Sgt. Nguynh van Cu’
as told to Tony Spletstoser
Just two bottles of beer, that’s what this story is about, how they cost the lives of one of my very good friends, the MSgt. Canteen Keeper, our Commander and several of his staff officers.
We were stationed at a VN Special Forces camp located on the side of Monkey Mountain, just above the Navy base on the river inlet at Da Nang.
My friend and his five team-mates have just returned from a really `ruff’ mission that afternoon. The men had been debriefed the first thing after coming in. The very fact that they had survived, proves again that the best training is the difference between success or failure. But they were tired and used up. Later that evening the team decided to come to the canteen for a bowl of noodles and maybe something cold to drink.
A Special Forces communications MSgt. (NCOIC) had as another of his duties, that of being in charge of our canteen. My friend, asked the Canteen Keeper to fix something to eat. Meanwhile, he took a look in the ice box (cooler) located behind the counter, for some cold drinks. When he opened the little door, he saw two bottles of beer.
My friend say, “Hey you got two cold beers in here”. The Master Sergeant Canteen Keeper said, “No can do, they belong to the Commander. He keeps them there for when special guests and friends come to visit.”
My friend say, “Sergeant, it’s 10 o’clock at night and he’s asleep. No one will come to visit before late tomorrow morning and I’ll give you money so that you can buy more beer the first thing in the morning, when you go into town to buy groceries for the days meals.”
The Canteen Keeper says, “No, you can’t have them, it makes no difference, those beers aren’t for sale. (Well, in a sense he was right, but it wasn’t necessary for him to have been that right. It would have easy enough to have accommodated the team leader and have had the replacement two bottles before noon the next day.)
My friend tried his best to reason with the man, he told the Canteen Keeper, “Look, we just get back from a very hard time. We are glad to have gotten out all alive and we want to celebrate by having something to drink. I give you money now and you buy some more tomorrow morning, OK?” The Como Sgt. say, “Not OK! The two beers belong to the Commander.”
My friend, he say, “I’m tired of arguing with you about the two bottles of beer. You don’t have to be that way, I’ve tried to talk to you reasonably, but you are too hard-headed, so I am going to take these two bottles of beer and my friends and I will drink them. Now you do what you think that you have to do.” My friend take the two bottles, open them up and pass them around for his friends to pour into their cups.
The Canteen keeper, he gets mad, say all kinds of things and then he leaves. He is so hard-headed about someone daring to go against what he says, that he went to the room where the Commander sleeps and woke him up.
The Commander get mad when he hears the Como sergeant’s story about the two beers. The Commander get dressed, then he picks up his .45 from beside the bed and stick it into his waist band.
He and the sergeant walk back to the Canteen. The Commander said, “You need to leave now!” My friend looks at the Commander and says, “Yes Sir! As soon as we finish the beer and noodles.” The Commander repeats, you have to leave. If you don’t, I am going to lock you up.” The Commander is getting very angry.
Now you know that this is not a smart thing to do. Normally we are always very respectful of any of our officers. But also, normally they are understanding and respectful of us as well. It works both ways. Here are six men having very short fuses on their emotions at this time of night. They aren’t about to be afraid of one little .45 Colt.
The men just looked at the Commander and almost put the beer down. Only put it down their throats instead. The Commander turned on his heel and stomped out, followed by the Como Sergeant Canteen Keeper.
The evening was about to turn nasty due to a lack of under- standing or maybe the Commander over reacted because of the “Yak- yak” that the Como Sergeant had given him. Everything was going wrong. The officer knew that these men had a rough mission, because he had debriefed them just a few hours before.
After finishing the beer and noodles, my friend and his team returned to our barracks area. They knew that they were in trouble but it was too late to worry about now.
While the other men went to bed, my friend stay by himself. He gets his AK-47 and pick up four 30 round mags taped together, staggered in reverse so that any magazine could still be fit into the rifle.
My friend, his temper limit had been pushed too far that night, over a mere two bottles of beer. The Commander and the Canteen Keeper had not reckoned that there was a maximum for their being officious, when dealing with men who had just faced eight days of hell. The sense of power that the Commander and the Como Sergeant felt that they had, didn’t impress these troopers very much and the Commander’s uncompromising orders had been pushed the man beyond his limit.
My friend took his rifle and left the barracks area and headed back to the Canteen in the dark. The Commander, the Como Sergeant, several other staff officers of the group and another officer that acted as the Provost Marshall (military police) for the group, were standing outside in front of the canteen.
