Updated September 30, 2020
Updated December 20, 2020
Native American stories begin here, with the land. We exemplify earth forces. All our stories are about these forces which we know by different names and experiences. As storytellers, at the core of ourselves, we pass the names of these forces on and describe their innate power to our grandchildren and to those among us who want to know more about who and what we are. Aho!
To all our readers, when using this material in the classroom, or at home, or in the tipi or other sacred lodges, remember the writers, thinkers, and artists who have brought their skills and ideas of the elders and ancestors together to show something tangible for the world we live in now. They still own their work, but graciously share it. Aho!
(Please scroll down.)
Quote from Pawnee Song: " Hurahu waruksti! Earth wonderful! "
Videos from Soje Publishing
Check out the two minute videos on writers found in Artists Profiles.
Soje is also launching Manto Thewe Videos. More details to come.
"Mother Earth and Father Sky: Teachings" is told by Navajo historian and philosopher, Harry Walters. It can be viewed here (click the link) or on the Soje Channel of You Tube. "Chagre Wakan, Sacred Shield" is a modern day story told by Anna Lee Walters and it can be viewed on the same channel or click the link here. We have had a good response to both movies since their release and they have also been used in Native American Literature classes.
What's your story?
Crossing Borders and Veterans' Stories
Crossing Borders contains stories about people who have crossed borders and changed their (and other peoples') lives for the good. "Morning Star Tipi" has moved to Archive page. Veterans' Stories, "Navajo Women in the Military" has moved to Archives page. The writers found on the home page are Irvin Morris who is the author of "From the Glittering World," published in 1997, and Wi-ti-wah is a pen name for William Howell, whose Vietnam experience is shared as a part of the veteran story series.
Teach Native American Literature
Soje Publishing offers teaching and learning tools or methods to use with the material found here. On the menu tab, go to More. Click on Native American Literature. We offer suggestions to enhance life learning situations and learning in the classroom as well as learning to keep our communities strong and informed. While these stories and teaching methods may be used at no cost, please credit Soje Publishing. In the future, we will share outcomes of these teaching suggestions.
"The mind doesn't care what it thinks. It has to be trained."
Hatathli Johnson Dennison, 2017
Published June 1, 2020
Feature Work - Non Fiction
Why I Teach English © 2020 by Irvin Morris
First, the easy (maybe flip) answer: It’s what I am most qualified to do. I mean that’s what my training is. My academic background. I suppose that begs the question, is there a reason for going down that road in the first place? Focusing on English, or rather, writing. In English. Because that’s the other language I use.
So there’s that background of colonial influence. Being “forced” to learn and use English, the dominant colonial language in my homeland. The other reason, the one having to do with my interest in story/storytelling, is more related to my Diné upbringing. The environment, worldview, etc, that I was brought up in.
It’s interesting that I’m making that distinction. Drawing that line. Learning and using English on one side, and the Diné aspect on the other side. Maybe there’s no line at all. Just an awareness that’s there’s a difference. Parallel paths. That they’re somehow distinct and separate, but coexisting within me.
Anyway, being a bilingual/bicultural person I have this built-in dialogue between the two worlds/experiences that I know and live in. A dual perception of reality. They’re separate but not separate. The English/colonial side is privileged in the world outside the rez. It’s necessary/advantageous to know and master and use. The Diné side feeds/expresses my soul. It is the more intimate one. The colonial one is utilitarian. It carries privilege in the outside world.
Maybe this is why I want to pass along/share that understanding. If not the understanding, at least the skills? Because I understand it is necessary. Then there’s that idea from Gerald Vizenor. His term, “Word Arrows.” It is a tool and weapon. Knowing the oppressor’s language/mind. Know your enemy. We need them (words) to survive, to confront, to overcome, to challenge, to affirm, to validate, etc.
It’s not all about enmity though. Knowing English/the colonizer’s world, broadens my experience and vocabulary of beauty, those things that are universal. The humanity beneath or despite the brutality. Literature and Art. There’s strength in that, oddly enough.
Knowing the light as well as the dark coming from the other side of the world. The more you know, the better prepared you are to deal with various situations. To have the language to decode and respond and reshape. With strength, dignity, understanding, humanity. But back to why I teach English.
