Just A Little Walk In The Woods
with the Delta Raiders
Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
Taken from the Spring 1969 Rendezvous With Destiny
By Spec. 5 J. Michael McLaughlin
Compliments of Dave Reinheimer (B, 2/501-1968/69)
The story of Sgt. Ronald D. Scott’s last few days in Vietnam before DEROS and his ride on the Freedom Bird.
When dawn broke over LZ Sally, it was like any other morning in northern I Corps. The sun broke away from the States and home, and slid over the Pacific and dropped into Southeast Asia like a giant egg. Like it always did, the gentle morning light grew more intense and by mid-morning it was a sizzling fry.
Pop drops two on the grill and looks up, "How ya want ‘em?"
This is the last time Sgt. Ronald D. Scott, Delta Raiders, 2nd Bn., 501st Abn. Inf., will go through this morning ritual at Sally. Today he is starting an adventure that doesn’t happen every day to a "line doggie" in Vietnam - DEROS. He’s going home.
Anticipation is far too feeble a word to describe what it’s like for rotation. Maybe it’s better to say that it has been a long year. As a hundred versions of the proverbial "short-timer’s calendar" can testify, he has reached his Date Expected to Return from Over Seas.
Sgt. Scott came in from the field only two days ago after nearly twelve months on line. Twelve long months. He thought about this day many times, but this is really it – the last two eggs.
After breakfast there’s a short scene at the Raiders’ orderly room door as a few friends gather around to wish him well. The sign over the door shows a bow and arrow and reads "Delta Raiders." It’s the insignia on the patch on their helmets. Scottie helped design it when the infantry company was organized at Ft. Campbell in September 1967.
He straggles into his rucksack hardly blinking an eye. He’s done it enough times before. A steel pot, his weapon and an AWOL bag complete the load, and he’s ready to leave.
As he walks down the dusty road to the main gate, a chopper lands at a nearby pad. A violent column of dust rises into the air. The focus and color of everything fades to a hazy light brown for a minute and Scottie pulls his collar tight, but does not stop walking. This is LZ Sally. You get used to it. Scottie was here even before Sally had her name.
Scottie remembers the day after Valentines Day, 1968. The Raiders were sweeping toward Hue through the very spot they later knew as Sally when they came across a battalion-size NVA force. There was a firefight; a bad one, he recalls.
The chopper settles and with it the swirking dust, but not the memories.
By March, Sally had begun to take form, and another base camp with its own atmosphere, rules and regulations was born. It was the same Sally he was leaving today, a sophisticated and well organized world of it’s own. The home of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles.
A sharp MP jeep rolls up beside Scottie.
"Going to the gate?" he asks.
"That’s affirm. Jump in," comes the answer.
They pass the familiar laundry stand and barber shop and are soon at Sally’s main gate. He can thumb on to Phu Bai airport from here.
A vehicle with its accompanying plume of dust approaches the gate where Scottie stands. It’s a "deuce and a half" loaded with laundry headed for Phu Bai.
Two more men join Scottie for the ride – his platoon sergeant for more than nine months, James Deland, and Sgt. Lonnie Nale. They lived and faught together the whole year. They were more than friends. They were buddies.
Nestling inside the truck among all the OD green laundry bags, the trio settles down for the 45-minute ride through Hue to Phu Bai and the airport.
Framed by the dirty canvas topping and the trucks rusty tailgate is the last picture of Sally they’d ever have. Scottie looks at his watch. 10 a.m.
Waiting momentarily for their turn to take the old railroad bridge across the Song Huong River, a half dozed little urchins poke their faces in the back of the truck and jabber in a language more "GI" than Vietnamese or English.
"Remember when we ate the boiled eggs with the little ducks inside?" laughs Deland, pointing down a familiar street in the Imperial City.
Scottie nods, raises a corner of his lip and smiles. Then they all laugh. What a year it had been. They’ll never forget it.
