Flashback from Vietnam

J. Michael Logsdon

I have often been asked if I had any flashbacks from my 14 months in Vietnam. The answer is a resounding YES. Actually, I’ve experienced a number of flashbacks but I'll try to describe one that still comes to mind every time I drive down Shaker Blvd. here in Northeast Ohio.

In late 1969 I was serving with the First Cavalry Division and was stationed at Landing Zone Don, very close to the Cambodian border. I was given the opportunity to "go for a ride" to provide security for a "mission" that required going into one of the small towns right on the border. In fact, I'm not so sure that we weren't in Cambodia. Actually, we were on a mission to buy some ice for our beer.

I was seated in the back seat of the Army jeep as we traveled along the dirt road to the village. It was late in the day and the comment was made that the impending darkness probably made the trip a little risky. Not only is the scene of the overhanging tree branches still vivid in my memory, but I even took a picture on it.

We were fully armed and I had my M-16 locked and loaded. I had walked flank for a mine-sweep mission that morning and we had taken advantage of a small hillside for a "mad-minute." Unknowingly, our little Jeep was headed into an ambush.

We had just passed through a clearing and entered a section with more dense vegetation. Suddenly a sniper fired a burst, including green tracers, across the road at windshield height, about 50 feet in front of us. The driver (Jim Carmen) tried his brakes but knew he couldn't stop. Our immediate reaction was to duck for cover, but there was nowhere to hide in the open Jeep. The driver's next reaction was to floor the accelerator to try to somehow get through the ambush.

Why Jim's reaction to the tracers was to speed up made no sense. We were on a dirt trail, not a highway. We were bouncing all over the place, and it was hard enough to stay in the jeep, let alone aim at a sniper.

I think we bounced our way over the stream of rounds, or the sniper ran out of ammo, because somehow we survived. We didn't stop but barreled back to the LZ on some other route. When we got to to the green line the guys were closing the gate. "What are you guys up to? Who gave you permission to be off base?" But the worst news: "Lt -------- came in just ahead of you. They got hit and had a Line 2. Get ready for guard."

So what does all this have to do with flashbacks?

The next summer, back home and happily enjoying a summer night out with friends, I was driving home at about 1 AM in my new Porsche 914 with the top down and stereo blaring. There was no traffic. I was enjoying the cool air and not focused on driving. As I passed under Interstate 271 I saw the clearance lights on a truck crossing overhead.

Suddenly I was no longer on Shaker Blvd. in Cleveland, Ohio but in that Jeep in Phouc Binh province in Vietnam. The truck's sidelights were those tracers. But I didn't speed up to get through the tracers -- I drove up over the curb and trashed my new car.

Suddenly I was very much alone, a little confused as to what had happened, with a damaged car and damaged pride. The first person along the road was a Beachwood police officer. He approached cautiously, confirmed that I was OK and immediately put me through a sobriety check and then grilled me with the necessary policeman-type questions. He then started to arrange for a tow.

As we were standing there -- actually I was sitting at the policeman's direction -- he suggested that I had fallen asleep. I began to realize that this cop wasn't intent on writing a citation. He was trying to settle me down. Eventually I told him about the tracers.

Beachwood, Ohio had a small police force in 1970, although they have a reputation for being aggressive enforcers of the law. Here I was, a young kid, having just trashed my first sports car (that I had purchased as a gift to myself for surviving 'Nam), telling a cop a hard-to-believe story at 1:30 in the morning.

As luck would have it, the police officer did understand. He was a Vietnam vet! He was an Air Force veteran who was on an advance team when Bien Hoa Air Base was constructed in 1960. And it became clear that he was there to help.

Although I couldn't open the right door of the car (the sill plate was creased from underneath), I used his flashlight to confirm that there were no dripping fluids or other obvious damage. I had missed a phone pedestal by inches. The police officer allowed me to back the car onto the street to check the steering. Everything felt OK.

More out of encouragement from the police officer than confidence in myself, I was on my way. He even asked that I leave a message with his dispatcher to report that I arrived home OK.

I have enormous respect for the current military men and women who are seeing so many deployments. The reports of PTSD, survivor's guilt, and high suicide rates are truly understood by the Vietnam veterans of our generation. We get it.