The Army seemed to have all sorts of characters and people with a strange sense of what was acceptable and what wasn’t. In addition, there were those that shouldn’t have been allowed to associate with those of us that were “normal”. I use the word “normal” very loosely, for it is a relative term, and what we called normal, most people in the states would call “sick, or demented.” But that was life in Vietnam.
During my time there, I pulled quite a bit of guard duty and I think I was paired with all the questionable people at one time or another. One evening at guard mount, I was standing next to Armatige. As the Officer of the Guard got closer, Armatige spoke out of the side of his mouth saying, “Watch this.” I thought, “Oh no, what in the hell is he going to do.” I’m not sure how he did it, but somehow he got his hand caught in the sling of his rifle, and it was flying all around. The Lieutenant was ducking for cover, and I was trying to keep from laughing. After regaining control of his weapon, he looked at the Lieutenant, and said “Sorry about that.” All the Lt. could do, was shake his head in wonder.
There was one guy in particular that comes to mind when thinking of those days. This guy was from “A” Battery, and I had been on guard with him several different times. Each time was an experience, and an adventure into the mind of the bizarre. I don’t know if I ever knew what his name was, and that’s probably a good thing. He had a habit of opening claymores and taking the C-4 out, not to cook with, but just to be doing it. He would also unscrew the tops of grenades, and break the caps off, which rendered them useless. The boy had a real problem, and needed help bad.
On one night I was with him and another guy from “A” Battery on the perimeter. I wasn’t paying him much attention, but he seemed to be really involved in something that I felt better not knowing about. He had taken some C-4 and stuffed it in a c-rat can, filling it, then took a 7.62 round apart and poured the gun powder on top of the C-4. All I could do was shake my head in amazement at how it fascinated him to be doing this. He looked like a mad scientist working on an experiment that would save the world. The other guy from “A” battery seemed oblivious to everything that was going on, and that was to his benefit.
After he was all done with his “masterpiece,” he looked at me and said, “If you light this, it will explode.” I looked at him and said, “You’re crazy, it won’t explode unless there is something to set it off.” We argued about this for a little while, and I noticed the other guy from “A” battery had a sort of sheepish grin going. Finally I said, “I’ll prove it to you, I’ll light it up right here.” I had cooked with C-4 before, and knew that nothing was going to happen if I lit it. “Oh no,” he said, “ the gun powder will make it explode.” “You’re nuts,” I said, “there’s no way that this can go off.” He looked genuinely concerned about it, so I said, “Okay, to humor you, I’ll take it down by the concertina wire and light it.”
I took the homemade device and walked to within ten feet of the wire where I sat it on the ground and set it on fire. I stood over the top of the burning C-4 for a bit, and he was jumping up and down, waving his arms and yelling, “Get back here, it’s going to blow.” I just looked at him, shook my head and said to myself, “this guy is nuts, it’s not going to blow.” After about a minute or so, I turned and started to walk back to the bunker. I had gotten around twenty-five feet from the burning C-4 when “ KABOOM!!!!!!” the damn thing went off. I couldn’t believe it; I knew there was no way that should have happened.
When I got back to the bunker, he said, “See, I told you it would blow.” Now I was at a loss for words, and feeling confused at what had just happened, when the other guy spoke up and said, “You did know, he put a cap in there didn't‘t you?” I went from astonishment to instant anger when I heard that. I walked over and decked the guy, and while he was laying on his back I pointed my finger in his face and said, “If I ever see you do anything like that again, you won‘t have to worry about the gooks, because I‘ll kill you.”. At the time I was as serious as a heart attack and meant every word of it. The way I was positioned over the can it would have killed me if I had waited any longer to walk away. If not killed, the family jewels would have been splattered all over Quan Loi Base Camp, and I would have been better off dead.
Even now after all these years, when I think of that event I get goose bumps at the thought of what could have happened because of one guy playing. And all those grenades he had made inoperable, almost cost others their lives during our ground attacks. I often wonder if maybe I should have turned him in, but hopefully what I told him made him think long and hard before he tried anything like that again.
HHB, 6/27th Artillery