Well, it’s my bread-and-butter. I don’t know math, science, etc. Language is what I’m drawn to. It’s my anchor. My rock. As far back as I can remember, I have been immersed, have immersed myself, in the wonder of language.
One of my earliest memories is coming across a book in my grandfather’s hogan. I was alone. The picture is so vivid. The way memory will magnify things. I don’t know where everyone is. I am alone. I don’t remember what time of day it is. Not night, though. That would not have happened. Anyway, the book, I think, was "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Wonderful illustrations. The writing (though I certainly didn’t know that word then) was a mystery. The text, the hieroglyphics. I must have been around 2-4 years old. Before I started school. Maybe that’s why I was alone. The rest of the kids were in school. I was entranced by the pictures. Though I couldn’t read the text, I knew there was something going on. That there was a story there. I sensed it and responded to it.
This was confirmed years later when my mother would read to me from an old family bible. I wish I could remember what the very first word I read was. I was surrounded by story/stories every waking moment. It just was. Maybe that’s the connection. The one bridge that existed between my world and the other world. Story. Language.
If you peeled back the layers of a culture, at the very core would be language. Words.
In the following years, my connection to language, my fascination with language, never waned. It just grew. When I entered school and learned to read, the flames were fanned, grew. It seemed to come naturally to me. I didn’t struggle as much as others in my classes. Oddly enough, earlier, when I was being introduced to the alphabet, I was confused and frustrated. The teacher would stand in front of the class and sing/shout out the sounds of the alphabet which was strung out in flash cards along the top of the green chalkboard. Squares with the letters centered on each one, from A to Z.
The teacher was facing us, which meant that as she drew the shapes of the letters in the air, the letters were reversed. The shapes she drew in the air did not correspond to the shapes of the letters lined up above the chalkboard. They were backward. We were instructed to trace the shapes of the letters in the air as she recited the alphabet.
I was confused, but swung my hands anyway, creating my own swooping letters. I was confused but intrigued by the oddity and mystery. I sang out, “A is for apple…B is for Baker.” I had no idea what I was doing. I envied the other kids who seemed to have caught on. I was too embarrassed to say I did not get it. I felt dumb. There was no mention of Diné bizaad. This was a wholly different world.
A ‘magical” place with plastic toys and novel foods and rules. White people. Mrs. Riley with her white moustache and smoker’s cough. Phlegmy coughing jags. Hack/spit into a tissue. Minty breath drops. Later, we read “Dick and Jane.” "Oh, oh, oh! No, Spot, no!"
Still later, I knew the “D” in Djakarta was silent. That Millet, as a name, was pronounced “Mi-lay.” Don’t ask me how I knew. Maybe I was gathering information from all over.
We had a color TV, the first, and for a while the only, console TV in the neighborhood. The neighbors used to come over and watch “I Love Lucy.” Uncle gave us the TV. He and his family were moving from Denver to Poston, AZ. The TV was in a Uhaul trailer and too heavy. It became another venue for stories, besides the movies we watched at the Chapter House now and then. Tarzan, the Three Stooges, Godzilla, Cowboys-and-Indians. We cheered the cowboys and booed the “Indians.” Villains. Savages. Oh, the irony. But that’s what we were being trained to do.
I never had the intention to teach English. It just happened.
Or maybe, more accurately, the path I set myself on (or maybe it was ordained before I was born), inevitably led to it. I don’t know anything else. It’s the only thing I’m “qualified” to do in the bilagáanaa world, which extends into classrooms on the rez. When you teach, in context of “education” in the bilagáanaa world, you are forced to constrain yourself to a particular field. You are expected or required to specialize. It just happens that I all the roads I took led to this. I never had a long-range goal. I never set out to be a teacher, though all the things I did, all the choices I made, and maybe even the coincidences (though some people say there are no coincidences), landed me in the classroom.
I totally bungled the placement test when I first enrolled, as a nervous 18 year-old high school dropout, at Navajo Community College in 1978. I won the annual creative writing contest. There was a $50 dollar prize.
The real prize was less tangible. Confirmation of my relationship to language and story. Even though I was a dropout, I could do this. Not that I ever had any doubt, really.
