Lief Ericson, 1st Engineer Bn.
Bn. Area, Danang

Lief Ericson, B Co. 1st Eng. Bn. I arrived in-country in March of 1967 as a combat engineer, 1st Engineer Bn. at Chu Lai, assigned to B company 3rd platoon; B company in direct support of 5th Marine Regiment; 1st plt. to 1/5, 2nd plt. to 2/5, 3rd plt. to 3/5. Incountry at Hills 29, 39, 54, 63 as well as Chu Lai, Tam Ky, Da Nang, Gia Le (Phu Bai ).

From April until December I had the honor of serving with all the line companies of 3/5,throughout the summer campaign in the Que Son Valley. In that time I participated in operations Union, Union 2, Calhoun, Adair, Pike, Cochise, Swift, three no-names, countless sweeps, patrols, and road sweeps. Last op was Dec. 67 ( no name ) with Lima Co. Was then transfered to B Co headquarters as driver at Da Nang, then to Gia Le to finish out tour. Rotated back to CONUS April 1968.


(click images to enlarge)

Lief Ericson
Tam Ky, just after Operation UNION, May 1967

Hill 63

(Pictured Left to Right) Lief Ericson-WIA Operation SWIFT; L/Cpl. E.G. Hilling, my teammate on every operation and most every road sweep, from Jermyn, PA.; Sgt. Pat Pennock, on his 2nd tour extension, 19 months into a 25-month tour. A dead ringer for a young Errol Flynn (Errol Flynn's son, Sean, MIA April 1970, Cambodia); Cpl. Ed "Popski" Polaskis-WIA Operation CALHOUN, medevaced to japan after being shot through both legs by an AK-47, Rehabilitated and sent back to 1st Engineers to finish his tour; L/Cpl. Everett-Note he is wearing sneakers from having trench foot, pretty common affliction as your feet were wet from crossing rivers, streams and rice paddies. At the time photo was taken we were in the process of setting up the base camp. As you can see, the decking for the tent has been laid down and the sand bag walls are about half built.

Air Strikes off Hill 63

"I'd be safe and warm if I were in L.A
California Dreaming, on such a Winter's Day"-10 months left In-Country

"Engineer Up!"

"He Aint Heavy, He's My Brother" This is an article from the "Stars and Stripes," Hilling and myself were paired up the Summer of '67 with India and Mike Companies, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. I rotated back to the States about a month before he did. We hooked up at Camp Lejeune where we were both assigned to 8th Engineers. When I first saw him at Lejeune he had a scar that ran from one side of his forehead to the other. 13 months in Nam, not a scratch. A week after getting home he went through the windshield of his buddy's car. Hilling was maybe 5' '7" and looked and walked like a penguin, but he was absolutely fearless. He was right beside me the 4th of Sept. in the Que Son, Busting caps, Killing Japs.

Cpl. Banes from Gulfport, Miss.
Lief and Banes' "house" while running patrols with 3/5
Taken at outpost top of Hill 63, 25 miles south of Danang

Lief Ericson, Hill 63
Taken just before Operation SWIFT, Sept. 1967

Award of Purple Heart Medal for Sept. 4, 1967, Operation SWIFT
I turned 19 on Sept. 14, 1967, ten days after being WIA. On the 4th I wouldn't have bet on seeing 19.~Lief Ericson

1967 News Articles about Operation SWIFT

"The Gang"
Tom Leisure, Lief Ericson, "Hippie" Byrd, "Loser" Owens
Taken just before my tour ended-April 1968


Lief Ericson and Brad Reynolds (M Co. 3/5)
3rd Bn 5th Marines Reunion 2013, Cadiz, Kentucky

About three years ago (2011), I stumbled upon Brad and Debbe Reynolds' website, "OUR MARINES, Dedicated to the Marines of M Co. 3/5 and those who served with them in Vietnam." What a revelation! After years of submerging that war and those experiences, it all came flooding back. The heat, sights, sounds. Memories. Through them I have met new friends, connected with old friends. After 45 years, a miracle in itself. In talking to these friends, both old and new, the years have fallen away, once again I am 18 years old. Were we ever that young? It seems we were. I cannot express my appreciation for what the Reynolds have created except to say for that I shall be forever grateful.

It was, "The best of times and the worst of times." A time I thought none of us would survive. Without the superb leadership of young junior officers like Ken Moore and J D Murray many more of us would have perished in that valley.To them I will be forever indebted.

As these memories have returned I began writing of them, mainly as a type of therapy. Cheaper than booze but the hangovers are just as bad. I have shared some with these friends, old and new, and I would like to pass them along to you. Make of them what you will.~Lief


Sometimes, when the light is just right, I hear a voice from the faraway years. It seems to be saying, praying, there'll be a parade, disguised as a charade, when the dead are done dying. Mothers, their work undone, line the route. Fathers salute, in crisp new suits. Overhead, Angels bear crosses of red. Leave empty spaces that once contained the dead. As I stand hand in hand, words unsaid, tears unshed, hearing a voice...praying.

Highway 1, the main north-south route, ran the length of the country, through cities, villes. Medieval villages, castles roofed, sided with flattened Coca Cola cans. Serfs working the fields. Dragons overhead. Unknown beast coursing the countryside. Ran past paddies, cut through mountains.

It sounded like I-95. Sounded like it should be a road to a destination. Fort Lauderdale. Tampa-St. Pete. Sounded like it should be lined with on ramps, off ramps. Billboards. "Only 250 miles to South of the Border." " Virginia. It's for Lovers." "See the USA in your Chevrolet."

Sounded like it should be eight lanes. Sounded like it should be home to speed traps, the Tappenzee, jumping rivers, past the petro -chemical swamps of Jersey, running due south past the monuments of D.C... another type of swamp. Sounded like it should be home to Holiday Inns. Texaco stations.

The truth; it was none of that.
And it was more.
Much more.

