Copyright (c) 1980, 1987, The Vietnam War Library

Chapter 15 - 17 FEBRUARY, 1970

Despite all the chaos, disorganization, and mismanagement a GI had to endure throughout his tour of duty in 'Nam, there's always one incident that stands out above the rest. That incident usually involves a situation where the machine breaks down resulting in needless loss of life. For me that situation occurred on 17 February 1970.

18:32 Hours

Driving to the ASAX compound after ending our shift, our truck was ordered to pull off the road by an ARVN MP motorcycle leading a convoy of American MP jeeps speeding out the front gate. Pulling to the roadside, we watched as each jeep rolled past. Inside the back of one jeep 2 MP's were leaning on top of an ARVN soldier whose face looked like it had been through a meatgrinder. Quickly passing us, it was hard to tell if the MP's were leaning on the man to protect him from being shot through the window by a sniper, or because the man had tried to break away. But even if he had managed to scramble out of the jeep, with his hands cuffed behind his back he wouldn't have gotten too far before being tackled by one of the heavy-weight MP's and dragged back by his ears.

After the last jeep passed us we were given the go-ahead by a black-toothed ARVN guard to enter the compound. Black teeth was indicative of an addiction to beetle nuts, a mild intoxicant favored by matrons and male children who couldn't afford other drugs.

As we drove up to the door of the mess hall a crowd of GI's, Aussies, CIA agents, and MI officers stood outside looking at the last of the convoy as it passed out of sight on the winding road. Built after the compound was established as a permanent garrison, the road was designed to twist and turn. By winding it in multiple curves a vehicular attack on the compound was discouraged because it was impossible for an enemy vehicle to negotiate the sharp curves fast enough to surprise the gate guards. By the time it made it to the second curve, Claymores strategically placed along the roadside would blow it into a 1,000 pieces.

Because it was evident something serious just occurred, and the compound was on Red Alert, Angus and the other guys who worked the black market wisely decided to pass on making any purchases at the PX. Along the way to the compound 3 guys were dropped off in the ville to make their monthly brothel payments. All we could do was hope the alert wouldn't spread to the village and the hookers would turn them in to avoid being arrested for hiding GI's.

As we filed into the cafe we were informed by the excited maids about what happened. Apparently the Aussies had brought a double-agent on the compound to arrange a deal to get information on a VC plan to attack one of their Cambodian border outposts. But left alone for a moment to use the restroom in their barrack the double-agent was caught wiring a plastic explosive behind a commode. Fortunately for the Aussies, a CIA agent just leaving the cafe recognized the double-agent as a Project Gamma operative he met in Duc Hue and followed them. The CIA agent was now being congratulated by his elated associates at a nearby table. A half-empty bottle of black-label Johnny Walker sat next to him.

We all agreed that dinner should be cut short in order to get off the compound before the CIA shut the base down. They were known to seal off the compound whenever they got drunk. They did so 3 months prior when 32 grenades were found in a burlap bag hidden under a pile of potato sacks by one of the cafe maids. Under "intense" interrogation it was learned she was a VC spy setting-up the compound for a hit. The maid had brought them in, 5 grenades at a time, over the previous month. No one was allowed to enter or exit the base for over 36 hours. That was about the time it took for the CIA jocks to sober up after celebrating their success in making a hot arrest. Although the comcenter crew hated being stuck for a day 1/2 on the compound with nothing to do but watch the ARVN MP's march back and forth across the front gate, they understood the Agency's need to maintain a high level of protection when they were "incapacitated." Even Tri himself couldn't get the base re-opened.

Leaving the compound after eating, we cautiously made our pick-up stops without being noticed. The rest of the drive back to campus was without incident.

20:10 Hours

As usual, our truck provided curb service to the door of our hootch. and tonight, like every night before going inside, we instinctively looked up towards the bright flashes of light trailing a low-flying Air Force photo-recon plane circling the perimeter. Ejecting evenly-spaced, 30-foot balls of exploding light behind it, the flashes lit up the ground below. A high-powered, on-board camera was timed to photograph with each explosion.

The reconnaissance photography was necessary because the photos revealed any secret VC activity nearby. Newbies, seeing the recon planes for the first time, thought the flash explosions going off just behind it were Charlie's flak rockets barely missing it. After enough of the view, Jimmie tossed me his wallet then headed off for the shower.

"You gonna shower with all your clothes on again tonight?" I yelled to him.

"------- A, dude. I'm sweating like a pig and too tired to take 'em off."

"Well take your hat off this time!" I smiled. "Your hair could use a good washing too!"

Turning around, he smiled and flipped me off.

The rest of us headed for the hootch. Unbuttoning our shirts, unzipping our pants, and untying our boots on the way. Stopping inside at Paul's cubicle, the first on the left, he laid in his skivies reading a year-old issue of TIME.

Paul was a short, stocky Italian from New Jersey who'd been in-country about 2 months. Just out of high school, he was proud of the 2 dozen football trophies he brought with him. They were neatly arranged on a beam just above his cot. He spent more time re-polishing his trophies than he did sleeping. He said he brought them over because, "If I left 'em at home my little brother would tell his girlfriends he won 'em. Now he'll have to win his own!"

Paul's cubicle was shared with another comspec named George. George was from Riverside, California. The only man in the company without a regular job assignment, George was relieved of duty by the post doctors because his brain was fried from too much speed. The nerves in his eyes were so burned-out they vibrated continually, making reading teletype print almost impossible. Because his therapy recommended he stay away from bright lights, the CO ordered him to either wear a blindfold during the day or stay in 1 of the pitch-black bunkers until sunset. The CO's order was obviously made to punish him for his addiction and to let others know they shouldn't expect an easy ride from the hospital. He even made George eat all his meals in the bunker. George complained that eating blindly wasn't so bad. it was the huge, 10-pound rats attracted to the smell of food that bothered him. Several attempts had been made to rid the bunker of the rats but their holes were so long and deep it was useless to clog 1 up. The rats were like prairie dogs, they simply bored another hole.

"Hey dude, anything happen around here today?" I asked Paul.

"The hell with 'around here'!" Paul shot back. "We've been waiting for you dudes to get here and tell us what happened at the ASAX! You know nothing ever happens around this ----in' dump."

Surprised the campus had already heard about our being delayed, I asked him how he knew.

"One of the mama-sahns told us before they left."

