The war in Viet Nam was many things
to many people. Some called it a “Conflict.” Many had no idea what
was going on, including those that had the “Opportunity” or rather
the “Misfortune” of participating in it.
In any case, it was very real to
those involved, and the casualties were more than the dead on both
sides, more than the physically wounded. Perhaps, the most over
looked, most misunderstood, are the ones who walked away unscathed
and carry feelings of guilt for surviving.
This book is not your run-of-the
–mill war story. You won’t find the usual story of the kid who came
from his home town into the service to his country, went to Viet
Nam, fought many detailed battles, learned to smoke, cuss, drink,
smoke dope, visit prostitutes and come home a man. Not Quite.
If you read on, maybe you’ll learn
why you are who you are, why you lived to talk about it, and realize
that it’s finally time for you to “stand down.”
To Jesus, Son of God, my Lord and
savior. To my Mother and Father, Adrian and Bertha, who brought me
into this; thanks for your prayers. Lisa Leonard, who didn’t even
know me, but prayed for me every night I was in Nam. , Uncle Charles
Miller and Aunt Marge, “Auntie Mae” Titus, Grayce M. Lyon, my
adopted Mom and prayer warrior. To my wife Sherry, Daughters: Casey,
Holly, Evelyn, Amy, my son Stephen, and to all who were in “The
Nam.” We did all we could. I know we gave our best. “But
without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to
God must first believe that He is and that he is a rewarder of them
that diligently seek Him.” (KJV Hebrews 11vs.6).
Chapter One - Alaskan Baby Boomer
Being a post world war II “Baby Boomer” I was
privileged to grow-up in Alaska, the only son of a white man and an
Eskimo woman. To understand where we are going, we must understand
where we came from. For me, this would take me half a lifetime. For
the first few years of my life I was the victim of numerous
childhood diseases, one right after another. I remember being so
skinny that I could lie on my back, suck my stomach in and stick
both of my hands up under my rib cage.
First, I remember the mumps; I got them on the
left side one week, next week on the right side and the following
week, on both sides. German measles followed the next winter,
followed shortly thereafter by a relapse. Next came chicken pox in
quick succession. To say I was a sickly child is putting it mildly.
During this time I experienced what I thought was a recurring
“dream.” Each time this happened I could feel myself fighting my way
through what looked like dark green sponges. I could not breathe and
about the time I could take no more, I would break out into the open
and catch my breath. Next, I would see myself curled up at the feet
of a man in a white robe. He had a brown beard and a gold band
around his mid section. It felt so good to be there. About the time
I started feeling good, I would hear a powerful voice saying, “Go
Back.” I would have to fight my way back through the sponges, and
would wake up in my sick little body, gasping for air.
During most of this time of sickness, my parents
gave me aspirin to keep my raging fevers down, nothing was known at
that time about its side effects with the flu, and I was to find out
years later about my dyslexia and learning disorder.
At about eight years of age, I started to get
healthier and started gaining some weight. That summer I put on
swimming trunks and was so proud that I was no longer skin and
bones. I even walked around the neighborhood in the rain just to
show off my newfound health. Physically I was doing all right, but I
was really having trouble in school. Placed in a special education
class, the teacher would tell me to read a paragraph and then tell
her what it said. I could read every word, but I couldn’t put it all
together. My best friend’s aunt did all our homework for us while we
went outside and shot bb guns. No way could I begin to comprehend my
times table in math.
My mind was never idle, however and I was
continually counting everything; axles on cars, telephone poles,
trees, rocks on the side of the road, anything! As a “latch-key kid”
I spend a lot of time home alone listening to the radio. Music
really interested me and I would memorize everything I heard,
including the jingles. Dad brought a new Gibson guitar in 1955, with
an amplifier and told me never to touch it. As soon as he left, I
picked it up and started to play and sing, “How much is that doggie
in the window?” Having a short attention span, I never played it
again for four years.
Throughout this period of time, my mom would take
me to church on Sunday quite a lot. The man called Jesus in the
Sunday school literature was a familiar face to me as I had seen him
in my dream. I thought everyone knew him because I did. Upstairs in
the sanctuary, a different kind of church was going on. I heard
fishing and hunting stories and how we should treat one another as
we would like to be treated. They did not talk about Jesus. Maybe
gown ups didn’t know Him because Jesus loved only the lambs?
School was not the only thing with which I had
trouble. Relationships with other people were a constant,
frustrating problem. Many times, I would have someone that I never
knew come up and tell me “I hate you!” Sometimes it was: “He was
looking at me dirty.”
One time I was walking down an alley on my way
home from school. I was about eight years old at the time. There
were three young girls that I never saw before going into their
house through the back door. All I did was look at them and continue
on my way. The next thing I knew my dad came home and was really mad
and he wanted to know what had happened and said that I was supposed
to have done something to some girls. I had no idea what he was
talking about and we went down town to the Police station, which, in
1954 was nothing more than a small office. It had plenty of windows
so the whole town could see what was going on, besides everyone
could recognize our car. One of the three girls and her mother
arrived and after much hollering by my dad and the mother’s
questioning, the girl finally said that I really had done nothing
but look at them. I started to fear my dad's anger. His words were
to wound my heart many times.
Another thing was that many people would look at
me and say, “I know what you are thinking, and you’re wrong.” That
probably was the one that perplexed me most, since they were always
wrong and I usually was just daydreaming.
One night after dinner several kids showed up at
my house and wanted to see the “Eskimo.” My mom came up behind me
and wanted to know what was going on and I just told the kids that
no Eskimo lived here and closed the door. At eight years of age I
found out that I was half Eskimo, half white. I had no idea who the
Eskimo people were and I started to wonder who I was and if
something was wrong with me. I was caught between two worlds now,
and didn’t really fit in either of them. Somehow, I knew that there
was a connection between mankind and the man in the white robe, but
I didn't know what it was yet.
The next summer I went with my mom to the village
of Wainwright, Alaska where she was born, almost 1,000 miles north
of Anchorage, 90 miles Southwest of Point Barrow. We flew out of
Anchorage to Fairbanks stayed overnight, left the following day for
Barrow in a DC-3. The twin-engine airplane was slow and we flew
through the Brooks Range, not over it at 35,000 feet as
they do today. I thought I could almost reach out and touch the
mountains as I counted every peak and valley. We could look down and
see moose and bears on the tundra. Further north we encountered
lakes and ponds so numerous that I finally gave up counting.
Point Barrow at that time was crude by today's
standards. There was no running water and people tossed their “honey
buckets” into the streets where small troughs lazily carried the
waste toward the Arctic Ocean. Playing in the streets was out of the
question, so we ran to the tundra where I discovered a world all its
To get to Wainwright we flew in a small Cessna 180
and in about an hour we landed on the beach at low tide. The mail,
baggage and whatever else, was unloaded and quickly removed to the
general store. There were very few houses in the village, some tents
and several sod houses, all connected by boardwalks or 55 gallon
drums, half buried in the tundra, side by side, to hop from one to
Sort of a “main drag” consisted of a half dozen
small schools houses in a row with one of them converted to the US
Post Office with a Dutch door, through which business was
transacted. The two biggest buildings were the two story general
store and the Presbyterian Church which had a bell on top and an
organ inside which was operated by pumping air with two foot pedals.
The first thing I noticed was that the choir sang every song as loud
as they could and at the top of their range! When I would return
thirty years later, the music still sounded the same and it touched
Electricity was found only at a large house
converted to a movie theater and every Friday they had a new movie
to watch. One of my uncles would call everyone to the movie by
pounding on an empty oxygen cylinder with a hammer. Ten cents for
kids and fifteen cents for adults would fill up the small room very
quickly where we would watch such films as “King Kong”, “The
Titanic” or “The Thing.” These were all originals and in black and
white, not color. We would all sit quietly when the film ran out
half way through and my uncle would rewind the first reel and start
the second half. He always rewound each reel at the end because the
film would be sent to the next village on the first available
This was rather an adventurous time for me as a
young boy. We stayed at my Grandfather’s house, which he built
himself out of shiplap, salvaged from an ice bound, crushed sailing
ship in 1925. It had an old cook stove heated with coal washed up on
the beach or carried thirty miles by dog sled from coal fields in
Every year in August, a large supply ship called
“The North Star” would arrive and supplies would be ferried to the
beach where everyone would give a hand and carry the goods to the
general store. All hands were paid by the pound and a log was kept
on everyone. During the month that I was there, I earned $3.45 and
thought I was rich!
One of my cousins, whom I had played with most of
the time I was there, walked up to me and said, “I hate you,” and
proceeded to rake eight sharp fingernails across my cheeks. Being in
a different culture hadn’t changed my luck for finding people who
One day, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter arrived and
anchored offshore. An Officer and an enlisted man came ashore
looking for fresh meat. My grandfather made a deal and the next day
found me and my grandfather headed for the ship in a large
skin-covered boat, called an Oomiak. Wood framed, covered with four
walrus hides and powered by a ten horse Johnson outboard, fresh
reindeer meat was headed for the ship at thirty miles per hour. For
our meat, we received three or four cases of canned whole milk, some
dried mustard, pilot bread crackers, spaghetti noodles, a large tin
of coffee and a small tin of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.
My grandfather was a very gentle man who never
spoke English above a whisper. Upon waking at 5:00 a.m. I would hear
him praying in the Eskimo language. When he finished he would light
up his pipe for one bowlful of Prince Albert. His day ended with
prayer and one bowlful of Prince Albert. I wondered if God heard his
The following summer found mom and me in
Wainwright for one more month. When it was time to return to
Anchorage, our little T-craft airplane struggled in wet sand as the
tide was coming in and smiling faces showed up and strong backs
pushed against the struts to force our craft into the wind and free
of the sand that held us. The pilot circled the village and “waved
with his wings.” I looked at the village and it seemed so small
against the vast Tundra. Some people still lived in sod huts
year-round. I watched my grandfather walk across the Tundra towards
his destiny and I flew on to mine. I was saddened to leave and would
not see this village again for thirty years.
When I got back to the subdivision in Anchorage,
the neighbor kids looked so white and clean. My white
girlfriend said I really looked like an Eskimo now. I was
different from white people. I looked at her and wondered what I had
seen in this freckle- faced kid.
Being raised on the streets of Anchorage was an
education in itself! The main street was about ten blocks long and
had one-hundred and twenty-six bars and nightclubs that stayed open
until 5:00a.m.everyday of the week. Almost everyone was known by
sight and there were quite a few characters for a town of about
fifty-thousand people. There was no fear of my being kidnapped and
nobody locked their doors at night. Once a year, the commercial
fishing season ended and the fisherman would come to town with all
their money. Most of them were broke in just a few days, their money
spent on wine, women and song!
Alcoholism was rampant and so was tuberculosis. I
remember some of the names of infamous people that my folks always
talked about: T.B. Sally, Russian Jack, Crippled Tommy, Two-fingered
Paul, Cock-eyed Ida Mae, T-bird Tommy, Johnny Guitar, Caribou Pete,
to name a few! Many times I would walk through the alleys and smell
the stale booze and cigarette smell that permeated the entire
downtown area, wondering if this was all there was to life. It
seemed that everyone was drunk and that I was destined for the same
The scene in Alaska was rapidly changing about the
time statehood arrived in 1959. The economics were unstable, jobs
were scarce. My family moved around a lot and I went to many
schools. The loneliness continued to be a real part of my life.
