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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Every Day a Holiday, Every Meal a Feast - Free Chapter!

11/11/2014 Today is Veteran's Day. This is a re-post from 8/15/2012 about a relative of mine who put his life on the line for our country during President Reagan's years in the 1980's. He wrote an excellent 400 page book about his experiences, of which you can read a free chapter below. It's a great read and I had a hard time putting it down! Enjoy:
True experiences of a boy from Wisconsin growing up and becoming a US Marine during the Reagan years of the 80's. Chapter 104 is posted below. Enjoy! Author is Edward "Jack" Dinse. Previously posted. Now, Amazon Prime readers can read the entire book for free, also instant Kindle purchase available.

#104  Thank You Louis L’Amour
We went to Marine Corps Base, 29 Palms for live fire training that would culminate in a CAX, (Combined Arms Exercise). But before that, we had to complete several training cycles on a platoon and company level. Being in Headquarters Platoon, meant that we mainly went through the company portions. This gave us enlisted men more downtime. That gave Captain Thompson ideas about how to use us in other roles. Since I had been through sniper training, he thought that would be a good time to practice my craft. There was no specific course set up for this, so he came up with his own plan. I would be dropped off at the base of one of the hills that looked like giant Hershey’s Kisses near Lavik Lake. I would make my way to the top with my rifle, web-gear, binoculars and a radio to act as a lookout. How this was to hone my skills as a sniper is anybody’s guess, but this was the plan and I was to be ready before first light. Actually, I was to be in place by first light, the jeep that would take me there was due to leave Tent City an hour before! I checked my gear and filled canteens the evening before. I even borrowed two extra canteens for the day. I hit the rack early knowing the new day was starting early!
I signed out my rifle from the Armorer and a radio from the Communications Chief just before getting in the jeep the next morning. Neither of these Marines were happy to get up extra early just to sign out my gear and I heard about it from them! I shrugged my shoulders and told them it was the Captain’s idea. I checked the radio and even took an extra battery because I knew that the one in the radio never lasts very long. I had two MRE meals in my backpack along with the extra battery, a small camo net and the binos. I had the company radio frequencies, the emergency frequency and a map of the area stowed in my cover. I was good to go when I got into the passenger seat of the jeep. The ride was uneventful all the way out to my post. It was a long way from Tent City, through several training areas, and at least twenty miles on the trails. This was my first trip to 29 Palms, but I had been out to Lavic Lake three times so far driving the blade tank. I had even bulldozed a couple of tank positions just below the hill I was to watch from. Because of this, I thought nothing of being left alone for most of the day. I was to be picked up at around 1500 Hours by a jeep sent from Headquarters. I started climbing as the jeep driver turned the jeep around and then watched as it disappeared into the darkness.
I made my way to the top mostly by feel, hoping the whole time that I did not encounter a sidewinder or a scorpion! I did not think that a sidewinder would slither up a rock pile, but the scorpions seemed to be all over if you looked hard enough for them! I made it to the top in one piece and set myself up just below the peak, where I could still see all around the mound. I moved some rocks around to make a small hole to sit in. Then I took the camo net and spread it over the top, holding the corners in place with rocks. It would blend in from the air and at a distance while providing me some shade. All I had to worry about was the wind making it ripple, so I dropped some small rocks in the slack parts to keep it taunt. I set up the radio next, trying to make the antenna jut out at an angle instead of straight up, which is a dead give away to anyone looking for an antenna! I called the company HQ to let them know that I was in place and asked for a radio check. I got a garbled reply, but I understood enough to know that I was breaking up to them also. There was a ridgeline of the Chocolate Mountains between us, so I assumed that was my problem. But since there would be three of our platoons training today, I was sure I could relay any message through one of them. As I sat back and enjoyed the sunrise, I wished that I had brought my camera, even though it was no picnic carrying the radio and pack up the hill!
I may have enjoyed the sunrise, but by 1000 Hours it was hot! After all, this was the Mojave Desert and it was the summer! I watched all morning and saw nothing. Once I thought that I saw dust and diesel smoke through the binoculars, but it was much closer to Tent City than it was to me so I had to assume that it was one of our platoons. Around Noon, I heard jet engines. Four A-4s flew past my perch and dropped their ordinance on Lavic Lake. One passed close enough to where I sat that I could see the insignia of VMFA-214: the Blacksheep Squadron. At first I thought it was great, they had dropped their 500 lb bombs just below me. Then I wondered if Captain Thompson had cleared my being there through the base Training Coordinator! If he didn’t, that meant that I was part of an impact area! Shit! But for now these pilots were bombing from about the same altitude or lower than I was at. I decided to get on the horn and report the activity, maybe it would get someone’s attention if I was not supposed to be here! I keyed the mike and tried to raise headquarters. Nothing. I tried 2nd Platoon’s frequency with the same results. I turned the squelch down and realized that the battery was dead. No problem, that is why I hauled that other heavy battery all the way up here in my backpack. Ten minutes later I had the batteries swapped out and found that the “new” battery was dead too! This was really nice! What in the hell was I supposed to do now, send up smoke signals? I was up a creek without a paddle! Okay, I was up a hill without a radio – same thing. The new battery had still been in its’ wrapper, it was brand new! Well, it had not been used anyway. For all I know, it might have been made during the Viet Nam War! Either way I was screwed. All I could do now was to wait for my ride to show up.
