Chapter 02: 21 Days and a WakeupbySlirpuff©
Chapter #2 21 Days And A Wake Up
I could hear each heart beat resonate through my head as I tried my best to control my breathing. With beads of sweat trickling down the sides of my face, I relaxed as much as I could, setting the distance for about a hundred and seventy five yards. Spreading my legs out a bit further, I wiped the sweat from my right eye, leveled my rifle and closed my left. I could barely see the small piece of black as I took in a deep breath, let it half out and took up the slack with my right index finger. I didn't hear the back-to-back blasts but felt the stiff recoil against my shoulder as I lowered my head to the ground.
"Holy shit," Turk yelled standing up. "What a shot, I didn't even see him." He continued as the rest of the platoon got back together. "How many is that, eleven, twelve, how many Steve?" he asked.
"Not a clue, it's not something I keep track of," I told him as I got to my feet and brushed myself off.
"Nice work Steve," our Staff Sergeant told me.
"No problem," I replied taking out a handkerchief and wiping my face.
"All right, cut the jabber and let's mount up and get the hell out of here before we attract any more attention," he yelled as we moved out a little more cautiously than we had twenty minutes ago.
We were in the process of doing a sweep on a small village when we came under small arms fire. One squad moved to our right flank as the rest of us took cover. I caught a glimpse of a muzzle flash as I dropped down and crawled on my belly forward about ten yards. All I could see out of place was a small piece of black in a field of green and brown vegetation. I level my rifle, checked my elevation and did what I was trained to do, that was all.
We found nothing in the village, we hardly ever did. We were told that the man we shot was a lone Viet Cong. Like always, we told them that we'd protect them and that they had nothing to fear with us in the area, yeah right. We had a hard time protecting ourselves much less a small village five clicks from our home base.
I was way too short for this shit any more. Hell, I wasn't a lifer or even gung ho any more. I had just twenty-one more days and a wake up before I was out of here. Usually short timers got camp duty, but we were short handed so every swinging dick had to do their share of patrols.
On our way back to base, we did a swing around our ammo dump just to make sure no one was planning anything for the evening. Two nights ago we found three mortar tubes set up. We busted them up and took the shells back with us. Luckily tonight we found nothing.
The beer at the club was warm as always. Unless you got in on the first two rounds, you drank warm beer all night. At least at the NCO Club you could get a hard liquor drink with a little ice. I was dead tired and was counting down until I took the big bird to Okinawa first and then back to the US of A.
I took out the two new letters I'd received from Ann, my girl back home. I read them once and then again to make sure I caught everything. Mail was one of the only things that kept me, along with everyone else here sane. A message from home, saying how much they loved you and were looking forward to your return kept us going. Ann talked about what was going on at home, with our friends and what she'd been up to. I checked the postmark, two weeks old, not bad for going half way around the world. The second one was about the same, telling me about what she and the group we hung with were doing and that everyone wished me well and to come back home safe. They had gotten more generic over the last two months but at least they kept coming. Between my large family, my friends and my girl, I got letters a couple of times a week and I saved every damn one in a box in my locker. I figured if I didn't get one for a couple of days, I could always reread an older one. 'T' minus twenty-one and counting is all I could think about.
A couple of my buddies swung by and congratulated me on another confirmed kill but I immediately changed the subject to women and booze, something we all loved to talk about. A couple of guys in our platoon had just gotten back from Bangkok on R & R and had caught the clap. Stupid fuckers, I thought. They gave everyone a box of condoms before turning them loose, why in the hell didn't they use them? Now the idiots are going to get office hours for what, a little flesh on flesh action, I said to myself as I finished my can of warm Black Label beer. No way no how was I going to make that mistake with some slant-eyed whore. I had something special waiting for me at home and wasn't going to fuck that up.
Turk and Lassiter came outside and found me relaxing with my feet up on the table reading one of my letters.
"She send you any pictures this time," Turk asked.
"Naw, just letters."
"My girl tries to send me a new picture every month," he said pulling the latest one out of his wallet and showing me.
