Warts & All Ch. 02byitmgr2010©
This story takes place in the early eighties. It is a work of fiction but as in previous stories it is based on some real events and some characters I have known. It is a story about truth and consequences, love and infidelity. There is very little sex in this story.
"Yes?" I said into the phone somewhat abruptly. I was annoyed at the interruption even though I had been expecting it all morning.
I had been deep in thought about Jason, Jessie and Allie. They were now the most important part of my life. And figuring out how to shield them from the consequences of what had happened was now my biggest priority.
"Phil, this is Jack."
"Yes, Jack?" I responded without enthusiasm.
"What's going on there? Sally was here at the house when her mom and I got home from church. She is crying her eyes out and says she is afraid to go home." Jack said forcefully, nearly shouting.
I looked at my watch. It was almost one o'clock, nearly fourteen hours after I had left Rochester Hills.
"I don't know what I could have done to make her feel that way." I said deadpan.
"She says you got violent with a couple of friends of Debbie's the two of them ran into last night. Hurt them bad."
"Hurt them! They are lucky I didn't kill them." I said sarcastically.
"Phil! What the hell? That doesn't sound like you!"
I thought for a minute about how to respond to that statement. Finally I just asked a question of my own. "Did Sally tell you where this altercation occurred?"
"She said it was outside a restaurant down near Rochester Hills."
So she was trying to spin this. Well, her family, her story.
"Sally is your daughter, so I guess it must be the truth." I said slowly.
There was silence on the phone and I could sense Jack was trying to digest all this.
"Phil, I'm going to bring Sally home. I want to know what's going on. We need to talk."
"No problem, I wasn't planning on going anywhere."
Jack hung up abruptly but not before I heard in the background, "No daddy no!" I sighed. She isn't going to make this easy I thought.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, looking at some old photos and mementos that had been in my shoebox and working on my second beer when they pulled in.
Jack strode into the kitchen with Sally behind him pulling at his arm.
"Please Daddy, let ... let us work this out. Phil and I need to be alone."
I stared at Sally closely. She was without makeup, hair undone and eyes red and swollen. She was trembling like she had a severe case of nerves. She refused to return my look as she held onto her Dad's arm and tried to steer him back toward the door.
But Jack refused to be steered. Jack planted himself in front of the kitchen table and stared at me. Silently he looked at me and the Ka-bar knife sitting on the table next to my beer. Finally he said, "Okay, Phil. What's going on?"
I looked at Sally and said mockingly, "Yeah, Sally. Tell your Dad what's going on."
She turned to me and said fiercely "Shut up Phil! You and I can straighten this all out", her voice commanded but her eyes were pleading with me.
Pissed off that she thought this could all be fixed if only we could be alone. Or that she thought she could manipulate me, I decided to be as honest as she was being deceitful. And it was she that brought her parents into this.
I looked Jack dead in the eyes, "It turns out Sally and her boss Debbie had a couple of playmates they like to get together with when they were out of town. I found out and objected. Rather forcefully I have to admit." I said more tactfully than she deserved.
Sally gasped and backed up and sat on one of the kitchen chairs.
Jack looked at me in disbelief. "No Phil, Sally wouldn't do that. I don't believe you."
I thought about that for a minute then I turned back to Sally and said, "Take off your clothes, Sally."
"Wha ...what?" She said confused.
"You heard me. What's the matter? Your Dad has seen you without clothes before. It won't shock him."
Sally just stared at me in disbelief and didn't budge. Jack just shook his head like he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
I shrugged and said "Okay Sally. How about this? Take off your blouse, just the blouse, nothing else."
Again Sally didn't move but got this terrified look on her face.
Jack started to get angry with me and said, "That's enough Phil. Now you are being cruel and disrespectful."
I looked from Sally to Jack and back to Sally again. I felt the anger overcoming my feelings of pain and sadness.
"Cruel and disrespectful you say? Not even close, Jack. I will tell you what's cruel and disrespectful. If Sally would take her clothes off you would see what I saw last night in her hotel room. Whisker burns around her breasts and inner thighs, and a hickey above her right nipple. Put there by another man." I stated in a voice devoid of emotion.
