I was greatly relieved, to put it mildly, when an opening came up in the RTT station. Ron was going home leaving me next on the list to replace him. and his departure wasn't a moment too soon. At the rate equipment failures and message alterations were increasing at the comcenter my guess was it wouldn't be too long before word of the comcenter's "breakdowns" got to Brigade headquarters. and being the hardnose asskicker the CG was known to be, he would no doubt send a few of his Field-Grade hatchetmen down to Bien Hoa to chop off a few unruly heads.
And he'd be more than justified in doing so. A good house cleaning was long overdue. But I learned enough from my first 2 months to recognize that even the best intentions in V'nam traditionally went bad. Even though Brigade needed to clean up the comcenter, I could anticipate a lot of innocent people might be sacrificed along with the guilty. That meant I could get powder burns from the shots fired at the guys who were causing the problems. Besides, for me, it would be nice to be my own boss for a change. I wasn't a comspec by training, choice, or nature. I looked forward to locking myself inside the RTT shack and not having to deal with anyone bugging me. Or so I thought. Unfortunately for me, a new management command had recently been set up. Called USASTRATCOM (United States Army Strategic Communications, it was (locally) headed by a Captain named Jones who worked out of another office but frequently visited the comcenter. According to the comspecs, Jones was an "asshole who could screw up a wet dream."
Co A44's only fixed RTT rig was housed inside a sandbagged shack sandwiched between the comcenter and the side road separating us from General Tri's headquarters. 10 feet high, 20 feet long, and 8 feet wide, the shack was divided into 2 sections. The front section served as a small office area where a wicker chair, an old rusting desk, and a footlocker containing several M-16's, a dozen or so concussion grenades, and an M-16 ammo box for emergencies. The actual rig, a 6-by-6 foot halfshell, sat in the rear of the shack. Although normally a 1-man operation, a folded, 6-foot collapsible cot was kept near the rig door in case a red alert was called. 2 men were required to be on duty during red alerts. 1 could nap while the other manned the radios.
Built like a bunker, the RTT shack was surrounded on all 4 sides by sandbags piled 3 layers wide. 4 more layers were spread across its roof. The RTT station required greater rocket protection because its radios were the comcenter's last resort in case the microwave tower went down. 3 60-foot "local" antennas and one high-powered ionospheric antenna were installed in concrete blocks in back of the shack. The ion antenna was able to send and receive signals over vast distances.
When I arrived my 1st day, Hugh was going off duty. Because he had to leave quickly, or miss the truck back to the campus, he had no time to brief me on the rigs unique setup. The only thing he had time to yell as the truck pulled away was to read the log. All transmissions, mechanical problems, atmospheric irregularities, and administrative notes were recorded on the daily log listing the Julian date, military hour, and minute of their occurrence. Each entry was initialed to verify the identity of the operator on duty.
The log was kept on a clipboard hung on a nail just inside the bunker door. Carrying it inside the rig with me, the 1st entry, at 06:00 Hours, read that this weeks callsign list designated our station as "Tomcat-One." Coded to prevent Chinese and Soviet listening posts dotting the Laotian and Cambodian borders from learning and mapping our positions, every RTT unit was assigned its own callsign.
A 2nd log entry stated, "the primary transceiver acted up for a minute or 2 but corrected itself when I tapped the indicator with my pencil eraser. Recommend testing every half-hour." Testing it, I turned on its power switch. The indicator needle fluttered slightly then jumped across the dial indicating a consistent energy input. Apparently what ever the problem was, it seemed to have corrected itself. Reading 3 of 4 more lines down the log, an entry made as 10:03 Hours stated, "Tested primary again. Seems okay. Nothing I did fixed it."
Scanning down several more lines, another entry at 14:22 Hours stated, "Tested primary again. No power. Checked generator. ARVN's setting up shop using our generator. Had to chase them away. My guess is they're using it for their TV reception. Check outside power line if disruption occurs."
Looking back up to the transceiver it continued to register a consistent energy flow so I turned it off. The next thing to do was to acquaint myself with the rest of the rig in the event a call came in from the comcenter to make contact with a remote station.
Traffic had been slow the last few nights so I anticipated an easy 1st night giving me be a chance to re-familiarize myself with the equipment. Set up on 2 shelves in front and on both sides of the 5-by-5 foot rig, it was crammed with every instrument needed to function as a complete communication station. On a good day it could beam a signal from Bien Hoa to the Bahamas. The awesome number of dials, lights, and indicator needles on the equipment made the rig look like a commercial jet cockpit. A hand-written note taped to the outside hull of the rig correctly described its interior, "If this sucker had wings it could fly!" The only non-metallic item in the rig was a foot-long sawed-off broom handle used to turn off power switches should the grounding system fail to collect and drain errant energy. Hung by a leather shoestring drawn through a hole in its end, the handle was kept on a screw just behind our swivel chair.
I was about a half-hour into testing switches, power levels, and frequency procedures when a call came in over the comcenter intercom from Captain Jones ordering me over to help them with one of their teletypes. I was told they were receiving a sudden flurry of in-coming. Reluctantly, I strolled over to the comcenter hoping that the real reason for my being jerked out of the rig wasn't because Jones was being an asshole. He was known to pull RTT men over to work in the comcenter because he didn't like them "having a free night," as he called it. In a few minutes I would learn there was another reason.
I walked into the comcenter angry that my 1st night in the RTT rig was upset. Looking up and down the rows of teletypes clicking away, I noticed several of the machines at the end of the 3rd row operating without an attendant. I walked over to see what was coming over their frequencies. Standing in the next row was a shortimer named Bill.
"What are you doing over here?" he asked. "I thought you were back in RTT."
"Yeah," I replied. "but Jones wanted me to come over here to give you guys a hand."
"What'd he say?"
"He said you guys were getting a lot of traffic and needed help."
He smiled. "Look around this place, we've got 27 guys standing around and only 5 teletypes ejecting copy."
"It sure doesn't look like you're busy."
Noticing my arrival another comspec, Ernie, walked over. Ernie's MOS was RTT but he had converted over to comspec because he preferred the bright lighting and openness of the comcenter to the dark, red-lit, closet-sized RTT rig. His addiction to speed required more activity to be going on around him. He feared loneliness would drive him crazy.
Surprised to see me, he repeated Bill almost word for word.
"I thought you were back in RTT, Phill. What are you doing over here?"
"Yeah, you and me both. But it looks like Jones has a hang-up about RTT guys working in the rig. What's his trip?"
