My Vietnam Vacation - 1969


26 - Adventures In A Borrowed Cream Puff

       At 0900 hours on a Thursday in mid-September I was traveling alone, unless you counted Otis, Jim, Janis, Jimmy, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, who were all sitting stacked neatly on end in a makeshift tape case. The only item on my agenda was to deliver some crates to LZ Action, a fire support base near the entrance of the Mang Yang Pass. When I arrived at the gate, a well-pressed MP waved me on.

The war seemed to be on hold; helicopter noise was minimal, night-time artillery shelling had come to a halt, and reports of fighting had ceased. I pulled away from the camp without the usual nervous stomach caused by fear and an uneasy sense of the unknown. But, I didn't have to drive very far to be reminded of the war zone without boundaries. A detour around a blown up bridge, a burned out truck rusting in a ditch, a forest leveled by Orange, were all reminders that I wasn't on a leisurely drive for a day at the beach.

The most unusual aspect of this journey wasn't that I was driving fearlessly, but that I was driving someone else's vehicle—a brand new deuce-and-a-half. The odometer on this cream puff was still in double digits. When I ground her gears as I headed through Pleiku, I, without question, felt guilty.

The trip went smoothly; the day warm and breezy. The soft blue sky was uncommonly clear.  It was the kind of day I wanted to bottle up and save for the first wet, depressing, gray afternoon that was sure to darken the calendar before the week was over.

Rounding a curve on Hwy. 19 just short of the Mang Yang I spotted a red sign that proclaimed in bright yellow letters, “LZ Action—home of the famous Billy G Action—next right—food—lodging— fire support.” Directly across the road from Action sat the burned out rusted hulk of an M-42 Duster. I unloaded my cargo in record time, and, without the temptation to visit, started on my return trip. With a large chunk of the clock to kill, I decided to take my time and a detour. The word was out that a bus station of sorts, out in the middle of nowhere, had fresh American submarine sandwiches. There was a rumor of real ham, roast beef, and turkey. After a short drive, my hunt was over. I pulled into this strange oasis on a hilltop and followed the smell. Moments later spread out before me on a makeshift picnic table, was a big, sloppy sub with a variety of fresh produce hanging out from between two pieces of a newly cut wheat roll. The smell of the freshly baked bread brought an instant feeling of homesickness.

  I took a large bite and chewed for a long time, allowing this fantasy feast to caress my taste buds. Each chew was a slow-motion grind that gave all the parts of my anatomy involved the time to enjoy the sensual pleasures of real food.

Washing down the first half of the sandwich with a large swig of an ice-cold Coke, I watched a large, old bus maneuver through the unpaved parking lot. The gravel crackled under the weight of its over-capacity cargo. All the nearly bald tires needed air. Each shift in direction created different sized rubber bubbles. The front end of this mass of rusted metal just missed the rear bumper of my borrowed cream puff.

The guts under the hood sputtered, wheezed, shook and popped as it came to rest under a makeshift tin canopy. The gray monster fell quiet, its door squeaked open, and the first of its human cargo tumbled onto the gravel. A body, which I couldn't discern to be male or female, looked at me as it pushed itself into a wobbly standing position. I felt embarrassed as I caught myself staring. I felt like a five-year-old at a mall, pointing at a one-legged man. But a child would be curious and inquisitive. I felt pity and revulsion.

Before me stood, with the help of makeshift crutches, a rag-wrapped man I guessed to be middle aged, with open sores, white scaly scabs, and stubs for hands and feet. His hair was wispy, dull and patchy, not at all like the full, shiny black hair of most Vietnamese. I lowered my eyes and gathered the remainder of my sandwich as more heart-wrenching examples of nature's cruelty began to regurgitate from the bowels of the big, now silent, bus. Men and women in various stages of disease began to fill the lot.

I clutched my sandwich in one hand, my Coke in the other, and slid along the picnic bench toward my truck. I reached it without making additional eye contact with those in the parking lot and flung open the door, almost hitting a teenage boy who was asking me to buy some souvenir trinkets. While pointing to some plastic jewelry I didn't need, I asked him about the people on the bus. I handed him a handful of ‘monopoly’ money and looked at him for the first time since we started our transaction. He was thin and dirty, but quite handsome. He smiled at my overpayment of at least a hundred P (Piasters; Vietnamese currency) and answered my question with one word, “Lepers.” I responded with a simple “Oh” and stepped into my truck.

