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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

I think all Vietnam veterans are reminded of their days in-country by the sound of a diesel engine, and I am no exception.  For me it isn’t just the noise created by a diesel-powered truck or other piece of diesel equipment, but it’s also the distinct smell that these machines emanate.

I arrived in Da Nang SVN the third week of July, 1968.  Us “November Golfs” spent a quick overnight at the airport in a hot and sticky Quonset hut while we were processed in and assigned to Marine outfits, and the next day we boarded “6 X 6’s” and began making our way to Phu Bai where the 5th Marine Regiment was actually in the process of vacating.  But, I’ll never forget the sounds and the smells of that convoy of trucks as we plodded our way north, always on the lookout for ‘gooks’ and ambush.  In reality what we saw was a ton of Vietnamese civilians, kids mostly, running alongside our long column of diesel driven trucks, begging for candy or cans of peaches or peanut butter.   Cigarettes were a big item among the youngsters, but we kept those to ourselves, mostly.  Smoking can kill a kid you know!

At the Regimental headquarters in Phu Bai we new guys spent a few days helping to tear down camp which would be re built in a village to the south called An Hoa.  The days were blistering hot and the work was dusty and grubby.  And, the whole time it seems, there was the constant flurry of diesel trucks passing back and forth, hauling stuff in all directions, thick black exhaust steaming from their upright mufflers that sparkled in the permanent sunshine of summer.  All day long the noise and the smell of the diesel powered vehicles carried to my ears and imbedded inside my brain as a life-long prize for spending a year in Nam.

One of the metal huts in our ‘rear area’  in Phu Bai was used as a temporary ‘detention center’.  It wasn’t secure enough to be a Brig, but there were two Marine MPs stationed at the doorways at all times which served as a deterrent to any detainees inside who thought they might make a run for it.  At any rate, one day the corporal in charge of our detail told me to go into the detention hut and start taking apart the steel racks so they could be put on the 6X6’s for transporting to An Hoa.  I enterd the hut with the permission of the guards and I was surprised to see only 1 detainee inside.  He was, as I recall now, a lance corporal, who I assumed was well on his way to becoming a private!  I was a PFC which is one rank below lance corporal.

For some reason I thought I was superior, though, for the mere fact that I was enjoying my freedom whereas he did not.  I went about my work inside the hut and sooner or later I got to his rack (bed) which I began disassembling.  I remember him not being so willing to let me take down his sleeping area, and I decided to put him in his place by starting to say, “Let me tell you what…”

At that, the lance corporal jumped to his feet and shouted to me, “No, I’m gonna tell you what, you boot to life, boot to corps mother fucker.  If I get out of here I’ll hunt your ass down and kill you.  You don’t tell me shit!” 

By that time the 2 sentries who were posted outside the front of the hut were now on top of the lance corporal, restraining him with handcuffs to his rack.  This afforded me two good opportunities.  One, I no longer had to take apart his rack and haul it out to the 6X6, and it also gave me the chance to briskly leave the hut and not look back.  I never did hear what the prisoner had done to get himself locked up in the first place, and as I went through the next 12 months in Vietnam I looked over my shoulder a few times, especially when newer guys than me joined the outfit.

The next day after this confrontation my group of newbies boarded the diesels once again and we made our way to An Hoa.

To this day whenever I hear or smell a diesel truck, I think back to those few days in Phu Bai.

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