Real War Stories: Vietnam, Old Cassettes and Some D??©j??  Vu

Date:  1970

Place:  Hill 65, South Vietnam

Déjà vu from Nam

Hill 65 was about 20 clicks South by Southwest of DaNang in I-Corps, South Vietnam.  It was in the center of what was known as “Indian Country.”  “D” Battery, 2nd battalion, 11th Marines had a composite battery located there.  It was a fairly powerful fire support base with 6-105 howitzers; 2-155 towed howitzers; 4-4 deuce mortars and 2-M108 Self Propelled howitzers.  Along with this fire support, there was “I” company, 3rd battalion, 5th Marines that was utilizing this hill as camp to run daily patrols and ambushes from.  There also was an IOD (Integrated Observation Device) located in the tower there.  Needless to say, we were a very good target for the bad guys to focus on.

There were a lot of ups and downs when it came to excitement.  The troops always kept things interesting though.  Many of them had little cassette type recorders where they would get messages from back home and play them over and over.  Some of them had cassettes with whatever the popular music was at the time.  Well, this story is about one of those cassettes and the recorder that was used to play a certain cassette.

I cannot remember all the details about the attack, but we took some incoming one evening.  I don’t think there were any serious injuries, but there was a little damage done.  One of the things that got damaged was a Marine’s cassette recorder and the cassette that was in it.  The Marine, a member of the FDC (Fire Direction Center), was extremely disappointed and really upset about losing his recorder and cassette.  He was of the opinion that it was beyond repair.  Being that I came from a family that had little, I was taught by my father not to throw anything repairable away until I was sure that was the case.  So, I asked the Marine to let me take a look at it to determine if it could be repaired in some manner.  He allowed me to give it a try.           

Well, this cassette recorder had seen its’ better days, but I was determined to see if I could make it work.  One of the problems was that the part that held the batteries appeared to have been rearranged in such a manner that the standard 9 volt battery did not seem to get the job done.  I had seen a Marine do something with a PRC-25 (basic radio for communication) battery that I thought I would try.  The battery was wrapped with some kind of paper and when you peeled it back, you would find the battery internal parts that were made up of a bunch of things stuck together.  I’m sure any engineer reading my last sentence has a complete comprehension of what I just said.  Anyway, I was taught that you can count the first six of these things (cells, I think) and then take your Ka-Bar and cut them out and you would have the equivalent of a 9 volt battery.  Each of these cells represented 1 ½ volts.  I then took this thing I cut out and got come comm. wire and somehow attached a piece to each end of this created 9 volt battery.  Then I took the other ends of the comm. wire and attached them to the places in the recorder that batteries used to fit into.  I was able to get the recorder to function in the play mode.

My next problem was to get a damaged cassette tape to play in this contraption that had been created.  Part of the cassette tape itself was OK, but another part of it wasn’t.  I was able to get a section of it to function as originally intended, but it would not or could not be rewound.  Therefore, I had to use something like a pencil and put it into one end of the tape wheel and turn it to rewind the tape so it could be played over again.  Did I fix it you might ask?  Questionable, is the answer.  I was able to get the former recorder to play one song and then by manually rewinding it, I could get it to play that same song over and over again, by rewinding it each time. 

I know everyone wants to know the name of that one song we now could listen to.  The name of the song was, “Try a Little Kindness” by Glen Campbell.  We adopted this song as a symbol of “triumph over adversity” anytime we needed a “pick me up” on Hill 65.  It became kind of a private joke to the FDC personnel when someone felt we needed to be reminded of something positive, he would play this song.  That song continues to have a very special meaning in my life.  I would encourage all the readers of this story to go to and type in “Glen Campbell-Try a Little Kindness” and listen very carefully to the words that he sings. 

Now for the “Déjà vu” part of the story and “fast forward” to the summer of 1989.  I was living in South Carolina and I scheduled a business trip to St. Louis, Missouri.  I planned to attend my 25th class reunion from high school which was being held in a small town in Iowa.  I had plans on Friday morning to catch a flight out of Lambert Field, fly home, stay with my parents, attend my 25th class reunion and fly home on Sunday.  Upon arriving in St. Louis earlier in the week, I felt I needed to get in the high school mood a little so I rented a “5.0” Mustang convertible to drive around and feel a little younger.  Friday morning came about and I started heading to Lambert Field to catch my flight to Iowa.  Guess what song came on the radio?  You guessed it!  When I heard that song, I turned the radio up and for some reason the speed of the car just seemed to increased also.  I was on “cloud nine” when all of a sudden, I heard a loud roar.  It kind of sounded like an explosion and I immediately looked up and saw two “F-4” Phantoms taking off from Lambert Field flying directly over me.  I immediately felt as if I was back in Nam in a fire fight and close air support was doing its thing of dropping ordinance “danger close”.  I had to pull off the road because I was shaking so badly.  The thought of looking for cover crossed my mind.  This all took place in a matter of seconds and because of my “immediate action” training, I felt as if I needed to do something.

I stopped the car and just sat there for a short period of time.  It felt like minutes and I was still shaking before I was able to collect my thoughts.  I very slowly went on with the days’ business, but I have never forgotten about my really first experience with “déjà vu”.  It seemed so very real.