During the Vietnam War, newly arrived soldiers were referred to as Cherries (virgins to war). At least this is how it was in the infantry. I’ve heard other acronyms as well such as FNG (fu*king new guy), Newbie and fresh meat, but they weren’t used as often. A grunt (infantry soldier) remained a Cherry until he lost his innocence, which was usually after his first firefight. I remember seeing war movies growing up where everyone was depicted as a brave warrior, rushing the enemy through a wall of flying steel. Let me tell you that most every soldier still remembers his first firefight. It doesn’t have to just be Vietnam, it could be Korea, WWII, Iraq, or anywhere else where you are put in harm’s way. In my case, I was so scared and felt paralyzed and helpless as I laid on the jungle floor – bullets popping overhead and impacting all around me. Only two thoughts were going through my head at that time: how to sink deeper into this ground and I hope I don’t get hit.
I wasn’t a Rambo. Instead, I was confused and unsure of what to do next. Sure, shoot at the enemy they say, but how do you do that when you can’t even see them – which was most of the time! In my haste of finding shelter, my rifle lodged between some tree roots and I wasn’t able to get it free to protect myself. Of course, I pissed myself – just like every other Cherry had done. This turns out to be one hell of an initiation!
The firefight itself is just a small part of losing your virginity and much of the time it only lasts a few moments before the enemy retreats. It’s what you see afterwards that stays with you forever. Soldiers you just met are laying seriously wounded or dead, flesh and body parts are strewn about, blood is everywhere! Your gag reflex was on overdrive. Rarely did I see a dead enemy soldier in Vietnam as bodies were normally taken when the enemy withdrew. And this made life frustrating!
There is some comparison between a Cherry and a freshman in his first year of high school. Just think about it. You are scared, apprehensive, don’t know anybody, hope you fit in, and you know there is much to learn before you are able to graduate. With this in mind, add the threat of death or maiming to your daily routine – somebody may jump out of a locker in the hallway and shoot you (although today that’s not really far-fetched). You must be hyper vigilant to survive 365 days in this school. And still the learning continues.
About the Author
John Podlaski “served in Vietnam during 1970 and 1971 as an infantryman with both the Wolfhounds of the 25th Division and the 501st Infantry Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, two Air Medals, and a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He has spent the years since Vietnam working in various management positions within the automotive industry and has recently received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.
John now works in sales and logistics for a Belgian company that supplies gears and shafts for transmissions and diesel engines. He is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154 and lives with his wife of 37 years, Janice, in Sterling Heights, Michigan. They own a 1997 Harley Davidson Heritage and are both members of the Great Lakes Chapter of Southeast Michigan Harley Owners’ Group.” John Podlaski is the author of Cherries : A Vietnam War Novel