Love conquers all, so the saying goes. Seven thousand, four hundred miles separated Dave and Maryann; Hawaii, USA to Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Both were in the Army in 1972. Maryann had reenlisted for Hawaii to Dave's disappointment, but she knew Hawaii was still considered a State side tour; it was easier for her to apply for a transfer to Germany than it was for Dave to come to Hawaii.
Interlude in Memories
Maryann could see Dave was thinking – or remembering something that he had suppressed a long time ago.
"As I said I was fixed station crypto over there. But that didn't exempt me from any field duty. I was low man on the totem pole at the time so to speak. I was 'chosen' if you want to call it that for TDY to Company E, 75th Rangers out of Lie Cha. What I didn't understand, why they didn't or never had one of their own. I was pulled from the commcenter at USAV Headquarters one day, got my marching orders and issued the crypto gear an hour later – an RC32 pack with a PRC 77 radio and batteries; a helicopter from the Rangers came into our area, picked me up, bag and baggage and I was whisked away to the Ranger base near the Cambodian border that quick."
Dave drew in a breath as he recalled the missions the Rangers wanted him to be on with them.
He began again: "The country club so to speak was back in Saigon and Ben Hoa. I arrived late that afternoon. Got the rest of my marching orders when I reported in. A young lieutenant was in charge of the team. Damn smart, damn good. Laid the map in front of me and pointed out where the team would be going that night. Forget day time … night. They took the Mattel toy rifle, my M16 I was issued and gave me a sawed off M14 a mini-14 and .45 semi-automatic pistol with eighteen hundred rounds of ammunition."
Dave glanced at Maryann to see he still had her undivided attention.
Dave continued: "These kids now a days whine and snivel about having to carry eighty-five pounds. Try one hundred plus. I not only carried the rifle and pistol, but the radio, crypto gear, plus a full back pack, not those little measly things for good looks with everything but what I really needed. The guys helped me get ready, we relaxed as best we could then about dusk we loaded up on a slick and were gone westbound – Cambodia and the Ho Chi Minh Trail – a northern branch. Reconnaissance and stealth was our orders.
"The object was talk the B52's in. A supply train would be trekking down the trail, the B52's would be on station, we'd contact them with a special frequency at Long Binh at
USAV headquarters that had direct contact with the bomber commander."
David stopped. Maryann lightly squeezed his hard hand that was always so gentle with her. "Go on, Dave – I'm listening."
David hesitated a minute breathing again as if he'd just run a long distance. He went on after a couple minutes.
"It was move, spot, call the bombers in and get the hell out of the neighborhood. Anyway, that week, in three days the NVA lost four supply trains. Command pulled us back and told the Rangers to lay low for a while. Seems the NVA were starting to figure out we had a team on the ground. The next day I was packed up and sent back to Long Binh to my unit. I was given instructions to be ready to move at a moment's notice. I was on pins and needles for the rest of the month. The call came late in the afternoon: Report back to the Rangers – Now. I was yanked from the commcenter, I had just enough time to get my gear, grab my Mattel toy and meet the chopper as it was landing. The skids weren't even on the ground thirty seconds and we were airborne.
"The El-Tee met me as we were landing, the team was ready to go. Tell ya how fast we were moving. The Sergeant had me toss most of my stuff in to a jeep, to include the M16, I was tossed a Ruger Mini-14, I took just what I needed and away we went on the same bird. This time it was a southern branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
"We did an air assault – my first of several, in to a jungle clearing and moved out on foot for the next kay or so. We spotted the supply train just in time. The El-Tee had just enough time to call the coordinates in, pass the info and just enough time to get out of the AO. Bombs were dropping thirty seconds later. Try running with all that equipment and ammo. Ain't easy."
David was quiet for a few minutes as he looked across the river. Maryann was silent, reserving her own thoughts as David finally opened up to her. She now knew where the Purple Heart and Bronze star with V Device and Oak Leaf clusters came from on his dress uniform.
Maryann thought, So that's where the air assault badge came from.
"The slick couldn't come back in to do a hot LZ pick up. We had to wade across the Mekong that night. Three of us had to carry the radio and gear above our heads to clear the water. We made it to the other side, regrouped picked up a trail toward Plieku."
Dave stopped to inhale as tears started to trickle down his face. He watched the gathering twilight of evening as lights along the river turned on. Maryann gripped his hand. "It's alright, sweet heart take your time. I'm here."
Dave leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. Maryann knew deep down this was taking a lot out Dave to even recall this incident from four years ago.
"Anyway, our orders were to avoid contact. Trouble was the NVA and Cong were not told about the orders. Our point security man literally tripped over their guard who was sleeping. A wild free for all ensued for the next ten minutes. The group – them – was wiped out, we took two casualties. That's when a slick was finally dispatched to pull us out of the area.
"We were back at it – minus the two men we could have used but there wasn't time for that luxury the next evening. This time we had to force march twenty kay into Indian Territory which took us most of the night taking our time and avoiding what turned out to be a couple ambush points. I called the info into headquarters and a couple F4 sorties finished the job.
