Michael D Muirhead
Year(s) in Nam:
Contact Info Available?:
Tell me about the time you found out you're going to Vietnam up to the time you left for Vietnam.
I was stationed with Fox 2/8 in Gitmo in early '69, and one morning at
formation a major ordered everyone who had not been to Vietnam to
take one step forward. He then thanked us for volunteering for combat
duty, and rewarded us with a private flight back to LeJeune and
forty-five days' leave.
I went home and drank a lot, tried unsuccessfully to get laid for the
first time, wrecked my mom's new car, and was the guest of honor at a
going away party where my "friends" played Country Joe and the Fish's
"Vietnam Rag"--or whatever it was called--over and over. "Well, it's
one, two, three... What're we fightin' for? Oh, no, I don't give a
damn. Next stop is Viet Nam." My favorite line was always, "Be the
first one on your block, To have your kid come home in a box." Funny
bunch, my "friends." Fucking hilarious.
After leave, I went to Pendleton for WESPAC training. About all I
remember of that, besides humping up and down about a million of
those dusty goddamn California hills, is a survival training
instructor showing us how to skin a rabbit, turn the hide inside out
to make warm shoes. I don't know about you, but I never saw a hell of
a lot of rabbits in Vietnam. And I don't remember my feet ever
getting cold, either. At least I got to take a bus down to Anaheim
and see the real Disneyland before I went to that other one.
I had a few days' layover for staging in Okinawa. That was where I
first become acquainted with Singapore Slings. I downed six or eight
and "came to" the next morning across a rack in the wrong barracks
with my empty billfold on the floor beside me and a very sore face
and ribs. I think I was still hung over when the C-140 landed in
Danang the next day.
Tell me something about your time in Vietnam.
I still remember stepping off the plane from Okinawa into that
intense heat and humidity and dust. It was like bumping into a hot,
soggy cotton bale while chewing on a dirt clod.
I was there overnight, maybe two, waiting for unit assignment. I
remember a dozen or so of us FNGs sitting on the floor in an office
at the airbase while a gunnery sergeant walked around with a
clipboard asking each of us how tall we were. When I told him I was
5'9" he said, "You're tall enough," and made a notation on his
clipboard. Something clicked in my head after he walked away, and I
got up and went and asked him, "Tall enough for what?" He said, "To
be an MP." I immediately asked him if that meant I'd have to do the
squared-away, spit-shined and polished-brass routine. When he said
yes, I immediately and cockily said, "Fuck that. Send me to the
bush." I'll never forget the look of intense sadness on his face when
he asked me if I was sure I knew what I was asking for. Two hours
later I boarded a CH-46 for An Hoa and "Deadly, Death-Dealing Delta,"
After the first three days, which we were allowed for acclimation and
during which time I drank about a thousand lukewarm Cokes, my new
platoon straggled into camp. I was awestruck. I couldn't believe how
dirty and ragged and tired they looked. Of course, being fresh meat,
only my new squad leader, Dale Wilson, and a corpsman named Marty
spoke to me. A month later I understood this.
While the platoon was resting up in the rear, we stood guard duty on
the wire at night and went on mine sweeping patrols halfway to
Liberty Bridge every morning. On the third day of walking left flank,
I was given the point. Since we walked the same flank route every
day, I noticed something strange on the trail: a twisted green vine
stretched across the path, about ankle high. We backed off while the
engineers blew the booby trap in place, and when I returned to that
spot in the trail, trees and undergrowth were splintered and smoking
in a circle ten feet across. It was then that I first realized that
being in Vietnam was going to be more than just an extended hunting
trip with free ammunition.
As was true with most infantry platoons in the Arizona Territory, the
job meant long days of slogging through rice paddies, occasionally
climbing a mountain or crossing a river, always in search of the
elusive enemy. A tour in the bush could mean thirty to fifty days of
excruciatingly hard and boring work, meals eaten with a white plastic
spoon from olive drab tin cans, constantly wet feet, dirty clothes
and bodies, biting flies during the day and mosquitoes at night, and
bad drinking water. There was always one more day patrol or a night
ambush. Everlasting monotony was infrequently punctuated by sniper
fire or booby traps, and mountains on fire from Napalm or Arc lights;
the enemy was rarely seen before, during or after. Walking into small
villages to search for rice or weapons caches meant the frustration
of trying to communicate with people who didn't understand one tenth
of what we said, and most of us couldn't speak more than a few words
of Vietnamese. It was the hardest work I ever did, for the least
On December 12, 1969, three weeks after my nineteenth birthday, while
walking point for a patrol to escort two Army warrant officers out to
plant sounding spods, I stepped on a "hostile explosive device,"
either a booby trap or small land mine. It was my fault. I knew
better than to take the trail; I should have been to one side or the
other, but I was tired and angry and in a hurry to get this
inconvenience over and out of the way. Since we weren't supposed to
be gone for very long that day, we didn't have a corpsman or a radio
or smoke canisters. Somebody humped back to the hill where the
company was set in, and called for a medevac chopper. Dale Wilson
built a small fire and piled green vegetation on for smoke to signal
the CH-46 of our location. In about 45 minutes I flew away from the
Arizona Territory forever. At least physically.
Tell me about your first few days back in the USA
I was operated on in Danang, flown to Yokosuka, Japan soon after,
then eventually to the Naval Hospital at NAS Jacksonville, Florida.
One day later, on Christmas Eve, my family and girlfriend drove all
night from Jackson, MS to see me. They arrived after visiting hours
and the chief ward nurse tried to send them away. My mom was a lawyer
and a Mississippi state senator at the time, so she was good at
pleading her case. They were shown in to my room. I had shrapnel
wounds everywhere except the top of my head and was doped up on
Demerol so I was not a pretty sight. When my family stepped out in
order to let my girlfriend and me visit privately, all I could talk
about was Vietnam. She went back to college and found a new
boyfriend. I hunted her down and married her anyway.
Tell me about you today, and how Vietnam has influenced what you do and how you live today..
Today I know that I have always been my own worst enemy. If anybody
else had done to me what I did to myself, I would have to kill them.
I drank and drugged at Vietnam for twenty years, until I couldn't do
it anymore. After I got clean and sober, I had PTSD to deal with. At
times I almost didn't make it, but with the support of many dedicated
and compassionate people at the VA hospital and the Vet Center in
Cincinnati, and from many hours of support group meetings around
tables with other Viet vets, I can honestly say that I've never had
it so good with so little. I've learned to forgive myself for most of
the things I tried in vain to escape by way of self-destructive
behavior. And I'm hopeful that my experience and strengths can be of
value to others in my life. I don't hate Vietnam or the Vietnamese. I
don't even care that Bell Helicopter and Dupont Chemical made a ton
of money from the war in Vietnam. It's time to tally up the important
lessons we all learned from that tragedy, and accept that a hell of a
lot of us made big mistakes. But we made important and sometimes
lifelong friends along the way, too, many of whom have helped me to
understand that I'm no longer bad or worthless or a victim. It's not
my fault. I was raised by humans and educated on the fields of fire.
C'est la vie.
Give me a 1 or 2 liner about anything you want to say.
I have to agree with Quentin Crisp's view of life:
"You fall out of your mother's womb,
you crawl across open country under fire,
and drop into your grave."
Everything else is lagniappe, so
"laissez les bon temps roulez!"
Don't Let The Memory Of Them Drift Away
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