Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf

The Lyrics:

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way

Yeah, darlin’
Gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

I like smoke and lightnin’
Heavy metal thunder
Racing in the wind
And the feeling that I’m under

Yeah, darlin’
Gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

Like a true nature’s child
We were born
Born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Born to be wild
Born to be wild

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way

Yeah, darlin’
Gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

Like a true natures child
We were born
Born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Born to be wild
Born to be wild

This song takes me back to Vietnam in a warm feeling. Might be hard to comprehend that. One needs to understand that music was an important element of the Vietnam experience. Songs told all kinds of stories, especially some that came after and which will make an appearance in another page in this narrative.

This was one very popular song and was a frequent tune on AFVN (Armed Forces  Vietnam Network). That is the radio station that became the story of the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”. It is no accident that the very first movie related to Vietnam that I ever saw was “Good Morning America”…all that came before were gross and offensive distortions of the facts in the name of politics, driven by the need of Leftists to justify their cowardice and abuse. We were portrayed as evil drug-crazed immoral beasts. (I’ll deal with that in more detail in another place.) I could not swear that I actually heard the fellow that was the star of the movie but I listened a lot.

Image result for good morning vietnam

I spent what money I could save and spent it on camera film and a state-of-the-art stereo system, including a reel-to-reel tape deck. I made some 20 tapes of AFVN and still retain at least one of them. I wish that I had not edited them down to just the music and retained more of the actual talks but that was done a long time ago, most of it in Nam.

But…and this is the real deal…I can still remember a day when I was riding in a jeep thru somewhere in Nam, no idea where. I was riding shotgun and we were listening to the radio and this song came on. There were other troops around. As the song started, it seemed like a dozen or more radios were cranked up louder and louder and this song filled the air around us. We rode along in that cocoon of music and it brought a smile to my face….and still does to this day.

I bolded some of the lyrics for some additional comments:

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way

I look back on my Vietnam experience as the greatest adventure of my life. I can say that at least in part because I came home in one piece, at least physically. The emotional part of the experience is best dealt with in another place and another song.

Part of the adventure and the Wild is related to the fact that as a soldier, I deliberately broke some of the cherished rules and traditions of the Army, in particular, the adage that one does not volunteer for anything. I went to Vietnam determined to be the very best soldier that I was capable of being. That determination came from a solid belief that this was the best attitude to take in order to give myself the best chance of getting home alive. The certainty of this came to me on my last night before heading out on my short leave before deployment as I lay in bed at 3:00 AM in a cold sweat, thinking about my future and scared. I had almost joined the Airborne corp for the same reason. But, when the Army, in its infinite wisdom decided that I was going to be the first draftee in thousands that was NOT going to be an infantry soldier, I passed on that.

So when I got there, I poured myself into the job they gave me. It was nothing very special, something of a statistical clerk in the Comptroller’s Office of Saigon Support Command which was part of the 1st Logistical Command (“First Log” as we called it). That meant that we were in a position of monitoring supply and conditions etc. for the lower half of the country…not a small area. The job opened up 2 interesting and very valuable opportunities for me, one immediate and one more to the future.

The immediate opportunity, if you can call it that, related to the fact that due to the nature of our work, it was routine for one of the senior officers and an enlisted man to travel on inspections to a variety of locations within the First Log area of responsibility. From what I learned of the command history, this was not a particularly envious assignment as our location in Long Bien was considered one of the safest in the country. Well…I jumped at every chance there was to make those trips. As a consequence, I got to travel all over the country. I saw Saigon numerous times, the Mekong Delta, all the way west to the Cambodian border and all the way up the coast to Danang and a number of locations in-between. Once we even dropped into a Special Forces camp in the Delta that was under fire to pick up a high-value prisoner. The only place I saw a dead body. Still remember the smell of battle there.

This is me (on the left) and a couple buddies in Saigon:

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My “assignment” on these trips was to compliment the activities of the Officer, usually a Major, who I traveled with….he did the formal stuff, interviews and record checking…I stayed in some enlisted hooch, got drunk with the local guys and got “the real story” as it were. What was critical were any complaints and whether or not the troops were getting their mail, their steaks and their beer. I don’t recall ever making a negative report so things were doing well.

That phrase “get your motor running” was particularly appropriate in a reverse way….I had never learned to drive a vehicle. Now, I know that sounds really weird for a guy that was 24 at the time but it was absolutely the truth. The family had no money, I was away at boarding school and college when most learn to drive and I had never had the money for a car so…I could not drive; had never been behind the wheel…ever. Now, telling that to the Major or Colonel and him realizing that he had to drive got me into some awkward conversations, like “you can’t be serious…”. But, no license, etc and they had to drive. The real cool consequence of this is that I was always a passenger and most often, rode “shotgun”, which meant that I got to see what was going on, where we were headed, the local scenery, the locals etc. And, given that I was always carrying a camera, gave me the opportunity to take a lot of pictures…some 1600 in total. All of which have been digitized. Some are elsewhere on this site along with a more detailed chronological view of my tour.

This attitude also meant that I got some added attention from the organization leadership as I was always working, always volunteering and usually conducting myself in a serious military manner (that is when I was not playing Bridge and drinking beer!). That got me nominated to compete for Soldier of the Month for the Command, which I won. This involves dressing right, saluting and presenting oneself properly and answering a variety of questions related to military customs, law and history.  That got me to the next level of the competition at the 1st Logistical Command level and I won that as well. Then I stood in the competition for the entire U.S. Army Vietnam and was Soldier of the Month there as well. Finally, I flew up to Danang to compete with guys from the Air Force, Marines and Navy…that someone else won. All this got me a couple weekend passes to go places to visit with buddies I had from other assignments….now who went on an in-country pass in Vietnam?…only the wild and crazy! I’m pretty proud of being Soldier of the Month for the entire U.S Army in Vietnam.