More dirt than tar, full of holes, pot holes, sink holes, bone shakers. Bone breakers. When it rained, those holes filled with water, became kidney killers. Ankle snappers. Became the field in which Charlie planted his crop. A box mine here, a 105 round there. Here a mine, there a mine, everywhere a mine-mine. Old McDonald sowing the seeds of destruction, Barry McGuire singing about it..."tell me over and over and over again."

It had its bridges which the VC took pleasure in blowing up and we took an even more perverse pleasure in rebuilding. Bigger, stronger, wider..Better. Then guarding. Bunkers at each end, stood like toll booths. We, the traffic cops, "license and registration, Ma'am'".....Lonely outposts, manned by lonely boys, running on short rations and even shorter sleep, with hair trigger tempers and no sense of humor. "Your papers. Gimme your papers, you stupid gook."

Highway 1, like the road to Hell, paved with good intentions. Paved with blood, bone, bodies. Paved with stories instead of stone. Horror stories.

Me, Hilling, Sumner, sweeping the road into the dump off Hill 63. The road comes in, circles around, over a hill, then out again. We're half way around when a 6x enters, the driver either doesn't see, or ignores the "Do Not Enter" sign. We're yelling at him when the mine goes off. The truck, from the bed forward, disappears. The engine, all 1200 pounds of it, is blown twenty feet out of its carriage. There isn't enough left of the driver to fill a shopping bag. Road kill.

The new guy, been in-country less then a month, so new nobody knows his name, is riding the running board when the mine explodes. The blast sends him straight up, his skull shatters when he hits the headboard, and not all the king's horses, nor all the king's men, can put him together again. Gets shipped home in a box stamped : " Do Not View."

Highway 1, become a killing field. No discrimination. Killed friendlies and foes alike. Killed women, children, ducks, goats. Lined with graves, Blessed by Buddha. Some, a few, Christian crosses marking them. More not marked at all, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, fertilizing the paddies. Lending truth to the Communion's words: "This is my body which was given for you. Eat this in remembrance of me." Fitting, in a land that worshiped its ancestors, disowned its dead.

Markers on the road. Hoi An 10 km. Different markers. Bits and pieces. Blown culverts. Blown up vehicles. Lost lives. One legged, no legged . Men. Women. Children. There but by the grace of God, go we.

We come upon a civilian bus, the driver had gone past the team, tooting his horn, racing the engine, late for his own funeral.

Now it sits, split open like a beer can, the bodies, and pieces of bodies, would sit there for a week. In the 90 degree heat. The smell...indescribable. We walk by, gagging.
"These people. Why don't they clean it up. Clean it.. up."

Highway 1, carried its share of traffic, 6xs, tanks, Mitey-mites. Carried peasants on Mopeds, motorbikes, by hook and by crook. By foot. Mama-sans duck-walking down the road, a pole over their shoulders, a basket on each end, a trio of pigs in each one. "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home." Walk by, eyes downcast, trying not to invoke our wrath. Stopped. Searched. Sent on their way. "This little piggy had none."

In their wake, Princesses, dressed in white Au Dais, cut up to there, black pants, straw hats. The rich man's daughters. School girls. Hurrying home from class, running the gauntlet. We stand, watch. It's not murder we have in our hearts.

And as always, the kids.
A multitude of them.

I'm in the back of the 6x. Me, and the squad that provides security for the sweep team. We come into one of the villes that line the road. Half a dozen huts. Chickens. Pigs. Old mama-sans. Teeth as black as coal, so black it looks like they are toothless. Blackened from chewing betel nut. Betel nut, eases the pain of backbreaking 12-14-hour workdays. Bent over at the waist, tending the rice crop. Work or starve. The only mantra the poor need chant. "Give us this day our daily bread. "Amen.

Out they come, a half dozen little kids, the oldest, 12 or 13, beggars. Like all the little kids in this country. "Chop Chop, Chop Chop!" The grunt beside me pulls out a heat tab, lights it, tosses it to the kids. Heat tabs burn with an invisible flame, much like Sterno. One of the kids, thinking it's candy, grabs it, yells, shakes his hand. "Marine number 10. Marine number 10."

The grunt pulls up his 16, points it at the kids, they scatter. "F***ing Gooks."

The road was a killer. Just how it chose to kill was another story. A story no one wanted to hear. A story no one wanted to be a part of. War stories.

We're off Hill 63, me and a platoon of grunts. Going up the road a couple miles before cutting cross lots and into the woods, paddies, hedgerows. Chasing Charlie.

We get up a ways, come to a bridge blown the night before, nothing for it but to wade across. The water, almost waist deep, rushes through, the footing...treacherous. One of the grunts gets halfway across, slips, falls in head first, the flak jacket, pack, 782 gear, hold him down like an anvil, he doesn't come up. One dead, and we haven't even got to the bush yet. Non battle casualty. Just as dead. Just as real. The Road was littered with them.

No need for the early morning traffic girl here. "We have a rollover in the northbound lane. Expect delays."

Watch the traffic build up behind us. The more traffic, the better chance of a mine. Someone knew something. Something you weren't privy to. Something you learned. A little on-the-job training passed down, like father to son. Call it wisdom. Call it experience. Call it blind luck......"What's that?..Right there. See it, that depression. That wasn't there yesterday." "Got it!" Box mine. Forty pounds of TNT. Dug out of the ass of a dud bomb. Being killed with our own shit. Nothing more personal then that.

We're climbing up through Hai Van, me, the XO, a guy in the back holding on for dear life to the swivel mounted '60. I'm watching the road, watching the brush that overhangs it. Watching and waiting for the ChiComs to come showering down on us. On my left the road drops 300 feet to the sea. The slope festooned with the remains of the poor bastards that took the plunge, 6xs, fuel tankers, M-37s. Strangest of all, the remains of a spotter plane. One has to wonder what that guy's last thoughts were. Before he turned Kamikaze.

