By Harold Wayne Hamlin
The sixth in an 11-part series sharing the very personal story of one Long Range Recon Green Beret and his time in Special Forces training.
We had a three-day survival training exercise that was physically demanding. We had no food provided to us whatsoever during the exercise. Our water was from creeks and was treated with iodine pills to sterilize it.
I knew they were not going to feed us when they provided no lunch. Hey, survival training, right. It doesn’t take a genius. I conserved my energy. But I did manage to find a hand full of dandelions that I dug up, roots and all. I munched on them for half a day.
When I was 12 years old, I went a whole week without eating just to test myself. I would have made it longer, but my mother tricked me. One day, I came home from school, and in the refrigerator was half a chocolate pie and half a lemon meringue pie. Mother and the kids returned home about an hour after I had eaten both halves of pie and drank over half a gallon of ice-cold milk.
Mother was a good actress because she did an excellent job acting like she was upset with me. Dad was in on the play-acting too, because he acted mad and whipped me for eating the pies. I smiled. Those pies were the best I have ever eaten.
For three days, we ran around the woods with no food. On the third day, at 0400, the food trucks arrived with Insulated Metal Food Canisters. When they took the covers off, you could see the steam rise out of the canisters.
We all lined up with our mess plates and tools, everyone fighting to be first in line. I was 15 or so back in the line.
The line started moving forward, but no one was taking any food. I was puzzled because I knew they were hungry. I looked in the first canister. It contained whole chickens and rabbits. The chickens were complete with heads, feet, and guts. The rabbits were the same way.
I did not hesitate. I took two chickens by their feet and walked away, shaking the hot water off them. I had been killing, plucking, and gutting chickens since I was eight or so years old. Sunday fried chicken was what country people did.
Once I had broken the psychology barrier, everyone rushed to get their dinner.
I chose the chicken because they are easier to skin and gut.
One of the Senior Survival Instructor approached me and asked, “Where are you from, Private?”
This old West Texas boy, with as much fake pride as I could present, said, “New York City Sergeant.” He walked away, shaking his head.
Ralph, Liz, and I had become very close. We liked the same things. We had no ego problems. We enjoyed the same books and movies. We discussed politics; we never argued politics. Who could debate Liz with her total recall?
I ate mostly in the Mess Hall, but Liz would ask me what I would like, and she would fix it from time to time. I usually gave Liz money to buy the foods to be cooked. Fort Bragg was close to the coast, so seafood was easy to get. Once, I told Liz I wanted cornbread and sweet milk. I was surprised that they had never had it before.
Liz fixed a pan of hot cornbread. I was so very happy to take the cornbread, fill it with butter, crumble it up into a glass and pour cold milk over it. They loved it as much as I did. Liz fixed two more pans of cornbread, and we ate so much that we could hardly move.
We watched the 10 o’clock news and a movie then they took me back to the dorm. On the way back, I jokingly told Liz she needed to find me a girlfriend before I started climbing the walls.
Ralph and Liz came to say goodbye. They were packed and headed to the Fort Sam Houston medical school in San Antonio, Texas. The school would be 18 months of grueling hard work. Liz had completed high school and would be enrolling in college.
I never saw them again. I did get a letter from Liz twenty years later.
In the late 80’s while taking college computer classes, I was introduced to the Internet. One of the first searches I did was for Ralph. I found nothing. I then searched for Liz and had 7 or 8 listings. One was for a Liz, who worked in the Pentagon. My gut told me that it was Liz.
I wrote her a long letter telling her all that had happened to me and asking about her and Ralph. I addressed it to her at the Pentagon.
About eight weeks later, my wife gave me my letter from Liz – opened, and I suspect, days if not weeks old.
Liz said, of course, she remembered me. Ralph had completed med school. She had a miscarriage three months into her pregnancy.
Ralph had been sent to Vietnam soon after he graduated med school. He was assigned to an A-Team working with the mountain highland people near the Laos border and loved, dearly loved, giving them medical aid.
Three months into Ralph’s tour, the village, and the A-Team camp had been overrun by a large group of NVA (North Vietnamese Army). Ralph was killed tending the wounded. He was unarmed. I know he was unarmed because, in his letters to me, he told me he was disobeying a direct order to carry his weapon. He feared if he carried a weapon that he would use it in a moment of weakness.
Liz was a political analyst with the Pentagon. She had never remarried, and yes, she was still big. It would take six uniforms to cover her butt now.
Liz and I exchanged letters every year or so until the early 90’s. In her final letter, she said she was in very bad health and was looking forward to seeing Ralph. She could hardly wait to see his big grin; his arms spread wide with two thumbs up.
I never heard from Liz again. I am grateful to God that I knew them and knew the extent of their lives.
My eight weeks of Basic Special Forces training ended, and I started my primary (MOS) Military Occupational Specialty, Communications.
O5B4S – O5B for Communications 4S for Special Forces.
By studying so hard to achieve my very best on the radios, I scored 100%, which placed me in communications. For eight weeks, I spend eight hours a day listening and sending morse code.
Even now, 50 plus years later, I can still ‘work’ code.
Submitted by Harold Wayne Hamlin, Lubbock, TX. Harold was a Sergeant in the US Army during Vietnam, serving 16 missions as a Long Range Recon Green Beret while serving with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) and Command and Control North (CNN); where he was awarded a Purple Heart. Harold is also a retired Lubbock Fire Fighter.