Since the mid to late eighties, an unusual phenomenon had been noticed: people who had never served in the military were declaring themselves to be Vietnam veterans, and real veterans were claiming to have served with elite units to enhance their service.
One study noted that while thirty-five hundred soldiers were said to have served as LRRP/ Rangers over the course of the war, more than five thousand veterans have since claimed to have served in LRRP/ Ranger units.
So it was no surprise when attendees to the weekend event showed up with hats, berets, T-shirts, and uniform jackets bearing logos or patches of elite units. There were also a few attendees dressed in battle-dress uniforms of foreign military units, including those of the French Foreign Legion.
Behind the Lines magazine, the journal of U.S. Military Special Operations, had set up a booth at the show, and its executive editor, Gary Linderer, had invited its editors and contributors to attend. Among those at the booth during the long weekend were Gary Linderer, Kenn Miller, Reynel Martinez, Larry Chambers, Greg Walker, Doc Norton—all veterans who’d served in elite units—and others who were talking with veterans, answering questions, telling war stories, or signing their books.
As the magazine’s “humorist,” I was there as well, looking for unusual stories.
One advantage of events like that is that I knew I wouldn’t have to search very hard to find them. That time I was lucky because the story came to me.
“Magazine, huh?” one visitor asked, stopping in front of the table and checking out the booth and staring at a stack of back issues of Behind the Lines.
"Yes, we are,” I said. “Here! Take a complimentary copy.” I handed him one.
Linderer and Martinez were taking a coffee break while Kenn Miller and I manned the booth. However, much of Miller’s attention was taken up by a Taiwanese film crew whose members were surprised and pleased to find an American who was able to answer their questions in their native tongue. Two of them, in fact; Miller is fluent in several Chinese dialects.
"What do you do at the magazine?” the visitor asked, studying my name tag. “A senior editor,” I said, “which just means I’m old. You a vet?”
"Nam,” he replied. I nodded. He was overweight and balding and wore what hair remained in a ponytail beneath a battered green beret.
"Special Forces, huh?” I said. This time he nodded. “You with the Group or SOG?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Green berets,” he said.
I sighed. He was dressed in jeans, frayed jungle boots, a T-shirt that read HONK IF YOU’RE HORNY, and a jungle fatigue shirt with a variety of patches sewn on the sleeves. There were two colorful rows of combat ribbons that said he had seen combat but that he didn’t know which order it came in. That was his first mistake. The red-white-and-blue-striped Silver Star award was placed after an Air Medal, below a Purple Heart, and next to a Good Conduct Medal. His Silver Star award also had a V device indicating that the award was for valor, which was another mistake, because the Silver Star is awarded for gallantry, which in the military scope of things ranks a step above valor. It is not awarded with a V device. A blue-and-white Combat Infantryman’s Badge was pinned just above the ribbons with a flat silver oblong badge. The flat badge had a triangle in its center, and I didn’t recognize it at first. Then I smiled seconds later, realizing that I had seen it on the uniforms of the officers who manned the bridge on the television series Star Trek, either generation. The combat patch on his right sleeve was an olive drab subdued MAC-V insignia, while a Special Forces arrowhead patch was sewn on the left sleeve. On one shirt jacket pocket was a death’s-head skull; an ace of spades was sewn on the opposite pocket. A number of Vietnam War–related pins were spread out across the pocket flaps and lapels like shrapnel from an exploding surplus store, but it was his green beret that caught most of my attention. The weathered beret had a Special Forces insignia, a French paracommando crest, and the flat-black rank pin of a Marine lance corporal. The crests, patches, other insignia, and beret were an unusual mix of services, units, and time warps.
It was happening again.
Earlier that morning while Linderer, Miller, and I were seated at the table at the booth, a man approached wearing an army fatigue shirt with a generic 75th Infantry Ranger scroll on the right shoulder as a combat patch. Since there wasn’t a division or field force patch beneath it, there was no way of knowing which company he had served in during the war.
"I was a Ranger in Nam,” he said. Linderer and Miller looked up.
"Who were you with?” asked Linderer, meaning which unit and where. It was the standard greeting ritual veterans go through with other veterans to establish common ground and a bond.
"The Second Batt,” said the man. “The Second Batt” meant the 2d Ranger Battalion. Linderer smiled. Miller, on the other hand, was sneering, as I pointed out that there wasn’t a 2d Ranger Battalion in Vietnam.
"In fact, the battalions didn’t exist back then, just companies,” Linderer added, smiling.
Miller smiled, too, but it was the deranged grin of a pit bull sizing up a poodle. “You worthless piece of shit! I ought to cut your legs off,” he said, with as much diplomacy as he could muster.