Beside me, the XO clutching the WW2 era grease gun. If the shit hits the fan, both of them would too soon become useless. Another guy with visions of glory drummed into his head. "I want to go to Vietnam, I want to kill some Vietcong." Little did he know up north they were singing their own fight song: "I want to go to Old Touraine, I want to kill a U.S. Marine." Propaganda. Found on the side of the road. "US Servicemen, do not fight Johnson's dirty war of aggression. Do not rape and kill Vietnamese peoples." Back on Pennsylvania Avenue more propagand: "Hell no I won't go." Clump it all together, none of it meant anything to us. Not here. Not then, not when you knew what lay beneath your feet.

We're on the detectors, Sumner and me. The detectors here, in Mine Alley, useless. The roadbed heaved, blown out. Successive detonations have left it a roller coaster track. Left it full of bits and pieces. Left it paved in iron, steel. Blood and bone. Made of our dreams, nightmares. Behind us a jeep, a 5-ton dump, assorted other vehicles. Suddenly there's a roar, the concussion wave from the blast, we spin, the dump sits over a crater you could drop a Volkswagen in, flames licking up the sides. The Lt. riding shotgun, blown through the windshield, half in, half out of the cab. The engineers riding in the bed, protected by the load of sandbags, come reeling over the sides, out the back. Shouting, yelling. The radio operator trying to raise a chopper. The corpsman, a couple others, pull the Lt. out. He's screwed.

Me and Sumner grab a couple of grunts. Search the sides of the road, down into the paddies. One of them yells out, holds a piece of Comm wire up. Command Detonated. Some gook, and a 9-volt battery, sat, waited, fingers trembling, touched wire to post.

We're not saying it, but we're thinking it. Just like I'm thinking it now. If we had found it, began probing for it, we'd be in Kingdom Come. Blown there.

Back home, on the Village Green, Rolly's about to join the Corps. Bob Newton's dead. Eddie Cormier's life is winding down. Joe's in the Army. Suzanne is writing a letter......... And me?

I'm standing on the side of a road in Vietnam, 18 years old, with a hole in my guts you could drop a Volkswagen in and a scar on my soul that never heals.



The Que Son Valley, summer 1967, sat, crouched like a cat, fangs bared, a malevolent entity that brooked your presence grudgingly. Cloaked in emerald hues of every shade, a deception, a magic trick that fooled the eye, hid and held it's secrets. An exotic place. Mountains spilled into valley, valley bisected by hedge rows, paddies. Villages as old as time itself. Beauty everywhere. A perverted beauty. A deceptive beauty. Beauty with the soul of a serial killer. Walking through it you unseen eyes. By something indefinable. Ghosts. Spirits. Specters. The Hills looked down on you, spies, that ruled the valley. Death's eyes, dark, foreboding, unmerciful. It's face everywhere. Nowhere. Holding your fate . You could almost..almost..see it. Look for it, it's gone. This was an ancient place. You had never imagined a place this old, old when Christ walked Galilee, old when Ganges Khan's hordes swept the steppes, and never wanted to see one again. Nothing you'd read, seen, been told, could prepare you. Violence seemed part of it, was woven into it, and you knew, given the chance, would visit that violence upon you. You, before entering, thought you knew what scared was. You Had No Idea. Constantly. Fervently. Religiously. "Forgive us our trespasses." Nowhere had those words meant more. Prayer. Oath. Parable. Here the flora and fauna conspired against you.There were Things that crawled, slithered, bit, scratched.. killed. Snake. Scorpion...Sniper. Things without names.Things without fear of you... You may walk the valley but you knew you weren't the baddest thing in this Valley. "Forgive us our trespasses". No forgiving here. No forgetting. No absolution.


The Mornings lay cloaked in mist. The Afternoons shimmered. Heat rising off valley floor, mirages appeared, made of shadow. And substance. .The Nights.. The Nights that held the Unseen. Unknown. Unknowable. Night here did not fall. Night, here, slammed shut. Left you with man's age old fear. "As I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep". Your psyche twitched, mouth dry as a desert, sitting, staring, waiting for Something to happen. "If I die before I wake". Sometimes the Que Son answered. Most times. "I pray the Lord my soul to take."

If you made it out alive still, somehow, you were less..faded. Became Shadow. 'Till you couldn't go back again. As if you had a say. As if the choice were yours.There were some who, gazing into it and all it held, did, and worse..could do..became one with it. Stole a bit of it for themselves. Not knowing it would never..ever..let go. Not knowing it would come to consume them.

If it was this bad for you then how bad was it for the Army of the North who trudged hundreds of miles to shake it's hand. "Welcome. Welcome to the Que Son," the ground anointed with the blood of thousands. Lay down their lives on the altar. A sacrifice made. An the elder gods. Still they came, give them that. Give them this, when night fell and things unseen, unknown, unknowable haunted their dreams. Still do, those few that survived and those of us who cheated one death to be granted another, some future place and time, but not there. Thank whichever god you wish. Not there.


There were Things seen here that no one should ever need see. Demons were spawned here. Silent movies that played on a screen that never closed. Things that haunt dreams, crippled lives. Bad things happened here. Gruesome things....

I'm in my hole, trying to dig myself deeper, when out of nowhere a corpsman appears, leading a grunt who has been shot through the elbow. The round has blown his arm apart, blood pumping three feet every time his heart beats. The noises coming from him, a whimpering, like a kitten being slowly stepped on, are blood curdling.

Me and Hilling, running through the mortor barrage, running for our hole. I look, a round goes in a hole, detonates. The grunt jumps out, runs, stumbles, ten feet, collapses. He makes not a sound.

There were Things heard here that no one should ever need hear. Things none had ever heard before. Things heard still. Awake and walking. Asleep and talking. Memories of things heard. Terrible Things....

Walking through the ville, serene, deserted. There's a roar as the booby trapped gate explodes. Screams as the phosphorus showers over the grunt. Burning. Burning.

