They voted in my favor. I was Owl today a reader tomorrow a leader shirt relieved. “Now I guess you want a helmet and a flak jacket?“ one of them said. “Yeah,”, I said frantically, “How come you guys are playing cards with all that’s going on?” I innocently asked. “Soldier,” one of them said, “I don’t want to bust your bubble since this is your first day in ‘Nam and all, but if a mortar or rocket hits anywhere near here, we’re gone; all of us, dude. So you can either die happy havin’ fun or you can die shakin’ in your boots like an (expletive). Besides, we’ve gone through this a number of times. We ain’t gotten hurt yet.” However, I noted that the mortars and rockets were still coming in and landing somewhere.
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Somehow I fell asleep, still wearing my helmet and flak jacket. It might have been because I had just been in the Owl today a reader tomorrow a leader shirt air for about 24 hours. “Guess you earned you combat pay last night, huh, kid,” one of them said. I realize now that it was all good-humored. Who doesn’t enjoy ribbing a new guy in Vietnam? I always put on a helmet and flak jacket until the episode was over. But I was in the minority. Most of the attacks were at night between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. Most troops just got out of bed and ran for the shelter not far from our barracks. Like my friends at Cam Ranh Bay, they felt that the flak jackets would be worthless in a massive explosion situation, and the helmet and the flak jacket were kind of heavy and awkward to wear anyway. Troops would sort of smile and shake their heads as they watched me put them on. I wasn’t totally alone, though. Others felt the way I did. But we were clearly in the minority. And, that was the way it was in real life back in the ‘Nam.