N. E. Scheppers, Remembered
By John Crandell
I tried to persuade him to volunteer back when I had, eighteen months earlier in that sordid month of May 1968, the largest monthly draft of the entire war. He could only see doing two years max. I warned him what would happen. And after completing AIT at Ord, he got what I'd feared and ended up on point with the 1st of the 5th of the First Air Cav, got there a week before Christmas of 1969.
Norb, on a trip to Rosarito Beach
in Baja, Mexico, August of 1972.
I've already written of his stubborn, inordinate performance, featured in the Spring 2015 issue of The Veteran. To his credit, it can be added that Norbert Scheppers of Sunland, California did not report on time as ordered, in Oakland, to be bused to Travis Air Force Base for duty in an absurd effort in a foreign land. Instead, all of the discussions we'd had as we had driven back and forth to Valley College seem to have swayed him. After landing in Oakland, he turned around and flew back home to commiserate with his dad, who unfortunately had once been our scout master in the mountains north of L.A. and be persuaded to do his duty to god and country and help prevent the NVA from taking over Rodeo Drive. Norb then reported in to Oakland. I wish now that he'd instead have gone to Canada. He couldn't have stood on moral ground since he'd already passed basic and advanced infantry training.
If he'd have gone north, I'd have followed him after I'd retuned stateside from II Corps in a state of rage, done that instead of a final year at Fort Hood. And then we'd have had very different lives going forward—he without the acrid memory of Vietnam, I and his relations not having to bear witness to a forty-five-year alcoholic suicide.
E-1 Norbert Erwin Scheppers (yes, they kept busting him, kept him on point) hemorrhaged and died late in February 2015. We'd been out of touch since I'd decided to stand up and walk out of a lunch hour reunion, decided to stop witnessing his demise, hearing his Big Rock Candy Dreams (via the easy way, for an effortless quick buck).
In May 1999, I'd scanned a haunting photo of a mortar emplacement atop Mother's Ridge and wired it to him by email. He responded: "How did they get rid of all that dirt from all those thousands of miles of tunnels? Ever slept in water for two weeks, ever pull the fucking leeches off your body twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? Gee I thought I was running out of blood. Ever not eat for a week? Die for a glass of clean fresh water, ever scared to take a shit because they can smell ya, ever call in an F-4 or artillery? Ever seen shit that ya can't even imagine in all the fucking books in the Library of Congress, ever been a fucking point man with an M-60 that is the only defense and your little one-millionth percent of the unknown and a lot of luck and gee, all I want is a cold beer?"
In a previous message, he'd mentioned an L.A. Times quotation of Hemmingway: "Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter." I then found and clipped that article, an obituary of a famous Marine Corps sniper.
One learned of his death two years after the fact. One learned that I was the only friend that he'd had in his entire life and one didn't have the slightest idea. I'd needed so much to get out of that small valley where we'd grown up. He never left it. That war killed him as much as his lack of aspiration and his sobering backwardness.
And his being busted surely prevented any serious consideration of the Silver Stars that others in his company had said that he deserved to be honored with. Goodbye, Norb. Adios to all of those peaks and ridges and long dusty trails. I wasn't your constant friend, yet no one could have lived your life for you in the wake of all of that horror. Ave atque vale.
John Crandell is a US Army vet — CONARC, 4th Infantry & 1st Cavalry. He worked afterwards in various jobs in environmental design. Now retired, he is involved in product development and horticultural propagation at 'The Farm' outside of Sacramento, California.