I drove off into Mother Nature's contradiction; the sky was blue, and the air was warm, but much of her human landscape was decaying. War and disease, two of the ugliest realities of mankind, seemed to be flourishing in the year 1969. I thought—how short a distance we've traveled in such a very long period of time.

The main gate of Camp Enari had just come into view when I spotted a small, shoeless boy in very oversized clothes, limping down the road. He had a long cord wrapped around his tiny fist.  Attached to the twine, dragging in the dirt behind him, was a small wooden box. Glancing at my watch, I realized I still had a couple of free hours.

Down-shifting quickly, I stopped and jumped to the ground, landing evenly on both feet in the dirt at the edge of the pavement. My movements had startled a teenage girl who was straddling a ditch. With one foot planted on the top of each ridge, she was in a full squat, peeing, when she spotted me. She sprang up like a Jack-In-The-Box and ran off with her pajamas at her knees and a look of panic on her face. What caused her to run was one of the sad asides of war. All too often, the women and children of the “host country” become tragic victims of sexual and physical abuse. Many of the Vietnamese regarded everyone as the enemy: the Viet Cong, the Americans, the NVA, the ARVN—everyone. I felt really bad that this frightened child thought that I had stopped to molest her. I shouted again and again that I didn't want to hurt her, but that just made her run faster. If she didn't understand English, which was more than likely the case, her imagination probably translated my shouts into some terrifying command from the enemy.

When she disappeared into the tree line, I turned my attention to the real reason I had stopped. I squatted and began the ritual of trying to communicate with my new little friend. I guessed he was nine or ten years old. He was still giggling at the sight of the girl running across the field pulling up her pajamas as she ran. He stopped giggling when our eyes met.

“Do you speak English?” I asked. He held up his hand, created a space of an inch between his forefinger and his thumb and thrust this measurement of his English speaking skills within two inches of my face. I fell back, landing hard on my butt. My sunglasses slid to the edge of my nose. He grinned and giggled in response. His face was as dirty as his clothes, but in the middle of that dirty face was the whitest, most perfect set of teeth I'd ever seen on a Vietnamese.  He covered his mouth as he continued to giggle.

Introductions seemed to be in order at this point. I pointed to myself and said, “Tom” and then pointed at him and asked, “What is your name?”

“I Little Shit,” he answered without hesitation and with great pride. I guessed this was a name given to him affectionately by a GI friend.

“Well, Little Shit, do you want a ride?” He recognized the word ride right away and began to repeat it and the word “yes” over and over.

When I looked at his feet, I noticed some blood. “Hey, little buddy, how did you hurt yourself?” I asked pointing to his right foot. Instantly, he dropped to the ground, spit on his ankle and began to clean it with his oversized shirttail. My guess was that he thought I wanted him to clean his feet before getting into my nice unsullied truck.  “No, no, no,” I said while waving my hands in front of his face.

As he pushed himself up, I put my hands under his armpits and sailed him through the air to the passenger seat of the truck. He was so light I flung him higher than was necessary. It was like picking up a milk carton that you thought was full but actually was empty. I interpreted his giggles as a sign that he was enjoying the flight. I picked up his little wooden box and put it on the floor in front of him. It also was surprisingly light, almost as if it too, was empty. Making a u-turn in one full sweep, we were on our way.

I pushed the play button on my recorder and turned up the volume. The Beatles were now rockin' and rollin’ down Route 14. I looked over at my small friend, saw those big white teeth, heard that ever present giggle, watched his little fingers tapping on his leg out of sync to the music and once again felt good about my day.

 A minute into the trip he became fixed on my paper wrapped package. He carefully tried to lift the corner of the paper to see what was inside, watching to see if I noticed his curiosity. I did.

“Have you had lunch?” I asked while pointing to my open mouth. No response. “How about —do you want something to eat?” 

His eyes lit up, and he repeated the word eat while he shook his head “yes” in a rhythmic, jerking motion. I tossed the sandwich in his lap and watched him tear into it with delight. He was obviously very hungry, and the fact that the sandwich was half eaten made no difference to him whatsoever.

   A short time later we arrived at the outskirts of Pleiku. I asked him where he lived and received a blank look. He watched my mouth with great concentration hoping I would say something he understood. Pointing at him I asked, “Where your house?” I think he understood “house” because he immediately pointed down Route 14 in the direction we were traveling. A minute later he pointed to our left and said, “House.”