The vehicle maneuvers through the harrowing traffic of Hue and lumbers on into Phu Bai. It is 10:45. At the airport, just a "bag drag" from where the truck stops, is a sign: "DEROS PERSONNEL REPORT HERE." Through the yellow archway and down taped-off lanes, the trio processes onto the manifest for the C-130 leaving for Bien Hoa.
Airfield personnel have erected tents at the end of the lanes, and Scottie sits down in the shade with others on their way home. The trio has become a group of 34. Creases of 34 different personalities shape the hats of those waiting. And, in turn, the hats reflect the same number of different stories they’d tell of their year in Vietnam.
It’s 11:10 when they clamer on the plane two at a time through the rear side doors. The big ramp at the back of the fuselage is already stacked with cargo. Eighty-four passengers with rucksacks, weapons and baggage more than fill it up.
Once everyone is on board and settled in rows of eight, the huge rear ramp screams shut. The temperature in here is well above a hundred degrees, but Scottie knows it will cool down as the plane gains altitude.
The flight commander gives the usual briefing about ditching procedures – just like a stewardess on a Freedom Bird. For what seems like a fairly short airstrip. The plane taxies forever, then ascends with a roar and dripping sweat.
The cramped quarters of the feselage make movement impossible, so some stand for a minute and have a cigarette while others nap or read. Nobody says much.
The flight from Phu Bai to Bien Hoa takes a noisy hour and forty minutes. The time goes fast. The loadmaster wades through the sea of men and takes a position near the door. He puts his head set on. They’re about to land.
The door yawns open with a deafening squeal of hydrolics, and Bien Hoa is in view. Bien Hoa is a long way from "the world," but the general atmosphere is more "world-like" than Phu Bai, and infinitely more so than Sally. Scottie already feels a little closer to home.
There are soldiers in the terminal actually wearing khakis. They are waiting for their Freedom Bird, of course, but just the sight of clean, pressed khakis is significant. It reminds Scottie they he’ll be going to Ft. Bragg after leave, and he wonders again, what it will be like after all this.
There’s another formation and another bag drag as the whole group filters through the busy terminal and loads onto a bus headed for Camp Ray, the 101st Screaming Eagle Replacement Training School. It’s called SERTS. SERTS is also where you go before R&R, leave and DEROS.
Here processing will be done on Scottie’s records and he will prepare his uniform for his encounter with the Freedom Bird. His jungle fatigues, clean that morning, have seen several great sweats by this time, and he looks as though he has been in the field for a week. But he sits patiently through another briefing and silently plots his course through the maze of forms involved in DEROS.
With weapon turn-in, field gear to sort and return, khakis to find, brass and boots to polish, he is busy. There is a special four-building complex for processing that covers anything from awards to finance.
The outprocessing is well organized and efficient. The cadre try to keep close tabs on the processing groups through the various stages, and Scottie’s group leader tells them that their stay at Camp Ray will be only 24 hours.
It turns out to be more like 48. When Scottie finishes processing out, the only thing to do is wait for his name to appear on the manifest sheet posted every morning.
But the waiting is not really painful. Scottie feels no pain. Neither do his buddies – most of whom have come down to Camp Ray on subsequent flights. There’s an excellent floor show that night, a rock band from Bangkok, and movie after that, all provided by the Division for its homeward bound paratroopers.
The whole scene is filled with excitement, old friends and fun. Only once does a shadow fall over the crowd of homeward-bound paratroopers. Just after midnight, sirens blast to warn of a mortar attack, and Scottie finds himself in a bunker once more. A few painful memories come back to him then. The night he got his Purple Heart is among them.
At six o’clock in the morning after the attack, there is a police call and then the final formation and briefing at SERTS. Scottie’s name finally appears on the manifest. With bags, tickets, and khakis all ready, they line up for a haircut check. A fleet of OD buses pulls up to the formation.
