Post date: Jun 01, 2013 6:44:6 PM
On one cool misty day, I surfed my last wave of the summer on a laid back beach, us locals called Hermosa of southern California. Its just south of Manhattan Beach. The sun setting, it was getting dark. I needed to hurry because my friends were throwing a party for me, a going away party.
When I finally arrive at about 9pm the place was packed. I had so much fun throughout the night with my girlfriend by my side. We watched the beautiful southern California sun begin to rise.
I heard a voice call, “Hey Bob, your cab is here!” “My cab? Oh yeah, I almost forgot.” I kissed my girlfriend goodbye, grabbed my bags and that paper on top of my dresser that said “You Have Been Drafted!”
I reported to Fort Ord California at the age of 19, for four months of hard training. It was during this time I realized, there were men laying down their lives for freedom, liberty and the American way of life. With that in mind, I had no right to do less. I was gun-ho and ready to fight the Viet Cong.
In July 1969 I arrived at Bien Hoa Vietnam for processing. We were given an orientation to the enemies guerilla warfare tactics including booby traps. Our instructor took us into the last tent which was surrounded by sand bags. We gathered around a large table with a white sheet covering something. The light was dim, we thought it was another booby trap. As he removed the sheet .We could see the dead body of an enemy soldier, a Viet Cong. I could see the right side of his face, his shoulder and his stomach, which was very swollen. He couldn’t have been much older than we were. I didn’t know what the instructor purpose was in showing us this dead body. As I looked around at the men, I could see on my comrades faces that, the instructor had gotten our attention. It was only a few days ago we were enjoying life, our families, friends, and beach parties. Reality had set in. We were in Vietnam and at War!
Suddenly, a siren sounded, I heard a noise that I didn’t recognize. One of the guys yelled, “incoming” We dashed into the bunkers for cover. The explosions got louder and louder. The ground trembled. Then dirt between the sand bags began to fall filling the bunker with a dust cloud. Someone cried out, “ GOD! MOM!” Our bodies were huddled close together. We could feel each other shaking and gripped by fear we might die. Then suddenly another siren went off, I heard someone shout, “All clear!” That was our first day in Nam.
I soon assimilated into my unit. My main job was driving a petroleum truck. One of the guys I made friends with was named Jim. Jim was a short timer with only two or three months before he would go home. Jim was from Huntington Beach, about 20 miles from Hermosa Beach. We had something in common, we both loved surfing. His favorite spot was south of the pier where the waves just rolled in. Hey Jim, “I’ll meet you there when I get out!” I told him. He smile and said, “okay, Bob!” We talked a lot about the old days back in the world. A couple of months passes, Jim time was getting really short. His family was excited, his mom, dad and sister were planning a huge dinner party for him. He was getting ready for his last run picking up the guards from all night duty. I was behind the armory shooting the breeze with some of the guys, when a shot rang out. We ran around the armory. There right in front of us was Jim, shot dead by one of our own guys. According to the investigation the shooter mishandled his weapon,. It was an accident. The shooter remained free. I couldn’t believe it.
About three weeks later, I saw the shooter. He was surrounded by his buddies. That guy had his nerve to show his face here. I wanted to get him alone and to do him great bodily harm. He saw me standing at a distance. I waited through the hours of darkness. I could still see the group of guys. Then all at once, they all disappeared going in different directions. I never saw the shooter again.
Feeling sad and depressed my friend didn’t make it home. I couldn’t get even with the shooter, I started to drink more than usual. As I was headed back to my hooch with my poker playing buddy Reed late one night when, I spotted a small dog. It didn’t seem like anybody was looking after it. Reed, whom we called little Hercules because of his muscular build said, “Do you know they eat dogs in Nam?”I replied, “no, Didn’t know that.” He suggested, “Why don’t you get the dog?” that’s just what I did.
Reed helped care for the dog when I wasn’t around. One day he asked me, “What are you going to name the dog?” I thought for a minute and said, “I’m going to name him Hugo,” because my dad back home had a dog named Hugo.
Reed and I made sure the dog ate everyday. Boy, Hugo sure grew fast. Hugo and I became best buddies. Hugo had so much energy and personality and was so affectionate. I taught him basic commands. Hugo was my dog, but he was also the company dog. Everybody knew Hugo. He slept next to my bunk on a blanket because of the mosquito netting that surrounded my bed. When I came home from duty, I always found Hugo under my bed wagging his tail, so happy to see me. When we mustered one morning the C O spoke to us, there was Hugo right in front of the company, barking at the C O. It was so funny.
One night I wanted to play cards. I asked someone where Reed was. He responded, “haven’t you heard?” “ They found him naked and badly beaten with one of his arms cut off.” “What happened?” I asked? He said “It was the Cowboys.” “Who are the Cowboys?” I asked. “ They are gangs, like the hells angels in America. They don’t like Americans screwing with their girl-sans.”
Little Hercules paid a high price for his actions. It was difficult seeing him going home with only one arm a muscular man, my friend little Herc. By that time I had seen the faces of many dead gooks, but that didn’t affect me as much as seeing my friends dying senselessly or getting mangled for some stupid reason.
On a hot humid night, we heard a shot fired near our hooch A siren went off. I heard Hugo crying as he ran back to my bunk bleeding. Someone had shot my dog’s nose off. I picked up my dog and ran for help. I ran to the orderly room because there was always someone there. The shooter was apprehended. It was one of our guys. He looked like he was on something or just thought it was funny. By this time there were about 12 people in the room. My sergeant was standing next to me, I asked, “ would you hold Hugo?” As he took my dog I snapped . I went after the shooter with a vengeance . There were so many people there I couldn’t get close to him. My sergeant yelled, “We need to get Hugo to the hospital!”
I carried Hugo in my arms in the back of the jeep. I cried, “Please GOD, don’t take Hugo! Please GOD!” Then I stopped hearing that hissing noise from Hugo’s nose. I opened my eyes, I looked down , Hugo was dead. I can’t remember what happened after that.
I have come to this spot on the beach a lot through the years. I don’t enjoy surfing anymore, or parties. I just like it here, it’s so peaceful. The waves keeps rolling in, just like Jim said. “ Sometimes I spend the whole day here deep in my thoughts.”
Sitting here, sad and depressed all day,
I simply exist as I decay
I seem stuck in my thinking, not moving,
In my sixties, my life nearly gone.
War changed me from what I might been,
Took the happiness from many men.
Although we can’t change the past,
Forty-two years later, who thought I’d last.
Vietnam ruined an entire generation,
Is this country better off as a nation?
The sun is going down, I need to pack it up. Hiking back up a
trail, I saw a lost dog. I took this hungry and frail dog home. Then name it Hugo, turn out to be the best friend I ever knew. A gift from God.
By; Robert Yonan ( 09-30-2012 )