A pivotal development during my time at NCC was my introduction to native lit. Specifically, Ceremony by Leslie Silko, then others. Simon Ortiz, James Welch, N. Scott Momaday. A whole new world opened up. I dived in headfirst. I wanted to do that, too. Another important experience was taking a creative writing class. Getting positive feedback and just having a person genuinely interested in what I was doing, who encouraged me, who was simply just there, who provided a close-to-home example, provided crucial support at a critical time in my life. I have wondered what might have happened if I did not have that NCC experience.
There are several (probable/possible/likely) reasons I teach English these days. Now that I stop to reflect on it. Now that I have to put it into words. First, I have to say that it’s beyond important that I choose to teach English (writing, actually) at a tribal college. Teaching English at a mainstream institution would be a whole other thing. I do NOT want that. I did it before and fled. The hostility. The sneering frat boys, condescending sorority girls. Privileged attitudes. Kids whose fathers bought them houses so they didn’t have to live in a dorm. Entitled youngsters whose idea of having it hard was missing a weekend at Rocky Point (on the Gulf of California) because of schoolwork.
I was miserable. I was constrained by their traditions and expectations. I had to cater to them. Their canons. I was wined and dined as a candidate for the job, then once I was hired I was basically forgotten. I was left to fend for myself. I was one of two natives in the English Department, which was the largest on campus with over 50 faculty. The other one was N. Scott Momaday.
I teach English because it’s where my experience and interest and strengths lie. It should be understood that I am talking about tribal colleges specifically, when I say:
I teach English because I want to pass along what I have learned to native students.
I want to give them a bit of what they will need to navigate the world of academic writing.
I want to help them succeed.
I want to show them that it can be done.
I want to show them that there are rewards.
I want to help them learn, discover, empower themselves.
I want them to see the magic and beauty of language.
I want them to see that their unique perspective does not have to be sublimated.
I want them to understand that they can use language as power.
I want them to see that language is a source of creation.
I want to model (writing, being a writer, having a degree of success, etc.) so as to lessen the apprehension.
I want to help build up our nation.
I see writing as medicine.
Language is a source and embodiment of possibility/possibilities.
That they can write their own story, control their/our own narrative.
That an alternative narrative (other than the colonial one we are immersed in as a part of our education/indoctrination) is the antidote to all sorts of problems caused by colonialism.
That writing/narrative/storytelling is an essential part of nation-building.
That our stories have value.
That our stories have equal footing with other stories globally.
That our knowledge and experience—our dream—have intrinsic worth and value and beauty.
That our ancestors prayed for this to happen.
That literacy is a powerful tool and weapon.
That our language is our future.
That English, the language of our oppressors, our oppression, has aspects of beauty.
(I’ll stop here for now. Sorry to be so long-winded. Got carried away.) More to come…stay tuned.
Published June 3, 2020
Crossing Borders: The Choctaw and Ireland
Told by Waylon White Deer
By way of introduction, I have been involved in representing the 1847 Irish-Choctaw story since 1995, both in Ireland and the States.
Harper's Bazaar and Niles Weekly Register are the two main contemporary sources of the 1847 Choctaw donation to aid Famine Ireland. The story has not been retained through oral tradition.
In 1847, the American government organized a voluntary relief campaign for the victims of the Great Irish
Famine (Irish: an Gorta Mor, the Great Hunger).
At that time, much of Ireland had been forced to subsist on potatoes. Irish lands and all other crops and livestock were controlled by absentee English landlords who were selling the grain, fruits and other foods of Ireland,
for profit. When the potato crop failed, over a million Irish starved and another million fled Ireland on "coffin ships" and 1847 was the height of the Famine, which lasted for eight years.
So, it was that in the spring of 1847, a voluntary Irish relief group calling itself the Memphis Committee
solicited money from the Choctaw in Indian Territory, at a place called Skullyville, where the Choctaw were assembled to await distribution of funds from their final removal treaty. The main Choctaw Trail of Tears had ended sixteen years earlier and with great loss of life.
The Memphis Committee told the Choctaw of a people overseas who were suffering from eviction,
starvation and disease, much like they had endured. The Choctaw listened and afterward donated their distribution monies to help feed the people of Ireland.
The amount of the donation was $170, which is the equivalent of $6,000 today. It was NOT a donation from
tribal government, but rather from the grassroots Choctaw people themselves, to the people of Ireland.