Something inside me was very empty, missing. My dad forbade me to
learn the Eskimo language, even to return north again. He wanted me
to speak “good English”, not halted English like a dumb native. He
was unknowingly setting the stage for my inferiority complex. He did
teach me to develop my talent for guitar and singing and told me I
could always make money using it. This was to prove true in the not
too distant future.
Growing up in Alaska during territorial days, the
summer of 1959 found me and my folks headed for Fairbanks, Alaska,
some 350 miles to the North of Anchorage. Mom drove a 1953 Cadillac
and dad drove in front of us in a 1935 Ford pick-up with the second
gear missing. Everything we owned was in those two vehicles and we
were not cramped for space! We wound up living in a hastily
converted garage the whole summer, no lights, no running water.
After the schools opened in September we moved into the house out
front of the garage that the landlord had vacated. Again, no water,
but we did have electricity. Heat was provided by a coal stove in
the kitchen, which if it went out during the night, really got you
going in a hurry in the morning! The outhouse in back would not get
anyone going, especially at minus fifty degrees below zero!
Dad got a job working in a nightclub on the edge
of town, using a guitar and amplifier bought on credit from Sears
and Roebuck. Dad sang and played guitar for tips only, since the
owner couldn't afford to pay him anything! This lasted until
mid-winter when dad decided we had to move back to Anchorage. We
were in dire straights! A friend of Dad’s had a tractor- trailer rig
and dad drove the old Ford pickup into the back of it, using the old
loading docks down a the train station where coal was sold. We left
town with our old Cadillac following the semi truck. The only money
we had to our names was $3.45 left over from my school lunch refund.
Strange, there's that amount again, hmmm.
About half way to Anchorage, we ran into an
avalanche blocking the road. The temperature was about 50 degrees
below zero with blowing snow. Dad’s friend left his truck and sat in
the back our car with my cousin, Rachael, who was spending the
school year with us, having come down from Point Barrow. During the
next twelve hours, the oil light would come on in the Cadillac and
dad would pour seal oil from a five gallon can into the crankcase.
Now, to an Eskimo, seal oil is about as valuable as gold! They use
it to store and dip their frozen fish, frozen caribou and whatever
else is available to them. It is quite a delicacy, and mom must have
visualized many great meals going down the drain, but in the Native
way, she never complained.
A “Road Commission” crew found us about noon the
next day and they had to chip off an ice shield engulfing the entire
car about four inches away from the body of the car, before they
could open any door. Mom and Dad and I were unconscious in the front
seat but came- to when the fresh air hit us. Dad’s friend Miley and
my cousin were unaffected in the back seat and I looked back to see
Miley eating a liverwurst sandwich! I tried to heave but nothing
came out. Later, in Anchorage, dad sold the Cadillac to a mechanic
who did an overhaul on it. When he took the pistons out they fell
apart in his hands. The seal oil wasn’t the best lubricant but it
kept us from freezing to death that night.
Dad soon formed a band of his own and played music
in one of the many night clubs nearby. That lasted the rest of the
winter and the following fall, we moved again to a house a few
blocks away, it was part of the job deal dad made; he delivered fuel
oil all that winter, one of the coldest on record.
The following spring, dad bid on, and won, a
contract with the State of Alaska to maintain campgrounds, fourteen
of them, stretching over a thousand miles of highway. We cut
firewood, hauled garbage, cleaned and supplied out -houses with
toilet tissue and worked harder than I ever had in my life. One day
we found a tree that had fallen from erosion on the riverbank at
Salcha River campground, south of Fairbanks. It was about eight feet
thick through the trunk and was in the way of the road through the
campground. With dad cutting it up with a chain saw and me splitting
the wood, together we stacked over eight cords of wood in one
afternoon. When we returned the next day to pick up the wood for the
rest of the campgrounds, the entire stack was gone! May the Lord
reward you for your works, thief.
One night, after an especially exhausting day's
work, we pulled into a gas station a few miles north of Delta
junction. I went in and bought two Mounds candy bars. I came back to
the truck and gave one to dad and I tore the wrapper open on mine
and started to chew. I commented that it was the toughest candy bar
I had ever bitten into. Then, I noticed that I hadn't removed the
brown piece of cardboard from the bottom of the candy! This was
after I had already swallowed the cardboard. I never saw
my dad laugh harder!
That fall we moved to a small house 39 miles
Northeast of Anchorage, near Palmer, Alaska. This time we had
electricity, a wood stove and running water: a stream that ran past
the back of the rear bedrooms! Here we lived until mid-semester of
my junior year in high school.
Back in Anchorage in mid-winter, we moved into a
house with running water, flush toilet but no electricity! We did
not stay there very long and soon moved to a beautiful house where
we would stay for the next six years. This house was located about
eight miles from downtown Anchorage had a well for water,
electricity, and oil heat and was situated on two acres of land.
This location is where I would spend the happiest time of my life
before my world would literally be turned upside down by events that
only God could see me through.
March 27, 1964 (Good Friday) at about 5:30 p.m.,
my cousin Bob Thompson and I had just gotten into my car when the
earthquake hit. The ground underneath us was heaving eight feet up
and down. This earthquake was 8.4 on the Richter scale, which only
registered up to ten. It lasted five and one half minutes. My cousin
asked me if this could be the end of the world. After we had been
only through about half of it, I said that it probably was the end.
Half a block east of us, the ground had sunk thirty feet deep and
many of the two story buildings' roofs were now even with the
pavement on Fourth Avenue, which had not fallen. Over on Fifth
Avenue, my friend Lee Prather was killed when the front of the J.C.
Penney building collapsed.
Chapter Two - School of Hard Knocks
Having graduated high school in the spring of
1964, I entered college in September, attending Alaska Methodist
University. This was to last only one semester. My speech professor
was also my counselor. I believe this woman was out of her
ever-loving mind! She had taught drama somewhere in Hawaii and she
actually believed she was queen Kamaha-maha! When she found out my
tuition was paid for by a grant and said I would have to work for it
and loaded me down with the maximum (18) credit hours. I was
starting at 8:00 a.m. and my last class finished at 10:00p.m. One
class was a swimming class across town and I couldn't make it back
for World Civilizations in time, so the professor failed me for that
class. Psychology class seemed to be divided as to who would pass
and who would fail. Some kids would drop out the first week. Every
time I would walk up to the professor's desk to turn in any
assignment, he would look to see that my name was on it and drop it
in the waste basket. Then and there, I determined to never come into
this class again.
Meanwhile, my speech professor would give me
failing grades on anything I would turn into her. With this kind of
treatment it didn't take me long to figure out that my days were
numbered there. Revenge was very sweet for me at the end of the
semester. The queen Kamaha-maha sat behind her desk. Peering through
horn-rimmed rimmed glasses were two blue eyes that were so cold that
they looked black from where I sat at the back of the class. Her
long flaming red hair looked fake for a woman who was probably in
her late sixties.
One by one, the students turned in their term
papers. The eyes of steel focused on me while I just sat at my desk.
The class was very small, maybe ten students at best. I believe
every one of them feared this woman. The tension in the classroom
was almost tangible. Each student letting out a sigh of relief when
they sat down after turning in their papers, all but me. “Mister
Peavy, you seem to be the only one who hasn't turned in your paper.
Would you care to tell us why?” Everyone sat there expecting me to
turn in my paper and get my usual “F.” With my most serious poker
face, I said “I'm sorry, I forgot.” The entire class burst out
laughing except for the queen. Her face actually got redder than her
hair! Thus ended my college days. I did earn ten credit hours, just
two credits shy of the necessary twelve needed to stay in school.
This automatically put me into a 1-A draft status with the war in
Viet Nam looming in my future.
The following March I signed up for a state
sponsored training class to learn how to drive gas or diesel
end-dump and belly-dump trucks. When I graduated a month later, I
was only given certification for end-dump truck operator, although I
had passed the entire course. The teacher said I was too young to
get certification for belly-dumps but I knew it was because I looked
native. No other native at the graduation ceremony got full
certification either. I was losing my innocence and rapidly becoming
On May 21st I got a job with the Alaska Railroad
as a “gandy dancer.” This was fourteen months after the great
earthquake of March 27th 1964. I was on the crew of an “extra gang”
that repaired track from about ten miles south of Anchorage to the
Portage Glacier area some forty five miles south east of there. The
first month on the job almost killed me! I had blisters on my
blisters! We worked from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with lunch at 9:00
a.m. A few days we worked until 4:30 p.m. I would get off work, eat
dinner and crash. During the night I would wake up with double
Charlie horses in my back and try not to let anyone hear me moan.
For an eighteen-year-old kid living on the boxcars, I was lonely to
say the least. Most guys jumped in their cars and went back to
Anchorage to drink at the bars that stayed opened until five o'clock
in the morning. How some of those guys could stagger back to the
work train drunk and still work as hard as we had to, I'll never
The camp cook and his wife were really great cooks
and I ate lots of food that summer. After I got in shape I was so
strong that I could move the entire track by myself after it was
jacked up and ready to align. The foreman used to get a kick out of
letting me fine- tune the track perfectly straight by myself!
When we got to the track south of Portage, two
more extra gangs were brought in and for good reason. On this
straight stretch heading towards the tunnels that lead to Seward,
the track was as much as fourteen feet off center line! I mean the
track was lying over the bank of the railroad bed, out into nearby
ponds! With about one hundred and fifty men we had the entire
section replaced in one day. This was one of the three days all
summer that it didn't rain and the wind didn't blow, (I'm serious).
I don’t know if all people with dyslexia are like me but I remember
everything and I do mean everything, since I made my last baby
bottle of milk at age two and a half! The following is one example.
In 1959, while living in Fairbanks, I saw the girl
who would be my future wife, all her brothers and her dad at a
grocery store. I watched them get into a green four-door Nash
Rambler and drive away. Years later, I told my father- in- law about
this and he sat there amazed as he verified the time and place and
smiled as he remembered the car. Dyslexics are not stupid people. I
believe they just process information differently than others and
kick out what is not important to them. At the same time, however,
where they have difficulty in one area, they excel in others.
Total recall may have been one of my strong points
but not everyone enjoys my sense of humor. I love to take sentences
and juggle the words around until something funny comes out of it,
like: time wounds all heels, instead of time heels all wounds. One
day I did this in a grocery store while my cousin Bob was with me.
He was used to my doing this but said, “Too bad you can't put this
to some good use.” It would take me years but one day I would do
In October of 1965, my career with the Alaska
Railroad came to an end and when I got laid off. Only old hands got
carried through the winter and not many of them. This sadly
disappointed me since I loved to work outdoors and the money was
good. I was thankful for this experience and the people I had met
throughout the summer. I would memorize people's work boots so I
wouldn't have to look up from tamping ties, in the rain, to know who
they were. No one ever caught onto this and some thought I had some
kind of special powers and started to stay away from me, that was no
problem for me, I was getting used to being alone.
My next job found me working in a warehouse full
of drafting and engineering supplies. The people here were great! I
mean, I actually thought that I felt love from these people
whom I had never met before. I also delivered supplies throughout
town, at $1.65 per hour. This was a big cut from my railroad pay of
$3.26 per hour, so, I was really surprised when my Christmas bonus
was a check for $50.00! Taking this to the boss, I said that there
must be some kind of mistake and tried to give it back. He said that
there was no mistake and that everyone always got $50.00. Wow! A
week's pay, right at Christmas! There really was a God and he loved
me! My faith was increasing.
