SemiREMF Stories, Americal Division 69-70
The Israeli Connection
It was a moonless and clear night over Duc Pho, Vietnam. Even though Duc Pho was a fairly large town, its night lights were scarce and dim and provided very little background illumination. Headquarters Troop, 1/1 Armored Cavalry, Americal Division, was setup near the main runway on the outskirts of the town. We had been there for several days conducting a squadron-size operation in the plains and hills west of the city. I walked across the troop area, which was a rough semi-circle backed up against a large hill that rose up out of one side of the Duc Pho perimeter. The combination of bright starlight and lights from the open rear loading ramps of the tracks made night navigation there a simple chore. I walked tiredly across the compound towards the artillery liaison track. It was parked near the center of the line of command tracks lined up against the hillside. I had dubbed it the "Bravo Tango", for big target as it was about 2 feet taller than the standard ACAVs. This extra height housed 2 shelves of radios and encryption equipment along the inside overhead. From the top of Bravo Tango sprouted a small forest of antennas and a large external generator mounted towards the front of the vehicle. In a column, these tracks all stuck out like sore thumbs clearly identifying the command and control elements, thus my choice of vehicle name.
When I reached our track, I glanced up at the sky and as always did a double take at the brilliance and clarity of the stars. The lack of air pollution and background light in this small underdeveloped nation made the night skies startling and breathtaking to me. I pondered the paradox of this countryís simultaneous beauty and deadliness for a moment and then clumped up the ramp and ducked into the track. The Spec 4 at the table nodded at me and said, "Howís it going, Dai Wei". I unslung my M-16 and leaned it against the table that extended from the side of the track. I unhooked my pistol belt, set it down on the table, and sat down heavily next to him. I said, "Fine, anything happening in the AO". "Nope, we finished getting everyone's FPFs (final protective fires) cleared and fired about a half hour ago", he answered. "When is your shift over", I asked. He glanced at his watch and relied, "Mm, about an hour". "Why donít you take the rest of the night off. Iíll take it from here, Iíve got to clean my weapons any way", I told him. I could tell from the look on his face that he thought it was a great idea and he said, "Thanks alot DaiWe". He briefly ran over the mission logs, grabbed his few things and di diíed (left quickly) before I could change my mind.
I rummaged around the track until I located my cleaning paraphernalia in its 50-cal ammo can. I quickly field-stripped my M-16 and began to scrub out the bore and chamber with wire brushes dowsed in solvent. Next, I swabbed them clean and dry with cloth patches. I finished up the barrel with a light coat of oil from another patch. Next, I meticulously cleaned the bolt and lubed it with my special stateside graphite grease. Finally, I dusted off and lightly oiled the trigger group and reassembled the weapon. I worked the bolt and snapped the trigger a couple of time to make sure every thing was functioning smoothly and set it aside. I then popped the flap loose and pulled the Colt .45 Govt. Model pistol from the holster on my pistol belt lying on the table. I removed the clip and ejected the round from its chamber. Carrying a round in the chamber wasnít the safest thing but it was a common practice in Vietnam. I had thought about it when I first came in country and also talked it over with a few others. Opinions varied, so I decided that if I ever needed to use my .45, it would most likely be a last ditch thing. In that situation, I didnít want to have to take the time to chamber a round. The most I wanted to have to do in that situation was flick off the safety, cock the hammer, and fire. It was a trade-off, less time to fire the weapon vs. less safety.
It had been several weeks since I had cleaned the .45 and I figured it was past due. Unlike the M-16, I could afford to be less conscientious with it as a little dirt didnít seem phase it. Additionally, this weapon had proven itself through 2 World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Mine was well worn, but it was one of the most reliable weapons ever developed and I just took it for granted. I field stripped the .45, cleaned it thoroughly, and reassembled it. Since I used them so rarely, I removed all the bullets from all 3 clips. I checked the condition each round, wiped them all down with an oily rag, and reloaded all the clips. I returned the spare clips to their pouch, inserted the remaining clip into the pistol, and made sure it was firmly seated. I then pointed the pistol at the table in front of me. I pulled back the receiver slide, making sure my trigger finger was outside the trigger guard, and released it to chamber a round. Much to my surprise when the slide slammed home, the weapon fired. I instinctively ducked and gritted my teeth as I heard the round ricochet around inside the track. After a moment, I realized I was unhurt and began to check for any damage the bullet may have done. I looked through the hole in the table and then underneath to try and determine where the bulletís trajectory had taken it. As I was crawling around the track, a couple of CAV trooper stuck their heads in the back door and one asked, "Was that shot from in here?" I sheepishly nodded yes and pointing to the .45 on the table said, "Yah, that worn out piece of shit fired when I chambered a round". I then proceeded to follow up with a lengthy string of invectives targeted at the .45. I quickly followed that with another addressed at myself for not bringing my own customized .45 with me when I came over.
