I moved back down the river bank, my mind spinning in contemplation of executing the Gunny’s plan, and feeling a bit sick to my stomach at the idea of it. Zippo and Fusner took their E-Tools and dutifully began to dig holes near where the other radio operators worked, but further back from the edge of the bank. I realized that both men were digging in closer to the jungle so when they left it would be less noticeable, but I didn’t want them to sneak away, no more than I wanted to. Nguyen hung back in a low crouch, watching everyone around him but primarily focusing his attention on staring intently across the moving water of the nearby river. The splash and chop of its rush permeated everything, as the sounds came at us and then faintly bounced back from the forward edge of the jungle.
I had no E-Tool of my own. When I needed one for bathroom business I borrowed it from Fusner, always feeling guilty because the ‘baby’ Marine radioman had a much heavier load to haul than I did. I knew my team would dig a hole for me without having to be told, but I wanted to spare them the extra work. I stayed low, knowing that, if the Gunny was right, then the night was going to explode into crisscrossing tracer fire sometime soon. Captain Carter was examining the far side of the river from his half-dug hole, while El Producto, his radio operator, continued to dig around him. I noted that Carter was using brand new Leica binoculars, the kind with a ranging reticle built in and synchronized focus capability, unlike my Japanese knock-offs that didn’t have and wouldn’t do any of that.
I lay just behind the stiffly built big captain. Howard Carter was the cutting edge of how a Marine Officer should look. His square jaw set well with his widely muscled shoulders, reducing down to an unnaturally thin waist. The fact he was six inches taller than I was didn’t bother me, although my not being bothered when he’d loomed over me in the past seemed to irritate him. Sensing my presence, he turned his torso to partially face me.
“Junior…or is it Flash, or maybe Johnny Paper,” he said, lowering his glasses. His tone was light but cutting. “I presume you want something other than to cost me a few more dead Marines?”
I’d been going to fortify what the Gunny had said earlier, let him know that it was terminally unsafe to stay where we were and try to convince him that moving upriver into the night was a hell of a lot better plan than what he’d decided.
I breathed out in a light silent sigh I hoped he couldn’t hear. Instead of arguing with the strange captain I rolled out the litany of lies the Gunny had prepped me with.
“My scout team is going upriver a bit to chow down at the company CP. We’ll be back before it’s the black of night so make sure your men know it’s us coming and don’t shoot us.”
“Like you need my permission for that?” Carter asked, with a laugh, before raising his glasses to again look across the river and dismiss me at the same time.
I pulled back, noting that Zippo, Fusner, and Nguyen had stopped what they were doing and moved closer while the captain and I’d been talking.
“Oh,” Carter said, without turning, “when you get with your other company leaders make sure they understand that the gun positions you set up remain the way they are in case we draw any fire. Your company can damn well do and take its share of any heat.”
I didn’t know how to answer the man except to agree.
“Aye aye, sir,” I responded to the back of his head, noting he’d left his helmet off in the face of potential incoming fire.
I realized it was no worse than half the Marines under my command because most of them wore bandanas or the flattened bush hats. Helmets were cumbersome and hot. Still, it looked funny to see the dying sun reflected off the man’s perfectly formed and shaven skull. We’d definitely be leaving the machine gun emplacements my Marines had dug into the berm of the higher mud of the bank. It was just that there would be nobody manning those holes through the night.
El Producto ceased his labors while the captain and I had been talking.
“Vaya con Dios,” he whispered over to me, his expression concerned and sincere.
A shudder went through my body, and I suppressed the urge to answer him back. I knew that he’d told me to go with God but I didn’t know how to tell him that he was being left to stay where he was and die by the hand of the same God. Or was it by my hand? I unconsciously slithered back a few feet.
Nguyen somehow sensed the depth of my feelings, leaned down from behind me and lifted me to my feet. Without saying anything he then pushed against my back until I was unwillingly headed upriver. I walked but I didn’t really want to go. I walked because I couldn’t stay. I walked because I didn’t really know what else to do. The company was pulling out, with or without me. It was my company. I belonged with my company, but I felt like pure shit. Why should any of Kilo’s Marines have to die because of the fact Captain Howard “Howling Mad” Carter was a completely inexperienced idiot, or because he didn’t have a Gunny like my own and probably wouldn’t have listened to him if he had? It was all wrong.
