USMC, 1st Radio Battalion, Vietnam Veterans

Stories - LZ Stud - Vandegrift Combat Base

  1. Chuck Truitt - Beans 'N Balls - July, 1969
  2. Chuck Truitt - Greek and the Scorpion - July, 1969
  3. Chuck Truitt - Greek and the Proboscis Bug - August, 1969

Chuck Truitt - Beans 'n Balls - July, 1969
"Beans 'n Balls" There are two Marine chow halls that will always have an inexpungible mark in my mind. The first is the Camp Geiger chow hall by Camp Lejeune, NC in 1967; I'll never forget the car tires around the rims of the trash cans for banging the food off the stainless steel trays. Those tires had green stuff growing on them and hanging down off of the sides of the tires for about an inch or two. With all the Marines walking around, working and eating, there were several rats that had grown bold enough to scurry around right there in the open. The second, but most famous chow hall to my memory is the 4th Marines chow hall at VCB (Vandegrift Combat Base) "downsouth" in "da Nam." It was also called Stud because before it was a combat base it was just an LZ named Stud, and it was between Khe Sanh, and The Rockpile.

M my very first memory of Stud is on the road (Hwy 9) as we were first approaching having turned south at the Rockpile. There were several birds in the air, and one was a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter flying over us on towards Stud just up ahead. The most interesting thing about that bird - and foreboding too - was that it had an external net hanging from underneath. The net was full of bodies, with arms and legs hanging out, and they were Marines from the 4th Marine Regiment.

Just after entering the outer perimeter, seems like we made a right, crossed a stream and went up the side of the mountain just a little ways to the 1st Radio Battalion Compound which was to be my home for the next 5 or 6 weeks.

For the 1st Rad Bn guys chow there was often a choice; either C-rations, or we had access to the 4th Marine Regimental Chow Hall. Most of the time we ate C's. Periodically, we'd jump into the back of our two and a half ton (deuce and a half), also called a "multi-fueler," or a 6X6 which was shortened to 6by; so a "multi-fueler," a "deuce and a half," and a 6by all referred to the same vehicle. We'd make a little trip down and across the stream, turn south towards the LZ for a little ways, then right back across the stream and up a little bit to the chow hall. Seems like up just a little farther was the Battalion Aid Station (BAS). My first remembrance of the chow hall was noteworthy. It was an all wooden building, painted green, of course. It had a high roof, unlike any other construction in the area. Upon first entering from the bright light it seemed dark until the eyes adjusted. It was a smoke filled room with very many little shafts of light streaming in from all the shrapnel holes. Moving in line to get my chow, I got everything that I could get (I left for Vietnam at 165', and I left Vietnam at 145'), as I had a very rapid metabolism, and "I ate like a horse." But, all I could get was a paper napkin (imagine that in Nam, a paper napkin?), and a plastic knife. There were no paper plates, nor any other kind of plastic utensils of any kind. The only food was a big piece of meat that the messman dressed in white was slicing off for each man as we passed before him. And, that was the usual. I never remember one time when we got a complete meal, accouterments and all. It was often just plastic spoons, paper plates, and one course of food. I remember once the only thing they had was plastic forks, paper cups, and string beans. So that was the reason the guys just ate C's!

Ah yes, the C's - there's only 12 of them you know - 4 of them are inedible, which leaves 8. Now of the different edible C-rations, 4 of them have to be eaten in bright sunlight, so that you can see just exactly what you're getting. I remember one time, I think it was at Stud, but maybe FSB Fuller, when I was in the darkness of a bunker. Someone had popped the band, maybe it was Gunny Longstreet, and hands quickly scarfed up the choice meals. I ended up with spaghetti, not my favorite. After scooping up a big spoonful of, what else?, spaghetti - or so I thought - I put into my mouth something thick and very slimy. Immediately I gagged, and right back out it came. And, then there were seven - edible meals that is - and I'd only been there a couple weeks.

From the C-rations, some of the stuff we'd get was amazing; a few of the cases were dated back to the Korean War. I quickly started sticking to Beans 'n Balls (beans w/meatballs in tomato sauce) it was safe! and edible too.

So there it was! Beans 'n Balls for breakfast, Beans 'n Balls for lunch, and Beans 'n Balls for dinner. I became a quick study of The Gunny, and as soon as a case was opened my hand shot like a flash for those Beans 'n Balls. Week after week it was Beans 'n Balls for every meal, unless I messed up. "The early bird get's the worm," you know.