Heading out:

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The trip to Danang was a particularly cool adventure. After the competition, I was able to hang out there in the Marine compound for a couple days. Had some fun times. But, the highlight came when I requested permission to accompany a jeep patrol out to a distant artillery fire base to see if I could visit a friend from my neighborhood home in Miami. Yes, they certainly thought I was nuts. I can still recall the strange feeling, part fear, part exhilaration as we pulled out of the Danang gate onto a dirt road and the Marines geared up, locked and loaded, helmets, flack vests and a M-60 machine gun handy…..and me in a baseball cap and a Army issue 45 pistol bouncing along in the back of the jeep sitting under the M-60. Turned out my friend was not at home but on an ammunition barge off the coast and I hopped a chopper home to Danang. Oh….and on the trip back to Long Bien from Danang, our aircraft landed at some base between there and Saigon with an engine on fire. No pictures of the fire but did get some pictures of some fighter aircraft lining up for missions.

As for the lines:

Fire all of your guns at once

and

I like smoke and lightnin’
Heavy metal thunder

That hearkens back to the fact that blowing up stuff is a gas. See…a support command is at the end of the food chain when it comes to ammunition and those sorts of supplies. We had a company armory that occasionally would put out the word that there was spare ammo that was either going to be destroyed…as it had reached its reasonable shelf life, or could be “used up” by anyone who wanted to go to the local range…..by now you should be figuring that I was in that group and you would be right. I don’t recall how many times I made that trip but I do have some pictures from at least 2 trips and a bad left ear as a consequence. There were no such things as ear protection…I used the filter from a Marlboro cigarette, which I smoked regularly, as an ear plug and once I forgot to use them.  As I recall, I was mostly deaf in that ear for some days and then finally recovered but, to this day, I have to be careful to take medication before I fly or that ear blocks up and can be quite painful.

In my mind’s eye, I can still recall the gully over which we fired the M-60 grenade launcher at a busted up APC (Armored Personnel Carrier). I actually got reasonably good at this stuff. In basic I missed Expert with the M-14 by, as I recall, 2 shots missed out of 60. Not bad for a fellow that had never fired a weapon before that.

Break time…..need to listen to the music!

I mentioned above that there was also another opportunity that this position gave me that was not so immediate and that has to do with what I learned about the war and its participants as a consequence of all the work I did. My primary job in the Comptrollers Office was the creation of a monthly classified report of the command and its activities and status. All thru the month, reports would come in from subordinate units related to everything from personnel counts, number of vehicles, number of those broken down, gasoline used, personnel AWOL, all that stuff the Army wants to keep track of…yes, including the body counts.

Keep in mind that this is in the days before personal computers, Excel and all that futuristic stuff to come. The picture below was taken for a monthly publication put out by the command…oh, did I tell that I actually got my picture in an official U.S. Army publication as a consequence of my Soldier of the Month award? Do I have a copy, of course! and it is to be found, along with a lot of other related publications elsewhere on this site.

smallest - Soldier of the Month

That machine that my left hand is on is a calculator. A closeup view:

frieden calculator - 2

This was the state-of-the-art at the time. That top part went left and right as it did its work and made a bit of a racket. One number was entered in each column.

The book I have my right hand on is the chart book, a closeup:

small - Soldier of the Month, book

Look close and you see a bar chart and a line chart. They were manually created using small rolls of tape, different sizes, shapes and colors…2 of which are in the lower left:

small - Soldier of the Month, tape

 So the significance of this?

Well, I’m a numbers person and always have been. That’s in essence how I have made my living all these years. Wrote my first computer code in spring of 1964 on an experimental Univac 1107 in college and been in that business ever since. What I took away from this in particular is an understanding first hand of the composition and makeup of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. I can tell you that this army was made up of 4 general slices of the U.S. population, almost exclusively male:

  • 30% Draftees who were Black
  • 30% Draftees who were poor Whites
  • 30% Volunteers who were mostly Southern born
  • 10% the balance

I can also state from this work that in the combat units, the percentage of Blacks almost always was higher than the 30% and often approached or exceeded 50%.

I also know that at the time, Blacks made up on average only about 11% of the population which leads to the obvious conclusion that they were disproportionately represented in the draft. That, my gentle reader, is a direct consequence of the racial component built into the draft rules which were deliberately designed and written so that another demographic group, known as “wealthy whites” could avoid being drafted.

At this point, my emotions get a little off the chart recalling all the hypocrisy of the lefty draft dodgers who hid behind a fake facade of morality to disguise their cowardice and racism.

There is more to say, but I think I need to take a pause before continuing or this keyboard may get damaged.

Sorry to be so melodramatic, but some emotions just do not fade away, especially when we returning vets were treated so badly. I, for one, along with countless others, was spat on, called a lot of ugly names and generally shunned. In some ways, the hard feelings have softened and I have come to terms with any number of men who avoided the draft using any number of tactics. Those folks I’m just fine with and have no hard feelings toward. It’s the ones who still pretend that they were on some high moral path that really frost my ass. There is nothing remotely “moral” about avoiding one’s obligations and foisting them off on the less advantaged, especially the Black population.

 

 

 

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