Vietnam 2nd battalion
Vern J. DeBonis
H & H Company 1965 – 1966
I hadn’t thought about it in years.
“Who was your best friend in the war, Papa?” asks my grandson, Jakey. It was the third or fourth question that came in a rush after a tour of a Vietnamese cultural display a few weeks back.
His machine-gun like assault of inquiries began with; “Did any of your friends get killed in the war, Papa?” That was followed with a narrower query, “Did you lose any of your best friends, Papa?”
I had to tell him that “No, I didn’t, buddy.”
So, even though I hadn’t given him a thought in more than 30 years, the name Verne J. DeBonis came immediately to mind.
DeBonis was a skinny, brown-haired guy with a big nose from Kansas City, Mo.
And DeBonis was the best thief I ever knew.
Now when you use the term “thief” to describe someone, most will immediately leap to the negative picture that word brings to mind.
But when I say that Verne was a thief, I’m just certain he’d lean back with that wide toothy grin of his and bask in the glory of what he’d surely see as the highest complement.
You see, DeBonis was what is known in military parlance as a “scrounge,” the guy a unit depends on to get anything it might need.
And Verne use to pride himself on the fact there was absolutely nothing he couldn’t get his sticky fingers on.
If it was not part of the natural landscape, say a reasonable sized mountain or canyon, several square miles of forest, DeBonis could steal it.
And depending on just what you were looking for, Verne could usually get you two or three at a time.
Our platoon once found itself short a floor buffer a day or two before an IG inspection.
As the sun rose the next morning there were three of the devices in the center of the platoon bay and DeBonis was sitting on the edge of his bunk with a mile-wide smile on his face.
When we were overseas, there was only one icehouse in all of South Viet Nam and after a rather inopportune air crash even that was put out of commission.
Verne didn’t like warm beer.
Now the story was that DeBonis, with the help of a few good friends simply went to another outfit’s officers’ club and convinced some green second lieutenant that his cooler was malfunctioning. DeBonis commandeered a truck, backed it up to the club’s tent, got the second Louie and others standing around watching to help load up the supposedly ailing appliance and we never had to drink hot beer again.
He once, with the help of a guy who came to us from a stint in Korea, convinced a South Korean supply officer that he was sent to pick up the battalion’s beer ration (two cans per man times 600 paratroopers). If the North Vietnamese who now rule that portion of Southeast Asia didn’t get real lucky, I wouldn’t doubt but there are still quite a few cases of Schlitz still buried on the beach at Tuy Hoa to this day.
Then there was the time we were driving down the road behind a Korean supply truck and put a guy in the vehicle and another out on the hood of the jeep to abscond with an untold number of cases of brew.
Now I’m not even sure Verne is still alive, I haven’t heard from him in a good 30 years, and that was as he was passing through the Quad Cities driving a truck. He’d come across my name on the sports pages of the Q-C Times and he just had to bend my ear about was his Kansas City Chiefs.
And I’m not certain but I figure that even if he is still among the living the statute of limitations has long since run out.
Come to think of it, I might have lost touch with him because there’s a good chance he’s doing 10 to 20 as a guest of some state institution. I doubt if they appreciate scroungers in civilian life the way we did in the Army.
Oh yeah, Jakey had one more question to close out our conversation on the Vietnam War; “Did we win that war, Papa?”
All I can tell you buddy, is we were winning when I left!
by John Richard Stiles. HHC 2nd 327 Recon 101 65/66