Fourth Platoon's new lieutenant, writes Grady Myers in Boocoo Dinky Dow, "was a stocky Californian with a thick moustache that curled up on the ends. He told us how he used to live on the third floor of a warehouse in L.A." His name was George and he was "so mature, a natural officer."
George was also one of three men who were killed on March 5, 1969. That's when members of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, walked into an ambush near the Cambodian border. He is the only soldier lost that day who is mentioned by name in the book -- and then, only by his first name, because that is how Grady remembered the popular platoon leader. In the ambush chapter of the memoir, he recalls how the last words the lieutenant said may have been some good-natured ribbing that he gave Grady. And he recalls the impact of George's death.
The medic returned to bandage my arm, rewrap my leg wounds and tear open my bloody shirt to look for more damage. Then he moved on to another wounded man who was lying a couple of yards to the left. To my right was George’s body.
George’s death had devastated the radio operator, who had been his friend, assistant and roommate for nearly a month. I could hear the big RTO crying like a kid into the phone as he called in air strikes. His sobs were more easily understood than his directions. George was dead. The lieutenant was gone.
I'm grateful to Charlie Company veteran Bob Robbins for supplying George Callan's last name, as well as the name of that heartbroken radio operator: Dennis Harris. I'm grateful to DelShahn, the volunteer at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, who sent me an etching of Lt. Callan's name as it appears on the Wall in Washington, D.C.
Most especially this Memorial Day, I am deeply aware of the sacrifices George and the others who died in Vietnam, and of men like Grady, who suffered greatly because of the war but lived to share their stories.
By Julie Titone
Through the plexiglass door window, I could see the pilot throw back his head and laugh hysterically, delighted with his own aerial acrobatics. Until he took his helmet off—revealing a bald head and his most distinctive features, a long, hawked nose and a white scarf, worn tied around his neck.
“Holy shit, man! Man, we knew you’d be back!” Guys were walking hunched over under the rotating blades to the pilot door, which Hawk had opened, and were giving him the soul fist and patting him on his head. After a brief bit of banter, Hawk squawked, “C’mon, let’s go!”
Grady Myers, aka Hoss, knew many soldiers in Vietnam only by their nicknames. I've often wondered about their real names, most especially that of Hawk, who is featured in Grady's art on the cover of "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Maybe someone who reads this will know the U.S. Army pilot's identity and drop me a note.
The scene from the memoir that is quoted above takes place in January 1969 as members of Charlie Company are about to be choppered away from Fire Support Base 30. The colorful pilot pops up again on March 9, 1969, when Grady is wounded during an ambush in the Plei Trap Valley of the Central Highlands.
As I waited and listened to the screams of a wounded Vietnamese, a helicopter appeared in the patch of sky that broke through the tall trees above my head. The small, hornet-like Loach chopper, with its mini-guns, was moving in a tight circle.
I was relieved, especially when I saw Hawk’s long scarf dangle as the pilot stuck his head out the window. The cavalry had arrived.
I'd like to give a shout-out to the many brave soldiers who flew in 'Nam, including folks in the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association. They served in the first conflict that saw wide-scale tactical deployment of helicopters, which served as troop ships, warships and ambulances. Had it not been for the helicopter that whisked him off the battlefield, Grady might not have survived to tell his stories.
Julie Titone is co-author of the Grady Myers memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Grady was an M-60 machine gunner in The U.S. Army's Company C’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in late 1968 and early 1969. His Charlie Company comrades knew him as Hoss. Thoughts, comments? Send Julie an email.