Ernie and Bill both smiled at each other. They obviously knew something I didn't and found my ignorance humorous.
"What are you 2 grinning about? Did I ask a stupid question or something?"
"Hold on a minute," Ernie laughed, raising up a finger. "I want Joe to hear this."
Standing in the break room cautiously testing a sip of coffee and reading a message he just pulled off a teletype, Joe was one of the "shortest" comspecs working at the center. With only a week left in-country, Joe was scheduled to rotate stateside to an instructors job at Ft Sill, Oklahoma training 3rd Army tank corpsmen how to operate their on-board radios.
Waving his hand in the air, Ernie pointed to where we stood indicating for him to come over.
Joe, and several of the other shortimers, rarely wore their boots in the comcenter. Boasting they were "too short to need boots to raise them higher", the truth was that we had learned from letters of guys who'd gone home that we should wear our boots as little as possible a month before leaving. It took that long for the swelling, caused by standing in them 12 hours a day for a year, to go down. The guys at home said they'd have to buy a larger pair of shoes until they could fit back into their regular sizes. Although this was probably true for the older guys, those of us under 20 still hadn't finished growing so needing a larger size when we got home wasn't a surprise. But always anticipating Charlie to pull a sneak attack, I decided to keep mine on and just buy a larger shoe size when I got home.
Strolling over, Joe listened to Ernie tell him about Jones pulling me out of the RTT rig. Joe interrupted with a wave.
"Hold on a minute, I want you to listen to this 1st."
Reading from a message someone found humorous and handed him to look at, he smiled and read it out loud:
"From: Commanding General, 11th Armored Brigade
To: Commanding General, 1st Cavalry Division
Subject: Unauthorized Transmissions Being Sent Uncoded
Reference: Subj message 12Oct1969 0045 rec'd this sta:
Unnamed Platoon Officer: "You assholes missed the
coordinates we sent you. What the ----'s going on down
Unnamed Artillery Officer: "Don't worry boys, they may
have won the battle, but they haven't won the war."
Unnamed Platoon Officer: "That may be true. But if
they've won most of the battles, haven't they won most
of the war?"
End pertinent quotes fm msg.
Orders: Subj msgs will not, repeat, will not be sent
Signed, Major Kincaid, ASA, Communications Adjutant."
"Isn't that some ----?" Joe looked up.
"------- A," Ernie answered.
Taking the message from Joe's hand, I read it again.
"Oh yeah, that reminds me of a joke," Bill interrupted.
"What is it?" Ernie asked.
"What do you get when you cross a 1-star General talking to another 1-star General?"
"I don't' know, what do you get?" Joe asked.
"A 2-star General talking ----!"
All 3 busted up like it was the funniest joke they'd ever heard. I was confused.
"What was that all about, I didn't get it." I told them.
"And you probably never will." Joe answered.
"Yeah," Bill laughed. "Maybe if you smoked with us once in a while your mind would open up and you'll see some real humor around here."
"---- it!" I dismissed them. "You guys are just addicts."
"Oh yeah, what'd you call me over for?" Joe looked at Ernie.
"Phill just got pulled out of the RTT rig by Jones." Ernie smiled.
Looking up, Joe's face broke into a broad grin. Puzzled as to why they found my having to leave the rig funny, I asked Joe to explain.
Answering me with a question, he asked, "Did you see what he had in his hand when he left after opening the door for you?"
"Yeah, some kind of tech manual I think....but what's that got to do with it?"
"And was it rolled-up or flat?" Ernie asked.
"It was rolled-up....but what the hell's going on? Do you guys know something I don't, or are you just screwing with my mind."
"Let's tell him Joe," Ernie laughed.
"Jones had a Playboy folded inside that manual." Joe informed me, trying to straighten his face. "He goes over to the RTT rig to jack-off."
Immediately, Ernie and Bill broke out howling. Joe, unable to keep his face straight, followed suit bending over in a gut laugh.
In total disbelief, I challenged them. "That's bull----. You guys are full of....."
"That's the God-awful truth, Phill," Bill followed, running his forefinger down his chest then across it. "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a bayonet in my eye."
"You jerks would make up anything to pass the time," I came back, waving them away.
"You think I'm lying?" Ernie charged.
"Yeah, I think you're lying," pushing my finger in his chest. "We're sitting smack dab in the middle of the ville. There's more ----- around here than in a cat farm. All he's got to do is walk out the front gate and wave at the 1st broad walking by. This place is instant ass!"
Composing himself, Ernie tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.
"I thought you knew about Jones, dude."
"Nobody's ever said word one about this. That's why I don't believe it."
"It's been going on for almost 10 months now, ever since we lost the outside latrine." Joe stated.
"What do you mean outside latrine? I didn't know there was another latrine."
"Oh yeah," Joe answered. "I guess you couldn't have known about the old latrine since it was gone before you got here."
"Where was it?" I asked.
"Over there where the ......." Bill started.
"Wait!" Ernie interrupted, a slight smile growing on his face. "We should tell him the whole story 1st."
"Let Joe tell him." Ernie looked at Bill. "If we try we're just going to start laughing again."
"Yeah, Joe. You tell it. You always do a better job of telling stories." Bill agreed.
"Is this ---- going to be on the level?" I asked, smiling back at the them.
"Yeah, it'll be the truth." Joe promised, beginning the story. "About 10 months ago we had a latrine outside.
"Well one night we're all working away and Jones yells out that he's going over to the latrine for a few minutes. He tells me to take charge until he gets back. So off he goes.
"About 5 or 10 minutes later another guy named Harold.... he went home about 3 months ago.... walks over to the door and yells out that he's going over to the latrine too. But before I go on," he paused, "1st you've got to try and get a visual image of Harold."
"Describe him." I asked.
"Harold was about our age, 19 or 20. Stood about 5-2. Real skinny, maybe 95 or 100 pounds and wore the thickest glasses I ever seen. But worse than all that, he was probably the most insecure dude on campus. He would literally shake when the airbase got hit. Anyway, for some reason or another the lights in the latrine had gone out and the inside was pitch black. and Harold, being afraid of the dark, came back into the center to get a flashlight out of Jones' desk, then went back out to the latrine.
"Harold was in the crypto vault when Jones left for the latrine so when he gets there with the flashlight he doesn't know that Jones was inside. But dig this," he started to smile, "when Harold gets out there, opens the door, and walks in, he discovers the flashlight doesn't work. Now instead of just walking over to the head and taking a leak, like most of us would have done, he gets chicken---- again and decides to come back to the comcenter a 3rd time, this time for new batteries."
