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By Pat Lisi

Pictured here is a “Short timer”.  You remember ‘that guy’.  He’s the one with just a few months or weeks left to hang in there and try to live out his tour of duty.  He’s the man or woman who came into country a real tenderfoot and has proven that they can withstand everything war has to throw at them.  They’ve developed an attitude that simply says, “Don’t F with me!”

Becoming a short timer is not easy, because one has to avoid being wounded or killed along the way.  Oh, you might get a battle scar or two that sent you off to the first aid station for a few days, but you were back in the bush in no time, hooking and jabbing with the bad guys.  A short timer never gets to go home early without being killed or severely injured.  That’s one of the things that makes a short timer proud.  It’s almost like picking up rank or winning the grand prize.

Once a soldier is a short timer they are usually given certain privileges.  For example, the person might fashion a ‘short timer’s stick’, which is a wooden pole, kind of like a cane, that they whittle in the days left in the bush with their knife.  Or, they might put the city they are from or how many of the enemy they’ve killed themselves.  The stick might have a design at the top, or they might put their rank insignia on the stick.

Another thing a short timer can sometimes get away with is looking grungier, or “salty”, by not shaving as close before formations or leaving a button undone on their camo shirt for everyone to notice.  Their hat might be tilted just slightly to one side and they definitely walk with a bit more swagger.  They don’t talk much to new guys, and when they do speak it’s very short and to the point.

“It don’t mean a thing,” is one famous utterance that is always saved just for short timers.

And then there are the little jingles, like, “I’m so short I have to look up to see the belly of a worm,” or, “If short could be measured in gasoline, I wouldn’t have enough to fill a piss-ant’s motorcycle to send him around the inside of a Cheerio even once.”

When I was a short timer back in August of 1969 all I wanted to do was stay alive long enough to get home.  I didn’t want to be in the field and I didn’t want to be in the rear.   I had seen enough short timers get killed, one guy was actually on his way out of of the bush to go to the rear to be processed out of Nam when his helicopter was shot down.  No one survived.  I had seen other shorttimers get it their last week in country.  When I got down to my last couple days I asked the company commander if he would put me on resupply duty down by the small airstrip in An Hoa where our combat base was located.  The bunkers their were heavily fortified and it was the safest place to be.  I’d help load choppers with stuff for the guys out in the field, and then I’d retreat to my bunker till the next job.

Short timers are very special soldiers.  They have seen it all, done it all, been through it all.  They deserve the utmost respect from their peers and their superiors.  They are jammed with knowledge and they know how to survive.  Short timers are a wealth of information, and any new guy who doesn’t seek the help of a short timer is destined to never become one themselves.  Every war has shorttimers.  My hat’s off to you brave men and women who have done the course and earned the right to be called “short.”

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