Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Both parts are online at www.observertoday.com
Arriving in Vietnam was the first day of the rest of his life for John G. Becker. From this point, things would be different.
The man next to him could be the man who might give his life for him. He then became the man who that man had to rely on. They were all in this thing together, and without the other guy, one may not make it! Working in a recon company meant that one became close to each and every other soldier in the squad. Recon was used to gather information that was needed before any major military operations could be planned and approved, such as the lay of the land, any enemy strongholds and vital information that required someone to actually see what the situation presented. Many patrols were designed to actually go into known enemy areas to confirm troop strength and locations.
Once while on a patrol, John stepped on an enemy land mine. The second he heard the click, he thought his life was down to its final seconds. Calmly John yelled, "Loose land mine! Everyone step back the way you came and get clear of me!" Everyone followed his direction except Sergeant Blecher. As he moved up to John, who now was standing as if he were a statue, he went down on his knees with his kaybar. He started to move the dirt around the mine and noticed that the three pins that were required to explode the mine were actually bent. He told John it was OK to lift his foot. He was out of danger! Sergeant Blecher got up and went on his way as if nothing happened. That's the way it was in Vietnam. If you were assigned to an actual combat unit, a "thank you" was not needed. It was just part of life.
Reporting back to his outfit, John read the new sign that let one know they were now reporting to the 11th brigade. His TAOR (territorial area of responsibility) was the Chu Lai area and nearby LZs (landing zones) Charlie Brown, LZ Gloris and LZ Linda.
Being in the 11th brigade and an all new unit brought attention to the fact that if all went well the entire brigade would return home all at the same time. This will not be good. Units in Vietnam needed new replacements of fresh, young, newly trained soldiers. Finally someone in higher command decided that infusion was needed to keep the brigade running smoothly. Using the infusion process, the 11th brigade took 25 percent of its forces and traded with the 198th infantry battalion. John was selected to go with the 198th arriving at his new home at LZ Charlie Brown. John learned he would be attached to a recon team and participate in search and destroy patrols mostly out of LZ Charlie Brown and when operations were being ran near Chu Lai. Special recon teams were being formed for echo recon, a special unit designed for night ambushes and taking out selected targets that were being called in by the air observers.
At around his 100th day left, John received word while coming in off a night ambush that his R&R was scheduled. After a quick chopper ride to Chu Lai and a quick shower taken with cold water from a 55-gallon overhead, John was at the air strip waiting for the next flight to Hawaii for his five-day R&R. To most Vietnam veterans, these R&Rs were termed the fastest five days in history. For John, returning to his outfit was as if nothing had happened.
As John penciled in his last day on his short-timer's calendar, he looked around and left anything of his that was of any importance for his buddies to take if needed. That's the way things were done in Vietnam. Anything that had any importance or use was left behind for the ones you were leaving to finish the war you so dearly wanted to end.
Many Vietnam veterans left the country of Vietnam with only the military utilities on and their orders. It was over for John. He had only one quick chopper ride to Chu Lai, a brief wait, a quick run up the ramp of a C-130 and a 25-minute to Danang left before heading back to the world but he knew he wasn't safe until that contracted continental air pilot clicked on the plane's intercom and said the words, "We are now out range of any artillery or rocket fire. Next stop Okinawa, Japan."
As the plane landed on the runway at the Danang airport, not a whisper could be heard. As John looked back down the aisle, all he could see were the fingers crossed and a few soldiers with their hands placed together as if they were praying. Finally the intercom clicked and the entire plane yelled and cheered.
John returned to the States and was then discharged at Fort Lewis, Was. He spent a week visiting his sister Jean and her family. He returned to work at the Carnation Factory until his retirement when the plant closed its doors for the last time in 1995. John now enjoys his Army reunions where he gets to travel the country with his companion Janice Abbey who shares stories and interests of John's unit. When not away at reunions, John loves to tinker with antique farm tractors, at times taking years to restore a garden tractor that hasn't ran for over 30 years. Bringing back an antique piece of farm equipment brings joy and satisfaction to its restorer. John has lived in a quiet, peaceful country home for the last 40 years. For the past 17 years he has shared it with his friend and companion Janice Abbey from Perrysburg.
Doing stories about Vietnam veterans takes me back while writing. In some stories, I get taken back to the same time and areas of my veteran. Being a Vietnam veteran and returning home alone often made it hard going to your outfit's reunions.
At the reunions I didn't know if I feared more the fact of hearing of a brother who was lost in the line of duty or meeting one who returned and may reopen times that need to be kept silent. Still a great place to be, a reunion works well for those who are experiencing problems from their service time to find out where and how to receive help.
Brothers who depended on each other to survive can now sit back, have a few beers and reminisce about the things they have seen and done. Reunions also dedicate time to show respect for the brothers that paid the ultimate price that a war demands. John Becker attends as many reunions as possible and, while doing so, joins his fellow brothers from his past and bond together again.
John Becker, welcome home! Thanks for serving our country and for your recon patrols that saved many lives. Our hero, John Becker.