Be real careful about the things you wish for

He wasn't very popular from the moment he stepped off the resupply chopper just outside Quin Nhon in November of 1965, just another second louie (second lieutenant) destined to do his obligatory six month stint in the boonies with a grunt (infantry) outfit. ''Sergeant, where can I find company headquarters for H&H, 2nd of the 327?'' he shouted, trying to be heard over the blades of the chopper, and bent half over in that characteristic crouch that seems to be a normal position when anybody gets within a hundred feet of a helicopter. ''Someplace over that way,'' said the E-5 (three striper) handling the takeoffs and landings on the battalion LZ (Landing Zone), waving his arm over to the right. ''Someplace over that way, what?'' said the louie, still in a crouch despite the fact the chopper was long gone. ''Over that way!'' countered the sergeant. ''Is that the way you address an officer in this outfit, sergeant, 'Someplace over that way?''' he continued his stiff-necked inquiry. The sergeant simply turned away and pretended not to hear the lieutenant's inquisition. ''Second Lieutenant Alvin E. Davis,'' blurted the new meat, addressing Sgt. Day, our recon platoon sergeant. ''I'm your new platoon leader, sergeant. Where should I put my stuff?'' ''Any place where somebody else hasn't got their stuff, lieutenant. Over there will be just fine.'' ''Send me a couple of people to help build a hooch (half tent, half lean to), sergeant?'' said Davis, almost making it sound like an order. Day, like the sergeant on the LZ -- must be a standard non-commissioned officer's response to new second louies -- just continued what he was doing and pretended he didn't hear Davis either. ''Sgt. Day!'' he shouted a little louder this time. ''Yes, sir,'' answered Day, finally figuring out that this new platoon leader was bound and determined to make himself a real pain in the ass. ''Send me some help for a hooch.''

''Sir, build your own hooch. They sent you up here to die like the rest of us, sir,'' shot back Day, making sure to add just the proper measure of respect twinged with everything just shy of insubordination. No, Lt. Davis, Alvin E., was not very popular in our outfit. But, as it turned out he wasn't with us long enough to let that make much of a difference. You might say Lt. Davis was proof that arrogance, most especially of the military variety, is its own reward. When the recon platoon was stationed in Qui Nhon, along the coast at the foot of the Central Highlands, our main function was to use our scout jeeps -- vehicles mounted with M-60 machine guns -- to escort supply convoys up through the narrow pass along the highway which ran from Qui Nhon to An Kha, up on top. We'd been doing that job, helping the 1st Air Cavalry move into its new home on top of the pass at An Kha, for about a month before Lt. Davis arrived in country. The 35 mile trip from the coast to the top of the pass was a regular feature of our lives during October and November of 1965. We'd have to make the journey perhaps three or four times a week. Now most of these trips were quite routine, really quite uneventful. In fact, considering some of the rest of my tour of duty, it was probably one of the softest jobs I had in a year in 'Nam. The only real danger, if you could call it that, came from a sniper we almost affectionately referred to as ''One-Eyed Charlie,'' for his obvious lack of skill with a rifle. In all the treks I made up and back to An Kha, I can honestly say I can't recall a single time when ole' ''One-Eye'' actually hit anybody on purpose. Oh, there were some who'd been injured by flying glass or wood splinters, the metal shaving or two. But if a single bullet from ''Charlie's'' rifle ever hit a living creature on the fly, it had to be on somebody else's watch, not mine. Well, as you can probably guess, Lt. Davis, being the upstanding young ''Grad'geet a the high school on the Hudson'' (West Point), as our company first sergeant used to refer to young officers, seemed to see ole ''One-Eye'' as an affront to the honor the entire United States Army, or at least that end of it moving along Highway 7, Vietnam, Republic of. He was determined to end what he called the ''Terror of Highway 7.'' So, in an effort to prove his military prowess, he asks for volunteers for a night patrol to run down ''One-Eye.'' One of the important lessons I learned in Vietnam, other than how to stay alive, is that those with the real ''military prowess'' don't have to prove it. And the second most important thing I learned in 12-plus months overseas, was ''NEVER VOLUNTEER!'' Sorry for the little aside.

Anyway, like I was saying, Davis takes a squad out one night and by morning he was as good as his word as an officer and a gentleman. He returns dragging the body of a man, as it turned out, who couldn't have been a day shy of 65 years old. While we never really got a chance to ask the somewhat ineffective sniper's age we did manage to find out just why ole ''One-Eye'' was something less than a crack shot and a standout in his chosen profession. The rifle he was carrying, part of Davis's booty, was as old as ''Charlie'' looked, a pre-World War II German Mauser with rusted sights. Lt. Davis was, at least in his mind's eye, a star-spangled hero and that highway running west from the coast to the Central Highlands was once again open to the South China Sea. Well at least it was open for a few days, anyway. You see, a week later the Cong had three snipers along the same stretch of road and each was probably a third the age of ole ''One Eye: and 10-times the shot. In their first week on the job, no less than seven paratroopers were hit, two fatally. As for Lt. Davis, I take no small joy in reporting that he was among the first of the casualties. He's riding along shooting the breeze with his driver, and suddenly a bullet rips into his right shoulder. It didn't kill him, but for all the pain and suffering he caused a lot of others, it probably should have. That's when I learned my third lesson in 'Nam, that there is indeed something approximating justice in this world. Oh yeah, and lesson No. 4 , ''be real careful about the things you wish for.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online August 8, 2000

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