From 33,000 American Airlines feet high Gary Andersen wondered what he was getting into. It was 37 years since Bill Friese – say Freez-e – and he had seen one another. In Nam Friese (Freez- e) was Gary’s Marine Corps Commanding Officer for a while. They became friends and shared an R&R in Sydney. Gary Andersen grew to like and respect Bill Friese – a lot. A few years later they re-connected on a Christmas eve in a bar in Sheboygan, Wisconsin largely by happenstance. In their 20s then they discovered they were living about six Lake Shore Drive miles apart along Chicago’s north side, each in his own bachelor pad. A lot of golf, Cubs games, mini skirt and hot pants chasing and more than once a beer or three too many defined a rekindled, warm, open honest and fun friendship. Then Bill procured a job promotion and moved to New York City. In a few years he collected a bride and soon fell off the proverbial radar. The sky around the plane was pure blue. The snow-capped Rockies glistened below. No problem what he was getting into Gary decided. Leopards don’t change their spots. Bill Friese is a class act. Ultimately a Marine corporal but long a civilian Gary Andersen knew where he was going. And why. Then he hoped he’d measure up.
Gary thought back to the afternoon they met. When Second Lieutenant Friese reported to the S-1 tent, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines he was the only one there. ‘Dagwood’, they called him that, was on a perimeter patrol. ‘Spindles’ was the casualty clerk and accompanying two battalion KIAs from the night before to the morgue in Danang. ‘Magilla Gorilla’ was humping mortar plates for a 60mm crew. Gary was ‘Juice’ since grade school and it was his week for front line nighttime guard duty, claymores included. Staff Sergeant Salas was likely on a beer runs so Gary had a clue how to find him. Lt. Tyson didn’t too regularly report to Juice so
GRAY/ BROTHERHOOD REVIVED2
beyond a quick look into his and Lt. Moore’s tent, on the way, he had no clue.
Every day was hot, almost 100, so the tent’s side flaps were up. Because of the constant hot winds coarse red grains of dirt filled every nook and cranny – and human crevice. The office and everything in it was permanently caked in balls of red crud. No amount of housekeeping could change it. Around sunset big refreshing rains poured down, some with booming thunderstorms, and washed the grit off and out of the crevices. It was a joy to strip naked, spread the cheeks and moon the pouring clouds. Then came the mud, a blessing because it caked itself into the skin and offered good camouflage and mosquito protection. If it was a quiet night by o-eight or o-nine hundred the next morning the new day’s sweat washed away the mud and the process started over.
Lieutenant Friese made an immediate impression on Gary Andersen. Wearing crisp utilities and cover, shined boots and brown bars gleaming – he was clean. “I’m reporting for duty,” he announced when their eyes met. “Who do I see? And who are you?”
“Welcome to Quang Tri province, sir,” Gary replied. “From a high enough hill you’ll see across the DMZ and into North Vietnam.”
“And you are?”
“PFC Andersen,” Gary answered, proud of his recent promotion, “battalion orders clerk, sir. You’ll need to see Staff Sergeant Salas or Lieutenant Tyson. Please give me a moment to find one of them. Sir.”
Then Friese made a second great impression. “Thank you Andersen,” he said plopping his stuffed sea bag onto the tent’s crusty dirt floor and reaching out to shake a PFC’s hand.
“Please, make yourself comfortable, sir” and Gary was off.
A locked and loaded M-16 in hand and six full magazines on his utility belt orders clerk Andersen went up the road as far as he dared – mines – where Sergeant Salas would come from, boldly driving a mule through NVA country with wonderful delicious refreshing 98 degree beer, the current temperature. Black Label, six cases, it was. PFC Andersen was proud of himself. He had Sgt. Salas back to S-1 to meet Lieutenant Friese in, say, 20 minutes. Friese rose when Salas
and Gary entered the grimy tent. Introducing himself, he shook hands with Manny.
“I’ll get you introduced to our XO” Sgt. Salas said taking the lieutenant’s service records and orders. He glanced at Gary. “Be ready to escort the lieutenant to the S-2 tent,” or holy bunker, where Major Fredrick W. Lucy generally hung out.
“Who is the CO?” Friese asked.
“Lieutenant Colonel J. W. P. Robertson,” Sergeant Salas answered, without that requisite ‘sir’ Gary noted. “He likes to be with the troops in the field. To command the battalion. Please give me a few minutes to process your orders and service record.” Then he turned to Gary. Again, “Be ready.”
On their way Lieutenant Friese asked Andersen where he was from.
“You’re a Bears fan?”
“Well, I’m from Wisconsin and a Packer fan. I bet we’ll get along anyhow.”
“Yes sir, it’s a great rivalry.”
“How long have you been here?” the lieutenant asked.