1500 Hours came and went with no jeep in the area. Maybe there was something going on and I was going to be picked up late. I hope this isn’t going to take too long, I was down to one canteen of water and had been drinking the one before sparingly! By 1600 Hours I was swapping batteries again and hoping to get out one last message. Still nothing. By this time I knew I had real problems! I had packed most of my gear before 1500, but now I went through things again. If I was going back to Tent City, I thought it prudent to plan on walking in! And if I was hiking back, I was sure as hell was not about to carry back two dead radio batteries! I dumped the one out of the pack and took the other out of the radio. I left them in the bottom of my little hole so that they could be retrieved later if it became an issue. I stowed the radio in the pack and surveyed the remains of my MRE meals. I still had one entrĂ©e, Beef Stew, and a couple of condiments; a jelly and a cheese packet. The packets of coffee and powdered creamer were useless, so I opened them and dumped the contents on the ground. I kept the sugar packets for the energy they might provide. I put what I could use in the cargo pockets of my trousers, the trash I stowed in a pocket of the pack. The binoculars and web gear went inside the backpack with the radio. I finally took down the camo net that had provided shade for me all day long. Once the gear was put away, I descended to the desert floor. Pack on my back, rifle slung over my shoulder and a full canteen hung at my hip, I saddled up for the long walk ahead of me. I still hoped to see dust from a jeep at any moment.
Now I had no idea about a number of things as I set out. I had no idea if a jeep was on its’ way for me, so I kept on the dirt trail so that I would meet it part way back. I did not know how far I would go before I ran out of daylight, so I set a good pace. I was not sure how long the water would last, but I vowed not to drink until I had to and not too much when I did drink. I did not know how far I had to walk, but I knew that was over twenty miles. I was not sure how I would navigate in the dark, but I had a map and matches from the MREs. All of these things I felt I could overcome. There were a few things that held unanswered questions for me. What about the sidewinders once the sun set and they came out to hunt for food? Would I have to slow down once it got dark? And then there was the big question; would I be walking into a “live” impact area? What about any unexploded ordinance that I might not see in the dark? How long could I jog before dark? Would jogging use up too much energy? Should I cache some of this gear to save weight? No matter what questions I came up with, I knew I had to move and not wait. I could not afford to take a chance on staying overnight. I would just be starting a new day with fewer supplies if no one happened to showed up. It was still hot but it was getting cooler and would get better as I went. It would be impossible to walk that far through the hot part of the day with only one canteen of water. And if I had to wait until tomorrow evening, I would be too dehydrated to have a decent chance. It came down to a simple choice; do I put my life in someone else’s hands or do I take care of myself? And since there had been no jeep to pick me up, I knew that I really had no option. Live or die, it was my choice.
I started out at a quick “route step” with all of my gear. It would be just my luck for it to be lost, stolen or destroyed before I could return to retrieve it. After the first mile, I turned to see how far I had gone. It was disappointing to see that the “Hershey Kisses” still appeared to be very close yet. And although the air was cooler, the heat was radiating up from the ground I walked on. It had all day long to absorb as much heat as possible, and now it was releasing it. This made for hot walking now and it would attract snakes, lizards and insects later on as everything else cooled off. Well, at least I had no problems following the road for now. Not that it was much of a road, just two dirt tracks pounded to dust by years of use by tanks, trucks, jeeps, halftracks and everything else the Marine Corps drove. I was worried about later on, once it got dark. I knew that there was at least one main branch that ran away from the main trail. Most trails branched into this one as I headed toward Tent City. I knew that one branch would also take me where I wanted to go, but it would add an extra mile or two if I took it by accident. There was an intersection that I must turn South at, but I should be there in an hour or two, long before dark. I stepped out with determination and put another mile behind me, and now the distance seemed noticeable. I just kept hoping to see a jeep headed in my direction! Two more miles and a half hour later, I could see the twin peaks where I started, but I could also see the lava flow to the North of a small pass I would get to a couple of miles before that critical turn. As I walked on, I remembered why I liked being in tanks over being a grunt! I hated walking, but it was better than when we were in bootcamp where a long line of recruits tried to keep up with the Company Commander! I could make my own pace here, and walking beat the hell out of dying while waiting for a jeep to appear! I made the turn southward as the sun hung bright red over the horizon. It would be setting within an hour and I would have some light for about an hour after that. I took a swig from the canteen and was grateful that the air was cooler now. Even the road was losing some of its’ built up heat. Now it only felt like a hot grill instead of a blast furnace under me! Thank God for small things!
