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Click to read "All Cracked Up"
Click to read "Newby"
Click to read "Hanging Tough is Tough"
Click to read "It Is Getting Better"
Click to read "Jack's War Never Ended"

George S. Kulas
Sergeant Major
US Army Retired


It was the first time I had it done in years, but it seemed like only yesterday. "Relax now, relax," the chiropractor said as he twisted my neck.

My thoughts took me back to that day in April of 1967 at Phu bai, South Vietnam. My first sergeant gave me the "evil eye" that morning while saying those dreaded words, "Marine get a haircut!"

I had been avoiding getting clipped by any of the Vietnamese barbers in the local village. Like all Marines, I did not trust any Vietnamese, unless I was absolutely certain they were not Viet Cong (V.C./Charlie).

I walked cautiously through the village, searching for a friendly looking barbershop. Soon I had given up on friendly looking, and stepped into one that was a suspicious looking, run-down, small shack, like all the rest.

The barber jumped from his chair. He was a middle-aged man, about 5 feet tall, and his wide smile showed only a few teeth that were so black they looked like fangs of coal. For a second I felt a sense of relief for not having to visit a dentist in the village.

The barber said, "Welcome, welcome Marine, I Charlie; I give you number one cut." A shiver ran down my spine as I thought, "this is all I need, a Vietnamese barber named Charlie who wants to cut me."

I reluctantly sat down in the barber chair, and ordered his "A" package: a haircut, a shampoo and a shave. The haircut and shampoo went fine; I was even starting to feel relaxed. But after lathering my face and neck, Charlie pulled out the longest, sharpest, brightest, and most dangerous looking straightedge razor I had ever seen. My eyes must have resembled lollipops; a searing pain rushed through them as they frantically shifted from the blade to Charlie and back to the blade.

Charlie slowly drew the razor over my Adam's apple to the tip of my chin. Suddenly it seemed very quiet. I didn't dare move anything except my eyeballs and they were still racing. I thought to myself, "one swift swipe of the blade and there will literally be one less Marine at head-count tonight." I imagined Charlie sneaking off to his V.C. friends that night, opening a box, and showing off his trophy--my head.

After what seemed hours, Charlie finally finished his carving and I began to breathe normally again. Then, in a flash, he wrapped his arms around my head and quickly snapped my neck. My heart was skipping beats as a terrifying realization that I hadn't been exaggerating Charlie to be a "Charlie" rushed through my mind. As I heard and felt the cracking in my neck, I was certain he was trying to break it.

I jumped to my feet screaming, "What the !@#$ was that!" Charlie laughed loudly and said, "You no like, first time huh?" Rubbing my neck I realized that it didn't hurt but instead it actually felt relieved. Still I didn't take Charlie up on his offer to, "crack the other way." I paid him and left in a hurry.

Because a Marine needs haircuts (often) and because I didn't want to experiment with another barber, I returned to Charlie many times during my tour. I always ordered his "A" package and he always threw in a neck cracking. I actually began to enjoy them. He chuckled each time I returned to his shop knowing how worried and nervous I was the first time.

I don't know if Charlie survived the war or its aftermath. If he did he may have continued barbering. But there is a strong possibility that he quit barbering and eventually became one of Vietnam's "crack" chiropractors.


As we were leaving the plane, the stewardess announced that she hoped we had a good tour--not a good day, as is usually the custom. I remember thinking to myself that I probably wouldn't have a good day, or see another pretty blonde like her, for the next 13 months.

Departing the air-conditioned plane into the stifling heat and humidity outside was like walking into a steam bath. It was March 27, 1967, and I had arrived at Da Nang Air base, South Vietnam. I was a young and green Marine private first class.

Our group of new arrivals hadn't even reached the terminal when we heard, "Here come some more newbys." Other comments directed our way were" "Man, are they green," "29 days and a wake-up," and "My replacement is here." I thought, "How long will it take to get rid of the label 'newby'? A week? A month?"

Finally, after a few days of processing, we were sent to our respective Marine units. Pvt. Jennings and I were sent to Communications Company, Headquarters, 3d Marine Division at Phu Bai.

Master Gunnery Sergeant ("Top") Fairchild, the senior enlisted soldier in the communications center, promptly put us to work replacing sandbags around the center. After a week the job was nearly finished, and Fairchild seemed very satisfied with our work.

The next morning we reported to our work site to put the finishing touches on our project. At the site we encountered Top Fairchild with a grim look on his face.

