Marcello Barrios, KIA 1969, Licha’s brother-in-law
Encarnación “Chonito” Rodriguez. KIA 1969. He ran against us in XC while at La MIrada High, 1966 grad. Chaug’s buddy
Chaug and I both went into the Army in 1968. Chaug went in a few months after I went in January of 1968. We both attended Fort Ord in NoCal for our basic training then I was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for advanced training in communications while Chaug was sent to Fort Sam Houston, TX, for medic training. It was during my advanced training I met Ralph Fladger, he was from Garden Grove. We quickly became close buddies and got along well and hung out together, both of us being from Cali. We spent almost a year together when it came time for me to enlist for paratrooper school in Georgia. Richard and Chaug had already graduated from jump school so I was the last of us to go to school.
Jump school isn’t for everyone. Its brutal training getting you ready to jump out of a plane. The first jump is probably the scariest for everyone. I don’t remember how many other soldiers are with you when you jump, but it was a bunch, maybe at least 50 at a time. I will never forget my first jump, I was super scared. To begin with, we had to wait a real long time on the ground while they were getting our plane ready for take off. We all just wanted to get it over with, instead we had to sit on the tarmac and wait and wait till they finally called us to get on board. Once we were on board we figured out real quick why it took so long getting our plane ready. On the previous flight of jumpers, one of the soldiers barfed his guts out from nerves, and that triggered a massive puke fest from all of the soldiers on board. Everyone was puking their guts out. And now our plane smelled like crap and we could hardly wait to jump just to rid ourselves of the awful smell. Soon we got the signal light that we were close to the landing zone and we all stood up and turned towards the door at the side of the plane. Where you jump out of the plane, its just a space where the door used to be and you grab the sides and push yourself out and away from the plane. Each crew of jumpers has a “lead” person to show the way out. In my line, I think it was a Captain or Lieutenant, anyway, when he got to the door opening, the Sarge in charge yelled for him to “Go”. But he just froze there, looking down at the ground, guess he was getting cold feet. Sarge yelled again and he still froze up. Finally the Sarge just kicked him in the ass and out he went and we all followed right after. I closed my eyes when I jumped out, but when I felt the tug of the cord open my chute I looked up, saw it open and yelled my butt off. It felt really good to float down and even better when I landed and didn’t mess anything up. One of my buds from Texas didn’t come out very well, heard he shattered both ankles and I never heard from him again.
Upon graduation I was assigned to Fort Bragg, NC, where Richard and Chaug were stationed. Fort Bragg is home to paratroopers and the legendary All American 82nd Airborne Division. We were all in different units but still able to hang out with each other quite a bit when we were off duty. I think I was the first to deploy to Viet Nam followed by Chaug. Richard got orders to Thailand where he would finish out his remaining year. I got to VN in about February or March, Chaug got there a few months later. Each of our commanders spoke to us about being brothers and serving in a combat zone at the same time. The military frowned on it and let us know that one of us could opt out of our tour and go home, but both of us decided to go forward with our tour in Viet Nam. The commanders knew we were both there and where each other was and if something happened they would get ahold of us. After only a few months Chaug was wounded in his foot and his CO had him rest while recuperating. His CO let him get on a chopper and he landed at my base and we got to spend a few days together. My CO let me off guard duty so we could spend time together.
But before all this happened, Chaug was in Oakland, CA, getting ready to board a flight that would take him to Viet Nam. While he was waiting, my buddy from Garden Grove, Ralph, spotted Chaug and knew who he was right away. Ralph knew I had a brother in the Army and guess he just saw the resemblance and knew who he was. So they buddied up and rode the flight together to Asia. They wound up getting assigned to the same unit in the jungles of Quan Loi and Tay Ninh. Pretty weird that first I am stationed with Ralph stateside then Chaug gets stationed with him in the jungles of Asia.