Kenn Miller is one of only a handful of LRRP/ Rangers to have served two and a half years with the 101st Airborne in behind-the-lines combat. He has little patience for “wanna-be” elite combat veterans and a pathological disgust for those who’d wear a 75th Ranger combat patch pretending to have earned it.
Linderer was still shaking his head in disgust as the make-believe LRRP/ Ranger veteran quickly excused himself, realizing that he had somewhere else to be.
Throughout the previous evening and much of that morning, we had encountered other such “make-believe” veterans, including a French Foreign Legionnaire who couldn’t speak French, a navy SEAL or two who couldn’t remember which team they served with, and other pretend Rangers who wore the 75th Ranger scroll company patch over the wrong division or field force patch.
“Very Crazy, G.I.! Strange but True Stories of the Vietnam War,” by Kregg P. Jorgensen
How I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb
Background: Party chanced upon an airship belinging to their enemies that landed on the deserted island they were on. Remembering that this vessel should have a large number of alchemical fire bombs on board, they decided to attempt to infiltrate and set the alchemicals on fire to destroy it.
After a long and tough challenge, the wizard specializing in alchemy and ranger manage to get on board undetected and found the place those fire bombs were stored.
DM: Before you you see racks upon racks of large cylindrical ceramic shapes that are a half-sphere at the bottom and at the top have a quartet of fins, like a crossbow bolt of arrow. They are about 3 feet tall each. You count roughly 50 of them.
Wizard: Could i fit that into my backpack?
DM: You would have to carry it in your arms. If you can lift it that is.
[The two of them spent some time preparing the place to turn into a hellish inferno by remote detonation, only being interrupted once by a crewman, murdered with extreme prejudice]
Wizard: I set the bombs up, leaving one untouched so I can take it with me.
DM: The bomb weighs about 50 lbs. And you’d need to left it, hold it in your arms and decent a narrow 10 feet long ladder. And then jumping to the ground from the gondola, all the while holding this thing in both arms.
Wizard: I conjure up a mage hand to help me!
Wizard (to the ranger): Lucan take this scroll, i will need to focus on carrying this, you’ll know when to use it.
DM: With mage hand you just about manage to carry the 50 lbs liquid napalm enclosed in a thin ceramic shell, designed to break upon impact.
The wizard then gets distracted by the door the crewman came through, and thinks of ways to weld it shut using acid.
Ranger: We may need to run and go down the ladder, playing around with that doesn’t seem bright.
Wizard: Playing with the door or my new science project?
Ranger: Science project…
Wizard: Ahhh it will be fine, i got all 3 hands on it!
After that they run into an alchemical lab that they decide to search while the clock is ticking. They found over 40 lbs of alchemical materials but the wizard opts to keep the bomb in his arms rather than take those.
3rd Player, ooc: Seriously, just leave the bomb, it is pointless.
Wizard, ooc: Its mine!
At last, with great effort manage to lower the bomb and themselves down the ladder and have just touched the ground when they are finally spotted.
DM: The sentry shines his lantern upon you and upon seeing you carrying the massive bomb in your arms immediately sounds the alarm.
Ranger: Lets start moving away so we can remote detonate the thing!
DM: More people are shouting alarm now and arrows start flying your way.
DM: (makes rolls)… One of them scores a critical hit on Rathorak the Wizard…
DM: In addition to the damage, Rathorak make a saving throw to see what happens to the bomb…
Wizard: (rolls) 16!
DM: The arrow embeds itself in your shoulder. You grimace in pain and grit your teeth, but somehow manage to keep your grip on the bomb steady as you run into the darkness.
Wizard: My poor bomb nearly went boom!
DM: Suddenly a large pillar of fire blows downwards from the ship’s hull. The fire creates a pool of burning liquid and soon you see more fire coming out from the hatches of the cargo hold, literally dripping down in large droplets of liquid flame. The archer that is shot you senses the intense heat behind him and turns only to be showered in the burning liquid as the hull collapses on top of him,
Ranger, ooc: Ouch
DM: The rest of you can now clearly see a huge tongue of flame rising up in the air 50 feet and then 100 feet over the airship. As teh ship burns, with the surviving crew screaming in panic, Lucan and Rathorak finally reach the ravine the rest of you are hiding.
DM: And climb down with some difficulty.
DM: Along with the fucking bomb.
Warlord: Rathorak are you insane!?
Druid: I would hug you both, but that thing is in the way.
Wizard: Guys, look what I found just lying around!