Early January 1966 found all the Christmas money
gone and me and Mom at the bingo parlor trying to win some big bucks
for the thrill of it. We got word from my cousin in Fairbanks that
he didn't make it in College at the University of Alaska, much for
the same reason I had failed in my attempt at it. He needed a ride
back to Anchorage and asked if we could come get him. Even though
bingo was thrilling and we had a few bucks to spend on playing it,
we didn't have enough money for a trip like this. I remember playing
a game of blackout. The prize was $500.00 and if you had “the wild
number” in your coverall game card, you got an extra $5.00! I had
almost filled up my card early in the game and sat disappointed as
they called lots of numbers that I didn't have.
I was just sort of thinking and asking God if I
could win this prize. Surely, no one here needed the money more than
we, as this would give us what we needed to finance our trip to pick
up my cousin in Fairbanks. I had 53 numbers covered needing only one
more to win, the last number I needed was the wild number. To bingo
in 54 numbers, the odds are over 200,000 to one. At 55 numbers, the
odds dropped to about 40,000 to one.
When the 54th number was called, it was the wild
number I needed! The guy calling the numbers told everyone that
there must be a mistake and to sit tight while they settled the
problem. The only problem that they had was when they had to pay me
off in twenty-five twenties, and a five dollar bill! I started to
wonder who God was and why I had won. We drove to Fairbanks to get
my cousin, stayed in a nice hotel with soft beds, returned to
Anchorage, checked our mail box and I opened a letter from the
Department of Defense that said, “Your friends and neighbors...
blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Chapter Three - Join the Navy, See the World
At this time of history, every other draftee got
chosen for the Marines, the rest went to Army infantry. I knew I
didn't want either, so I went to see the Navy recruiter. Having
recently had my teeth cleaned by a voluptuous blonde dental
technician, her memory still fresh in my mind, I signed up for
Dental Technician School in the U.S. Navy for four years. Big
mistake number one. Twenty-seven guys, many whom I knew from high
school got sworn in January 31, 1966 and flew immediately that night
to San Diego Naval Training Center where we were all assigned to the
same company. Everyone who has been through boot camp has pretty
much the same experience so I won't belabor the point. But I should
say that the first night there was very lonely and yet exciting for
me. This was a very strange place for me to be. I mean, just the
September before, ducks and geese had left Alaska on their annual
migration south and here the same ducks were swimming in a channel
with the pelicans! I would grow to love San Diego and return several
During our final weeks in boot camp, I learned
that the Dental Technician School had been filled up for months
before I enlisted! I can't help but think this was a put up deal: I
could go to sea and chip paint for four years or I could go to
Hospital Corps School. I asked what kind of school that was and was
told that I would work in a hospital and change bed sheets and that
kind of stuff. That sounded better than sea duty, so I signed up for
that. Another mistake.
After 30 days leave in Alaska I reported for duty
at U.S Naval Hospital Corps School, again in San Diego, California.
This was intense training in anatomy and physiology as well as first
aid, with heavy emphasis on emergency treatment of battle casualties
and shipboard fires. As we neared the end of our four months
training we heard more and more rumors about corpsmen getting
drafted into the Marines and sent to Viet Nam as combat medics.
When final exams rolled around about half of our
class failed to pass, on purpose, including me. We were marched into
class and told if we failed this examination we would be court
marshaled and given a dishonorable discharge. The one page makeup
exam had twenty questions on it like, “What country are you living
in?” “How many States?”, “Are you male or female?” We all passed
100%. Thus, our fate was sealed.
Upon graduation I was assigned to the Naval
Hospital Balboa, San Diego, CA, right across the ravine from our
current barracks. We all got one week to report for duty so I
returned to Alaska. At the end of a week, I showed up for duty minus
my sea bag full of clothing. It wound up in Minnesota and I claimed
it three days later. The executive Nurse Corps Officer that I
reported to looked and acted like a prison warden and promptly
proceeded to rake me over the coals about my sea bag and threatened
to put me on report. She would be one person that I would avoid
during the time I was stationed there!
I spent the next twenty-seven months working on
the Sick Officers Surgical Ward. I would eventually work my way up
to Senior Ward Administrative Technician. I trained everyone there,
new Corpsmen and new nurses as well. I had enough free time to form
a rock-n-roll band of other Corpsmen and we played at the Enlisted
Men's Club, YMCA, and USO etc. I never missed a chance to take the
bus to Tijuana Mexico to jam in the nightclubs. I have been there
Once, while playing guitar there, I got
electrocuted. I was singing a song and a blue spark jumped three
inches from the microphone and bit me on the top lip! Friends
watching me said that I left the stage about a foot off the floor.
The current raced through my fingers on the guitar, down the cord to
the amplifier and the amp fell on its face with the speakers blown.
I felt badly that the bandleader's amp was ruined and apologized but
he said not to worry as this happened all the time. The band
leader's name was Carlos Santana. He made a phone call and within
minutes a new Fender amp arrived and we “vamoosed.”
One day, I asked a new nurse, who had a very
pretty smile, if she wouldn't mind getting up off her duff, stop
flirting with all the young officers and kindly do some work on the
ward. With great indignation she said she couldn't believe I was
talking to her this way and if I persisted, she would put me on
report. I said if she did, the truth would come out that she wasn't
doing her job as I could prove it. Another big mistake! One week
later I had orders for Viet Nam.
Chapter Four - Leaving the World
I always thought of Camp Pendleton, California as a Marine Corps
base, which is exactly that. I had no idea that I'd ever wind up
there at Field Medical Service School, training for duty in Viet Nam
with the Marines! Since I had already been in the Navy for two and
one half years, I had made E-4 in rank by that time, so had all the
rest of the Corpsmen. The Marines saw to it that we did get some
exercise and learn basic battlefield nomenclature, and various
weapons training. Every evening at 4:30 p.m. after our two mile run,
a couple of us Corpsmen would walk across from the barracks to the
service club and scarf down big hamburgers and fries. This added to
my weight problem that I acquired during my duty at Balboa. When I
left for Viet Nam, I weighed 230 pounds!
This training was more or less just indoctrination
in to the war. The Marine Corps was structured and to familiarize us
with field procedures, we learned how to clean rifles that were no
longer used in Viet Nam and how to board troop transport ships that
we were never to see. A couple of Corpsmen wanted me to chip in for
gas money and go with them for weekend liberty. I said no and these
two went without me and never came back. I could feel for them and
understand why they deserted since Corpsmen were taking very heavy
casualties in Viet Nam. Upon graduation, we all received a new
classification as Field Medical Technicians and as our jet left
California, we proceeded to uncertain fates in Viet Nam.
It was very quiet in the airplane except for the
rush of the engines and I felt like we were going into a long dark
tunnel that some of us would not return from alive. We refueled in
Seattle and flew directly to Yakota, Japan, bypassing our refueling
stop in Anchorage, Alaska, my hometown. The monotony of this Flying
Tiger Airlines flight was only interrupted once when we were served
a continental breakfast. It consisted of a cup of cold coffee, a
cold hot dog, on a dry hard bun with nothing on it. This must have
fulfilled their contract requirement to provide food and beverages
on the flight. We were allowed to de-plane in Japan as long as we
didn't wander off. None of us knew where we would have escaped to
but I'm sure we all thought of it as we looked at the rain pouring
down outside. A few hours later we landed in Okinawa and when I took
my first step outside, the humidity took my breath away and
instantly soaked my gabardine uniform! My first thought was “I'm not
going to make it!”
We were loaded on buses and transported to Fatima Air Force Base for
one week of acclimatization and inoculations. After standing in line
all day waiting for more shots, many of us would go to the N.C.O.
Club (for non-commissioned officers) and stand in line for beer.
Guys would buy two beers at a time so they wouldn't have to stand in
line again. By the time they finished their first beer, the second
one would be warm and many untouched beers were left on a table by
the exit. One night, a few of us wound up broke and sitting by all
this beer. We thought, what the heck, we're dead anyway and
proceeded to lay into this stock pile.
In the morning at roll call, I opened my eyes but
there was absolutely no thoughts coming to my mind. I was in a top
bunk bed and during the night, I had thrown up all over the boots
and clothing of the guy beneath me. As he came to, I told him “I
don't know who I am but tell them I'll be in the shower!” That’s
where I stayed for forty-five minutes until my mind started to work
and the throbbing in my head took over. At the end of the week, we
all boarded C-130 aircraft for our last leg of our journey to Danang,
Republic of Viet Nam.
Every story is alike but different, i.e. places,
names, faces, dates, details all are part of the overall picture,
and only your experience will be unique to you. For me, my tour in
Viet Nam left me bewildered, angry and feeling guilty for having
survived. For years after my return to “The World”, I carried many
suppressed emotions. Left untreated, they were allowed to fester; a
wound that would not heal. Men handle stress differently than women
do; men are not supposed to cry. Men have to have a macho image, we
are all taught this throughout our lives and we believe it. Remember
hearing that “we should never talk religion or politics?” Both of
these should be discussed because we need to know who will govern us
now and prepare for where we will spend eternity.
Viet Nam was both political and spiritual.
Politics got us into the battle between good and evil. Most of the
G.I.s that went to 'Nam believed we were the good guys, I know I
did. The N.V.A. and V.C. were the bad guys to us and I'm sure they
thought the same about us. You've heard it said, “there are no
atheists in canoes.” I wonder how many men on both sides started to
wonder who God is, while in the bottom of a trench or while their
chopper was going down.
Most Marines I fought with had some sort of
“Religion”, they couldn't help it. America was founded with a belief
in God. Our constitution guarantees freedom of religion and our
money says, “In God We Trust.” I was not prepared physically,
mentally nor spiritually for the next eleven months, and seventeen
days. The life following this period is what this book is all about.
If you are still looking for answers and need inner healing, read
on. The best is yet to come for you.
Chapter Five - Welcome to Hell
Danang in early July can definitely
leave a bad impression on an Eskimo from Alaska! The tailgate on the
C-130 opened and I stepped out onto the asphalt and it sank about a
half inch under my weight. The heat was like a blast furnace! Again,
I had the same thought that I had in Okinawa “I’m not going to make
it!” If this wasn't hell, it was a close second. I looked around at
the mountains and wondered why “gooks” weren't shooting at us,
surely they could see us! I was already paranoid! Every minute, a
fully loaded F-4 phantom jet screamed past us on take-off. I
wondered if the pilot was escaping the heat as he ascended. In a few
minutes the C-130 was refueled and we all got back inside for a ride
to Quang Tri.
As soon as we took off, hydraulic fluid started to
leak all over everyone. Back to Danang and a night in transient
quarters. I never knew what bed bugs were until I woke up a couple
of hours later. They had a field day on both my thighs. It looked
like someone had put out fifty cigarettes on each leg! I got out of
the bed and went over to a wall and sat down. The humidity at night,
along with the heat, made me look forward to the daylight with what
hope I could muster. The next day we made it to Quang Tri and sat
around outside a “hooch”, waiting for our assignments. As Corpsmen
were assigned they said their good-byes. Most were already gone by
the time they got to me. I grit my teeth and lit a cigarette as I
was told I was going to “Alpha-One-Nine, the Walking Dead.” Many
viewed this company as the worst assignment.
