“Greg Sloat & Rick Lillie Killed But Not In Action” Tanka 2265


(February 10, 2019)

one year every now

greg and rick found no more

fell out of the sky

they saved my life with their own

on Lam Son Seven-Nineteen!*

*(Rick Lillie and Greg Sloat, both Marine Combat Correspondents – Rick a writer/photographer and Greg a photographer – came through my awareness separately in 1970 in Vietnam. Greg, in the field: a competent and taciturn though easy-to-smile big man who did his job and kept his own counsel. Rick passed my less-than-sober path at An Hoa Combat Base at the edges of Arizona Territory, a much-disputed patch of land South and West of Danang, home of our then-termed Public affairs outfit with the First Marine Division. I was curing my case of continuing cowardice with copious infusions of ill-gotten Budweiser and other amendments. Rick was induced to join the merriment at my formerly solitary squalid Fifth Marine Regimental Press Center. I got him drunk and with the help of a fellow from the adjoining sea-hut with a tent top patching the holes in the tin roof when one of our own “tubes,” this time a 175-mm big gun flat wore itself out and exploded just after passing the last round ever it would fire, the resulting shrapnel penetrating many local neighborhoods. Hence, the tarp of tent. And it scared unholy not-Jesus out of my press center’s major-domo, the largest, grayest Norwegian rat ever on record. It lived in the rafters of my hootch, perched on a lower stringer and watched Armed Forces Vietnam television day and night when not occupying itself with scavenging conveniently half- or not-at-all eaten c-ration chow from always opened tins placed in a pile just outside the hatch (door) to my abode in a topless bunker dugout (in case of enemy rocket fire which before I was evicted from my Seventh Marine Regimental home in the Que Son Valley where I’d come to think of as “home.” So, to give me something to do, I unbuttoned Rick’s jungle cammies blouse (Marines call any shirt or coat a blouse. Don’t ask me why: maybe Archie Henderson was a crossdresser back during the First and Second Seminole Wars where the then-Major Commandant of the entire U. S. Marine Crotch left but a lame senior sergeant to answer the mail and hied the whole shebang hence to Florida’s Everglades, which in those days almost touched Lake Eola – I deficate you not! I then opened a pair of cans of peanut butter and fake yellow cheese spread and applied each to the good sergeant’s now-nekkid chest area. He was drunk enough not to notice. But, eventually, Felix The Rat found the enticement too good to just sit and stare at meaningless Marine – and other branches’ – clean-and-sober television hosts announce the not-news, so our good buddy hopped on down and crawled slowly is way to breakfast. He loved the unique combination of peanut butter and cheese. He chittered low-ranged enough on the meter for me to hear and I went back to my beer. Then, suddenly, I was wakened from my ambulatory stupor with this shout and sound of a large weight being thrust to the deck. It was Rick. He came off the floor (deck) in a rush, found his chest all a-mess with unnatural substances – possibly even scared-Rat poop. Felix was contributing to the commotion. Rick glared at us both and grabbed the proffered green towel – personally in those days I had taken to using a faded pink terrycloth towel to drape over my shoulders and neck. I still wore a bright red, yellow, black and blue-flecked sweatband woven through the faux shotgun shell bands stitched into the upper bands of my combat bush hat. Sergeant Lillie was less than composed and discourteous to me and I told him he hadn’t ought to take out his ire on a lowly Lance Corporal like that. Snuffies’ Union might take up the matter at our next – which would be our first if ever we had one – meeting. I handed Rick a brand new tee shirt – green, of course – and extra-large cammy blouse and moments later a beer and a triple shot of Jack (Daniels) and he simmered down to a slow smolder. Soon thereafter Rick wend his way out of the Division to take up time at The First Marine Air Wing. I had wrangled a new assignment as senior Sergeant in the Ward of Patients in 8-West (the surgery ward) of Jacksonville Naval Hospital just after my 30-day survivors leave – not counted as annual leave – and spent a pleasant end-of-January in a semi-private hospital room, complete with two small trashcans, both filled with ice inside a thick plastic liner, custom cut, into which half a case of canned beer sat. All was going swimmingly until next mail call sometime early if February. Stoney Merriman’s second letter to me came with the news. After Operation Lam Son 719, a Vietnamese Army operation launched into Laos from the former Marine combat base called Khe Sanh, Greg and Rick were flying back in a helicopter from that legendary outpost and somewhere near Hue City the chopper came down and all aboard were killed on impact. No auto-rotation, no word on enemy fire, no word on anything but Rick and Greg were dead. For the second time in a couple of months all USMC writers and photographers were pulled out of the field – we called it The Bush – and returned to DaNang to do what? Hell. I dunno. Mourn? Word when I got hit – the first in more than a year – everyone pulled back to DaNang because almost all of us then there were “short” as the division was already begun rotating men and units back to Okinawa and later California. It took years before I found out how Rick and Greg bought their individual farms. And, so, with but two more years to go to the fiftieth anniversary of two more Marines reporting to brothel-guard duty right inside Peter’s pearly gates, I will take some time to find an appropriate “Slop Chute” and find the worst swill possible to toast those two guys, and once again apologize to Felix for sic’ing Rick Lillie on that poor large not-mouse.)

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