The Choctaw donation was recorded by the New York Relief Committee as being from "The Choctaw, the children of the forest" and was used to buy grain for Ireland. The grain was loaded onto a ship that set sail
for Ireland from New York Harbor in the spring of 1847.
Newspapers of the day added commentaries, such as the Choctaw were repaying Christian nations for
leading them out of benighted darkness and so forth, but Choctaw teachings are that if someone asks you
for food, then you feed them. We also say that feeding someone is the greatest thing you can do, for you
are extending human life.
This little story vanished from public view and was rediscovered by Don Mullan, an Irishman, who
reintroduced its telling during the run-up to the 150th commemoration of "Black 47," which occurred in
1997. Don Mullan involved me in retelling the story and I have traveled to Ireland many times since, to
represent the grassroots bond of the Choctaw donation.
The Choctaw donation is taught in Irish schools now, so it wasn't surprising about the Irish response to the Navajo and Hopi (Covid 19) campaign. What was surprising was the way the Western press has framed it, as being some sort of "debt" that the Irish owe the Choctaw, but are somehow repaying to the Navajo,
because we're all "Native Americans.” There is no debt, and tribal nations aren't all alike.
The Choctaw donation to Famine Ireland is a small and simple story of solidarity and compassion, a tale of
one poor, dispossessed nation reaching out to another. No doubt, the Navajo and Hopi will also reach out to other people and help them in their time of need. And so the light continues...
Published December 21, 2020
Veterans' Stories: Every Day Is A Blessing
© 2020 By Wi-ti-wah
I heard stories about soldiers who were getting short "short timers" during their tours of duty in Vietnam and were spending their final two weeks in base camp out of harm's way, only to lose their lives or get wounded because of a mortar attack or some sort of accident. Fortunately I never witnessed any of these occurrences . . . only heard.
Back in early December 1967, as a member of the Mobile Riverine Force (a joint operation of units of the U.S. Navy Task Force 117 and the 9th Infantry Division) which operated on the Mekong River in the Mekong Delta, Republic of South Vietnam, I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 34th Artillery. Dong Tam was our base camp. We provided fire support to the infantry units of the 9th that were stationed in the delta. Our howitzers fired 105mm rounds from barges that had been converted to carry two howitzers, along with necessary ammo. Our sleeping quarters were also on the barges.
Having spent nearly six months going up and down the Mekong River and its canals, I was a short timer, but I stayed out on a fire support mission until the final two days of my tour before heading back to Bearcat, (9th Infantry Division base camp), to await my flight on the "Freedom Bird" back to the World.
I saw too many short timers just about go crazy during their final two weeks "In Country". So I stayed out on operation as long as I could. I figured that if I kept busy I wouldn't worry about being a short-timer. It worked and I was home for Christmas 1967.
I entered service on April 4, 1966, along with a whole bunch of other draftees from Oklahoma. After a day at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City we were sent to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas for induction (more paper work, issue of Army type clothes-O.D. in color, burr haircut, shots, etc.), then waited in the barracks for our orders to our next duty station. We received orders to report to Fort Riley, Kansas. We boarded a four engine prop aircraft that flew us to Manhattan, Kansas, then we were bussed to Fort Riley. We left in a sand storm in El Paso and arrived in a snow storm in Kansas.
Upon arriving at Camp Forsythe, we were assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 11th Field Artillery and told that we were being trained to go to Vietnam as a unit of the 9th Infantry Division which had just been activated for this purpose.
Upon completing our eight weeks of basic training at Camp Forsythe, we were then moved to Custer Hill where we began our AIT.
Our unit was trained to fire a 105mm towed howitzer during the rest of our stay at Fort Riley.
Before we left for Vietnam, we were granted a two-week leave. We were reminded that we had been told at the beginning of our training that we were not to tell anyone of our next duty station, South Vietnam.
Of course, everyone already knew of the 9th Infantry Division's Deployment.
In early December we made final preparations for our Vietnam tour of duty. We boarded a train at Camp Funston and headed for the Oakland Bay area.
We spent the final two weeks of the year on troop ship headed for Vietnam. We left the docks on a cold morning sailing under the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. We even got to see Alcatraz.