And then it happened! Everything was going along just copasetic for several weeks, maybe 6 weeks, when I popped open a can of Beans 'n Balls and it had a bad odor, so I went to something else. Then the next meal / next can of Beans 'n Balls smelled bad too, and every single can of Beans 'n Balls the whole rest of my time "down south" just about gagged me to smell it. And now, I was down to 6 edible C-rats, and I still had a lot of time left in-country. Di Dah, Di Da Dit

Chuck Truitt - Greek and the Scorpion - July, 1969
After a couple days in Danang, I was sent to VCB (Vandergrift Combat Base).  Seems like Capt. Eckman was the OIC there.  It was all interesting heading up there via 6-by, thru the Hai Van pass, and on up past Phu Bai, past Dong Ha, the Vin Dai crusher (Sea Bees, 3rd Tanks (Oh Yeah, there is a good story here too, but later)) Past Camp Carrol, FSB Fuller, the Rockpile, and on down into VCB.  We were locked and loaded west of Dong Ha, but only fired on a wild boar, which the whole convoy opened up on.         

At VCB the 1st Radio Bn area was on the side of a hill to the right just after entering.  It seems like the  Ops Bunker was right next to our living bunker.  Someone had made sleeping racks, about two, or three high up against the walls of the bunker.  They were like bunk beds, but just ply wood, and we slept on "rubber ladies" with a poncho liner.  I can't remember using mosquito nets there, but we sure did later when I was in An Hoa.  Regardless, there were a whole bunch of bugs, of many different varieties, both recognizable and many that were unknown.  I'll never forget the scorpions; there were lots of them.  I believe "The Greek", Bob Hrisoulis arrived there just a few days before I did, maybe a week before, but not much.  His magnetic personality caused him to be very much accepted and liked by everyone else, and he was like an old hand there already, it took me awhile longer.  Seems like he had the sleeping rack next to mine, but on the bottom, but we became fast friends.         

One time he started yelling about a bug crawling on him and then he yelled "it's a scorpion" as he scrambled to the floor. About that time everyone got into the action by watching, or actively taking part in disposing of the pest, and seems like we all were wearing just shorts, because of the heat.  Greek started crawling on the floor under the rack amongst the boots, at the same time one of the other guys started shaking Greek's "rubber lady" and poncho liner on his rack. About that time the scorpion fell onto Greek's bare back and he nearly ended his tour right then and there.  He wasn't stung, but he sure made a big fuss; I thought we were about to have a fight.  The whole bunch of guys thought it was hilarious.  That is, everyone but "The Greek." top  

Chuck Truitt - Greek and the Proboscis Bug - August, 1969
Did you ever notice the fact that bugs do really well in warm weather? The month of August, 1969 was a great month for bugs at Vandergrift Combat Base (VCB) there in the Northwest corner of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam). Practically all of us 1st Radio Battalion Marines (1st RadBn or 1st RagBag) filled sandbags. Palmer (just can't remember his first name), Bob "The Greek" Hrisoulis, and myself were kind of a team; we seemed to work well together. At VCB there was always a need for more sandbags. That's one thing that there is never enough of in a combat zone, sandbags. We filled sand bags from the ubiquitous supply of empty ones that were always available. Though it was a never ending chore, the motivation factor for more sand bags was high. Day after day in August we filled sandbags, with that red dirt, in that unbelievable heat.

I was more used to the heat than most of those guys, since I grew up in South Florida. Shoot, I had never even seen snow, except at the movies, or on TV. Once a couple years earlier, about November 1967, I had to "police" the outdoor theater at Camp Geiger, Camp Lejeune, NC while there for infantry training (ITR). It was about 0700 Saturday morning and several of us were doing a general policing up of the area from the folks who had used the theater the evening before. I yelled out, "hey you guys, look at this, you gotta see this, somebody threw this cup down and it's still got ice in it from last night!" The rest of those guys thought I was crazy or something, "Truitt, you're an idiot!"

Though the heat was certainly nothing new to me, it sure was hot at VCB in August. One day the Skipper (Captain Eckman) came out and told us to "knock off filling the sand bags" because the thermometer was reading 127 degrees.

I was exactly 6' tall, and weighed 165 lbs a few weeks earlier when I first arrived "Down South" in "Da Nam." The heat and lack of abundantly fine home-cooked meals (Linda's a great cook) was causing me to lose weight rapidly; by the time I left Vietnam a year later my weight was only 145 lbs. It was all due to a rapid metabolism which caused me to need copious amounts of food to maintain my normal body weight. Back in "The World" (slang for America) I often emphasized to the waitress that she could sacrifice quality for quantity. Now in Vietnam, I'ld augment my regular meals, with extra C-ration cans of just about anything that was left over from the other guy's meals. Especially treasured was a Pecan Nut Roll, or a Date Nut Roll. But, I was still losing weight.