"She looks just like a guy I went to school with. She does have boobs doesn't she? I can't tell from this picture," I said laughing as he called me a prick.
"Maybe you guys want to see what a real girl looks like?" Lassiter said pulling out the two worn pictures he'd gotten when he'd been in country about two months and handed them over to us. All right she was a knockout with a great body.
"Lassiter, I still say her tits are too big and even though she has a nice booty I like my girls a little taller," I said handing the picture back to him.
"You're just jealous my girl sent me a couple of naked pictures and yours didn't. I'm out of here soon and will be between those sweet thighs before you know it."
"Well then how come she hardly ever writes you any more?" Turk asked him before I could stop him. "You haven't got a letter in what, two months?"
"My girl just started a new job and has been busy. Hell, she doesn't even know I'm rotating in four days and I'm not going to tell her. I'm going to sneak home and surprise her ass. I can't wait till I see the look on her face," he said putting both pictures away. "I'm going to ask her to marry me the first night and I've all ready bought the ring. I'll be home humping my girl before you two even make it to Okinawa," he said now laughing.
Turk had eighteen days and at last count I was looking at twenty-one. It took one day to fly out to Okinawa, to pick up the gear you left there on the way over, and then two more days to hit the U.S. of A. After that it was only an eight hours flight home. Hell, I could be sitting in my own kitchen having breakfast in eleven hours.
"Yes sir, I'm going to be eating sweat American pussy while you guys are still knee deep in rice patties," Lassiter said leaning back in his chair smiling.
"Fuck you and asshole," were only two of about ten names we called him as we finished our beers before heading back to the hut area.
This had been one hell of a year. I'd come over here with the lofty goal of saving the world and was leaving, knowing that it was never going to happen. They didn't want us here; the only thing they wanted was our money and what they could get out of us.
The South's Army was a damn joke, nothing like the dedicated guys up North who would and did anything to win a winless war. I pity the poor sons of a bitch who would be left after we pull out; it was going to be a blood bath. No matter, I was out of here soon, let the next guy worry about it. I grabbed one more beer, shot the shit with a few other guys before heading back to my rack. I was tired and getting hammered on warm beer wasn't in the cards for me tonight.
Back in the hut area I kicked back on my bunk and let my mind wander back to the first day I got here. There were seventy of us that flew into Da Nang airport that morning. Twenty-two Marines, Forty Army and eighteen Air Force cadets; and all of us more than a little wet behind the ears. I had spit shined boots, a newly pressed uniform and a starched cover that could break a 2x4 in half. That was the last time I looked that good.
It was hot, humid and I was wet with sweat in less than twenty minutes after getting off the plane. I found the admin office and we all reported in. We were given hut numbers and told to stow our gear and be back there after lunch. I located the hut, found an empty rack and started putting my stuff away.
"Hey newbie." A tall black man said as he walked into the hut. "Welcome to the vacation resort of the orient," he said with a laugh. "When did you get in?"
"Just this morning," I replied.
"Well, put your shit away and make damn sure every things locked up, people will steal you blind around here, take my word for it. Hurry up and I'll show you where the mess hall is. By the way, my name is Ken Lassiter but everyone just calls me Lassiter," he said with a big smile showing a lot of gold in his mouth.
Lassiter gave me the nickel tour and told me that all the guys in our hut were pretty decent.
"You got Clay's bunk, he rotated last week. Then there's Turk, Ken, Billy our resident red neck, Dave, Ron and Jim, who's in charge of the hut. We're all tight and watch out for one another."
"How long have you been here?" I asked.
"Seventeen days today," he said proudly. "I'm starting my short timers calendar next week, no use starting it too early when you've got over three hundred days left."
He took me over to the small mess hall and I met Billy, who worked there as a cook.
"Where you from?" he asked.
"Minnesota," I replied.
"A Northerner," he said as he told me he was born and raised in Alabama, or Bama as he called it.
"You'll get use to the humidity in a couple of weeks, until then, just get use to sweating."