Jack quickly swiveled around to look at Sally. From the frightened look on Sally's face, it was obvious I was telling the truth. Suddenly Jack slumped in his chair like his spine could no longer support him
Jack's expression crumpled and he put his face into his hands and whispered, "Oh God, this will kill your mother."
Sally turned pale and her eyes started to tear up, "Please Daddy, don't tell Mom. We can work this out Phil, can't we? Please, Phil, please!" She begged.
I sat silently, rearranging old photos, fiddling with the mementoes from my old shoebox. Remembering another time when I was hurt beyond belief.
After a few minutes Jack straightened up and wiped his eyes. He looked at me without expression. "What are you going to do, Phil?" He asked as tears continued to run down Sally's face.
I sat there thinking about that question for a few minutes.
Finally I said slowly, "I never told either of you about Vietnam or Ripcord."
I sighed, "Hell, I never told anyone about Ripcord. Not even my therapist.'
I waved at the pile of stuff on the table. "Isn't it ironic Jack, that your generation puts your military memorabilia up on the mantle for display and admiration, my generation puts our reminders in a shoebox and hides it in the bottom of a drawer. Why is that?" I said rhetorically.
I picked up a faded photo of two tanned bareheaded skinny young guys in baggy jungle fatigues with dog tags hanging around their necks. Grinning at the camera like Vietnam was a boy scout outing. Was I ever that young? I certainly felt old now.
I dropped the photo on the table in between Jack and Sally and starting talking conversationally like I was speaking or maybe even lecturing to strangers.
"Jase and I were dropped onto Ripcord in May of 1971, just one more firebase in a succession of firebases our battery had been assigned to. We would airlift in the howitzers, set up; conduct fire missions for a month or two to support the grunts humping through the jungle and then move on to another one. We had been in 'Nam for six months and had another six months before we would rotate home."
"But this time it was different. We were set down on a denuded ridgeline surrounded by some of the densest, most forbidding jungle we had ever seen overlooking the A Shau Valley near the border with Laos. The valley was bad news for the U.S. military. In previous years it had been the scene of several bloody battles that generated a lot of casualties.
Fire Support Base Ripcord was intended to support four battalions of the 101st Airborne who were beating the bush in the mountains on each side of the A Shau trying to prevent the North Vietnamese Army from infiltrating to the coast from the Ho Chi Minh trail. What a joke that turned out to be.
The firebase consisted of our gun battery of one-five-fives, one battery of one-oh-fives, a mortar platoon and a company of supporting infantry for perimeter security. We had two landing pads for choppers and a few ash and trash detachments, probably no more than four hundred of us at any one time.
Practically the entire firebase was underground, in bunkers, trenches and tunnels. Later towards the end of the battle we found out we were surrounded by upwards of twelve thousand regular North Vietnamese Army troops."
I looked at Jack sadly, "Does that remind you of something, Jack? Like your Marines at Chosin Reservoir?'
Jack nodded slowly and got this far away look as if he was remembering another time and another place.
I paused for a few minutes as I gathered my thoughts and my memories. "The first six weeks or so weren't so bad, at least for us. But the grunts being combat assaulted onto the hilltops all around us were catching hell.
We were firing support missions for them almost constantly. And choppers were coming in and going out dawn till dusk. But as far as incoming we were only taking an occasional sniper round or automatic weapons burst. But the choppers were drawing increasingly heavy anti-aircraft fire when they made their approaches to our landing pads.
On July 1st that all changed. We were mortared for the first time just after seven a.m. that morning. That first week the NVA were firing an average of twenty to thirty rounds of sixty and eighty-one millimeter mortars at us daily. Then they started to throw the big stuff, one hundred and twenty millimeter mortars, big weapons that had never been brought below the DMZ before.
The bad thing was that, between winds blowing down the valley, and the sounds of choppers and outgoing artillery, most times you couldn't hear the incoming. That first week I got caught running from the mess bunker to the Fire Direction Control bunker when a mortar shell blast blew me off my feet. I jumped to my feet and made it the FDC bunker in minimum time.
As I huddled against the wall, trying to catch my breath, Jase looked up from his desk and said nonchalantly 'Shit Phil, you're bleeding.'
