"Kill or Be Killed!" A US Army Success in Vietnam. Our Brave Soldiers Heeded the Motto to the Hilt, They Killed Rather Than Be Killed
Always in the Gutter
I was passing by the Green Door (in Lower Manhattan, New York City; still there today under a new name) on the deep western end of Spring Street one early evening only a few years after the Vietnam War was declared "over" by Tricky Dick Nixon and Henry Kissinger even though word among the underground was that we had totally lost that stupid war that nobody wanted us involved in in the first place. We marched in the streets by the millions saying we didn't want any more involvement in that war. We put our asses on the line in front of armed, numbbrained, and scared shitless (smoking Camels rather than pot) National Guard amateur soldiers under the command of gutless wonder 4-F National Guard fat-bellied officers (smoking cigars rather than taking LSD) (insurance and used car salesmen in their regular jobs). It was one of these pot-bellied, cigar-smokin', amateur generals who gave the command for his pimple-faced scared-shitless cigarette-smoking warriors to fire their war surplus M-1 rifles at a group of highly threatening and dangerous terrorist college students at Kent State University that fateful day when thousands of awakened students put their nonviolent asses on the line for peace, love, and tie dye--peace and love at that time the two most hated words in the English language to the Power Elite that ruled us then and still rules us to this day.
So I was passing by the Green Door this early evening when the front door of the joint suddenly burst open and in a series of moves faster than a masked Mexican rassler doing a somersault over the ring ropes to scissor his out-of-the-ring opponent around the neck with his legs I watched as Superbabe, the Green Door bartender, tossed a customer out on his ass, her last fling of this poor bastard spinning him straight out past the Green Door's garbage cans and leaving him splat down and face up in the Spring Street gutter.
I thought I recognized who it was Superbabe had tossed out of the Green Door on his ass. She'd thrown this guy out plenty of times before though she would tell you in a minute if you asked her about it that it broke her heart every time she had to do it because she loved the guy so much down in her kind and mother-love-giving heart.
I walked over to him and sure enough it was Night Mission Skeets, Peter Skeets, who we called Night Mission because of his many tales about his serving time in Vietnam as a night patrol leader for a crew of river rats who went out in patrol boats on the Mekong River at night to a point where they suspected a Cong hideout, a village hiding Cong, a tunnel system, or an infiltration route. These patrols would run missions off those boats into the jungles looking for signs of Cong. They did these missions in the dead of night with only night-lighted compasses to keep them on their coordinates. On nearly every one of these missions, several of the chosen few wouldn't return. When they came back to the boat, they came back having to leave some of their buddies back in the jungle either dead or too wounded to be moved--left to the mercy of the Cong, who, of course, had no mercy in their military-minded hearts for wounded enemy soldiers. When these river rats came back to the boat, they were returned to their base of operations back down river to give what information they had gathered to the command post, to then be reorganized and gotten ready for the next night's patrol.
"Hey, Night Mission, what the hell'd Superbabe toss your ass out for this time?"
"There's a fuckin' gook sittin' at the bar in there." Peter sat up in the gutter. He couldn't find his glasses. "Where'r my fuckin' glasses, god-dammit, where the fuck...."
"Here they are, Night Mission, here in these fish guts." I handed them to him.
"Those were almost gook guts," he snarled. "I told the gook son of a bitch if he didn't get the fuck out of there I was gonna garrote his ass right then and there."
"Was he Vietnamese?"
"I don't know. He was a gook. That's all I saw. A fuckin' gook! How dare a fuckin' gook come in an American bar and act like nothin' fuckin' happened in 'Nam, man, like nothin' fuckin' commie-fuckin' happened over there, man."
"Come on, Night Mission, let me buy you a coffee at the Greek's."
He got up out of the gutter. He slapped the filth off his jeans and his jacket, his Army field jacket, the one he wore morning, noon, and night. He'd show you stains on that jacket. They looked like blood stains and that's exactly what he'd loudly tell you they were. "That's my blood there and there's the gook whose throat I slit's blood there. That's my red badge of courage, pal, right there in them bloodspots. Where the hell's yours?"
