We came 10,000 miles, almost 3 million of us, to fight America's longest war. When we arrived—on the beach at Da Nang, at the bustling air terminal of Tan Son Nhut, in the baking heat of Cam Ranh Bay—we were trim and eager, jaunty and scared But mostly, we were young. White and Black, Hispanic and Native American, Guamian and Hawaiian, the majority of us were not yet out of our teens. "Cherries" we were called, and "Newbies" and "FNGs"— "Fuckin' New Guys "-by troops hardened and made less sanguine, perhaps, by just a few months in the bush. Like them, we would age —bust our cherries—quickly.
During the rapid build-up of American forces in the wake of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution, entire units were shipped to Vietnam. Some were greeted by "friendlies" bearing wreathes of Rowers, others by sniper fire. Later, though, most of us cherries were sent as replacements, to be assigned individually to units after arriving in country. Once assigned, we plunged into the routines of our jobs, slogging through jungles and rice paddies; skying over land cratered and defoliated, lush and green, in helicopters and jet fighters and bombers; saving lives of the traumatically injured in evacuation hospitals; cooking and clerking, writing reports and clearing land from the Delta to the DMZ.
We soon found ourselves caught up, as Lieutenant Robert Salerni put it, "in a war of contrasts in a land of contrasts, " where few things were as they seemed The Vietnamese were at once friendly and deceptive, alluring and treacherous. The weather was____________________