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Company Drivers

by: Mike Malsbary USMC 1963 - 1967

I read your short story about the Blue Moon Bar and was especially interested in your quandary about Robert Garwood. I read his autobiography carefully. Very carefully. 

Like you, I had particular empathy and insight as to how easy it was to get scooped up by VC Cadre looking for a prize.  I'd even bet that if one searched the orders from the NLF HQ in Hanoi that it was a priority at the time- to capture American Soldiers.   

Company Drivers. Gee - I remember the kind of guys that got that skating duty. We all laughed every time one of these guys would drive up. "Hey O.C. where's your surf board?" 

So the unfolding story about Garwood was very fascinating. The interaction with the VC Camp Commander, Mr. Ho I think was his name, was understandable - Not stupid, Garwood learned Vietnamese out of instinct to survive - he also had plenty of time to do it. And the war continued. 

Many years later, I noted that Morley Saeffer of 60 Minutes - an old VN hand - met Mr. Ho and related that certain points of Garwood's story - in his book were - counter to the truth. ( I even wrote Saeffer expressing my dismay and renewed confusion about the truth because of his comment.)

After my first steps on VN soil at Qui Nhon and later Starlite and Chu Lai with 3/7/3 81s, and later at Phu Bai on "rat hill" for three months - I went TAD to (I think) 4th Marines HQ in Okinawa, freighting back down an old gutted com van full of modified radio gear to Chu Lai to set up a MARs radio station. (on a cliff over the water North of the airfield ) I had plenty of freedom.  I reported to no one and hitched  rides to everywhere in the area. 

One day I was hitch hiking down to the airfield to get a hair cut. The road was thick with pulverized red dust. Water buffalos full of fresh water, sloshed along spilling gallons of water down the side of the dirt coated drums. Then I ran into a company driver from my old unit 3/7 and he told me that 81s had gotten into some shit in an Operation Harvest Moon after we, a few gun crews had been packed to Phu Bai.  

I listened to his story and he said "The camp is still there. Lets drive out there." I jumped in! the jeep - no weapon- He saw me looking and said, "No problem. I got one. Locked and loaded." The jeep sped through the Air Base and out toward the Southwest, huge plums of pulverized red dust rising behind us. 

Riding along in the open air felt good. We passed Vietnamese workers from the contracting firms that maintained the base- working alone on heavy equipment.  Then, as we rode on, I saw no one. I'm looking around sort of uneasy - remember I have no weapon - and sort of felt like a boot Marine going over to mainside at PI to get some dental work - very much a fish (charlie tuna fish) out of water. 

We finally pull up to the old base camp. Not a sole around. Abandoned tents ripped and blowing in the hot breeze.  The old glossy leaf scrubs growing here and there. I remember a lot about those plants.  Out of the jeep we walk up and down the deserted camp. Ripped Camp cots lay bleaching out in the sun next to crumbling sand bag bunkers. There had been  no battle - my unit just up and left. Not a sole around. 

"Yep. Got into some shit in Harvest Moon" said the driver. (Weapon still in the jeep) I think Eason and some of them are out on the Hospital Ship Hope. Lieutenant Sanders, he's out there too". At that, we got into the jeep and sped back to the Air Base.  been a baaaad turn in the road for both of us.

As with many written works post war- often years post war- I have found the VC accounts most electrifying. These were the soldiers we waited for night after night at this early time. 

It was the voices in "Deer Hunter" that nearly made me vomit on a bunch of noisy teeny boppers as I got up and kicked out of the theater aisle to get some air . They were the voices we heard bicycling past on RT-1 as we stood around in our early Marine, Charlie Tuna naiveté.

I still tend to favor Garwood over the old VC Mr. Ho - but I agree it was and remains to be one of the great enigmatic tales of the war.

Semper Fi
Mike Malsbary