A-1-9, 3rd Marine Division just happened to be the
same guys that had a listening post, four hundred meters outside the
perimeter at KHE SAHN. Surrounded by 60,000 fresh N.V.A. regulars,
these guys had earned the reputation of die-hard Marines. They had
taken heavy loses and the platoon I would be joining was only a
remnant of what it was supposed to be. The new guys were supposed to
have a week of getting acclimatized. We spent three days filling
sand bags. On day four, our Senior Corpsman at the rear battalion
aid station “cut us some slack” and sent us out to the field to join
our units. Now, for someone who could read maps and was supposed to
know which way was up, for the life of me, I was disoriented
everyday in Viet Nam. It seemed that the sun shined straight down.
Finally, I quit asking which way North was because the company
commander or platoon sergeant thought I was kidding. Being dyslexic,
this information probably wasn't needed anyway!
About an hour's drive by jeep, I joined the
platoon at a river and a helicopter was leaving with a dead Marine.
He had been killed the night before by our own troops when coming in
off of patrol. Our company had only one other Corpsman, Doc Stevens
(George) a tall guy with glasses, from Minnesota. He shook my hand
and stared at my 230 pounds of flab and said “you won't have that
long.” Sometime during the night I was awakened to stand a two hour
radio watch. I was really beginning to hate this place! I was
thinking about going to sleep, what the heck, what could they do,
send me to Viet Nam? Just then, a big, big, big, BIG rat came
hopping around looking for food. I thought of shooting it with my
.45 but it ran off into the moonlight covered bushes. I would always
hate the nights here and that would never change.
The next morning we “mounted up”(prepared to
leave) and I received a couple of mortar rounds to carry, two hand
grenades, five meals of canned C-rations, four-one quart canteens,
along with my other gear I received back at the rear area: Helmet,
flack jacket, pistol, two extra magazines, poncho, poncho liner,
seven pair of socks, entrenching tool and my “unit one.” This was my
field medical kit, which contained, scalpel, sutures, morphine,
scissors, antibiotics, big anti-malarial pills, little anti-malarial
pills, syringes, needles, band-aids, gauze, a blood volume expander
called serum albumin, a two liter bottle of dextrose and sugar
water, adhesive tape and battle dressings. I carried at least this
much everyday, sometimes more.
Now, I want to go on record as stating that I may
be the only Navy Hospital Corpsman who served with the Marine’s in
combat in Viet Nam and never used a single battle dressing! Not that
anyone ever got wounded while I was around, quite the contrary. I
believe God had his hand on me all the time I was in 'Nam. Oh, one
more item was in my backpack: a small black Bible that my mother
By the time we were ready to go, I took one step
and my knees actually wobbled from my burden! The half -mile to the
highway seemed like five miles to me. When we got there I took two
salt tablets and washed them down with a Coke I bought from a kid
near a village. The tablets went down and came right back up just as
fast and lie in the dust at my feet. This was the only time we ever
came close to any civilians. Most of the time we were in heavy
jungle a month at a time.
We boarded trucks and were bound for my first
operation. As we drove down the road at a rapid pace, a mortar round
exploded behind our truck. The “Gooks” had the road zeroed in, but
their timing was off. No one got excited but me.
When we got to our destination, everyone took off
rapidly from the road, leaving me to stand alone, below a huey
chopper with twin .30 caliber machine guns aimed at me. No one told
me that the Marines don't wait around after being dropped off; the
gooks might have this drop zone zeroed in too. I think the guys
flying the chopper had trouble identifying me, an Eskimo with
military glasses, new uniform and loaded with munitions, standing by
myself away from my company.
After what seemed like too long, I just started
walking toward my company and the chopper left. It took me probably
ten minutes to find the tail end of my company, and they didn't even
miss me! I wondered how many of our guys got captured because of
this type of operation. Anyway the push was on and I could hardly
keep up, so one guy took it on himself to show me some mercy and
walked along with me. We caught up with everyone about the time heat
exhaustion hit me.
At first my arms went numb up to my shoulders and
I collapsed and started to hyper-ventilate. The Senior Corpsman had
a couple of “grunts” help me to some shade under a poncho and Doc
Stevens put a wet towel over my face. In a couple of minutes I
started to breathe more normally. I took it easy for the rest of the
afternoon, as we were through “humping the hills” for today at
least. I really hated this place!
The next day we came across some small holes in
the ground near a tree line. They were much too small for a guy my
size and I asked if we shouldn't throw a grenade or two into them,
just in case. I was told that they were old holes and probably not
in use. So we went a little further, probably two hundred yards and
started to dig in for the night.
I had dug my foxhole about knee deep and was
resting on the edge of it with my feet inside. It is said that you
never hear the round that gets you. Suddenly, something exploded
directly behind me and knocked my helmet off my head. I followed it
down into the hole, put it back on and looked over the top of my
hole. Another explosion hit about fifty feet from the first one
directly on line to me. I thought that the next one would be a
direct hit on top of me, but it landed downhill from me, a fragment
hitting one of our ARVN (Army of the republic of Viet Nam) soldiers
in the right forearm. Another ARVN rushed to his side just in time
to get hit by another round. Our Senior Corpsman, HM2 Hickam came to
their aid and he got wounded in his left forearm!
The Mortar rounds stopped and by the time I got to
the wounded, they already had a field dressing on their wounds. ,
except for the ARVN that ran out to help his friend. We took his
flack jacket off and he had two small red spots, no bigger than a BB
gun would make, only the shrapnel had hit both kidneys, killing him
instantly. I walked back uphill to see what had blown my helmet off
and found the remains of 60 mm motor, fins still intact. It was no
more than four feet from my hole, yet I had no wounds! I can't
explain the way I felt but it seemed that whoever God was, He was
with me that day. The mortar fire had come from the tree line we had
just walked through and from that time forward, everyone listened to
what I had to say. This would prove to be a blessing more than once.
For someone who had total recall, I cannot explain
how I could only remember a small part of the time I spent in Viet
Nam, other than to say it's part of a healing process. I have talked
to several Viet Nam vets, the ones willing to talk at all and they
seem to share a similar experience. Hopefully this book will go
beyond me, and free you of any baggage you may unknowingly still be
carrying. This first operation indoctrinated me into a routine that
would keep me in the field for thirty days at a time. Then we would
be assigned to guard a combat base, artillery base or perhaps do a
road sweep looking for land mines etc. We always wound up humping
the hills in the jungle, wishing for some kind of respite to ease
My first night ambush was near Cam Lo. We were
supposed to hit anything that came down Highway One, connecting
North Viet Nam to South Viet Nam. This was nothing like I had heard
about. We were in a horseshoe canyon with our backs to the wall, no
way out and almost everyone was making lots of noise. It was totally
dark, yet some guys were smoking cigarettes, a transistor radio was
playing and someone told a joke that had several guys laughing
hysterically. I asked someone if we shouldn't be quiet and quit
lighting up cigarettes and maybe get serious about why we were
there. I was told everything would be all right, because if the NVA
knew we were here they wouldn't mess with us. I didn't find that
very comforting. As soon as most of the platoon had fallen asleep,
my two-hour radio watch came around. Nothing happened that night and
in the morning we walked back to the perimeter of an “ARTY” base.
This was where 175mm or 155mm cannons provided support for our
troops when they needed it.
The following night found me in a fox hole down by
the river with a Marine private that came up with a night vision
scope. He showed me how to use it and said to wake him if anything
came down the river. Ten minutes hadn't passed and I saw a man in a
small boat, using a pole to push it our way. I shook my buddy,
Larkin was his name, and he whispered and asked me what I wanted. He
couldn't believe me, but looked through the scope anyway. Confirming
what I said, he slid down in the hole and said to be quiet and let
it pass. Something in this Marine's past had instilled a will to
live that recognized no orders nor need to engage the enemy. I would
see a lot of this. We “owed it to ourselves!”
After being in the bush for a couple of months,
things started to look familiar, and for good reason, we were taking
the same hills we had a couple of months before, holding no ground
at all. This was certainly no way to win a war. About this time we
got a new company commander. Fresh out of O.C.S. (Officer's
Candidate School.) this guy was one of the most ignorant men I have
met. Not willing to learn from experienced platoon Sergeants, he
would prove to be highly unpopular and dangerous.
On our first operation with him, we were humping a
ridge and across the small valley from us was another Battalion of
Marines. I could see they were stopped and dug-in. I could see
blonde hair on some of their heads and saw their light skin as they
walked around with their flack jackets off. This lieutenant went
bonkers and started shouting that there were “gooks over there” and
hollered for the radioman to call in air strikes on them! After much
hollering by two more Marines, one with binoculars, the Lieutenant
had to agree they were friendlies. Saving lives was what I had
training for but I didn’t expect this.
Tanks joined up with us and stayed until the hills
turned into mountains. The morning they left, one of the tank
commanders dropped off his cases of C-rations and a very large
salami. The Lieutenant asked to borrow my Buck knife with a six-inch
blade. I told him to be very careful, as it was razor sharp. He said
he had handled knives all his life, put his left hand on the salami
and proceeded to peel his whole left index finger with my knife! No
one ate any of the salami.
It's my belief that by the time I arrived in Viet
Nam, after the TET offensive, the North Vietnamese had been
completely subdued, primarily by bombing by our B-52 aircraft. One
day, we got dropped off, in God knows where, and there was nothing
green or living for 360 degrees, as far as the eye could see. Bomb
craters 60 feet across and 20 feet deep were everywhere. No streams
flowed anywhere and only stumps and trunks of trees dotted the red
dirt. The smell of dead bodies was everywhere, though none were to
Our platoon pulled a daytime patrol. The Platoon
Sergeant had eleven days left in- country. Another sergeant, named
Troop, volunteered to go out for our Sergeant Haglund, but the
Company Commander wouldn't have it. We went out of our perimeter a
few hundred yards and sat down, all day, calling in phony sit-reps
(situation reports). Again, the will to survive had influenced his
actions. That evening we circled around to the other side of the
perimeter and came in that way.
The next day we were told to check out a certain
area that had trenches. When we got there, we discovered that G.I.'s
had dug them, as they were too wide and deep for N.V.A. I noticed an
arty base about 1000 meters away, cannons glinting in the sunlight,
and asked Sergeant Haglund if they knew we were in the area. He said
that the base had already been contacted, and they knew we were out
here. I said I would feel a lot better if we got on the other side
of this little hill we were standing in front of, and he laughed and
said we were all right. I said, “NO! I have a hunch about this, so
let's go now!” We no sooner got out of sight when three rounds of
175 mm came screaming down, right where we had been standing only
moments before. The radioman, Corporal Rucker, called for a
cease-fire from the bottom of another trench we all dove into.
“Friendly Fire” had almost got us and not for the last time.
Back in CAM LO once again, we got perimeter watch.
There was a large bunker with wooden bunks and also a foot of water
on the floor. I tried to go to sleep on one of the bunks, but it was
too hot and stuffy in there, also the mosquitoes were terrible down
there. I went topside and slept on the roof.
In the morning, a red-headed Marine came over to
me, in pretty bad condition, he had slept in the bunker and during
the night, some ticks had decided to make their home at the base of
his upper eye lashes. The only thing I could do was use the tweezers
on my Swiss army knife and pluck them off, both of us with our eyes
watering all the while.