It's dark as hell. Out of that darkness a voice, in surprisingly good English, comes to us. "Marine you die. "You die tonight."

There were smells here that no one should ever have to smell. Fear not the least of them. Acrid. Pungent. As real as real can be. Vile Things....

The dead are stacked, wrapped in ponchos, laying at the LZ on Hill 63. Laying where they've lain for a week. The smell permeates everything. Seeps across the hill, flows like a river around the perimeter, invades our sleep. Those of us that can sleep. And those that do, sleep as the dead, catatonic, eyes open, unresponsive.Those that can't, doze, the smell a living thing, clings to them. Left as a memory, clinging, cloying. The whole valley a Charnel House. Catacomb. That stalks us in dreams. Nightmares. Both awake and asleep.

Bad Things, Gruesome Things, Terrible Things, Vile Things, Heroic Things, Unforgettable Things. Things felt here that would never be felt again. Things felt that never should be. Things felt that can't be.. but were. Love. Hate. Rage. Fear. Hope..the least of all. Missing Things. Broken Things. Forgotten Things.

We're on line, the whole company, ready to launch the assault . The area Illuminated by artillery flares and fires from the napalm strike, seems eerily familiar, a scene out of the Civil War..Vicksburg. Chancellorsville. Our destination a small hill, 500 yards ahead, covered with knee high brush, dominated by two small trees, nondescript, like a hundred others. As we stand, waiting, there's a guy, flat on his stomach, sobbing, shaking, speaking in tongues. One of the corpsmen. Lost it. Could have been his first operation or his fifth. No telling. The personification of what we all feel. No naming it but here it is. In the flesh. Stark. Raving. Terror. I'm thinking...someone..should put a bullet in him. Shut him up. Finish him off, before we all run screaming..screaming. "Move Out". We move. The last I see of him he's still laying there, sobbing, shaking, speaking in tongues. For all I know he lays there still.

Slowly the sky lightens, sun rising, we start to the hill, a call comes back, "Engineer Up." Me, Hilling, Mollencamph, start forward expecting a mine, booby trap, dud. The truth, this time, much, much worse. The patrol from Delta Company sprawled where they died, ambushed then executed. They lay..contorted. The dead here are not the dead you know. Here the dead are 18-19-20-year- olds. Dead by extreme violence. Bodies ripped, torn, shredded. If they had been in the heat for even a little time it would do terrible things to their bodies. Like the bodies at Vicksburg, Chancellorsville,..The Wilderness. Worse still, the bodies that may be booby trapped, then it was: "Engineer Up."

We begin, a shit job in a shit war. We start, trying not to jar them, running hands over, along, under, searching the stiff, bloated...things. A grunt comes up, hands us a two-pronged grappling hook. Fifty feet of rope. We hook it through their belts, back off fifty feet, yank them over, dead weight. It takes all three of us. When we're done we carry them up the hill, stack them side by side, wrapped in ponchos. Cord wood. Fuel for a river of tears. Every mother's worst fear. Come true.

A voice; " Hey this one's still alive." Had lain there all night. Played dead as the NVA moved among them. Imagine, if you can, his nightmares. There's no imagining. Even we, who were there, cannot imagine that.

There were words heard here never heard before, or since. Words never meant to be heard. Except, perhaps in dreams. In silent conversations held with ourselves. Words that invoked terror. "Incoming." Words that summoned hope. "You're leaving.. Your orders are in." Leaving. Was it possible? There was no leaving. No forgetting. How could words ever make us forget. All we'd seen. Done. Felt. There are no words powerful enough. Not on this side of the Veil....There are no words strong enough, descriptive enough, none we can say, that any can say, that could ever, in this life, make us forget. None at all.

We are leaving the ville, a collection of small, miserable, grass thatched huts, deserted. Not a soul home. Pushing through eight foot tall elephant grass, shadows following us,...ghosts. A haunted place, inhabited by Spirits. As surely haunted as any place on God's good earth. We feel it, them, closing in. Behind us the four-dueces begin slamming into the ville, deserted no more. They have risen up, out of the ground, wraiths born of mist, age and retribution, send shivers up spines, fingers on triggers. As if mere bullets could stop them. As if mere words could describe it. Geese walking over graves. Shadow People. Closing in.


There were words that told stories. Words that conveyed dreams. Words found in prayer. Words that conveyed hope. And then there were these words:

Me and Bailey are burning the shit. We're talking, rather Bailey's talking. Went out on a patrol that morning. The squad jumped by, ambushed by, annihilated by, a platoon of gooks. Bailey made it to a river, where he hid, like an old Tarzan movie, tucked up into the reeds. Watched, as the gooks searched the banks, gave up, left. Rescued, back on the hill, in front of the Brass. Grilled like a piece of meat. Implying, never saying, he ran, a coward. Better he had perished. Better for who? Better for..them. Less paper work to do. Less explaining to do. "We don't know what happened. There were no survivors." Neat. Clean. Bailey was a ..complication. An embarrassment. A career killer. When they were done they sent him out to burn the shit. Not a bit of the old Esprit de Corps. No, none of that. The ..embarrassment.. was sent out to burn their..shit. "Those f***ers wanted me to die."

Now.. I imagine him, lurching up out of bed, heart pounding, pulse racing, the smell of the river filling the room, VC staring out of the shadows, behind the bureaus, breath coming in gasps, noises coming from beneath the bed. Transported back to a time when there really were things hiding there. When the VC weren't the only ones who wanted you dead. There would be no leaving that world and no forgetting those words, "Those f***ers wanted me to die." Soul crushing words.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me by the still waters. He restoreth my Soul.

In the end we are left with memories, words, bits and pieces, sounds and visions. Memories that come to us unwanted, unbidden, yet come to us still. None so bad that they but bear witness of who we once were and who we would forever be. No accounting, no wage that does not want paying that we would not gladly pay. Have paid. Still pay. Visions that we would surely, as surely as sin, be rid of. Memories of that far off Valley. In that far off Time.