After two weeks aboard ship on the Pacific Ocean, we anchored off Vung Tau, South Vietnam on New Year's eve and went ashore aboard LCMs at sunrise on January 1, 1967. We were greeted by the sounds of the 9th Infantry Division Band, and speeches from general officers welcoming us to Vietnam. With our duffel bags and other combat gear we boarded deuce and half trucks and began our journey to our home away from home, Bearcat.
Sitting on the back of an Army truck, we journeyed for several hours through villages and the countryside along primitive roadways (kind of like our county roads) to base camp. That's the first time I ever got sunburned.
Upon arriving at Bearcat, we went to our assigned area and saw a lot of Army tents (GP Medium), apparently just put up in the area that appeared to have been cleared by a bulldozer, recently. It had. A lot of tree roots and other debris remained on the ground.
Our howitzers and other crew served equipment hadn't arrived yet, so we set about cleaning up our area with machetes, cutting and pulling out the roots.
Our cooks, who had been with us since training began in April, made sure we had a hot meal that evening.
By nightfall, we were all tired and ready for some sleep on the cots that had been set up in the tents.
The cots even had mosquito netting on them.
However, for some of us, we were assigned to berm guard duty, which meant we had to go to the perimeter of the base camp where the bulldozers had pushed the downed trees and we set up listening posts amongst the debris, insects, etc. What a night!
The next day, we continued with the cleanup and our equipment began to arrive. After a couple of weeks at sea, the equipment needed to be cleaned, oiled and some of it re-calibrated.
It was an interesting first week in 'Nam. And our area of Bearcat was beginning to take shape.
After calibrating our howitzers, we moved the guns into gun pits and test fired them to make sure everything was in working order. We were kept busy doing maintenance, sandbagging the gun pits and digging foxholes.
The first couple of weeks in base camp, a lot of test firing was being conducted by the various artillery and infantry units.
One night . . . No one told us . . . The night sky lit up with flares and it sounded like every weapon, machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, and small arms, opened up.
We grabbed our weapons and jumped into our foxholes, waiting for the order to return fire. We had to wait because the infantry had patrols out on the perimeter.
The flares coming down created some weird shadows and I could see fellow soldiers dashing around looking for their foxholes. I thought I saw John Wayne and laughed at myself for having such thoughts. I was in my foxhole by myself waiting for the order to return fire.
I heard someone (loud whisper) call my name. I thought I was hearing things. I heard it again.
"Where are you?"
"I'm over here."
"Don't shoot, I'm coming over."
I heard someone crawling toward me and he dove into my foxhole head first.
It was my sergeant. He low-crawled to my foxhole (because as the gunner on the base gun, I had the phone to the Command Post).
It was about this time when the CP called and said this was only a test exercise on the part of the infantry units. They forgot to give us advance warning.
I asked the sergeant if he actually low crawled all the way from the CP (about 50 yards). He said yes and we busted out laughing. The top sergeant hollered at us and told us to shut up.
From that time on, the sergeant was known as "Low Crawl."
A couple of days later, we received orders for our first mission.
We loaded the howitzers and equipment to our prime movers, 2-1/2-ton trucks (deuce and a half) and convoyed through a jungle. The guy in charge of the M-60 machine gun had it dragged from his hands by a low-hanging tree limb. I grabbed it as it almost hit me. I traded my M-16 for the M-60.
A little further down the road, near the front of the convoy a shot rang out. A possible ambush. I don't know how, but I ended up sitting on the side of the road with the M-60 ready to fire. Of course the whole convoy halted until it was determined that someone just got nervous and accidentally fired a round.
After getting through the jungle and a banana plantation, we stopped and set up our howitzers near a cemetery.
We enjoyed some C-rations, then set up listening posts. I traded the M-60 back for my M-16.
That night, I was laying on my back when I heard what sounded like someone running through the bushes. I rolled over and assumed a prone firing position when I heard someone yelling "Stop, Stop, or I'll shoot." I held my fire as a dog came running out of the bushes and disappeared.
There was a group sigh of relief and a few nervous chuckles.
Next day, we continued to our destination. It took most of the day but we finally arrived late in the afternoon. Along the way, we crossed a wooden bridge. We found out later that the bridge had been mined.