As our first D&D session, we were tasked by a priest of Saint Cuthbert to explore a cave system and retrieve a magic pearl. The party consisted of an Elf Rogue, a Genasi Ranger, Human Wizard, Human Cleric, Half-Elf Monk, and myself a Human Sorcerer all at level 2. When we arrive at the entrance to the cave our ranger attempts a skill check to determine what might be living in the there, he fails spectacularly and our DM tells him, “Rocks, lots and lots of rocks.” With that done we continue in and discover it was actually an old mining system and some brand new miners had moved in, specifically Lizardmen. As we plan what to do we’re discovered a fight breaks out, the Lizardmen bear down on us with the assistance of some Sahuagin. We hunker in to fight when suddenly our DM decides to go killer and sicks a couple rock elementals at us (which were only there because of the Ranger’s failed skill check), blocking our route out of the cave and KO'ing our Wizard. Realizing we’re outmatched and outgunned both the ranger and myself throw up our hands in surrender and start negotiations. We explain that we only came for the magic pearl, we didn’t want to fight and that we would gladly turn around and leave but we can’t do so empty handed. The Lizardman leader wasn’t willing to part with the pearl, so I asked if we have some similar looking rocks that might have absorbed some of the ambient energy of it. He agrees and we’re sent on our way with a bag of fake pearls and left to devise a cover story.
We return to the priest and convince him we didn’t find one large magic pearl, but many small ones. He thanks us and rewards us with shiny new gear but then turns to the Monk and tells her that her grandfather, a retired Paladin, had been kidnapped by the Tiefling empire. She decides this can not stand and we’re off to rescue him. After a very annoying encounter with Tiefling bandits we enter the desert make the trek to the empire’s capital. After asking too many questions we are brought to the Emperor himself who laughs at us and tells us to go back to where we came and if we wish to free the old paladin we’d have to return with a holy sword that the old paladin had hidden away. We decide that there is no way we’re going to let the Emperor have the sword so we plan break grandpa out. So we had the choice to seize the throne room where we last saw the old guy, or take the route to the dungeon. We chose dungeon which turned out to be the harder of the two routes. We slowly fight our way past the guards, as we make a left just before the dungeon itself we’re beset by four archers, my character takes a critical hit to the forehead, killing him instantly.
This is where the shit hits the fan.
Our plan hinged on the fact we had two casters in the party to operate teleport scrolls to get us out of the dungeon an into safety. Disposing of the archers the party had to quickly salvage this FUBAR situation. The Wizard set up a quick teleportation circle and took the Paladin, the Monk, and my body back to the city where we began, specifically his bedroom at home, then took off running to the magic shop to find a third teleport scroll. The ranger, rogue, and Cleric barricade the door to the dungeon when an old friend of the Rogue who led them down the poop chute and right into the claws of an evil Monk and her five cronies. Saying nuts to that the three crawl back up the sewage pipe and block the hole just as the Wizard arrives and teleports them out. After landing in the Wizards bed covered in shit, the Ranger sends the others to the church of Saint Cuthbert and he takes my body to the church of Bahamut since he was a recent convert. When they get there it’s revealed that the priest we had been working for was a supplanter working for the Tiefling emperor the entire time, he had mind controlled the Paladin and the Monk and instructed the Monk to empty her family’s bank account while he held the Paladin. The Ranger arrives and thinks he might get mind controlled too so he writes a distress letter in feces in a book of Bahamut he had while convincing the priest that I needed to be resurrected. The traitor priest tells the Ranger to retrieve my body and the Ranger takes the opportunity to inform all the paladins and clerics of Bahamut about the Priest’s deception and the cavalry comes rolling in but not before the Ranger throws his shit covered book at the Priest nailing him in the head. The Priest flees and I am resurrected using some of the money that the Monk took out. Soon after the Paladin tasked us with moving the holy sword to a new location where it could be guarded since it’s current resting place was at risk.
Skipping forward a bit, we were level 6 by this point, after a rather annoying dungeon crawl we find the holy sword but there’s bad news, the Empire is on it’s way, with the sword out in the open and no time to hide it we prepared for war. A series of quick journeys around the region ensue as we gather allies, involving stuffing two vegetable vampires into a bag of holding (yes this happened our DM was really starting to crowbar in nonsensical crap like this at that point), we return in time as the Empire’s army marches on us, the Emperor himself leading the charge. We figure we’ll draw out the Emperor using the sword as bait, which works. The Emperor engages us and during a hard fought struggle the sword is stolen from us in a bullshit move involving a magically stealthed monk. By this point we were tired of our DM’s crap so the game ended, but we enjoyed the characters and the setting so much that we approached a second DM and told him the story, he saw how invested we were but didn’t want to deal with our old DM’s crap. It was determined in discussions that the pearl we were sent to get at the beginning of our campaign was a reagent for a ritual that would turn the holy sword evil, remembering that I had swapped the pearl for a sack of fakes way back at level 2 our new DM did the logical thing and wiped the slate clean by blowing up the Tiefling Empire in a magically infused nuclear explosion caused by the ritual backfiring.
And that’s the story of how a level 2 Sorcerer blew up an Empire accidentally.