by Salvatore Cacciola
I enlisted for electronics training and selected a program that was way over my head. I picked the longest course in order to stay in the States as long as I could, but it was also the most difficult. After nine weeks of the thirty-two week course, I could not live up to the contract I had made with Uncle Sam; so Uncle said that he had need of me elsewhere. I was sent to advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. After that unique training, I was sent to sunny Viet Nam. I was scared you know what!
I had visions of crawling out of the 707 Jet when we arrived, but instead found the environment to be a tourist trap. After a week of jungle training, I was sent to a regular outfit, the 101st Airborne Division, and was called a leg because I didn't receive their intensive training. I never jumped out of anything except an orange crate in Brooklyn, and these guys were jumping out of towers, planes, helicopters, and off sandbags. I ignored them as much as I could but I thought it was funny also.
After traveling around Phu Bai in the North, I started to relax a bit and decided that the quickest way out of Viet Nam was by getting wounded. So-- during fire fights, I started to stick up my arm or leg and tell the enemy to hit me there, but they were lousy shots.
One day while guarding a bridge on the Perfume River, a Buddhist monk walked up to me while I was cleaning my gear and started talking English. He asked me how I liked his country, and I told him I wasn't a tourist. I don't remember much of the conversation only that he invited me to come and see his Temple. I told him I had no time and personally wasn't interested in going to anyone's church. However, three days later he returned to find out when I was coming. I yelled over to the sergeant to ask permission (feeling confident that he would say no), but instead, he said yes. You should have seen my facial expression and sensed my thoughts!
I took along my weapon and two buddies. As we entered the Temple, I noticed a brass Buddha five feet tall and four feet off the ground. It was peaceful and calm. So-- they worshipped Buddha as we worshipped Jesus, la di da da da. I wondered how many wars his followers had started like the followers of Jesus. (That was where my head was at.) Beyond the Temple was a small garden with over hanging trees and it was all surrounded by an eight foot stucco wall. We had tea. What did you expect? The only conversation I can remember was his asking me what my religion was. I told him that I was a non-practicing Catholic. I detected no reaction and he continued his conversation. He asked me for my name and address, and I gave him a phony address. As we left, one of my buddies wanted to rip off the Temple. That seemed to annoy me and I prevented it. I felt that this man had found something and we shouldn't interfere with his peace, whatever that was. We moved out of that area and I never saw or heard from him again until I moved to Inverness, Florida. More on this later.
On the night of the 17th of August 1968, I was very uncomfortable. We were sleeping in six inches of mud and occasionally receiving sniper fire. We knew that in the morning we would have to confront the enemy.
Morning came. One squad moved on the left flank, another started sweeping through the village, and our squad moved on the right flank. Two cherries (new recruits) were told to walk point (first man), but I volunteered (inner guidance or error?). I knew the hardest part would be to get through a tree line that ran perpendicular to the rectangular village. Looking for booby traps, I got through the tree line and walked about 20 feet. I turned to wave the rest of the squad through and turned again to move forward when something exploded behind me. I felt a sting from behind and a loud ringing in my ears. I was down on my stomach and I crawled into a hole. I expected a ground assault but could not find by rifle. All was very quiet.
A few buddies came over to me and someone called, "Medic!" I was on my back and the medic gave me a shot. My fatigue trousers came right off when they were grabbed at the top of the knees. The back of my trousers was totally shredded. A helicopter arrived within two minutes and I was on my way to a MASH unit.
At the MASH unit I was conscious and curious to see what damage was done. My back pack had saved by back, but my buttocks and the back of my legs were in bad shape. Someone kept trying to prevent me from seeing what was going on and I got rowdy. They told me that female nurses were around, and I told them what I thought about them interfering with what I wanted to see. They gave me another shot, and I woke up three days later full of bandages.
Salvatore A. Cacciola