Tuff Skin

Every grunt takes care of his buddies, his weapon and his feet. That’s the proper order. The team leaders and squad leaders ensure that a Marine does the first two. The platoon’s Navy Corpsman makes sure that a Marine takes care of the third.

But, when a Marine hasn’t been able to take his boots off for three or four days and he’s been walking in water and mud through rice paddies during the rainy season, or down asphalt, rocky or dirt roads during the 120 degree dry season, well, an Infantryman’s feet take the worst of it.

That’s the way it’s been since Valley Forge. Vietnam was no different. Operation Nathan Hale was winding down. 3rd Battalion was moving down Highway 1 in parallel columns. India Company was smack-dab in the middle of Highway 1. At the end of the day, around 1600, we were scheduled to board Mike and Papa boats and return to the USS Pickaway. It was 125 degrees in the shade; the asphalt was melting on the highway and sticking to our boots.

The Company was moving south in a long column formation, with Marines on each side of the road. Lieutenant Kopfler, the Executive Officer, was wearing me out running up and down the column trying to keep it “tight”, taking care of the requests of the Marines while still planning our rendezvous with the Pickaway’s landing boats. As we moved forward, the two of us came between a Marine on each side. From the flank, or side, it was an opportunity for one enemy to kill four Marines. It’s called “enfilade” fire, hitting a bunch of guys lined up in a row with one bullet.

A message came over the net for the Lieutenant. I went to hand him the handset. That’s when the gook opened up. The only thing we had going for us is that this dirtball wasn’t much of a gunner. Highway 1 was being pock-marked by exploding asphalt in front of us as the ambusher started to “walk” his aim toward the four of us, all lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery.

The Marines on each side of the road hit the deck and found cover in the road side ditch. Lieutenant Kopfler took a dive to my right and found cover. There I stood like a statue holding my arm out with the hand-set in my hand while the world was exploding in front of me! Well, hell, with discretion being the better part of valor, I took off running. I was looking over my left shoulder and, maybe, that gook didn’t like my looks. Rounds were popping off the asphalt and getting closer. This clown wasn’t much of a shot, but he sure could make pot holes.

Considering I ran down Highway 1 past the 1st Platoon and well into the 3rd, I must have run over a hundred yards with this asshole trying to snuff my sorry ass. I saw a big bush off to my left, took a dive and found cover. That’s when I saw Corporal Joe Dodson fire a 3.5 Willy Peter into this guy’s position. The next thing I saw, I think, was a pair of black pajamas on top of a beautiful white cloud. That was the first time Corporal Dodson saved my life.

Things were running late. We had to meet those boats on the beach so that we could get back to the Pickaway for some rest and to regroup. Pressing on at a fast pace took a toll on the Marines, especially in that heat. I had to call in a couple of “Dust-Off”, helicopter evacuations, for guys who suffered from heat exhaustion. We had to stop a few times for Marines whose feet were severely blistered from walking on the super hot asphalt.

Then, my turn came. Jesus Christ and I have one thing in common. We both walked on water. But, Jesus was God and did it on a lake. I was merely human and did it on my own feet. I had blisters on both feet from my toes to my heels. I couldn’t walk anymore.

That’s when Doc Fresquez and his miracle cure, provided by our Navy, came into play. I was wrestled to the ground by four masochistic gorillas, one on my chest, one on my butt, and one on each leg. The good Doc removed my boots and socks, then made incisions in my blisters. (I know, this is gross!)

After my wounds were dry, it was time for the “flip side”. I got turned over on my back, the Marines assumed new positions in reverse, and then that’s when Doc added the final insult. Ever been to a horror movie where each actor tries to out scream the other? Well, get some “Tuff Skin” and you won’t need a prop or any coaching. The pain endured is more than any mere mortal should be subjected to. I don’t know what a Banshee screams like, but I would have probably embarrassed one. Doc had a gleeful look on his face, mainly because I had previously given him a ton of shit. So, I think there was some “get even-ism” with his application of this naval cure-all for blisters.

About fifteen minutes later, I was able to move on with the Company. We met the boats on the beach, boarded them and had two San Marcos beers each, courtesy of the Skipper of the Pickaway.

We were finally going to get some R&R. It was well deserved. I wouldn’t wish anybody, even my worst enemy, the misery we suffered going through that heat. The Corpsmen did their best, and the welfare of “their” Marines was the most important thing to them.

Would I do it over? Could I be “Tuff-Skinned” again?

Damned straight, I would. I’d do anything a Corpsman would tell me to do.

Author/Ski II

Posted in Vietnam War Stories