At VCB, our operations bunker required electricity so we had two 20kw generators, in the field below, that ran on diesel fuel. The same field where we parked our 6-by, and where we filled our sand bags. With my knack for mechanics, I was a shoo-in for being the "generator guy," (one of my collateral duties). That's alright, I loved it. There was always one cranked up, and making the electrons flow. Every couple days I'ld give one of them a PM, and after a couple weeks I trained The Greek on the generator and he helped me out.

I'll never forget the perpetual smile on the Greek's face, and he had the ability to "clown around" with any and all work; it was his unique ability to make the hardest work into a game, and it seemed like child's play. One evening several of us were sitting in the bunker and playing cards, "Back Alley" which, in Vietnam, was almost exclusively a Marine card game. The bunker being much cooler than about anywhere else (we had a big fan in there to ventilate the thing - remember - we had generators), was our number one place to relax.

As we played cards, we were being buzzed by a fly. For some reason the fly was very irritating and persistent, more so than normally. We were sitting around in shorts, or cutoff cammies, and that fly suddenly landed on Greek's leg just above his knee. Since about six of us were sitting there in a circle, we all saw the fly light on Greek's leg at about the same time. All of a sudden, zoom, zap, then a pronounced "yeow" came from The Greek. We were all transfixed by the strangest bug I've ever seen in my life. A large, spindly bug with big translucent wings, and a long proboscis swooped down and impaled that fly on Greek's leg. The bug's nose went all the way through the fly and stuck into Greek's leg. We all gazed in amazement as the bug fluttered and then took off with the fly.

"Wow, can you believe THAT?" was on every bodies lips. I don't remember what The Greek said, but you can be sure that it was a winner. And, you can be sure that The Greek told that story over, and over again. It's absolutely true, guys. I saw it too.

Greek and I became good friends. He had been raised Greek Orthodox, but it was all just a formality with him. Me, I wasn't raised in any particular religion, but I had gone to a church there in Ft. Lauderdale, where I grew up, because of the good looking girls that were there. Once, when I was about thirteen, there was an evangelist who preached the Gospel, and I received Jesus Christ as my Savior because I knew that I was a sinner, and I definitely didn't want to pay for those sins myself, that would be Hell. I prayed to Jesus and asked him to forgive me, and come into my heart, because I believed that He paid for my sins Himself. Romans 10:8-10 8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

It's not that Christ got caught and was executed. He allowed Himself to be crucified and paid for my sins with his own bloody death. He bled to death you know; he died just like the sacrificial lambs under the knives of the priests. That changed my life! I have never been the same since that time when I was thirteen years old. There have been a lot of times that I didn't act like I was different, but for sure, I've never been the same. I was changed!

Something that I've deeply regretted ever since, is the fact that I never, not even once, told The Greek about the difference trusting in Christ made in my life. Christ shed His blood for me, and I wasn't bold enough to even tell my friend.

Greek and I were split up after we left VCB, but we maintained contact and when I got my orders for Company "B" in Scotland I gladly received them, and took my wife and baby daughter. I was tempted a little to extend for another six months in Nam; The Greek did, but I took my orders and "didi maued" (Vietnamese for 'go fast') out of there.

After my last letter to The Greek in December '70, I didn't hear from him for awhile. Then sometime around the end of February 1971 I received a letter, there in Scotland, from Dave McWatters (Greeks platoon commander) telling me that Bob "The Greek" Hrisoulis was KIA on the 21st of January 1970.

No, I never told The Greek about trusting in Christ, and the change it would make in his life. But, I do know that if he did, at sometime, receive Christ as his Savior, that I'll see my friend, and his electric smile again one day. It will always be on my heart and mind that I never told him when I had the chance. By-the-way, I've learned to be much more bold today, and I try to tell the Gospel as often as I can.

I'll say, "Hey Greek. Remember the time we were playing Back Alley, and that big Proboscis Bug zapped your leg?" Ha! Di Dah, Di Da Dit

Note: Since I'm probably writing a book, this will be the last story in the book! But, I've got several more stories to write. This was awhile writing. I'm very sad that I let my friends down. Both of my friends, Jesus Christ, and The Greek. top