There was a sign on the corner, which read something to the effect of “No U.S. Military Personnel Beyond This Point.” I read the sign to him, but he kept repeating “house” and pointed with a thrust. His face was pleading. I guessed he would be the big cheese in the neighborhood if a big new military truck dropped him off. The event would be similar to us Americans being delivered to our favorite restaurant in a chauffeured limousine. I should have also considered the very real possibility that, depending on his neighborhood's political orientation, he would be an even bigger cheese if he handed over an American soldier to the VC.

The war seemed to be on hold, and of course rules were meant to be broken, so I swung a left and headed down the nameless narrow street, into the unknown. Two turns later, I was in no-mans-land. The streets were full of holes filled with standing brown water. The side of the road was a curb of garbage for as far as the eye could see. The Vietnamese cared for their own space but had little regard for the cleanliness of their country in general. After four hundred years of war, this was somewhat understandable.

There was minimal electricity and no plumbing. Dingy clothes that looked as though they’d never been clean, hung on lines to dry. Children, naked from the waist down, sat on the hips of older brothers and sisters. Except for the elderly—somewhere in their fifties for Vietnamese—there were few adults within sight.

As an old man attempted to cross the road, I slowed to a crawl. He was beating the backside of what appeared to be a cow. I glanced out the window to my left as we inched forward, nodding hello to a man standing on the side of the road left of my front bumper. My little friend quickly dropped off the seat onto the floorboard, and hollered in a whisper, “VC-VC-VC!”  

I coolly and calmly asked him, “What the fuck—where? Shit! Where? Oh my God! Who? Where? Shit, I'm dead! Oh my God! Shit! Hey, Little Shit, answer me, where is VC?”

He looked up through arms draped over his head and pointed at the door on my side of the truck. I looked out the window and again saw the man on the side of the road. He was now directly to my left.

At five feet tall, wiry, and clean, he was well-dressed in simple peasant clothes. His expression was blank, and he held a small rectangular package. I blinked my eyes many times, scanning from the man to the road and back at each blink. Checking to make sure my M-16 was at a snatching distance, I forced a smile as I nodded “hello” to him once again. I prayed that his package was a present for his girlfriend and not an explosive device. He stared at me; I nervously stared back. The truck inched forward. The peasant and the “cow” had traversed the road. A few seconds later I glanced at him in my side mirror, and he was still staring. I wasn't. I was visually fixed on the road straight in front of me, clutching my M-16. I grasped it hard and took a deep breath. As the man on the corner became a speck in the distance, my heartbeat returned to normal—almost.

A couple of blocks later Little Shit hollered stop. “Thanks boo coo number one GI,” he said, without his ever-present grin, as he jumped from the cab clutching his still unfinished sub. He ran limping into a shack that was leaning badly to the left. I swung around in another giant loop but was unable to turn around in one move. Pulling hard to the left, I stopped, and then backed up until I ran into a pile of garbage. There were children hanging all over my truck. I hollered for them to turn loose and stomped on the gas. From my rear-view mirror, I made sure that a little girl, with very uncommon, almost blond hair, an obvious product of an indiscriminate French soldier, had landed safely when she leaped from the running board of the truck.  

My stomach was now in a knot, and my mind was in the same state.  “Please God let me remember the proper turns in reverse and please don't have ole’ Charlie crouched in a doorway somewhere, in sniper position, staring in my direction.” I was talking out loud to myself.

The trip back through the off limit slum was mostly a blur.  I had the pedal to the floor and hit most of the potholes without concern. Brown water flew everywhere.  The engine roared, my heart pounded, civilians fled.

Route 14 appeared at last. I let out my long held breath, eased my foot off the gas, and rounded the corner. Flipping the tape in my recorder, I ran it to the song I was looking for and listened to John, Paul, George, and Ringo sing— Penny Lane.

I arrived back at the motor pool late and turned in my slightly tarnished cream puff. The brilliant sun was just beginning to set as I prepared to leave the compound. The sergeant in charge hollered, “Hey!”. I thought—oh shit, I screwed up his pristine new truck. I grimaced and slowly turned to see that he was holding a small wooden box. “Is this yours?” Returning to the truck, I took the box and thanked him.

Sitting in my jeep with the box nestled in my lap, I tugged at the twine tightly protecting it’s contents. I snipped the cord with my pocketknife and removed the lid. Firmly stuffed inside was a fluffy, chocolate-brown teddy bear. The bear's paw had a tiny label sewn onto it. It read, “Hug Me.”