I had made a good deal of headway by the time it grew dark. I was on the main trail toward Tent City and Mainside beyond that. I was hoping to see lights from the airstrip or Mainside to help guide me, but as of yet I had nothing. I had slowed down a little as it grew dark, so I kicked it up a bit after I took a sip from the canteen. Warm water, whoopee! I opened the beef stew at the corner of the package and squeezed the contents through the hole, into my mouth. My last meal? As much as I like beef stew, I sure hoped not! I told myself that this was the hardest part of the walk back to camp, it easily was the longest. I knew that the Chocolate Mountains were to my left, but the rest of the terrain was pretty much the same through here. When the trail passed through some small washout gullies, I would know that I was getting close. But for now I had fairly smooth landscape to pass through. This was an area where a lot of trails joined this main one toward Tent City. Maybe I could catch a ride if anyone was coming in from night maneuvers. That is if they didn’t run me over first! Now that I thought about it, I had not heard much for weapons fire in quite awhile. Good, let’s keep it that way! Now I thought about the sidewinders coming out to warm up on the trail. Damn, I was much better off not thinking of that! I shuffled my feet to kick up debris to keep from surprising any snakes. I soon gave this up though; it slowed me down and took too much energy. Well, I would just take my chances I guess. I tried to put it out of my mind, thinking about the mental picture of the trail in my mind. I was getting thirsty again, but decided to eat the cheese spread instead. And although it did have moisture in it, it also had a lot of salt and it did not help much. I was still thirsty. One more thing not to think about,
Somewhere along this stretch, I really started to get tired. I was not just sleepy, but just getting bone tired. If they would not be all on my case about it, I would dump the pack and all of its’ contents. I would leave the crap right here and move on. Not an option, so I kept moving. My pace was not what it was when I started out, but I was moving anyway. I thought about sitting down and taking a break, but I knew better because I would rest for too long. No, it was better to just keep walking. Besides, my eyes were adjusted to the darkness now and I could tell where Mainside was. So if I did miss Tent City, I should make it to Mainside instead, since it was only a couple of miles further. But I really did not want to go any further than I had to. I still stayed on the trail; I was still playing it safe and hoping for a ride. I ate the grape jelly and took a sip of water, then a second sip. I had half a canteen left and was still in good shape there. I was wishing for something to give me an energy boost when I heard machinegun fire. “Be careful what you wish for buddy boy.” I stepped it up a notch, (or half a notch), and thought about that burst of fire. I had been daydreaming and it took me by surprise. Then I heard a second burst. It was behind me, not very far away. I turned to look and saw tracers arc out into the darkness, then I heard the shots. .50 caliber and a mile away, maybe a little more. The tracers were headed away from me so I had nothing to worry about, unless they changed their direction of fire! Could they be vehicle mounted and moving? I didn’t think so; I would have heard tanks on the move. I didn’t think there were any amtracs out here, but I might have heard those also. Now if they were the new LAVs, then I might be in trouble, they were much quieter. It was probably a grunt heavy machinegun section. None of them should be firing in my direction as long as I stayed on the trail, I hoped. What I was worried about was the possibility of someone shooting from a range card toward “troops on the road”. It was possible; we usually set up our range cards with possible troop movement areas laid out. I headed away from the firing at a good pace!
I don’t know how long I had been walking now; it had seemed like an eternity by now. I had probably done a bit more than three miles an hour for a few hours and over two miles an hour for the rest of the time. I had hit the little branch in the trail a little while ago and was headed toward Tent City and the airstrip. Tent City was between me and the airstrip, and both were North of Mainside. I had to be getting close, but it was hard to tell just where everything was laid out. If I had a little altitude, I was sure that I would be able to see Tent City. The sun was just starting to turn the eastern sky pale. This meant that it was around 0400, I had been walking for about eleven hours! Damn, I must have overshot the camp in the darkness! I stopped for a drink and to think about my calculations. I only had a little water left after taking a good pull from the canteen. I needed to stop and think, panicking would get me killed now. Had I been walking slower that I thought? It was possible, especially when I was daydreaming. I looked around, trying to make out landmarks. The sky was lightening quickly in the East. I had to check the dark areas of the horizon before they faded into the bland nothingness that happens before the sun finally brightens everything enough to allow a person to distinguish things. To the South, it had already gotten light enough to hide the lights from Mainside. To the West, the Chocolate Mountains were where they were supposed to be. There was nothing to see to the North. To the East, the horizon was flat, except for that low ridge a bit toward the South. Hold on, what ridge toward the South?  That wasn’t right; it should be flat all the way to the mountains where Big Bear was! And from what I could make out, Big Bear was where it should be. It was hard to tell looking toward the backlit portion of the sky. All I could really see looking east was a bunch of silhouettes, but I was not familiar with that small ridgeline. It seemed closer than the rest of the horizon; at least I thought it looked closer. Maybe I needed a little more water to help clear my head. Then I realized what that ridgeline really was, it was the silhouette of the tops our tents! They were right there! I looked hard toward where the tanks should be parked and finally made out the form of an M-60 in the fading darkness! I was home!