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death




Between the Road and the Valley lay the Land In Between. It was here that legends were born. Here where heroes were birthed. Here where heroes died. It was a myth, a Shangra La, a fabled place with names soon to be lost to time. Elephant Valley. Antenna Valley.The Sands, as hot and unforgiving as Death Valley. For here every valley was spawn of that namesake. It was the land of Mountains, pristine waters. The land of punji pits, dead falls, helicopter traps. The Serpent ruled here. The Tiger. Leach. Lotus. Land mine.

Death, here, was everywhere. There was no safe haven, no sheltered shore, no place, time, or circumstance it did not own. That was the one inescapable fact. Though none of us at 18-19-20 years old ever thought..we..would be the one..we all knew.

That it could take you..violently, selectively..without bias to age, rank, serial number, color or country of origin: Australian, American, Korean, or take you in your sleep-122mm rocket through the roof- we all knew. That its odds increased dramatically for those out in the bush..hunting it..did not lessen the odds of being killed by a 14-year-old girl with a grenade in Da Nang. Right place. Wrong Time. Wrong time. Right place. No place was safe. Here we were as much hunted as hunter. Search and Clear. Search and Hold. Search and Destroy. The Children's Crusade, gone mad.

To hunt, here, was to hump. An everyday, day after day, week after week reality. The miles built up,step by step, klick by klick. Weight falling off till we all took on the aspect of skeletons, ribs exposed, eyes sunken into skulls, shoulders bent, backs broken. To hump was to hurt. To hump under a full combat load, in 80, 90, 100 degree heat, 100 per cent humidity, over hill, over dale, down mile upon mile of dusty trail, was to suffer, silently,stoicly, step by unending step. Pack straps cutting into shoulders, canteens banging off hips, nicked and cut by brush, bamboo, hedge row thorns, bit by ants, mosquitoes..malaria carrying bastards..feasted on by leaches. Salt tabs by the hand full, sweated out, left your clothes stained white and stiff, even as they rotted off your body. Ran into eyes, left you blinking and blind. Left you with pounding head aches, just this side of heat stroke. Left you reeling, like a skid row drunk.

To hump was to fear. The wind rustling the bushes..or was it? The not knowing , every part of it,every step of it. There were some to whom the not knowing was bliss. "We're going out, walk around, come back. Piece of Cake." The knowing was their enemy, "How many gooks? How many?" Sometimes a walk in the park. But you never knew. Could be a no contact nothing happened stroll. Well ,not nothing. You might be diddy-bopping along and trip a booby trap, 105 round ,up in smoke you go ,round. Get bit by a poisonous snake, Mr. One Step, Two Step, dead snake. You could drown. You could be killed by a short round, 155 H.E. dead before the sound reaches your ears, "Didn't know what hit him." "Lucky Bastard." Given the alternatives that abound, not a bad way to go. You could drink from a polluted well, cramps so bad you wished you were dead. Even knowing what dead entailed. And those were the good days. The bad days, well. The bad, bad days. Those days seared into our minds, souls. Cause you never knew. Lone Sniper. Squad. Platoon. Or the whole damned 2nd NVA division. Each and all out to kill you. Make it quick. Leave me my eyes. arms. legs. Or kill me quick.

It was here that tales were born. Many of them holding as much truth as any told. Some as horrifying as any ghost story. Some of them, many of them, may even have been true: "Yeah, the guy had a leach that crawled inside his ass and swelled up to the size of a snake." That one guaranteed to have you double checking after getting out of the river. Some stories meant to inspire hope. "They're cutting the tour back to 12 months." Only to crush it."Who told you that?' Many spent their entire tours waiting for that fairy tale to come true...Death here, was everywhere. Not only was it everywhere , worse, you were given a time limit in which it could take you. Thirteen months...395 days.Calenders marked off day by day ended abruptly..36 days left..123 days..330 days..81 days. Time stopped. The ride over. The price paid. The jigs up. 18 years..7 months..16 days. Life ended. Dreams died. Hope lost. Then you, me, the living, went and marked another day off. Another day you were allowed to be scared..and alone. No sense counting, though we all did, it either would or wouldn't and everything you did, knew, dreamed or dreaded couldn't change that fact. Take all the firefights, ambushes, snipers, booby traps, mines, friendly fire, accidents, drownings,etc., etc. divide them by 395 days and what were the odds. Then add in the intangibles, the stupid, simple, sacrosanct. No doubt who held the high cards. It wasn't you. Bet on it. Some had death perched on their shoulders. Looking at them you knew there was no way, no way, that guy was going to make it. Surprise! Thirteen months later he's sitting beside you winging back to the World. Bigger surprise; the best guy in the world didn't make it. Death.. not a fickle bitch. Held no favorites. Harbored no grudges. And you, me really, marked another day down. Death preordained? Death and dying began the day you were born, here it was accelerated. Here it hit the speed of light. That was something, as you chalked another day off, you could believe.

Off Hill 63, on patrol,a reinforced squad, guns, rockets, two M-79's ,15 grunts and me. The worse type of patrol. Just enough fire power which could quickly turn into not enough fire power. We walk, the squad leader checking the map, compass, terrain, come into a small copse of trees, off the trail, on the side of a slight hill, the Sgt calls a halt. We sit, wait, the Sgt. and radio operator side by side. The Sgt. takes the mike, calls back to 63, reports our position, still we wait, 10 minutes, 15, 20. "What the hell?" The Sgt. takes the mike, looks at the map, calls in our co-ordinates. Not where we are. Where we'd be if we had walked those 20 minutes. So it went the next three hours. The Sgt. calling in, we taking this all too brief respite. Taking it and holding it like a lover. Like a lover some of us would never live to hold. Worn down, beat up. No heart left for the hump, the war, the deaths, destruction. The constant unrelenting terror. So we sat, all together, each alone. Lost in a dream that we dream still. Back in the jungle, the mosquitoes swarming.

