I WAS HITCH HIKING ONE DAY A LIFETIME AGO IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY, CA. AND I WAS PICKED UP BY A GUY NAMED KIRK SESSIN. HE WAS A VIETNAM VETERAN. WE SHARED A HOUSE WITH SOME OTHER PEOPLE FOR A WHILE. WE BECAME FRIENDS. OVER THE YEARS HE WOULD DISAPPEAR FROM TIME TO TIME BUT HE WAS LIKE A BOOMERANG AND ALWAYS CAME BACK AND FOUND ME. I WAS WITNESS TO HIS NIGHTMARES AND HIS PAIN AND HIS DRUG ADDITION. HE WAS ORIGINALLY FROM WYOMING. HE WAS EITHER DRAFTED OR VOLUNTEERED FOR SERVICE AND ENDED UP IN THE 173RD AIRBORNE BRIGADE. Also known as Tien Bing- (Sky Soldiers) HE WAS IN THE 4TH BATTALION , E -COMPANY AND HIS MOS WAS 11-F- RECON. HE WAS A LRRP. ( Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. ) I learned that you had to be a triple volunteer to be a LRRP. His lifestyle and his nightmares beat him down over the years. I think it was 1989 and I came across a Stars and Stripes Newspaper that Kirk left at my shop. I flipped through it and there was a add about a 173rd Reunion to be held up in Santa Rosa California. General Westmoreland was the Guest of Honor and a speaker. He was coming to speak to his “FIRE BRIGADE” as General Westmoreland called them. The 173rd Patch as Kirk described it was, A Chicken Wing and a Butter Knife. It is the patch that was worn by Martin Sheen in Apocolypse Now and also by Mel Gibson in some movie and others. The 173rd Brigade is a legend. So I contacted Kirk and asked him if he had ever been to a reunion? He never had attended one. I asked him if he would like to go to the reunion and he hesitatingly said YES. I told him that I would pay for everything and I would be happy to take him. I somehow thought this may help him with some of his issues.
So I bought the airline tickets, made reservations at the Holiday Inn or maybe Best Western as I recall. I told him what time to be at the house and don’t be late! He was late of course and we missed our flight. So we drive to LAX and we are making arrangements to get on the next flight. We go through security and I go through with no problem. Kirk goes through and the bells and whistles go off. That coupled with the fact that he was wearing camouflage fatigues and a boonie hat, needless to say caused a ruckus. Nobody wears fatigues every day for 20 years. Except Kirk. So I step up and say that I am taking Kirk to his 173rd Airborne Battalion reunion and he has some issues and I bought the tickets through the reunion people. They check us out. I was clean but Kirk had 2 knives and a hash-pipe on him. So I begged and pleaded and went through the searches and finally we got our boarding passes. We make it to the gate and sit down. Two suits drift in and sit down across from us and are minding their own business. After about 15 minutes Kirk says ” HEY, IF YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE READING THOSE MAGAZINES, YOU SHOULD TURN THE PAGE ONCE IN A WHILE !” So they just look at each other and then look at us and say ” thanks for the tip “. At this point Kirk is perfectly calm and I am more than a little freaked out.” I never saw this coming. These guys stay right with us until we board. We have assigned seats and Kirk takes the window seat. I sat next to him. The last guy on the plane was like the HULK in a Business Suit. He took the isle seat next to me. I know the guy is an Air Marshall because when he unbuttoned his suit coat, I see his weapon and it was not on accident. He looked at me dead in the eyes when he flipped his coat back just enough to let me see it. This guy was sure as hell not afraid of me. Meanwhile, Kirk is just taking it all in and having fun. As we taxi to the runway, Kirk says to me.. “HEY BAKER ! HAVE YOU GOT THE PIN TO MY FRAG ? The Air Marshall freaks and says ” WHAT DID HE SAY?”. I started talking like a Dutch Uncle and just telling him the truth and apologizing over and over. All things considered, the Marshall was pretty cool but never said another word on the flight. We were the last people off the flight. Not necessarily because we wanted to be. Actually the Air Marshall was the last one off the plane because he walked us off the plane after everybody else had exited.
