WANNA CUSHY JOB, HUH?
This is an M42 40mm "Twin 40" Duster
This is just what you think it is
The year was 1966. Somehow, almost everyone relates that year to the war in Vietnam. But not back at that time! No, most of America had no idea what was heating up across the ocean and we in the active duty Army kept hearing rumors of possible combat assignments. For the most part, we heard Barry Sadler singing "Fighting Soldiers From The Sky..." on the radio and just thought it was those gung-ho Special Forces types looking for action so they could show off their fancy berets.
It's fair to say, I think, that Vietnam was pretty much "below the radar" then. It was the early Spring of '66 and I was assigned to the Basic Combat Training (BCT) Brigade at Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Tx. They re-opened the old barracks (we're talking OLD here, folks!) out at Logan Heights (formerly used during WWII and then foisted off on the Texas National Guard). They cleared cobwebs, repaired walls, fixed wiring, replaced all the broken windows, and traded US government coffee for lumber and other construction materials with the local merchants. I had NO idea how much the civilians valued our government coffee!
With all the dirt and spiders gone, here come the busses. They unloaded those poor, unsuspecting dudes, (otherwise called "draftees"), at the main post Reception Station (RecSta). Goodbye hair, hello scalp. They wind up at the BCT companies after their initial processing. Then they get a new shock to their young lives. That "shock" is known as "Drill Sergeants". As everyone in "our" generation knows, it was the Drill Sergeants' mission in life to "kick ass" from sunup to sunset. And, by golly, they did!
Wait! Hold on a sec! If the Drill Sergeants and Tac Officers were kicking ass from sunup to sunset, what rest did they get? Answer: the same as the draftees...little to none! Oh yeah, it came with the territory.
Okay...now you're thinking: wow...that shit must get old! Well, you're absolutely correct! Things were bad, our NCOs were being divorced left and right. It got SO bad, that a meeting was held with the BCT Brigade Commander, Brig Gen Fred Davison, one of the finest officers I've ever met. He promised relief; he would bring in a slew of additional Drill Sergeants to rotate hours and give them some resting time. He kept that promise. For the officers, the message was: TOUGH SHIT, GUYS!
Well, my story doesn't end here. You ever hear the expression: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't?" Well...lo and behold an "invitation" appears on all of the BCT bulletin boards. (Yep...we talking Jurassic Park here...no cell phones, no faxes, no iPods...etc. If you wanted to be "in the know", you had better read the bulletin boards). "ATTN: Lieutenants needed to join the M-42 Twin 40mm Duster Battalion at MacGregor Range". Aha! An open invitation to leave the long, torturous hours of running trainees up and down the hills, out to the firing ranges, morning PT, endless inspections in ranks, CMMIs, mess halls, and putting the "bad boys" on the right track. Ha...here's your ticket out of a daily hell.
Welllll....it worked! Lieutenants were jumping the BCT ship as fast as they could sign the papers. But, yours truly is a skeptic of sorts...y'know "there's no free lunch"...that sorta thing. I said to myself "There MUST be a catch here!" So, I stayed put.
Since many of my fellow BCT Lieutenants took the offer, I got daily reports of what they were doing. Seems that the good ol' dry desert weather was an ideal place to store the M42s of WWII for posterity...or future need. Their first task was to take them out of "cosmolene", the protective coating used for metals. This was easier said then done because cosmolene is designed to harden after it is applied. Plus it is a gooey, sticky, tar-like substance that is very difficult to wipe off or wipe up once you get to working with it. Considering the size of an M42...that was probably several weeks of cleaning those weapons. Then came the test firing, of course, as well as training gunners and mechanics to keep them operating proficiently. Not bad duty...nope...not bad duty at all. The worst part was the loneliness of working at MacGregor range...nothing but tumbleweeds, prairie dogs, and jackrabbits out there. And, having to drive back and forth to main post. Aren't we glad we jumped out of the BCT units?
Oh...wait a sec! Have you read anything so far that tells you WHAT they planned to do with those weapons? Nope...you sure haven't!! Drum roll, please: "GENTLEMEN...YOU HAVE JUST RECEIVED YOUR TICKET TO VIETNAM". And...off they went...Twin 40s were to be used for ground support and perimeter defense. Well, by golly...how about that! That "free ticket" out of BCT was really a rat-trap.
I waved "bye-bye" to many good friends and fellow training officers as they left Ft Bliss. I don't know how many of them now felt whether they had accepted an opportunity...or "taken the bait" to get out of BCT.
Following the age-old advice of "never volunteer", it allowed me to stay stateside at Ft Bliss for another eight (8) months before getting my ticket to Nam. This young rat bypassed the "trap" of the Duster Battalion and continued to "push croots" back at BCT. I've always remembered that there is "fire" under that "frying pan". Look before you leap.
Lt Dennis Dauphin