"There's a section of the Mekong that's about half the width of the Main. Crossing it can be a real hazard in day light. We laid up most of the night then about two o'clock the El-Tee had us move out again. We crossed the river back in to Cambodia and back to the main trail coming in from Laos. Seems command had their eye on this part for awhile.
"We reached the trail and AO about sun up. We went to ground an hour before sun up and stayed put throughout the day. The supply trains were only moving at night now to avoid either us or air reconn.
"It was close to twenty hundred – I guess when the first supply train came along. The El-Tee already had the TRP figured out on the map, command had it, all I had to do was give the TRP and we were on the move when the first bombs hit. We did that again on another site – once they were in the TRP, our job was done – get in, get out. Maybe it was one time too many for us. Our luck ran out on the way back across the river.
"The point security man tripped on the ambush. We immediately returned fire which accounted for the first three NVA. The Devil himself kicked open the back door of hell that night. The Cong and NVA had us surrounded but they weren't counting on 1st Cav and a couple F4 sorties hitting them just about day break like a ton of bricks hitting the pavement. The F4's arrived on station – what a beautiful sight those F4's were. The NVA got careless and exposed themselves and that's when the first F4's nailed `em.
"A reaction team from 1st Cav hit them from the other side; we were in the middle, NVA in front of us, 1st Cav on the outside looking in."
Dave had to draw in another breath. He stared at the river and the boats for a minute. "So quiet here. I've enjoyed this spot. I'd sometimes come on a Saturday spend most of a day here writing those long rambling letters to you."
It was a few minutes before she realized Dave had switched topics. He was no longer talking about working with the Rangers in Viet Nam. She could only guess that most of the team was wiped out in the fire fight. Maryann gripped his hand in hers.
Dave looked over at Maryann with a sad look that broke her heart. He had been through more hell than any man she knew. His nerves were gone and he did not know it.
Dave finally asked: "Want a snack? I know a neat gasthaus in Sachsenhausen where we can get a light fare of cheese, bratwurst and beer."
"Do they have soda?"
"Sure. Come on."
They walked along the queue to a foot bridge that crossed the river to Sachsenhausen. It was as if someone had thrown a switch. Maryann knew the best thing was let him tell her in his own good time. David led Maryann along the side streets that were just wide enough for a small delivery truck to enter. The streets were already teeming with people out to enjoy the summer evening.
He found the gasthaus entering the cool stone interior. Dave took her to an empty table, the waitress; a buxom blonde took their order, David and the lady conversing in German.
"I'll have to learn German."
"I'll teach you."
Maryann did not ask Dave anymore questions on his time in Vietnam. She had the idea he avoided the topic and that was the only time he opened up about the subject.
After a time she timidly said: "Dave I want to say something."
"I'm sorry about what happen before you left the states. D – Do you forgive me?"
Dave dropped his gaze to the table as he drew in a breath. Maryann knew she had hit another sore spot with Dave. She watched him as he lifted his head to her. "I was hurt by your attitude toward me. But for the love of you, yes I forgave you – a long time ago. What counts is we're together now. I have given you all my being – my being is yours. Let's not bring up the subject again. Please? We're not two - but one now."
Maryann couldn't believe Dave took the incident so calmly. But that could be because they were in a public place. She would wait until they were home to see what he would or wouldn't do. She reached across the table to him taking his hand in her small one.
"That's why I love you so."
They ate and reminisced of the old days. Leaving the gasthaus they strolled along the narrow streets looking in shops and other places until Dave guided her out to the strasse line to return across the Main River to the city and the square. They got off the Old Opera House station to walk along the street for a ways.
"The only time I saw this area was during the day," said Dave as they walked the short distance to another strasse line. "I would dream of the day – or night I would walk along the avenue arm in arm with you."
"Does tonight count?" Maryann asked slipping her hand through Dave's arm.
Outside the WAC Detachment at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii was another tropical storm. Rain water was trailed over the once highly polished front floor. Betty Hamilton and Karen Thompson checked their mail boxes sorting through letters and other mail.
"Ah," said Betty looking over the letter, "Maryann."
The two went up to Betty's room, she tossed the mail on the desk, took the rain coat off hanging it on a hook. She sat on the bed as Karen took the single desk chair.
Dear Betty and Karen and all,
How's life on Hawaii? Since my last letter to you and all the changes the Corps is
going through I also found out the ADP women here in Frankfurt, Germany will be
going to the field for the first time with G1 and G2 (Rear). More on that later.
"Oh that should be fun."
Anyway, among all this we had an incident at our apartment …
"Okay, so I was right the last time, she is living with this guy Dave."
It started with a couple loud bangs and the breaking of glass. Dave and I were sitting on the sofa by the front window when the first couple bangs went off. Before I realized it I was on the floor with Dave on top of me pinning me to the floor telling me not to move. As I lay there with him on top of me like that protecting me with his body, and the noise outside, I realized he would have sacrificed himself for me to save me.
Betty and Karen looked at each other a moment.
"How many guys would do that?" Karen asked softly.