by: Hank Ortega, PA/C
(© Copyright, 1998)
The unit that I was working with , Tiger Force of the 1/327, was blessed with a short stand down, and was flown to the base camp at Camp Eagle, for showers and hot meals, as well as fresh clothing and supplies. this did not happen often since sooner or later someone would get in trouble for things as stupid as our unconventional uniforms or other problems a little more serious.
I walked up to their company area with the unit, rather than go to the HHC area, since that always resulted in some REMF officer or non-com giving me grief over my appearance. I was just getting close to the supply room where I could get some clothes for a change after a much needed shower, when I ran into Capes.
Capes was a REMF too, and a bit of a sissy, but he was a good guy, who would smoke and joke with the best of us. He had access to things in the rear that we didn't and usually anticipated our arrival with sodas and Beer and munchies. He was also the company barber. He was neat and clean as he hailed me, and asked me If I wanted to go to church with him, since it was Sunday and near to Christmas. I was shocked to learn that it was early December.
I looked at my faded clothes, so old that you almost couldn't see the leaf pattern of the "Flower Power" fatigues that I wore. They had been soaked in sweat and rain over and over and dried on my body many times. I told Capes that I wanted to go to shower and change, but he insisted that we leave right away, since there was only one service that day, and we had to walk up to the Navy compound to the east.
I thought what the hell, and we strode off toward the concertina wire that made up the perimeter. We crossed the road and climbed through the next rows of concertina that bordered the Navy area. Just up the slope the Seabees had erected a large wooden pole, and suspended a G-12 cargo chute from the top, stretching out the skirt into a large tent. this was our goal, as we walked up the hill. The sun beat down on us.
Capes kept looking at me like I was some kind of refuse that he'd found on the side of the road. I asked him what was wrong. Capes looked at me with distaste and said "You stink!"
I could have kicked his ass right there. I was mortified and wanted to just go back to the company area and continue with my original plan to bathe and change. I knew I had mail waiting for me as well as some cold drinks, and food at the makeshift wooden barracks that the team was settling into for a couple of days. I certainly didn't need this crap.
I started to turn away, and Capes grabbed my sleeve. "Hey, I'm sorry", He said, "let's go up anyway, and then we'll go back to the area so you can get cleaned up." The open air chapel was nearly empty, so I sat in back. Capes sat a few feet away from me.
I felt like some sort of pariah as I sat through the non-denominational service. We returned to the area and went our separate ways. I did not see Capes again for about 2 months.
The Tigers were dropped into an area of open trees and elephant grass. We quickly secured the area and prepared to move out. Our assignment was to scout the hill that overlooked the landing zone after pathfinders came in to take over the LZ from us. We climbed the steep hill as quietly as we could, cutting a new trail into the thick woods. Wait-a-minute vines grabbed and pulled at our clothes and scratched our faces and arms, as we struggled up the hillside.
We set up a small perimeter on the top of the hill some 800 meters from the LZ and over 500 feet in elevation above. We had been there bout an hour when the waves of helicopters began to settle into the LZ below. It was a relatively cold insertion for them, since they weren't being hit while coming in.
After about 3 hours we could hear the first of the Infantry coming up the hill struggling with the steep ground and heavy packs. I hid in the brush and watched as the line company passed through our position, to go on ahead into the boonies. I marveled at the number of fresh faces in my old company. Page whispered to me that the companies were on a big push into the edge of the A Shau, and that they had scoured every REMF that could be spared to go out into the field. Before me passed guys who had up to now, been in country for months and never even carried a rifle. There were cooks, clerks, supply guys, every worthless REMF who had lived in the rear eating hot food while we had humped the boonies.
These were the guys that stole our war trophies, and slept in sheets. These were the guys that walked to other company areas and watched movies. These were the guys who took showers every night. Now they were fighting the hill, the pack, the wait-a-minute vines and the leeches. Soon they would be fighting the NVA.
From below me I could hear a soldier fighting for breath and whimpering as he tugged at his pack to break the thorny vines that grabbed at his clothes and rucksack. He was frustrated to no end and voiced his concern constantly. I knew that voice. I looked from my hide down the trail. There he came, sweat streaming down his face, clothes torn and awry, his pack half open, things hanging from it, and dragging. He used his rifle as a cane, holding the barrel by the front site, and resting it on the butt. The trail here was nearly vertical, and he would take a step or two, then stop, huffing and puffing. The man in front of him had long since moved past me. The men in back of him kept encouraging him to move up.
He neared my position, and stopped. I leaned out of the brush and whispered at him, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin..
"Psst, Capes...... who stinks now?"