Our stay at Dragon ended as suddenly as it had begun. The choppers
dropped us off one day to check a suspected enemy supply cache. By mid-afternoon we
had scoured the area thoroughly, finding nothing. The choppers returned to pick us
up, and as we left the ground we could see Cu Chi, only a half mile away. And to our
surprise, we flew directly toward it. Soon we were boarding trucks bound for the
"Cu Chi Hilton". We were actually, finally, going on stand-down!
It was late afternoon when we drove through the gates. We climbed down, and were
herded to temporary barracks. There were real beds, with mattresses and sheets.
What luxury! We would have settled for a clean place on the ground.
After all, we had done with less for months.
We placed our weapons and ammo in a big metal CONEX shipping container. We were
in the mood to celebrate, and our "zoo-keepers" wanted everything dangerous
under lock and key when the party started. Our radios were sent off to be tested and
repaired. And we were issued brand-new uniforms and boots.
It seemed a travesty to waste them on us - we were the sort to scuff them up at the
I headed for the showers. It was an absolutely glorious feeling to be clean again
after months of primitive living. I soaped and soaked in the warm water, shaved and
combed my hair, and put on the new clothes. I felt almost human again!
Then came chow time - time to find out if the food at the Cu Chi Hilton was as good as
we'd heard. We lined up outside the mess hall, and took turns ordering steaks cooked
just the way we liked them. We had real French fries. And fresh salad.
If we wanted more, we got seconds!
After dinner I went to my bunk to relax and write letters home. In the field it
was sometimes difficult to find time to write. I wrote to Sue every day, if I could.
She kept the rest of the family up-to-date. When I had more time, I sent
letters to my parents, and to my brothers and sisters. Stand-down gave me the
opportunity to write to everyone.
Later, as the sun drifted behind an orange haze, I walked over to the wooden bleachers
for live entertainment. A popular Australian pop group took the stage - four men and
two women. Real women! It had been a long time . . .
Leaning back against the next seat, tapping my hands in time to the music, I luxuriated
in the warm evening breeze. Big tubs held beer and soda pop submerged in ice water.
There was plenty for everyone. We even had popcorn. Such simple
pleasures - yet priceless to us who had so little in the field. For a short time, at
least, we could put our other life behind us.
The next morning, after breakfast, we were trucked over to the Post Exchange. It
was our chance to get items unavailable in the field and spend some big bucks (MPC). While we waited in line outside, a few at a time were
allowed in to shop. MPs patrolled the store. Perhaps they thought us
dangerous? Or maybe they thought we might not find our way back . . . ?
There was even time for a little reading. Or for short walks to the company area
where our other possessions were stored. And there was an awards ceremony. We
formed ranks, and one by one stepped forward to collect our medals. Those in combat
for more than three months received combat infantryman's badges. Many of us received
air medals, one for each twenty-five combat air missions - for a while we were doing three
or four helibornes a day. And a few of us were awarded the bronze star - with a
"V" device denoting valor in combat.
Then, much too soon, stand-down was over. It was time to get back to the war.
The CONEX's were opened. We put on our web gear and picked up our weapons.
Then we climbed aboard the waiting trucks. Leaving the Cu Chi Hilton, we
drove past our battalion area, down one street after another until we left Cu Chi itself,
and then turned east on a major highway. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at Fire
Support Base Emory.