There was no CP where the Gunny was, of course. We’d only stopped a couple of hundred yards from Kilo’s CP position to strap on packs, not have a meeting. Nobody around Carter had bothered to notice that we’d taken all of our gear except El Producto, who’d stared at each of us with his big black eyes as we departed. For the first time since landing in the country, I was more ashamed than I was afraid.
Zippo asked me if I wanted to unload the Starlight Scope and check out the direction we were moving but I shook my head. There was no sense delaying at all, and the company was only minutes in front of us. The Starlight Scope wasn’t going to reveal anything of value. It would just delay us. Sighting it in across the river would also be fruitless because the distance was too great to allow sharp focusing on anything as small as an enemy soldier.
We moved fast but stayed as low as we could. It was becoming almost too dark to see the holes that had been dug along the way and it would be treacherous for any of us to mistakenly step into one of them. Nguyen automatically took the point, and my worries dropped away. The Montagnard was like a human Starlight Scope for moving through the bush and night. Instead of spreading out as we should have the remaining three of us followed in trace, one after another, our confidence in Nguyen complete.
“One grenade,” I breathed out, but not loud enough for any of the men around me to hear.
The move upriver took almost half an hour and it was full dark before I felt we were close to where Tex’s burned out truck hulk had to sit. It was the upside-down tank out in the middle of the river I sensed first, however. The rushing current heaped up and made a white-water geyser on one side of the heavy beast, and then came over and down in a noisy waterfall on the other.
“Who goes there?” a deep male voice asked, from not much further ahead.
“Nobody says that kind of thing,” Zippo yelled back through cupped hands before I could think to stop him.
Jurgens stepped out of the dark and forward to where we could make him out. He laughed openly.
“The Gunny’s over by the wall near the Ontos,” he said, pointing meaninglessly at an angle off to his right.
There was only one cliff wall on our side of the clearing and no place else the Gunny could be.
I moved past Jurgens, without comment, my hand automatically falling to the butt of my .45. The Gunny was right where I expected. His lit cigarette guided me in, although I carefully looked behind as I went.
“Good that you could make it,” he said, offering the cigarette to me.
I shook my head, not quite sure he could see the move because of the darkness. I wasn’t feeling like smoking, eating or even sleeping, although hunger and fatigue almost overwhelmed me. Instead, I slunk down before him and worked my way out of my suspender straps. The pack had begun to weigh me down badly, I realized. If I didn’t get food and sleep soon I was going to collapse, and I knew it. But I could not shake my depression brought on by what we were doing.
The Gunny pushed a box of ham and mothers at me. I took it and tore the cardboard apart. I was about to search my pocket for one of the tiny can openers we all carried, but one was extended to me out of the darkness. I only saw the reflecting opener and not the hand that held it out. I knew it had to be Nguyen’s dark brown hand unless Sugar Daddy had crept up silently and slipped in alongside me.
“Eat,” the Gunny said. “Rest. There’s nothing you or anybody else can do. Maybe the night will be quiet. Maybe it won’t rain again for a while. Either way, we’re back into our secure situation with the Ontos locked and loaded with six rounds of the beehive. The men have your hole fixed up for you.”
The hole. The hole the Gunny had had to shame me out of and now I was shaming myself back into. I got up slowly and headed toward where the bridge had just about made it across the river. I remembered exactly where the hole was and what bodies were behind me up near the wall and down across the river. No matter what happened to Kilo we were going to get our Marines back, put them on choppers and sent home. We weren’t leaving anyone and that was about the only solace I had. We would not leave any Marine on the field, dead or alive. Zippo led the way, as my scout team walked in front of me. I had my broken box of food, some water, and the hole to wait in. I wondered how long the wait would be.
The hole was a surprise. It was bigger. It was big enough for my whole scout team and me. The bottom wasn’t water anymore. It was covered in sandbags. The hole was seemingly as dry as a bone. I slipped my pack off, tossed it down into the almost black well of security, and then jumped in. My scout team came in after me. I dropped my torn box of, Combat Meal, Ham and Lima Beans as I hit the soft bottom, and the opener too, but I didn’t care. I was unconscious before my body, of its own accord, huddled itself into a round ball of dirt, mud, leech wounds and God knew what else.