He told us the colonel did not like the walls, especially the way the sandbags looked. Many of the sandbags were filled inside out, leaving a ragged appearance to the colonel, who demanded they be replaced.

As many of the inside-out bags were spread throughout the protective walls Jennings and I had to virtually tear the walls down to fix the problem. We vocally expressed our dissatisfaction with each bag we took down, emptied, refilled and put back up.

Several long days later we completed the task and began working in the communications center. We were ribbed by our fellow Marines about our farcical escapade. "Typical newbys," they proclaimed.

I was determined to get rid of the description, "newby". For the next several weeks I worked hard at my new job; I was even gaining some respect from my superiors and peers.

One morning, after getting off the 1400-0200 shift, I was awakened around 0500 hours by voices I soon recognized as those of Top Fairchild and the first sergeant. The voices were now getting closer, and I heard Top Fairchild say, "Kulas and Jennings are the newest members of the company, and they'll adjust the easiest." I was thinking, "Adjust to what?" A few minutes later Jennings and I were packing our bags, reassigned to the communications center at Dong Ha, the northernmost combat base in South Vietnam.

When we arrived at Dong Ha we were met by a corporal who took us to see the gunnery sergeant. The gunney told us where to put our gear, to get settled in, get some chow and report for work at 2200 hours for the 2200-1000 hours shift. Explaining that we had been on the 1400-0200 hours shift the day and night before and had been awake since 0500 hours, I pleaded with the gunney to let us get some sleep, since it was now 2100 hours. The gunney didn't respond he just glared at me.

During the shift I was trained in distributing messages to the various units of the division. By this time I was very sleepy and began to doze off. Suddenly I was jolted awake by the gunney slamming his fist on my desk. His bulging steely eyes were glaring through me as he said, "Marine wake up and get to work." Snapping to, I started back at my tasks.

But the need for sleep kept taking priority over my boring job, and I dozed off again and again only to be caught each time by the gunney, who was getting very upset with me. During one of my napping periods I was awakened by the deafening sound of shooo-boom, shooo-boom, shooo-boom! Marines were yelling, "Incoming", and diving for the deck. I dove with them, shaking and scared.

Finally the firing stopped, and we went back to work. Several minutes later the roar of boom, boom, boom was heard. I screamed "Incoming" and dove for the deck. After flopping down, I became curious why I hadn't heard my fellow Marines yelling and diving for cover. Peeping up, I saw the gunney standing over me and the other Marines staring at me in disbelief. With the booming sounds still thundering I yelled, "Get down, incoming." The gunney bellowed, "Get up, Marine. Outgoing!"

For months after that I had that "newby" feeling about myself. Just when I was gaining the respect and confidence of the gunney and my fellow Marines I would screw something up again.

The gunney finally completed his tour and want back to the States. I had 10 months in Vietnam and decided to voluntarily extend my 13-month tour for an additional six months. I think one of the reasons for that was I wanted to start over with a clean slate.

I started feeling good about myself. I hadn't screwed up under a new gunney. I was promoted and was working in a supervisory position. A few months later I took my extension leave and returned ready to continue doing well.

The night I returned from leave I immediately went to the hooch to sleep. My gear had been put in storage before I left on leave, so I didn't have an area to bunk down. I sacked out in another Marine's area. I was awakened by the Marines returning from their shift. That's when the fact I was no longer a "newby" in the eyes of my fellow Marines struck home.

A Marine who had arrived after I had departed on leave bellowed, "there's a newby in my area." Another Marine who recognized me said, "That's not a newby, that's an old-timer back for his extended tour--been here before any of us." I was now a veteran.

Five months later I left Vietnam for good; it was Dec 6, 1968. I was being assigned to the communications center at Camp Courtney, Okinawa. The majority of Marines there had not yet been to Vietnam. I felt I would have it made there; being a veteran of Nam I wouldn't have to take anything from my colleagues. As I arrived at the in-processing station on Okinawa, I told the sergeant I was reporting in from Nam. The sergeant turned to a private near him and said, "Process this newby, he just got in."


After 19 months in Vietnam, I arrived at Camp Courtney Okinawa. I was to spend my last six months on active duty in the Marine Corps at the camp. It was December 1968.

Before I even unpacked, I started counting the days until I would get out of the Corps, go home to college and buy a brand new, fire-engine-red Mustang with my savings.

I was looking forward to the "good life". Although I was lonely, I didn't want to get to know anyone.