After lunch I went back to the admin office and was told to report to the armory and the adjacent warehouse to pickup my rifle and the rest of my gear. The Captain looked over my file and told me to report back at 0800 tomorrow for job placement.
I spent the rest of the day getting all my shit together. By the time I was done, it was almost 1730 and I was sitting in my wet tee shirt, on my new bunk.
One by one, the members of the hut came in and introduced themselves. I answered the same questions over and over again but finally my first day in country was almost over. I begged off on going to the club, I was just too damn hot and tired to even move.
"Make sure you put your smokes away," Turk said. "The damn cockroaches here love to eat them. Also get yourself a plastic case, because when it rains all you'll have left is a soggy mess."
I never moved the rest of the night. I woke up wet from sweat and headed over to the showers, or what they called a shower. It was a large wooden hut with a tin roof. The showers were just water spigots, like you had on the outside of your house, connected to a main water line. There was no hot or cold water, what came out, was what you got.
I got dressed and after breakfast headed to the admin office to see what kind of job I'd be doing.
"Says here, you qualified for O.C.S.," the Captain said looking at my file. "Why did you back out?"
"Wasn't sure I wanted to spend six years in the Corps," I replied.
"Fair answer. Since you've got more brain than brawn, I'm going to have you work here with me in the office. Everything that comes in or goes out of this base goes through this office. I'm one guy short, so you'll get your chance starting today."
"Anything you say, Captain."
He called in someone from the outer office and told him to show me around.
"My name's Kenny," he told me. "This is the best duty on base. You don't have to turn out for morning formation, you can walk to the mess hall on your own and we've got eight women helping us in the office who are very easy on the eyes," he said with a smile. "Only problem, it's a hell of a lot of hours, but what else have you got to do?"
He was right, the work in the office was easy but the hours were long, hell, that's all I did. Working twelve to fourteen hours was nothing. Every piece of equipment that left any of our warehouses needed a shipping document and every document went through the office and was logged in by me. The days rolled on, one onto the other, because all I did was work, eat and sleep. I was kind of glad when I got tapped for patrol duty, which was required one week every other month. At least I'd see something outside of these four walls. However, it wasn't anything like I'd thought it would be and pretty much changed me forever going foreword.
It was 2330 when I glanced down at my watch, six and a half hour until my relief arrives. I was cold, hungry and want a cigarette really bad, but wasn't going to make that mistake again.
You see I had been in country about seven weeks when I went on maneuvers for the first time. It was about 0200 and I was on guard duty, and decided to have a smoke. I lit my cigarette under my poncho and proceeded to smoke it, cupping it in my hand. It wasn't more than a couple of minutes later I felt something hit the side of my helmet, knocking me to the ground. Looking up I saw my staff sergeant.
"Look asshole, if you're bound and determined to commit suicide, do it on your own fucking time and away from my squad. I could see the glow from that goddamn cigarette of yours over a quarter of a mile away. You're just lucky that a V.C. sniper didn't see it," he yelled at me. "So, shit head, do I make myself clear?"
"Won't happen again Sergeant," I said picking myself up and grabbing my rifle. "Well, that's one way to make a wrong first impression," I thought as I regained my composure.
I found out later, that I wasn't the first one he'd laid out, and was certainly not the last. In our squad, we had only lost one guy in the last six months, and he'd done something really stupid. So our staff sergeant wanted to make sure that it was the last one he had to put in a body bag, before he rotated in three months.
My first four months in country were gone before I knew it. By the time I finished work and had dinner I was so tired all I wanted to do was to go to bed and sleep. Everyone else was done by 1630 and hitting the clubs after dinner, and I was getting tired of being taken advantage of. I mentioned to the Captain that I'd like to get off early once in a while so one day a week he made sure I was off by 1800 hours; be still my heart. Three weeks later I did something that would change my life forever.
It was late and everyone had left for the night. I had just closed out the orders from the day's shipments and was sorting the pull sheets for tomorrow's work. Hell, there were twenty percent more than today's; I'd be here all night tomorrow, I wanted out. I decided to fuck myself.
