"Sarge" and friends, Vietnam, 1967
Confession being good for the soul, I will admit a special connection to one of the pop tunes of my wayward youth. Every time I hear the Four Tops rendition of "Just Walk Away Renee" I find myself flashing back to the last half of 1967 and to "Papa Three," the Combined Action Platoon I served with in Vietnam.
The sergeant in charge of our platoon--Bill Cooke, or "Sarge" for short--joined Papa Three after a 30-day leave back home, his reward for extending his Vietnam tour of duty by six months. One of the things he brought back from "The World," as we called it then, was a small battery operated tape recorder. Along with the recorder he brought some tapes of "the latest sounds."
I suppose that my memories of that tape recorder remain vivid for two reasons:
- First, before going to Vietnam, I had one very much like it. My mother, who worked for a wholesale electronics company, had purchased two battery-operated miniature reel-to-reel recorders--one for me and one for my girlfriend. Mother thought my girlfriend and I would like to record and send tapes back and forth to one another. We used our recorders a few times when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, but I did not take mine to Vietnam.
- Second, it was strictly a voice recorder, meaning that it didn't have the dynamic range necessary for recording and playing music. Hence, while the music Sarge had recorded was still recognizable, it played with a screechy, almost metallic sound.
"Just Walk Away Renee" is the one song that stands out in my memory. I don't think Sarge played it more than any of the other numbers he had recorded. I think it was because that song, for some reason, really taxed the limits of Sarge's recorder and sounded so bad that it was almost good. It was at least memorable.
Of course, I have no way of recreating that distinctive sound. I can only share a tolerable You Tube video of the Four Tops singing their version of the song. The title to this post is a link to that You Tube video.
I am still in touch with four of my fellow Papa Three Marines. I am hoping they can remember some of Sarge's other selections. --EFP