You may have thought you had seen it all. After months of constant patrols,operations, sweeps, what was left to see? Little did you know the surprises still in store. Most of them deadly, all of them unreal.

We, the whole company, dug in, snug as a bug, dark, like dark you had never seen, the sky pristine. No moon, stars in their millions, dark, pierced by bright constellations. Gods eyes. Word comes down; "Saddle up. We're moving." Keep the noise down, pick up our gear, head out. Single file. Can't see the guy in front of me and I'm dead nuts on his heels. Walking, stumbling, cursing under my breath; "What the Hell, nine o'clock and we're moving." So it goes, the watch, with it's radioactive dial, glowing green, state of the art, Timex, all the light you can see, that, and the million stars, which give no light at all, ticking away. Thirty minutes later it's, "Dig in." A slow, steady rain begins to fall, we sit in our holes, poncho's over our heads, dozing, for damn sure not sleeping, two hours on, two off. 10, 12, 2, 4,5 a.m. Breakfast. A miserable meal. spam in a can, hot chocolate, suns up, mist rising, the temperature with it. " Saddle up."

We start out, across paddies, from one dike to the next, feet soaking wet, water squirting out of the drain holes, squish, squish..squish, come to the base of the mountain. The place, yesterday, we got in that fire fight. Two gooks ran up the mountain. One of the 60 gunners, walking the tracers in an arc, ran the stream up the trail, up the backs of both gooks, probably 1000 yards, dropped them in their tracks. Now we're off to investigate, see what we can see, see what we might find..see what might The company, spread over three- four acres of real estate, start, one behind the other, up the near vertical slope, the point and those following, look like ants.By the time we reach the base the trail has turned to mud, the red clay as slippery as ice. On hands and knees we climb, tugging at fist fulls of grass, sweating, swearing, sliding, covered in slop. At the front, four guys with machetes, hacking away, breaking trail. A bitch of a job. We climb, two hours, three, all frigging morning, the mountain looming over us, clouds swimming across the sky, finally we reach the top, a small plateau, covered with waist high grass, the view...spectacular. To our rear, left, right, the sisters tower over us, the gooks would have to be crazy to climb them but if they did we'd be sitting ducks. Mortor's fired straight up would fall straight down, scattering shrapnel through ranks, shredding flesh like tissue paper. "Dig in."

We dig. Dig like dogs, the primeval assaulting our senses, rising up out of the earth, like the smell of a fresh dug grave. A chore we have been spared so far. Except for the ones we've pulled out of theirs, dug straight down six feet, Nyugen's stuffed in feet first, buried standing and all. Bizarre rituals of the soulless. Godless.

Gonna spend the night, above the fruited plain, bombs bursting in air. Puff..miles away.. competes with Orion for our attention. Orion loses. Dig. Get that hole deeper. Get it bermed. Get the gear, the E-tool, K-bar, grenades, stacked and ready to go. Sit there, hunkered down in your own sweat and wait. "A thousand stars in the sky make me realize that you are the one love that I adore," sung to myself every night for 300 nights as I gaze up into the past. To the north, flares fall through the night, illuminating some where, someone, like fire works. A grand sight tempered by the cold truth. Out there someone was dying.

Dig. Dig Dig.

Where do we come out? Not China. Maybe Ann Arbor.

Sign posts, if there were any, would point out the places, the names that become faceless, places we'd run, the dead forever young, with us still, a reminder, each a star lighting the heavens, a thousand stars in the sky, illuminate the path that runs on before us. Ends in one last hole that we don't have to dig.

Out here, there were Wonders that would bring you to the far edge of sanity. Mysteries that Sherlock would be hard pressed to decipher. Mysticism ruled here. Soothsayers. Portents. Cryptic codes found in the entrails of butchered boys. And sooner or later you would become a disciple. Reading the future, your future, in every hedge row, tree line, blade of grass and rice stalk. A future dim at best. A future condensed to your next step, next breath. Last breath. Till you became a twitching, prostrate, priest of all that was rumored. Whispered. Became a shaman. A convert.

An M-60 gunner runs past, flat out, firing the pig from the shoulder, one hand on the trigger, the other feeding the belt into the breach. Madness in his eyes.

There were certified, documented, happenings here, that would be strange even in the furthest corners of that most strange place. Haight-Ashbury had nothing on what your mind, in all it's psychotic glory, could envision. No magic mushroom, there or in Wonderland, could hold a candle to what your 18 year old eyes would see or imagine. And there was little you could not imagine. No psychic ever saw more. There were those among us who could surely see the future. Eyes rolled back, stuttering, drooling, idiot savants, more then willing to share that future with you. Welcome or not. Some took those visions, those..truth's..shaped and molded them into a religion. A religion none would forsake. For to forsake was to surrender faith, to succumb. That religion had it's icons, rituals,devotees. It's spread facilitated by the miracles, visions. The unbelievable. The surreal.

Two snipers have got us pinned like moths to the sand. One of the M-79 gunners raises up, snaps a quick shot off, The round arcs up, down, spiraling the whole way, hits the lead gook in the head. His head...disappears. Dissolves. We cheer.

Me and Hilling are at the village well. There to fill our canteens, drained by the 90 degree heat, the 90 per cent humidity. Suddenly there comes a wailing, the sound of drums beating, chanting. We look, across the paddy come monks and mourners, come to bury one of their own. They are dressed in yellow, pink, robes of sky blue. The colors, after months of seeing peasants dressed in black and white sear our eyes. As if we have been blind. As if we have been living in a monochromatic world. Black.White. Green. Gray. No mescalin induced trip would ever produce a reaction more enlightening. More..religious.

