LOST IN DOGPATH….
One of the things that I’ve been doing since Sheryl and I moved from Wildomar, has been to put pen to paper (actually, dictating via Dragonspeak; it is, after all, the 21st century ) some of the initial elements of a planned memoir of my brief but eventful military career for the benefit of my son, Tim and especially my grandson, Kent Roy Rasmussen, who is fascinated by my service in the Vietnam war and will be the eventual recipient of one of my cherished mementoes, my grungy jungle boots.
After I have memorialized specific events, I will then have to connect all of them in a readable context in order to help the eventual reader to gain some insights into the complexity of the times we who lived in the 1950s/60s faced as individuals. Adding my own voice to the Great Conversation about Vietnam, hopefully will provide a small piece of color to the tapestry of history.
Thanks for reading.
April 1968, Naval Air Station Adak, Alaska.
I was carelessly, if not curiously, flipping through a sheaf of mimeographed papers thumb-tacked to the Chief Master At Arms bulletin board, under a section entitled “Orders.” It was always interesting to see where some of my shipmates were headed after serving for a year on the barren, windswept Aleutian Island known as Adak. I was a 20-year-old E-3 Postal Clerk “striker,” meaning that my brief two-year naval career (I had enlisted in the Naval Reserve to avoid service in South Vietnam as a ground-pounding Army draftee) was destined to be served in a Navy Post Office.
Suddenly, and to my great surprise, I noticed an entry under “SN Gilbert R. Rasmussen, B532756” was on the order list. I permitted my eyes to slide to the next entry on the right, which said “Ordered to Naval Support Activity, Danang, Republic of Vietnam.”
Surely, I thought, there must be a mistake as I was not due for orders for several more months. In fact, I was in the process of preparing my “dream sheet,” a Naval device which lures young sailors into believing that they might actually have some positive influence on their own naval destiny.
I had already turned down an opportunity to stay on Adak for one more year, completing my two-year obligation in a place that was safe and familiar. My boss, a First Class Petty Officer who liked me, had an inside connection (most of them did) with the Bureau of Personnel (“BUPERS”) and could make that happen for me, no sweat.
But, alas, I had visions of serving on a Navy destroyer out of Long Beach California, my hometown, and enjoying one nine-month long (but safe) “Westpac” Cruise, presumably getting no closer to Vietnam than 5-10 miles offshore, before I was discharged back to civilian life.
As result of failing to accept the generous offer of my “lifer” rainmaker, I had unknowingly exposed myself to a “fleet draft,” where the U.S. Navy repositioned 1,500 non-rated sailors, just like me, for immediate service (we were told it was riverboat duty) in South Vietnam, to fulfill the military’s intention to put a total of 575,000 young Americans into service stopping communism in South Vietnam’s jungles, rivers, and cities before we had to deal with the same Communists invading the shores of America.
As a part of that great American military “build- up,” I soon found myself sitting alongside the runway at the Danang airbase, as the darkness of my first night in Vietnam began to overshadow me, leaving me full of fear and wonderment at how things had turned out so differently from my plans.
As Beatle John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
With the perspective gained by being in my mid 60s, I can now see that I was unknowingly prepared, by Fate, for this journey through circumstances common to many young men of my age group.
And therein lay the start of my tale.
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