Night Mission and I got along fine. Not because I was a VietNam War vet but because I had at least been in the US Army and knew about the army things he talked about including night patrols and field observer stuff and the fact he knew I wasn't lying when we talked army shit. Especially after I mentioned I had served military time at Fort Sill and then he'd told me how he'd been through Fort Sill from Fort Riley, Kansas, to do enemy interrogation training. And then I mentioned Fort Ord, California, and hell yeah he knew I was legit then because Fort Ord was the jumping off place for US Army Combat Forces. The next stop after Fort Ord in those days was Camron Bay in South VietNam and after Camron Bay, you went into combat where the Law of the Military Jungle became "kill or be killed."
Peter drank quite a bit. He also smoked pot, did cocaine, heroin, LSD, schrooms, and any kind of drug he could get his hands on. His only possession worthy of value was a Chevy van with which he made his living as a truck messenger. He was dutiful to his business. He was up every morning no matter his condition going out on his assignments. He seemed to make pretty good money; he always paid his tabs and bills and shit; but after 3 in the afternoon when he finished his pick ups and deliveries he was in the Green Door at the bar drinking shots of bar whiskey, Wilson in this case, with beer back ups. By all means he was high. He was always talking about getting pulled over in some little Upstate burg for openly smoking joints while he was driving his van.
Like I said, I got along with him fine, but some people couldn't stand him. Some people were scared of him. He talked openly and loudly about cruelties of all sorts, killing, assassinating, slitting throats, firing machineguns on classrooms of "gook" schoolchildren, about seeing gooks set on fire, or about shooting gooks between the eyes man, woman, child, it didn't matter.
In the Greek's we ordered black coffee.
"I see gooks, man, and they're all over New York, man, I go fuckin' nuts. Even the chicks. I couldn't even fuck one of these American gooks simply because she reminds me of my enemy, man."
"Hey, man," I said, "I can understand. I have a good friend who was on Iwo Jima in World War II and he won't have any Japanese product anywhere near him. He hates Sony products and once got roaring drunk at a guy's house and when he saw the guy's new Sony Trinitron TV he went over and kicked the screen in. Almost cut his foot off in the process."
"Hey, Wolfie, that's a real man, a jarhead who was on Iwo Jima. You know the Japs were tunneled into Mount Suribachi. They are tunneling bastards. We faced the Cong digging tunnels like fucking moles--tunnels even running under us as we were pushing through some of the slimiest jungle shit in the fuckin' world. God-damn." He began to shake his head back and forth in the affirmative manner. He did this a lot.
"Calm down, man. There're no gooks in here, just Greeks and Puerto Ricans."
"Yeah, man, I love Poor-toe Reee-Kans," he yelled out pretty loud.
"You working tomorrow?"
"Yeah, man, I work every fuckin' day. I've got to...fuckin' workin' my ass off. Haulin' shit. The army taught me what I know how to do best, kill gooks and drive a fuckin' truck. Let me tell you, Wolfster, you go apply for a job, say I'm wearin' a fuckin' Brooks Brothers suit, you dig, clean cut, you know, business-as-hell looking, but the minute these sons'a bitches see you were in 'Nam, that's it. They don't want no 'Nam vets. 'Cause all we know how to do is kill gooks and drive trucks...and they won't hire us to drive trucks 'cause we can't get bonded and besides they start talkin' 'bout how 'Nam vets drive crazy, wild, you know."
He ordered a slice of lemon pie when I ordered another cup of coffee.
"You got a place to stay? I heard you got kicked out of that Ludlow place."
"That bitch. I came in one night with three-thousand dollars and a clean dick and she fuckin' threw me out. She was a crazy Pollock. Those Pollock chicks can fuck like snakes but god-damn they're meaner that wildcats the next minute after they've screamed and told you how fuckin' good your fuckin' dick was."
"Did you screw around in 'Nam?" I asked him. His eyes were clearing up, still distant, they were always distant, but at least they were clear and I could tell he was sober again, just like that.
"Yeah, sure. Saigon was all whores when I got there."
"How old were ya, Peter?"
"Fuckin' eighteen. Meaner than that fuckin' junkyard dog, man. I went in the army, fuck the pansy Navy and Air Force. I went in and said sign me up give me a machinegun pistol and show me where the gooks are. My first day in I had to do 60 push ups, 20 three times."