I would have run the rest of the way, but my legs would only walk. And as I walked among the tents, I began to feel just how tired I really was! I walked into the Company Headquarters tent, Captain Thompson was talking to Lieutenant Simmons, and both looked at me as I entered. I said, “The batteries were dead, there was no jeep, I saw no enemy and I’m going to hit the rack.” They both just stared at me. I headed toward the tent flap and the lieutenant stopped me. He asked me where I had been. I told him that I had spent the whole day on one of the Hershey’s Kisses like the Captain had ordered. I could tell by the expression on his face that he had not been told of this idea. He dismissed me and told me to wait for him on my cot. As I left I heard the CO mumble, “I forgot”. There were more words being spoken, but I didn’t stick around to eavesdrop. I found my cot and laid my tired self down. I put my head on my dirty laundry bag and cradled my rifle in my arms. I didn’t care; I could have taken a rock and made a comfortable pillow at that point. Just as I was almost asleep the lights came on. Lieutenant Simmons walked to my bunk and asked if I was alright. I started to get up but he stopped me. I told him that I probably had blisters on my feet but I was okay otherwise. By now everyone else in the tent was awake and listening to the conversation.
I was asked to tell what had happened, with as many details as I could. I told my story and everyone listened. I told about the A-4s dropping ordinance and finding that both batteries were dead. I told of how I waited and then decided to walk when the jeep didn’t show up. The XO asked who drove me out. A voice back in the tent answered, “I did, but the Captain never told me to go back, I thought someone else did.” I continued talking about the walk itself and hearing the .50 caliber behind me. It turned out that it had been 2nd Platoon; they were parked under camouflage netting tents only a half mile from the trail! I finished by telling about how I found the tents. Everyone was silent; they were all shocked by what they heard. It wasn’t about how far or how long the walk was, they were shocked by the fact that the CO had sent me out there and then simply forgot about me! No one else knew where I was, I was basically just left to die. That was a sobering thought! Lieutenant Simmons knew that I was from Wisconsin, so he asked where I had learned my desert survival skills. I told him that I had only been out for about twenty-four hours, but I had completed the Marine Corps Institute course on Desert Operations and had read plenty of Louis L'Amour western novels. So I had some idea of what I was up against. I told him that I had extra water with me and shade all day long. He asked if I needed to see a Corpsman. I answered, “No”. Then he asked if I was up to some breakfast, I must need the energy. I said that all I really needed was some sleep. I would eat lunch and walk my post on guard duty after dinner. I thought he was going to choke! He had the craziest expression when I said that! I am a Marine and will walk my post as assigned. He wanted to know if I was angry. I told him, “No, everyone makes mistakes.”
How prophetic those words were! Less than six months later, a Marine died at 29 Palms. I never got all of the details, but he had been given the same assignment I had on the same little mountain. And like me, he was forgotten. He did not have the amount of water that I had, nor the shade. He had waited until morning to walk back. He was found less than a mile from Mainside; he had been able to see the buildings before he died. Everyone makes mistakes, and a mistake in the Marine Corps can mean that someone dies. It does not have to be a combat situation to be deadly. I am not saying that I lived because I was a better Marine physically. On the contrary, if he was a grunt he was probably stronger than I was. I was just better prepared for the situation. And for that I say, “Thank you Louis L’Amour!”

Book Review: I will acknowledge first and foremost that I am a pretty conservative guy. One of my personal heroes has been President Ronald Reagan. Edward “Jack” Dinse wrote a book about his four years in the Marine Corp during the Reagan years of the 80’s. It is a fascinating account of a boy from Wisconsin becoming not only a man, but a US Marine! The title is “Every Day a Holiday, Every Meal a Feast”, is published by my brother and is available at or link to his blog below. 
At over 400 pages, it’s reasonably priced at $17 for soft cover and $6 for eBook.  It’s a very good read!
Russ Bridger's Book Publishing Blog
Also available at Amazon as a Kindle purchase at the link below. Amazon Prime members read for free!

1 comment:

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