Another ARVN scout joined us that day and he acted
very nervous. One of the Marines brought him over to me and the ARVN
asked if I was a “ROC” (pronounced rock), which is short for
Republic of Korea, Army. I told him no, I came from Alaska, and that
I was an Eskimo. He couldn't believe me and said, “You lie, you
Rock!” and walked off mumbling something. I asked the Marine what
that was all about and was told that the Koreans were greatly feared
for their courage and had better watch my back. This advice would
help me later.
Chapter Six - Sanctuary
The next few months, before the monsoon season
started, are one big blur to me. Jump into a helicopter, enjoy the
cooler air, land, move out, hump the hills, get bitten by leeches,
bitten by fire ants, bitten by mosquitoes and wasps, cuts on the
arms and face by elephant grass, trip on wait-a-minute vines, get
jungle rot, get diarrhea, get constipation, go around snakes coiled
together, drink water from plastic canteens with sticks, mud, kool-aid
and two halazone tablets in them. Bring back any memories?
The night before we were to start an operation in
the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), everyone had a few warm beers and some
drunk Marine got on the PRC-25 radio and told the NVA how we were
going to kick their butts tomorrow in the DMZ. The enemy was known
to monitor all our radio transmissions. In the morning, General
Westmoreland gave us all a pep talk before we left Dong Ha, about
how important this operation was going to be. This was a Battalion
size operation with contact imminent.
The chopper ride was over too soon. I was in the
second chopper to let troops out. All of a sudden, it was getting
very light inside as first-sized holes opened up all over the
fuselage. The enemy was shooting at us with anti-aircraft guns! The
pilot started to rock the chopper from side to side very rapidly, to
give the starboard .50 caliber machine gunner a chance to shoot
directly beneath us.
Looking out a port to my right, I could see about
eighteen inches of the machine gun barrel as he fired. The next time
the chopper rocked, I looked at the ground and saw an NVA with a
pith helmet on, just as he was raising his SKS rifle. The gunner
fired one round and a hole opened up in the NVA's chest and I saw
daylight shine through.
The landing zone was so hot that the pilot got the
tail about six feet from the top of the hill and everyone jumped off
the tailgate from that height. I jumped, managed to stumble about
three steps and fall down on a clump of elephant grass stubble. This
maneuver cut my left index finger very deeply. We all scurried to
get to what cover there was. While bandaging my finger, I saw the
chopper we just left, crash on the next hill. Choppers were
unloading wherever they could. Elephants were seen with NVA on then
rapidly departing. We dug-in on the hilltop and roasted in the sun
all day with no shade at all. About the time I thought I would die
in the sun, a Marine started to pass out watermelon candy. To this
day it’s my favorite candy!
That night we had movement at our listening post
about 100 yards downhill and fifty yards out. A trip flare went off
and caught our guys off guard. About five seconds later, they set
off a claymore and beat feet back inside the perimeter. We had come
up against a mighty big force and they had us surrounded. “Puff, the
Magic Dragon” was called and was on location within minutes. “Puff”
was a DC-3 twin-engine craft with three mini-guns, each capable of
firing one thousand rounds per minute. That means it could cover
every square foot of a football field in less than a minute!
We were told to get down in our fox holes and
light a heat tablet so the pilot could identify our perimeter.
Immediately, what looked like a lighted whip hanging down appeared.
What we were seeing was a tracer every fifth round. As it got
nearer, we got down in our holes and rounds were hitting within
inches of our holes. “Puff” worked out for about five minutes and
then flew around awhile to see if we needed him anymore. In the
morning, not one body was found but you could tell that “Puff” had
saved us a whole lot of heartache. My thanks go out to “Puff's”
crew. What a show!
The next day, we followed the Bin Hai River that
divided north and South Viet Nam for a ways, and then climbed out to
a ridge on the south side, loaded with bunkers. Cooking fires were
still smoldering and bamboo with rice still cooking inside the two
foot sections was still on the coals.
We started to get incoming mortar fire. The first
round hit in the trees farther uphill and I started to look for
where the tube was popping (mortar tube used to launch the
projectile). I spotted the flash just as the Company Commander came
running to help. He ran up to me and said, “What are you doing? Are
you hit, are you alright?” I pointed out where the tube was flashing
and he radioed for some people to go silence it.
By the time I got to the top of the ridge, I
wasn't feeling so well. I thought it must be the heat, down inside
the triple canopy of jungle. I took a couple of salt tablets and
remembered how cool and fresh the river water was and remembered
that I hadn’t put the Halozone tablets in my canteens, since the
water looked so clean. Big mistake.
We were walking the ridge on a well-used trail
when we started to hear the rain coming though the bamboo forest. A
solid wall of rain hit us so hard that mud on the trail bounced up
and hit us under our chins. The rain also knocked leeches off the
bamboo onto the trail. They were four inches long and as big as our
thumbs! The wall of rain passed as quickly as it came and it got
humid and very hot again.
The company stopped and several of us found
ourselves standing on a steep gravel hillside. I saw a banana tree
stump and figured that if I timed it just right; I could wind up
sitting on the stump with my backpack against the hill in relative
comfort. I was right. As I rested, something caught my eye down
between my legs. I looked but saw nothing. Again, I noticed
something so I got up, turned around and looked to see a black
scorpion about eight inches long coming out of a hole I hadn’t seen.
I took my helmet and started to beat it back into the hole. The guy
behind me saw all this action and passed the word not to sit on that
Not long after this I started to lag behind. Once
again I found myself walking alone, but this time I was alone in the
D.M.Z! Mustering every ounce of strength I could, I walked faster
and soon caught up with the rear of the platoon which had stopped by
that time and already were digging in for the night. My temperature
had risen to 104 degrees by evening and Doc Stevens made
arrangements for my medevac the next day.
That night was one of the darkest I would
experience. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face! I had
diarrhea and had to make several trips to the trench made for that
purpose. Small trees, no bigger than two inches through, had
two-inch spikes on them and couldn't be avoided in the darkness.
Morning came with heavy fog and the Marine choppers wouldn't fly.
Lucky for me, Army Air Calvary had a Chinook in the area that took
me to the Hospital Ship “Sanctuary.” That same night my company got
attacked and Private Dan Daigle got a chest wound and died during
the night. His Foxhole was not ten feet from mine. Dan was the first
man that I ever gave a haircut while in the field.
The Sanctuary was quite a sight to see from our
chopper. The landing pad looked too small, but our pilot had
obviously landed there before. I was escorted to a ward that was air
conditioned and spotlessly clean. I was instructed to throw away my
stinking clothing but kept my boots. I hot shower and clean P.J.'s
really boosted my morale.
I was diagnosed as “F.U.O.”, fever of undetermined
origin. Medication and a clear liquid diet brought my temperature
down in a couple of days. On day ten, my temperature shot up to
104.3 degrees. That was my turning point and I was discharged back
to my unit at Dong Ha the following morning. The time spent on the
hospital ship was like a tropical vacation for me. I imagined that I
was someone wealthy, walking around the decks and enjoying some of
the most beautiful sunsets in the world, just off the coast of hell.
What a contrast!
When I hot back to Dong Ha, I found out that I was
leaving my platoon and being assigned to the Forward Battalion Aid
Station in Dong Ha. This should have been good duty but it was short
lived. Behind us was an Army Aid Station. I had always heard that
the Army traveled on its stomach and soon I would find out why. The
Marines had no trouble getting a supply of beer. I would go buy a
case of beer for $3.00 and trade it to the Army for a case of frozen
beef steaks or a three-pound can of shrimp. One Sunday, we had steak
and shrimp and beer! What a break from c-rations!
I've always had a way of being sarcastic which
sometimes doesn't go over very good. One night, a few Corpsmen were
playing cards and our senior in-charge, an E-6 Petty Officer named
Bruce, got mad because he was losing. I said, “What's the matter
Brucie-Woosie, don't like losing?” He said that if I ever called him
that again he would put me on report. I said that he wouldn't
because if he did I would have to tell that he was gambling with us.
Within the week I was transferred to the rear area, back where I had
started. I would wish many times that I was back with my old
After waiting for orders for a couple weeks, I was
transferred to the Battalion Hospital in Quang TRI. This duty made
me wish I were back in the bush with my hundred pound pack!
Remember, back at the Naval Hospital Balboa, in San Diego, we took
care of twenty-seven patients or less, with nurses and students to
Here in Quang TRI, we had an air-conditioned
Quonset hut with forty patients. I and one other Corpsman was all we
had. We worked twelve on and twelve off, seven days a week. Some
patients were receiving shots for rabies, because of rat bites. Some
had malaria, but most were combat related injuries, and were
awaiting transfer back to the states. Our ward could technically
have been called “Intensive Care” because of the nature of wounds
but lacked enough help to make the care intensive. We did the best
we could, but I always felt guilty because we were so short of help.
Now, don't get me wrong. I was there and saw the commitment and
dedication of doctors, nurses and Corpsmen who gave there all to
their patients. I'm proud to have been part of that.
One night, a Marine went into kidney failure. I
called for a doctor and within moments a surgeon arrived with a
couple of Corpsmen and took the Marine away. I have no idea what
happened to him. I never got used to seeing someone one moment and
then having him gone the next. Sometimes I knew they died and that
finalized it in my mind.
Constant stress, dehydration and not eating the
proper diet wound up giving me a disease called ulcerative colitis.
This is usually found in old men, and the symptoms are that one's
colon becomes hard and brittle and sort of like fish scales. The
doctors who examined me couldn't believe that a twenty-one year old
could have this. I was sent to the Hospital Ship “Repose” for
further evaluation and was found to have a tear in my rectum. This
would require surgery and “Sitz-baths” that weren’t available in
Vietnam. The doctor smiled at me and asked if I would like to go
home to America. Wow! Would I!!! Next I was sent to an Air Force
hospital in Danang. The doctor there insisted on me flying out of
Vietnam on a stretcher, as he didn't want me sitting for the flight
to Guam. A word about Danang: When I got off the chopper, from the
Hospital Ship, I literally saw “The light at the end of the tunnel.”
It was like the clouds opened up just for me, and a great darkness
had lifted from me. I was going to live!
Chapter Seven - No Real Freedom
Although the years have dimmed my memory somewhat
(so much for total recall), much of what I heard and saw still comes
to mind: Incredible heat, red dirt, triple canopy, Monsoons, heat
lightning, jungle rot, leeches, fire ants, bamboo vipers, rats,
Great Asian wasps, centipedes, bad water, NO water, diarrhea, heat
exhaustion, Elephant grass, mosquitoes, incoming, out-going, short
rounds, trip flares, claymores, grenades, mortars, 175 Mike-Mikes,
60 Mike-Mikes, Phantoms, napalm, Chinooks, bunkers, night ambush,
listening posts, and C-rats. Not to mention some slang we all
shared: “There it is! Blown away, Burning Shitters, N.F.G.,
Sit-reps, The World, In country, Blouse your eyes, Blouse your
trousers, Hump the hills, and especially: You owe it to yourself!”
Unceremoniously leaving Vietnam as rapidly as I
did left me confused. I didn't have time or opportunity to say
good-bye. On the long flight to Guam, I had trouble thinking, the
jet was so loud and being strapped to a stretcher was really
uncomfortable. I felt sorry for the people who were wounded and
really suffering. What was hardest to believe was that the war was
over for me, or so I thought.