There is a short speech by Brig. Gen. Richard Allen, a spontaneous cheer of "AIRBORNE!" and the group is dismissed. They melt into the waiting transportation. Even the band, which came down from Camp Eagle, is there playing "Rendezvous With Destiny," the Division song, and Scottie can’t help being excited.
As the bus pulls away in a swirl of dust, he looks back at the area he just left, still swarming with his OD-uniformed buddies, still processing, still waiting. Looking back at the last two days he thinks just how much time must have gone into making the processing so quick and easy.
The bus goes to the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh just a few minutes away. They are halted at one of the many gates, and an MP very officially asks when they are going. The pressure that has built up to this point finds its outlet, and the poor man hardly knows what has hit him. They drive by.
At 90th Replacement, the last remnant of field gear is turned in and lots of forms and lengthy explanations are handed out. Scottie has to have his port call and three copies of his orders ready to hand in to be included on the flight list. There are also last-minute checks on his paperwork.
It’s noon, and he goes over to the mess hall to get something to eat. It will be his last meal in Vietnam. At one o’clock, the processing continues through another series of buildings where all the baggage is checked and finally his Military Payment Certificate (MPC) are converted to good old "greeback" dollars. It’s nice to see it again.
Scottie’s plane ticket reads: "Flight time: 1:30 a.m." It means a wait of almost 12 hours before he’ll see that Freedom Bird – his Freedom Bird.
There is so much happening and so much to talk about that the time goes very fast. Everyone has to stick close to the formation stand, as announcements are always being made that might pertain to Scottie’s flight. Scottie skips dinner; he’s too excited. Before long it’s nine o’clock.
The loudspeaker blares: "Attention all personnel manifested for Flight Q71…" This is it. Now they’ll leave for the airport. Scottie gets on the bus with a completely new spirit. It seems only minutes away – going home.
Through the darkness, the short drive to the air terminal and the final wait, Scottie sees very little of his last glimpse of Vietnam. It looks just like any other military base in the world, maybe even Ft. Bragg. It’s still balmy and the air is heavy with humidity. That much, at least, is Vietnam.
Those manifested with Scottie are restricted to a certain area of the terminal.
They can’t even go to the snack stand. Nobody really minds. Nobody wants to be gone when that last call comes.
Then it happens – 12:30 a.m. The great silver Freedom Bird, a Boeing 707, gracefully touches down and everybody’s heart pounds a little. Man, it’s beautiful. That gleaming feat of modern American technology was never more heralded for its beauty, wonder and symbolism than right now as it is reflected in Scottie’s eyes.
It seems almost too easy now to just walk out and get on the plane, but after all the processing and waiting, there’s nothing else to do. The men on Scottie’s flight to San Francisco are in khakis. They file out from under the large steel roofed terminal and walk to the plane’s passenger ramp. The maximum of darkness and flashing navigational lights on the plane make it seem unreal, as in a dream.
Scottie is with the others on the ramp and he stops long enough to glance back once before he disappears into the warm light inside the plane.
The plane taxies away into the darkness, then there is a marked increase in the jet engines’ noise. With a roar, the heavy bird lifts its sleek hull into the night sky. The blinking red lights dim and disappear with the sound. Soon it is gone. Scottie is on his way home.
That’s the way it was for Ronald D. Scott, 2nd Bn., 501st Abn. Inf. Hue, Cu Chi, Phuoc Yen and the whole of Vietnam and his part in its history are now totally behind him.
So long, Scottie. See ya back in the world.
below are links to more
Hill 100 | Delta Raiders Overrun Outpost | Infantry, Arty Chew Up NVA Unit
Going Home | Heavy Fighting Near Bastogne | Hill 805, A First Sergeant Remembers
The Introduction | Across The River & Into... | Raiders "Lighten The Load"
You should know Joe Hooper | Most decorated soldier dies | The List
Airborne Trooper Saves Girl | Flashback | Night Sweats | 'Grunt' More Than A Name
Delta Raiders Ambushed Near Firebase Bastogne | To My Dad on Veterans Day