I only knew I had been out when I came to. I didn’t know what roused me, but I was no longer so fatigued. New energy thrummed through my body. I raised myself up to stick my head out of the hole. It was as black outside as it was inside the hole, except for the river’s whitewater heaping up at the end of the bridge and over the top of the tank further down. There was no firing. My Gus Grissom watch told me it was three in the morning. It was misting again because I was covered in a fine film of liquid. But the mist in the air was the same temperature as the air so I didn’t feel it as a real rain of any kind. It was just that hot thick and crappy air of Vietnam. But there was no firing. Maybe the Gunny had been wrong, which would be the best news I could possibly get.
I crouched back down and searched around until I found the B-2 cans. The opener was long gone. I searched my own breast pockets, remembering the letter home I had on my thigh. Home. Homeward Bound. The lyrics of the last Brother John song echoed in my mind. I opened the ham and mothers and ate the whole can in only a couple of piggish gulps. Then I went to work on the biscuits and some kind of awful but edible cheese. The men around me in the bottom of the hole didn’t move, and I made no attempt to disturb them.
Setting the cans, and rest of the box, up atop the edge of the hole, I eased myself back down. It was three to four hours before dawn. I could fall asleep like a normal human being. I wasn’t afraid and I wasn’t deeply worried about anything except having a night of peace.
I didn’t even get my eyes closed when the firing began. I rose to my feet in an instant, pushing the C-ration junk aside as I cleared a field of vision that was no field at all, but only blackness. Machine guns were firing downriver, thousands of meters in the distance, so there were no tracers visible, but the volume of fire told me all I needed to know. The rest of my scout team came alive behind and around me.
“Sure glad we’re not down there with Kilo,” Fusner whispered.
I waited. I knew what had to be coming. The Gunny had been right here and done all this before. It was the only way he could have known.
I waited some more, my fear returning, but not for myself. And the feeling that I had let Kilo, Carter and the United States Marine Corps down. That the Corps might be the defender of the citizenry of the USA I no longer thought about anymore. The USA was in my left thigh pocket but had ceased to exist as an embodied cause.
My life was my wife and my daughter. Where they were, as long as it wasn’t in Vietnam, was my USA.
Then the first explosion came, followed by another, and then another until there were too many to count.
I climbed out of the hole and ran back toward the wall, looking for the Gunny in the night. We could do one thing that might help if any help could save someone at this point. I’d only thought of myself earlier and I was surprised again by my own selfishness.
Tank found me and guided me in toward where the Gunny had jammed himself into the crease at the bottom of the cliff wall. He flipped his Zippo and we had a small wavering glow of light to see one another in.
“What have we got left in the way of Ontos ammo?” I asked, breathlessly.
“Hell if I know, the guys manning it are under it.”
I left the Gunny at a run, knowing roughly where the Ontos was in the dark and would have run smack into at speed if a hand hadn’t gripped my bicep and stopped me dead. It was Nguyen. He gentled his hold and guided me around the metal beast that might have broken some of my bones if I’d run into it hard enough. I crouched down under the machine, explosions still going on downriver behind me.
“What kind of ammo do we have left and how much?” I asked, making no effort to keep my voice low. Kilo was getting all the heat and the NVA wasn’t going to waste a single round on us way upriver.
“It’s stacked in the back of the machine,” a voice said.
I moved to the back of the vehicle. I knew the armored double doors released with two latches. I turned both downward as hard as I could. The doors slowly swung open while I got out of the way.
“Lighter, I need the lighter,” I said into the night air since I could see no one.
A flame appeared a few feet to my left, and I saw Tank’s face behind it.
“Shine it on the ammo boxes,” I ordered, moving closer and taking the lighter from his hand. I leaned down and pointed at eight wooden boxes. The boxes all had the same “M346 H-T” printed on the back of them. I knew those rounds. The flechette canister rounds were great for close in work but had a range of only a few hundred meters. The M346 was high explosive and would reach out to six thousand. “Pull these out,” I said, hold the light close, pointing and then helping get them out as much as I could with my free hand.