When I got to Guam, I was surprised to see lots of
B-52 bombers, the same ones that had caused so much destruction in
this hemisphere. The plane load of medevac patients was sent through
triage and I wound up on a ward filled with patients who were bound
to leave for the U.S. of A! The WORLD!
The following day, great excitement filled the
air, smiles were on every face, lots of joke telling and a new show
was on T.V. “Hawaii Five O.” That day I was transferred to another
ward and was asked what I was doing there. My records had been lost
and I spent the next two weeks waiting for something and anything to
happen. I was never examined by a doctor. The nurse didn't seem to
care anything about me, so I played a lot of cards, went to a movie
or two, and waited.
One morning, a Corpsman tapped my arm to wake me
up to take my temperature and I awoke, fist clenched and ready to
strike. I had never done that before but I still have that reflex.
To this day, my wife wakes me by standing in the doorway hollering
at me. Finally, my orders came through and I was headed for
Elmendorf Air Force Anchorage, Alaska. My hometown!
When I stepped off the plane in Anchorage, I
stopped at the top of the stairs and looked around. Much of the
state was on fire at that time from forest fires and wood smoke was
thick and everywhere. Through the haze, I could still see the
Chugach Mountains and felt the cool air surround me. I promised
myself never to leave here, once I got out of the Navy. My folks
came to see me the first few hours after I arrived at the hospital.
I had surgery the next day and was allowed to go home and finish my
treatment as an outpatient. I also got thirty days leave at that
I spent much of my time with my cousin Robert
James Thompson, who had already been discharged from the Army,
having served time in ‘Nam with the 101st Airborne at Cam Rahn Bay.
We were both surprised to find out that we were labeled as
baby-killers and warmongers. There was no parade to welcome Vietnam
vets home, we had not “Won the war” and we began to fight a new kind
Somehow, we had to fit into a society that had no
understanding of what we had been through; the intensity of battle,
constant worry, seeing friends hauled away in body bags, never
knowing what happened to others, one day standing in a battle zone
and the next you are standing on a street corner wondering what
For many Vietnam vets, they just clammed up, not
talking to anyone. They would carry scars, emotional ones, that no
one understood, nor had time for. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is
a label lavishly thrown about by the medical society to brand a
problem without presenting a solution for it. Many “died” in Viet
Nam; they just haven't fallen down yet.
Everyone's “case” is different. For me, I believe
that the U.S. government had no right to send me or any American
citizen into someone else's war. I felt guilty for coming out alive.
I had come home a very hard individual with no one to talk to, not
that I wanted to at that time. Loneliness and anger began to work on
I was sitting on a bar stool in the Malamute
Saloon and a guy, a little older then me, with long hair, came up to
me and said, “I hear you were in 'Nam!” I thought that he was a vet
too and answered that I had been there. He said, “I guess that makes
you pretty tough, huh?” I asked what he wanted and he said, “What
would you do if I started to mess with you?” That caught me by
surprise, but I quickly said, “Go away and leave me alone, or I’ll
leave you lying on the floor.” He looked me over real good and
slowly backed away. I vowed that nobody would ever
mess with me without paying for it, dearly.
Right before my thirty-day leave was up; I took my
mother to a native bazaar. She introduced me to one of her friends,
Lisa Leonard. She shook my hand and said, “So, you're Gerry! I
prayed for you every night you were in Vietnam.” I wasn't as tough
as I thought I was, because what she said hit me hard in the heart!
I almost started to cry. I had never known anyone with such genuine
compassion. Secretly, I wanted to be like her. I had become so
hardened that this was not to be, for some time to come. I would
always remember her. Nothing is stronger than love.
My last six months in the Navy was spent at the
Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California. I was assigned to work
in the pharmacy. At the end of the first week, everyone got off at
11:00 am on Friday, and we weren’t due back until 7:00 a.m. on
Monday. Remember, I had lived in San Diego for two and one half
years before going to ' Nam. Subconsciously, I must have relaxed
after the stress of ' Nam because I went to sleep at 11:05 a.m. on
Friday and never woke up until 4:00 p.m. on Sunday! I do remember
getting up to go to the bathroom once. I made my way over to the
mess hall and asked one of the food servers what day it was. Finding
out it was Sunday made me feel good. Nobody had awakened me for a
There were two nightclubs in Ridgecrest, one
country, and one rock-n-roll. I got a job as lead guitarist and
singer with a band at the rock-n-roll club. I spent all my free time
either drinking and playing poker or playing in the band. All the
guys in the band were into smoking marijuana or doing speed. My big
thing was drinking as much alcohol as fast as I could get my hands
on it. In fact, the guitarist that I replaced went to trial for drug
dealing and got two years in the state penitentiary.
January 13, 1970 was my discharge date and I
immediately returned to Anchorage, Alaska. Having no money and no
job, I wound up staying at my folks place. Late January found me
walking down Fourth Avenue (the main drag) in a snowstorm. My dad
had been encouraging me to go and apply at this nightclub called
“The Montana Club”, a club that had a large native clientele and
mostly country-western music. This was one rowdy nightclub! The
bandstand was built behind the bar for safety’s sake, and fights
were quiet common every night. I found the boss working behind the
bar. He knew me from a couple years earlier when I had filled in for
someone while I was home on leave. He liked my style and hired me on
This was not your ordinary GIG! The band started
playing at eight o'clock every night of the week and played until
4:45 a.m., continuously. Every half-hour one of us got a half hour
break. That meant switching instruments from guitar, to bass, to
drums, to guitar, etc. This period of time was right before the
trans-Alaska pipeline got into full swing. We got free drinks all
night long. I thought I had the perfect job, but I found myself
rapidly slipping into alcoholism, and I just didn't care.
There were times I blacked out early in the night,
not remembering anything including how I got home. I would wake up
about six-thirty in the evening and eat something, go to work and
start drinking all over again. I was probably worse off than the
wine-boo’s on the street. I dressed better, but my drinks came too
freely and too often. When I got my one night a week off, I went out
drinking and playing at other nightclubs. I also got into as many
fistfights as I could.
One night I was drinking with my folks in the back
of the Malamute Saloon when my dad saw a guy that he didn't like the
looks of and told me someone should go bust his head. I got up off
my chair walked over to the man and hit him as hard as I could on
the left eyebrow and broke my hand, my left hand, the guitar playing
hand. I thought I had just sprained it badly, and continued to play
for ten days. It wasn't getting any better so I went and had it
X-rayed and a cast put on. That put me out of work for three weeks
and didn't gain me any points with the boss.
Another thing that always bugged me was that my
dad was always coming into the club about once a month and getting
into a fight. He seemed to live for fights, part of his Scotch-Irish
heritage I guess. Again, I was in a dark tunnel with no light at the
end. I was just like my dad now, angry at the world and not knowing
why. This would last for over five years, same thing, night after
While I was in Viet Nam, I carried a small pocket
Bible everywhere I went, I would try to read it every so often, but
it made no sense to me. Still, I would say a prayer to the God I did
not know and ask him to at least answer the prayers of those who
called on him, if not mine. Something in my past kept welling up in
me, some kind of hope that kept me praying. This
pattern of prayer would not change for years.
One night I saw a guy who had took advantage of
someone's sister while she was passed out. I walked up to him and
hit him in the mouth with my right hand, and cut my hand on his eye
tooth. This rapidly became infected and I went to the doctor who
told me that this was life threatening. I had developed blood
poisoning and a blue line was making its way up my forearm. I was
given some powerful antibiotic and told to watch the blue mark. If
it got any higher on my arm that night, I was to come in and they
would put me on an I.V.
Well, the anti-biotic seemed to be working and my
folks and I decided to take a trip to Denver, Colorado for Christmas
and visit my grandmother, on my dad's side. We drove from Anchorage
to Denver in three days and seventeen hours. I even got a haircut in
Chyenne, Wyoming that was at the behest of my dad.
About halfway through Canada, my right hand
started throbbing with every beat of my heart. The blue line started
up again, too. Dad was always coming up with his home remedies and
as usual he had his cure for this problem, too. He suggested that we
make a “bread and milk poultice” at the next restaurant we came to.
This is the recipe: take a slice of bread, soak it down with milk,
sprinkle sugar on this, place the bread on a soft cloth ( in this
case, one of my clean t-shirts) and tie it over the wound, this is
changed daily. At first I said, “No, that’s just a bunch of crap,
and it won't work,” But by the second day I was willing to try
anything. We finally made up a poultice and almost immediately the
pain stopped. By the next day the throbbing had stopped completely
and all pain was gone.
Day three, and the wound was even starting to
close, swelling also had been reduced by fifty percent. When we took
the poultice off the first time, it had turned completely black.
Here's how it works: the staph bacteria recognize the milk, bread
and sugar as a better food source than you are, and leave your body
for the poultice. Excellent! Now I listen when someone has a word of
wisdom for me. How many lives could be saved with just this much
knowledge? In Denver I soaked my hand in Epsom salt and hot water
and was totally healed in about ten days. My dad wasn't all bad
Back in Anchorage, I started the same old thing of
drinking, smoking two to four packs of cigarettes each night and
generally messing up my life. I knew this kind of pattern was
destructive but I had no hope. One night I was on the bandstand
playing my guitar, I looked through the heavy smoke at all the
drunken people. There were people cheating on their husbands and
wives and everyone knew all this. There were cars parked outside
with little kids sleeping in them while their mothers spent their
welfare checks getting drunk.
I no longer heard the music I was playing and
tears started to run down my cheeks, I felt very alone and thought,
“God, where are you? I know you must be here somewhere.” I was
beginning to think that I would drink myself to death before I
reached thirty years of age. I took a break and the bartender tried
to give me a beer he had on ice. I told him to take it back and he
asked if I was sick or something. I told him “No, I just can't
drink anymore. I'm full-up.”
Driving home that morning, I looked in my blind
spot mirror on my west coast mirror of my GMC pick up. I didn't like
what I saw, a red bloated face with no hope in my heart. Dark rain
clouds covered the Chugach range that I hadn't noticed for years and
I said a prayer, maybe out loud, I don’t remember. I said, “God, if
you're really there, give me some kind of sign.” Immediately, the
clouds opened and golden-white rays of sun light hit me in the face.
At that moment I knew that the sun had only shined on me. I
had my answer to prayer.
Now, don't get me wrong, my life did not suddenly
get better from then on, far from it. In fact, it got worse! I began
to try other drinks than beer, straight shots of whiskey, brandy,
anything. Once I tried a drink called a “White Russian” made with
Kailua and milk. This made me very mean and I'd go around looking
for fights, holding two barstools at arms length with just my thumb
and index finger, nobody took me up on my offer to fight.
About this time, I was having out-of-body
experiences. I would leave my body while I was passed out and go
floating around the neighborhood, making sure I didn't hit any power
lines. I could even feel the cool morning fog on my face. One time I
was returning to my body and I could look through the roof of my
folk’s mobile home and see my dad shaking my body. I quickly
returned to my body and woke up to my dad's hollering, “Are you
alright, are you alright? You weren't breathing and your arms were
up in the air!”
One morning I woke up to the most terrifying
experience I had ever had, the front door of the trailer house was
open and a powerful wind was blowing in and I knew the devil
had come to take me to hell! I couldn’t move a muscle and I was
terrified! Just when I thought I was gone for good, my mother came
up to the door and shouted at my dad not to leave the door open. The
wind stopped, the terror stopped and I stopped to think that maybe I
should do something new with my life!