"What the fuck did you do?"
"Just smartass acting. The old man, the Cap'n, got me the first time for not salutin' his ass. Then a fucking 90-day-wonder nailed me for the same shit...he didn't look any older than me, man, fuck him. Then my first sargeant nailed me for not shaving the next morning."
"What was it like when you found out you were going to 'Nam? I remember I was scared shitless, you know, not ever having killed a man or had anybody try to kill me."
"Did you drive you old man's car like a bat out of hell?"
"Yeah, I did."
"Then you had the instincts of a killer in you. We all do. We're predators. Once back in the jungle it all comes back to you, Wolf Man. Your instincts all take over and you're a predatory animal again." He was bobbing his head affirmatively again. "Hell, yes, I was scared shitless when I saw my orders were for 'Nam. Shit, at a layover in Guam I looked out the aircraft and, man, son of a bitch, there were coffins as far as the eye could see. It got quite on that fuckin' plane, man. Solid quiet. All those coffins. And we knew what was in 'em, too. We knew guys just like us were in 'em. Guys who'd been in training right before us. They'd been replacement troops for some others and we were going to be replacement troops for them. I thought right then and there--my instincts told me--by God, they weren't bringing my ass back in no fuckin' pine box--fuck, they're not even pine, they're fuckin' plywood. That's when the fear left me. Like a bird flying away. From that stop in Guam on I wasn't afraid...never...never...never."
His head was really bobbin' now.
"You OK, Peter?"
"Yeah, I need a hit. I need to get over to this chick's...."
"What chick? You got a new chick already?"
"Wolfie, I'm in love. I met this chick, man, an artist. You know what she paints? Her tits! All her paintings are portraits of her tits."
"Nice tits, I assume."
"Oh, yes, perfect tits. She's also into S and M, too, baby. She loves leather, you know, to be whacked on her fine big butt with a special leather strap, of which I'm the master. I start off gentle, you know, teasing little bites of that strap, then when she's pushin' it up at me and beggin' for the leather to slap harder, I give it to her good...holy smoke, man, what a woman. I'm in fuckin' love. Man, she sticks hat pins through her nipples and paints her tits that way."
I fully considered the kind of life this guy lived. It was sort of the same kind of life I was living at the time except on a much lower level. I was enjoying the spa-levels of hell but Peter was already way down in the core of hell, the hell he discovered was the whole world in Viet Nam.
"You think that war was necessary, Peter?" I asked him from out of nowhere.
He looked up at me and his eyes ran in from their normal distant view and caught my eyes. "You serious, man?"
"Yeah. Just curious about what you think."
"Let me tell you what I think. I think those pantywaist coward assholes in Washington Fucking D.C. got us into it...yet, once we got in it, I think we had an obligation...at least, I did, an obligation to win it, right or wrong. Once I was there, hell yeah I was cheering on the peaceniks. I wanted to come home. I mean, man, war ain't no easy job. War is hell. Who said that, some Civil War general, right? And war is hell, but not for those motherfucking generals."
"So the war was wrong?"
"Yeah, but so what? We still had to fight it to win it."
"So why do you hate the gooks so if the war was wrong."
"Fuck those bastards. I hate them 'cause their fuckin' evil, man. Heathen to the core. Plus those Chinese cocksuckers were really in control of the Cong. We were there really to stop communism; that's what I believed and I was for that."
"Did we win that war?"
"Hell no. We lost it. But it wasn't my fault or the men I fought with. It wasn't the ground forces that lost that war."
It was getting late. I needed to go finish some editing I had back in my apartment that I needed to turn in the next day in order to get my check for the week. "I gotta go, Peter. You alright now?"
"Yeah, thanks, man, I'm OK. I just need a hit."
I left him sitting in the Greek's looking off into the distance out the plate glass window.
There he sat. His field jacket with the US Army tag and across from it his nametag "Skeets," faded jeans, his army-issue combat boots. There he sat. Smoking a cigarette.
I thought, wow, what that man has been through; what he's seen; what he's done in the name of his country; war's all he knows; it's like he's lonely for VietNam.