I had known too many Marines in "Nam" who always seemed to leave one way or another, just when we became good friends. After having to say goodbye to several of these buddies, I became hardened and tough. It was easier that way.

When it was finally my turn to leave I simply shook hands and said something like, "Keep your head down" or "Have a nice life." I wanted to say more, something like, "I'll really miss you," or "I'll never forget you," but I kept my true feelings inside.

I "hung tough."

But on Okinawa the inevitable happened: A few Marines took me in. Montgomery, Harrington and Kuhn became my best friends.

We were always together after duty hours--playing tennis or basketball, running or lifting weights. After our workouts, we would have a few drinks at the enlisted club, sometimes more than a few.

At the club we would laugh and joke around, but we'd also have serious discussions about our future plans, our hopes and our dreams.

Dancing with the Okinawan girls who frequented the club was always part of our evenings. One such girl was Yoko.

I liked Yoko a great deal, but I fought off getting serious. I still was thinking about the "good life" that I was going to be having at home.

A few days before I was scheduled to depart Okinawa, I was transferred to the out-processing station at Camp Hansen. I had arranged to meet my buddies at the Courtney Enlisted Club on my last night.

When I arrived at the club, they were there waiting, along with just about everyone else from my unit. I was overwhelmed, but I didn't show it. I told myself to be strong, be a Marine, and "hang tough."

Before long it was time for me to get back to Hansen for the midnight bed check.

I "hung tough" as I made my way through the group, shaking each Marine's hand, while Yoko clung to my arm.

I "hung tough" when I reached Montgomery, Harrington and Kuhn at the door. We shook hands I wanted to hug them, but I didn't. Yoko still was clinging to my arm when we got outside. Then she said, "I think I never see you again."

That's when it hit home and I felt myself starting to break.

I quickly jumped into a waiting taxi. The taxi sped toward Camp Hansen, taking me farther and farther from my friends.

My chest was heaving and my entire body was shaking uncontrollably. My eyes felt swollen as tears rushed from them.

I was thinking of Yoko, Montgomery, Harrington and Kuhn. I was thinking of the Corps and all of the good Marine buddies I had known during my three-year tour.

I was feeling empty inside and as lonely as I had ever felt in my life.

The Okinawan taxi driver looked at me curiously and said, "Why tough Marine cry? You go home tomorrow. Be happy."

But I wasn't happy and I couldn't "hang tough." I couldn't fake it any longer.

My home was quickly fading behind me, and I realized I would never see it again.


At last I was home. It was June 7, 1969 and I had just been released from my Marine Corps tour, which included 18 months in Vietnam. It felt great wandering the sidewalks in my hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Finally I was on solid ground.

Green lawns and trees surrounded me. My feet were not sinking in mud; the air was fresh and clean. Safe and secure, I was home. Wearing my uniform one last time, this was my solo homecoming parade.

A day earlier, in California, our group of newly discharged Marines traveled by bus from Camp Pendleton to the airport. Numerous vehicles passed us on the freeway, their occupants sneering at our Marine Corps bus. A few passengers waved and displayed peace signs, but more of them displayed middle fingers, while some spat at our bus.

The joyful atmosphere present upon departing Camp Pendleton had changed to quiet anger. A tough looking combat vet I sat next to lowered his head, saying, "As soon as we get to the airport, this uniform is coming off. I don't want anyone to know I was a Marine. Nobody cares what we went through in Vietnam."

We both needed cheering up. "It will get better when we get to our homes, " I said.

Close to tears, he replied, "It will never get better."

Now back home, California seemed like 10 years past and a million miles away. I wanted to believe that because this was Small-town U.S.A.; attitudes would be different. After all, boys had always gone to war from here and come back as men and heroes; Vietnam vets wouldn't be treated any different. At the corner of Eighth and Erie, I heard someone call out, "George! You're back."

The young man approaching me was unfamiliar. Then I recognized the voice as he asked, "Hey man, you don't recognize your old buddy Bob?" A beard and shoulder length hair masked his features. He didn't resemble the crew cut Bob I knew in high school. He wore a "Make Love Not War" T-shirt; a peace symbol hung from his neck on a chain.

Chuckling, Bob said, "Back from the war, eh, George? I can dig that. I'm just mellowing out during summer break. Don't want to go back to school in the fall, but it always keeps me out of Nam, know what I mean, George? I'd rather party than fight."

With my anger and frustration building, all I could do was mutter, "I can see that," and kept on walking."