“Just three or four weeks,” Juice answered dropping the sir.
S-2 was as gritty and dirty as S-1, plus S-3 and S-4 and every place else. Major Lucy looked like the tropics, or maybe the stress of being a Marine Corps combat XO in a fighting infantry battalion with no clue what to do overwhelmed him. PFC Andersen introduced the two and wished the lieutenant luck. He asked the major, “Anything else?”
Ninety minutes later in the S-1 tent and on his reliable gritty Remington PFC Gary Andersen typed the orders officially assigning 2nd Lt William P. Friese/0102643 to India Company. He ran off extra copies on his treasured ditto machine.
Over the incredible Grand Canyon Gary’s mind changed gears. Nine months earlier he reconnected with Kyle Dewald, still a true blue Texan from Amarillo, but now living 650 long Texas miles south in sparsely populated country. They met at the Shell station in little Mathis, Texas, inland from ‘Corpus’. Gary recalled wondering as he made the five-hour drive south from Houston what he was getting into then? He also noted the dots on the map where a lot further apart than those in Illinois. Who was he going to see? To meet? How would it go? Meeting with Kyle proved great. He stood tall and erect, was clean and well groomed, polite, friendly and gracious. And proud. After a Mexican accented lunch they toured little Mathis in Kyle’s nice new Dodge pickup, visited his pet longhorns, met a couple of town folks and then parked in Kyle’s waterfront yard, boat and pier equipped. He raised warrens of rabbits. Gary wondered whether for cuddling or Saturday’s stew. But never asked. And Kyle never said. His house was clean, simply furnished, functional, comfortable. It was Just one floor, it a few feet up from the earth itself. Pretty rural – if you are from Chicago. Two or three times Kyle pointed out he liked camping, fishing and hunting. He lived alone except for a pet Daschund. Tucked into a nook was an HO gauge model railroad layout and from one wall hung Kyle’s Marine Corps honorable discharge along with his ribbons and a few photographs. Rifles were mounted on a couple of the walls.
Both about 6’3” Kyle and Gary lined up next to one another in the third squad, platoon 333, MCRD, San Diego from February to April, 1968. Byron Anderson was their excellent squad leader. Then they were off to Camp Pendleton Basic Infantry Training and Advanced Infantry Training, home for the traditional boot camp pre-war leaves and back to the same staging battalion for the latest in pre-war exercises and strategy. They rode the same World Airways 707 from El Toro to Hawaii to Okinawa. Then another to Danang and the same C-130 from Danang to Dong Ha. Where Kyle and Gary and their seabags were deposited along the air strip’s side bunker. A jeep will be here for you in the morning a crewman advised and was then gone, back into the safer sky.
Too often Gary and Kyle welcomed themselves to the DMZ as that long night passed amid booming artillery salvos and ravenous mosquitoes raids. In the morning a jeep with a 2-man crew arrived, one extra well-armed. They took the
two of them and two other Marines, who’d been at the Dong Ha strip for two nights, and all their gear, six miles south to Quang Tri. All were 0311 grunts. The six miles south meant out of range from North Vietnam based artillery. Who didn’t think of this in the first place? When the jeep pulled up to a red dirt crusted landscape of tents and bunkers and trenches and razor wire the four reported for duty and turned their orders and service records over to the first clerk they saw. After but a few quick minutes Staff Sergeant Manny Salas, whom Juice instantly liked, emerged from the S-1 tent. “Everyone’s going to India Company except Andersen,” he announced very matter-of-factly. “I need a clerk and he knows how to type.” It was 31 July 1968. And the last time Gary saw Private Kyle O. Dewald/2403638 for forty-five years and six months, or until their reunion in Mathus.
Six or eight weeks after they arrived in Nam Typhoon Betsy roared through and stopped all semblances of war for three days of soaking wet but clean and mosquito free bliss. A couple of days later Kyle stepped on a land mine and was horribly, terribly wounded. It hurt Gary to type the orders sending him to the Navy hospital in Yokohama, Japan. In giant ways Kyle did what God couldn’t. He mentally mentored Gary through a lot of boot camp and training trauma, which was beyond precious. Kyle was a very special person.
After typing and distributing the hospital orders PFC Andersen knew nothing about Kyle’s fate other than India Company shipped his known possessions to his folks, brother and sister. Thirteen months later Gary was released from active duty and on his way from Chicago to Sydney with stops in Vegas, LA, Tahiti and New Zealand along the way. He stopped his rip roaring Olds Toronado for breakfast at a big, busy restaurant on a Sunday morning in Amarillo along US 66. He mentioned to the pretty waitress he was a Marine and had been friends with Kyle Dewald. She smiled, “Oh that’s great. We all loved Kyle. Give me a minute” and she scurried off. Gary heard that past tense – loved.