I moved back a bit and turned around, telling Tank to stack the boxes behind the machine. I gave him his lighter back and went to where the crew remained under the Ontos. I crouched down in the dark without the lighter to see by. I laid out my plan, not knowing whether I had the right guys or if the crew was capable of doing what I needed to have done. Corporal Trevis identified himself when I took a breath. He indicated that his men could do what I needed but they had to move the flechette rounds first
The Gunny was standing by the side of the Ontos when I came out.
“What are you up to?” he asked.
“I’m going downriver fast with a Prick 25. The M346 ammo can reach the area where Kilo is stuck. I’ll lay in one round and then adjust up and down the bank with the few rounds we have that have that range. Meanwhile, Carter’s Marines can get their asses out of their holes and up to our position.”
“Do you ever just let things fall the way they have to, anyway?” the Gunny asked, sounding tired and a bit exasperated.
“I don’t have time,” I said, turning to head back to my hole. I was going to need both Nguyen for the run down and Fusner on the radio, and it was the kind of dangerous mission where I felt I had to ask them to go instead of ordering them. If necessary I could haul the radio myself and work slowly enough down to avoid the holes along the way, but the time lost and communications not so well practiced would cost Kilo lives, and maybe my own.
I crawled down into the wonderfully dug and so protective hole, wondering why I could not simply stay in it long enough to recover myself to the point where I could figure out what was really going on around me. Circumstances kept controlling me and all I was left with was trying to react to them. Trying to save Kilo was different though, I had to admit. I didn’t have to go, but I had to go.
After I quickly laid the plan out to Zippo and Fusner my whole team was in, although there was no point in Zippo exposing himself with us. There was no good way to say no to the man, however. Zippo was in. I knew Nguyen was in without having to say a word to him. His visage hung there up over the edge of the hole. How the man managed to communicate what he did, and so deeply, without saying a word was a wonder beyond my ability to grasp.
The Gunny’s head appeared not far from Nguyen.
“Fourth Platoon’s going with you,” he said.
“Sugar Daddy?” I asked, almost in shock. “You’re making Sugar Daddy and his platoon go with us?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Not my doing. I filled them in and it’s his idea. He thinks you’re some sort of idiot savant or maybe a damaged genie or a guru. Some of the men have made amulets they’re wearing with your stuff on it. Seems they think everyone around you gets killed but not you.”
“Stuff, what stuff?” I asked, the idea of an amulet in my name or honor feeling somehow repellant.
I wanted to ask the Gunny why I couldn’t just be a second lieutenant and the company commander, but I knew the simple logic of that could only exist somewhere outside of the A Shau Valley. Down where I was there was no logic. There was only basal survival at the most elemental and overtly rank level.
“You’ll see,” he said.
“I can’t wait,” I whispered, derisively.
I wanted to know what stuff and how this development had somehow gotten started, and then how to end it. The Gunny, however, misinterpreted my comment.
“They’ll be here in seconds, and don’t worry, the NVA is just softening Kilo up. They’ll get serious just before dawn, in order to blast them out of their holes. Once the Marines of Kilo are trapped into running upriver between the water and the jungle, then pre-set machine guns will make short work of them.”
“You were going to do nothing, knowing that?” I asked, climbing out of the hole, leaving my pack and other equipment behind.
I needed my helmet, my .45 and not much else except a poncho against the rain and for whatever cover and concealment it might provide.
“It’s about our company of Marines,” the Gunny said. “My job is to survive the company, not the allied forces gathered together to stop the domino effect of Asia falling to communism.”
I looked at the Gunny in wonder, as I would never have expected him to be able to expound on Vietnam in relation to the entire war zone. I hadn’t heard the phrase domino effect, or theory, since my time in college ROTC classes, well before my entering the Marine Corps.
Sugar Daddy appeared at the Gunny’s side.
“Ready to move out,” he said, going down to one knee and waiting.
I wanted to ask Fusner and Zippo about the amulets and what of mine some of the Marines might be using in support of their wild superstitions, but we had no time, and I wasn’t going to ask about any of it in front of the Gunny or Sugar Daddy.
