I love that tree on your freeatlast picture.
Cambodia. Yup, that's where hell is located. I wasn't on any tourist trip though. Went in from North of Plieku, firebase Oasis. Knew it was "hot". I was on the fifth bird going in. The second bird got shot down. Third day in we almost got overrun. Six hour firefight and the day that changed my life forever. Wake up call - no more innocence. We killed a lot of people that day. A lot of our guys went down too. Next morning we went further into Cambodia.
HOT, couldn't believe how hot it was. 120-130 in the daytime. 90 to 100 at night. Scorpions everywhere, ground harder than concrete, three days with a pick-ax and you're only 4 inches deep. So no bunkers to sleep in or protect us. Couldn't sleep anyway but it would have been nice to have a bunker.
Shot up all our ammo in that 6 hour firefight so we had no ammo, couldn't get resupplied with water so we had no water. Weren't on top of a hill where firebases are usually located so no natural protection. We were sitting ducks just waiting to die. Didn't know when we were going to die but it was a sure thing - we were going to die. Or at least most of us were when they overran us.
Of course we never got overrun but I learned years later, and was quite surprised when I learned it (and pissed-off), that Nixon had told the rest of the world we were only going to be in Cambodia for 6 weeks. Didn't bother telling us guys on the ground but he DID tell the rest of the world.
Turns out that six hour firefight was the enemy trying to get away from us. They were going over to the coast for a little R&R and they ran smack into us. They knew we were only going to be there for 6 weeks and wanted to take a break from the war. Damn.
But hot to the extreme, scorpions everywhere, no water, no bullets, no ammo for the artillery, ground harder than concrete, sitting ducks, waiting to die, sitting there thinking how it's going to happen to you, the momment of death - Not fun. That IS hell.
I remember going back to Vietnam. Getting on the bird in Cambodia. Holding your breath not knowing you're holding your breath. And you finally see the jungle in west Vietnam. You land on a little hilltop and it's cool, a light rain, and you can finally talk to your mates, I remember thinking: "it's like landing in heaven".
That was in May 1970. Once back in Vietnam we started getting the news of how great the Cambodian campaign was. Helped morale tremendously. Finally we were able to go after them and we kicked some serious ass there.
For sure I had been changed in Cambodia but the completion of that change happened on the convoy back from Cambodia.
I'm riding in the back of a deuce and a half that's hauling artillery ammo and pulling a cart with ammo in it. It was kinda funny. There I am riding on all this high explosive ammo smoking a cigarette.
We get about half way to An Khe from Pleiku on highway 19 (a narrow two lane paved road, took us all day to go 90 miles), and I'm looking around. We've got Navy jet escorts zooming up and down both sides of highway 19. We've got Cobra Gunships doing the same, we've got Heuy slicks with 60 cal machine guns on both sides of the bird doing the same. We've got thousands of guys in the convoy, we just got back from Cambodia where we wiped them out at every turn - it occured to me: "This war shouldn't have lasted more than a month". We had sooooooo much military might there there's no way that war should have lasted any more then two weeks, maybe a month.
THAT thought changed my life.
Visual proof, experiencial proof they weren't serious about winning the war. I wrote my mother about it. I still have that letter I wrote her too.
Well, I still had nine more months of duty over there so I just kept my mouth shut and my head low and hoped for the best. It's true, we were fighting for each other not our country anymore. We saw the lie...
The 4th pulled out that Fall and I got transferred to the 1/7th Air Cav patroling the Ho Chi Minh trail north of Saigon. That's where I picked up the Agent Orange and parasites. Lots of firefights, never lost a wounded soldier though. Always was able to get them out on the Dust off birds.
Sitting on the helicopter pad before going out on a mission is when your thoughts get to you. You look around at all the guys and you know from experience there won't be as many coming back. You look and wonder which ones will get hit this time. Which ones won't be coming back, or maybe even yourself. The mental side of war - not fun... Every time we went out fewer guys came back. Every time.
Ma died Valentines day 1971. I had all my field duty done and had just returned to base camp the day before. I was back in Buffalo the next day. Mixed emotions. Happier than hell on the inside just to make it out of the war but I had been living with death at my sleeve for a year and my own mothers death didn't bother me. Didn't bother me in the least. I was just sooooooooo happy to make it. But of course I couldn't show that so all that happyness had to wait till I was back at school that Fall. Ma's death caught up with me about 10 years later.
I made it, the war was over and I was back at school. Nov 10th 1971 in Bacteriology class, 2:40 PM Central Standard time. I get sick. Everything got gray and my heart started racing. 20 minutes left to go in the class. A long time.
At the time I didn't know the war that I was embarking on was going to be much worse than anything I experienced in Vietnam. I was sick for the next 33 years, 9 months, 14 days, 4 hours and 20 minutes. All those years gone, no history. Returned August 22nd, 2005, 8 PM Eastern Standard time. Cancer gone, chemicals gone, parasites gone, PTSD gone, heightened awareness factors handled.
So I don't count all those years. And the funny thing is that it really does seem like all that happened to someone else. The Original Ken is back. The Vietnam Ken long gone.
Just had a birthday yesterday. Not counting all those ears "I" was gone I'm only 27 years old. Cool huh??? Too bad all my friends from childhood, including family, are old now. Hell, I'm just getting started.
You asked about Cambodia and I expanded quite a bit on that. Sorry. But you have to understand. The rejection was soooo complete with us Vietnam guys that now when asked we tend to want to let the rest of the world know what we went through. The veterans are being supported pretty good nowdays but it wasn't always like that. We were totally rejected on ALL levels. Cussed at, spit on, hated on all fronts.
I hid the Vietnam veteran thing for a long, long time. Didn't let people know I was a Vietnam veteran. Funny thing too. By the 90's I was so sick I had to let some people know. The reaction was interesting to say the least. Even long standing friends treated me different and were no longer available for friendship. Fascinating - how shallow. Good thing they weren't in the jungle with us.
Seems talking about Vietnam is taboo. People are afraid to ask. I can assure you, those of us that are still alive have plenty to say about it. We aren't the monsters portrayed by the media.
Carry-on folks. Thanks for asking. I'm still here.
Dr. Kenneth R. Sutter II