"----! We ought to hire the maids to work intelligence." I shook my head. "They hear about things a month before we do."

Passing messages by word of mouth, up-to-the-minute news from the ville spread among the natives working on the base faster than our teletypes transmitted. In later months, the base CG ordered unit commanders to change the work shifts of our daily maid service to every other day. By breaking up their chain of communication, the natives were unable to pass speedy information back to the VC, as well as having their own gossip circuit disrupted.

After giving Paul the details about our delay I walked to another cubicle.

The cubicle across from Paul and George belonged to Robert and his roommate Allan. Both were working the night shift tonight. Allan was a 20-year old toehead from North Dakota. He would say his most enlightening experience after enlisting in the Army was finally being able to meet a black person. The only black's he'd seen up until going on active duty were either on TV or in magazine pictures. He made a habit of telling every black GI he met that his 7-year old sister got an "A" for 'Show and Tell' when displaying clippings of black hair to her classmates. Allan had collected the hair on his 1st day of Basic Training when his company received their first hair cut.

Allan's only brother served with the 25th Infantry Division a few miles north of us. Because of the military's "sole survivor" regulation adopted after the deaths of the 5 Sullivan brothers during WWII, blood brothers were not allowed to serve in a combat zone simultaneously. In order for Allan's brother to come over while Allan was here, he lied about Allan being in Vietnam. Having seen very little of the world outside their small home town, both brothers were committed to experiencing all the "Fun, Travel, and Adventure" their recruiters had promised them. The military bureaucracy was too swamped under to discover they were both here.

Robin and Jeffrey shared the cubicle next to Robert and Allan. Across from them were Ernie and Bill. The next cubicle belonged to Ralph and Norman. Across from them were Jimmie and I. Just on the other side of my wall was Lincoln, and across from him, Boyd.

Rome Bronson, Jay-Jay, Robin and Jeff were watching TV and passing a jay between them in Boyd's cubicle. Rome, Jay-Jay, and Flip shared in the comcenter hootch across the sidewalk. Stopping to see what was on TV, I leaned against the one of the wall lockers near the opening of the cubicle.

Sitting on the end of Robin's cot, Rome was closest to me. As the jay circling the cubicle was passed to him he took a couple of short drags then without looking up, held it up to me. Feeling my hand push it away he then looked up.

"Oh, it's you Phill," he withdrew his hand. "I thought you were Flip coming back with the beer."

"No, just me." I continued to stare at the TV.

"Let's see now, you've been here 7 months now and you haven't taken a single hit from a jay. When're you gonna chill-out and taste some of this good ----?" He asked me.

"I'm saving myself for home. When I get back...."

"When you get back," he interrupted, "you're gonna have to smoke that paraquat ---- Nixon's been poisoning people with."

Everyone in the cubicle laughed.

"What're you guys watching on the tube?" I asked, changing the subject.

Scanning over the AFRTN program listing in today's Stars and Stripes, Boyd sighed. "Not much on tonight. Right now there's this broad being interviewed, and after that "The King Family". So it's either watching her or another one of Thieu's stupid speeches."

"Well it's obvious we're going to have to settle for this dip---- since none of us can understand Vietnamese." Jay-Jay laughed.

"What's she talking about?" I asked, pointing to the TV.

"Something about a new TV show she's "tremendously excited about doing"." Jay-Jay grinned, imitating her canned smile and voice.

"What's it called?"

"The Brady Bunch."

"Who's the broad?"

"Remember the old TV show "Love That Bob?", Boyd asked.

Leaning forward, I took a closer look at her face. "Yeah, that's the plain Jane who was always trying to get Bob to pork her out in his darkroom. What was her name...?"

"Ann B. Davis." Rome answered.

Walking up behind me, Flip appeared with a 6-pack. Pulling the beers out of their cardboard case one at a time, he tossed them around the cubicle. His face looked exasperated.

"Next time we get beer from the NCO Club one of you white boys is going to go get it. Every time a brother goes in there the rednecks pull out their Confederate flags and start humming Dixie. I don't think they want anybody darker than vanilla ice-cream going in, even for take-outs."

"What did they say was the problem this time?" Rome asked.

"My age."

"Did you tell them rank has its privileges?" Ernie asked.

Grabbing his crotch, Flip answered, "No, I showed 'em my long black 'Tom Johnson'. Then I told 'em I got their 21 right here.... in inches!"

Laughing, Boyd choked on a mouth full of beer. Catching his breath, he waved Flip off. "You black GI's just slay me with those big dick jokes!"

Everyone laughed.

Still watching the TV interview, I was curious why the AFRTN would broadcast an interview about a TV show unrelated to the war. "Now why the hell do you suppose the military thinks we give a flying ---- about "The Brady Bunch"?"

"They probably just want to show us the bull---- people back in the States are watchin' on TV," Jay-Jay answered.

"Or maybe the Army thinks we're all going to turn into some of those zapped-out, freako V'nam vets Hollywood keeps making movies about. They probably want us to remember some of those good old American values," Paul commented, walking over to the cubicle.

"Well, anybody who's going to be watching "The Brady Bunch" is either freako already or will be afterward," I added.

"It's really sad Americans need to look at themselves on TV in order to feel their way of life is the right way for American families to behave." Jimmie stated.

"Don't come down too hard on them man. After all, that's how they got fools like you and Phill to enlist." Rome shot back. "You 2 saw "The Green Berets" and here you are."

"That was different," Jimmie disagreed. "That was about a real-life war that's still going on."

"Are you suggesting families have to cease to exist in order for Hollywood to make a TV show about family life?" Rome responded.

Caught by Rome's sharp come-back, Jimmie was at a loss for words. I answered for him.

"No, he's not saying that. He's just saying America was having a problem motivating people to join up and fight the war. There is a problem over here, you know."

"Well some of the dumbest TV shows of the 50's weren't exactly reflecting current American values. There were a lot of jerks who patterned their whole ------- lives after "Father Knows Best" and "Ozzie and Harriet."

"He's right," Robin jumped in. "I remember my cousins getting pissed-off because my uncle started wearing a tie around the house all the time after he started watching "The Donna Reed Show"."

"That's what I mean," Rome pointed to Robin, his eyebrows raising. "That's what the AFRTN's trying to do over here!"

"You mean they're trying to get us to start wearing ties?" I asked, confused about his logic.

"Naw, dummy. The Vietnamese!"