Most troopers considered possessing a formidable vocabulary of foul language and the ability to use it fluently an admirable skill. It was the only thing I could think of to cover my embarrassment at firing the weapon inside the track. They grinned and walked away shaking their heads. I am quite sure that the artillery and officers in general did not fair well in their subsequent conversations. I however was relieved they were gone and continued my search for damage and the errant bullet. Fortunately, nothing was damaged but I couldnít locate the spent bullet. All I could think of was that it must have exited the track somehow. After a few more minutes, a couple men in my section poked their heads in the back of the track. I gritted my teeth and put on my best don't mess with me look. One of them said, "Hey, Dai We, we heard you shot the track, is everything okay?" I pointed to the hole in the table and said, "Man, bad news sure travels fast around here, that holeís the worst of it." One of them stepped in and fingered the hole and said, "That's not too bad, you were pretty lucky, huh." I looked at him and answered, "Ya, I guess if you can call almost shooting yourself lucky. Iíll tell you this though, thatís the last time I ever snap the receiver home on my piece of shit .45." Neither man said anything for a while and so I said to one of them, "Say, isnít it almost time for you to come on duty". The man glanced at his wristwatch and nodded affirmatively. "Consider yourself on duty then. I better get out of here before I shoot anymore holes in this track and the old man has my ass for it." I said. I quickly went through the mission logs with him and headed for my tent to put some distance between myself and the scene of my foul up. I didnít want to have to explain what had happened to anyone else.
A few days after the Duc Pho mission had concluded, the headquarters company first sergeant paid me a visit. We had returned to our main base of operations in Chu Lai for a few days of stand down rest and maintenance. He knocked on my hooch one afternoon and came in the door when I yelled, "Enter". He was a very large man, somewhat over weight, with a name and personal colloquiums, which clearly identified his Jewish upbringing and background. I had seen him around but never had any dealings with him and so was kind of surprised to see him. After a few moments with him, I liked him and could tell that he was an extremely good-natured guy. This was somewhat unusual, as the army seemed to prefer it's senior NCO's to be the hardest and meanest of the lot. I figured that since this man didn't fit the stereotype, he had to be awfully good at his job in order to make first sergeant in spite of it. "What's up, Top", I asked. He said, "Captain, I just stopped to thank you for saving my bacon". Not having a clue what he was talking about I said, "How do ya figure that, Top".
"Well, remember when you lit up the inside of your track at Duc Pho", he started very seriously. I nodded, now beginning to suspect a good ribbing was coming. He continued, "Well, just before we left on that mission, the colonel had gotten pissed at all the weapons being fired inside the perimeter. He had issued an edict that the next time a weapon was accidentally discharged inside the perimeter, whatever the reason, the man would get an Article 15". I nodded my understanding and he went on, "I had the fired my M-16 accidentally the first night at Duc Pho and even though the colonel wasn't around, the squadron XO had started the Article 15 paperwork on me. He's always bucking ya know". I again nodded as the light was finally beginning to shine for me. "After you discharged your .45, he couldn't very well give me the Article 15 without doing the same to you and you know that would never happen", he said. "So, I sort of owe you for the rest of my career as an Article 15 would have finished it for me", he concluded his face widening to a grin.
I said, "Hell, Top, I'm glad to have been of help, but I'm not so sure you can count any more after this. I scared the shit out myself last time and don't intend to do it anymore if I can help it." He chuckled and said, "No shit captain, if there is anything I can ever do for ya just ask, cause I really do owe you one". "No sweat, Top, ya don't owe me a thing, us accidental dischargers have got to stick together", I said. He stood and headed for the door but turned and said, "Thanks anyway captain, I'll see ya later". After he left, I realized that even though the situation was pure chance, he was serious about feeling a debt of gratitude to me. I thought about the strangeness of the situation for a while and then filed it in the weird stuff in the Nam corner of my mind.