I never saw the little boy again.    At 0900 hours on a Thursday in mid-September I was traveling alone, unless you counted Otis, Jim, Janis, Jimmy, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, who were all sitting stacked neatly on end in a makeshift tape case. The only item on my agenda was to deliver some crates to LZ Action, a fire support base near the entrance of the Mang Yang Pass. When I arrived at the gate, a well-pressed MP waved me on.

The war seemed to be on hold; helicopter noise was minimal, night-time artillery shelling had come to a halt, and reports of fighting had ceased. I pulled away from the camp without the usual nervous stomach caused by fear and an uneasy sense of the unknown. But, I didn't have to drive very far to be reminded of the war zone without boundaries. A detour around a blown up bridge, a burned out truck rusting in a ditch, a forest leveled by Orange, were all reminders that I wasn't on a leisurely drive for a day at the beach.

The most unusual aspect of this journey wasn't that I was driving fearlessly, but that I was driving someone else's vehicle—a brand new deuce-and-a-half. The odometer on this cream puff was still in double digits. When I ground her gears as I headed through Pleiku, I, without question, felt guilty.

The trip went smoothly; the day warm and breezy. The soft blue sky was uncommonly clear.  It was the kind of day I wanted to bottle up and save for the first wet, depressing, gray afternoon that was sure to darken the calendar before the week was over.

Rounding a curve on Hwy. 19 just short of the Mang Yang I spotted a red sign that proclaimed in bright yellow letters, “LZ Action—home of the famous Billy G Action—next right—food—lodging— fire support.” Directly across the road from Action sat the burned out rusted hulk of an M-42 Duster. I unloaded my cargo in record time, and, without the temptation to visit, started on my return trip. With a large chunk of the clock to kill, I decided to take my time and a detour. The word was out that a bus station of sorts, out in the middle of nowhere, had fresh American submarine sandwiches. There was a rumor of real ham, roast beef, and turkey. After a short drive, my hunt was over. I pulled into this strange oasis on a hilltop and followed the smell. Moments later spread out before me on a makeshift picnic table, was a big, sloppy sub with a variety of fresh produce hanging out from between two pieces of a newly cut wheat roll. The smell of the freshly baked bread brought an instant feeling of homesickness.

  I took a large bite and chewed for a long time, allowing this fantasy feast to caress my taste buds. Each chew was a slow-motion grind that gave all the parts of my anatomy involved the time to enjoy the sensual pleasures of real food.

Washing down the first half of the sandwich with a large swig of an ice-cold Coke, I watched a large, old bus maneuver through the unpaved parking lot. The gravel crackled under the weight of its over-capacity cargo. All the nearly bald tires needed air. Each shift in direction created different sized rubber bubbles. The front end of this mass of rusted metal just missed the rear bumper of my borrowed cream puff.

The guts under the hood sputtered, wheezed, shook and popped as it came to rest under a makeshift tin canopy. The gray monster fell quiet, its door squeaked open, and the first of its human cargo tumbled onto the gravel. A body, which I couldn't discern to be male or female, looked at me as it pushed itself into a wobbly standing position. I felt embarrassed as I caught myself staring. I felt like a five-year-old at a mall, pointing at a one-legged man. But a child would be curious and inquisitive. I felt pity and revulsion.

Before me stood, with the help of makeshift crutches, a rag-wrapped man I guessed to be middle aged, with open sores, white scaly scabs, and stubs for hands and feet. His hair was wispy, dull and patchy, not at all like the full, shiny black hair of most Vietnamese. I lowered my eyes and gathered the remainder of my sandwich as more heart-wrenching examples of nature's cruelty began to regurgitate from the bowels of the big, now silent, bus. Men and women in various stages of disease began to fill the lot.

I clutched my sandwich in one hand, my Coke in the other, and slid along the picnic bench toward my truck. I reached it without making additional eye contact with those in the parking lot and flung open the door, almost hitting a teenage boy who was asking me to buy some souvenir trinkets. While pointing to some plastic jewelry I didn't need, I asked him about the people on the bus. I handed him a handful of ‘monopoly’ money and looked at him for the first time since we started our transaction. He was thin and dirty, but quite handsome. He smiled at my overpayment of at least a hundred P (Piasters; Vietnamese currency) and answered my question with one word, “Lepers.” I responded with a simple “Oh” and stepped into my truck.

