On the Road to Xuan Loc

Now and again, one should be offering excerpts from their published works.

Waiting for Westmoreland is a memoir that describes how Vietnam became an essential path to my enlightenment–and true happiness.

The excerpt below doesn’t really speak to that theme, but it provides a historical perspective on the time and place. It also illustrates the corruption and loss of innocence a 20th century Candide experienced in that war.

It’s all true, so far as I recall the episodes. For more on what the book is really about, click this link. There you will also find how to get the tenth anniversary edition (2017) of the book in paperback or digital (Kindle, iTunes, eBook–from various sources).

It was crazy, volunteering to ride shotgun on a 5-ton truck hauling a load of 105-mm howitzer shells. Sure, the trucks ran with the windshield down and no top so you could scramble out faster if the truck caught a round from the VC—but how likely is it that you could get far enough away, if at all, if the ammo got hit? But when you’re 20 years old and bored, what the hell. Besides, sex and drugs (if not rock and roll) was readily available in Xuan Loc. Unlike the guys fighting in Iraq 35-40 years later, nobody was complaining about a lack of armor for the vehicles; we were all too crazy to care. Many guys didn’t bother to wear the heavy and hot flak vests (very inferior to those in use today), of which there weren’t always enough to go around anyway.

For the guys from Service Battery, driving the trucks hauling ammo was part of their regular duties, which may have explained why they were so wild. They always ran a jeep escort in front of the ammo truck, providing a couple extra guns in case of problems. On one run to Xuan Loc, I watched the driver and passenger in the jeep passing a pint of whisky back and forth. As I said before, the guys in the Service Battery were mostly boozers, not dopers. The driver of the ammo truck squawked on the radio that he wanted a swig. So the jeep driver slowed down, closing to within 15 feet of the truck. Then his passenger flipped the bottle up in the air and back over the jeep, where it hung briefly in mid-air—allowing the ammo truck driver to move the truck under it. He caught it with one hand. It would have made a great slo-mo in some movie.

After dropping the ammo to C battery, we stopped in town for short-times and dope. Marijuana could be had at low prices (even at a private’s low wages) in 1967 Vietnam. Five dollars scored a bag of dope the size of those pre-shredded salads now sold in the produce section at the supermarket. Or you could pay two dollars for 20 joints repackaged in a regular cigarette pack. I don’t know why, but they were always Paxtons. The original menthol cigarettes came in a crush proof pack. It was difficult, nearly impossible, to tell a pack of 20 joints from a pack of regular cigarettes. Somebody had to have carefully unsealed the cellophane at the bottom, pulled out the pack and removed the 20 cigarettes. Then they had to have gently massaged out the tobacco below the filter tips, before restuffing the former cigarettes with marijuana and twisting the ends shut. Then all 20 joints were put back in the pack, the top foil replaced, the pack slid back into the cellophane and the cellophane resealed. It must have taken a great deal of patience to be so meticulous. Why did they go to the trouble? I don’t know who did the work, the kids who sold the packs, saying, “You buy pot, GI?”—or someone older, but it was always quality work.

 

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