"Whew! This Harold sounds like Mr. Macho,"I laughed.
"Yeah, but listen up," he went on. "Just as Harold's about to leave he hears a noise coming from inside one of the stalls."
"What kind of noise?" I asked.
"Harold said it sounded like a groan or something."
"Was it Jones?"
"Yeah, but let me finish." Continuing, "Instead of checking-out all the stalls Harold breaks out in a paranoid sweat thinking somebody was in there waiting to zap him."
"What??" I asked.
"Yeah! He gets this weird idea that Charlie is hiding in the latrine waiting to knife one of us going in to take a pee. Can you dig that?"
"I can see that," I joked. "An American latrine is a military objective no self-respecting Cong would want to pass up."
"Yeah," Joe continued. "We can joke about it but Harold thought it was real life. He comes tear-assing back to the center, runs into the CO's office, grabs one of the M-16's we keep stored there, then runs in here yelling Charlie's in the latrine....Charlie's in the latrine!"
"Wait a minute Joe! You forgot to tell him about the grenades!" Bill broke in, his eyes gleaming.
"Yeah," Ernie added. "The grenades....don't forget the grenades."
"These 2 get excited every time they hear this," Joe grinned, glancing at Bill and Ernie. "You've got to excuse them."
"So what happened next," I asked.
".....So here's Harold with 2 grenades hanging on his shirt pockets, jamming this ammo clip in the '16, and yelling Charlie's in the latrine! at the top of his lungs."
"He must've been crazy....."
I broke in. "Was he loaded or something?"
"He was wired to the hilt. ------- Ernie here sold him 3 vials of speed about a half-hour before."
"Wasn't my fault he did all 3 at once." Ernie looked ashamed. "I thought he'd spread 'em out over the night."
"What was everybody else doing?" I asked.
"All of us knew it was probably Jones that Harold heard, but when this dude named Dave starts screwing with Harold's mind by agreeing with him, everybody else jumped in too.
"So Dave figures he'll make a real big deal out of this so he gets an M-16 too! Then after him somebody else gets one, then somebody else, until 2 minutes later you've got 14 guys locked-and-loaded ready to shoot the ---- out of the latrine. But they didn't get 10 steps out the front door before they run into this ARVN Captain who happens to be one of General Tri's personal flunky's.
"Well the Captain sees this train of armed Americans hiking in his compound so he stops Harold, since Harold is in the lead, and asks him what's going on."
"By this time Harold is sweatin' like a pig. He tells the Captain that VC are hiding in the latrine and they were on their way over to clean 'em out."
"Didn't it occur to anybody to just call the whole thing off and tell Harold about Jones?"
"Dave did. He told the Captain they were just bull----ting around but the Captain didn't understand what Dave was saying because a minute later he's pulling a dozen of his boys out of the barracks to check-out the latrine."
"That makes about 30 ------- yo-yo's?" I broke in.
"At least that!" Bill laughed. "The ARVN's looked like SWAT cops. They were crouching around peeping in the windows and checking foot prints in the dirt."
"-------! You guys should've split when you knew the ARVN's were getting that serious."
"At that point we would have but with all the commotion the ARVN's were making we figured Harold may have been right since Jones never came out to see what was going on."
"Everybody figured he would've at least come out to find out what happened to the lights." Bill added.
"What did happen to the lights?"
"The ----ing ARVN's stole the juice!" Joe jumped in. "They tapped into our power line and fed it into their barracks so they could watch TV."
"Yeah, it was. When the Captain finds out about it he has one of his boys break the connection. But he tells his man not to hook up the latrine until he gives the word. Then he sends half of them to stake out the front door and the other half to go around to the back. and all of them just itchin' to catch some VC. It was hilarious.
"After the Captain gets all of his boys set up, he gives the signal to his man holding the wires to tie them together. The instant the wire touches, WHAM! The lights in the latrine flashed on and everybody jams inside busting open the doors of the stalls. The place was like Grand Central Station. There was nothing but chaos. Then, when they break into the stall Jones was in, the bottom of the Captains mouth drops down to his feet. There was Jones sitting on the stool with his pud in one hand, a Playboy in the other, and one of those skinny little flashlights poking out of his mouth."
"----!" I laughed. "That must've been ----ing embarrassing."
"But that ain't all," Ernie waved at Joe to continue. "there's still more."
"Yeah," Joe went on. "The Captain was downright pissed. He started cussing at Jones in Vietnamese. Jones starts cleaning off his pud with the Playboy and complaining about how people can't get any privacy in the Army."
"What were all the comcenter guys doing all this time?" I asked.
"Most of them were either bustin' up but a few of them were slipping out the front door and heading back to the comcenter," Ernie answered.
"Meanwhile, this Captain," Joe continued, "told one of his boys to run over to his barracks to get something. We didn't know what it was. We thought the Captain was going to cut Jones' balls off with a machete or something. and when somebody tells Harold this he really begins to freak out. He starts apologizing to all the ARVN's and asking them to leave the latrine. Except for the Captain, none of them could understand word of English. But while he's copping pleas to the ARVN's the dude the Captain sent to his hootch was just coming back dragging this horrendously ugly prostitute by the hair. He drug her up to the ARVN Captain and the Captain grabbed her and pushed her into the stall where Jones was still sitting trying to cover himself up. I just busted up. I couldn't believe this ---- was happening."
"I can't believe it either," I stated.
"Well Brother Phill, we got proof!" Ernie asserted.
"To make the rest of the story shorter," Joe continued, "When the Captain sees Harold apologizing to his boys he grabs Harold and starts shovin' him around. But when he pushes Harold up against the wall he accidentally tears off one of the grenades. Man, you should've seen the boots and asses flyin' out of that latrine. I mean like mother----ers were beehivin' it everywhere."
"-------! You mean those suckers blew up the latrine?" I asked.
"That's the proof man. Why d'you think we don't use the outside latrine anymore?" Ernie stated.
"That's it." Joe confirmed. "After we lost the latrine they built the one in back of the crypto vault."
"What'd Brigade say about the latrine getting blown up?"
"Jones filed a report saying he caught some ARVN's using our latrine and when he kicked them out they got pissed-off and blew it up."
"So the CO decided not to rebuild the one outside 'cause the ARVN's would just start using it again." Bill added.
"But this is the part you're really going to like." Ernie smiled.
"The shell of the latrine was still standing," Joe broke in. "So they just cleared out all the blown-up commodes and walls...."
