A boy goes to war. Part 1
A true story by Joe P. Attanasio
When I was young man of seventeen, I dropped out of high school and joined the army. My parents signed for me. They did not want me to go, but realized if they did not give their permission, I would have left home for parts unknown on my own.
The year was 1966 and the Vietnam conflict (war) was going on at the time. I enlisted for three years. I thought I could handle anything on my own. I was strong and confident and more than anything, I wanted to be on my own and make my own way.
I departed with about fifteen young men from western New York on a train that day in May for Fort Dix, New Jersey and basic training. Army life was hard, especially in basic training but I rolled with the punches like most of the others and got through it unscathed.
I found myself in Fort Lee, Virginia for the next few months for advanced training. I was to be in the first ever “Personal Service Company”. This totally new concept would be comprised of an entire company of clerks. We had the knowledge and resources to handle all the paperwork required for the U. S. Army troops in Vietnam. Our company commander was a full-bird colonel, which was extremely rare.
In April 1967 our company flew to Oakland California and boarded a troop ship for Vietnam. Three weeks later we would arrive on the coast of Vietnam. I wrote the following poem in 2013 on Veterans Day to tell the story of my arrival.
My first day in a combat zone
By: Joe P. Attanasio (2013)
For weeks I’ve only had this troop ship to explore
Sailing toward the Vietnamese shores, and war
Three weeks to prepare me for what lies ahead
My stomach is tied in knots with a sense of dread
Flashes of muted light appear on shore and I choke
The air is warm and humid and smells of acrid smoke
We anchor in the bay, set to deploy at morning light
Soldiers make nervous jokes, trying to hide their fright
We’re trained for battle and used to working like a team
But reality is elusive and this feels just like a dream
Orders are passed along as first light hits the scene
Prepare to go ashore; load and lock your magazine
It is time to do our job; worry and nerves are cast aside
We look to our leaders; they’ve always been our guide
“First platoon, board the landing craft now” he shouts
Months of preparation now replace our fear and doubts
Silently we sit touching shoulders aboard the floating boat
As we start to move, a swallow gets caught in my throat
Evident is the incredible tension in every solemn face
I know not a single soldier, wants to be here in this place
Our transport plane awaits us, riddled with bullet holes
I wonder how many other soldiers lost their very souls
As the ramp opens in the surf I hear the sergeant shout
“Everyone to the plane on the double now, move out”
There’s no enemy fire, this area has been made secure
Once we’re up the ramp and we sit like tourists on a tour
When the plane is fully packed with soldiers on the floor
The huge metal ramp clangs shut like the closing of a door
In the hot and dark belly of this flying transport plane
The bullet riddled floor and sides adversely affect the brain
The engines roar and we take off to our base camp site
Alone with their thoughts, everyone clearly was uptight
We landed at Bien Hoa air base, our home for the next year
Two and half ton trucks awaited, we all climbed in the rear
They drove us to our camp at the far edge of the base
A half a dozen Quonset huts would be our living space
Five rows of curled barb wire and an expanse of wild grass
Was the only barrier between us and an enemy’s attack
On our first night there, we awoke to incoming rockets
The Viet Cong were trying to destroy the bombing jets
The armored unit next to us answered with their rounds
Our shells whistled over us for the enemies grounds
There was no target for me, I watched in helpless terror
Hoping that a short shell would not explode in error
I will continue my story with my next post.
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