In spite of how fast I wanted to move down the bank of the river, I had no real control of our progress. Sugar Daddy’s platoon had taken the point and my scout team and I were left bringing up the rear. The Marines around and in front us moved like a gentle wind, threading their way along, avoiding the holes they’d dug earlier and heading toward the explosions coming from further down the valley. The last few hundred meters of progress were made by our scout team moving slowly through the downed platoon. Sugar Daddy was near the point when I got through to his position, with my scout team behind me. Nobody was firing anything anymore. I laid down on my stomach next to Sugar Daddy.
I knew the Gunny had probably told him about how firing across the river with tracers would likely only draw rocket fire in return, or at least I hoped he had.
The mist grew heavier while I lay there, trying to see through the night or hear something beyond the weak and obviously wounded vocalizations I could hear in the distance.
“What do we do?” I asked, wishing immediately that I hadn’t revealed that I didn’t know what to do in the situation.
“We wait,” Sugar Daddy whispered back.
“We wait for what?” I asked, once again at a loss as to what to do with what was likely a very damaged company of Marine infantry.
“The rain to get stronger, some time to go by and for orders from Kilo’s commanding officer.”
“Zippo,” I called, very quietly over my right shoulder.
“Sir,” he whispered back.
“The scope,” I said. My mind was already creating a picture of what lay in front of me, although I couldn’t make it out very clearly in the darkness ahead.
Zippo cradled the device, and then handed it gently to me, before going down on his stomach so I could use his thick back as my tripod. I pushed him around until he was pointing downriver instead of across the water. I knew the enemy was over there waiting for more fire, and if they fired again it would only be to draw fire. They were blind and becoming more so with the increase in the volume of the rain. There was no need to see them even if we could.
I confirmed my suspicions. There would be no consulting with or getting orders from Carter because Carter was in the hole in front of us and not moving. There were others in the same hole and I feared both his lieutenants had met the same fate, but I couldn’t be certain without moving forward. I checked out the area around the CP hole. The captain had made sure to have a machine gun emplacement dug on each side of his hole. The M-60s had opened up and the NVA had fired back, nicely splitting the difference between the two gun positions.
“Stay,” I ordered Sugar Daddy, before scuttling forward on my belly until I could slip into the damaged hole.
Or instead, what had been a hole. The riverside protecting the Marines in the hole had been blown out, or rather, inward. Obviously, one or more rockets had scored direct hits on the bank in just the right place. Sugar Daddy had ignored my order, instead of moving to hang down on the side of the hole. He flicked his lighter on for a few seconds. It was enough to see that Captain Carter was very dead, missing most of his head and one of his lieutenants was equally dead next to him. I thought the remaining officer was dead, as well, but then, just before Sugar Daddy’s lighter went out, the man’s eyes blinked. He was alive. I surged forward to where the hole was breached and pulled the man toward me by the outsides of his arms. He slipped from my grasp and I had to grip him around the torso to pull him up and forward.
“Kemp, lieutenant, United States Marine Corps, 0123596,” he said, his voice only audible to me because his mouth was right next to my ear.
“You’re not a prisoner of war,” I said back. “You’re Company Commander Kemp, now, of Kilo Company.”
Sugar Daddy reached down in the dark and pulled the lieutenant up toward him, just as an RPG barrage came rippling in.
“Fire the One Oh Six,” I shouted to Fusner, hoping he had his radio on, antenna up, and was already in contact with the Ontos team. Getting out of Kilo’s nightmare situation was going to be a lot harder than getting into it, I knew. A rocket hit the mud not far from the hole and I scrunched down, thinking that I’d just gotten the lieutenant up out of safety in order to take it for myself. To top it off I pushed Captain Carter’s body into the breach formed by one of the rockets hitting dead center earlier in the night. All of a sudden, the hole filled, as Sugar Daddy plunged down, still holding Kemp, followed by Fusner and Zippo. Fusner made the radio call from the bottom of the damaged hole.
“Not the kind of war story you’re gonna wanna tell back home, Junior,” Sugar Daddy whispered into the silence between RPG blasts and our own round coming in.
Featured image of Ontos from: Steve Zaloga and missing-lynx.com
You are, indeed, producing a great read, Jim, and I am enjoying the segments immensely.
Permit me to point out some strands which do not tie together properly: Reference is made to the “Army Academy”, regarding Morgan, but in reality, there is no such thing. Rather, if U.S.Army, it would be called the “Military Academy”, or “West Point”.
