My Tent

Here's where I lived with the rest of Three Squad, before we finished the barracks.  To the right is my bunk, shrouded in Army green netting to keep the monster mosquitos out.  My guitar case is leaning on a cabinet I put together from old ammo crates.  The metal thing at the top is an amplifier I made so I could practice guitar in my rack.  Lockable food storage is down below.  The cans with the red-and-white diamonds are Coca Cola.  You can also see a jar of Tang, because the water in Nam was so darn awful.  Mom would send me all sorts of good stuff from "the world" – food, music magazines.  It was hard not to get homesick.  

In the frame on the floor are pictures of my girlfriend back in the States, my mom, and my cat, Patrick.  That little bottle to the left of the frame is either GI bug juice or LSA, Lubricant Small Arms, which we used all the time to keep our rifles in top working order.

"Got a package for you, Kohler," the mail clerk said.  He handed over a large box wrapped in brown paper.  It was from Mom.

I opened it up right there.  It was loaded with all sorts of goodies.  A couple of jars of Tang; small boxes of Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes, the single-serve kind; cans of my favorite mac and cheese and beef stew; a tin of homemade chocolate chip cookies; a big jar of Ovaltine.   At the bottom was a stack of music magazines, Hit Parader, Tiger Beat, Song Hits.

There was a card.  I took my time opening it.  Mail had been slow getting here; I'd only gotten two other letters – one from Mom and one from my cousin Cecil – and we'd been here almost a month.  I wanted to savor it.


            Dear Dean,

            I hope this makes it to you in time for your birthday. We watch the TV news every night, hoping that you are safe.           

The magazines are from Mary.  She says to tell you that your car is fine.

            I ran into Judy at the drugstore the other day.  I gave her your address so she could write you.  I hope that was the right thing to do.

           We miss you terribly and can't wait until you come home so we can all celebrate your 21st birthday together.

           Love, Mom


I re-read the card a few more times, then carefully put it back in the box and carried the whole thing to Three Squad's tent.  I slid the box under my cot, behind my duffel.  For a second I thought I was going to cry.

"Hey, Kohler!"  Dersheimer poked his head into the tent.  He had his ski disc in his hand.  "I don't have patrol till tonight.  Com on man, let's take it to the beach.  I gotta try this thing out."

I had the whole day off.  Why not?  Sure beat sitting around Dodge City feeling sorry for myself.

We grabbed some passes from Sgt. Hall and got a lift from one of the guys working motor pool.

The beach.  Vietnam's best kept secret.  For the most part, wish-you-were-here strands of golden sand and shimmering blue water, fishermen's sampans nodding and dipping in the distance.  For the other part, glad-you're-not stretches of dead fish and garbage.  We steered clear of "Sh-t Beach" and got dropped off at the harbor.

I hung around on the pier, and damned if the Navy guys didn't pull Dersheimer around on that thing with one of their swift boats.  I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.

Then they went grenade fishing.  Toss a concussion grenade in the water and the fish come right up to the top.  

A brutal sport for a brutal place...

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2023