Sure enough, in my rush to get to where I was going I had left my bunker without my flak vest. I never made that mistake again. I had caught a piece of shrapnel just under my right shoulder blade. When I got to the aid station, the surgeon took one look at it and decided just to be safe to medavac me to Camp Evans, our supply base to have it extracted.
Within an hour I was on my way. They got it out without a problem but they decided I had a concussion and wanted to keep me for a couple of days for observation. By the time I got back to Ripcord, anyone who showed their faces topside had a better than even chance of getting peppered with shrapnel.
The days wore on and the bombardment got heavier and heavier. Not only mortars but direct fire rocket propelled grenades and recoilless rifles. Before the end we were taking seventy, eighty rounds a day. We started taking more and more casualties.
Our guns were in constant action. The muzzles of our howitzers were pointed almost straight up as we were firing at targets so close. The batteries would fire through their basic loads in three-four hours. The Chinooks, heavy lift supply choppers, would fly in with pallets of ammo hanging from slings taking NVA fifty-one caliber fire all the way. They would unhook without landing and takeoff with all the speed they could muster.
Then anyone not otherwise engaged would swarm to the landing pad and start humping shells and boxes of powder charges to the batteries. I picked up another half dozen minor shrapnel wounds on one of those details. Between the stresses of constant shelling, doing our regular jobs and humping ammo for the guns when not otherwise occupied, we were always exhausted.
There was a constant stream of gunships, F-4 Phantoms and even B-52's conducting air strikes in the hills all around us. Smoke drifting over the firebase from the shelling and occasional clouds of CS tear gas the NVA liked to throw at us made the air stink.
And after July 8th when the dinks were first spotted in the wire we were on alert almost every night. We all knew it was only a matter of time before the NVA made an assault on the perimeter. We were all edgy just waiting for it to happen.
As the shelling continued day after day we started to take serious causalities. Morale declined as the feeling descended on us that we were being abandoned here. Before it was all over we would suffer over five hundred killed or wounded. At least a dozen times I was detailed to carry body bags or stretchers to the chopper pad for evac.
On July 18th, the worst thing that could happen did. A Chinook bringing in a load of howitzer shells took fire and crashed. Right on top of the one-oh-five battery and their ammo supply point. The place went up like a roman candle. The explosions and fires went on for hours. All six guns were destroyed with several killed and a couple of dozen wounded. We were all shell shocked."
I looked at Jack with tears running down my face. "When the Chinook crashed many of us rushed to the battery to try to help. A few of the wounded were burned when the aviation gas caught on fire. Jase and I reached down to pick up one gunner and put him on a stretcher when the skin on his arm I was holding came off in my hand."
I shook my head, "That and the smell of burning flesh I will never forget." I whispered.
Jack nodded at me with a grim look on his face and Sally had a look of horror on hers.
I took a deep breath and continued. "We all knew the place couldn't hold but the brass couldn't see that. All they saw was an opportunity to hurt the enemy. After all we had nearly four regiments of NVA all gathered in one place!" I said bitterly.
"A couple of nights later we were called out on alert again. We were taking automatic weapons fire from all around the perimeter as well as the usual shelling. Jase and I manned an M-60 machine gun in a slit trench in front of the FDC bunker in case of an all out assault. Our mortar platoon was putting up aerial flares constantly to light up the wire and our infantry company was returning fire to the edge of the jungle. Gunships would fly over every few minutes and fire up suspected NVA positions with rockets or mini-guns.
Usually Jase and I didn't bother to return fire because there was a three man infantry position about twenty, thirty yards in front of us. And returning fire usually drew unwanted attention to our location. This night the infantry were popping up and firing M-79 grenades and automatic weapons towards the bush almost constantly. Occasionally they would receive a burst of tracer fire from the jungle in return.
Then a salvo of one-twenty millimeter mortar shells bracketed the infantry position in front of us. Jase and I dove to the bottom of our trench as the ground shook. Dazed we finally peeked over the edge of our position and saw that the infantry trench was all caved in. No one was crawling out of it.
We scrambled to get the sixty positioned and Jase started returning fire as I fed him the belted ammo. Our platoon sergeant came crawling up and we told him what had happened to the infantry and that we were going to need more ammo. He nodded and crouched as low as he could and sped off towards the tactical operations center.