"Yeah, I can just see the gooks running around in loin cloths, sandals, sun hats, and neckties." Paul grinned.

Everyone laughed.

"You assholes aren't getting the point." Rome shook his head.

"Wait a minute!" Jimmie broke in. "I think I know what he means. I think he's saying the AFRTN, or somebody behind them, wants the South V'namese to see this ----. Am I right?" He looked at Rome.

"....And the North Vietnamese, and the Chinese, and the Laotians, and the Cambodians, and everybody else out here with a TV set." Rome added, pointing to the set. "With a hook-up like the AFRTN in this part of the world you'd be surprised how many people we can show the American way of life. The masses over here see the good life we have back in the States and they want some of it too. So they start yellin' to their governments to get some of it for them, and before you know it, we've got more converts begging for American goodies than we could ever get by shoving an M-16 barrel down their throats and forcing it on them."

"I can see that," Flip agreed. "But why don't we just use Radio Free Asia? Why does the military mess with our only source of entertainment to further their psyops operations?"

" 'Cause Radio Free Asia doesn't use TV! That's why they call it Radio Free Asia and not TV Free Asia, stupid! Besides, it's better to show people what washing machines and toasters look like instead of telling 'em about it over the radio and hoping they're imaginations are good enough to visualize something they've never seen." Rome explained.

"I can agree with some of that," I told him. "but since a lot of Americans don't believe the bull---- they see on TV, I would think it would be even more difficult for Southeast Asians to go for it. Most of these people over here just want to plant their rice and be left alone."

"That's why there's a war going on Phill, we're gonna drown 'em with the good old Western way of life one way or another and whether they like it or not!"

"Yeah," Robin laughed. "I wouldn't be surprised to get a letter from one of my cousins saying my uncle went out and bought a ------- ottoman to trip over 'cause Dick Van Dyke does it every week on his TV show."

Turning-up the volume on the TV, Jay-Jay noted the interview appeared to be coming to an end. "And now she's gonna say how much she appreciates each and every GI in V'nam for making 'his individual and meaningful contributions for freedom and democracy.'"

Repeating Jay-Jay almost word for word, Ann B. Davis added, "...and I want you boys out there to know that all the good Americans back home are behind you 100%! Keep up the good work!"

Beaming a big smile on her face, the camera faded out.

"I can't believe the bozo's the AFRTN brings over here." Flip shook his head. "They all say the same ------- thing. You'd think one of them would have the brains to watch a few of these stupid interviews before they get in front of the camera."

"If they did, then one of 'em might say something original for a change. But you know actors, they always sound stupid when they're not reading from a script." Rome stated.

"Well, you'd think if the Fed's were going to give those bozo's a tax break for doing their public service over here they'd tell them to earn their pay as actors by saying something realistic." I agreed.

Just then the front door slammed open. Ray and Early, 2 black microwave techs from the hootch next door, walked in with a 3-month old brown bear on a dog leash anxiously sniffing everything in its path.

"What the hell!" I yelled, turning around.

Surprised, everyone in the cubicle leaped to their feet and bolted into the aisle. Dropping to his knees, Rome was the 1st person to reach the bear cub. Embracing him with a huge hug, the bear lapped at Rome's face as if it was covered with honey. "Where'd you get this monster," he asked Ray, cupping his hands over the bears face and rubbing its ears.

"The jungle! When we were looking for those rapi...."

Before he could finish Ray jabbed Early in the ribs and gave him a stern frown.

Recovering from the stun, Early changed his answer. His eyes watching Early. "Where d'ya think bears come from?"

Flocking around it, everyone dropped to their knees. Each one trying to get its attention.

"What're you going to call it?" Robin asked.

"I don't know," Early answered. "We're thinking about having a contest to decide.

"Call it "Brownie"," Flip suggested.

"Naw," Jay-Jay laughed. "I think we should call it "69". Look how much it likes to lick everybody."

"I'd call it "Flash"!" Paul proposed.

"That's stupid!" Jimmie frowned. "Flash doesn't even make any sense."

"Sure it does!" Paul smiled. "Some asshole lost a flash in the comcenter last week and that's what's going to happen to this guy. We're gonna lose it just like we lost all our dogs."

Because Dormally whined about stepping out of bed into dog ---- one morning, the CO recently ordered the 1st Sergeant to have all the dogs on campus collected. Waiting until we were all at work one day, the dogs were driven to Long Bihn Army Base and dropped off. 5 of the 7 dogs were only puppies. The incident set the campus in a 3 day rage. Dormally was the guy ordered to drop the dogs off and everyone knew he was lazy and hated animals. Most of us feared he probably dumped them in the ville somewhere. The V'namese were known to eat the males and breed the females for their milk.

Obviously lying, Early replied, "The CO already knows. He said we can keep it until it gets too big to handle. Then we have to take it back to the jungle or give it to Barnum and Bailey's."

"I know what to call him," I offered, walking closer. "We should call him Brisbane."

The hootch suddenly grew silent. Everyone, even the bear, turned to look at me.

"What?" Rome asked. His face turning confused.

"Yeah." I walked over. "We should call him Brisbane. Look at his ears. They're sticking straight out, just like Brisbane's in "The Little Rascals."

"Hey, that sounds cool!" Flip jumped in. "His ears do stick out!"

Everyone started petting the bear again.

"It's settled then!" Early decided. "We're gonna call him Brisbane!"

"Wait a minute!" Ray stepped in. "I'm the one who caught him. I'll be the one who'll decide!"

"Bull----!" Early jumped back. "The only reason why you caught him was because I was busy cuttin' off that VC's...."

Ray put his hand on Early's chest, shutting him off again. +indicating for him to stop talking. Looking around at the blank faces staring at him, Early conceded. "Okay, we'll say you decided but you gotta say it was my idea."

I just smiled.

Months later, when Brisbane grew too big to continue feeding, Early asked me to accompany him to the jungle to return Bris to nature. I agreed. It was the saddest day on campus and the only time I ever saw anyone in V'nam cry.

Since Bris's arrival over a 100 messages were sent to Barnum and Bailey's asking that they adopt Brisbane for their circus but we never received a single reply. Shortly before I left V'nam we learned none of the messages ever reached the circus. The Army 2nd Lieutenant in the States who was supposed to transfer the messages over Western Union telex lines had tossed them away thinking they were hoaxes from another officer in V'nam trying to play a trick on him. Ray made an oath he'd shoot the Lieutenant the day he made it back to the States.

