In reply to: History Channel - Against the Odds posted by irishguard78
...platoon (I assume) are briefly in a rear area being served lemonade by young USO aides; Sledge asks his buddy what the heck these young women (in perfectly immaculate, gleaming white dress) were doing there; and upon being greeted by one of these apparitions, Sledge can only stare.
The interaction rings rather true for me as related second hand. My dad was in a rifle company of a division of the 7th army in WWII, in the field from October 1944 until VE day, up the Rhone River Valley and through the Vosges Mountains to the right of Patton, ending up in Stuttgart. Conditions were generally warlike, with plenty of shelling, close range fire, and retail acquisition of one small Alsatian town after another. Every so often some ranking officer from the rear would drive up ferried by a jeep wanting to inspect the troops, who would dutifully line up grimy and largely un- or undershaven. A few times they were brought back, platoon by platoon, to get hot coffee and donuts from Red Cross ladies, and there was significant cultural dissonance created by soldiers who'd accepted imminent death as a reasonable outcome and perhaps had recently seen someone's arm or head shot off meeting with sweet innocents who looked as if they'd come from a church social; not that the soldiers weren't glad to see them and share the food and drink, but it was kind of weird (this was related to me by my dad and his platoon buddies who had a reunion in Chicago about 30 years ago).
things that you wouldn't even really think about until you've witnessed it.
Whenever someone asks what it's like, one of the first things I say is that it's a very visceral experience - you remember sound, taste, smell, touch, and some sight above just about all else. It's your lizard brain.
We would get sent to these outposts for days at a time in pretty isolated places north of Baghdad. If your whole platoon hasn't showered in a week and has been on patrol over and over again in that heat, then you become pretty grimy, but you don't realize it and are used to each other's stench. If a female doctor or EOD specialist or supply clerk or CRAM tech came around, you could smell her on the compound before you'd ever see her. The fresh shampoo used in her hair was a lush and powerful smell.
A lot of it is odd and almost surreal and kind of funny. Climbing a wall in the middle of the night during a raid only to land in shin-high human shit on the other side and completely blowing your element of surprise when you start cursing is quite funny in retrospect.
I can distinctly recall thinking how strange it was that the ONLY thing I could see was my sight picture, as if there was nothing to the left or right. Then you pull off the weapon for a second and you have panoramic vision again.
I can also distinctly recall feeling as if an engagement had lasted 5 or 10 minutes and being stunned to realize it was all of 25 seconds long.
I will never forget Willie, the Air Force JTAC E-4 who was 5 meters to my right one time, and how ashamed I was that at that moment my entire effective span of control was ME, and WILLIE. Good job, Captain - you have successfully led ONE fucking person other than you.
I will never forget my tongue cleaving to the roof of my mouth and staying stuck, no matter how much water I had just had. And trying to say something, and maybe saying it, but thinking later that it was possible that all that came out was an inarticulate bunch of gibberish. But then Willie did what I said, so maybe it came out right, I don't know.
Or how about the way that, in addition to the crack of the rounds whipping by you, you got a follow-up echo off the nearest wall?
Or how about the way that you strangely have way more powerful memories of some fights than others, and that has almost no connection to how serious it was? I remember this scene with Willie so vividly yet it was nothing, nothing at all, whereas other fights were momentous but I barely remember them.
Or how weird it is that you remember an event sheepishly, as if you could have done more and failed, but others recall you were cool, calm, and collected? No. No I most certainly was not.
Combat is fucking horrible. No movie or show can ever capture just how horrible, because as you say, it is visceral and the feel of hot busted up tarmac and the smell of gun lube and the sound of brass hitting the pavement wholly eclipsed anything you could actually see. We are a visual species and we use a visual medium to try and convey an experience that is often anything but visual when lived.
And yes, once in awhile its just goddamned funny. Scary-funny, like when the Iraqi National Guard kid about to lead a team over a compound wall has a negligent discharge straight up that nips the rim of his helmet, which then kicks up in front, down in back, snapping his chinstrap and knocking him out. Or the 1SG standing in the middle of the street while rounds are rocking all around him, cursing loudly because one of his privates ran into him and he barked his shin. There he stands, screaming "you slimy little motherfucker I will fucking shoot you in the face!" while insurgents are trying to shoot him in the face.
Its a damn good thing I spent most of my time in the JOC.
On night ambush operations, the first few minutes after we beached the boats—sitting there scanning the ground in front of the boats with night vision devices, trying to be perfectly still, breathless, heart beating in your throat, copper taste in your mouth—were moments of sheer terror. We stank of fear (1).
I’m sure that we “blew the bush” prematurely on occasion because someone just couldn’t stand the suspense. They couldn’t either. One time, a NVA soldier stuck his face out of the nipa palm. He was about 5 feet away. The guy who shot him had pieces of his face in his eye lashes.
(1) I refer to fear pheromones, but it was said that VC could smell the shave cream and deodorant used by American GI’s. Probably an urban legend. I discussed this with the sailors in my unit one time. One guy, a second-class ship-fitter, said, "That's why I don't use that shit". RM1 Batten replied, "I sure wish you did use that shit".
ring particularly true for me.
