel the human wave attack that we just knew was coming.
Overhead there was a cobra gunship working over the perimeter with rockets and mini guns. You couldn’t have driven a tooth pick up mine or Squibbs’ rear with a sledge hammer!!
After only about a minute or two, and our eyes adjusted to the dark, we noticed guys walking by in their underwear!! They looked at us as if we had lost our minds. Then they started to laugh and said something about “Cherries”………boy we felt real dumb. The rest of the night passed without anymore excitement, but we still didn’t sleep a wink.
The next morning a sadistic supply clerk gave us each a case of “C” rations and told us “That’s all you’ll get for a week, so you’d better hang on to it”. Squibb and I packed everything that was in that case of C rations, even the ham and eggs. He then gave us each a box of 60 ammo, two frags, trip flares, a Claymore and everything else he could think of. Our ruck sacks must have weighed 100 lbs.!! Loaded down like a couple of pack mules, we were sent out to the LZ to catch a slick out to 1st platoon.
As we stood there waiting for our bird, I was watching the choppers come and go carrying troops in and out. I was remembering being laughed at the night before and how “Cherry” we must have looked to the vets. I decided that I never wanted to have that happen again.
I started to study the vets and how they rode in a chopper. I noticed that the vets in the door were hanging their legs out of the door, or when the bird was about to touch down some of them were standing on the skids. Now that was the “Right Way” to ride in a chopper.
There was a full load of troops heading out to their units and I was one of the last ones on. As I sat down I slipped out of my 100 lb. ruck sack, which was a big mistake, and just let my legs dangle out the door….I wasn’t going to look Cherry again. My good buddy Squibb was sitting on my right side behind me and off we went. In only a few minutes we were traveling out over rice paddies and picking up speed and then we out over the Gulf of Tonkin and clipping along at about 100 mph. and I began to feel myself being sucked out of the chopper!!!…….Oh what I would have given to have on that 100 lb. ruck sack!!
Still not wanting to look like a “Cherry” I began to think of what I could do to get my legs back into the bird. In order to do that I would have to put my hands down on the floor, lift my ass and scoot back. NOOO way!! I’d be sucked out to my death! Next I thought that I could use the skids to push myself back inside……..wrong!! The skids were too far away from my feet.
A note is appropriate here……as we all have seen in the movies the skids on a Huey slick are close to the door……Right, in the movies!!
I was left with only one choice…..to ask for help. Who do I ask? The battle hardened vets? HELL NO they would know I was a Cherry. I decided to ask my good buddy and fellow Cherry, Squibb. I turned my head and in the most calm voice I could muster I said “Squibb, hang on to me”. He gave me a strange look and shook his head NO. What the hell does he mean no?? I said it again “Squibb hang on too me”……. He gave me a goofy look and shook his head no and pointed to his ear……The damn chopper was so loud that he couldn’t hear what I was trying to tell him. I lost all of my pride…..and in a voice that would have waken the dead I shouted……”SQUIBB HOLD ME !!!” Squibb grabbed me and drug me into the chopper, no doubt saving my life. Of course all of the vets on the bird got a good laugh at the “Cherry”.
After that I decided that if you were a “Cherry” it is best to be one , at least long enough to learn from the vets, how to stay alive.
I went on to 3rd Plt. shortly after we were sent to 1st and I only got to see Squibb once in awhile when the platoons were brought together for a mission. But we were together long enough to get to know the rest of the guys. I really miss Squibb and would like to get in touch with him. If anyone reading this knows Squibb or how I could get in contact with him please let me know.
Dave A. Shade
1/327 Co. “D” 3rd Plt. 1969