You may have been baptized into your faith, a squalling babe , two months old, or the light may have found you here in a jungle clearing, light streaming down through the canopy, halo's around heads. Some abandoned ideals that would arise from nowhere, some incident, some remembered word. Here it made no difference. The here and now would drive your faith from you, drive you to your knees leave you with nothing but visions, miracles, wonders. Left you humbled, hallowed, hollow. Left you to ponder the concept of original sin, then dismiss it. Left you more than ready to commit it. Madonna and child, pushing rice stalks into Mother Earth left you to choose which cult, which personal zealot you would throw your faith to. Left you to spurn them all.

We're pushing through the hedge row when the sniper opens up. One shot. One lucky shot. The grunt in front of me jerks his hand back. The round goes in one side of his hand out the other, throws blood on me, the ground. Anointing us. "Christ on the Cross!" Too close. Too bloody f**king close.

"Why me O' Lord?" asked a thousand times a day. Every day. No answer, Like a phone ringing off the hook, no one home. No answer to that. Leaving you to invent your own answers. Your own litany. Your own beliefs. Left you to ponder was it Faith, Luck, Divine Intervention, which held the most truth. Which would be your protector, salvation. Which would bring you through it, deliver you out the other side. Safe. Whole. Intact. Alive

Me and Sumner, sitting, cigarettes glowing. The big come down, the big crash setting in.The aftermath of every big battle the same, After hours of a sustained, full blown,adreniline fueled rush, you couldn't drink enough water, smoke enough cigarettes to calm your nerves. Your arced out, shorted out, overloaded nerves. Twitching, shaking, space cadets, just back from a suicide mission. Come first light breakfast would commence, provided of course, the gooks weren't around to kill you. No IHOPS here. None of mom's home cooking. No over easy, crack the yolks, side of bacon. Wheat toast. Here, if you were lucky, maybe pound cake. If you were real, real, lucky, peaches in heavy syrup. Some of the hot chocolate cooked over a c-rat tin stove, fueled by a ball of C-4. There were times it tasted better than any Thanksgiving Dinner you'd ever ate. And really if you were still alive to eat, that was reason enough to give thanks. Though to who you gave those thanks to could present it's own diliema.

We sit, each of us spent. A morning that found us lugging the dead to the LZ, loading them on the 34's, trying not to look at their faces. Enough to haunt us without that. Still we can't help but look. Look to see if we know any of them, if they were with us last week on that patrol, road sweep. We die.. when they are. A death we die over and over and over again. All we lack is the burying, and that is no lack at all. Just words, a cold deep grave, and a blessing. That's all that's missing from these deaths we die.

We sit drained. Me, I'm wondering if there is any way I'm going to make it through the next 314 days. Survive all that lays before me. All that hides out there. Sitting, thinking, it's not going to happen.

The previous day. Morning.

We're pinned down in the paddy with the rest of India company, been there for hours, minutes, days. Forever. Me and Sumner up tight behind the paddy dike, expecting the foot of soil to shelter us. From the tree line, tracers, like mad lightning bugs, reach out for us. They take an eternity to get to us then leave like rockets going by. Snap. Crackle. Pop. My old childhood friends. Friends no more. A shout, "Lets go, Marines!" Some guy who had watched far to many John Wayne movies, jumps up expecting us to charge the tree line, charge into that, gets shot and screams like you've never heard anyone scream before, His screams carry over the din, go on endlessly, over and over. The skinny little grunt next to me who had been alternately trying to clear his jammed '16, cleaning rod down the barrel, something you expected to see in the Civil War, and trying to buy my '14, "I'll give you a hundred dollars for one of them 14's"' looks out across the paddy where the guy lays screaming and says,"Dumb F**k."

Overhead the sound of rotor blades, two 34's spiral down,come to pull out the wounded. Hilling, Mollencamph, join a hand full of grunts, ready to make the run. The choppers touch down one behind the other, the loading begins. Suddenly there's a bang from the tree line and a boom as the recoilless round hits the lead chopper. The round blows the whole nose apart, the pilot, co-pilot hang motionless in their harness..f**ked. Yelling, the wounded, along with the pilot and co-pilot, are pulled out, carried to the second ship, stuffed in. The 34 brings up power, spins, and tries to lift out of the zone. Tries but can't . Too many bodies. Too much weight. The ship begins jumping down the paddy, looking like a giant green grasshopper, stops, the crew chief and gunner pulling wounded off. Me and Sumner waiting. Waiting for the next round to come screaming out of the treeline,"Get up you bastard, Get up." Finally, finally, with all the power he can muster, the pilot pulls the ship up and out.

Now, the push into the tree line. The area softened up by air and arty. 105's, launched of the hill, slam H.E. rounds into the line. Phantoms, A-4's drop napalm and 500 pounders, dust, smoke, fire, pieces of trees, pieces of bodies, arms, legs..heads, blown skyward, darken the day. Beat the earth, and with it our senses, into submission.

We start, out of the paddy, into the tree line, eyes open, fingers on triggers, hot wired, hooked up, jumper cabled, bust through into a small clearing. Serene. Light filled. Beautiful. Ahead of us the 60 gunner, A gunner, ammo humper get within forty feet of the next tree line, within forty feet of the NVA, dug in, invisible, ghosts. They sit, as hot wired as we, fingers slowly embracing triggers.. ..unleash hell. We hit the deck, rounds so close if we sneeze we're dead. The gun team down. Lay in front of us..twisted. From the corner of my eye, a Corporal runs, slides, grabs the 60, runs towards us yelling,"Pull back, Pull back." We're up, Sumner goes left, I go right, bust through the brush, rounds snapping branches off, and I'm..flying. Ran off the end of the banking, the fall to earth, like a fall from grace, seems to take eons. I hit, sprawled, out of wind almost, but not quite, out of time. Managed, somehow, to cheat death. Get up, look around, I'm alone. All alone. Allmost back to the paddy Scared witless.Shitless. Hear the guns rattling away,to my left and forward, sneak towards the sound. Sumner. Sumner's still alive. "Don't do that again. There could have been gooks back there." Seems everyone else had pulled back forty feet.