I drove off into Mother Nature's contradiction; the sky was blue, and the air was warm, but much of her human landscape was decaying. War and disease, two of the ugliest realities of mankind, seemed to be flourishing in the year 1969. I thought—how short a distance we've traveled in such a very long period of time.

The main gate of Camp Enari had just come into view when I spotted a small, shoeless boy in very oversized clothes, limping down the road. He had a long cord wrapped around his tiny fist.  Attached to the twine, dragging in the dirt behind him, was a small wooden box. Glancing at my watch, I realized I still had a couple of free hours.

Down-shifting quickly, I stopped and jumped to the ground, landing evenly on both feet in the dirt at the edge of the pavement. My movements had startled a teenage girl who was straddling a ditch. With one foot planted on the top of each ridge, she was in a full squat, peeing, when she spotted me. She sprang up like a Jack-In-The-Box and ran off with her pajamas at her knees and a look of panic on her face. What caused her to run was one of the sad asides of war. All too often, the women and children of the “host country” become tragic victims of sexual and physical abuse. Many of the Vietnamese regarded everyone as the enemy: the Viet Cong, the Americans, the NVA, the ARVN—everyone. I felt really bad that this frightened child thought that I had stopped to molest her. I shouted again and again that I didn't want to hurt her, but that just made her run faster. If she didn't understand English, which was more than likely the case, her imagination probably translated my shouts into some terrifying command from the enemy.

When she disappeared into the tree line, I turned my attention to the real reason I had stopped. I squatted and began the ritual of trying to communicate with my new little friend. I guessed he was nine or ten years old. He was still giggling at the sight of the girl running across the field pulling up her pajamas as she ran. He stopped giggling when our eyes met.

“Do you speak English?” I asked. He held up his hand, created a space of an inch between his forefinger and his thumb and thrust this measurement of his English speaking skills within two inches of my face. I fell back, landing hard on my butt. My sunglasses slid to the edge of my nose. He grinned and giggled in response. His face was as dirty as his clothes, but in the middle of that dirty face was the whitest, most perfect set of teeth I'd ever seen on a Vietnamese.  He covered his mouth as he continued to giggle.

Introductions seemed to be in order at this point. I pointed to myself and said, “Tom” and then pointed at him and asked, “What is your name?”

“I Little Shit,” he answered without hesitation and with great pride. I guessed this was a name given to him affectionately by a GI friend.

“Well, Little Shit, do you want a ride?” He recognized the word ride right away and began to repeat it and the word “yes” over and over.

When I looked at his feet, I noticed some blood. “Hey, little buddy, how did you hurt yourself?” I asked pointing to his right foot. Instantly, he dropped to the ground, spit on his ankle and began to clean it with his oversized shirttail. My guess was that he thought I wanted him to clean his feet before getting into my nice unsullied truck.  “No, no, no,” I said while waving my hands in front of his face.

As he pushed himself up, I put my hands under his armpits and sailed him through the air to the passenger seat of the truck. He was so light I flung him higher than was necessary. It was like picking up a milk carton that you thought was full but actually was empty. I interpreted his giggles as a sign that he was enjoying the flight. I picked up his little wooden box and put it on the floor in front of him. It also was surprisingly light, almost as if it too, was empty. Making a u-turn in one full sweep, we were on our way.

I pushed the play button on my recorder and turned up the volume. The Beatles were now rockin' and rollin’ down Route 14. I looked over at my small friend, saw those big white teeth, heard that ever present giggle, watched his little fingers tapping on his leg out of sync to the music and once again felt good about my day.

 A minute into the trip he became fixed on my paper wrapped package. He carefully tried to lift the corner of the paper to see what was inside, watching to see if I noticed his curiosity. I did.

“Have you had lunch?” I asked while pointing to my open mouth. No response. “How about —do you want something to eat?” 

His eyes lit up, and he repeated the word eat while he shook his head “yes” in a rhythmic, jerking motion. I tossed the sandwich in his lap and watched him tear into it with delight. He was obviously very hungry, and the fact that the sandwich was half eaten made no difference to him whatsoever.

   A short time later we arrived at the outskirts of Pleiku. I asked him where he lived and received a blank look. He watched my mouth with great concentration hoping I would say something he understood. Pointing at him I asked, “Where your house?” I think he understood “house” because he immediately pointed down Route 14 in the direction we were traveling. A minute later he pointed to our left and said, “House.”

