It was a cold and damp morning, the moisture stuck to skin like flies to fly paper. The loud ?thud thud thud? of the helicopters had awaken me from my trance, after two and half hours of sleep. I had risen just in time for a fresh cup of coffee when all of the sudden a chopper touched down just outside the barracks kicking up all the debris and dirt it could find. The night before had been a hellish one, the mortar blasts and screams of my fellow soldiers had kept me awake nearly all night. And how, my coffee had been ruined by the damn helicopter.
I was in the worst place on Earth, Saigon, in 1968. Definitely the wrong place at the wrong time. My orders were simple, so I thought. Meet up with a group of Green Berets just outside of enemy lines, and go north to a small village controlled by American troops, we would get more information soon after we had arrived. That was it, just like king of the hill when I was kid. I met up with my partners in a joint called the Lucky Money, a real run down place, the air filled with stale smoke and the scent of plastic palm trees. Let?s just say the Lucky Money had seen better days. Hell just four months ago Bob Hope had occupied that vacant stage. The atmosphere was filled with tension. At the drop of a pin the whole environment could erupt into total chaos, half the time shoot outs would start in the street just from punks tossing rocks around.
The guys I met up with were worn down, not one of them had a good night?s rest in at least a month, you could see it in their eyes. All they wanted was a ride home, and they were going to do anything and everything in their power to get home. The leader of the group, Colonel Jake Denton, had been here two damn years. He didn?t have much to say except he missed his kids. The other three were all from Texas, but none of them knew each other until the army put them together. The mousy looking kid was from Dallas, and he always had a cigarette hanging from his lip, a sure sign of the stress that was building inside him, his name was Jon Weinhard. The two other guys were Mike Brown and Jerry Stocker, both of them really seemed to like each other and were always giving Jon a hard time, no doubt they were a couple of jocks straight out of high school. Mike was always talking about something, I swear to god not even a roll of duct tape could shut him up, and Jerry was always slacking off, doing just his part of the job, and leaving early so he could go and get drunk.
We sped off in the Jeep making good distance for the next couple of hours. Twilight fell and we slept in a small town along side a river, the hotel was horrible, the skittering and scattering of roaches on the floor kept me awake for hours. The weather was hot and muggy, bugs everywhere clung to my skin like metal on magnets, it was impossible to escape them.
The next morning came. After an early meal of some rice cakes and goats milk, the breakfast of champions, we decided to get moving. To my surprise we had reached our destination by noon, and there was no going back for a while. The Jeep was totally empty on gas, it was a wonder we even made it to the bridge. I went and talked to some of the fella?s by the barracks, they had said that the mail hasn?t been delivered for more than a month now, according to them the mail use to come through once every two weeks. The camp looked like a circus, lights strung up across power lines, people everywhere just seemed to be having a good time. The atmosphere was really relaxed, these boys probably hadn?t seen any action in months, and it was definitely starting to show.
Night fall came and the berets and I settled down in a bunker alongside the river, Jerry was listening to a radio he talked out of some guy and kept getting angry because when ever he found a frequency that was English it would turn into static after a few minutes. The issue about the mail not getting through kept nagging at me. Oh well, half the people hear the same stuff over and over in those damn letters, ?come home soon, stay out of the way of the bullets, make it home in one piece, ? whether the folks at home liked it or not, those sort of things were out of the soldiers hands. Around these parts saying something like, ?Don?t worry momma, I?ll be home soon, ? was just that, a saying, and actually getting home was a hell of a lot harder than saying it.
Dusk fell like stones in water, one minute there was light, the next moment was total black. The insects buzzed around like rockets in space, zipping this way and that, the jungle around us haunted our deepest thoughts. It?s density was inescapable, occupying every corner of your mind, nagging you like a little child, always there. For some reason the soldiers seemed exceedingly cautious tonight, a lot more stressed than their usual laid back manner.
?Why the hell is everyone so damn nervous?? I questioned to Jake as he flipped through a veit-namese newspaper.
