One Day in Nam (for Chuck)

Definitions: C.I.B. - Combat Infantry Badge,
Dustoff - A helicopter coming to remove the wounded and dead.

It was an unusually unpleasant night on the Third of October, Nineteen Sixty-eight. I was not used to being in a base and here we were sitting around in Binh Phuoc, our Battalion base camp. I felt a sense of uneasiness compounded by a feeling of exhaustion. It was odd, but that night I was sweating, something I rarely did in Nam. I was actually looking forward to sleeping on a cot surrounded by mosquito netting, which to me was invented to make one sweat. (I felt it restricted my breathing by cutting down any chance of a breeze.) I was just so tired I didn't care. This wasn't long after dark but I was burnt out from whatever patrols we had done earlier.


My recollection of some of the details of that day are not that clear. My recollection of the following events of that night and the next morning has haunted me for thirty years. Just prior to my trying to go lay down and drop off into what to this day I call my "black sleep," (a dreamless near comatose state), someone came around and said they needed guys from our platoon for an Ambush Patrol. Having not too long before become the 2-3 squad leader I was called upon to choose someone for the ambush patrol from my squad or go myself. Being certain I would fall asleep and put everyone else in jeopardy, I asked for a volunteer from my fellow squad members. Eddie Bivens offered to go but they still wanted one more guy. Around this time my feelings of uneasiness were increasing, I asked whomever was in charge that night if perhaps the 2-3 squad could be let off the hook for that night, making the Ambush Patrol up out of the remaining three Second platoon squads.( This was not an uncommon practice to cover for each other, but at that time the company strength was kind of low.) I was told a resounding NO. I was then derided for my poor skills as a squad leader, I had never asked for the job, no one else would take it, so I did. I finally spoke with my friend Chuck Schall who agreed to go. We were speaking for only a short while when an overwhelming sense of doom came over me. Chuck confessed he had been having the same sense of uneasiness that I had. The person in charge interrupted our conversation to say that they had to leave A.S.A.P.. Before leaving Chuck and I again spoke, then Chuck did something truly odd, he asked me for my C.I.B., I didn't know what to make of it. As I handed it him and he handed me his, a chill passed over me. We both said that if he didn't come back we would never speak to each other again, a little combat humor thing we used to do, showing concern but pretending we would be angry. Chuck said to keep the C.I.B. forever so that I would always remember him. Chuck left and I went to lay down.


I slept briefly and woke up with an even stronger sense that something was terribly wrong. When I got out of the cot I saw that even though it was the middle of the night a lot of the guys in the company were up and walking around. I asked what was going on? No one seemed to know, someone said we hadn't heard from the Ambush Patrol in quite a while, someone else went to check. I couldn't find anyone who knew. I waited, we all did.


At sunrise we (the Company) all mounted up on our tracks and headed for the location of the Ambush Patrol. I remember we were in fairly deep water in one of the paddies when I first spotted Eddie Bivens, who was another member of my squad, and Hodges (whose first name I cannot remember) hanging onto each other looking injured even from a distance. When we got up to them someone spoke to them then sent them back to our base camp on another track. I didn't get to talk to them. I was getting more and more anxious as we finally approached the area where the Ambush Patrol had set up the night before. As we got there I saw Sgt. Peace, another second platoon member, leaning on a tree in broad daylight waving a strobe light up and down as if to signal in a dustoff during the night. The rest of that morning is a blur, somehow I had learned that out of ten Second platoon members, seven had been killed, Chuck was amongst the dead. I remember sending Ernie Strimback to help with the retrieval of bodies. When he finally did come back he refused to talk about it. I felt a tremendous sense of guilt, I was sure that had I been there I would have been able to do something that would have prevented the deaths of my friends.


Whoever I was before that day also died out there with that patrol. I decided, whether consciously or unconsciously I am not sure, that I would never again allow myself to get close to anyone, never again expose myself to that kind of hurt, that kind of pain. And I decided that I must get even! Killing no longer became wrong, so long as it was the enemy that was getting killed. I never let go of my new found philosophy through the remaining eight months of my tour in Nam. I have paid the price for living that way and still am paying today. For the rest of the time that I was in the Army I wore Chuck's C.I.B. . No one challenged me to replace it, even Stateside, even though the jungles and the boonies had caused the paint to come off just ahead of the barrel of the rifle. (see photo). It sits in a frame just above where I am writing this and I see it every day.

Chuck I will never forget you, and I am sorry.

Love, Fats

please visit this page to see how strongly this incident affected a brother vet as descibed in an email frm the man's son A Son's Remembrance

Epilogue: In August of 1998 my wife bought me a computer. Once I got online I decided to look for anyone who might remember me from Nam. It was a long shot, 30 years after the fact, but I put a listing on the US Army Lost and Found pages. To my amazement people who remembered me, and served with me started responding. One of the first was my good friend Ed Andrews. Coincidentally, Harold "Doc" Peterson had written me. I was starting to get in touch with people I had long given up hope of hearing from ever again. Fast forwarding a bit I got into a chat room with several First Platoon members who were just a short distance away in their own Ambush Patrol on the night Chuck got killed. Led by Harold "Doc" Peterson and narrated mostly by Dave Taborski (thanks Dave, I know it was hard for you) I learned a great deal about the details of that night. I also learned that had I gone instead of Chuck it would be most likely that I too would have been killed. While I cannot let go of the grief I feel for the loss of Chuck it has helped me put my guilt over the incident into perspective. Thanks Doc. Now about the other three hundred and sixty-four days I spent In-country..........

THE FOLLOWING WAS SENT IN RESPONSE TO THE ABOVE BY MY FRIEND, JOE RAMBO OF THE 2/39th

John, your recollections of your friend Chuck was very moving. It also brought back some memories of my own that have bothered/haunted me for thirty years too. In July 68, myself and three more guys had been assigned to Echo Co. 2/39th. We were trucked from Long Bien to Rach Kien. All of us had 11C10 MOS's. Echo's weapon platoon was a four deuce and we were all excited. When we arrived, a Sgt. came out and pointed to two of us and said you two go to the mortar platoon and then pointed to me and Dennis Jerdet and sent us to the rifle platoon. Being new, Dennis and I hung together and became good friends. Dennis was a good sized fellow, so naturally he got the M-60 pretty quickly. Our casualty rate that summer was high, therefore we were lacking in experienced men. Within three months, I was squad leader. Soon another big guy came in and Dennis wanted to give up the M-60, so I gave it to the new guy. I always felt that an experienced man should be on point, not a FNG, so I put Dennis there. Need I say anymore? I saw it all. It was so close. We were in thick nipa palm. The memory of that scene is forever burned into my brain. Like you, part of me died that day and I never allowed myself to get close to anyone again, not even to this day.

Some of My Other Pages

Forgotten Heroes
The Man On The Bus
For The Future
Loss of Innocence
A Time To Remember
A Time To Remember p.2
2/47 K.I.A. List
2/47 K.I.A. List p.2
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