"....and painted it up a little bit," Ernie added.
"....and then they choppered in a radio rig and now it's the RTT hut!" Bill finished.
"You assholes! So that's why the RTT shortimers hate working in the rig?"
"Yep!" Ernie answered. "'Cause don't nobody but ----heads work in a ----house!"
Laughing hysterically, Joe dropped to his knees. Ernie stumbled off holding his rib cage. and Bill slumped over one of the nearby teletypes. "Okay, you assholes got me this time," I smiled, conceding their joke. "That was a good punch line. But that's cool, I can deal with it."
"You're going to have to," Joe laughed, standing up. "After we leave, you're senior. You'll have to work there whether you like it or not."
"So that's why Jones always pulls the RTT guys out of the rig and goes over there himself?" I asked.
"Yep," Joe answered. "So he can jack-off in private. He knows that after he locks the outside gate after him, nobody can get inside and catch him again. That's why he hides his girlie magazines inside of a tech manual. He thinks nobody knows why he really goes over there."
"Yeah, well I'm just going to have to find a way to get that asshole to do his thing some place else. That's all there is to it!" I told them.
"Well there ain't nothin' you can do about it." Joe asserted.
"Yeah, well just watch me. I spent over 8 months in training to learn that rig. Then they send me over to this ----hole to operate it. Now they expect me to give it up to some asshole comspec can use it to play with himself? ---- that!"
"Good speech dude," Joe pointed his finger at me. "But it's falling on deaf ears. You're not the 1st person to say that, and you're probably not going to be the last. This is the 'Nam dude. You've got to take the bull---- as it comes."
Although I understood his feelings, I still couldn't accept that all my training was to be shot to hell for something so useless. Remembering back to the what if scenarios in school, I told myself to think about this situation as a scenario that might have been asked. "What do you do when someone senior wants to use your rig to jack-off in?"
After a few moments thinking about it I had a brainstorm. But before I could tell Joe what it was, Jones appeared in the doorway. He was holding the same tech manual he took with him when he left. Standing in the door with a scowl on his face, it was obvious he was pissed about something. He was too far away to have heard us talking about him so I knew it wasn't that. But yelling for me to come over, I would learn in a second or 2 what it was.
"Mr. Coleman! Your ------- radios are squawkin'. You'd better get over there ASAP and quiet them down."
After glancing at Joe, Ernie, and Bill, I yelled back, "Sure thing Jones. Be right there."
After saying goodbye to the guys, I walked towards the door.
"Can't you move any faster?" Jones yelled.
I picked up my step, brushing past Jones as I passed through the door. Our eyes met only for a second. I was afraid I'd bust up laughing if I looked at him for too long. I still couldn't help smiling, however.
Skipping out of the comcenter, I darted through the darkness to the rig a few yards away. When I reached its outside gate I could see the primary transceivers orange indicator glowing brightly. Other instrument indicator lights lit up the rig like a Christmas tree. "----!" I thought. "everybody in 'Nam must be trying to get a hold of Bien Hoa!"
Locking the gate behind me, I dashed over to the rig and crammed myself into the tiny seat. The primary trans-receiver was located directly in front on the top shelf just above eye-level. Its red power light flickered on and off indicating a disturbance in the power supply. I turned it on and off several times hoping it would stabilize. It didn't.
I looked down at the generator control unit located on the floor beside my left foot. Its power-indicator needle jumped erratically between plus-one to minus-one. Thumping its tiny glass window several times, the needle refused to stabilize. Looking back up to the red indicator on the transceiver, the bulb continued to flicker. Remembering Hugh's log entry about the generator being tapped by the ARVN's across the road, I grabbed our emergency flashlight hanging on a hook just above the door in back of me and ran outside to check the generator.
The rigs 2 generators, a primary and backup, were located outside in the rear of the shack. When I got there I discovered the ARVN's had connected a long extension cable to the main line leading into the rig. Using the bayonet I kept hidden inside my left boot I stuck the point of the blade into the perforation running down the center of the wire slicing one side then the other.
Immediately after severing it the lights in the barrack closest to me across the road went dark. An angry roar coming from inside indicated their disappointment in having been caught.
Throwing their end of the wire over the fence, I ran back into the shack tossing the flashlight on the desk. Jumping back into the rig I sat down. The red power lamp on the primary transceiver glowed steadily. Looking down, the power-indicator needle on the generator control unit pointed straight up to zero. Smiling, I reached up to adjust the transceiver dial. Rotating it slightly one way then the other, I zero-beated for the strongest possible signal listening for the "silent valley" resting between the static bands bordering the primary frequency.
Locating a strong incoming signal, I turned up the volume. A voice came over.
This is TOMCAT-2.
Can you hear me?"
The message repeated again. As it did I looked up at the callsign checklist above me. Hand-written in 2 columns, the 1st column listed 23 code names for locations listed in the second column. Running my finger down the 1st column, I stopped midway on "TOMCAT-2". Running my finger horizontally across the line of dots next to it, the location column listed it as "Lai Khe".
Attaching the throat communicator around my neck, I pressed the percussion mike to my Adams apple while keying the transmitter. Speaking in a loud voice I answered.
This is TOMCAT-1.
I hear you clear."
His reply was immediate.
"TOMCAT-1 this is TOMCAT-2.
Please execute Code-3 ASAP."
Thinking out loud, I mumbled to myself. "Code-3 as soon as possible....what the hell is a Code-3?"
Reaching over to the narrow counter to my left, I picked up the log clipboard. Paging through stack of papers under the log sheet, I stopped on the "Table of Contents". It was stapled to a small packet of sheets underneath it. I ran my finger down the typewritten list.
"Chain of Command....Julian Calendar....1st-Echelon Maintenance Checklist....Weekly Duty Roster....Codes."
Quickly turning to the last page, a long row of code numbers and their definitions were listed. Reading down the list, Code-One referred to Morse Code. Code-2, Voice. Code-3, TTY.
"Okay," I mumbled, "let's go to the teletype."
Unsnapping the throat communicator, I pulled it off with one hand while disconnecting its cable from the transceiver with the other hand. Next I turned the mode switch from its middle position, "Voice", to the left, "TTY". The print-head on the primary teletype directly in front of me automatically seated itself to the left of its slidebar. Flicking the operation switch on its control panel, I turned it from "Standby" to "On".
Surprised that I still remembered my "boot-up" procedures, everything was coming back to me. I had been away from a rig for 3 long months. One of them while on leave and 2 more wasted in the comcenter.
