Dodge City, January 1967

We landed at Qui Nhon, South Vietnam the morning of January 7, 1967.  A storm had moved in overnight, the wind so wild we could hear it whistling through the ship's passageways.  The Upshur couldn't dock, so we had to drop – in full pack gear, in the midst of the monsoon – from the ship's deck to smaller troop-carrying vessels bobbing in the waves below.  We rolled out onto the muddy shore, then were loaded onto busses with grates over the windows to keep grenades out.  They dropped us off in a giant mud field at the base of a mountain covered with shrub and bamboo.  We were on our own. 

We worked all day, raising tents, laying wooden pallets for floors and sidewalks, filling and stacking sandbags around the bottoms of the tents to deflect enemy fire.  By the end of the day, we were dog-tired.

All of us but Capt. Leadbetter...

"You can be proud of yourselves, men."

We sat shoulder to shoulder on the pallet sidewalk that ran the length of our tent row.  If Charlie was watching, he was probably laughing his butt off; we were a filthy, stinking, mud-encrusted bunch chowing on cold C-rations – packaged nourishment that vaguely resembled food – in the darkening mist, empty weapons at our sides.  And at that point, I couldn't have cared less.  i was so tired, my bones ached.  I was too bushed to be scared.  Looking around, I guessed the others were feeling about the same way.

Except the captain, pacing among us as we ate.  I wondered if he ever shut off.

"Tents are up and fortified, the perimeter secure.  You followed orders and did what was asked of you.  In a single afternoon, you built a camp from nothing, from no-man's-land, from a bulldozed surarcane field.  As you know, the 127th is a brand-new military police company, created for this very situation.  You're pioneers, men.  Mavericks.  You are a credit to the army and your country.  And in your honor I hereby christen this camp Dodge City."

I sure didn't feel like a cowboy.

This photo was taken our first week in Vietnam.  It was going to be a long year...

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2024