I immediately thought of Peter Skeets when I saw on the news about the poor bastard down at Fort Hood who flipped out and gunned down 13 recruits and injured 31 other soldiers and bystanders. He was being deployed to Afghanistan. He was a career Army man; an army psychiatrist. I'm sure he'd dealt with many, many Peter Skeets. Men with their heads filled with the necessary horrors of war. And they were scary guys. Death meant nothing but maybe peace to Peter Skeets. I know that for real. I was riding with him driving one of his girlfriend's cars one night and Peter was doing close to 100 mph right up a New York City avenue and blasting rock over the radio, smoking his cigarette, on an atmospheric high. He knew he was risking life driving that fast up a New York City street...plus I knew he was testing me, too. He was testing my courage.
I moved out of the neighborhood in the early eighties. I was gone from the neighborhood several months when one night a friend of mine from Seattle came to town who used to love hanging out at the Green Door so he insisted we drop in for a couple of drinks.
The bartender was one I knew really well; we'd been roommates at one time. He was really glad to see me, blah, blah, blah, and he immediately insisted he pour us both a liberal dab of Irish whiskey (at the time I drank Murphy's Irish Whiskey; it's no longer a viable label) and drew us both pints of Bass ale.
He started talking about this and that and this person and that person and I suddenly thought of Peter Skeets.
"How's that crazy Peter Skeets doin'? Does he still come in here?"
"Peter. This past February, I mean, you remember how cold it was, remember it snowed and froze over for a week or more, well, anyway, I closed up this night, I mean it was fuckin' cold, so cold the Green Door's front windows were icing up...and Peter was in there and he was sloshed and I kept saying he had to leave; I mean, it was might near 4 and I wanted to get home, I was beat. Finally, I got him up on his feet. All he had on was that army jacket he always wore and I asked him if that was all he had and he told me that's all he needed...he was hot blooded, something like that, so anyway, I got him up on his feet and out the door. He stood there with me while I locked the joint up and pulled down the guard gate and locked it. Then we walked up to the corner and he turned up Greenwich and I went on home. I got to the Green Door the next afternoon and Superbabe was there drinkin' her ass off and cryin' like a baby. Seems she'd woke up that morning with cop sirens outside her loft. She went down to see what it was and it was Peter. A guy going out for coffee found Peter in the middle of Reade Street dead. He'd frozen to death. Superbabe felt like he'd been tryin' to get her to let him stay at her place. I told her she didn't know that for sure, but she was pretty wrecked about it."
So Peter Sheets had frozen to death. Wearing his army field jacket over his plaid shirt, wearing his faded jeans and his army-issued combat boots. Frozen in the fetal position. Finally at peace. Finally discharged from the army. Finally all wars were over for him.
From Wikipedia: Vietnam Casualties
The number of military and civilian deaths from 1959 to 1975 is debated. Some reports fail to include the members of South Vietnamese forces killed in the final campaign, or the Royal Lao Armed Forces, thousands of Laotian and Thai irregulars, or Laotian civilians who all perished in the conflict. They do not include the tens of thousands of Cambodians killed during the civil war or the estimated one and one-half to two million that perished in the genocide that followed Khmer Rouge victory, or the fate of Laotian Royals and civilians after the Pathet Lao assumed complete power in Laos.
In 1995, the Vietnamese government reported that its military forces, including the NLF, suffered 1.1 million dead and 600,000 wounded during Hanoi's conflict with the United States. Civilian deaths were put at two million in the North and South, and economic reparations were expected. Hanoi concealed the figures during the war to avoid demoralizing the population. Estimates of civilian deaths caused by American bombing in Operation Rolling Thunder range from 52,000 to 182,000. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war.thegrowlingwolf
for The Daily Growler
The Vietnam Memorial Wall. How ironic; this wall was conceived and created by a Gook (Chinese) woman who was born in Ohio. Peter Skeets is rolling over in his grave, wherever that may be. I'll guarantee you, there's no memorial to Peter or any of his buddies who survived that cruel and unnecessary war. In the Bronx, there is still a neighborhood of Southeast Asian refugees from that awful fraud of a war--many of whom will soon be evicted from their residences to make way for progress, a new hi-rise, luxury, condo with apartments selling for such expensive prices not even a Middle-Class White American could afford them. What do we do with these Vietnam War refugees? Deport them?
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