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A blog based on 170+ letters and photos sent home from the Vietnam War.

  • Joe Lex

#04 July 1968 - We get in some scraps

There are no Battalion Action Reports available until 22 July 1968

C&C = Command and Control helicopter; usually unarmed, with a clear-bubble front, fast-moving, flying at tree-top level.

Laura Stanley is my first cousin – my mother’s brother’s oldest daughter. She would have been 14 years old when she wrote me. We still keep in touch almost daily.

Becky Johnson was my first real girlfriend from ~1963 until I got drafted. We re-established contact a few years ago and exchange Christmas messages. It was only many years later that I found out her father, from South Dakota, was in the Army Air Force with his good buddy George McGovern, and that McGovern was Becky’s godfather.

During the Vietnam War venereal diseases were the number one diagnosis in the Army’s monthly morbidity reports. From 1963-72 the prevalence of STD’s among U.S. soldiers serving in Vietnam was estimated at 260 cases per 1000 patient-years. Treatment was a penicillin injection; resistance to penicillin would emerge a few years later.

Father J. Robert Falabella, a Roman Catholic priest, was awarded the Silver Star for valor; he published his memoir Vietnam Memoirs: A Passage to Sorrow in 1971.

I am not sure, but I assume that patient privacy guaranteed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) also applies in the military.

“Sump” was the euphemism for either a deep pit or a 2-foot tall section of a 55-gallon drum which sat under the hole in an outhouse. If the pit was dug deep enough, the outhouse could eventually be moved and the pit buried. Most outhouses in Viet Nam used a 55-gallon drum segment to collect human waste. It was a little-sought assignment to burn the waste using diesel fuel when the drum was full. The smell was indescribable and unforgettable (I can smell it now as I type this). Waste burned more quickly with gasoline, but the risk of explosion or burn wasn’t worth it. As a “joke,” people would sometimes put live ammo in the barrels which would explode with sufficient heat. M79 was a 40×46mm grenade. Burning waste was, of course, known as “shit detail.”

Tây Ninh is a provincial city in south-western Vietnam approximately 90 km northwest of Saigon. It is most famous for being the home of the Cao Đài religion, an indigenous Vietnamese faith that includes the teachings of the major world religions. Non-Vietnamese worshipped by the sect include Joan of Arc, Muhammad, Moses, Louis Pasteur, Shakespeare, Vladimir Lenin, and Victor Hugo. The Cao Đài temple is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.

Tây Ninh is also very close to Núi Bà Đen, or “Black Virgin Mountain,” a 1000m protrusion from the otherwise flat rice paddies. I had dreams about that mountain for several years after I got back.

MOS is Military Operation (not Occupation) Specialty Code, which exactly describes a soldier’s duties. My MOS – 91C20 – was officially a “clinical specialist.” Its civilian equivalent was Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). The Medical Service Corps officer provides administrative support to the medical corps.

Re sump burning: see “shit detail” above. In this case, APC is not Armored Personnel Carrier, but aspirin-phenacetin-caffeine, a combination pain reliever very popular at the time. Phenacetin was removed from the US market in 1983 due to its kidney-damaging properties and strong association with cancer.

Núi Bà Đen I have found that virtually every soldier stationed in III Corps dreamed about Núi Bà Đen for years afterward. It still sneaks into my dreams occasionally. This surrealistic thousand-meter mountain rising in the middle of totally flat rice paddies was hallucinatory. Now it is a very popular amusement park with gondola rides up the sides.

The Big Angel. You can see the top stacked high with medical equipment. Those sheets metal hanging on the side are a jury-rigged shield against RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). I can’t find a good definition of a “5-5-7 track,” but it was several feet larger in every direction than the standard M113, which made it a bigger target. The large red cross painted on the side was supposed to make it a nontarget as per rules of engagement. We who rode on it personally think it more resembled a bullseye. No one rode inside the track because of anti-tank (AT) mines and booby traps planted in the dirt roads, and RPGs which would penetrate the outer track wall before exploding. You were far more likely to survive being thrown from a track than being incinerated on the inside. Most tracks had transitioned to less-explosive, less-flammable diesel by this time, but not the Big Angel, which still ran on gasoline.

