Happy Birthday, January 25, 1967

By the time I turned 20, just a couple of weeks after arriving in Nam, I'd already been fired on by a sniper, witnessed a major ambush that threatened our camp, and seen, up-close and personal, my first dead American soldier, the victim of a sniping outside the PX.  

Happy birthday to me...

The tent flap opened and one of the mess cooks walked in.  He was carrying a cake, four layers, with white frosting and coconut on top.

"Happy birthday, man," he said and handed me the cake.  "Captain says enjoy your day off."  He flashed me a peace sign and left.

My birthday.  I'd forgotten all about it.  The two and a half weeks since we'd arrived had flown by.  In addition to our patrols and guard duty, Captain Leadbetter had us doing work details around the camp.  It seemed like he was intent on turning Dodge City into our own little mountainview resort.

First, there was electricity.  One day a huge generator arrived on the back of a truck at the rear gate.  Word was Captain had "appropriated" it somehow, since the army hadn't provided us one, and didn't intend to either.  Then there was the shower.  Somehow, somewhere, Leadbetter'd requisitioned a pump, which he had us submerge in an old well we found on the company grounds.  

Captain had us replacing all the tents in the compound with wooden structures we built ourselves, too.  These weren't any bogus half-baked hooches, either.  These were the real deal, with cement footings and everything.  And, man, we loved Leadbetter for it.  We couldn't wait to get out of our dripping-wet tents, guys on top of one another in the mud, clammy uniforms, the soggy sheets.

I didn't mind all the work.  I liked keeping busy.  It kept my mind off other stuff.  Like what I was missing back in "the world."  

Like what was going on here...


Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2016