I can so vividly remember certain sets and sequences that they might as well have happened yesterday. Yet I can barely remember at all what was probably the worst three or four days of our entire deployment. Complete exhaustion and a bad eye infection will do that, I guess.
I do think back a lot about what I did and what I could have done differently: "If I had done Y instead of X...". We were pretty fortunate with our own guys (with some very notable exceptions - you don't soon forget what a ball-bearing through someone's neck looks like), but not so much with the locals. I'm not sure it mattered all that much in the long run. I keep in touch with my old interpreter, and he told me that most of the locals I knew from the area are dead now, anyway. The Islamic State swept through the area in late 2014 and pretty much cleaned house.
One of the things that struck me then and that I still think about was the lack of music. Growing up, every movie and TV show that I ever saw showing combat had some dramatic music or something in the background. In real life, it just sort of happens. No dramatic music. No build up, climax, and ending. Just crack/boom/echo/incessant radio chatter/lots of screaming over the noise. Again, a very odd thing to think about, but it's noticeable if your mind is conditioned a certain way.
Most of all I remember the heat. The motherfucking heat. And the smell of the place.
They say smell is connected to memory somehow, and I believe it. And it wasn't always bad, either - a few moments in Kuwait or in the Green Zone were punctuated by a kind of nice, spice smell, especially at night with a breeze.
The heat. Ye Gods, the heat was something else. Last August I got stuck for five days in Kuwait on the way home from AFG, and just cooked. With a wind, its even worse somehow.
was a tang of charcoal smoke, garbage/rotting fruit, and shit (sometimes leavened by spice or perfume smells from tropical flowers). It is a standard smell in tropical Third World countries, but it was especially pungent in VN (Cambodia too). There was also along the river the jungle smell--musky, damp earth, wet plants.
you've been to Iraq, so you will remember it: some mixture of burning rubber, rotting organic material, raw sewage, and a bit of local food spices. The burning smell was the most pungent of the mix.
Somehow, the smell in Iraq seemed more offensive. Maybe it was the heat. Or, maybe the dust was a more effective vector. I omitted the carrion smell. You had that in the mix in VN too.
Iraq is the most fucked-up, unpleasant, shitty country I've ever been to, and I've been to 90 of them.
reading this thread again was the garbage dump just north of the city. I am certain that anyone on here who has seen it knows what I am referencing: just mounds and mounds of garbage and debris piled up several stories high across several square kilometers with walking pathways through much of it. It is just north of the northern gates of Baghdad adjacent to Highway 1. I am certain that I will never smell anything like that particular place ever again in my life.
Early in my deployment, we were tasked with counter-IED duty, which would involve us patrolling around that area. Shi'a militias tied to the local cops were coming out of nearby Khadimiyah and taking their chances at American logistics convoys going up the highway with those especially deadly IEDs - smuggled in by the IRGC - known as explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs). At night, in order to prevent emplacement, we would stalk the area just off the highway, set in an ambush position, and wait for them.
I figured that garbage dump would be a great spot to check out - easy concealment, no one around, good sight lines to the highway. When we walked in there, I was absolutely shocked: there were whole families living in that shit heap. Dozens of them. I couldn't believe it. The yapping of the stray dog packs made it worse.
And there were times I actually liked it there. The mountains always dimly in view, and Sinjar Ridge, where we kept a re-trans station. And not nearly as hot as down south; hell, it snowed 4 inches one day in Mosul.
And now its a bloody wasteland, so much loss and heartbreak. I can't watch news coverage about the fight in Mosul now. Too many good men fought so hard for that place, and we wrested it back from collapse, and Ninevah had so much promise - Kurds and Yazidis and Shia and Sunni, and a University, and the mosque that stood where Jonah was laid to rest. And now ISIS packs buildings with desperate civilians and hopes we kill them.
Our compound was in Mansour, and I only went from there to the downtown business district (Rusafa), usually via the bridge next to Medical City. Khadimiyah was off-limits for the most part, ditto anything on the east side of town.
The most amazing thing about his service was that he survived the entire Pacific campaign unscathed. Never wounded, not even a scratch.
remarkable. His son said during the war that nobody was allowed to keep a diary. Sledge used a bible and when his son was interviewed, he showed his father's bible and some of the notations he placed in the margins. Then, after the war, he began to write his memoirs/experiences. Pretty great stuff by the way.
My father-in-law was a little different, since after each flight, they had to keep a flight log and enter any relevant facts into the flight log. He was able to keep that after the war and I've read it. He kept meticulous notes on each flight and engagement or battle (air or land bombings).
Nearly everything he ever talked about was how boring it was to fly over miles and miles of sea in search of Japanese ships....how a Corsair didn't have a floor (their feet dangled) and how on occasion, he would see a guy flying upside down.....for example his cigarettes had fallen to the bottom of the plane and he wanted a smoke......I guess they did that back then while flying. Anyway, the guy would flip the plane upside down and he'd pick his pack of smokes off the canopy.
His log book was full of examples of meeting up with Japanese Zeroes or making bombing runs, but the only time he ever spoke of the war in a serious/sad/melancholy tone was when he described the Battle of Peleliu. I think it really hit home for him how many guys died. He never mentioned his own safety, or how worried he was for his own life.....I think he thought he was invincible in that damn Corsair.