After Ray and Early left to show-off Bris to the other hootches, everyone but Jimmie and I got together to shoot a game of basketball. I received a brand new basketball from home for Christmas and it was getting its full use. By the time I left for home in July the basketball had been bounced to the thickness of a balloon. Even so I had a number of offers from guys who wanted to buy it. The morning of my departure I left it on my cot for the 1st taker.

The odor of marijuana was still strong so Jimmie and I decided to stand outside for a while until the breeze cleared the air.

As we stepped out the door a crowd of 40 to 50 guys from surrounding company's were parading down the center sidewalk on their way to the Day Room. Because the monsoons were just beginning and rain fell unexpectedly, the nightly movie was moved into the Day Room. Wearing cut-off fatigues, sandals, bush hats, and peace symbols around their necks, most were carrying bottles of everything from Chivas Regal to Coke. Several of the men were wearing cowboy hats, boots, and double-holstered Colt .45's sagging on their waists.

Noticing Jimmie and I leaning over the sandbarrels in front of our hootch watching them pass, one of the guys yelled over for us to join them. Waving no thanks, we smiled and watched as they filed into the Day Room. The number of outsiders from surrounding companies coming to watch our movies had increased over the last few months, freezing out our own guys.

Heavy wool blankets were stretched across the windows to keep outside light from whiting-out the screen. Unfortunately, along with keeping out the light, the blankets also kept out cool air. and with more than 100 bodies crammed together like sardines raising the room temperature to stifling, it only took one person having beans for dinner to get Jimmie and I to decide we'd wait until after the monsoons were over and the movie projector was moved back outside.

After the last of the crowd pushed themselves inside the Day Room, a loud roar shook its roof. 2 seconds later the door slammed open and everyone started to pour back out. As they passed us again on their way back to their own companies, several angrily complained that the movie shown last night was playing again tonight. It was Dormally's job to drive to Long Bihn each day to exchange movies, apparently he hadn't done so today.

"Bloody Mama," one guy said, "was unbearable last night. Tonight it would be intolerable. There's just too much killing in it."

Another guy walking next to him took off his hat and slapped him with it. "What d'you mean too much killing," he teased, "you've killed more gooks than Bloody Mama killed cops."

22:17 Hours

The wind was blowing from the direction of the NCO Club. The breeze brought with it the sound of country music and the odor of beer. Outside of Coke, 3.2 beer was drank more than water. and at only 3 dollars a case, it was not only cheaper than imported bottled water, you could get eight times that amount for it from an ARVN.

After the last of the outsiders crossed the road toward the 11th Cav compound the campus was almost deserted. Except for a few guys heading toward the shower house for the second time to remove the sweat of an overactive evening, everyone was inside beginning their usual indoor diversions. We could hear several record players and cassette players winding up. In the next 5 minutes every variety of music known to man would be playing.

Noticing the overhead lights being switched-off in Rome's hootch across the sidewalk our attention was drawn toward it. He and some of the other guys were returning from their short basketball game.

"The smoke's gonna start churning outta that hootch," Jimmie commented.

Walking between Rome's hootch and the cooks hootch, Jeff, Ernie, Robin, and Paul came back wearing a coat of sweat.

"Why'd you dudes quit so soon?" I asked.

"Too ----ing humid," Paul answered.

"Feels like trying to lift a million pounds when I jump." Ernie shook his head.

"Well you boys are sweating enough." Jimmie commented, taking the towel off his neck and tossing it to Robin.

"That's beer," Robin answered, wiping his face.

"What happened?" I asked.

"That asshole Mike! He's going home tomorrow 'cause his wife's sick. All I did was congratulate him for getting out of this place early and he poured his beer on me."

"What'd you expect?" Paul shot at him. "You congratulate a man because his wife is sick and you expect him to smile at you?"

"Well what the hell would you say to somebody who gets to go home early?"

"How about 'goodbye and good luck'?"

Surprised, Robin stared at Paul. After pausing a few moments, he shook his head. "That's too ----ing simple."

Hearing the sound of a freedom bird whistling in, I looked toward the sky over the air base. It was a good opportunity to change the subject. "Look up there!"

Turning to look at the sky everyone watched the bird float to the airbase.

"92 days," Paul smiled. "3 months plus 2 days and I'm gonna be on one of those sleek suckers and sing my ass all the way up into the clouds."

After the bird landed everyone filed into the hootch.

22:25 Hours

"Man, I'm getting sleepy," I yawned.

"Yeah, me too!" Jimmie followed.

Passing Boyd's cubicle, we paused to see what was on TV. Turning on the set, the AFRTN was showing a short film with Sammy Davis Jr. dressed in a cowboy outfit demonstrating his skill as a gun handler. Announcing he held the world's record as the fastest gun twirler, his hands moved like greased lightning. After watching his flawless routine for a few moments I walked to my cubicle and shook the sand off my pillow. Even in a mild wind sand leaking from the sandbags lining the sandbarrels outside the windows constantly blew in covering everything inside.

Looking into the hootch next door, several guys were sitting around a portable record playing Isaac Hayes' "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". Staring at the record as it turned, all 3 were silent. The song was probably making them wonder about what their wives were doing at home.

Laying down on my cot, I folded my arms behind my head. Looking up at the ceiling, I thought about my one-week R and R coming up next month. Robert had teased me at the shift change about my selecting Tokyo. I recalled him asking, "Why don't you go to Melbourne? Aren't you tired of seeing gooks?" Letting him know I had no problem with being around Asians, I told him I wanted to see some real Eastern culture to balance the garbage we had to deal with in Vietnam. He had planned on meeting his wife in Hawaii for his R and R but a recent order from MACV eliminated Hawaii from the R and R list because too many guys were not coming back. Being so close to the continent, Hawaii was too tempting for those who found a short 7 days with their wives too brief.

A few minutes after I laid down, Jimmie turned-off the overhead lights and laid down on his cot. A moment after his head hit his pillow the sound of a huge explosion shattered our ears.

"-------! Those bastards are firing their pop-guns too close tonight!" Jimmie yelled.

I looked at my watch. The time was 22:31.

"This pisses me off!" I scowled. "Those assholes in the 11th sleep all day, then when we get ready to go to bed, they start firing."

