In 1988 I was working at Cannatta Communications in Houston. My job there was working as a duplication operator. We made copies of video onto VHS tape for companies like Block Buster and other corporations. I also worked as the House Editor when the other Video Production people were over booked with jobs, I helped take up the slack with editing. Another thing I did was to help keep all the equipment working so I wore the Engineer hat as well. I was there from 1987 – 1989.

In the duplication side of the business we could duplicate 300 plus VHS tapes per run. I watched a lot of movies and corporate videos. In that part of the building we had a clean room where VHS tape was made to specific time lengths depending on the total run time of the videos we were duplicating. There was a black gentleman that was one of the operators of the clean room. I don’t recall his name, but he was sort of quiet, did his job and kept to himself. For the sake of this writing I will call him Charles. Since I worked directly with Charles, he and I became good friends. I would give him work orders for the number of tapes and the length of time each tape required for the shift we were working.

Charles and I would take our lunch breaks at the same time so I would sit at his table to try to make small talk. At first, he did not say much. After a few days, he would tell me a little about himself. He revealed that he served in the Army in Vietnam. This really got my interest so I would ask him to tell me more about his time in Vietnam.

Eventually Charles would open up more and tell me of his experiences. Charles serve with the 1st Calvary in Reconnaissance. He was part of a small group of guys who would spend weeks out re-conning the enemy. They were known as LRRPs for Long Range Recon Patrols. The LRRPs were the first of the long line of Special Ops Groups that we know of today. In Vietnam the LRRPs would be dropped far behind enemy line by helicopter at night with a pre-arranged place and time to be picked up, usually a couple of weeks later. They could call in for pick up if things got too bad, but they tried not to do that if possible.

There were five guys in his LRRP and since Charles was a big guy, he carried the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) on his first patrols and then a SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) later. While on patrol they would try to stay invisible but if they were discovered, Charles’ job was to cover with fire while his comrades would fall back and try to get away. Once the other guys were clear, Charles would make his getaway. Staying to fight was suicide since there was no backup to call on.

Charles signed up for one more tour but after that one he came home. Like most Vietnam Veterans, he did not return to a hero’s welcome, so he did not talk about his time there very much. After getting to know Charles, he would tell me many of his stories, some boring times, some funny times and some tragic times. He figured out that I was genuinely interested in hearing of his experiences without any judgement. I think it was sort of therapeutic for him to talk, and I was glad I was able to help by listening.

One day I got the bright idea of pulling a joke on Charles since we had become friends. I brought to work a disarmed frag hand grenade that I had bought at Colonel Bubbies Surplus. He was working in the clean room. In the room there were several carts filled with blank VHS tapes. On each cart there were about 300 tapes. I slowly opened the door of the room, pulled the pin and released the spoon that arms the grenade. Since the powder had been removed there was no danger of explosion. I rolled the grenade across the floor into the room. I heard a lot of noise in the room, I looked and saw a cart of tapes had been pushed over and saw Charles looking over the edge of that cart while laying on the floor behind the cart. I walked in the room laughing but when I saw the look on his face, I stopped laughing. I lifted the cart back up and started picking up the tape to put back on the cart. Charles walked out without saying a word.

A few minutes later I went downstairs to look for Charles and found him smoking a cigarette in the parking lot. I walked out there and that is when I realized that what just happened was traumatic for him. I apologized and stayed out there with him while he calmed down. I asked him if he wanted me to leave, he said, “No, stay.” So, we stood in the parking lot for a few minutes while he finished his cigarette not saying a word. He finally said, “I had not heard that sound since Nam, and I freaked out”. I asked, “what sound?” He said when I released the spoon on the grenade the sound it makes is unique. When they heard that in the jungle, everyone dove to the ground since a grenade was heading their way. I apologized again, and he knew I was sincere. He forgave me. I bought Charles his lunch for the next week.

I learned something through this; be sensitive to what you say and do around combat veterans. Something simple like a sound can bring back some nightmare memories. This was before I heard the term PTSD but that is what guys like Charles deals with every day.