We were told in school that it didn't matter how long an RTT man was away from a radio or the Morse Code, the minute he got back into a rig he'd remember how to operate it. Our instructors compared re-learning a rig to remembering how to row boat after being away from one for a long time. The only thing they didn't tell us was that we'd feel good about it. It was a good feeling getting back into a rig. Almost like returning home.
Instinctively, I flicked a couple switches above me, a couple below, and a few more on my side. My hands seemed to have a mind of their own. My eyes were left with monitoring the panels and indicators on the equipment surrounding me.
Keying-up the KL-7, I opened its front panel to verify its control pins had been properly arranged for today. Visually comparing it with today's diagram chart labeled "Top Secret", I could see Hugh had done his job. Every pin was seated perfectly.
Reaching over to the secondary transceiver, I dialed in the secondary frequency. SOP required the secondary be on-line as a backup. The rig came equipped with 3 systems, one primary and 2 backups. All 3 could operate on-line simultaneously as well as independently.
Turning it on, a power-on signal was sent to the secondary TTY on my left. Its print-head automatically seated itself. Reaching over, I turned its mode switch on.
Suddenly, the main teletype started printing. A test pattern of perfect RY's coming from Lai Khe began printing across its panel. Lai Khe was coming in clear. Reaching down to the primary tapemaker near my right knee, I turned it on to get a punchout of Lai Khe's messages in case copies had to be made for our daily reports. Immediately after I turned it on, the RY's coming from Lai Khe stopped. It was my turn. I typed a line of RY's back.
Lai Khe replied, "Receiving you 5-BY-5". 5-by-5 meant they were receiving me perfectly.
I replied with "5-BY-5".
No sooner had I finished typing when the bell on my primary teletype began ringing. Just after that, the teletype began printing again. Leaning forward, I read the 1st line.
"TOMCAT-1 THIS IS TOMCAT-2.
ALL TRANSMISSIONS RECEIVED BY URSTA ARE FLASH PRIORITY"
My eyes grew wide. "Something big must be happening!"
Pausing briefly, the teletype started up again.
"MESSAGES TO BE RCVD URSTA BEING RELAYED
AND ORIGINATING FROM IRONBIRD-3.
FCY THERE UNDER HEAVY MORTAR ATTACK.
INITIATE TRANSMISSION WITH ABOVE FCY ASAP"
Thumbing down my callsign list, Ironbird-3 decoded as Song Be. Song Be's primary frequency listed it at 210.345 Mhz. Immediately, I dialed it into the secondary transmitter and typed in a test pattern of RY's.
Turning back to my primary teletype, I informed Lai Khe I was initiating contact with Song Be. Almost instantly, the primary's bells started ringing again.
"TOMCAT-1....THIS IS TOMCAT-2.
DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT TRANSMIT THIS FCY.
INITIATE CONFIRMATION TRANS DIRECTLY TO IRONBIRD-3!"
I turned on the secondary teletype then sent Song Be a line of RY's. After several minutes the primary teletype began receiving again.
"STAND BY TOMCAT-1......"
Then a pause. Then more bells. "Maybe now the important stuff'll start coming over." I told myself.
"TOMCAT-1....THIS IS IRONBIRD-3.
AM REC'G YOU 5-BY-5
THIS FCY UNDER HEAVY VC FIRE
TRANSMITTER FREQ FROZEN ON TOMCAT-2
FREQ BOOSTER DOWN. NO AMPLIFICATION POSSIBLE
UNABLE TO TRANSMIT 5-BY-5 TO ANY OTHER FCY
TOMCAT-2 RECEIVING THIS FCY 5-BY-5
TOMCAT-2 RELAYING MESSAGES FROM THIS FCY TO UR FCY 5-BY???"
This was serious. Song Be was being relayed over Lai Khe's frequency. That was why Lai Khe didn't want me to send to him. I might interrupt Song Be's transmissions. Turning back to my secondary, I typed in a reply.
Song Be was much smaller than Bien Hoa and Lai Khe. Being on a terminal end of the message chain, they probably had only one system. With their amplifier down and transmitter frozen on Lai Khe, they were limited to transmitting to the nearest station.
The bells on my primary system began ringing again. Song Be would start to paint a picture as to what was going on. By now my hands were sweating and my hair was standing on end.
"TOMCAT-1 THIS IS IRONBIRD-3
THIS FCY UNDER HEAVY MORTAR ATTACK
NO GROUND ASSAULT YET
NO AMERICAN SUPPORT
ARVN SUPPORT DESERTED FCY
16 U.S. IN FCY
4 DEAD....3 CRITICAL
"ROGER UR TRANS
REQ NATURE OF ASSIST REQUIRE...."
He came back immediately.
"ROGER UR TRANS....WE REQ...."
Suddenly his transmission stopped. My eyes ran over my equipment for a failure in my rig. Everything looked fine. I waited a couple of seconds for them to continue their transmission. Nothing happened. I repeated my request to them for what assistance they required. Still, no answer.
I thumped the glass panel on my generator control panel. It registered at one point zero. Looking back up to my primary transceiver, its power indicator lamp glowed bright red. The needle on incoming signal indicator bounced on the right side of the panel. Song Be still had his transmitter key wide open and I was being sent a strong signal, the operator just wasn't sending.
Then the sound of the teletype keys directed my eyes back to the primary teletype.
IRONBIRD-3 IN TROUBLE...."
It was Lai Khe. They monitored the delay also.
I sat back in my stool. There was nothing I could do but wait. Looking up at the ceiling, my eyes fell on the frequency chart. A few inches to the right of it someone had pasted a Playboy centerfold. The date on the centerfold read "July, 1966". The photograph had been affixed in such a way the rigs main antenna adjustment dial was centered on the models navel. Stretching 60-feet above the rig, The 5,200 pound main antenna was linked to the dial by a series of pulleys and gears that rotated it toward the most receptive direction.
My gaze at the photograph was abruptly ended by the sound of the primary teletype clicking in front of me. Looking down, the printer began printing a series of TU's. After scrolling 3 or 4 lines, it began printing a series of RT's. Obviously Song Be was attempting to verify they were transmitting 5-by with RY's.
Turning to my secondary, I replied.
"IRONBIRD 3, AM REC'G YOU UNCLEAR
The series of RT's persisted. Song Be was probably doing all they could to send clearly. I would probably have to help him on my end.
