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Dale's Vietnam Story


Dale Johnson’s (Earl’s brother) story

Hi, do you know me? I am Royce Dale Johnson, youngest brother of Earl, Kerry, Kenneth and twin to Joyce Gale. Earl has asked me to tell a few stories about my Vietnam experiences. Don't worry I'll leave out the foul language and the mean things the enemy did to our side and us to them. I think I have enough nightmares for all of us. Before I start here is a glossary of slang in case you see a word that did not make since.

V.C. ----------------------------- Vietcong - Gook

Charley ------------------------ As in Victor Charley

Skinny ------------------------- News

NVA ---------------------------- North Vietnam Army

Bush --------------------------- Jungle

LZ ------------------------------ Landing Zone

Hot LZ ------------------------ LZ with incoming

DE ----------------------------- Get out of here

Kill Zone --------------------- Area around base

The picture above tells it all. I’m by a machine gun post. It's early morning on Hill 689 looking over the Kheshan Valley. From one side of the hill you can see Kheshan base camp and from the other side you can see Cambodia, Lios, the Ho Chi Min Trail and a place called Death Valley.

That darkness on my face is not expensive paint to hide in the dark --- that’s dirt. I hadn't had a bath in over a month. One of the guys hadn't had a bath in over 3 months. Water was rationed to a canteen a day unless you had patrol, then you gathered it from a creek, but don’t stop, gather it as you cross.

Those little round things in the ground are bomb craters and most are bigger than a house. 689 was a hot LZ and choppers would DE drop a water bladder or worse let it go on the side of the hill to roll down about half way and crash into the trees and burst losing all but about 40 gallons in the enemy’s lap. Men volunteered every two or three days to fetch water. A five gallon can in each hand can get pretty heavy by the time you get up there. Some of the guys that went to the bladder, did not make it back.

I was in Lima Company, and not long after that picture was taken we went on patrol down the finger of the hill. All of us had a bad feeling about it. On patrol we usually didn't take the easiest path. Sure enough before we hit the valley we walked right into a horseshoe ambush. They let the 1st squad in and then opened up on them. They had a machine gun nest in the belly of the horseshoe and riflemen on the sides. The 1st squad was nearly wiped out. I was in the 2nd squad and helped pull out the wounded and the dead. We called in air support and soon a Phantom M-16 jet came. They dropped napalm on our smoke and burned the tall grass down to the ground; the gooks were dug in good. They dug straight down and had bamboo reinforced doors called spider traps. They could raise it, fire, drop it and were invisible again. I crawled through the black that was still warm.

Finally, I saw the trap blown apart and it looked like it was just begging for a grenade. I had laid down a lot of cover fire earlier and had only one grenade left. Starting down the hill at a fast pace, I could not imagine why it had not gone off yet. I turned around and lucky I did, the gook had found the grenade in the dark hole and threw it right at me. At that moment I was Superman, Batman, and Burt Lancaster; I took a flying leap off the side of that ridge. I was in mid air and the grenade went off behind me in mid air too. I took a brodie down that hill, tumbling and rolling; my rifle was near me so I grabbed it and went down the saddle back to borrow a grenade from the 3rd squad. A medic came up to be and told me that my leg was bleeding and put a battle dressing on and said to get in a chopper.

I met my good friend Tennessee; he had a piece of shrapnel stuck in his gums between two teeth. We helped each other down the ridge; both of us were a little weak from blood loss. From nowhere comes a full bird colonel and said, "Where do you think you’re going?" We told him we were out of ammo and the gooks were throwing grenades back at us. "You don't need any ammo, I want you two to spot those holes for the 3rd squad." So back we went; Tennessee went one way and I the other. I had three men with me, one stood guard and the others threw grenades after counting to three. I begged them for a grenade but they wouldn't; they told me to DE up that hill as the last chopper was loading up.

I made it to the chopper and squeezed in. I looked around and saw Tennessee lying on his back, his eyes were closed, and he had three battle dressings on his belly. The chopper was really noisy. “Are you ok man?" He opened his eyes and said, "Give me a cigarette." I lit one up and put it in his lips. He puffed and puffed, but no smoke came out of his mouth, then I looked at his dressing and smoke came through the gauze on his belly. I went to Dang Ha to get stitches and Tennessee went to a hospital off the coast. My leg was throbbing, but I didn't care, I was going back to the rear, with the beer and the gear; that was the last time I saw Tennessee. By that time had 4 months in the country, with only nine more to go.