Not realizing the campus had just taken a direct hit, we were both under the impression the explosion was an artillery shell being fired into the perimeter by a remote 105-mm rig the 11th set-up about 300 feet behind the campus a week ago. Going through a new TET season, the artillery rounds going out of Bien Hoa was a nightly routine most of us had gotten used to, except tonight's firing was several times louder.

"----!" Boyd complained. "7 hours sleep is all we we're going to get anyway and those artillery rounds'll keep us awake another four!"

"I don't think so," Bill said. "They know were trying to sleep. They were probably just clearing one of their rig's."

No sooner had he finished speaking when another explosion shook the hootch, rocking the foundation and sending several fluorescent tubes crashing to the floor. Jimmie and I leaped from our cots.

"Something's wrong," he stared at me. "I think those suckers are moving that ------- rig closer."

I looked out the front window to see if I could see the battery. Bright orange flames from a huge fire burning somewhere near the Orderly Room was lighting up the entire campus.

"There's a fire outside," I yelled to Jimmie. "I'm going to check it out."

Just as I turned to reach for my pants, the aluminum roof above our heads suddenly shook from the sound of gravel and debris pelting it. As I looked up to see what the noise was, hundreds of tiny holes tore threw the metal. Starlight shined through. Seeing me look up, Jimmie yelled for me to turn away. Covering my face with my hands I turned my head toward my cot. The instant I did a spray of hot gravel pelted the back of my head and neck. When the showering stopped, I took my hands from my face and looked at Jimmie. He was uncovering his face.

"What the hell was that?" I yelled.

"One of their shells must've exploded overhead. We could've been blinded."

"What the hell's going on," Ernie yelled from the front of the hootch, turning on the overhead lights.

"I don't know," Paul yelled back. "But something just flew into the TV and blew out the picture tube."

"There must be rain clouds over Denmark, 'cause something's really ----ing wrong here!" Boyd ran over.

Looking out the window again, the light coming from the flames near the Orderly Room were brighter. Suddenly a man running down the sidewalk, his clothes on fire, screamed "INCOMING....INCOMING!!"

"We're not supposed to get hit on the Army base!" Ernie shouted, running back to my cubicle.

"You tell that to Charlie," Paul came back, his face ashen.

"Maybe we should get the heck out of here," Jimmie yelled over to me. "Maybe we should get our M-16's or something."

"No, let's wait," I told him. "There might be more coming in. We'd be better get to the bunker 1st. We could get hit with shrapnel."

Suddenly, another explosion hit. An instant later the hootch was lit up with a bright red-orange flash. Instinctively, everyone hit the floor. I rolled under my cot, Jimmie rolled under his. Paul and Ernie slid into the cubicle opposite ours.

Laying on our backs we could see an orange light dancing on the ceiling. I felt my forehead start to perspire.

"Something real close is on fire," Jimmie yelled to me. Reaching up to his cot he snatched one of his pillows and pulled it over his head.

"Are you okay?" I asked him.

"Yeah, I'm okay.....what do you think we oughtta do?"

"I think we should get the ---- out of here and make it to the bunker."

"That's a long way, man. Maybe we should wait right here until the All-Clear horn sounds."

"If we get the All-Clear then there's no need to go. I say we go now, there could be more incoming."

The campus sirens began winding up. Mixed with the sounds of screaming and yelling in the distance, the odor of burning wood poured in through the windows. Suddenly the entire company went dark.

"Where'd the lights go?" Jimmie asked, his voice shaking.

"That last explosion must've wiped out the main power line." I told him.

"Where'd that last one hit?" Paul yelled.

"I don't know," I yelled back. "but I think we ought to get out of here."

"If another rocket hit before we got there we could get cut in half." Ernie shouted. "I'm not getting cut in half!"

"Yeah, they told us to grab the floor when Charlie hits. They didn't say ---- about the bunker." Paul yelled."

"These walls ain't nothing but screen wire and plywood. They're not going to stop shrapnel. The bunker'll stop anything." I reminded.

"Not a direct hit!" Jimmie yelled. "Those ----ing sandbarrels weigh a ton."

"I still say we should make it to the bunker. Besides, we've got to find out what's going on."

Nobody spoke. They were scared. I was too.

Listening to the guys in the hootch next door, I could tell they were having the same argument. The sound of mass confusion outside made me want to get the hell out and go somewhere, anywhere. I was beginning to get pissed at myself because I couldn't decide whether I should stay or split. I thought about my chances of making it to the bunker. Considering the odds of having a rocket land on top of me here in the hootch or outside in the bunker seemed about even. A sudden wind change, thrust malfunction, or a deflection caused by a bird, telephone wire, or flag pole could send it straight for me or away from me. Then it suddenly occurred to me that a rocket could just as easily crash through the roof and land on top of my cot as it could land on the top of my head outside. and it really didn't matter where I was, the instant I found myself in the middle of a fireball, I wouldn't be thinking about how the rocket found me, in one instant it would be all around me and the next instant I'd be gone. I wouldn't even feel any pain. My brain would be atomized before it had a chance to remember being blown apart.

In the back of my mind I'd been clocking the time between explosions. In RTT we were taught to keep track of the passing seconds by counting our heartbeats. As the seconds ticked off in my mind I could feel the space between the last explosion increasing.

"Another round should've come in by now!" I yelled to Jimmie. He didn't answer. I looked over at his cot. He was staring at me. Everyone else remained silent. A thick cloud of black smoke rushed in through the window, filling the entire hootch. Yells coming from outside were screaming conflicting orders. One voice screamed for everyone to "Stay down!" Another yelled for us to "Hit the bunkers!" Others were responding "Don't move!" While still others were recommending "Let's get the hell out!"

Blinded by the darkness all around me, a wave of heat spread over my body. Beads of sweat from my forehead rolled back into my hair. I'd been holding on to the cot spring above me, my fingers were starting to get numb. My butt was beginning to sting from the sweat and hardness of the concrete floor beneath me.

Suddenly another rocket hit. The concussion lifted me off thefloor. Hitting the floor again, the back of my head crashed onto the concrete. Then in a flash the decision came. It would be at least another minute before the next rocket hit. That would be more than enough time for me to get out.

Pushing with all my might, I shoved the cot straight up. Bouncing a couple of times on its end, it fell against the window. Leaping to my feet, my head began to throb. It felt as if my heart was pounding inside my neck. Counting my heartbeats, I gave myself till 30 to be outside the hootch and inside the bunker. The feeling was like going out the jump door. You've only got 3 seconds to feel the jolt of the chute opening. If it's not open by the time you've counted up to 5 you know you've only got 5 more seconds to rip out your emergency chute or hit the ground with a splat.