The Commander looked up, saw my friend, then told him to leave, that his group were discussing the charges to be filed against him and his friends. My friend said, “That won’t be necessary, I take care of it now.” He then raised his AK-47 and started firing, the Commander and the Canteen Keeper went first, then the rest. Somehow, one man made it out. He had dropped down behind something and made it out the back door.
My friend left the Canteen and returned to our barracks area. None of us knew what had gone on, we were so used to gun fire around the camp, you know men testing their weapons at any time day or night. My friend came to where his team was about to go to sleep and told them, “You don’t have worry now, I already take care of all of them.” Then he walks back to the Canteen where all of the others lay down. He put the muzzle of the AK under his chin and pulled the trigger. The bullet came out the top left side of his head.
Another friend had been awake and saw what happened. Tan ran to him. He is still alive. Tan wraps his bandanna around his wounds to try to stop the bleeding. He is conscious, he looks at Tan and says, “No, don’t try to save me.”, and pulls the bandage off. Then Tan goes to find a Jeep. My friends and Tan put him in the back and hold him while Tan drives. When Tan gets to the hospital, Tan took him into the emergency room, but then he gone.
When they bury our friend the next day, they put layers of barbed-wire over him in his grave. This is symbol that he had done a bad thing and that even in death he was to be kept in prison.
Even though what my friend did was a wrong thing, there was good for all of us that came because of his sacrifice.
The Commanders and other officers were replaced. These new officers had been sent to special meetings and were told to be very careful not to be overbearing and tried to be fair in every way. Good Special Forces men were hard to replace and something like two bottles of beer was too high of a price. Nothing like this ever happened again and the mess hall was run better too.
Canteens and Mess Halls
There is a lot of difference between the way Vietnamese soldiers and the Americans GIs’ are fed. The Americans have Army cooks, kitchens, food supplies, and mess halls. In the Vietnamese Army, the Commanders draw money from the soldiers each month, and we have two sergeants assigned as cooks and to buy our food at the village markets.
Since these camps rarely have refrigeration or even electricity, food supplies must be purchased daily at a village market. Then food service and cooking helper duties are shared in rotation by members of the teams in order to run the mess hall. This is not too much of a problem because our Special Forces camps are small anyway. In the Special Forces, no civilians are allowed in camp.
The regular ARVN army they have a civilian under contract to cook and run the mess hall. Sometimes the money is diverted several times. It finds its way into the pockets of the officers in charge and on down to the man in charge of buying food for the mess hall. So, the soup can get a little thin at times.
Our Msgt. Canteen Keeper or manager, was one who felt that he held power in his hands from his little kingdom of his canteen, Other things like cold drinks, cigarettes, toilet articles, the Canteen also serves as a mini-PX. Vietnamese soldiers never have much money to spend anyway. To give or withhold something from the men anytime that he decided. In my mind, it was reckless move on the Master Sergeant’s part. These men lived too close to death to know any fear of his small power and on this night, they had been pushed to the limit.
My friend always acts like a very `cool’ person and like all Special Forces men, we are trained not to let anger rule us. So far tonight he has never shown anger or even raised his voice.
But all men have the point that they should not be pushed beyond.
One thing that I always hate to tell anyone, is that all of us have many times have had orders that we knew were wrong, like some kind of a useless mission that some officer on staff think up, back at headquarters. I don’t like to talk about this because I’ve always felt that we were all a band of brothers and if I admit that there were cooked people in with us, it is a shame on the rest of us.
All of our officers come up through the ranks just like me, but somehow when some of them reach the command staff level, they change and forget how it was in the jungle. Even when we have proof that a HQ officer has done wrong, we dare not say anything, because we could be ordered out to some bad place and never picked up.
Toward the end of the war, we found out that there were even communist agents in our command. For us in Special Forces, it is a loss to our honour that one of our `brothers has betrayed us.
No matter whatever happened, we are still there and we have to do the job. We have to always remember that we are fighting for our country and that’s the main thing.
I never forget this thing. My friend was a good man and a brave soldier. He had been forced to the wall by stupidity too many times. Our Commander and the Msgt. had the training and experience to have known better. These men had just returned from a `ruff’ mission during which they had handled themselves magnificently. Adrenalin had them pumped up to a high that was almost like being on drugs. Common sense should have told them to never put any foolishness on men in that condition. This incident had pushed my friend beyond the wall of his control. I have heard of similar tragedies within American special operation units. Never mess with a man who has had a BAD day. thru 06-26.