Through all this, most of the time I had managed
to maintain my daily prayer, even if it was as simple as “now I lay
me down to sleep.” Because I had always been so lonely, I prayed for
nine years that God would send me a wife. I didn't want one who
would just walk in off of the street. I wanted the one that God
would send. Now, guess what happened next? This lovely young lady
walked in off the street and changed my life forever! Twenty-eight
years and five children later, we are still happily married!
Being married and being a musician is not the best
formula for a lasting relationship. My wife let me know that she
didn't like me coming home smelling like booze. I had to make a
choice, not an easy one, so I started to drink less. Things on the
main drag were starting to change, and not for the better, either.
Prostitutes who normally worked the streets, started to work inside
the clubs. Dope dealers started showing up big time. Pimps from the
lower forty eight states started to show up in pink Eldorados, black
Cadillac’s, wearing pin-striped suits and Panama hats. Power
struggles went down every week and bodies started appearing
frequently full of double-ought buck shot.
Our band was falling apart and the music was going
downhill. One night I went to the rest room and as I was coming out
I brushed passed someone in the doorway to the restroom. As I was
getting back on stage, the drummer said, “What’s that? It sounded
like a gunshot!” I was pretty deaf from standing next to the
drummer's cymbal and hadn't noticed the shot that killed the guy I
had just bumped up against! Had I still been in there a few moments
longer, I might have been killed too. Now, I had to do some more
Chapter Eight - Acts of God
Trying to explain spiritual things, to someone who
is not ready, is like putting the cart before the horse. All I can
tell you is my experience from my perspective. Everyone's journey is
not the same, but there are some similarities. The physical life has
a beginning, usually middle and an end. The spiritual life has a
beginning but no end to it. Since you have come thus far, you must
be seeking some sort of spiritual awareness or have been influenced
toward that end. In fairness to yourself, you must ask, “Have I been
learning the truth?” This is essential for your
eternal well being.
Throughout my life, I have been aware of right and
wrong, not always choosing right. As one matures with age and is
through “sowing his oats,” his mind becomes open to positive outside
influences once again. For most of us, this opening closed sometime
during our youth, usually resulting in rebellion, and giving way to
Being a naturally serious person, I took marriage
seriously, too. Wanting to start a family as soon as possible, I
also realized that I should assume responsibility for my family's
spiritual condition too. Only one obstacle stood in the way, I had
no idea how to go about this. People from various church groups were
(and still are) banging on my front door, trying to get me to join
their organization. I was smart enough to know that they all
couldn't be telling the truth, so I slammed the door in their faces;
this is good, as I hope to show you later.
Nine months after we were married tragedy struck.
My wife carried our first daughter to full term and delivery, only
to find the infant dead from strangulation by the umbilical cord.
While my wife was still in the hospital, I returned to our small
two-bedroom apartment and went into the room prepared for our baby.
I knew how devastating this must be to my wife, yet this was the
very first heartbreak for me. I asked God why this had to happen to
us, but no answer came. I had known loneliness all my life. Now, if
there was no God to answer me, how could I go on? I thought my heart
would stop inside my chest, and looked forward to death, only I
didn't want to meet a God that would let something like this happen.
When I returned to the hospital to get my wife, I
even asked her where God was when we needed him. She too had no
answer. Now I was mad! If there was a God, I would find him and give
him a piece of my mind! If there wasn't, I would find that out too.
So I prayed every night to a God I did not know and asked Him to
give me a sign to prove that He exists.
A few months passed. My first new car, a 1974
Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2, bronze in color with a cream naugahide top
and racing stripes, this was my idol, I really loved this car! It
was a little over a year old by this time, with only three thousand
miles on it! One night we had high winds and some of the tarpaper
shingles blew off the apartment roofs. One of them landed on the
driver's side windshield of my idol and scratched it very badly. I
walked over to the landlord's office and asked him if they had
insurance to pay for the damage to my car. He said that they had
insurance but it did not cover “acts of God.” This was my sign! Like
in a game of chess, it was my move! Now, every time I got behind the
wheel of my car I had to look around the hand-sized scratch on my
windshield. This made me even more determined to find God.
One night I was up late watching television by
myself and an evangelist came on talking about Jesus. His name was
Dr. Jack Van Impe and I didn’t like his looks but for some reason I
continued to watch his whole show. I don't remember most of what he
said but at the end of his program, he wanted to pray for anyone who
wanted to ask Jesus into their heart and be their Lord. He also
pleaded for these same people to think about where they would spend
eternity, either in heaven or in hell. Not wanting to spend eternity
in hell, I prayed the words of his prayer along with him, asking for
Jesus to save me from sin, forgive me, and come into my heart. I
expected angels to sing, or something really exciting to happen to
me, but when I was through praying, absolutely nothing happened! Now
I was really confused. The following day, I told my wife what I had
done, and she had no answer for me, which only added to my dismay.
Still, somehow, I had a small measure of faith in me that would not
let me stop my quest for God.
Now, this is very important for whoever reads
this, to hang in there while I explain a few things. First, not all
people believe in God. Those who do, and do not yet know Him on a
personal basis; you have the best hope of finding Him, if you
try! Those who don't believe may never find Him
because they have already ruled him out of their lives. However, for
these people, there is still a chance to find God, if they are truly
fair to themselves and do an honest evaluation of who they are and
see if what they have learned so far is the truth.
This may be especially hard to do if you rely on what your family
has always done. Tradition can be a very real trap, fueled by
pressure from family because, “This is the way we have always done
it!” Or, perhaps, “My father and his father's father were such and
such, and if it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me!”
What if these people were wrong? Is this good enough for you? I'm
sure you've heard this: “I never talk politics or religion.” Who
taught you that? Why did they say that? What benefit do you receive
from such a statement? We should talk about who we
want to be our leaders while we are here on earth, and we
should talk about where we are going to spend eternity.
Ignorance is not an insulting word, but it is a
sad one. Ignorance means one is not informed. It doesn't mean that
someone is dumb or stupid or cannot learn. It means you lack the
facts or knowledge on any given subject. If you choose to remain
ignorant, just wait until someone asks you something. It doesn't
matter what subject, but you cannot respond properly without
sufficient knowledge. The natural man cannot understand the things
of God. People have a will of their own, and God will not force
Himself on anyone without their consent. God will not invade your
will nor make you a robot.
If you are interested in finding God for yourself,
I have news for you. God isn't lost, you are. But, you are in good
shape if you are sincere and willing to stop doing everything your
way and try His way. What has doing it your way done for you?
Have you ever wondered why you don't like certain
people that want to help you? Perhaps they want to change you for
the better, but something inside you makes you turn them away. This
is your natural self trying to preserve itself, and for good reason.
Either someone wants to harm you physically, or you are not ready to
respond spiritually. The physical part is usually easiest to handle
by fleeing or striking back. The spiritual part is most difficult
because you have neglected your soul by the misuse of your mind. You
will flee the spiritual truth because you have already have been
found guilty of sin, and choose to put off sentencing. Your mind
knows this and will tell your body to attack or flee. Either
decision is the wrong one. Your soul is at stake and it would be
very wise for you to take control of your destiny, stop blaming
someone else and ask for help from God Himself. He wants
you to ask for help, so He can reveal Himself to you!
Now that you have come thus far, be honest
with yourself. Are you happy with the way your life has
turned out? Are you happy now? Or is there something lacking, deep
down inside? Is something missing? If you died this moment, do you
know where you would spend eternity? Ponder these questions for a
Up until now, you have been reading the life story
of an ordinary person and haven't had to make any decisions. Most
books do not require you to do so. However, now you must decide if
you trust God enough to continue seeking Him. From here, you may
follow, but not understand. That's okay, too. Remember; don't get
the cart in front of the horse! Bite off a small piece of wisdom at
a time, since you are probably not used to help because of your
conditioning. But keep an open mind and learn. Your journey will not
be the same as mine but it can be very fruitful.
About six months went by and my wife and I went
“church shopping.” That is, we went searching for a church to attend
regularly. The first one was pretty nice but we never went back
because they sang too low. The second one had too many people and
they sang their songs in too high of a key. Next, the pastor was
begging the congregation for money, as the church only had two
hundred dollars in the bank! Mostly, churches were too formal and
everyone was too old!
Then one Sunday, we wound up in a Baptist church
that had a baptismal pool built right into the wall, behind the
choir. Bear with me, as I am not promoting a particular church
organization, but I had to start somewhere!). Things were
There were stairs leading into the pool and stairs
leading out of it. This got my attention, because all my life I had
heard my dad tell my mom that I needed to be baptized. This was
strange to me because he had never gone to church with me and my
No way was I going to be sprinkled with water and
turn around in front of the whole congregation and walk the aisle to
return to my pew! Not in the church I grew up in! But this was
perfect! I could enter from the left, not look at the crowd, get
baptized, and sneak out the right side! Having done that, I thought
I would be ready for heaven. Little did I know how wrong I was!
Baptism is an ordinance that identifies a person as a disciple of
Jesus. This act does not get a person into heaven!
We attended this church for about six weeks, and I
can honestly say that I don't remember one sermon! You see, our
thoughts are not God's thoughts. The finite mind (one that has an
end) cannot understand the infinite mind (one that has no end) of
God. Too much of me was sitting in front of the alter and the word
of God was bouncing off of me like water off a duck’s back!
Revelation 3, vs.20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door (of your
heart) and knock. If any man (or woman) hears my voice (the Bible)
and opens that door, I will come in (into his heart) and supp (have
fellowship) with him and he with me.”
On the next Sunday, the sermon was about a man
named Hosea, in the Old Testament. This was a prophet of God who
compared Israel to an unfaithful wife. Israel had taken the bounty
of God and lavished it on the Canaanite god Baal, thus committing
spiritual adultery. Remember? “Thou shalt have no other gods before
To make a long story short, God commanded Hosea to
marry a prostitute named Gomer. She bare him three children, only
one of which was reported to be fathered by Hosea. Gomer returned to
her former profession, and one day Hosea found her for sale on the
auction block and bought her back for fifteen shekels of silver. As
I listened to this, I realized that my life had been just as bad as
Gomer's, yet God came looking for me and bought me back! I was
always His. I stood on the auction block, selling myself to the
highest bidder. Yet, God loved me enough to reach down to my level
and save me from myself. Have you ever had a friend
At the end of the sermon, the preacher asked if
anyone wanted to ask Jesus into his or her life and go to heaven
when they died. When I heard that, I started to weep and shake
violently. Something was physically holding me where I stood. I
wanted to move but I couldn't! I made up my mind that nothing
was going to hold me back from this invitation! I broke free
from whatever was holding me! I immediately brushed past people
standing between the aisle and me and rushed forward to the front of
the church. I wanted to live now and nothing in the
world would hold me back!
The preacher asked me if Jesus had come into my
heart, and I said, “Yes.” I was so very happy and looked at people
as if I had never really seen them before! The entire church body
came by and shook my hand, and I remember one woman saying, “Your
life will never be the same again!” I felt clean and forgiven!
The tears kept flowing and I knew without a doubt that my life
had been changed, forever! This is called, “bearing witness to the
Remember back in my little apartment when I asked
Jesus into my heart, and nothing happened? Well, what happened was,
God saw a measure of faith and was pleased. Then, He began working
in my life. You see, before this time, I had been doing everything
my way, on my time schedule, and generally messing up my life. The
next thing to happen was that a week later my wife accepted Jesus
and shortly thereafter we were both baptized the same day!