Sumner, panic stricken, his mortality tied to mine. Mine to his. A belief we all held. You stay alive. I stay alive. The only religion many of us would carry out of that place. Baptized, Anointed. Blessed.

"This is my blood which was shed for you."

As surely a truth as any we would ever hold. Blood Brothers. All the psalms you'd ever read, subscribed to..believed.. held no truth greater than that.

Later. We have driven them out, away. The M-60's, mortars, LAW's, 16's, 14's, M-79's, guts, glory, grenades, blood and human sacrifice have won the day. Now we sit in our holes, night falling, lost in our own private reveries. Our own private hells..none of our own making. A shout. A shot. Bring us back to the here. The now. The NVA, like Phoenix from the ashes, have risen. Like spyders from there holes they are among us. Here inside the perimeter. AK's vs 16's. Good vs Evil. Life and Death. Run rampant..till the grunts kill them all. Our enemies dead along with there false gods. As dead as our own.

Later still. The witching hour upon us. Time to cross fingers. Time we all take the midnight fright. No moon. Things that never worshiped any god would have you praying to them all. Praying, chanting, silently, quietly, awaiting whatever was out there.

A shot. A scream. A curse.

The listening post coming in, the new guy leading, doesn't call out, the sentry shoots. He'll live but he'll never see out of his right eye again. Truly an eye for an eye, More truth in that than all the words spoken after the act.

At the end we were all left either more..or less..spiritual beings. Either we believed or we didn't. And what you did or didn't believe was the least of all things.

In the end there was no one, mortal or immortal, spiritual or secular, to answer the only question that mattered. Would you survive the next hour, the next day. The next 314 days. And to whom should you pray. Where did the truth lie?

Perhaps it lay in the one place we were too afraid to look.
In the maddened eyes of an M-60 gunner.

Or the ones that stare back at us from the mirror.

Semper Fi
Lief Ericson
B Company 1st Engineer Bn. Viet Nam 1967-1968


Bridge dedicated to Purple Heart veterans
Barre, Massachusetts, July 22, 2013

Dennis Fleming, organizer, Walter Hayes US Army Korean Veteran awarded a Purple Heart, and Lief Ericson USMC Veteran, awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries in Vietnam, unveil the long awaited sign for the Purple Heart Bridge dedication. (News staff photo by DONEEN DURLING)

On a span previously known as the Singing Bridge, a dedication ceremony with about 40 on hand was held Saturday to formally dedicate the bridge over the Ware River to Barre’s veterans, past and present, who were awarded the Purple Heart.

Veterans from the American Legion, Boy Scouts, The Patriot Riders Motorcycle Club, and others joined State Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, and State Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, for the dedication at the bridge — which is located at the intersection of Adams and Wheelright Road, spanning one of the most peaceful and picturesque sections of the Ware River — to those who shed blood for the nation.

Speaker Lief Ericson, a Purple Heart recipient and town selectman, said he was raised in an extended family of World War II veterans. His father and uncle served in the Marines, and an uncle flew with the Army Air Force over the skies of Europe. His “Uncle Jim” died in Germany. “If you were to visit my Uncle Cossie back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, back in the days of console TVs — on top of his sat a glass dome, and in that dome hung the first Purple Heart I ever saw, awarded for wounds sustained in the fighting on Iwo Jima.” Mr. Ericson spoke of growing up in the shadow of Korea, the forgotten war, and of his cousin who came home and suffered nightmares, unable to forget the horrors of that war.

Then he spoke of his own service to his country; “On Sept. 4, 1967, I was an 18-year-old combat engineer attached to Mike Company 3RD Battalion 5th Marines.” On the day his country celebrated Labor Day with picnics, 170 men of Mike Company flew into Que Son Valley, walked onto a knoll, and into a throng of 2,000 North Vietnamese army troops. “When that day was over, those men would be awarded two Medals of Honor, three Navy Crosses, four Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, one Navy Commendation Medal...would suffer 98 killed and wounded, and be awarded in excess of 100 Purple Hearts. Four of those killed were 18-years-old, five were 19, and four were 20. None old enough to vote.”

Mr. Ericson named many of those who fought alongside him that day, and spoke of the wounded that returned to fight another day. He named those who would never fight again. “Sept. 4, 1967 was a good number of years ago, and yet the war remains, It remains as a reminder, as the wars before it did and the wars after it do, that the freedoms we so readily take for granted are indeed paid for at a terrible price...a price symbolized by the Purple Heart...a price paid in the lives, blood, and tears of America’s children.”

State Rep. Gobi called Barre one of the “most patriotic towns” in her district, and said she was proud to sponsor the bill along with State Sen. Brewer. State Sen. Brewer spoke of George Washington, the designer of the Purple Heart, and its meaningful history. “It means you shed blood for your country,” said the senator. “We are the land of the free because of the brave.”

State Senate Bill S-1724, which designated the bridge on Old Furnace Road and Adams Road as the Purple Heart Bridge, was co-sponsored by State Sen. Brewer and State Rep. Gobi with the help of Dennis Fleming, a veteran who served with the US Army, Mass. National Guard from 1974 to 1980. Mr. Fleming was commended for his efforts and organization that culminated in the bridge’s dedication to the recipients of the Purple Heart. Mr. Fleming said there will be a plaque placed on the bridge with the names Barre veterans who were awarded the Purple Heart. He is seeking to include all names besides those he has gathered which include, Walter Heyes, Sam Palano, Mike Ryder, John Edwards, Diamond Trifilo, Gerard Spinney, Evan Proctor, Reid Dahart, Howard Dahart, Leif Ericson, Domanic Fracoise, John Baker, Harold Dorsey, William Throng, Fredrick Throng, James Culver, Charles Cummings, William Harty, Francis Allen, John Edwards, and Edward Cormier. (Doneen Durling, News Staff Writer)


(Background by Redeye)