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"Come on Clock, talk to me boy!" . . . "It hurts"
September 6, 2013 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Many years ago, I found a quarter inch audio reel in a rotting cardboard box, covered in dust, while helping my dear friend and mentor, Lighting Cameraman John B. Peters, clean up his garage. He told me it had been recorded in Vietnam during his coverage of that war. On the box, still legible, was handwritten: “Firefight, no name village, near Chu Lai, September 10, 1966, Nagra 3, 3,75 I.P.S.” John recalled that he was out with a patrol that day, and when the Vietcong ambushed them, they all had to duck for cover, but his soundman kept the audio recorder rolling throughout the duration of the fierce firefight that followed.
posted by flapjax at midnite (43 comments total) 92 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jesus Tapdancing Christ.
posted by rollbiz at 10:21 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


So glad I was 6 during the Vietnam years. What a nightmare...
posted by Windopaene at 10:23 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. I remember as kids, having no realistic sense of time, wondering if we would be drafted and trying to do the math. That and the worrying about a nuclear attack, good times.
posted by bongo_x at 10:26 PM on September 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


What are the repeated big booms around the middle? Grenades?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:33 PM on September 6, 2013


Oh my God. This is awful and heartrending.
posted by elmer benson at 10:44 PM on September 6, 2013


Wow. That was really something. There's something so striking about an anonymous moment in time recorded almost by accident.

Chu Lai in 1966 would have been a Marine outpost, right? I wonder how easy it would be to figure out what unit this was and identify the men recorded.

Thank you very much for sharing it.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 10:45 PM on September 6, 2013


What was done to clean up the sound? There's no tape hiss, drop-outs, audio popping or artifacts. It's hard to believe that a 47 year old reel-to-reel made under combat conditions could sound that clear without some studio scrubbing.
posted by TDavis at 10:46 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: "What are the repeated big booms around the middle? Grenades?"

I certainly could be mistaken, but a couple of times I thought I heard the thump, delay, explosion that might be from an M79 grenade launcher.

Anyway, thank you for posting this. It was haunting.
posted by bluecore at 10:51 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's something so striking about an anonymous moment in time recorded almost by accident.

Exactly! It has a unique power, more so than, say, something worked on and fussed over, edited, and made to be *presented* in some format like radio or newsreel or TV. It's random, it's raw, and it's just so fucking real.

What was done to clean up the sound? There's no tape hiss, drop-outs, audio popping or artifacts.

Hey, Nagras were damn good machines. I wouldn't be all that surprised if little to no "studio scrubbing" was done. But it's an interesting question, and since I have a Soundcloud account, I was able to post a comment there asking the uploader if he'd done any noise reduction or EQ or whatever. Hopefully he'll see the comment and answer.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:14 PM on September 6, 2013


I really hope that's not fake. As the son of a Vietnam veteran who never ever talks about it... that really hurt to listen to. I'm sorry Clock, whoever you were. :~(
posted by adamt at 11:37 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no tape hiss, drop-outs, audio popping or artifacts.

As Flapjax mentions, it was recorded on a Nagra,which was the industry standard professional audio recorder for motion pictures for decades. An undisturbed 1/4" recording from a Nagra can survive quite well for decades. They operate at 3.75 inches per second (more than double that of a cassette tape) and have twice the thickness. The upshot is less tape hiss, and fewer artifacts. Things like audio popping, hiss, etc. are often caused by additional components (amplifiers, signal processors, etc.) but since the Nagra is an extremely rugged self-contained unit, there's not much to go wrong.

That being said, this is still quite a remarkable piece of tape, and kind of surprising how much it really sounds (and feels) just like a video game or movie. (or rather, that video games and movies these days tend to be pretty realistic in their portrayals of combat, audio-wise)
posted by ShutterBun at 11:38 PM on September 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


I wonder how easy it would be to figure out what unit this was and identify the men recorded.

I wonder if someone did identify the men, and found them and played this for them, if that would be... a good idea.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:42 PM on September 6, 2013


Man, it's really striking how every voice recorded on that tape has a clearly distinct regional accent.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 12:00 AM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


boys from the 3/3, I reckon
posted by lometogo at 12:16 AM on September 7, 2013


they sound painfully young
posted by telstar at 12:48 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think he is saying the name Clark (with a soft Southern R.) The other names I can make out are Kimbrough and, maybe, Marty. I don't know if this is related but he was in Chu Lai and mentions surviving Sept. 12, 1966: Kimbrough Johnson
posted by maggieb at 1:03 AM on September 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I figured it was "Clark" as well. While looking at a searchable database of the Vietnam memorial, I soon discovered just how many people 50,000 is. A lot. There must have been two dozen Clarks alone.

