With Jim Lamb on LZ Compton
In dry season, except for the cool damp reinforced bunkers there is little escape from Compton’s sweltering heat. Jim Lamb and I sit on our oven-like culvert hooch. A single layer of sandbags saddles the smooth curved steel. The blast walls are boxes packed with dry red dirt.
At night, we sleep on air mattresses placed outside the metal hut. We pull poncho liners over our heads; tuck them fast under our bodies. In this way the LZ rats that crawl over us most times don't bite.
We come to Compton every few weeks to pull perimeter guard. After five or six or seven days we fly or walk back to the jungle. Sometimes we patrol the rubber, whose melancholy rows of identical trees make us happy/sad; in the cool shade of their blue/green light we are easy targets.
In the picture, I’m wearing my leech straps; a shoe lace tethered P-38 lays at my side. Our clothes are clean.
Soon another company will take our turn but for now, in the crushing heat, in the remarkable dust and stink and squalor we kings eat three hot meals a day, shower under fifty-five gallon barrels rigged with spigots, relieve ourselves on civilized mortar box crappers, spin cans of beer and soda on blocks of ice. We talk in normal voice, repair our gear, clean our weapons; play poker by candle light: the clink of bullets is the sound of our money.
In the bush almost everyone smokes weed or opium joints or Thai sticks. But I am new and do not know it. Instead, I take good care of my men. Patch their minor cuts and bruises, hand out anti malaria pills, antibiotics, fungal ointments. Or stab them with morphine to ease their pain.
By the third month the snake in my belly will not stop squirming. Donatal, Gelusil, Probanthine, Compazine, have no effect. After the flight to Compton, after settling in, Lamb and I go to the aid station; the battalion surgeon is sleeping.
Captain Brenner is a tall handsome miserable man who sweats and drinks in equal measure.
“You do drugs?” he asks, after I tell him the problem.
“No,” I say, as he wipes his brow.
“Don’t lie to me,” he says, and repeats his question and I repeat my truth.
The good doctor, who will later fall on his face, a bottle of whiskey taking its toll, who someone will later try to frag, who will expertly plunge a needle into the arm of a rat bitten man after he is shaken awake, the good doctor shakes out twenty blue pills from a brown glass bottle and hands them to me.
“Valium,” he says. “You’ll get high if you take'em all at once but I’ll never give'em to you again.”
I say, “Thank you sir,” so the pain will stop. What does he mean, get high?
On the dusty road back to our hootch I take two pills. Soon I start to relax. Then stumble and stagger step.
Bare chested Jim says, “You feeling good, man? You feeling no pain?”
I throw the blue pills into the red dirt, crawl into the kiln of our worthless bunker and have pleasant dreams. Later I wake up drowsy and stinking wet, covered in Vietnam.
Nothing helps. Even in monsoon the crazy snake will not stop coiling. Then we fly to Cambodia and for ten days all is vivid and beautiful but the next day we are over run.
D 1/7 Cav '69-'70
Also Read Marc Levy's 1995 Travel Journal Entries with Photos - Song Be to Breakdown - A Grunts Life Around Quan Loi - Quan Loi to Cambodia - Song Be Patrol - Bunker Complex - Return to Quan Loi - 1995