Bob shouted at my back, "hey George, welcome home! Get the monkey suit off and we'll party!" To this day, it was the hardest time I ever had restraining myself from committing a Class A felony.

At college a couple of months later, I encountered many people like Bob. During one class, my professor asked whether anyone had been to a foreign country. When I said I had been to Vietnam, he and most of the students laughed. He said he was interested in cultural, not combat, experiences. I said I'd rather be in combat than listen to your bullshit and walked out.

In 1972 I enlisted in the Army, to eventually retire after 20 years-combined service, once again moving home to Wisconsin. Soon after my return, our forces were battling in Desert Storm. Later, not long after the Gulf War ended, I attended a victory celebration and almost fell over when I saw Bob there. Now a well off businessman, he wore a $500.00 suit with a yellow ribbon pinned to his chest.

"Hey Kulas, how you doing? Good to see you again," Bob said while approaching me with his arm extended for a handshake.

Keeping my hands to myself, I asked, "What are you doing here?" Smiling broadly, Bob boasted of how his son fought in Desert Storm, saying how proud he was of him and of all the troops who served there. Pulling out a wallet, he said, "Kulas, he's still in Saudi. Let me show you his picture. He's a sharp looking Marine."

Looking at his son's picture, I said, "Bob, he does look good. We are all proud of our troops." Looking Bob up and down, I added, "But you're a walking definition of a hypocrite dressed in a monkey suit."

As Bob glared at me in shock and disbelief, I bellowed, "Semper Fi!" Walking away with my head tall, I told myself, "It is getting better."


My friend Jack returned to his hometown of Milwaukee over 30 years ago. Unfortunately, while those years have flown by for me, Jack has remained trapped in the one-year time span prior to his return. Every day, week and month in Jack's life continues to be part of this horrendous, endless year.

I met Jack in Okinawa, Japan, in 1967. We were Marines on our way to Vietnam. He noticed me at the gym sporting a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt. He asked me where I was from, and when I replied Sheboygan, Wisconsin, he said, "That's a suburb of my hometown, Milwaukee."

Over the next several days, we talked a great deal about our home state and the new home we would have for the next year. Jack told me he had two goals he wanted to accomplish: First, he wanted to perform to the best of his ability during his tour in Vietnam, and second, he hoped to return home safely to live a happy and productive life. Jack's fulfillment of the former was probably instrumental in his failure to realize the latter.

Although we were both going to Vietnam, our experiences there would be much different. Jack, who said he had seen enough combat movies and now wanted to see the real thing, was going to the "bush" as a proud infantryman. I was being assigned as a communications specialist.

While in Vietnam, Jack and I corresponded through letters. I noticed shortly after our arrival that Jack's enthusiasm for combat had quickly dwindled. "It's definitely not like it is in the movies, " he wrote in one of his letters. "I'm soaking wet all the time from the sweat that pours out of me in the sweltering heat while we trudge through the dense jungles. The blood and the terror are real; I can't say it's only a movie and go home. It's reality, and it's scary as hell. I'll only go home if I'm lucky and, if I'm luckier still, I'll go home in one piece."

As time passed, Jack's attitude became more negative. "There is no glory in war," he said in another letter. "Only death, mutilation and sorrow. Many nights I have cried myself to sleep. I can't remember what it's like to smile, much less laugh."

When he was wounded, Jack was actually grateful. "It got me out of the bush," he said. But as soon as he healed, they sent him back. Although Jack's tour was winding down, he was still a long way from home.

In the last letter I received from Jack in Vietnam he wrote, "I have lost count of how many buddies of mine have been killed, or the number that have been maimed for life in this dreadful war. I see them in my dreams. I hear their screams of agony. The hysterical cries from boys for their mamas keep getting louder and louder, until I wake up screaming myself."

Jack and I have remained in touch since Vietnam. Recently, his youngest son was discharged from the Marines, and I was privileged to attend his welcome home party. His son didn't see any action during his stint, and Jack was very happy about that. His wife was just as happy.

She has seen what action did to Jack. "I know Jack's nightmares almost as much as he does," she said to me the day she phoned about the party. For a while she would wake him, but now she just lets the devilish dreams take their course. "He tosses and turns violently," she said. "His frantic shrieks are horrible."

No, it's not like the movies. Jack, like many other combat veterans, is an unwilling viewer, having been taken hostage by nightly reruns of horrifying experiences in war. Jack's yearlong tour in Vietnam never ended, and he still isn't home.

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Music: Wonderful World