The memorial wall is organized by date, but unless someone was actually killed in this event (which it doesn't sound like) there's no way to really pin it down.

Another unfortunate coincidence I discovered: The Chun Lai base is now home to a Kia factory, which I discovered by accident when searching for the initials "K.I.A."
posted by ShutterBun at 1:50 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Found two men named "Kimbrough", but it looks like neither one would have been in Chu Lai in 66
posted by dubold at 1:53 AM on September 7, 2013


Thanks for posting this. I don't think it sounds like a movie at all. It's much too chaotic, too confused. I'm haunted by "Keep your hands away from your face" over and over. What kind of godawful wound did he have, what kind of scars does he still carry, if he's still alive?
posted by kestralwing at 2:13 AM on September 7, 2013


Found two men named "Kimbrough", but it looks like neither one would have been in Chu Lai in 66

Hmm, looks like copying and pasting the URL didn't save the search.

The only two men named Kimbrough who were casualties were much later. According to the dates of their tours they would not have been in Chu Lai in 1966

I checked the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial wall for the name "Clark", from Sept-Oct 1966. Looks like there was only one casualty with that last name in Sept.


JAMES MCKENZIE CLARK


LCPL - E3 - Marine Corps - Regular

Length of service 2 years
Casualty was on Sep 20, 1966
In QUANG NGAI, SOUTH VIETNAM
Hostile, died of wounds, GROUND CASUALTY
MISADVENTURE
Body was recovered
posted by dubold at 2:34 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a theory that societies can be traumatized like a beaten child, with the consequences revealing themselves decades later. A generation thrashed by a mismanaged war, goes on to inflict the same on its children. The cycle perpetuates itself.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:56 AM on September 7, 2013 [14 favorites]


I've read that the average age of soldiers during this war was just 19. They were kids. This recording sent a shiver up my spine.
posted by tg72657 at 6:11 AM on September 7, 2013


Way more powerful powerful I expected. I assume that the guy who kept saying "keep your hands away from your face" was the medic; he sounded exactly like the no-fucking-around-I'm-here-to-help-you-do-what-I-say kind of guy I'd want right next to me.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:49 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow.
.
posted by localroger at 7:11 AM on September 7, 2013


Thought it would be the shooting that would be disturbing. Its the talking.

Its amazing now, they all have video cameras out there.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:42 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a theory that societies can be traumatized like a beaten child, with the consequences revealing themselves decades later. A generation thrashed by a mismanaged war, goes on to inflict the same on its children. The cycle perpetuates itself.

I think that, on the face of it, this is an eloquently put observation, one which may contain some truth. But on closer inspection, I think it is a little too neat and overly simplistic. I'm more inclined to think of this from another angle, in terms more like these:

The particular generational members who were truly thrashed by that mismanaged (I'd add misguided and immoral to the list) war were the soldiers on the ground who, for the most part, were draftees from the lower socio-economic rungs of society, and mostly didn't, in fact, go on to be the ones who would inflict "the same" on *their* children. They did not, for the most part, go on to be the ruling class. So as far as perpetuating cycles, I'm more inclined to think that the cycle that perpetuates itself is a class dynamic, wherein the *deciders*, the men who've sent the cannon fodder off to die in more recent wars, are precisely the ones most likely to have personally avoided combat duty in Vietnam. They were at university, or doing some cushy National Guard stints at home that kept them far from the hell that we hear in this tape.

A *generation* is not some sort of solid bloc, some uniform mass that learns bad lessons and goes on to make the same mistakes. A generation includes those who are sent to fight (who mostly have no choice) and those who aren't (usually by dint of their family's money and connections). Each generation has its haves and have-nots, and when it comes to war, well, we know how it works.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:42 AM on September 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


Holy cow. And that kind of thing happened to those guys over and over and over again, for months.

The timer on the playback is one of those mundane and ubiquitous features of digital audio players. As the firefight progressed I found myself counting off: 30 seconds...60 seconds...90 seconds. The entire clip is a bare five and a half minutes long, but it must have seemed like an eternity.
posted by Gelatin at 7:44 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Haven't listened to it yet. Don't know if I will.

