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Dong Tam, A Private Affair

by Marc Levy, 1/7 Cav.

Christmas 1970: a hot meal in a muddy fox hole, a Red Cross goodie bag with a small blue can of WD 40--excellent for cleaning my M16. Thank you, Jesus.

After nine months in the bush, three on fire bases burning shit, an R&R with a Japanese whore who crushed my virginity to rice paper pulp, it was time to head home.

In Bien Hoi I met FNG's I'd shipped over with, now tricked out in fresh khakis, spit shined shoes, polished brass, some with combat ribbons. We talked, waited, then finally boarded the commercial jet back to the world.

The long flight so different from the first, when two hundred men drank, caroused and flirted with slim-hipped stewardesses, sunk into oblivion, then woke to Vietnam. After eighteen hours we landed at Oakland Air Force Base. In groups of fifty we sat in a stuffy room as REMF's debriefed us.

'You got MPC, raise your hand', said a Spec. 4. 'You got MPC, give it here, we'll get you out faster'.

I shit you not, they said that, and took the Military Pay Certificates from eager suckers who waved the flimsy bills above their heads. Of course the REMF's sent it to Nam for kickbacks. "War is a racket," a general once declared.

I got a cheap plane ticket to Jersey. Thank god for the military discount. A high heeled flight attendant stared and smiled at me in my class A's but I was too shocked out to flirt.

The cab home took twenty-five minutes and cost six dollars. I never liked my folks. To this day I carry a photo of my platoon in my wallet. But we said our hello's and my beloved mutt jumped for joy which made me happy. My folks weren't interested in the war, or cared to see my flicks.

'This is my son', they would say to friends and neighbors, 'He's been to Vietnam. He was a medic'. They didn't ask about the startle reflex, the anger, the nightmares, all the shit I carried inside my head. But neither did my pals. It was as if I'd never left.

Thirty days later I reported to Fort Devens to complete my enlistment--but it didn't quite work out. No chip on the shoulder, no attitude problems, no Taxi Driver/Travis Bickle 'Are you talking to me?' psychopathic bravura. I just couldn't handle stateside duty and direct orders.

'Sorry', I said to my new first sergeant. 'I don't pull guard duty'. 'You what?' he asked, stupefied. 'I said, I don't pull guard duty'. An angry scowl filled his face. 'I'll be back in thirty minutes. You'd best be ready', he said, storming out of the barrack. I packed an AWOL bag, put on jeans, shit kickers, a sweatshirt, my army field jacket. Waited. 'Where the fuck do you think you're going?' the first sergeant asked. 'I'm going AWOL, Top. I don't pull guard duty'. He looked at me strange. 'You can't do that. Are you out of your fuckin mind?' 'Watch me', I said. 'I'm going to Boston. Be back in three days'.

I walked right past the fat fuck, caught a bus, found a hotel room for eleven dollars a night, went to a porn house, jerked off, the next day bought American literature in paperback, ate good, slept good, walked the town, then returned to base. 'Greetings', I said to the company clerk. 'You're up for an Article 15', he answered. 'Sounds good to me', I replied. For the next six months I refused guard duty, KP, stopped getting haircuts, did not salute officers. Deliberately failed a driving test to avoid being designated the COs chauffeur.

'Stop sign! Stop sign! Step on the brakes!' the Driver's Ed lieutenant shouted. I stepped on the gas. 'Green means go! GO, you moron!' So I stepped on the brakes. Over time I racked up 5 Article 15s and one Summary Court Martial. The CO assigned me to Sgt. K, who'd won three Silver Stars, and who lorded over me on clean up details.

'Are you gonna work or do you want a knuckle sandwich?' he asked. I ignored Sgt. K, left the sweltering warehouse, sat down in a field, and sang folk songs. Sgt. K called the battalion commander, the company commander, the first sergeant. 'What the fuck is he doing?' they chimed and chattered. 'I don't eat knuckle sandwiches. I'm singing', I said. 'Son, you need help', replied the battalion commander, a friendly alcoholic. 'Sir, I just want out of the Army', I said. 'I can't help you, son. You just have to hang in there. Do your duty'.

Thank god for the Common Sense Book Store, a GI coffee house a few miles off base. With other GIs I attended a writing work shop lead by an anti-war English professor, and helped organize Radio Free Devens, broadcast once weekly from WAAF in Worcester. I did newspaper interviews, speaking out against the war, and on national TV, shook hands with Dan Ellsburg, who broke the Pentagon Papers.

