Thursday, June 19, 2008


While walking patrol in Vietnam, we were always on the lookout for signs of the enemy and places where they could hide or hide things. They were a sneaky bunch and well trained in disguising their hiding places. Remember the post I made about us finding the hidden tunnel, which lead to the underground hospital? Then while searching the village, I found the bag of penicillin hidden in a bush? That discovery taught me to look in places for signs of the enemy where you wouldn't normally think to look.

While on patrol on a different day, I spread the branches of a tree with the barrel of my M-16 as I had done when I discovered the bag of penicillin. I saw what looked like a neat little hiding spot that someone had recently been occupying. There was fresh grass spread out all over the ground, matted down as if someone had been laying on it. I looked around and off to one side, I saw a pair of Ho Chi Minh sandals and a North Vietnamese Army pith helmet, but nothing else. Someone must have heard us coming, took off and left them behind in their haste to leave, so I picked them up.

Ho Chi Minh sandals are most common footwear the Vietnamese people wore. They are cut from used tire treads with straps made of strips of old inner tubes. The helmet was North Vietnamese army issue, both very cool souvenirs indeed.

After searching around, but not finding anything else, we radioed for the choppers for the ride back to camp. When I got on the chopper, the door gunner saw what I’d found and offered to buy them from me. He said they never find stuff like this and really wanted them as a souvenir. I forget what he offered me, but it must have been worth it, because I sold him the sandals, but I kept the helmet. I took the helmet back to the FSB, showed it off and then stored it in my sewer tube sleeping quarters. I was wounded a few days later and medivaced out, so I left it behind.

That’s where the helmet stayed until my stepmother wrote my company commander asking him to send it to me. One of the first times I spoke to her after I was wounded, I told her about finding the helmet. I asked her to write my CO and ask him if he could send it to me, which she did on November 18th. On November 27th my CO wrote a letter to my stepmother telling her that they had the helmet and sent it to me at the 249th General Hospital outside of Tokyo, which was where I'd been sent.

However, it didn’t find me there, because I’d been sent back to the World by then. Therefore, the Red Cross in Japan sent it to my next known address, St Albans Naval Hospital in Queens New York.

It didn’t find me there either, because I’d been discharged from the hospital with orders for my next assignment, which was the Sixth Armored Calvary Regiment at Fort Meade Maryland.

Again, it didn’t find me there, because a disabled infantryman wasn’t any use to the Sixth Cav, so they transferred me to First Army Headquarters also at Fort Meade. They sent it to me there.

It finally found me there, ONE YEAR after my CO in Vietnam sent it to me. Yes, one year later. One day I went to the mail room to see if I had any mail and the mail room clerk handed me this beat up cardboard box. It looked like hell. I had no frigging clue what was in it, but saw it was from the Red Cross. I opened the box right there and saw the helmet. I couldn’t believe it, because I’d long given up ever seeing the helmet again. I was thrilled to say the least.

I passed it around the barracks and the office where I worked, because most people had never seen an NVA helmet. Especially the many civilians I worked with in head quarters.

I safe guarded that piece of history all these years and still have it. Here’s the Vietnam vet wearing his NVA helmet war souvenir. I think it's a little small for me.


I learned something the other day. I learned that the "Vietnam War" is called the "American War" in Vietnam. Bet you didn't know that, did you?


Q said...

Nice to see a smile on your face. Thanks for the interesting story!

TUG said...

You look like a turtle man.

And yes, I've heard that before.


Irene said...

Happy HNT! GREAT Story... Amazing man - freakin amazing!

Anne Marie said...

Love the story!!! Now to find out if Grace Anne knows that bit of history! I am betting she doesnt!

jillie said...

Tony, you are SO damn adorable! Just popping in today to say hello to my FAVORITE bloggers! Miss you...just burnt out for now. I'll be back

Libby said...

tony, is maybe your head too big, rather than the helmet being too small? HHNT!!
By the way, the cat i had when i was about 4 was named hochiminh, but i never understood why...but it was a mom named him!

lime said...

what a story. yes, i'd say the helmet is a bit small for you but the picture makes me smile.

Monogram Queen said...

That is a WAY cool story and I sure didn't know it was called the American War. Guess it is logical though LOL

Lil Bit said...

Oh, cooooooooool!

What an awesome story & neat souvenir from your days in Vietnam's "American War", lol

I wonder if the tire sandals would have fit ya better... ;)