After setting up our howitzers, we enjoyed a hot meal, thanks to our cooks.
We put red and blue lights on our aiming posts and settled down for the night. The infantry provided the listening posts so we enjoyed a little sleep.
The next morning I was up early, dawn before sunrise. In the distance, I could see that a firefight was going on or was it test firing? Not sure, but tracers were flying all over the horizon. It was quit a sight to see.
After a cold c-ration breakfast, the Captain sent word for me to report to the CP.
He informed me that my son, William H. Howell, Jr., had passed away on January 22, 1967.
I was granted emergency leave and a helicopter arrived soon to transport me back to base camp for necessary paperwork for my trip back to Pawnee.
The helicopter was small and was used by forward observers. As we left the fire base, we went straight up for several hundred feet, out of range for any small arms fire, then headed for Bearcat. That was quite a ride.
At Bearcat, the battery clerk and I secured a jeep and we drove to Saigon's Tan Son Nhat International Airport where I caught a flight back to the States. I was out in the boondocks in the morning and flying back to the states that evening.
It was culture shock upon arriving in Vietnam three weeks earlier and culture shock on driving through Saigon on our way to the airport.
On our way to Saigon, we passed by Long Binh (approximately 16 miles from Bearcat), which would become the reception/replacement center for servicemen arriving in and departing from Vietnam. It was also a major ammo depot.
One night, while at a listening post, we heard a big airliner in the distance. It sounded like it was coming in for a landing, headed toward Long Binh. The military air base, Bien Hoa, was a few miles further down the road.
The lights were turned off and the power cut back and we could actually see a silhouette of the airliner and it appeared to be landing on top of us. All of a sudden, the engines roared to life and the lights on the airliner came on and it climbed back into the night sky.
I returned to Vietnam in late February.
Getting back to Vietnam was another adventure. We left Travis Air Force Base. About 30 minutes out over the Pacific ocean, the four prop transport had to turn around because of engine problems and we landed in Oakland. We spent the night there then took off again the next morning. We made it to Hawaii where we refueled and we were off again. We went island hopping the rest of the way. Stopped at Wake Island, then the Philippines. Talk about some GIs happy to get to Vietnam.
We landed at Bien Hoa Air Base, then were bussed to Long Binh. Most of the soldiers were replacements and had to process through Long Binh before reporting to their duty stations.
They said I would have to wait until the next day for a transport to Bearcat. I asked if I could look for a ride to Bearcat since I was returning from leave. They said that if could find a ride then I was free to go. I stepped out of the compound and hitch-hiked. It didn't take long. A truck stopped and took me all the way to my unit at Bearcat.
What a change! The camp was all spruced up and the tents were what we called web tops with wooden floors.
The next four months were spend out on operations, up to War Zone 3, Tay Ninh Province, near the Black Virgin Mountain and other places.
Up by the mountain, which is next to Cambodia, we spent a few days.
We were unloading our gear when a tank, coming through the area, hit a land mine. I was on top of the truck unloading equipment and had just jumped off the other side at that instant. The shrapnel hit the side of the truck. Talk about lucky.
However, one of our men who was working on a gun got hit. There was a "dust off" as the helicopter took him to the hospital. We heard later that he was transported back to the states for further treatment.
We received "march order" one day. We packed our gear, emptied our sandbags, filled in our bunkers. and prepared to move. Then we sat and waited for our orders to move. "Cancel march order" was our next command as it was getting dark.
We unloaded our trucks and set up our guns again, but didn't have enough time to rebuild our bunkers. That's when the mortars started. They were walking them toward us. Then they stopped. What a relief.
After a sleepless night, we received "march order" again. This time, we hooked up harnesses to the howitzers and those big Chinook helicopters came and transported us to our next fire base, north of the Black Virgin Mountain.
After we set up our guns, the trucks finally arrived with all our equipment.
The monsoons came while we were there. There wasn't a dry place to be found.
After a couple of weeks there, we returned to Bearcat for a little down time.
There were operations just about every week. One week, we were stationed at Bien Hoa Air base for security.
After couple more operations, I received orders that my next duty station would be at Dong Tam with the 3rd of the 34th artillery in the Mekong Delta.