I took all of the next day's documents out to a trash bin, doused them with fuel oil and set them ablaze. I made sure they were complete ash before I made my way back to my hut. I didn't sleep a wink that night because I knew the wrath of God was going to hit tomorrow.
"Where are all the fucking documents?" the Captain screamed at me.
"Sir, they were sorted lying on my desk when I left last night," was my reply as I stood at attention in front of his desk.
"When I got here this morning, the damn door was unlocked and there wasn't a fucking thing on your desk," he yelled. "Son, you'd better shit out those documents or there's going to be hell to pay."
Back in those days, people had to keypunch in everything onto computer cards. Those cards were run through a machine and shipping documents came out the other end. After the shipping documents were run, the cards were destroyed so there was no chance of running duplicate picks. However, if the documents were gone, the whole process would have to be redone which was about a day and a half worth of work. Someone was in deep shit and that someone was me.
Nothing shipped out for the next day and a half. The Captain got his ass reamed from above and as I expected, shit rolled downhill.
"I'm transferring you out of this office effective today," I was told. "You will report to Captain Evans and he'll have to find something for your sorry ass to do, you're not my problem any more." I did an about face and walked out of that office for the last time with a big smile on the inside; that only lasted about two days.
My buddies Turk and Lassiter thought it was a howl that I'd given up a skate job just because of the hours.
"Instead of worrying about getting shot once a month, now your ass is going to be on the line every day. You really screwed up this time," Turk told me. We went to the club that night and drank warm beer well into the night.
"Why the fuck do I get everyone's rejects," Captain Evans said looking at me. "There's no way in hell I'm going to let you go anywhere near my paperwork, so for right now I'm going to stick you riding shot gun on the trucks going to the navel port. Try not to fuck up anything on the way there or back," he said with a disgusted look on his face.
Rifle, flack jacket and helmet in hand I went over to the staging area, there I met the fearsome threesome.
"You must be the new reject," Don said smiling with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. "This is Jerome and Rick," he told me as we all shook hands. "You're just in time for today's drawing. You see, we draw for who gets what truck, because no one wants truck number two," he said dropping four balls into his helmet. "Pick your number and pray to God you're lucky." I drew number two. Rick got number one, Don three and Jerome got four.
"Why the fuck do I always get number one? If I didn't know better I'd swear it's fixed," he said picking up his gear.
There were a total of eight trucks in our convey. Someone rode shotgun on the second truck and then every other truck after that.
"Why doesn't anyone ride on the first one?"
Because sucker, if the road is mined, the first truck is going to hit it. In the cab, there is a two inch thick piece of steel sitting under the driver's cab and another directly in front of him. If he hits something, it's going to take off the front of his truck but at least he'll live. We usually have a Vietnamese driving the first one anyway. Hell, it's their fucking country they should be ready to die for it not us."
The first trip went without a hitch but the second day was an entirely different matter. About twenty minutes out we took incoming fire from a grassy hillside to our right. The trucks put the peddle to the floor and the four of us raked the hillside. Did we hit anything? I haven't a clue. I was too busy killing every blade of grass that had a gook behind it, almost emptying my first ammo box through my sixty-caliber machine gun. My heart was still beating wildly when we finally got to the navy base.
"First action you've seen?' Rick asked.
"Yeah. Do you take fire every trip?"
"Naw, only about thirty percent of the time," he said with a smile. "You'll get use to it." I never did.
Two months later, the first truck hit a land mine. I was in the second truck and my mind was ten thousand miles away when I felt the force of the blast. The sound was deafening as I watched the truck in front of me fly backwards towards mine.
However, by this time I had the drill down pat, I scanned the area around us waiting for the incoming fire that never came. The truck was toast and the driver was in real bad shape. The other drivers salvaged what they could and within five minutes we were on the road again leaving the smoking hull of what had been our lead truck.
We left the driver at the Navy clinic, radioed in what had happened and picked up our supplies.
No one said a word as we made our way back to our base. Everyone was at the ready and I swear to God if one of the trucks had even backfired we all would have emptied our ammo boxes in that direction.