However, Morgan is an officer of the U.S. Marine Corps, which means he would have graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, or “Naval Academy”. The only possible exception would have been a transfer from U.S. Army to the U.S. Navy (and, ultimately into the Marine Corps); but such transfers were quite rare.
More likely, Morgan was a graduate of the Naval Academy.
My father was a mustang who joined the U. S. Army in 1940, and saw action with the 679th Field Artillery Battalion in Italy, France, and Germany during WWII…ultimately retiring in 1970.
My own military career was three years of service, beginning in 1966 as a draftee, followed by OCS, a commission as a 2nd Lt. In the Army, and duty in one of the Army’s specialized.Signal Battalions, in Germany. I make no claim, myself, to combat experience, but I do express open admiration for you and other combat veterans who saw action in the Hell hole of Vietnam.
I mention this background by way of establishing bona fides regarding another point which does not ring properly in your narrative: The umbrella scene involving Cpt. Morgan and his two Lieutenants. In all my years around and in the U.S. Military, I have never seen an umbrella used by any officer or enlisted person.
My remarks are aimed at making a great read even better.
Thank you for pointing out the intended direction of your criticism.
West Pointers may select the Marine Corps, although that is less and less common
in the modern era. This point is contentious on the Internet today and how it is actually done
or even if it is done anymore I have no idea.
Your take on what life is like in general has about as much application as my own.
That you have never seen an umbrella used by enlisted or officer….well, that means you have never seen that.
Life is made up of a number of observations when writing, some of them real and some of them not so real,
even if we may actually think of them as real. Your remarks are couched in a tone of deep scientific
or scholastic knowledge and understanding but the real world, although often responding to those areas,
isn’t really like that.
Appreciate the length and breath of your comment, although we don’t agree on a couple of issues.
I just got off the phone with Westpoint Admissions. Any graduate of Westpoint may select any of the services to become an officer in. It has always been that way and nothing about that has changed. 93 percent of last year’s class chose the Army, however.
This is a tough one….so little time…”Fourth Platoon is going with you”..don’t ask “why?”..just be thankful..you can wonder about the ‘why’ later…but you have to accept the fact that you are doing something right…even if you are hating yourself for it…You knew before you left Kilo that you would be back for them…maybe not consciously, but you knew it…and your Marines knew it also… they were just waiting for you to lead them.. Morgan…..you can lead that horse to water only so many times…but arrogance and pride have a way of biting you right in the ass sometimes…and all you can hope for is that it only bites him….but we know better this time…..just hoping to find out if El Producto made it out…would be nice… Amulets…there were two types we carried all the time..the first was good luck, given away by the guys that were leaving, going home, small momentos, an ink pen, a lucky coin, maybe a belt, and if you were really lucky, a picture taken the last day..standing together in the jungle…at least one of you getting out alive….the other amulet was something small to carry in memory of someone lost…again, something small and insignificant…no weight to it…anything that was his that his family wouldn’t miss…and some days you would take out the small bag, filled with tiny objects…and memories….. Semper Fi Lt..
As always, Larry, your writing mirrors my own and is sometimes better!
Thaks for the depth of what you write and the way you string the words together.
The stuff about amulets and things that meant something is not light stuff.
We lived and died by those things…as it was mostly all we had. It was like God had
To get out of this mess alive sounds like the perfect time for puff to rain some fire with a clear line the river between the nva and you puff can fire knowing where the nva are and cowboy can come in and look for stragglers. Nobody in there right mind is going to stick there head up when puff is firing should give kilo time to at least get in the bush for some cover and all of you’ll get out of that he’ll hole with fewest casualties. Surely some of kilo Sgt knew what was happening and they did not have there men fire blind and thus maybe at least some survive.
Yes, I had forgotten about how many stray rounds were generated when Puff was around.
I mean, if you were close, which I was a few times.
Thanks for the comment and the fact that you had to be there to know that…
another great read, brings back memories that only the night use to.
Keep them coming.
Ron Frye Sgt 11B Nam ’67/’68
Working away on the 19th Day as I write this response. Thanks for the compliment and for putting it up on here.
“You’re not a prisoner of war,” I said back. (“)You’re Company Commander Kemp, now, of Kilo Company.” Add quotes.