There was a sign on the corner, which read something to the effect of “No U.S. Military Personnel Beyond This Point.” I read the sign to him, but he kept repeating “house” and pointed with a thrust. His face was pleading. I guessed he would be the big cheese in the neighborhood if a big new military truck dropped him off. The event would be similar to us Americans being delivered to our favorite restaurant in a chauffeured limousine. I should have also considered the very real possibility that, depending on his neighborhood's political orientation, he would be an even bigger cheese if he handed over an American soldier to the VC.

The war seemed to be on hold, and of course rules were meant to be broken, so I swung a left and headed down the nameless narrow street, into the unknown. Two turns later, I was in no-mans-land. The streets were full of holes filled with standing brown water. The side of the road was a curb of garbage for as far as the eye could see. The Vietnamese cared for their own space but had little regard for the cleanliness of their country in general. After four hundred years of war, this was somewhat understandable.

There was minimal electricity and no plumbing. Dingy clothes that looked as though they’d never been clean, hung on lines to dry. Children, naked from the waist down, sat on the hips of older brothers and sisters. Except for the elderly—somewhere in their fifties for Vietnamese—there were few adults within sight.

As an old man attempted to cross the road, I slowed to a crawl. He was beating the backside of what appeared to be a cow. I glanced out the window to my left as we inched forward, nodding hello to a man standing on the side of the road left of my front bumper. My little friend quickly dropped off the seat onto the floorboard, and hollered in a whisper, “VC-VC-VC!”  

I coolly and calmly asked him, “What the fuck—where? Shit! Where? Oh my God! Who? Where? Shit, I'm dead! Oh my God! Shit! Hey, Little Shit, answer me, where is VC?”

He looked up through arms draped over his head and pointed at the door on my side of the truck. I looked out the window and again saw the man on the side of the road. He was now directly to my left.

At five feet tall, wiry, and clean, he was well-dressed in simple peasant clothes. His expression was blank, and he held a small rectangular package. I blinked my eyes many times, scanning from the man to the road and back at each blink. Checking to make sure my M-16 was at a snatching distance, I forced a smile as I nodded “hello” to him once again. I prayed that his package was a present for his girlfriend and not an explosive device. He stared at me; I nervously stared back. The truck inched forward. The peasant and the “cow” had traversed the road. A few seconds later I glanced at him in my side mirror, and he was still staring. I wasn't. I was visually fixed on the road straight in front of me, clutching my M-16. I grasped it hard and took a deep breath. As the man on the corner became a speck in the distance, my heartbeat returned to normal—almost.

A couple of blocks later Little Shit hollered stop. “Thanks boo coo number one GI,” he said, without his ever-present grin, as he jumped from the cab clutching his still unfinished sub. He ran limping into a shack that was leaning badly to the left. I swung around in another giant loop but was unable to turn around in one move. Pulling hard to the left, I stopped, and then backed up until I ran into a pile of garbage. There were children hanging all over my truck. I hollered for them to turn loose and stomped on the gas. From my rear-view mirror, I made sure that a little girl, with very uncommon, almost blond hair, an obvious product of an indiscriminate French soldier, had landed safely when she leaped from the running board of the truck.  

My stomach was now in a knot, and my mind was in the same state.  “Please God let me remember the proper turns in reverse and please don't have ole’ Charlie crouched in a doorway somewhere, in sniper position, staring in my direction.” I was talking out loud to myself.

The trip back through the off limit slum was mostly a blur.  I had the pedal to the floor and hit most of the potholes without concern. Brown water flew everywhere.  The engine roared, my heart pounded, civilians fled.

Route 14 appeared at last. I let out my long held breath, eased my foot off the gas, and rounded the corner. Flipping the tape in my recorder, I ran it to the song I was looking for and listened to John, Paul, George, and Ringo sing— Penny Lane.

I arrived back at the motor pool late and turned in my slightly tarnished cream puff. The brilliant sun was just beginning to set as I prepared to leave the compound. The sergeant in charge hollered, “Hey!”. I thought—oh shit, I screwed up his pristine new truck. I grimaced and slowly turned to see that he was holding a small wooden box. “Is this yours?” Returning to the truck, I took the box and thanked him.

Sitting in my jeep with the box nestled in my lap, I tugged at the twine tightly protecting it’s contents. I snipped the cord with my pocketknife and removed the lid. Firmly stuffed inside was a fluffy, chocolate-brown teddy bear. The bear's paw had a tiny label sewn onto it. It read, “Hug Me.”

I never saw the little boy again.


LZ ACTION, NEAR THE MANG YANG PASS - 1969