We were delayed so we had to take a taxi to Santa Rosa on the other side of the Bay. I knew better than to chew Kirk out. He would just go into his Zone and wait for me to quit talking anyway. We never had an argument.
We got to the Holiday Inn and it was hopping. The Holiday Inn had a section of the parking lot that needed repair anyway so they were in the process of digging up the asphalt and digging a hole and a local Rancher donated a Steer for the Big Santa Rosa style BBQ. Another local donated the firewood. It was perfect and the whole steer was on a big Spit and oh yeah! the next day was the 4th of July. We got our room, General Westmorland arrived and they posted a guard at his room. Kirk met some very familiar faces. I got confirmation that the stories Kirk told me over the years were not bullshit. For instance: Kirk pulled guard duty on some artillery at chow time. The artillery guys had a “pet” orangatan that hung around and mooched food off of everybody. Kirk was sitting down and eating a can of peaches and Kirk is sharing his peaches with this ape. So, Kirk runs out of peaches and the rang hits Kirk on the side of his head. So what does Kirk do ? He punches the Rang ! The Rang jumps on him and gets behind him, wraps his legs around him and is beating Kirk on the face. Kirk breaks loose, grabs his M-16 and empties his clip into the Rang ! Everybody came a running. Kirk got 2 black eyes. The story was true. Lots of guys there recognized Kirk. Kirk did not need to lie. He did not lie about the strings of left ear necklaces that he and some of the guys wore and did not lie about selling the right ears to the guys in the rear for $ 5.00 each. He also did not not lie about the skull that was mounted on top of his ruck sack. He named the skull Yorick, as in “Alas, poor Yorick , I knew him well”….. (enough of that).
So Kirk and I are sitting at a table next to some other LRRPs that I had the pleasure of meeting. Like John Leppelman who wrote the book, BLOOD ON THE RISERS, and Phil Tishman, Ray Zacone etc. etc.. this was the 4th of July and the big dinner where General Westmoreland would be speaking. So I had heard most all of Kirks’ stories. The guys seemed to tolerate me. I liked them. Some other guy walks up to where Kirk and I are sitting and this guy zero’s in on me and says, When were you in Vietnam ? I told him that I was never in Vietnam. The guy says ” Well, what the fuck are you doing here ? I told him I was a guest. I have no idea what I did to put a burr under his saddle but John Leppelman just said to the guy, “HEY! LEAVE HIM ALONE ! HE IS WITH THE LRRPS! Then the guy says, “Oh! I’m, sorry!, never mind” and does an “about face”, and walked away. So I was a FNG (fucking new guy) but they liked me! “. So the table next to Kirk and I was full of LRRPS and the table we were sitting at had empty chairs. Then..2 guys show up that had just arrived from Pennsylvania. They sit down next to Kirk and myself. So they were comparing notes with Kirk about what years they were in NAM and what campaigns they were in. They were there in 68” and 69’also. One of the new guys mentions Bandi Tuet (sp) . I knew the name from one of Kirks’ stories. I said yeah ! Kirk, wasn’t it there that you got knocked out by the recoil blast of a 90 mm recoil-less rifle ? The 2 guys from Pennsylvania that had just arrived and sat at our table were the 2 guys that humped that 90 mm to Kirks’ unit when they were shot up and pinned down. The Huey helicopters could not get in due to some heavy fire coming from a tree line. They jumped into a trench like area and fired the 90mm and Kirk was behind them and the first round recoil blast temporarily knocked Kirk out. Then they recognized each other ! Kirk flips out and stands up and says “YOU ARE THE GUYS THAT SAVED MY LIFE ! What was the chance of that happening ? The odds were 100%. I don’t understand it, but it was very emotional. Kirk did kinda flip out. A local winery had supplied wine bottles with the 173rd Patch on the bottle labels. Kirk started running around collecting all the empty bottles. Why? No clue ! Who was I to stop him? He was just doing what he thought he should do. I think that is why all those good men and women went to Vietnam. They were just doing what they thought they should do. . Kirk gave me a 173rd Patch . You can buy one for about $2.00, but I would not sell mine for a million bucks! HAVE A WONDERFUL AND SAFE MEMORIAL DAY !
This one’s for you Kirk, May God Rest Your Soul.