?Reports of Charlie sweeping through the area, probably the gun shots we heard earlier, no need to worry though, the radio said they were heading south, directly away from us,? pronounced Jake as he continued to page through his newspaper.
?Then why are all the men so shaken tonight?? I wondered.
?You have to realize, most of these grunts around here are just kids, they probably haven?t even fired a weapon since basic training, ? spoke Jake very calmly.
Mike and another kid named Jojo were put on watch for the first two hours of the night, from ten o?clock to midnight, everything went according to plan, not even a blade of grass moved. Jon and I were up next, from midnight until two o?clock in the a.m. I kept awake by consuming mass amounts of coffee, better than the muddied down crap the called coffee back in Saigon, this stuff was pure, real AAA class stuff. Jon flooded the bunker with cigarette smoke. The density of the smoke was unbearable.
?Shhhh! Did you hear that?? I whispered
Jon was interrupted by the ball of lead that had flown straight through the tip of his cigarette, I sounded the alarm while Jon manned the guns, I don?t think I?ve ever seen someone cut down an entire forest with a machine gun, but I have now. The bullets were shot into air, wood, flesh, metal, just about anything and everything that was outside of that bunker, and there was nothing that could stop them. There?s nothing like the sound of a duel barrel 30mm rail gun blasting off round after round, the waves bounced off the walls inside the bunker like the ball of a pin ball machine, CLANK CLANK CLANK, was all I could hear.
Soon the entire camp was engulfed in flames from plummeting mortars, whistling through the air, there were so many of them you didn?t have anywhere to run, the sky was falling and we had no umbrella. Casualties were racking up like points in a basketball game, and we were the losing team, we must have been outnumbered at least three to one. How the hell had we lasted so long? Maybe we had just gotten lucky, or it could be that all these fresh tomatoes were so trigger happy they set a goal to not die until they got their fair share. Our bunker was running low on ammo, and lucky me, it was my job to get more 30mm rounds. As soon as I got out of that hell hole, the only thing that came to mind was run, run like hell. On the way to the munitions facility I must have seen over a hundred bodies lying lifeless on the red stained earth, not to mention the others who would soon join them. I reached the munitions building only to find that it wasn?t there anymore, the whole place had been demolished, the only thing left was it?s concrete foundation, charred black by the massive explosion that occurred. I immediately ran back to the bunker, and to my dismay, it was gone too, the burnt corpse of Jon was still gripping to the melted, red hot 30mm chain gun. Panic took over, my body felt like it was going to shut down, so what else was I suppose to do? I hid, a small cave on the edge of the river had gone un-noticed to the invading troops, so I thought that would be a good place to reside. Time had no existence to me now, I could?ve been in that cave for days for all I know, the only thing I can remember is when I poked my head out of that little hole and felt the pitter patter of warm rain drops on the front of my face.
Screams of agony and terror arose from the nearby village, when I reached the village I couldn?t believe my eyes, how could something so horrible happen. The entire village had been destroyed, no sign of any breathing Viet-Namese soldiers anywhere, although countless of them were scattered around the dirt streets. Jon was dead, there was no sign of Jerry, and Jake and Mike lay side by side both dead, looked like they had been executed. My eyes welled up with water and I cursed the day I had set foot in Viet-Nam, I cursed everything I could think of.
Ironically the mail had arrived earlier that day, many letters wouldn?t be delivered to their rightful owners. All of my partners in this assignment had received letters that day. Jon got one from his mother, saying she was anxious for him to get home in one piece. Mike had gotten a box of brownies from his grandma and a few pictures of his newborn son. Jerry received a letter from his girl friend saying she had saved up enough money for them to get their own place on the outside of town, a little red log cabin on an acre of land with a pond a giant willow tree. Jake on the other hand wasn?t so lucky, he only got a letter from his insurance company saying he owed them $376.38. My wife sent me a letter with a couple pictures of my seven year old daughter on the swing set I built in the backyard just before I left. Oh God how I miss my wife and daughter, oh God how I miss home.