Because a lot of replacements were arriving, a bunch of us old-timers from the 1/11th were being re-assigned to different units at that time.
We read the Stars & Stripes newspaper and were aware of what was going on in the Delta. I dreaded the reassignment. Once in the Delta, it seemed that all was quiet and the fighting was going on at the place I had just left.
We had a little air strip at Bearcat and I hitched a ride to Dong Tam on a small cargo aircraft. You know, one of those kind that are supposed to take off and land within 300 feet.
After about 30 minutes in the air, we arrived at the Dong Tam airstrip. First try, we were coming down too fast so the pilot stepped on the gas and we went back up in the air and I could see the trees as we just missed them. The second try, we landed successfully and I was out of that aircraft in a hurry. That was a 300 foot runway.
After reporting in to unit headquarters, I was sent to some bunkers down by the river, where the members of the 34th stayed. The 34th was out on a mission and a Navy boat would transport me to their fire base the next day. The boat was a LCM.
It took about four hours to reach the 34th. The barges with the guns were anchored against the bank of the river.
Upon reporting in I was assigned to the base gun since I was a gunner. It didn't take too long to figure out that we had a problem. Two gunners. Since I was the lowest ranking person on the gun, I became the ammo guy. That was okay with me.
We were still in the learning phase of firing howitzers from a barge on the river. We also had to deal with the tide waters of the South China Sea which affected the accuracy of the howitzers.
The top sergeant assigned me to the radio phone. My job was to relay fire directions from the Fire Direction Center (on another LCM) to the guns in the battery.
I also had to string commo wire from FDC to the each of the guns. With two guns on each barge, space was at a premium. Our sleeping quarters were in the center of the barge between the guns.
We built a small shelter to be placed on the bank of the river near the rice paddies. Ammo boxes were used for the floor, chair and table for the radio phone. We were learning.
One evening, the infantry brought in a couple of captives and set them outside my shelter in the rice paddy. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night. Of course, the infantry kept a guard on them all night, but that still didn't make me feel comfortable.
We later trashed the shelter idea and we set up the radio phone in the sleeping quarters. The problem with this was I couldn't move when the howitzer was firing over my head. The concussion from the guns ruined my ears. Yes, we had earplugs, but it was kind of hard to hear the firing commands from FDC, then relay the commands to the guns.
As time went by on different missions, my duties seemed to increase.
Throughout AIT at Fort Riley, we were taught that each gunner kept the log book for his particular gun up to date, everyday. Maintenance, number of rounds through the tube, at what charge, ammo count, fuse count. All of this information was used to calculate how long the tube would last under combat conditions.
Before I left the unit, I was updating the log books for all six howitzers in our battery.
Ammo count was important because we had to know what our supply was at all times.
One time, around Thanksgiving 1967, we provided fire support for over 24 hours for an infantry unit out in the jungle that was under attack. The battle was only a few miles from where our barges were and we could hear all the racket. Gunships (Air Force) were flying low and we could see the mini-guns in action. We were re-supplied by big Navy helicopters throughout the operation. They looked like flying cranes. They would drop the bundles of ammo in the rice paddies, as close to the guns as possible and everyone who wasn't firing would break each bundle open and haul the rounds to the guns that were being re-supplied.
Each 105mm round weighed 50-pounds and a box included two rounds. Carrying a box was clumsy, so we broke the boxes open and carried two rounds at a time on our shoulders, sometimes four, through the muddy rice paddies and across shaky gang planks to the barge.
The mud we tracked onto the barge was quickly washed away with a bucket of river water.
I was sent back to Dong Tam where I received my orders to report to Bearcat to retrieve my duffel bag that had been stored and for transportation to Bien Hoa air base for my flight back to the world.
While at Bearcat, a friend and I went visiting other friends in another unit. The sun was going down as we approached from the east. I thought the silhouette of a soldier appeared familiar. It happened to be a fellow student from Chilocco and he had only been in country for a couple of weeks. We visited and that's the last time I would see him. He passed away at age 36 at a VA hospital.
As the Freedom Bird took off, I could see white puffs of smoke (white phosphorus marking rounds for the artillery) in the distance. Next thing I knew we were leaving Japan, and I slept all the way to San Francisco.
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A Short Story
By George Joe