The Army restricted me to base. No problem. I filed for Conscientious Objector status. Denied, I requested a Congressional investigation--it lead nowhere. I decided to work my way up the chain of command; after two months I made it to the top. 'Sir, Private Levy reporting to see General Irzik', I said to a captain who was the aid-de-camp.

By this time my hair reached down to my neck and my cunt cap kept slipping off my head. The captain picked up the phone and dialed the commander of Fort Devens, who sat in the room next door. They chatted briefly.

A moment later the captain slammed down the phone and scowled, 'He can't see you. He's busy'. 'But I'm Private Levy. I have an appointment', I said, cunt cap in hand. 'I'm trying to get out of the Army'. The captain's face turned bright red. He pounded his desk with his fist. 'I don't think you get it, pal. The General doesn't want to see you. Get the fuck out'. I was greatly disappointed. Three weeks later an officer approached me as I headed to the chow hall. 'Sign here, we'll give you a Bad Conduct Discharge. You'll be out in a week', he smiled.

'No thanks', I replied, 'I'll take the Special court martial', next on the legal menu. He was stunned. I was hungry. The food that day was good. A week later a hard core colonel threw me out of JAG. 'You can't do that, sir. I'm going to see Captain Lamarine. He's my Army lawyer. I'm up for a Special. I'm trying to get out of the service'. 'You're a fuckin disgrace is what you are', said the colonel, who grabbed both my shoulders and tossed me out. Undeterred I walked to the IG's office. 'What can I do for you, son?' the Inspector General asked. A big heavy set man, he sat low in his chair, his legs propped on his desk; a permanent haze filled the elegant white plaster room. 'Sir, the colonel just threw me out of JAG', I said, describing my circumstances.

I had on my Class A's but in place of a cunt cap, I wore an adjustable Army baseball cap decorated with fake officer's gold trim. The IG looked at me as if I were a poisoned thing, tapped his cigar against a chrome ashtray, took a long drag on his stogie, exhaled a noxious plume, and calmly said, 'I'll see what I can do'.

I returned to company head quarters. 'The IG just chewed my ass out', said the CO. 'Who the fuck are you to complain about the colonel?' 'Sir, I'm Private Levy. I'm trying to get out of the Army. I have a right to see my counsel'. 'Get the fuck out of here', he said. 'You heard me. Get the fuck out!' My friends at the Common Sense Book Store got me a great civilian lawyer. I celebrated by going AWOL. 'Where are you, Doc?' he asked. 'I'm AWOL, Stan'. 'Why?' he asked. 'It's my birthday. I'm twenty-one'. 'Look', he said. 'They want to give you three months hard labor and a Dishonorable Discharge. I pulled some strings. You sign an out-of-court agreement. You plead guilty. Whatever the verdict, you'll do five days in jail and get a General Discharge'. I looked at my dog. My dog looked at me. 'I don't know, Stan. What do you think?' Stan sighed. 'If I were you I'd take it'.

'OK', I said. 'See you soon'. I met Stan at JAG. While we waited in an empty office I noticed two stacks of paper on a metal desk. One pile had copies of my case. The other, a General Court Martial. The charge was statutory rape. The accused was Sergeant K. After two hours on the stand, five officers found me guilty on all counts. I was sentenced as Stan predicted. Just before two powerfully built MPs lead me away, the court secretary, a good looking brunette, slipped me a hit of Speed. The MPs grabbed my arms, lead me to the stockade and escorted me to the prison barbershop. 'Are we going to have to hold you down or are you going to co-operate', they asked. 'I'll co-operate', I said, removing my fake officer's baseball cap. The barber cut my hair. The MPs departed. A photographer took my picture. When he and the barber stepped out, I stole the photo's from the Polaroid camera. I gave the Speed to another GI. 'Here, you can have it', I said. 'It will make me crazy'.

Five days later I was out. It took two weeks to process my orders. Stan forgot to tell me I'd be busted to E-1 and lose a months pay. I packed my duffel bag, said good bye to Devens, started hitching to Boston. Half way there, alone on the highway, a car pulled over. 'Need a ride?' asked the court martial secretary. We spent the night at her place and after dinner justice was served.

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