I cannot find pictures #3 and #5, but here is our beloved jeep, in which I learned to drive.

Can't find #6. Here is #7, driver Rick Gonyea.

#9 Big Angel from the front.

#10 Track maintenance. Notice the Bobcat on the side of the track.

#13 Big Angel with ramp down. The canvas on top unfolds to make the tent for the Battalion Aid Station.

#14 Me sitting on sandbags outside the bunker. You can see my Combat Medic Badge on my left chest.


Battalion Action Report

On July 22, 1968, at 1100 hours, the 2nd Battalion, 506th AB Infantry encountered an unknown sized enemy force 3 kilometers east-northeast of Trang Bang. The contact continued throughout the day and into the night. At the same time to the west, Company B, 4/23rd(M) engaged an unknown sized enemy force 4 kilometers north of Go Dau Hau at XT 392301. Companies A and B of the 1/5th(M) were sent to reinforce Company B, 4/23rd(M). The contact lasted throughout the day and into the night.


#16 Bruce "Blinky" Cotta and Ray "Ziggy" Ziegler, with two of the best mustaches in-country. Blinky and I are still friends and exchange messages almost on a daily basis. He even came to my retirement party a few years ago. The mustache and the peace sign are long gone.

#18 Yep that's me in a flak jacket and "loaded" helmet holding an M-16 like I actually know what to do with it. Cigarettes were dirt cheap and by the time I left country, I was up to 3 packs / day. From a 50-year perspective, I am assuming that my self-description was tongue-in-cheek. I was anything but battle-hardened, and it was rare for me to even pick up my M-16, which I never once fired except during the required testing every few months.

I wish that I had the Battalion daily reports for the official word on what happened in July.

I misspelled “laager” as “logger” for my first several months in country. Webster defines “laager” as “an encampment protected by a circle of wagons or armored vehicles,” apparently from the Dutch during the Boer Wars in South Africa. “Jacob's Ladder” is an element in a dream that the biblical Patriarch Jacob has during his flight from his brother Esau in the Book of Genesis. And yes, the Battalion had a real, live bobcat. His name was Tito. His cage was in front of Cu Chi’s Battalion Headquarters. A lot of Viet Nam veterans now use their old radio call sign as their email address. For instance, Battalion CO Andy Anderson’s email includes Bobcat6@. A stuffed version of the bobcat shows up at the 5th Infantry Regiment’s annual reunion.

Dwight Ricketts and I reconnected after Viet Nam at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He went on to be a podiatrist. We got together in autumn 2018 for dinner near his home in Maryland. We are Facebook friends. I have lost track of Monk (so-called because he spent time in a seminary before joining the Army) and Don Blankenship. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash was a series of fictional stories by radio commentator Jean Shepherd published in 1966; several of the stories were the source of inspiration for the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, eventually made into a musical.


The 25th Infantry Division reported the following statistical data for the Quarterly Period of May 01, 1968 to July 31, 1968: KIA: 345; WIA: 1,424; NBD: 24; NBI: 28. Personnel shortages continued to exist in Infantry Captains and Infantry NCOs in grades E-6 and E-7. During the quarterly period defoliation missions were flown in areas of operation to clear vegetation bordering roads, paths, trails and waterways (Oriental and Saigon Rivers); clearing vegetation from fields of fire and avenues of approach and clearing vegetation surrounding Cu Chi Base Camp and other critical installations. Throughout the quarterly period several units were reorganized under new TOE. These units were: 1st Bn, 5th Inf(Mech); 2nd Bn, 22nd Inf(Mech); 4th Bn, 23rd Inf(Mech). The new TOE was TOE 7-45G per USARPAC GO 226 dated 7 May 1968.

KIA = Killed in Action

WIA = Wounded in Action

NBD = Non-Battle Deaths (accidents, suicide, illness, etc)

NBI = Non-Battle Injury

TOE = Table of Organization and Equipment, a document that prescribes the wartime mission, capabilities, organizational structure, and mission essential personnel and equipment requirements for military units.

USARPAC = United States Army Pacific

GO = General Order


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