Now, you're probably thinking I'm some sort of
religious nut. Not so! I go to work religiously, go to the bathroom
religiously and get my eight hours of sleep, religiously! One does
not need a “religion.” One needs a personal Relationship
with the Son of the Living God! Until the same thing happens to
you, you can't possibly understand this. It's like trying to tell
someone about the best movie you ever saw. Until they see the movie
for themselves, they won't believe you either.
We have to understand what sin is and that no
matter what name is put on it, whether it be murder, drug addiction,
stealing or just being born, we all have to come to JESUS,
the only begotten Son of God, sent by God, the Father, as a
sacrifice for the atonement for your sins.
Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve's
disobedience to God. Sin is nothing more than being outside of the
will of God. We are all born with this curse, separated from God
because of it; on the wrong side of the line, if you will. Only by
willfully deciding to accept Jesus can you change your destiny. Only
then will you be able to understand the word of God, the Bible. Only
then will your spirit be in tune to what God wants you to learn.
This is the “Born again” that Jesus mandates each of
us must do! You will stop hating, you will
forgive. You will see and not be blind to the plight of others. You
will not feel guilty because you will be free! This is God's promise
to you, not mine.
You will live because you are no longer dead
(spiritually). You will love because you are loved by God the
Father, Jesus the Son and The Holy Spirit (the third person of the
Trinity). The Truth shall set you free! In
other words, Jesus is the truth and He will set you free from what
is not true.
What you have been reading was written by a former
dyslexic, alcoholic, angry, bitter man who couldn't even read
anything except comic books! I had no hope in life of expecting
anything good to happen to me! I couldn't change me!
It took GOD to change me; all He needed was my
willingness to let Him into my life.
Next came an extreme hunger and thirst for reading
the Bible. Remember, I wanted to know the truth? When I came home
from work I would read constantly from the New Testament. No more
dyslexia or comic books for me, I could read!!! I began to see that
God's word was alive and I needed it for my very existence. I craved
the word of God because it filled all the empty spots in my life. I
was on the road to a spiritual healing in my life. He makes all
things new, for you, too!
The impact of Viet Nam was still fresh in my mind
at this time. The injustice of it all, the pain it caused on both
sides. I hid this in my heart, since no one that I talked to
understood what I could not understand myself. God understands.
For me, God seems to have a way of putting me on
the list of the unemployed when he's trying to teach me something. I
had been unemployed for over a year, yet I attended Sunday school
and church and choir, and home fellowships, faithfully, always ready
to learn all I could about God. I became a disciple of Jesus, not a
member of the denomination.
Finally, after a year of unemployment after
quitting the bar scene, I got hired on during the Christmas rush, at
a drug store chain, working in the camera department. I was to be
laid off after Christmas. The time came for lay offs, but I was
still working. In fact, in January, I worked twenty-one days
straight without a day off, all late shifts. Finally I went to see
the boss and told him about my three weeks without a day off. At
first he thought I was lying, but checked with the bookkeeper and
she confirmed my story. I got four days off in a row, which never
happens in that type of job.
Sometime during these twenty-one days, it was near
closing time, and I was sweeping the floor and really feeling sorry
for myself, worried about being laid-off, with a wife and two little
girls, a trailer house to pay for and in the middle of winter. I was
depressed. All of a sudden, I was, as best as I can describe, lifted
out of my body and lifted to the ceiling. I could look down and see
my body holding the broom. I heard an audible voice saying, “I know
what you’re doing.” The next instant I was back in my body holding
the broom and saying to myself, “What was that? Was that death?”
Whatever it was, I want to go back there! Needless to say, I was no
longer feeling sorry for myself!
A couple years later, I was still at the same job!
I went to the break room and thumbed through a copy of Newsweek.
Inside, I saw an old picture of a soldier in Viet Nam. He was
sitting on his flak jacket and had various items placed so he could
find them in the dark. I knew this routine very well, so I paid
little attention to the photo and went on looking through the rest
of the magazine. Something told me to go back and look at the photo
again. As soon as I found the page, a floodgate was opened and I
began to cry uncontrollably. I knew that I would never have to do
that again! I had carried that hidden fear all these years. I
thought, “They had no right to do that to me!” That pain left, too.
Healing had once again come to me.
Chapter Nine - Stop the Madness
I still have flash backs, but they are no longer the painful
kind. Sometimes I get hungry for meatballs and beans! Or, I’ll
remember singing with the soul brothers, Christmas Eve, 1968, at
Combat Base Vandergrift. The excitement of being young! Oh, don’t
get me wrong, I still remember how serious it could get. The look on
a man’s face when he got a Dear John letter, or when the Platoon
Sergeant had eleven days left in country and was told to do one more
patrol. Hot Landing Zones, saying good-bye, losing my friends,
coming home to be called a baby-killer. Trying to forget; not being
able to forget, you can’t sleep, except for ten minutes at a time.
No one dares to shake you awake. Always angry, filled with guilt,
you can't forget.
While all this is very real, you must put it
behind you and get on with your life. If you know you still need
help, try Jesus, try, try, try! He will meet you at the bottom of
despair and deliver you into a new world of possibilities of light,
and hope! To say that all your cares and worries melt away and you
never have them again by accepting Jesus is not true. But you can be
at peace with yourself and start to find answers. It is a new
beginning, you will understand if you undertake!
If a person is normal, usually he has trusted
mostly in himself and lives his life the way he sees fit. If he has
no misfortunes or physical setbacks or not born with a handicap, he
stands a good chance of living out his life rather uneventfully.
Outside of normalcy, anything can happen and
usually does. Becoming a victim at any age, in any circumstance, is
sometimes difficult or seems impossible to overcome. God does not
intervene in most situations, unless you ask Him for help. If you
have lived this long and come this far, it is probably by the grace
of God, and maybe in spite of him!
Are you content with who you are? If so, stop
reading and go on with your life. If there is ‘something missing’ or
perhaps emptiness you can’t fill with anything, you are in a very
good position. You needn’t reach the end of your rope, hit rock
bottom, nor have a broken heart, but be sincere with God, and admit
that, in yourself, you cannot possibly have all the answers. You
still must be willing to learn and trust Him.
Let me tell you a few things about God, who He is,
what He is like, and why you don’t know Him yet. Remember, when I
mentioned people banging on your door? How are you going to know if
they are telling you the truth? Why would you join any club or
organization without knowing what you were getting into? “God is not
the author of confusion, but of peace. He will not let you be
confused, and has left a way for you to find Him: He that cometh to
God must first believe that He is (exists), and is a rewarder of
those who diligently seek Him. In other words, you can’t come to God
unless you believe, in your heart that He exists. Then, you must
seek for Him to reveal Himself to YOU!
You can believe He exists and not come to him.
That is what most people think: He exists; they stop there and
believe it is enough. They are using their own mind, which is
finite, trying to comprehend the infinite mind of God. They become
confused because they expect too much too soon. They stop their
search because they think they have enough time, later to find that
there is no time left at all! They lack diligence, this no reward
for them, ever.
Keep in mind; you may have no faith in God, yet,
because you don’t know Him. Romans 10 vs. 17 says, “So then faith
cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” You have to put
your physical body in front of a preacher who is preaching the word
of God from the Bible, listen with your ears and your heart will
You must realize you are lost and need a savior.
God is a God of LOVE! He does not want you to perish.
John 3, vs. 16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His
only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him (Jesus) should
not perish, but have everlasting life.” God loves you and wants to
be part of your life. You are precious to Him!
“The Gospel” means: GOOD NEWS! That Jesus was sent
by God to reveal His likeness is indeed good news! Here is a
formula: Romans 10, vs. 9-13… “That if thou shalt confess with thy
mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart
that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. Verse
10: For with the heart, man believeth unto righteousness; and with
the mouth, confession is made unto salvation. Verse 11: For the
scripture saith, whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
Verse12: For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek:
for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.
Verse13: For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be
saved.” This is the promise to God concerning you! Claim the promise!
You may not believe at all, yet. Put God to the
test! Make Him prove Himself in your life! Find someone who you have
been watching for some time. Do you notice “Something different”
about them? Do they have a joy that shows? Do you notice their
“light?” Ask them the reason for their hope. Do you find yourself
wanting to be like them? They are what they are because they follow
Jesus, not mankind and their doctrines. Start somewhere! Go to
church, listen, and ask questions. Seek the truth! You know right
from wrong. If what you are hearing is not true, the Holy Spirit of
God will guide you, go somewhere else!
Dare to make a change in your life. Keep on
keeping on, until you have Jesus living in your heart, and
know you have the peace that surpasses all understanding!
My Journey is not all that different from anyone
else’s, only I know without a doubt, that the hand of God is
extended to everyone! He knows who you are, what you
have been through, how you hurt, knows your emptiness and is always
there for you. Know this: All the help in the world is available to
you, but is useless until you ask. God is waiting for you; ask Him
into your heart. You will never be the same!
Viet Nam is now only a memory for us. In the name
of Jesus, I command you to STAND-DOWN!!! Let the war
be finally over. Stop the madness, get mad at the devil that causes
all the pain, hate, killing and destruction and steals your joy!
With what time is left for you in this life, let the healing begin.
Be a soldier for the Army of God. You are PRECIOUS in
the eyes of God! His Son died for you, shouldn't you find out why?
The Viet Nam war is only a chapter in our lives;
don't make it the only book. We all learned to Stand-to, the trouble
is, no one ever told us to STAND-DOWN!
About the Author
I was the only child of an Inupiat Eskimo woman from
Wainwright, Alaska and a father who was part German, Irish,
Scottish, and Blackfoot Sioux Indian.
Born in Anchorage, Alaska, the largest city in the
Territory, in 1946, as a child of mixed blood, I had to
overcome prejudice as well as horrible childhood diseases.
My father forbid me to learn the Eskimo language, as he
thought I would speak with halted English, which would have
been embarrassing to him. This in itself was to prove a major
problem, since I was the victim of dyslexia, attention deficit
disorder, multiple personalities and God knows what else.
Growing up in a cross cultural world was an experience that
would lead me down many paths on my search for personal
identity. Through my journey, I always felt that God was on my
side, even if I didn't have time for Him.
Viet Nam was the most significant experience in my life up
to that time and would set me on a search for truth and the
very meaning of my existence.
Abuse, post traumatic stress and anger was poisoning my
life as alcohol lead me down a path of self-destruction. I
honestly believed that I would drink myself to death before I
reached thirty years of age. I had lost all hope.
Slowly, the Lord was moving in my life and would eventually
pull me out of my despair and give my life purpose and
meaning. The process is not without cost or pain, but I still
continue my quest with faith from above.
The Lord is very real and wants to heal every area of one's
life. All He needs is a willing heart, a broken heart, is even
better and He will reveal Himself to you and heal every facet
of the mess we bring to Him.
My life has changed because of what God has done for me. He
can do the same for you and more, if only you have the faith
of a grain of a mustard seed.
I went from an ignorant alcoholic, guitar picking, angry
man, to becoming an educated, successful family man who is
finally at peace with his God, himself and the world.
Gerald D. Peavy, HM2, U.S. Navy
Alpha 1/9, 3rd Marines
Quang Tri, Republic of Viet Nam