A rocket hit the mud not far from the hole and I scrunched down, [thinking that I’d just gotten the lieutenant up out of safety in order to take it for myself.] Jim, what are you trying to say here? Maybe “thinking that I’d just lifted the lieutenant out of his safe place in order to take it for myself”?
“Not the kind of war story you’re gonna wanna tell back home, Junior,(“) Sugar Daddy whispered into the silence between RPG blasts and our own round coming in. Add quotes.
Thanks for your sharp eye, Steve
“Not the kind of war story you’re gonna wanna tell back home, Junior(“), Quote mark needs to FOLLOW the comma…
Thanks again Steve
Why do I get the feeling that the talismen these guys adopt is the same one that during street combat in Panama City had “opened” while on my tags running from cover to cover, a large blast from a 90mm recoilless team occurred nearby and I grabbed some real estate, I flopped hard on the gound at a full run crossing a street to feel a sharp pain in the middle of my chest, got back up (didnt want to stay there for long LOL) and hustled to the base of a building to catch my breath. As I was cat squatting with my back against the wall pulled my body armor and bdu shirt away from my chest to see what was causing the pain to find my P38 blade had opened and was imbedded 1/2 way in the dead center of my chest. Maybe its the fuzzy memory of sleep deprivation or the retelling of it over the years but I am pretty sure the tip was stuck in the sternum. Didnt have any time to do anything about it but pull it out of me, refold it and move on thinking I need to clean that before it gets infected and remember to at least rinse the p38 before I use it again. Still have a scar from it as a reminder the stupid stuff that goes on. I dont think I had the time to think more about it for at least 6 hours. It is funny the superstitions that are created in line units. Sometimes as jokes at first but they take on a life of their own. One of ours was not saying the R word in the jungles in Panama. Cause if you said it it was going to happen in 5 minutes or less and you were always struggling with either being soaked in sweat or rain or both and trying to avoid the prickly heat. You would actually get angry about people disregarding the rule and using that word Great reading as always
Thanks for that long and comprehensive comment my friend. What a story. The P-38 in the chest. Wow. Yes, weird shit goes on
around modern weaponry. Thanks for the comment and putting it up on here…
I sense a slightly used pair of Lieca binoculars coming your way. Just read the last 2 chapters. You know how to keep us on edge. Great writing as always Jim
Sly dog that you are…
Jim… Your story of stress under combat extends beyond just Marines to others who also served in Vietnam. I just attended the 50-year reunion of Alpha Company, 4/47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Alpha company was part of a Brigade maneuver element of a joint Army/Navy Mobile Riverine Force operating in the Mekong Delta from 1967 through 1968. Over the 2-year period, Alpha company had 88 KIA. There were 50 vets (and about 26 spouses) who attended the reunion in Coronado, CA. Only two of these 50 vets completed their 12-month tour in Vietnam without being wounded. The 4-day reunion provided a cathartic release for these survivors, allowing them an opportunity to share their war stories and to remember their fallen comrades. Your book provides the same vicarious experience for others who haven’t experienced the horrors of combat.
Thank you Steve. Big compliment and thanks for telling everyone about your reunion and how it went.
I hope I am doing good althpugh it is hard, from my perspective as the write, to really tell except for comments on here…
which have stunned and amazed me.
Semper fi, and thank you so much,
Jim, you are seriously going to make me piss myself with these cliff-hangers.
Steve, I want to thank you for that upside down and backwards compliment! I don’t mean to write cliff hangers at all…they just come
packaged that way somehow…
I know, but I’m not reading the next installment without wearing Depends…
Now that’s a funny compliment! Thanks for that mind picture…
Why do I get the feeling your about get a new pair of the cool binoculars!!! Another great chapter sir…keep em coming… PS I hope the eye balls r healed up
Man, you don’t miss a thing! I cannot write ahead on here, of course, but sometimes you giuys just amaze me. Every time I think I have a big brain I run into people like you…
Semper fi, and thanks for making me smile and be satisfied…
It’s sad guys like ElProducto went home in a bag because of some pricks’ ego. I think he knew when you pulled out they we’re screwed.
Do you really think he knew, Carl? I wrote it as it went down but I never thought that he might have figured out we were leaving and lying about it.
