I think this will be the last article on Vietnam for awhile. They just seem to come in streams, you know?
I arrived at the 69th Signal compound (later to be named Camp Gaylor in honor of a Staff Sergeant who was killed) just a couple of days after Christmas. When I was finally processed in I asked if I could be stationed in the same unit as my brother (I didn't know that he had been moved to Bien Hoa). When they asked me who my brother was I responded with his proper name (he was only "Skip" to the family and friends), SP4 Marvin Stone. The clerk told me that my brother was a famous guy in the battalion and he would be happy to assign me to the 593rd, where SP4 Marvin Stone was stationed.
I have mentioned Skip's outgoing personality and his ability to make friends immediately, so I wasn't surprised to find out that lots of people in the battalion knew who he was. I was told that it would take a couple of days to receive orders and move to the 593rd's compound in Gia Dinh. In the meantime, I was plopped down in a "hooch" with a group of telephone wiremen. I wrote a piece about how New Years Eve went there: (http://forums.elementalgame.com/414725/)
One evening one of the repairmen asked me if I was related to SP4 Stone and I proudly affirmed that I was. He started telling some of his hooch-mates the story of how SP4 Stone became so famous in the battalion and how he won the Bronze Star with V device (for Valor). That came as a surprise to me and I was anxious to hear the story, too.
SP4 Stone had been assigned to take a commo van (a 2 1/2 ton truck with a communication station mounted on its back) out to a hilltop in Long Binh. For those who came late, Long Binh eventually became a huge military base and complex of separate compounds. But in 1965 it was just a few hills with a lot of scrub brush and trees. There were a few small outposts on the hills but not much. Stone and a PFC went out together and found a spot near the top of one of the hills and set up their antennae and established contact with the battalion. They were told to set up security and stay the night and they would be told what to do next in the morning.
All went well at first. Someone in one of the outposts called for illumination so about midnight a C-130 started doing laps over the hills dropping parachute flares. This kind of illumination is effective but it is also scary. The flares hang below the parachute and swing in a big arc...the more breezes there are, the more dramatic the swing. The swinging flares create shadows that dash back and forth. If you are sitting in the middle of injun country and scared to death that there might be real scalp-takers out there, swinging shadows are not what you want in your neighborhood.
Stone and the PFC didn't even consider sleep. They laid down almost side by side under their truck watching every movement, shadow or otherwise.
Somewhere after midnight, the battalion received a call on the radio: Stone said they were being probed. A little later he called again saying that he had repelled a small group of VC who had tried to approach the truck. Still later he called in again asking if he could get some help because the VC were still shooting at him and now and then one of them would rush the truck. He was told that no one could come to his aid before first light...battalion didn't send troops out into the woods at night. Stone pointed out that he was a 69th troop and he was in the woods and so were a whole bunch of VC and they seem to be gaining strength. The battalion still wouldn't be able to respond before daylight.
Sometime later, the PFC was wounded. He bravely tried to maintain his part of the defense, but he faded out quickly. Stone called this in, then told the battalion that he wouldn't be calling in again for a while because he was pretty busy. During what was left of the rest of the night, Stone fired up almost all of his ammod and most of the PFC's, plus several spare magazines that were kept in the truck. The smartest thing he did was to throw several smoke grenades (that was the only kind he had). Every time he "popped smoke", the VC would withdraw because that was how targets were marked for airstrikes (Whoever the VC boss was, I understand erring on the side of caution - not their usual mode - but honestly, no one can see smoke in the bush at night! What was he thinking? But it worked for Stone). They would creep back in when no planes showed up.
The VC would always carry their dead and wounded off with them so no one knows how many Stone killed that night. There were several blood trails around the truck the next morning. When he felt secure enough to send another radio message to battalion, he was told that relief was on the way. A repair crew showed up and took over the recovery of the truck. They helped Stone wrap up a couple of "scratches" he had accumulated...AK-47 induced. They drove the van down to the highway on flat tires and with a steaming radiator. Every part of the truck was full of holes, but miraculously, the one radio was still working. Once they got the truck to a more secure area by the road, it was loaded on a low-boy and taken back to the compound.
The repairman that was telling the story remarked that the most remarkable part of the story was the way Stone stayed so cool. He spoke on the radio in his calm country voice. My ears pricked up. He said he had met Stone in the club and bought him a beer but he couldn't get the guy to talk about his experience, he said Stone was a real quiet, unassuming county boy. Pricking ears again! I was thinking that it was true that war can change a guy, when the repairman started describing the quiet country boy as a Gary Cooperish, tall, thin, almost shy fellow. Reality soaked in. The Marvin Stone he was describing bore absolutely NO resemblance to my brother. My 5'8", out-going, extremely friendly, California boy with absolutely no trace of any kind of countrification in his voice at all.
Could there be two SP4 Marvin Stones? When I asked the repairman that question he didn't hesitate..."Well yeah...you mean Skip? Yeah, I think his name was Marvin, too. Yeah, he's in Bien Hoa now, though...is HE your brother???"
It's like the punchline of the old joke: I don't know who the guy in the funny hat is but the guy next to him is Skip. Everyone knew Skip...they knew him as Skip.
I should have known.