"From this point on," I told myself, "I won't think, I'll just move."

Waving the smoke from my face I pushed aside my wall locker that had fallen across the entrance to the cubicle. Helmets, debris, boots, flak jackets, everything was littered all over the floor. Jumping out into the aisle, I looked down to the front of the hootch. The door was obscured by the smoke.

Hearing me push aside my wall locker and kick debris out of my way, Paul and Jimmie yelled for me to get down. Ignoring them, I didn't answer. All I wanted to think about was heading straight for the door.

Fanning the smoke from my face as I inched forward, it seemed as if every wall locker in the hootch had fallen in the aisle. Shoving them aside, a small patch of light breaking through the smoke revealed the door was only a few feet away. Stretching out my arms I groped through the darkness searching for the feel of screen wire. Just as I my fingers touched it a wall of thick, choking smoke rushed through the door engulfing me. Tearing 1st at my eyes, then burning into my skin, I was pushed back. Falling down, my head crashed onto the floor. My anger at having lost my balance blocked-out the pain of a deep gash opened up by something sharp laying on the floor. Wiping off the blood dripping down the back of my neck, I rubbed it off on my pants.

Turning over on my knees, all I wanted now was to get outside. To hell with the bunker. To hell with rockets. To hell with dying. The smoke falling on my skin felt like pins of acids pushing into every pore. My hair felt like sharp bristles standing on end.

Pulling myself up to my feet I lunged for the door, taking it off one of its hinges as I went through it. Falling into the sandbarrels just outside the door, I paused for a moment to catch my breath. Shaking my head to clear my nose it was then I caught notice of fires raging from the roof of the Day Room. Staggering to the corner of the hootch I was shocked by what I saw. 2 bodies were laying on the ground in front of the shower house, both were nude and laying face down. One was shaking uncontrollably. The ground around them was completely littered with burning wood. Looking to my right toward the hootches next door, another nude GI was laying on the ground behind one of the sandbarrels outside its front door yelling "MEDIC! MEDIC!" Shaking his head hysterically, his hand ran up and down his thigh. His foot twitched.

Looking around the campus, people were crouching everywhere. The bunker near the Orderly Room was filled. 2 jeeps sped down the side road. Several GI's trying to hitch a ride out of campus were running behind them. The jeeps didn't stop.

Breathing deeply, I could feel my lungs fill with air. Looking back at the GI on the ground, he was still yelling for a medic. Immediately, I hit the ground and scrambled on my hands and knees to him. It was the longest crawl I'd ever made in the shortest distance.

When I got to him he grabbed my T-shirt, yanking me closer. His face and body were covered with soapy water and sand. His short hair was packed with tiny chunks of concrete. He had apparently just run out of the shower house.

"Are you a medic?" he grimaced.

Still coughing smoke, I was unable to speak.

"Are you a medic?" He repeated.

"No," someone behind me answered. "He's one of ours."

The voice was familiar. I looked over my shoulder. It was Early.

Catching my breath, I was finally able to speak. "Who is this guy? I don't recognize him." I asked.

"He's with the 11th. His name is Jackson. He was visiting me and Ray."

Releasing his grip, Jackson slumped to his side. His hand fell over a large round hole in the middle of his thigh. A two-inch piece of twisted metal stuck out. Another 2 inches were buried deep inside.

Looking at the rest of his body, his entire right side was covered with more than 2 dozen tiny shrapnel holes. The mixture of sand, powder, and soapy water were preventing them from bleeding.

Grabbing my shirt again, he pulled his faced up to mine.

"Pull it out, its still hot."

"No, we can't do that." I told him.

"He's right," Early slid up. "It's gotta be x-rayed."

"C'mon, you guys can take it out," he pleaded. "I know you can."

"You're're okay!" I told him.

"You're not lying to me are you?"

We were trained in Basic never to tell a wounded man how bad his wounds were. Finding out he was seriously wounded, a man sometimes went into shock and never come out. We were instructed to convince him he was all right and that help was on the way, even if we knew he may be dead in the next few minutes and help would never arrive in time. But too many people, like this GI, seemed to forget that training when they got wounded. He was probably one of those whose mind was on cloud nine during his 1st aid class. But I wasn't. Remembering what we were taught, I used it on him.

"I can see all your wounds," I told him. "You've got a lot of them but whatever that powder is, it's stopped the bleeding. Just lay here and you'll be okay." I didn't learn until a few minutes later that the powder covering him was vaporized cement from the concrete shower stalls.

I looked up at the Early. He picked-up my lead.

"Yeah man, he's're not hurt as bad as you think you are."

Shaking his head, Jackson refused to believe us.

"Here, look!" I told him, pointing to the large wound on his leg.

Turning away, he was afraid to look.

"Damn it, look!" I yelled.

Covering his eyes, he turned back. Slowly, he lowered his hand. Squinting his eyes, he looked down at his leg. Seeing his wounds weren't serious, his face relaxed.

"See, we said you were okay."

"Yeah, see." Early followed.

Pointing to the hootch, I asked Early to get a blanket while I laid Jackson on his back.

Running back out, we covered him.

"I was in the went up....there wasn't anything I could do for the other happened too fast."

"No sweat," Early told him. "You're okay now."

Looking up toward the shower house, ten-foot high flames were leaping from a large gaping hole in its side. Part of its roof had caved-in and a maze of twisted pipes and broken 2-by-4's were sticking out. One of its louvered window shutters was hanging in splinters, the other was completely blown off. Water, spraying from a burst water pipe, flooded out the doorway. Sections of the roof were strewn about the ground.

The entire campus seemed to glow bright orange from the flames. Chaos was everywhere. Looking toward the Orderly Room again, a crowd of people were kneeling between hootches and behind sandbarrels. Several men ran from the Orderly Room to the front bunker then back again. Looking toward Rome's hootch, he and a crowd of guys were crouched behind the sandbarrels in front of the door.

Looking back at the shower house, 2 guys were dragging one of the wounded toward the bunker. Unconsciously, I stood up and began walking toward it.

"Where ya going?" Jackson yelled.

I looked down at him but didn't answer.

"I think there're some other guys still in there," Early shouted.