We had just gotten down to our last belt when suddenly I heard a burst from an M-16 and I felt like a baseball bat had been taken to my back and thighs. I collapsed against the edge of the trench and found myself looking into Jase's eyes. There was blood all over the front of him and me and the M-60.
A round had gone through the back of his neck and came out his throat. Unable to move I saw the awareness in his eyes as he realized what had happened to him. He moved his lips trying to speak, but nothing came out. I reached for his hand and he squeezed it once and then I watched the light go out of his eyes and I knew he was dead."
I looked up at Jack and Sally but I really didn't see them. Tears were running down my face. "My best friend in the world was dead, my brother in all but name. I felt alone, so alone." I said brokenly.
I wiped my eyes and tried to compose myself. I could hear Sally sniffling. Whether it was for Jase or her own predicament I couldn't tell.
Finally I continued, "I struggled to turn my head to look behind me. Standing about ten feet in front of the FDC bunker and pointing an M-16 toward us was Corporal Tran. Tran was one of the Kit Carson scouts attached to the 101st. The scouts were mostly made up of North Vietnamese deserters who decided for whatever reason they were on the wrong side.
Tran had pretty good English and sometimes acted as an interpreter when the infantry took prisoners or recovered documents from the enemy dead. He had taken shelter in our bunker a couple of times when we were being shelled and we had shared a few meals. One night Jase had started to teach him to play poker just for the hell of it.
Many of the scouts got flaky when things got tense if they thought there was a chance they could be captured. They knew if that happened the only thing waiting for them was a bullet in the head. Most of them had been locked up in one of the bunkers several days earlier as the siege progressed and their behavior got more and more suspect. None of us trusted them.
I don't know if Tran just got scared or if he was an infiltrator for the NVA. I guess it didn't matter. Tran had fired a whole clip at Jase and me. I took a couple of rounds in the back but the flak jacket saved me from everything but a couple of busted ribs and a massive contusion. One round did go through the back of my thigh but it missed the bone.
I felt myself starting to slip into shock as the realization hit me that Jase was really gone and I had been shot. I fought unconsciousness as I knew if I passed out I would likely die. I started telling myself to get mad, to focus on the enemy and getting even. As the anger started to build, my vision took on a crimson tinge and I could feel a killing rage taking over my mind. Tran saw me moving and he tried to fire at me again, fortunately he had already emptied his clip. I slumped down and played dead.
Tran must have thought I was done for as he dropped the rifle and jumped over our trench. He started waving a flashlight and screaming in Vietnamese at the jungle on the other side of the wire. I struggled to get up on my knees to see what he was doing. A rocket propelled grenade, leaving a distinctive corkscrew smoke trail came out of the bush narrowly missing him and me and exploded behind us. He was jumping up and down, waving that light like a madman almost foaming at the mouth.
In the light of the flares I saw three distinct shapes, wearing khakis and pith helmets, detach themselves from the edge of the jungle and sprint for the wire. As they got closer, I could see the distinctive satchel charges suspended from their necks and the AK-50 carbines they carried in their hands which marked them as sappers.
I yanked at the M-60 that was under Jase. It was slippery with blood and I could barely stand upright but I managed to lift it up and point it in their direction. I knew I had to stop them before they could blow a hole through the wire. I managed to fire two long bursts before the belt was empty.
I don't know if I hit them but the three sappers went down as Tran whirled around and stared at me in shock. He screamed at me, spittle flying out of his mouth and scrabbled for the machete hanging from his web belt. Most of the scouts carried them for cutting through the jungle when out on patrol.
I was just able to get my good leg up on the lip of the trench and pushed off as Tran rushed me. I dropped the M-60 and managed to slide my knife out of my belt sheath and get it in front of me. I ducked under the machete he was swinging wildly and we came together face to face. I felt my knife slip into him below the beltline and saw his eyes open wide as he realized what I'd done.
It didn't seem to weaken him much as he continued to slam the hilt of the machete against my head, screaming continually all the while that we were locked in that killing embrace. I finally pulled the knife out and he stumbled backward pulling me down on top of him.