I was with my squad on the beach at Chu Lai. We had a few days off and we definitely knew how to spend that time. Many of the guys were swimming or surfing or doing things with the hooch girls. I was laying back on the beach with my camera and making some snaps. My Leica was black Laq and was so hot from the sun. I watched the guys letting it all go and thought, where’s so and so? I was very aware of the missing troops always. I made photos of them and if they weren’s around, I noticed. I could feel a loss inside that I didn’t fully understand. Spud walked over to me and stood there looking at me. He is bare ass naked and s, smiling. He reaches down and hands me a sally joint that he’s been smoking. A sally joint is a joint, pot and it’s soaked in liquid opium and then dried. Don’t take long to dry over there. Kids today that make blunts from cigar wrapper, sheeeesh amateur stuff. Of course, I never smoked anything or even drank the whiskey that Sgt Biggie was offering me.
Biggie came over and told me, Jingles, you’re on tower 1.1 tonight with Spud. Well, I liked Spud cause he was like on his 5th tour and a bad MFer’. I told Spud we were in 1’1 together and he smiled. I asked him if he planned on staying high for the night. He smiles, said, I been here 5 years and been high every day. I learned something real fast. Smoke a joint and do guard duty is the right way. They all knew what my friends back in the world knew about me. I was the most paranoid dude you ever could meet. See, if I was at a party and many people there, we all smoked or other things, I would always be at the window and look out and say….there’s still no cops around. We are ok, and all would laff at me cause I was paranoid like crazy. Well, my friends in Nam knew the same thing about me. They all knew that if they gave me a joint if there was a dink 500 miles away, I’d see him.
So Spud and I are now in the tower. Well, tower 1.1 is the main control tower and all activities from other locations, I have the m60 locked and loaded and aiming in the right direction. Spud has an M79 and we both have 45ACP as a sidearm. It’s getting really dark and quiet. It’s a scary time on guard duty. Spud is crashed out on the sandbags in the tower. I have 7 more hours to go and Spud is wasted and I’m like awake as ever. As the night progresses, I reach into Spud’s pocket and find the bottle of obesitol. Obesitol is a 4 oz bottle of this red liquid that the dinks sell to us and it’s really liquid speed. One bottle and a joint and I’m set for the night. So I pulled the shift myself as Spud slept in whatever kind of peace he was in.
Anyway, that’s not what this story is about, oh no… not even. See, in Nam..the temperature could hit 125f thereabouts. I remember thinking that if I made it home I would never complain about the heat in Philly. I was convinced that I could withstand any weather that came my way. Even the raid would never both me in Philly. In Chu Lai when the monsoons came, the rain was of something that came from hell. It felt like all the rain in the world was falling on me.
I was itchy and wanted to get to the street and make photos with Ding the Leica M9. There’s always a transition time switching cameras. Cameras will push their personalities upon you and we need to explore those personalities in detail. I was walking on Market Street around 16th. It’s like 90f already and the humidity is terrible. I’m sweating and it’s running down my face to my eyes. I walk slower than normal cause I got older than normal. Ding is on a neck strap ready to go and I turn left and see this woman inside a bldg. She’s standing there and all these reflections are happening around her. I’m kinda interested and yet no photo but then she raises her arm and hand to her head…..CLICK! (photo 1)
So I decided to reflect after seeing the reflections. I thought how when I was 20 and in Nam that I would never complain about the heat back home. I felt that back then, I was of a stronger character and could withstand almost anything. I thought I was becoming a strong man and would carve out a future I would be proud of. 50 years ago, 50 years. Now I have a rear vision that I didn’t have back then. I guess I forgot myself from birth to 21. I feel like I was born in Nam and my fellow troops were my siblings. When one of my friends died, I tried to get a Dog Tag from him. I have 17 now at home. They sleep in my darkroom but the names, faces, smiles, laffs all live inside me. I made one vow back then and maybe it’s the only thing I ever did right. I remember everyone I knew who went home in a body bag and swore I would never forget them and I never did.
I wanted to write about the oppressive heat and how it affected my photos. Instead, I wrote about the driving force that lives in me that will carry me to my death and reunite me with my friends. Maybe that is about the oppressive heat, dunno. I’m too damn old to let it bother me.
Be blessed everyone ……….shooter out……….