He might have learned from Fusner in their secret radioman communications. I remember his expression when he said those words and I am torn to think
he knew and I went. It is so hard to leave them behind now when I did so with seeming abandon back then….and thanks for the clarity you used in reading the story.
James: I have often wondered how many KIAs/WIAs were the direct result of incompetent leaders at company level. The VC/NVA killed our guys with their weapons, but how many were set up by these officers, many trying to have their promotion ticket punched?
I don’t believe that promotion or medals were ever any kind of motivator once you got out into real combat in the Nam.
That was all gone right away just as soon as you discovered that you were not likely ever going to live or go home again.
There is no want or need of medals or promotion in that environment. Back in the rear with gear it was rampant though…unless they
got sent to the field…and then it was gone…Even after I got home I did not care about those things. My medals are in the basement in a plastic bag in a trunk. I think.
I think the rank and file of Kilo company knew full well that they were under poor leadership. When your company left, it served to cement their opinions, no doubt. But your staying would have simply left more bodies to be put in the bags. Your continued presence would have served no useful purpose, and the captain’s ego was never going to allow him to take any bit of advice from you. Did some of them know? Strong probability, but a disciplined and seasoned company would have known better than to return fire at an unseen target. Hard decisions have to be made by the ones getting paid the big bucks. Wasn’t a game we played there, and the results are for keeps. You made the right decision. Your compassion for the losses shows your humanity.
Thanks Marshall, that’s a really nice and caring comment. And the compliment at the end.
I do think I have humanity although I left the Nam thinking I’d lost all that along the way.
For so long I could only feel deep dark regret and curse myself for not being what I considered
to be an acceptable officer. You see it in the work. Still there, some of it. I know now that
I do not have true innate courage. I can exhibit courage, but I’m not truly the courageous man
I thought I was when I was very young…and before Vietnam. Fear can bend me, like it did. That’s what I
really resent, but at the same time accept as part of being human.
Its a tendency to rethink and relive the past trying to come to grips with it, find another way that it could have gone down, a better decision or choice. If I had only…. Since there is no other way you are stuck reliving that moment in the quiet times between when you are so busy trying to keep your mind occupied with living today and not on those decisions made so long ago.
Very astutely put Matt. I cannot agree with you more. When I discovered my cat Harvey dead by the side of the road as I drove to work four months back, I recalled going outside to call him in my bathrobe in the back yard near that road. The GPS said he should be somewhere right near the road only a few yards a why through the pines. Instead of going up the hill and through the pines to see, I went back in the house, got showered and ready for work before departing. The worst feeling came over me when I found his body. The feeling that if I had only ignored my appearance the what other people might have thought to go through the pines and look I might have been in time. And yes, that kind of thinking goes all the way back to the Nam and combat, I know. Thanks for the depth of your comment and your putting it up here for all of us to read…
Sight not site. Some typos about 2/3 into your story.
In Eighteenth Day, Third Part
Site is what was intended.
I’m going back and forth as to wether you are really good at writing cliff hanger endings to your segments or if it was just that nonstop intense throughout September…
” one grenade” made me chuckle . My old platoon leader would always get bent when as he would say we ” were all nutsacked up! One grenade, Dipshits!”
As this segment ends I’m wondering how you get back to airbase without the prestaged machine guns picking you off – if gunny is right- which so far he seems to be. Maybe there is enough cover to wait for sandy in the am? Maybe not. NVA is definitely in a position to harvest the fruits of their patience…
Read and learn, as you excercise your big investigative brain in figuring out the problem. I did not come up with
a solution. Someone else did….
The amulets///anything to do with fisters?
The amulets were superstitious collections of memorabilia, like the wampum things the American Indians used to put together.
Fisters is a term that was applied to Artillery fire support team members. I don’t get the combination of the two terms unless I’ve missed something.
The term ‘fister’ was already almost out of inventory by the time I went through Sill.
The term “Fister” is alive and well. “FIST” is an acronym for FIre Support Team. This became an MOS (13F) for enlisted men. Not sure when, at least in the early eighties. I was 13F as spent time attached to 2nd Platoon 3/502 INF 101 ABN AASLT in Desert Shield/Storm. Good people. Looking forward to the next installment. Thanks. Kent.