Chaug recovered from his wound and got sent back out with his unit. In August of 1969 his unit came under attack and Chaug was severely wounded while administering aid to his wounded buddies. My CO let me know that Chaug was wounded and was taken to a field hospital in a place called Cu Chi. I got the okay to hitch a chopper ride out to his location so I could spend as much time as I wanted with him. I found him in something similar to what we used to see in the TV series, MASH, a field hospital. There were just bunches of beds filled with wounded troopers all of them covered in red bandages from their blood. It was here that I found Chaug and he let me know that our buddy Ralph died during a rocket attack a month earlier, July 1969. I wound up staying with Chaug till he was out of surgery and danger, then they decided he had to go to Japan for more surgery and recovery before being sent home. I saw him off at the plane that was going to take him to Japan. After that I got a chopper ride back to Quan Loi so I could get his personal things to send back to him. But when I found his personal storage area, all his stuff was already gone. Guess the other guys thought he was going to die so they just took all his stuff without thinking or asking. Chaug was awarded the second highest honor, the Silver Star, for his bravery during the attack which left him wounded.
While Chaug was stationed stateside, before being sent to Nam, he buddied up with a guy named Encarnacion, from La Mirada. Chaug found that he went to La Mirada High, class of 66, and was part of their cross country team. So that meant he had run against us during league, we just didn’t know him then. He would die from combat in September of 69.
Sometime after I got back to my base after Chaug was sent to Japan, I was sitting with some guys from my unit for some chow. A new guy approached us and asked if he could sit with us for chow. Of course we invited him to sit, then he looks at me and asks if I wasn’t with him in Tay Ninh? I tell him no, that was my brother, a medic, and he was wounded severely and just got sent home. Then he begins to tell me how crazy Chaug behaved under fire rescuing his fellow troopers. Chaug was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery during this battle. After the battle was over, this guy decided he couldn’t take being in a hot combat zone, so he re-upped to get out of Tay Ninh. A soldier who re-ups in a combat zone is enlisting for additional time in the military just so they can be removed from a hot combat zone to something not as hostile. So its a trade off in additional time in the Army. And that is how he wound up with my unit, a helicopter unit, the 228th Winged Warriors, 1st Cav. I found out later on that he was assigned as a door gunner on one of our choppers and on the first day out he was shot by enemy ground fire. Never did find out what happened to him or even what his name was
It was finally my turn to finish up my tour and I knew that I was a “short-timer” as a new guy showed up in camp that was to be my replacement. When you see the new guy, you know it’s close to getting out of the jungle, and you want to protect him so he doesn’t get himself killed which would delay your exit. On the way out of Phouc Vinh, I took a chopper to an air base, Bien Hoa, where we would get on a military plane to take us to a big Air Force Base, near Saigon, to fly us out of the country, But while we were getting ready to get out of Bien Hoa, the airbase came under rocket attack and we had to abort our flight out for about two days till the rockets subsided. When it finally came time to get on a real jetliner and into the sky out of the Saigon area, the pilot put on some music for us Cali guys, California Dreaming, by the Mommas and Papas. That got a big cheer from a lot of us once we were in the air.
We would wind up flying into Fort Lewis, WA, before heading to all of our own airports where we lived. Before we touched down in WA, the flight attendant came by and took lunch orders so we would have some chow ready as soon as we hit the ground and marched into the cafeteria on base. Think everyone ordered a burger, fries and a coke. That was a real treat to come back to.
I got a flight to LAX and arrived there with a guy from Long Beach. We both got off together and figured we could hitch a ride with someone to take us out of LAX and into Long Beach. But during these times, soldiers from Viet Nam weren’t very popular and we couldn’t get anyone to give us a ride. Finally a guy driving a limo spotted us looking for a ride and he told us it was his day off and he got to use the limo for his own use, so for some of the little money we had on us, he gave us a lift to Long Beach.
I split up with the guy I rode with when we got to Long Beach and began to walk and tried to hitchhike but with no luck. So I just kept walking from Signal Hill and figured I would just walk all the way home. Somewhere along below the traffic circle in Long Beach, a car pulled up next to me on the street and the guy and his wife asked if I could use a ride. He let me know that his grandson was in the military and he felt sorry for me to see me walking with my duffel bag over my shoulder. They wound up taking me all the way to the Gardens and dropped me off by the city hall area where I walked home from there to surprise Mom as I hadn’t told her when I was coming home