As I walked out onto the sidewalk 2 more guys were running from the front bunker. Grabbing the other wounded man by the wrists and ankles they picked him up and ran back to the bunker. The wounded GI appeared to be more stunned than hurt.

As I reached the sidewalk leading into the shower house I could feel the heat from the flames burning the Day Room on my back. Turning around, several guys were on their hands and knees scooping sand from the ground and throwing it on the flames. Several other guys, carrying blankets from the supply hootch, ran toward the Day Room and began beating the flames but the blankets caught fire. Running over to help, I grabbed one of the blankets and began beating at the flames near the front door. A second later my blanket also caught on fire. Stamping it with my feet, a voice to my right yelled, "Get it wet!" Looking up, Dormally shouted to me.

From the crowded doorway of the bunker, he pointed to the shower house. He yelled again, "Get it wet Coleman! On the ground near the shower....get it wet!"

Confused, I turned around and looked back at the shower house. Seeing water rushing from underneath the door, I realized what he meant. Dragging the half-burned blanket behind me, I ran back to the sidewalk just outside the shower house. Huge flames were still leaping from the hole in its side. A half-dozen streams of water poured from the mangled pipes lining the walls.

Laying the blanket on the wet ground, I slid it around with my feet. Completely soaked, I picked it up, ran back to the Day Room, and began beating at the flames near the door again. Pushed back by a sudden roar exploding out the door, I jumped back. Seeing me overcome, Dormally ran over and grabbed the blanket from my hands. Pushing me out of the way, he yelled, "Get back, I'll take over."

As he ran to the wet the blanket again, more blankets were brought over from the Supply Room by one of the supply Sergeants. Dropping them in a puddle O'Feeney yelled for some of the guys in the bunker to come over to help. Nobody moved. Their faces blank, most were in shock. Suddenly, there was a loud crash behind me. Turning around, a huge section of the shower house roof caved in. A second later someone ran out. His clothes covered with white soot.

Rubbing his eyes, he dropped to his knees. Placing his palms on the wet sidewalk he swished them in the running water then rubbed them over his face.

Running over, I grabbed an arm and pulled him to his feet. O'Feeney grabbed his other arm.

"Were you in there when it went up?" O'Feeney asked.

"Yeah....I was in the can...."

Overcome, his knees buckled. O'Feeney and I pulled him to his feet again and dragged him toward the center sidewalk. Sitting him down, O'Feeney slapped his face a couple times. He opened his eyes.

"Is there anybody else inside?" O'Feeney yelled.

Dazed, the GI had trouble hearing.


"Was there anybody else in there?" O'Feeney shouted again.

"Yeah....a coupla guys....taking a shower I think...."

Dropping his head on his chest, he passed out. O'Feeney and I laid him on his back. Running his hands across the GI's body, O'Feeney searched for a wound. The GI's only problem seemed to be shock.

Looking toward the bunker I yelled for help but again, nobody moved. It was obvious they were afraid they'd be caught in the open if another rocket came in. I couldn't blame them.

"Let's drag him to the bunker." I yelled to O'Feeney.

Grabbing both wrists, we dragged him to the bunker. When we got within a few feet of it 2 guys ran out and helped pull him inside.

"Let's check out the shower house!" O'Feeney yelled, running toward it.

I followed.

Stopping just outside, half of the front door was laying in the middle of the campus 20 feet away, the other half blocked the entrance. In less than a second a broken water pipe soaked us from head to foot. I pushed my face into the spray to clear the smoke burn in my eyes and soot on my face. Ignoring the water, O'Feeney grabbed the door and tried to pull it off its one remaining hinge but heat from the fire had welded it into the door frame. Motioning for him to back away, I kicked at it. After 3 good tries it broke loose, falling to the ground. Tossing it aside, we looked into the darkness. Smoke, spraying water, and a huge sheet of twisted aluminum from the roof obscured our view.

Grabbing it, we pulled it outside. The instant it cleared the doorway someone came charging out. Holding his left wrist, his right hand, shirt, and right pant leg were covered with blood. A jagged eight-inch gash running from his shoulders to his elbow had been torn open by shrapnel. The wound was encrusted with black soot. His contorted face revealed the pain of his injury. With all the blood on him I was surprised he'd made it out.

O'Feeney was the 1st to grab him. Pulling him to the center sidewalk, he yelled for help. 2 micro techs ran from their hootch. Placing the man over their shoulder, they carried him toward the Orderly Room.

O'Feeney ran back to the shower house. The fire continued to spread.

"This place looks like it's gonna go any minute now." He yelled.

"What d'you want to do?" I asked, afraid to chance going in.

"We could be heroes and see if there's anybody still left in there or we can make it to the bunker."

Sticking my head inside, I waved the smoke from my face. "Did that guy say there was anybody left?" I asked.

"He's out of it. I don't think he can talk even if he wanted to."

Suddenly a large beam running the length of the shower house crashed to the floor opening up a huge hole. Light from the sky was now illuminating the inside.

"See anything?" I asked.

"Not a thing."

Along with Dormally, 2 more guys from the micro hootch ran over. It was Bill and Tim.

"What're you guys gonna do?" Bill asked.

"I think we should try going in through the side and see if anybody else is still in there!" O'Feeney answered, wiping water from his forehead.

"Not from this end," I yelled. "There's too much ---- in the way. We wouldn't get half-way."

"Wait a minute!" Tim yelled, looking inside. "It's looks like a light near the back door!"

Turning around, we all stared back inside, stretching our necks to look through the smoke.

"Yeah, I see him!" O'Feeney yelled. "Over there, near the stalls!"

Probing the wreckage, the light danced around in the smoke and darkness growing brighter as it got closer.

"Let's go to the side where the hole is," Bill suggested. "He's not gonna be able to get out this way. He'll have to come out through the hole or turn around and go back the way he came in."

Immediately we all ran to the side. The space between the shower house and the cooks hootch was only 5 feet. Concrete, wood, metal, and screen wire littered the soaking ground. Our feet sunk into the wet sand.

Arriving at the hole, the rocket had made a direct hit on the wall holding the urinals. Thick black smoke still poured out over bright yellow flames melting the screen wire lining the windows of the cook's hootch. Several cooks inside were huddled behind a wall locker. Another one was standing near the window staring into the shower house.

"He's dead I tell you....he's dead?" He yelled to us.

"Who's dead?" Dormally shouted back.

"He's dead....he's dead!"

