10/11/2010 | Share this article:CHAPTER FOUR
Viet Nam – The Longest Year of my Life!
Part 1 – Getting There
by ex-Pastor Dan ~
SOUNDS AND SMELLS
Boing…..plunk plunk….chicka-chicka….bing-bing-bing…click CLICK CLICK………….THUD! ……………..Oh, maaannnn! “ Hey Dude, YOU SUCK!!!”
Image by BeerNotBombs via FlickrYeah, I sucked at PIN-BALL. I had never played it before coming to the Armed Forces Disembarking Station, just outside of San Francisco, CA. I had never played cards or marbles or anything that ‘smacked’ of gambling. Even if you could just win a FREE game (if your score was high enough in Pin-Ball) or take some kid’s ‘pure-ee’ or ‘cat’s-eye’ in marbles; it was FORBIDDEN for me. “That is still gambling and gambling is a SIN!” my mother would warn. “When Jesus comes back, you don’t want to be caught sinning!” I was not allowed to go to movies, dances or school parties. “They’re Worldly!” was the standard retort. I couldn’t have long hair (over the ears) or ‘fad’ clothes. There was no ‘mixed bathing’ (swimming with the opposite sex), rock and roll or cussing allowed.
The list of Can’ts and Don’ts was extremely long and detailed in my young world. I suppose that is why I felt a weird mix of exhilaration and wrenching Guilt, as I attempted to master that fascinating, beguiling , electric, gambling-hall-on-stilts. The High Score of 362,000 points mocked my pathetic attempts to break 300. “It can’t be done” I mumbled, feeling the double sting of Guilt and Embarrassment (guilt for my wretched sin of gambling and embarrassment over my lack of hand-eye coordination at working those dang ‘flippers’) as I tried to sneak away from that sexy, neon cowgirl as she blinked… “TILT –TILT - TILT”. What the heck was TILT? “I guess it is God’s way of chastising me,” I thought as I walked away. Instantly the word morphed into GILT, GILT, GILT!!!
“Oh God, forgive me. I will never do it again. Please don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Please, please…not now. Be with me Father, I need you more than ever, RIGHT NOW!”
I can’t count how many times I prayed that prayer over the next year…and years…and decades that followed. But for now, I smelled fresh, buttery Pop Corn and that sexy cowgirl beckoned me to BET one last nickel, before leaving ‘The World’.
We were in the air for hours and hours, yet it wasn’t near long enough. As long as we were in that Boeing 747, we were still in America – The (real) World. The stewardesses were overly friendly and sweet. They knew how few of us would make the return flight. That is all us soldiers were thinking about…..”will I be on the flight home? Will I live to see my mother’s tear-streaked face? Will I make it? God, are you still in control? I plead the blood of Jesus, I plead the blood of Jesus……Oh God, I’m so scared!!”
I awoke with a sickening pit in my stomach. We are here. Yes, we are here. It wasn’t a dream. Looking out the window I saw a strange new world. There were jeeps and APC’s racing alongside of the plane. Each vehicle had a soldier in the back, manning a 60 caliber machine gun. They wore black helmets and jungle-style combat boots. The busses that awaited us had barred windows and no glass.
“Everybody UP! When you hit the stairs, just keep moving….move, MOVE, MOVE!”
Down the aisle and out……WHAT THE H***……….HOLY GOD IN HEAVEN…..WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!?!
“How hot is it!?” The words rasped out of my instant cotton-mouth.
“Shut up and move it!”
I had never gone from one such extreme to another. The plane was air-conditioned to approximately 70 degrees. When we stepped onto that tarmac in Bien Hoa, it was 125 in the shade (what shade?). I could see heat waves emerging from the runway like demons rising up out of Hades itself. Sweat instantly poured down my forehead and into my burning eyes. Hot, scared and disoriented…..and what is that SMELL?? “Dear Jesus help me. Have I died and gone to hell?” I prayed out loud.
The bus dropped us at the receiving center, where we were quickly processed and sent to an old wooden barracks for the night. There, looking out of the second story window opening, I saw what was causing that infernal stench. The human feces, from all of the waterless toilets, was being doused with diesel and lit on fire! “Holy Shit!” I thought to myself, and then immediately asked forgiveness for my profanity.
DISNEYLAND – FAR EAST
That night, lying there on an old wooden bunk, with nothing but a 4” mattress and a striped, feather pillow, I kept thinking that it wasn’t real. This can’t be happening to me! It felt like a ride at Disneyland; a very, very realistic ride! I listened to helicopters buzzing overhead. I heard bombs exploding, somewhere, far off in the distance. I heard gun fire and the shouts of grizzled war veterans who had made it through their year in Nam. Most were only 19 or 20 years old, but they had aged a lifetime in that 12 month sentence in hell. The lucky ones would be going back on that return flight tomorrow. Many of the men that I went through basic training with (just one year earlier), had already found their final resting place in a rice paddy or burned out jungle, in that war-torn plat of earth. In the morning, I would be heading south, to the Mekong Delta. I was a ‘newbee’, someone who had just arrived ‘In Country’. After a long prayer, I slowly drifted off into a fitful sleep. The sounds of war and the smell of burning excrement filled my dreams.
CAN TOH ARMY AIRFIELD CHAPEL
The next morning I had my first helicopter ride. It was in the U.S. Army’s work horse chopper – Huey or Slick as the pilots had nick named them. It was loud and had no doors! Swear to God, no doors! Talk about a ride at Disneyland! Every puff of smoke that rose from the ground was envisioned by me, as a rocket, launched to blow us out of the sky. “Oh God protect me. Cover me with the blood of Jesus. Forgive me of all of my sins. Make me ready to meet you. Cleanse me Lord. Protect me, protect this chopper! The blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus!”
When I un-clenched my eyes, we had landed safely. I was convinced that God was back in control and had brought me to my new place of ministry….The Can Toh Army Airfield Chapel, near the town of Can Toh, in the Mekong Delta region of South Viet Nam. It was a gun ship base, home to choppers like Hueys, Cobras, Chinooks and Loches. C-130 Air Transports and Mosquito-Nosed, Recon planes accounted for the fixed wing contingent. It was loud, hot and smelled of fuel and stagnant water. I was a stranger in a strange land, but God was in control. Just like Abraham, I was his chosen servant and he was going to bless me. If only I was faithful to him, he would protect and use me. I was his special servant, dedicated to him as a little child. I was in the center of his will……I was sure of it! I was pretty sure of it........”Oh God, I want to go home!!”
Next time – Part 2: Saints and Sinners