“The Hurt Locker” and IEDs in Vietnam

I went and saw The Hurt Locker, a movie I recommend to anyone wanting to see the reality of war without serving in one. This gritty, realistic movie reminded me of another incident I survived in Vietnam and the fact that Islamic terrorists in Iraq did not invent IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). IEDs have been around for a long time.

One day in 1966, I accompanied a platoon of flame tanks outside the Division area where a forward artillery battery was being located. The flame tanks were using napalm to burn brush off the hills near the site so it would be difficult for snipers to get close enough without being spotted.

The tank commander said, “Drive in our tracks. This road is often mined.”

I put one set of tires in the tank’s tracks, wider than the jeeps. The other two tires rolled in the center of that dirt road. We drove like that for miles into the hills watching the ground in front of the jeep for signs of digging.

The question I have been asked the most over the years from people that haven’t fought in a war has been, “Were you afraid.”

The only fear I had in Vietnam was that I wouldn’t be able to do my job, that I would let my fellow Marines down, that someone in my unit would die because of me. Now, I worry about my ability to protect my family.

It doesn’t help that I live in America where there are dangers besides our government taking away our liberties, which seems to be a constant misplaced fear for many. Over the years, I learned that the real threat to the American way of life comes from extreme idealists and streets gangs—not our government, which has checks and balances.

I taught in the public schools for thirty years between 1975 and 2005. The high school where I worked was surrounded by a barrio filled with violent street gangs. One day, I witnessed a drive by shooting from a classroom doorway. On another day, a student died outside my classroom when he was shot gunned by a rival gang. Every day, when I arrived at school, I resented the fact that I wasn’t allowed to carry a weapon on campus. The only threat to violent teenagers was expulsion, not the loss of a job or jail time.

Discover One Reason Why “we” Wore the Uniform and Put “our” Lives on the Line

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

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Hearing Loss thanks to the M-48 Patton Tank and the 155 mm self-propelled howitzers

The quiet was almost total this morning at 3:00 AM.

There were no crickets, and there was no sound of intruders.  I lay in bed listening for a long time, maybe an hour before I drifted off again.

The familiar static was there that is the only sound when there is no noise outside my head. I’m not sure I’ve heard total silence since Vietnam.

During early morning moments such as this, I remember one night in Vietnam when I lost my sight and hearing.

In Chu Lai, Vietnam, I was a field radio operator in the 1st Tank Battalion, First Marine Division.

The M-48 Patton had a 90 mm cannon. The M-48 was separated into three compartments: the driver’s compartment, the fighting compartment where the gunner, loader, and tank commander [TC] fought, and the engine compartment.

Above the main gun was a 1 million candlepower Xenon searchlight. This light had both a white light and an infrared mode. It was bore sighted with the main gun and gun sights so that it could be used to illuminate a target at night.

Hearing those 90 mm cannons firing may have contributed to the static in my hearing today.

However, one night, a battery of  M-109 (called the Paladin), 155 mm self-propelled howitzers gets the most credit for that static.

That battery fired a surprise mission.

At two AM, I was standing watch in a hillside bunker above the M-109s, and I was struggling to stay alert and awake.

Without warning, the battery fired.

What little hair I had on my head stood at attention, and the combined flashes left me blind for a moment with dancing spots staying longer, but the loud buzzing in my ears stayed for hours.

My head felt as if it had been stuffed with cotton. All sound was dampened for some time.

By the way, field radio operators did not ride in tanks. We had a jeep with a canvas top. A large radio filled the space behind the front seats.

When we weren’t driving around in old WWII vintage radio jeeps, we hoofed it with a radio strapped to our backs and our old batteries were often dead before we used them.

The radio we arrived with in Vietnam with was a PRC 10. There was no armor to protect field-radio operators in the field. Field-radio operators were usually the first to be shot in an ambush.

The patrol leader was the second priority target.

Discover Children as Soldiers and Weapons of Death

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Heavy Drinking and Flashbacks Sink a Marriage

In December 1966, I returned from Vietnam.  For fifteen years, I didn’t think about the war or talk about it to anyone, at least not on a conscious level.

Instead, I drank—a lot. Beer, wine, mixed drinks. It didn’t matter. I grew up with an alcoholic father and older brother. My fraternal grandfather was an alcoholic and so was my father’s older brother James. Alcohol almost ended the marriage between my mother and father. After an ultimatum from my mother, dad quit drinking to save the marriage. By then I was twelve. He was a great guy sober.

Due to that childhood environment, I swore I would never drink.

The war changed that. Before shipping out to Vietnam, I started drinking twenty-five cent pitchers of beer on base in Okinawa to fit in since so many Marines drank. There was nothing else to do when off duty. Once, we were so broke, several of the Marines in my unit pooled pennies, and I went into the village across the street from Camp Hanson’s main gate and bought a cheap bottle of Japanese slow gin.  After the first glass, you lost the feeling in your nose, fingers and toes. When you woke up twelve hours later, you were still drunk. The hangover came later. I discovered that codeine or some other drug was part of the mix in that slow-gin bottle. The cheapest drunk was rubbing alcohol mixed with Coke or Pepsi. We filled a helmet and passed it around until the mix was gone. The next morning, some guy would be sitting inside my head pounding on an anvil with a sledgehammer.