While keeping my eyes on the primary teletype, I reached up and placed my fingers around the antenna dial. Slowly turning it clockwise, the teletype began printing a series of ER's. Clockwise was the wrong direction! Immediately, I reversed my turn. The teletype began printing a series of RT's again. Turning it a little more, a stretch of perfect RY's began printing.
Turning to the secondary, I typed,
RECEIVING URSTA 5-BY-5."
Song Be received me. It ceased its transmission of RY's then immediately started a message.
"THIS FCY TOOK DIRECT HIT ON ANTENNA
PART OF CEILING GONE
OPERATOR SLIGHTLY INJURED
I replied immediately, "ROGER DUDE....5-BY!"
He started again.
"CHARLIES COORDINATES COMPUTED TRANSMISSION TO BE FED TO YOU
FOR RE-TRANS TO 11TH ARMORED. 5-BY????"
I ran my finger down the callsign list for the 11th's frequency. The list stated they had a remote unit stationed just outside Xuan Loc. But no one could ever be sure about them, they were always on the move. I keyed up the tertiary transmitter and crossed my fingers hoping that tonight, of all nights, they'd be right where they were supposed to be.
The power indicator on the tertiary flowed to an even charge. Turning the frequency dial, I lined up their frequency and adjusted the fine tuning knob while listening between the zero-beat for the sound of a voice, code, or TTY traffic. After several seconds of static a voice came over. It was the 11th field unit communicating with their base command.
"Right on!" I yelled. "Those son-of-a-bitches are right where they're supposed to be."
I recalled today's weather report saying Xuan Loc had rain this afternoon. The frequency static was probably being caused by residual clouds still hanging above them. Adjusting for it, I turned on the automatic frequency locater. Watching the fine tuner rotate on its own, it usually took a second or 2 for it to lock onto an incoming signal. After a couple of moments, the whirr of its tiny motor stopped. Flicking the frequency lock switch on, the static disappeared instantly.
Reaching over to my re-trans convertor, I turned on its power switch. The convertor switch, just above it, when turned on would convert transmissions coming from my primary transceiver directly to the secondary or the tertiary. I turned the direction switch to tertiary. The re-trans unit was designed to cut transmission time in half and free us from having to physically re-transmit messages across varying frequencies.
The instant my finger touched the switch a sharp electric shock ran up my arm shoving me back. Instinctively, I reached for the broom handle behind me. Holding it against the power switch, I used the ball of my free hand to pound against the opposite end. After a couple of tries I managed to shut it off. But in doing so I had used too much force. I accidentally snapped the switch completely off, opening a hole where the switch had been and exposing the wires. As the severed wires fell back into the unit they brushed against each other, throwing a spray of hot orange sparks in my face. Covering my eyes with one hand, I picked up the wooden handle with the other and slapped at the unit in an attempt to separate the wires. After several tries I succeeded in pushing them apart but then pushed them against the face of the unit. Contact between the wires and the unit sent an electric arc of bright blue lightning bolts flashing across it. 2 seconds later the entire rig went completely dark.
"Oh ----!" I thought. "What the hell have I done?"
Suddenly a wave of heat spread over my body. Sweat began pouring from my face and hands. Reaching down to my left foot, I groped in the dark for the generator control box. The short-circuit probably activated the units automatic shut-off. Running my fingers across its face, I probed for the main toggle switch. My hand passed over its glass indicator panel, a few dials, and a few knobs. I could feel everything but the toggle switch I needed.
Standing up, I angrily pushed the chair with the back of my legs shoving it through the doorway. Going down on my knees I continued to probe, this time with both hands. Suddenly my fingers found the switch! Holding on tight, I paused for a moment to whisper a prayer that it would only take one flick for the power to come back on.
Holding my breath, I turned the switch. Another flash of orange spray flew from the re-trans unit above me. Letting go of the switch, I slid backwards pushing myself outside the rig. Falling all over me, the spray burned tiny pin holes in the back of my neck. Temporarily lit up by the flash, the rig plunged back into complete darkness. I was back where I had started.
Beads of sweat rolled down my back. My socks were soaking wet. My pants stuck to my legs. Standing up, I felt my way back into the rig. Running my hands inside the doorway, I searched for the flashlight. It wasn't there. Then I remembered tossing it on the desk after checking the generator earlier. I would have to remain in the dark.
Realizing time was running out for Song Be, I told myself to hurry. The rig was too small to turn around in so I stepped outside the door backwards. Using my feet to search the floor for the chair, it was laying on its side near the desk. Taking it back inside the rig, I straightened it out and sat down. My next move was to try again to find the power switch on the generator control box. Leaning to my left, I felt around the face of the unit. Finding the switch, I turned it on. Nothing happened. I flicked the switch several more times. Still, nothing happened.
Sitting upright again, my mind raced for a clue to what was wrong. I wondered if I had burned out the generator circuits, or worst yet, burned out the entire rig. I thought about going outside to check the generator again. Maybe the ARVN's had re-connected their wire and cut off my power. Placing my hands on the counter to stand up, a dull red indicator lamp above my head suddenly flashed on. Startled, my eyes shot up to meet it. An instant later another indicator lamp in the opposite corner of the rig flashed on. My eyes darted in that direction. Looking from one lamp to the other, both began to glow brighter.
Confused about what was going on, I stared at the lamps. Suddenly a 3rd indicator lamp came on, this time right in front of me. It was the primary transceiver. Immediately after that, the primary teletype started up. I could hear its print-head seating itself again. Then, almost simultaneously, another indicator panel light came on, then another, then another.
Suddenly a burst of static broke the silence, re-awakening my numbed senses. Then a large red bulb behind my head lit up the entire rig turning everything a deep dark red. I turned and looked up. The instant my eyes fell on the bulb I recalled what it was. An almost forgotten panel on the back wall indicated the emergency backup generator was in full operation and its power output consistent. A 3-minute timer housed in the panel had automatically turned it on when reaching the maximum delay point.
"Thank God," I thought. "Hugh kept the backup generator filled with gas."
I looked back down at the primary teletype. It's motors were winding up to full speed.
I made a rapid check over the other equipment. My face was completely wet from my ordeal. Reaching up to a hook in the right corner behind me, I pulled a towel down from a nail hammered into the hull. Covered with dust, the towel was used for cleaning the radios. But at this point it didn't matter. The sweat rolling down into my eyes was more of an inconvenience than the muddy residue the towel left on my skin. After dragging the towel across my face I tossed it to the floor.
