Letter #61

July 12, 1969

Dear family!!!

Well, I'm back in An Hoa as I came down with an "Infection" and had to have shots of penicillin. It seems I'm allergic to penicillin so I got pretty sick, but I'm feeling pretty good now. No worry!

Well we are supposed to be going on a pretty good size operation in the Arizona area which is pretty bad.

Well in two weeks I get ready for R&R. This friend of mine just came back from Australia and said it was great. So now I don't know where to go. Now I've got to choose from Australia, Bangkok or Japan. Do you have any suggestions?

Did you receive the pictures of me serving chow on Go Noi Island? Maybe you can send one to Cheryl and Bobby.

Did you see the Life Magazine with the pictures of those killed on Memorial Day weekend? Well, 3 of them were with Mike Company. And one was in my squad. He tripped a booby trap. His name was John Kirschner. The other two were Lance Corporal Cooper and HMN Pyle. Pyle treated me when I got hit. Plus I also knew Jimmy Hickey from Quincy. I was surprised to hear he got killed.

If you haven't sent me the money orders yet, send me $300 instead of $250. That's Postal Money Orders! Thanks.

I'll try and write tomorrow.

Love, Paul


Looking back:

I didn't know how to tell my parents or didn't want to tell my parents that I had come down with a case of gonorrhea, yet wanted them to know I was safe in the rear in An Hoa and not out in the bush. I had what we called "The Clap."

When I had been discharged from 1st Medical Battalion, I got on a military bus after having a few beers at Freedom Hill and was joy riding around Da Nang. As the bus came to a halt at what was known as "Four Corners," which was near China Beach, the Air Force PX, NSA (Naval Support Activity Hospital) and the road to Marble Mountain, I got out of the bus as a few people (US military personnel) got on.

The driver of the bus was yelling at me to get back on the bus. He was saying I was not permitted to get off themes in this area. The beers were really starting to kick in now as I just looked up at him and laughed and said something like, "Come and catch me," and off I ran.

I disappeared quickly in a maze of make shift huts, walls of corrugated cardboard, sheet metal, wooden pallets, anything the Vietnamese could get their hands on. I was swallowed up into a Vietnamese neighborhood, being led down narrow alleyways by small children and a few male Vietnamese in Army uniforms I hope were that of the South Vietnam Army. They were asking if I wanted "Boom, boom," a slang way of asking if I wanted sex. Even though I was rested from my combat stress, I still wanted anything that would take my mind away from Vietnam, and so, Yes, it was "Boom, boom."

I'm not sure how many days later it was. I do know it was after going to stack arms with the company for a few days of drunken rest that I came down with the symptoms of gonorrhea. I wasn't alarmed at all. In fact inside was rejoicing because I knew I would be kept out of the field and the fighting for a few more days at least.

I went to the battalion aid station (BAS) in An Hoa and was tested and found to have gonorrhea. Again, inside I was feeling pretty good about not having to fight; but this feeling ended very quickly when two corpsman had me drop my trouser and lean over a gurney and prepare myself for not one, but two shots of penicillin. And not one at a time either but both together - one corpsman with a needle in my left ass cheek and one with a needle in my right ass cheek; and, in unison, they pushed the plungers on the syringes as hard and as fast as they could, filling my ass cheeks with peanut butter thick penicillin. "That should fix him!"

I could hardly walk. My behind was so sore and stiff. The corpsman thought it was so funny. They said I had a lesson to learn. "Protect yourself next time, Marine."

And then they added, "Be here tomorrow for more shots."

I nearly fainted at the thought of having to return for more shots.

I literally dragged my ass back to the company rear in An Hoa. My left leg was almost rendered useless. My mind was telling it to move, but it wouldn't. When I got to the company area, I complained to the 1st Sergeant about it; but he didn't seem to care. To him I was just another Marine hiding out in the rear that should be out in the bush fighting.

My condition worsened. I couldn't move my left leg. No one cared because with the company now back out in the field, Marines in the rear were considered fakes.

I'm not sure what I did the rest of the day, but that night I was assigned to bunker watch out of the defensive line of An Hoa. What normally should have been a five-minute walk out to the bunkers took me almost thirty minutes to get there because my left leg still wouldn't work. So, I had to walk with a limp; and again, no one cared.

The next day I went to the BAS again and saw the corpsman. They had big smiles on their faces and asked me why I was walking funny. I told them I thought they might have done something to me. They tried to say that what they did yesterday would not interfere with my legs or my walking, but I disagreed.

More penicillin was pumped into me, and my left leg almost felt paralyzed. The corpsman laughed even more.