“Welcome,” in but a few minutes a big tall gentleman at least twice Gary’s age beamed, his hand extended. “You knew, you served with Kyle?” This man was all cowboy, all rancher. He wore an impressive Stetson hat, fancy string tie, flashy ornate jacket, shirt and pants ensemble, shiny black boots. He voice was friendly. After a simple nod he asked Gary to accompany him. In an adjoining dining room Mr. Rancher introduced Gary to Mrs. Dewald, Kyle’s mother! Without a lot of elaboration Gary learned Kyle had been over a year in hospitals but was pretty
much doing alright. “He’s working in ‘Corpus’, in the engineering department,” she said referring Texas-style to Corpus Christi. “He’s adjusting. He’s gonna be okay.” Mom wrote out Kyle’s address and phone number. In an adorable panhandle drawl she added “Why, I just know he’d love to hear from you.” Gary Andersen was awestruck. He thought Kyle was dead. What were the odds of this happening? In a quiet, determined voice, “Yes, ma’am, he will.” Then, “Kyle was special.” About a month later Gary Andersen was settled into the first ever place of his own, a Darlinghurst flat on Crown Street, a long walking mile from downtown Sydney. In a few weeks he would be 21. He was within walking distance of his hotel job, close to Hyde Park and lascivious Kings Cross. He could see the mighty Harbour Bridge. Legendary Bondi Beach was but a double decker bus ride away. Gary wrote a brief airmail letter to Kyle. Three weeks later a brief reply came back. They have been in touch ever since via old fashioned snail mail, long distance calls, Christmas cards and short letters and postcards to now-a-day’s email, texting and cell phones albeit sometimes a year apart.
Kyle opened up about his Vietnam experience. “We were always hungry,” he said about India Company, 3/26 memories. No food but what we could forage. One afternoon”, he told Juice, “we ventured into a village where the women were taking turns stirring a huge black iron pot of white rice hung above a pile of sizzling rocks and burning sticks. No doubt the evening meal for the hamlet. We were gonna get our share. Someone threw a grenade into the river, it exploded and dead fished surfaced. Little children jumped into the murky water to collect them. After they piled the day’s catch into a heap on the ground a woman smashed them into bits of flesh, bones, scales, dirt and guts with a hoe. And then tossed the whole mess into the boiling rice. To this day,” Kyle professed “I don’ t eat white rice.”
He also mentioned a humorous instance, in a military sense. “We were assigned to guard an army unit. It was good duty. They had food and beer. And shared it with us—
“--Wait a minute,” Juice interrupted. “Guarding the army? They can’t do it themselves?”
“Hell,” Kyle answered, “how would I know? I was a private. But it was good. We got to eat real food once a day and enjoy some beer.”
“Did you smoke pot?” Gary interrupted.
“Didn’t you?’ he shot back and got right back to his story, “Maybe not a shot was fired the whole time. Nice duty. I remember a Jefferson Airplane song from the radio too. We had one to listen to there. When it was time to go our lieutenant mentioned it would be nice to have some beer. “See if we can buy some, he said, offering a generous five buck MPC contribution. So we went to the doggies. Could we please buy some beer? They said no, their beer was not for sale.”
When we told this to the lieutenant he snapped. “I told you to get some beer. Get it.”
“Well, ‘aye aye sir’. We went back locked and loaded, politely trespassed and took every last case. I think it was Pabst Blue Ribbon and some of it was cold. Which we drank quick.”
Gary howled when Kyle mentioned the ants. He knew. “Those little red whore bastards. You’re a grunt,” Kyle said point blank, “and you live and sleep real close to the ground. Sometimes even in it. When you had to hit the deck, you did without picking a nice dainty spot. Those biting, swarming, teeming ugly little shit mongers were the worst thing that could happen. If you landed in an ant hill or on an ant trail you were screwed.” Let me explain he went on in his soft, slow deliberate Texas drawl, “it don’t matter how hard it rains, how many putrid rice paddies you slosh through, how many leech infested stinky jungle streams you cross. All the mosquitoes and leeches and spiders combined are no match for the ants. Crawling all over you, day and night, and biting to the tune of a hundred pin pricks a minute everywhere on you. Shit, you got ants. If you fell asleep and they found you, you were new, fresh meat. They went straight for the face and into the nose, mouth, ears and swarming all over your eyes. Those little shits. Then maybe a week later the last of the little bastards finally gorged himself on too much of you and fell off dead. Peace. Until the next time.”
“Do you remember the lieutenant’s name?” Andersen asked. Anything about him? Maybe your platoon sergeant’s name?”
“Nope. My mind has blocked a lot of things out.”
The 737 began its descent. The intercom crackled. The flight was 30 minutes
Copyright 2016 Gary Andersen