I looked at the convertor unit. Its face was completely blackened by the short-circuit. Cursing it, I yanked it out from its slot and sat it on the floor just outside the rig. "I'm not going to let this mother----er jam me up again!"
Suddenly, the teletype from Song Be started talking to me.
TOMCAT-1....WHERE ARE YOU?????"
I typed back.
"THIS IS TOMCAT-1
I HAVE A SET OF COORDINATES TO SEND
R U READY TO COPY?"
I paused before answering. I was hesitant about transmitting artillery coordinates. The risk of human error was too great. Chances were Charlie's coordinates weren't more than fifty yards from theirs. The mistake of one digit could send the 11th's fire right down on top of his rig.
I looked at the equipment in front of me. I wished like hell I had been able to spend the time I wasted in the comcenter out here learning about the rigs electronic idiosyncrasies. Learning about Jones was not a priority.
My transceiver from Song Be keyed up again.
ARE YOU READY TO RECEIVE COORDINATES?"
Still trying to think of a way to figure out my predicament, I asked for more time.
"ROGER IRONBIRD 3
HAVING TECH PROBS
I'LL BE RIGHT UP..."
"DON'T CRAP OUT ON ME TOMCAT-1
CHARLIES ON OUR BACK
IT'S UP TO YOU TO GET HIM OFF
GET THE SHOW ON THE ROAD!!!...."
I typed back to Song Be,
"LOOK DUDE....I'VE GOT YOU COVERED
I was lying. Frantic for an answer, I yelled at myself. "Do something now, ----head!"
Just then a grinding noise to my right gave me the answer. My eyes rolled to the primary transceiver's tape printer. The hole-punch dispenser on the tapemaker had overflowed clogging the puncher. Instantly, a light bulb flashed in my brain. It suddenly occurred to me I could make a tape of Song Be's coordinates and re-transmit the tape into the tertiary transceiver tapemaker going to the 11th.
I looked up at the incoming signal panel on the tertiary. The 11th's incoming signal was registering a point 8. Their base unit had stopped sending to its field unit. The airwaves were free for me to talk to them. Looking over the callsign list, the field unit's callsign designated it as "AARDVARK-6".
I keyed up the transmitter.
THIS IS TOMCAT-1
HOW DO YOU COPY?"
After a momentary delay they answered.
"TMPCAY ONR....TPMCAY ONR
THIO IS AARVBL SIC
WE COPY YU FIVR BT
HOP DO YOU COIU?...."
I was receiving garble. Either their system was poorly calibrated or they were over-modulating. Fearful of losing Lai Khe, I didn't want to rotate the antenna to adjust for the 11th. But since Song Be was receiving me perfectly over Lai Khe's transmitter I decided to unhook my primary booster and connect it to the tertiary. Doing so, I typed in another request to the 11th.
"AARDVARK-6 THIS IS TOMCAT-1
PLSE REPEAT UR LAST TRANS...."
As they continued to send I rotated the fine tuning dial on the booster. Slowly, their signal began to improve.
"TMPCAY ONR....TOMCAY ONE
THIO IS AARDVARL SX
HOW DO YOU COPY
THIS IS AARDVARK-6
HOW DO YOU COPY?"
They were now coming in perfectly clear.
"ROGER AARDVARK-6....I READ U 5-BY
PLSE STANDBY FOR FLASH COORDINATES FROM IRONBIRD-3
NO TIME TO EXPLAIN...."
"ROGER TOMCAT-1....STANDING BY"
Everything was set. I raced my hands over the keyboard to Song Be.
THIS IS TOMCAT-1
COME ON....LET'S HAVE THOSE C'S
AARDVARK-6 IS WAITING...."
CHARLES IS REALLY KICKING OUR ASS
THE NOISE IS WORSE THAN THE MORTARS
COORDINATES TO FOLLOW...."
The printer bells started to ring. Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.
This was it! The coordinates poured in.
I replied, "5-BY."
Looking down at the punchout tape, I quickly ran my thumb across it, decoding as I read. The coordinates came through perfectly!
Snatching it out of the printer, I jammed it into the 11th's feeder then turned on the starter. Leaning back in my chair I watched the tape tick through the feeder as if being eaten by a paper-chewing demon.
As soon as the tail of the tape passed through the feeder the 11th sent a confirmation on the numbers they had received.
THIS IS AARDVARK-6...GOT UR NUMBERS
I WISH YOU COULD SEE THE SPARKS OF OUR GUNS
CU WE'RE LETTING THE BIG BOYS LOOSE!"
Almost instantly, the relay from Lai Khe started printing.
RIGHT THE FUCK ON!
DIRECT HITS...DIRECT HITS
YAHOO!!!....SEND IN WHITE PHOSPHOROUS
SEND IN 5 CANS WP ON EACH C
As soon as Lai Khe finished sending I ripped the tape out of the receiver and stuck it into the transmitter going to the 11th. They replied instantly.
5 CANISTERS WP ON EACH COORDINATE
THEY SHOULD RECEIVE THEM POST-HASTE...."
Then from Song Be,
"GLORY BE! TOMCAT-CAT
CHAZ ON THE RUN
SEND IN MORE WP
SEND IN CONCUSSION
SEND IT ALL IN!
SEND IT ALL IN!
SEND IT ALL IN!"
The white phosphorous canisters would fry Charlies asshole back to Hanoi. Again ripping out the punchout of the primary transceiver, I stuffed it into the feeder to the 11th. Then I had a brainstorm. Why not just feed the front end of the receiver tape coming in from Song Be into the transmitter going to the 11th? That way I wouldn't have to keep ripping the tape out of the receiver and waste precious seconds feeding it back into the puncher to the 11th.
Running off about 18 inches of leader tape from the primary I stretched it across the console in front of me and inserted it into the tertiary feeder. Reaching into the back of the feeder I flicked the mode switch from MANUAL to AUTOMATIC.
As the tape fed into the 11th feeder I ran my thumb down the callsign list for someone nearby to launch enough choppers to provide medical evacuation and air support. I found 3 infantry units. Of those 3 the 1st Cav had a field 5 miles from Song Be.
I started up the transmitter to Song Be.
"DO YOU REQUEST MED-EVAC???"
"ROGER....BUT CRYPTO UNIT ON FCY
CANNOT EVAC CRYPTO
CANNOT EVAC FCY..."
I typed in a reply.
"ZAP THE CRYPTO THEN STANDBY FOR FCY EVAC...."
