The new company first sergeant arrived with a few new NCOs, and they seemed like southern lifers to many of us. There had been a lull in shelling for quite some time. and naturally, the new first sergeant wanted to put our company back into order.
It didn't help that he wasn't as imposing a figure as the original. He also didn't know, or care, that I rebuilt the commo bunker on my own, wired hootches for power, and climbed the poles for power for the pool (an Olympic-sized pool, no less).
I had friends in the Wolfhounds and other infantry units who would occasionally visit me. One friend, a squad leader in a mechanized infantry unit, came to visit. We had done basic together, and I think he put a bayonet (sheathed) into Sgt Cooks's teeth during bayonet practice (who was actually very gracious about it). That was during basic, of course. My friend, the general's son, my age, had a good reputation in the division. He was a buck sergeant. Wore beads and had long hair.
The company first sergeant was with some other NCOs in the company area, saw us, and in reference to my friend, said : (preceding it with some kind of typical army-style epithet), " I don't know whether to kiss it or kill it!"
I felt my face turning beet red and felt mortified, and my tongue got the better of me when I retorted, "Oh, don't listen to him; he's just a fucking old lifer!"
I'm sure that was the moment our mutual loathing for each other was born. I was a mere spec4, and he resolved then and there to crush me.
I went up for promotion to buck sergeant, and of course, the first sergeant was on the board. I hadn't been working in my MOS (military occupational specialty) for at least nine months, and even though I studied, the first sergeant asked me some questions I missed. Even though this was completely foreseeable, I was devastated. I was nineteen and really naive. Thereafter whenever the first sergeant made eye contact with me, a sneer was on his face.
I continued to work as acting commo chief (a nothing job but so cushy), but the company needed a buck sergeant. One came. Someone more amenable to the first sergeant.
Tensions seemed to be arising. Nothing I could say, really. Bubblings.
We had five or six in our hootch, and I was part of a group: Terry, supply clerk (golden valley boy from San Bernadino son of a bank president, and Reuben, originally from Rio living on the edge of Hollywood and only too happy to become a citizen on getting out. He was company clerk. I was commo running the telephone exchange.
The guys we admired were the XO, a captain, and the supply sergeant. They were dynamos of wheeling and dealing. They got things done. Terry said Sgt Watkins had a ranch and a plane in Oklahoma. And was being investigated by army CID for selling M16s to the VC.
Paranoia seemed a little more pronounced. We usually got advanced warnings of a "shakedown," so kept ourselves out of LBJ that way. Besides, in our unit, there were no junkies as far as I knew (but then what did I know). The attitude on the surface seemed to be that there were the 'juicers" and the "heads," and everyone should respect that and do their job. It was probably that way with the warrant officer pilots too.
The CID was said to be snooping around, and it made everyone nervous. They probably were, but it probably didn't have anything to do with grass. One of the guys got into an altercation with someone he thought was undercover CID. And somehow blew off a couple of his fingers with an M79 (grenade launcher). I don't remember now which one got his fingers blown off.
About this time, John Wayne's movie Green Berets came out and played at an outdoor theatre not far from the company area. Everyone hated it. Someone threw one or two CS grenades (gas) to express their displeasure, and everyone scattered. I don't remember if I saw the end. If you were by your hootch ( I was), you ran for your gas mask.
Sometimes you could buy pre-rolled filtered joints that had black tar heroin in a line along them. Papa San told us it was opium. I had rose-tinted prescription sunglasses from the PX, and looking out at the world after smoking one of these was seeing everything in the rosiest and most sensuous hues. I loved it. And then said to myself, "Anything making you feel this good can't be good for you."
One of my friends was from a working-class family in the "city" (NYC), and he said it was the culture for the high school kids to snort heroin on the weekends. I'll bet plenty of kids got hooked.
One interesting memory is that towards the end of my tour, a half-Chinese and black guy arrived from Harlem who always knew what was going on, who the hustlers were, and who stole what. I remember there was a guy very high up in the heroin business much later in Harlem who got his start importing from Viet Nam. As I recall, he was half-Chinese, half-black.
I wonder if it was the same guy...