MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
Fit To Be Tied
By Robert "Bob" Peavey
July in Vietnam was hotter than the hinges on Hell’s door. Temperatures of 120 degrees were not uncommon; the heat was unbearable. The uniform of the day seldom included underwear. You had to let the boys down there be free in order to breathe; and underwear only increased the risk of heat rash in the holiest of places. Some unfortunate souls were afflicted with a more severe form of heat rash, known throughout the Nam as “crotch-rot.”
How to treat it or deal with it in the field? No one really knew. Corpsman were equally perplexed since salves and ointments had no effect. The greatest medical minds in Nam, with the latest medicines and antibiotics, offered no cure that didn’t involve an air-conditioned hospital ward.
But then, no one had bothered to ever ask Staff Sergeant Embesi. He liked to think he knew everything, and over the years, I’d found that he usually did. So why should it surprise any of us that he had the cure?
Dr. Embesi was also our platoon sergeant and I had the unfortunate luck of being assigned to a tank as remote from the rest of the platoon as any tank could be. We were in the most Godforsaken area in the DaNang TAOR, in the outer fringes of Dodge City, at a Korean Marine outpost called The Mudflats. The surrounding area had been an impassable sea of mud only months earlier, but by now had become as solid as concrete. Its appearance was comparable to Death Valley’s, its mud surface cracked into shiny irregular shapes that reflected the noonday sun. Like a potter’s kiln, its withering, chest crushing heat made even talking an effort; words were kept to a minimum―we called the place simply, The Flats.
Duty in this outpost was so bad, that Embesi had set up a rotation system: Each week one crewmember would fly out with the chopper that brought in our mail and his replacement. Now it was my turn to go back to the platoon CP at Hoi An, on the oceanfront beach inside the Korean Marine Corps HQ. The cool breezes coming off the South China Sea were a luxury after 3 weeks in an outpost that didn’t even know that air could move.
Arriving at the CP, I was assigned to one of the hardback hootches and a cot. This was really living! A few cots down from me was a fellow tanker with a bad case of crotch rot, fanning himself as best as he could. Embesi came in, examined the man’s condition, and immediately assured him that he had, “The Cure.” The patient was desperate enough to try anything.
“Air movement!” Embesi prescribed, “You just ain’t getting’ enough air down there.” Embesi convinced the patient that to promote air circulation, he needed to “lift and separate” all his “parts.”
At first glance, it was a rather simple contraption: A solitary string tied to Embesi’s cot, ran up to an overhead rafter and threaded through an eye-screw, then descended again over the subject’s cot, where it divided into two strands. The patient was instructed to tie each of the sections to his privates. To lift the man’s equipment, Embesi only had to pull on the string as he tied it off to his cot.
After the contraption was secured, the patient (or victim; I was never sure what to call him thereafter) asked Embesi a simple, yet reasonable question: “Hey, suppose we get incoming during the night?”
The good doctor was sitting on his cot five feet away, tying off the lines and checking their tautness. Reaching down, he brandished a large pair of scissors, “I have these for just such an emergency,” he said with a big grin. “I’ll be here to cut the string.”
Embesi had been my platoon sergeant for almost two years now, and I knew that grin. I was sure there would be more to this Marine’s convalescence.
That night around 2 AM, I became aware of our hooch’s screen door creaking open. I could make out someone tiptoeing into the hooch. His silhouette gave him away―it was Embesi; he was apparently carrying something heavy. As he got to the center of the hooch, I glimpsed that it was a cinderblock.
I was up on one elbow taking it all in. Our eyes met and that familiar grin crossed his face. He raised the cinderblock, his arms were over his head when he let go of it. The crash of the heavy block on the hollow wooden floor was felt before it was heard. Embesi’s scream of “Incoming” only heightened the effect. Fifteen combat Marines reacted instinctively by racing to be first out the door. At the same time, Embesi’s cot was lifted off the deck by one very taut string! A single scream pierced the night, followed by the cot crashing to the deck.
Seconds passed. Embesi and I were the only ones left in the hooch, both of us in uncontrollable fits of laughter that was answered by a solitary voice emitting from the slit trench just outside the hooch: “Embesi! You son-of-a-bitch! I’m going to kill you!”
I looked back at the string that was swinging back and forth over the cot. Nothing was hanging from it.