"NO FIELD OFFICERS ON FCY
I stared at his message. Whoever this guy was he was not only a dedicated operator, he was going by the book. SOP required approval from a Field-Grade Officer to authorize destruction of his KL-7.
Looking back at the callsign list, Song Be's duty roster listed a Major and a Lt. Colonel. But apparently, both officers were dead. I typed in another message to Song Be.
"IRONBIRD-3 THIS IS TOMCAT-1
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY
USE YOUR OWN RANK FOR EMERGENCY APPROVAL"
The operator replied back.
"I'M WEST POINT
I'M IN THIS FOR LIFE
I CAN'T DO THAT"
His message explained why he was so good at his job. He was probably a 1st Lieutenant just out of West Point and in 'Nam to get his war legs sewn on tight so his 201 file would show he'd seen combat duty. As a lifer he was scared ----less of making a mistake that would jeopardize his career. Although there was no doubt he had the balls to stick around, his Ivy-league training was getting in the way of his life.
But as I was ready to accept his loyalty to duty, honor, and country, the 11th had monitored our conversation and refused to accept his West Point code of honor.
WE'RE NOT WEST POINT
WE'RE SENDING CHOPPERS TO IRONBIRD-3'S FCY POST HASTE
INSTRUCT DESTRUCT ON CRYPTO GEAR ASAP
OUR CHOPPER PILOTS ARE LIKE FATHER TIME
THEY WAIT FOR NO MAN!"
I relayed the message to Song Be verbatim. The operator replied immediately.
"DO YOU HAVE A FIELD-GRADE AT URSTA?
NEED APPROVAL FOR DESTRUCT
I NEED A NAME FOR MY LOG...."
"-------! Where in the Sam Hill does he expect me to get a name?"
My 1st thought was Jones but I had to dismiss him. He was just a Captain but he was also an asshole. He wouldn't stick his neck out for anybody.
Next I thought about calling one of the American liaisons at General Tri's compound. They were both Colonels. I couldn't asked them. They were more politician than soldier.
Before I could go any further, the transceiver from Song Be keyed-up again.
"TOMCAT-1 THIS IS IRONBIRD-3
CHARLIE'S FRYING ON THE WIRE BUT I'D STILL LIKE TO SPLIT!
ARE YOU GETTING ME 5-BY
I NEED AN APPROVAL NAME FOR MY LOG
I NEED A NAME...."
"This guy sure the hell is all-Army" I thought. Any normal, rationale human being would have said ---- it and canceled their lease. Leaning back in the chair I ran my fingers through my hair. It was frustrating to deal with trying to fight a war and at the same time have to deal with all the procedural crap the Army came up with. Still monitoring the conversation, the 11th RTT operator gave me an idea.
"TELL THAT FRUITCAKE TO GET THE FUCK OUT!"
Suddenly it hit me! Remembering the Collins Street Bakery fruitcake I had to survive on for 3 days in Cam Rahn Bay, I yelled to myself, "The hell with this bull----! What can they do, send me to 'Nam?"
Leaning forward on the keyboard I ran my fingers across the keys to Song Be.
"HAVE LOCATED A FIELD-GRADE
THE NAME IS MAJOR COLLINS
HE REQUESTS EVAC OF UR FCY
HE REQS CRYPTO DESTRUCT ASAP
HE REQUESTS "GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!!!"
The operator shot back.
ROGER MAJOR COLLINS
TTY GOING DOWN
SHUD BE BCK ON AIR WHEN....
CHOPPERS NOW ARRIVING
SHUD BE BCK ON AIR WHEN FCY RE-ESTABLISHED
The message ended. "Right on!" I yelled. He didn't request an ID number from the invisible Major Collins.
In my mind I could picture him going through the SOP manual on destruct procedure. 1st I pictured him twisting the pop-top on the incendiary charge in his rig. I could see him sit the charge on his KL-7 and wait for a moment or 2 making sure it ignited and started its burn. I could see the charge as it ignited to a bright flash and glow to 2-thousand degrees. It would melt straight down the middle of the KL-7, leaving no salvageable parts and no spare change.
I heaved a sigh of relief now that the problem in Song Be was over. I turned off the tapemaker from Song Be and removed the front end of the tape from the 11th's feeder, tossing it into the "TO BE BURNED" waste basket under the counter.
Looking at the primary teletype, I thought about Major Collins. Raising my right hand I gave the teletype a salute. "Thank you sir for your timely and courageous help. But you know, this is war. Sometimes you've just got to improvise."
The transceiver from Lai Khe started up again.
I replied. "NO SWEAT"
"AND THANK MAJOR COLLINS. HE CAME BY JUST IN TIME"
"ROGER THAT, DUDE....SITUATION TERMINATED!"
The input signal coming from Lai Khe went black. The operator had turned off his transmitter. My job was over.
Reaching up to my primary, I turned the mode dial from ON-LINE to STAND-BY. The absence of an in-coming signal was replaced with static. I turned down the volume.
Exhausted, I wheeled the chair around putting the radios to my back. Staring into the darkness in front of me I repeated the RTT closing call to myself. "Situation Terminated."
My hands were still wet from perspiration. Wiping them on my pants, I realized I must have been more involved than I thought.
Standing up, I picked up the towel I had tossed on the floor earlier then called back to campus to have another convertor sent up with the truck tomorrow morning.
Opening the bunker door I walked out of the shack into the refreshing night air. The night around Bien Hoa was peaceful. A warm southeastern breeze blew across my face. Turning toward it, I allowed it to dry my skin.
Looking eastward I scanned the horizon in the direction of Song Be. Bright, orange-red flashes of artillery fire reflecting off the low-hanging clouds gave the impression of thunder.
I began thinking about B-52 thunder. From a distance you could hear it coming across the sky like a hundred thunder storms. You wouldn't recognize it unless you knew to look to the horizon for its distinctive clouds of billowing smoke rising hundreds of feet in the air from the tons of explosives raining the ground.
Then I thought about the war and how different it was looking at it from here in V'nam than it was when I was a civilian stateside. Americans saw V'nam as an ongoing battle with round-the-clock killing and non-stop tragedies. But here in 'Nam the war existed intermittently. Sure, it was a 24 war but the war wasn't everywhere at once. One day it was in Bien Hoa. Another day it was in Song Be. Tomorrow it would be somewhere else.
The only consistency was the fact that if the war was where you were at the moment, to you it was everywhere.
"War is where it is," I thought. "And the only way to stop it was to keep it from being anywhere and everywhere all the time."
I walked back to the comcenter. I needed a Coke.
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