Though I was U.S. Navy, I spent time in-country off and on between 1966 and 1968. Not many good memories.
posted by jgaiser at 8:04 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Before a couple of the big bangs, you hear someone shout "Grenade!" in the distance, so that's probably what they are.


That being said, listening to this, I kind of feel like Werner Herzog in Grizzly Man.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Regarding the question upthread about "studio scrubbing" of the audio tape, the uploader (magneticart) did answer my query about that in the comments there. As I'd guessed, his post-production work on the tape was very minimal.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:36 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now how many chickenhawks do you suppose listened to the whole five minutes and twenty nine seconds of that tape?
posted by notreally at 9:40 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this is related but he was in Chu Lai and mentions surviving Sept. 12, 1966: Kimbrough Johnson

And the wheel turns:

Surviving Sept. 12, 1966 was perhaps the happiest day of my life as I left Vietnam thinking I would never be involved with Vietnamese ever again. Today, we have a 16 year old adopted Vietnamese daughter, a Vietnamese daughter in law and two half Vietnamese grandchildren!
posted by jokeefe at 10:18 AM on September 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jesus....that was incredibly moving. Listening to it with headphones- you could see everything that was happening. Too much. When my dad was in Vietnam, he'd send my mom little "audio letters" using a small reel-to-reel recorder. He died in 1994 at the age of 47, and a couple of years later I discovered a box with a bunch of the aforementioned tapes. My mom found it too difficult to listen to them, but she said I was welcome to. I thought I could handle it (I was born while he was in Vietnam, so I had no direct memories of his wartime absence), but after hearing the silent hiss of the tape, followed by my dad's voice saying, "Hello sweetheart", well that was it. A few moments in and I couldn't listen to another second.

The intimacy of sound, all by its lonesome, is not to be understated.
posted by but no cigar at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


The firing and explosions were easier to listen to than the voices. I had to turn it off after "Don't touch your face." Hearing the soldiers' humanity in the middle of it, in such obvious fear and pain, was too much to for me.
posted by cmyk at 10:47 AM on September 7, 2013


That boom at 1:33 was shocking. I was listening, at first, through the computer speakers. Turned it up to hear the voices and that boom made me jump. Can't imagine being there.

.
posted by stltony at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2013


I have a theory that societies can be traumatized like a beaten child, with the consequences revealing themselves decades later. A generation thrashed by a mismanaged war, goes on to inflict the same on its children. The cycle perpetuates itself.

World War I left none of the participating countries untouched.

The Allies lost 9.4 million people, military and civilians. 12 million more were wounded.

The Central Powers lost 7.1 million, with 8.4 million wounded.

Relatedly, the Spanish Flu pandemic started in 1918 and wound up killing between 50-100 million people. It's been theorized that the pandemic was both worsened and spread more widely by the horrible conditions on the battlefields.

There was indeed societal trauma across Europe and the world. It led in two distinct directions, represented by the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles; respectively, an attempt to prevent future mass conflicts by creating international safety mechanisms, and a harsh punishment of Germany to keep it from amassing power again. Both efforts failed utterly in their goals, and in the case of the latter led directly to the largest conflicts the world had ever seen.

However, I'm not so sure about it being one generation inflicting its trauma on the next.

From the international powder keg of treaties and pacts that enabled WWI, to the utterly imbecilic and murderous way the war was run, from the hapless League to the petulant Treaty, it was the civilian and military leaders of the (primarily) European nations that are responsible for those millions of deaths.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:17 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The neatest thing about this, for me, was the assortment of dialects among the soldiers.
posted by gucci mane at 3:51 PM on September 7, 2013


WWII had a lot more to do with the British not understanding they had to side with France than with Versailles.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:24 PM on September 7, 2013


Agree about the interesting dialects, and how they really hammered home the idea that "these may not be our hometown boys, but they are clearly somebody's, and they come from all corners. I'm no expert on regional accents, but the medic sounded somewhat Creole to me. Am I way off?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:53 AM on September 8, 2013


Wow, that could have been my dad. Terrifying.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:43 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sometimes wonder about what my dad went through and does not want to talk about. These kinds of glimpses give me some idea, but I can't know even a fraction of it. What an absurd chaos in which good people found themselves.
posted by Miko at 5:52 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy fuck.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:55 PM on September 12, 2013


Mine immediately segued into the Hotline Miami soundtrack. Spooky.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:01 PM on September 12, 2013


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