Some afternoons we would be picked up from the firebase in a LOH. They were my favorite to fly in because they had only one pilot which left a front seat open for one of the Donut Dollies. Since the entire front was clear Plexiglas, I could see everything as we flew. I felt as if I were a bird - so free, so unencumbered - and for a few moments I could rise above all the killing and dying and soar effortlessly through the sky. It was like a mini R&R.
Sometimes the pilot would even let me fly the LOH - not take off or land - just fly. On one occasion, there was a soldier who caught a ride with us back to Dong Tam. I was in the front left and he was in the right rear seat. After we took off, the pilot let me fly. After a few minutes, the pilot winked at me and took control but I kept my hands on the stick and my feet on the pedals, so, to the guy in the back, it appeared as if I were still flying. The pilot took a steep bank between some trees and then began low leveling so close to the ground that we had to go up to get over the paddy dikes. Suddenly we went almost straight up and then almost straight down. Periodically, I would look at the soldier in the back and smile as if to say, "pretty cool flying, huh?" Each time I looked at him, his face had grown more ashen and his eyes were bulging further out. His expression revealed his thoughts. "I survived the VC and now this stupid Donut Dollie is going to kill me!"
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize to the young man I frightened that day. I know that he had experienced more than his share of fear and it was cruel of me to add to his trauma. I really am sorry.
Practical jokes in Nam were often more severe than they would have been back in The Real World. Dark humor serves a purpose in war. At one firebase the guys kept insisting that I needed to know how to fire an M-16. "What if we started getting overrun. You need to know how to defend yourself." Frankly, I did not like guns before I went to Nam and, after seeing the destruction caused by them, I was even less inclined to use one. But I finally agreed that I would fire one shot just to get a feel for the weapon in case it became a matter of life or death. They took me to a field, gave me some basic instructions and told me the direction to shoot. Overcoming my fear, I finally pulled the trigger. Those fools had put the M-16 on automatic, so once I pulled the trigger bullets started flying everywhere and I had no control over where they went. I'm sure they still laugh about it, and from a 30 year perspective, it was a well executed practical joke. I am just thankful that I didn't kill anyone!