Finally, after I complained enough, they had a doctor examine me; and all he could come up with was that maybe I was allergic to penicillin. To this day I consider myself allergic; but, in reality, I believe I was injured because too much peanut butter thick penicillin was injected too fast into the ass cheek muscles. I think about this every time I go to the doctor and the nurse says, "Now, do you have any allergies?"

Over a matter of a few days my condition improved, and my legs worked; but I had learned my lesson.

Life Magazine -

I still have the copy of the Life Magazine. It is one of my treasurers. I keep it protected in a plastic bag. Once in awhile, I will open the magazine and look at the picture of John Kirschner, Doc Pyle, Calvin Cooper, and a kid I went to high school with, James Hickey.

I learned that James Hickey had been killed in Vietnam when I saw it in the magazine. I couldn't believe it back then. Today I believe it, but it still is a shame.

Paul E. O'Connell
April 2000

Letter #62

July 15, 1969

Dear family!!!

How's everything been with my favorite people? I hope this letter finds you all in good health. Well today I'm standing day bunkers around the perimeter of An Hoa. You just sit here from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm looking through a set of field glasses, looking for "Charlie" setting up booby traps and etc.

Well An Hoa hasn't had any rockets in a long time. I think the war has slowed down a lot compared to when I first came.

Well, a year ago I was at Monfort Point and motor transport. I think time has really gone by fast. In 60 days it will be a year since I left home for California and Vietnam.

Thanks for the postcard of Paragon Park. It really makes you feel bad or homesick. About how many pictures do I have of over here now? I'm going to try and take a lot on my R&R. I'll get some of them developed there and send the rest home.

They say the warrant is in for Corporal; and if this is the truth, I've got a pretty good chance of making Sergeant if I stay in the bush, but I'm hoping for a job in the rear. Pray for me.

I just thought I'd tell you how "An Hoa" is pronounced. It's Anne Wuh. Okay? Well got to go for now.

Love, Paul

PS. Got another Quincy Sun


Looking back:

I was lucky enough to have stayed in the rear while my "infection" and reaction to the penicillin cleared up. Standing day bunker watch, or what simply was known as "Bunkers," was pretty good duty. I had never heard of the VC or NVA trying to put together a ground attack on An Hoa during the day.

Yes, rockets sometimes; but the enemy would never dare come out during the day in the vicinity of An Hoa. The entire defensive perimeter around An Hoa was protected by many strands of barbed wire, razor sharp. There also were claymore mines and supposedly 55-gallon drums of napalm that could be detonated the same way a claymore mine was. If I remember correctly, the fields of fire surrounding An Hoa's defensive bunkers were clear for hundreds of yards. No reason for the enemy to try and probe during the day when they easily could attack under the cover of darkness.

Paragon Park was an amusement park south of Boston at Nantasket Beach where I use to love to ride the roller coaster. Sharon and I spent a lot of time at Nantasket Beach and the amusement park. I still remember the postcard and the homesickness it triggered inside me. Actually, I have seen the same postcard recently in a store because it is now memorabilia with Paragon Park having been torn down years ago.

Paul E. O'Connell
April 2000

Letter #63

July 17, 1969

Dear Family!!!

It is no longer Lance Corporal, but instead, Corporal O'Connell. I got promoted again. Ain't that great? It was a meritorious promotion. I was a Lance Corporal for less than 3 months. The way I'm going, I could come home a sergeant. That would be great.

Well things over here are still the same, but at least they are not rocketing An Hoa. Today the temperature is about 95, and it's only 8:30 am.

Well, I'm going on R&R in 13 days and will be leaving the bush in 9 days for it.

Well can't think of much more to say except, take care and may God bless you all.

Love, Paul

PS. I'd love some more booze!!!


Looking back:

"O'Connell, front and center!"

During a company formation in An Hoa, I was promoted to Corporal in front of the entire company. I was never so proud. I remember hearing the words "meritorious combat promotion."

Captain Burns had told me he had put me in for the promotion because of my actions on the berm. And despite my troubles in the Que Son Mountains, the promotion became truth. I remember my Lieutenant telling me after the ceremony that I was lucky to have gotten the promotion and that he was surprised. He thought the Captain would have "squashed" the promotion because of my previous actions.

But all in all, my Lieutenant was happy for me and said congratulations.

After the ceremony I got together with a few buddies and drank beer to kill the pain in my arms from having the Gunny and 1st Sergeant and E-4s and above "pin my stripes" on me. This was done by having them punch my scrawny shoulders with their fist. Damn arms were sore as hell when they got done, but many beers took away the pain.

Paul O'Connell

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