During the fifteen years between 1966 and 1981, I often relived the war in surrealistic flashbacks where Vietcong would be in the house, and I went on patrol with a Ka-Bar or a twelve -gauge shotgun. One night in 1977 at 2:00 AM, my first wife left the bedroom to get a glass of water. She returned while I was fighting ghosts.

To me, she was the enemy, and I pushed her against the wall in the hall outside the bedroom and held the tip of that seven-inch blade against her throat. She calmly talked to me until I was somewhat aware of my real surroundings, and we went back to bed. She never mentioned that scene during the remaining years of our marriage, but I have never forgotten.

In 1981, I stopped drinking and soon was talking and writing about the war. I woke this morning thinking about that moment in the hallway in 1977. The war is always close.

Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

Ka-Bar Sharp

I do not read newspapers or watch the daily news. The news in America is too violent.

When I read or hear news that reminds me of the statistics that say one out of three Americans will be the victims of violent crime during their lives, that flips the PTSD switch in my head, and I go on uber-alert.

For readers that don’t know, PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Studies show that people from three professions can suffer from PTSD: veterans, teachers and flight controllers.

Since I served in Vietnam in the Marines, then went into the classroom for thirty years teaching in gang-infested schools surrounded by graffiti slimed neighborhoods, I qualify.

The thing is, I don’t have nightmares from the classroom. None of my tough students tried to kill me.

My flashbacks come from the rice paddies where I fought mostly on night patrols and ambushes.

Before I go to bed, I reach for the hidden Ka-Bar (Marine Corps knife) to make sure it was still there. I’d keep a pistol or riot gun close, but I don’t want to wake in the dark and shoot my wife or daughter before I have time to think, so I keep those weapons out of easy reach.

That brings me to what has kept me awake this week.

My teenage daughter broke up with her boyfriend for the fifth time. I hope this is the last time with this boy.

You see, I learned in Vietnam that every human is capable of extreme violence, and strong, negative emotions bring out that violence. When I feel there is any possible threat to my family, I don’t sleep well.

When I’m on high alert, I’m lucky to sleep an hour in one night. Sometimes, I don’t sleep at all. Every noise wakes me.

Before going to bed, I make my rounds. I check every door, every lock. I check all the windows to make sure they are latched. After I get in bed, I make sure that Ka-Bar is still there. Touching the handle of that deadly seven-inch blade reassures me. I also know where the shotguns are, my thirty-eight caliber revolver and the automatic with the ten-round clip. I have weapons salted all over the house hidden and out of sight but easy to reach.

It may sound strange, but I can watch violent movies like Alien or The Terminator and they do not set me off, because I know they are fiction.

However, the TV news is based on real stories, and that keeps me awake nights. I wish my daughter would find guys to go out with who aren’t so dysfunctional.

Discover the Sexual Revolution in China

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

R&R and the Ladies of the Night

It has been said that the world’s oldest profession is prostitution. That is wrong. The oldest profession is motherhood.

The second oldest profession belongs to warriors leaving home to fight in foreign lands. That may make prostitution the third oldest profession. It all comes down to what came first, the chicken or the egg.

When warriors leave home to fight in foreign lands, the hormonal drive to have sex does not go into hibernation. That has been true for thousands of years.

I am sure that Alexander the Great’s army did not become celibate all those years away from Greece while conquering so much of the known world.

Soldiers have two choices to take care of the sex drive: commit rape or turn to prostitutes. Celibacy is usually not the choice most young men in the military make.

The Vietnam War was no different.  For each tour served, the troops were given five days of R & R. It was called rest and recuperation.

Most married men flew to Hawaii for their five days to spend time with the family. The rest went to places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Bangkok in Thailand.

Bangkok was the desired location for most Marines.

I spent my R & R in Hong Kong, and I did not rest.

Another Marine in the communications platoon I was in went to Bangkok and returned to Vietnam with more than one unwanted gift.

He had crabs, syphilis and gonorrhea. When he had to pee, two of us went with him to hold him up. The pain was so intense he passed out.

Another young Marine in the Communications platoon couldn’t wait for R & R. He found a woman while still in Vietnam. He swore that he paid her, but her father caught them naked in a rice paddy and the Marine was on top. She accused that Marine of rape, and he was court marital and sent to a military prison for twenty years.

Going to a foreign land to fight for his country changed his life drastically.

Years later, in 1981, I wrote a short story about one night in Vietnam that has to do with the need for sex and food.

For the next twenty-five years, I worked on that story. Eventually, A Night at the ‘Well of Purity’ was a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. The story is fiction but is based on fact. That night did happen, and I have never forgotten it.

I am sure the male sex drive had an impact on most of the young men that went to fight in America’s foreign wars.

Discover A Night at the “Well of Purity”

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

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And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”