A few nights's later in the O-club after too many beers, myself and a few CAV junior officers were discussing one of our favorite gripes. It was the way the war was be fought in Vietnam. I had felt for some time a growing suspicion that in spite of us winning all the battles, we were somehow losing the war. I suspected we all felt it to some degree but the notion was so unnatural to us, we never voiced it. Instead, we blamed our lack of success on the political limitations that had been levied on us. We all felt that the war would end in a few weeks if we were allowed to cross the DMV and roll up the NVA all the way to Hanoi. We also felt the on again, off again bombing of the North wasn't helping either. Whenever, the politicians negotiated a cease fire or a bombing halt, the NVA used the opportunity to pour men and material down the Ho Che Min trail as fast as they could. Somehow, the conversation worked its way around to the Israeli's 6 Day was against Egypt. We concluded that they really knew how to fight a war to win, without compromise. After a while someone said, "You know, I sure would like to fight for an outfit like that instead of this political BS we got here". A chorus of support for this notion rang out. "Ya, I'm damn tired of fighting diplomatically and I've only got 5 months left in the Army. I'm not all that sure I will be able to go college with a bunch of draft card-burning, dope-smoking hippies and stay out of trouble", I said. "I'm going to write the Israeli's and see if I can get into their armed forces and keep my equivalent rank", I continued. "Ya right, after all you are Captain Kill," one CAV officer sneered. "Ya, get some high angle hell", another teased.
I had had enough for the night and whether it was the goading or the alcohol, I went straight to my hooch and drafted a letter to the Israeli ambassador in Washington DC. I put it in the mailbag that night and it went out the next day. A few weeks later I received a formal and polite response from the office of the Israeli ambassador. They explained that while they appreciated my interest, they only used Israeli citizens in their military forces. I wasn't sure if I was disappointed or relieved, but that night in the O-club, I casually brought up our previous conversation. As soon as the good natured razzing started up again, I plunked the letter down on the table and said, "Well it seemed like a good idea, but no joy there either". They looked at me quizzically and then one spread the letter out and began to read it with several others looking over his shoulder. Finally he said, " Well I'll be a sumbitch, Captain Kill really did write to the Israeli's". The rest looked up at me and it was clear I had scored a few points with them. I was hopeful that I would get a brief respite from their ribbing if nothing else.
A day or so later, Top was back at my hooch. When he entered this time, I wondered what was up but was glad to see him as I enjoyed his company. "What's up now Top", I asked. "Well, I heard through the grapevine that you had been turned down by the Israeli's. If you are serious, I can get you in touch with the right people to make it really happen", he said. "No shit, Top, cause the ambassador in DC said that I couldn't be in their army unless I was an Israeli citizen", I responded. "That's just politics and diplomatic BS, captain, he had to say that. There's lots of US citizens in the Israeli army, trust me", he said. "Well, thanks a lot Top, but I had kind of let go of that idea when they turned me down. I've kinda got my mind around going back to college when I get out", I hedged. "I'll think it over again now that I know that it's doable and decide what I really want to do. Thanks for the info", I weaseled. "Okay, captain, if you decide you want to do it just let me know. I can make it happen and I owe you one", he said as he left. I decided to sit on it for a while and make a decision about it when I was down to a couple of months from my DEROS date.
A couple of weeks later, Top was along with us to visit a couple of his HQs tracks in the field on the Charlie Charlie (command and control) chopper. In the course of events that day, we had to go into a hot LZ for a critical ammo supply run. The troop had gotten into a long running battle and had run its ammo supply dangerously low. We flew in with a load of 7.62 & 50 cal ammo and fresh barrels for the machine guns. Top was setting on the outside seat behind the Peter Pilot and when we touched down the enemy opened up on us as usual. An RPG gunner fired at us from way across an open field. Fortunately, it was a long shot out at the end of its effective range and it hit considerably short. Never the less, a few fragments sprinkled Top and he would have gotten a real cheap Purple Heart. Unfortunately, the stress and shock of the situation caused him to have a mild heart attack and he was subsequently shipped home for treatment. This kind of let me off the hook on having to make a decision about going to Israel.
After I got out of the army, I met an ex-Special Forces officer who had been talked into working for Biafra during their attempt to become independent from Nigeria at the behest of his old CIA "buddies". He barely survived the experience and when he tried to return to the US, found his US citizenship had been revoked for serving in the armed forces of another nation. He had gone to England and become a factory service representative for an English motorcycle manufacturer. He was working in the US on a green card and had to register every year as an alien citizen, what a bucket of crap that was. Along with his citizenship, he also lost all his GI benefits thanks to those CIA pukes. He speculated that they had probably decided they needed scapegoats because the mission had failed and offered up the men they had recruited for the mission. Top hadn't mentioned this or didn't know about that possible ramification of serving with the Israelis. It was probably a good chance that it wouldn't have been a problem. We had very close ties and strongly supported the Israeli military during that time. It is one of the few "job opportunities" I have passed up in my life.Back