I turned to look back into the shower. Except for the flashlight getting closer, it was too dark to see anything.

"You see anybody in there, Coleman?"


I turned back to the cook. He continued to scream someone was dead. I yelled to him, "Where is he. I don't see anything!"

"There....right there!"

Just then the GI carrying the flashlight came through the hole. It was Rome. Holding up their hands to grab him, Bill and Tim helped pull Rome through the jagged hole. Out of breath, Rome dropped the flashlight and leaned over, resting his palms on his knees.

"You see anybody in there, Rome?" O'Feeney asked.

"Let him catch his breath 1st." I yelled.

"No, I'm alright." Rome stopped me. "That place is screwed up in there. I couldn't get any further."

"The front door is completely blocked off". I told him, picking up the flashlight. "The only way in or out now is through this opening and the back door."

Suddenly another pipe burst. Water gushed out and sprayed us. I jumped back and wiped the water from my face.

"Is there anybody else in there as far as you can tell?" O'Feeney asked him again. "This guy in the hootch behind us keeps yelling somebody in there is dead but we can't see far enough inside."

"I don't know," Rome answered. "I didn't see anybody."

"He's dead I tell ya....he's dead." The cook yelled again.

"Goddammit! Who's dead?" Dormally yelled back. Reaching into the window he grabbed the cook by the collar. "We don't see anybody."

Tim pulled at my shirt sleeve. "Let's have a look with that flashlight."

I turned it on and angled the beam into the darkness, darting it from one corner to the next. Flashing it under a pile of roof debris near one of the shower stall walls, the cook yelled again.

"No, you passed him!"

I flashed the light in the cooks face.

"Where is he then?" I yelled back.

"Ten o'clock....flash it at ten o''ll see'll see I'm right."

I turned the beam back into the hole. Moving it counter-clockwise, I estimated where the cook told us to look. Slowly passing it up from the floor to the top of the shower stall it passed over a questionable form.

"Wait a minute," Bill yelled. "Turn the light back over there."

I handed the flashlight to Bill. "I don't see anything. You do it."

Bill then shot the light back to where he thought he'd seen something. Then we saw him. Hanging on the concrete wall of the shower stall his body had been speared in the chest by a two-by-four. Covered with dust from the vaporized cement of the stall, there was nothing we could do for him. He had obviously been taking a shower when the rocket hit. The blast had hit the wall with so much force the 2-by-4 was sent flying like an arrow. Next to his body 100 splinters stuck deep inside the concrete.

"That's all she wrote." Dormally spoke.

"Yeah, we'd better hit the bunker." Tim agreed.

Taking off, O'Feeney ran back to the Supply Room. The rest of us ran to the front bunker. It was packed. Water from my hair rolled into my eyes. Smoke pouring out of the Day Room cut visibility to less than 3 feet. The campus siren was still wailing and from a distance the air base sirens began cranking up.

From the door of the bunker I looked back at the shower house. Getting inside would be more difficult now. The power pole standing just outside the door had collapsed. Its live wires bouncing on the wet ground in front of the door dared anyone to try entering. Anyone touching the shower house's metal walls while standing on the wet ground would be in for a shock.

People were still racing from the nearby hootches shoving their way into the bunker, already filled with people from the Orderly Room and NCO club. Some of the newcomers were diving into the men standing in the doorway. After a few minutes the shoving became intense. The men jammed in the back of the bunker began screaming they couldn't breathe. Noticing some of the 5-hundred pound sandbarrels shaking, Dormally and I yelled for everyone to stop pushing. We were ignored.

"This is bull----," I told him. "Some of these jerks are panicking. I'm splitting."

"Where ya going?"

"Down to the end bunker. These guys are going to knock this one over."

Pushing my way out I darted to the Orderly Room. One of the clerks was on the phone to the 20th Engineer company looking for a bolt cutter to cut the lock off the Arms Room door. Apparently the clerks who worked the armory were away from campus and took the key with them.

"That's really ----in' smart!" The clerk yelled. "What if Charlie starts barreling down our throats. What're we supposed to use to stop him?"

"That's what happened in '68," another clerk added. "Charlie rocketed us instead of the air base and then came over the wire."

Leaving the Orderly Room, I raced to the sandbarrels in front of the Day Room. The fire inside was almost out. After pausing to catch my breath, I ran down the front of each hootch stopping briefly behind their sandbarrels.

When I finally arrived at the doorway of the rear bunker, I paused to catch my breath. The instant I opened my mouth to cough some of the smoke out of my lungs I was shoved inside by someone charging behind me. Pushing me to the bench on the opposite wall, I grabbed his shirt and pulled him to me. I couldn't see his face. It was pitch black inside.

"What the hell are you doing?" I yelled.

"It's me, dude. Who'd you think it was?"

It was Dormally! He'd been trailing me all the way.

Pushing him aside, I stood up and moved back to the doorway.

"Anybody else in here?" Dormally yelled out.

"Just me and the rats." someone yelled back.

"Who is it?" I called out.

Without answering, he fired a .45 round into the wall, its flash momentarily lit up the inside. Startled, Dormally jumped up and pushed me through the doorway.

"He's trying to kill us." He yelled.

"No I'm not," a voice answered. "I'm just trying to scare the ----ing rats outta here."

"Who the hell are you?" I asked again, sticking my head inside.

"It's me, George."

"You're crazy, man!" Dormally yelled at him, waving his arms wildly. "You shouldn't be shooting a gun off. Half the crazies on campus is gonna think Charlie's attacking us."

"Better that than gettin' bit by a rat!" George yelled back.

"You little dip----! I oughtta take that gun and...."

Dormally moved toward George, I grabbed his shirt.

"Cool it, man. He's right! You want to die from rabies?"

Pushing Dormally outside, I asked George if he'd seen any of the other guys from the hootch.

"Those chicken---- bastards are still in there hiding under their cots. I told 'em I'd kill the rats but they still wouldn't come out."

He fired another round in the wall.

"I think you got 'em all, George. You can put that gun away now."

"Naw, man. You can never kill 'em all. Rats've been around since the dawn of time. A ----in' rat took over Disneyland!"

"Ah ha! I got you now, you crazy bastard!" Dormally yelled. "A rat didn't take over Disneyland. It was a ----in' mouse!"

"A mouse?"

"Yeah, asshole. Mickey Mouse!"

George didn't speak.

"Say something, asshole!" Dormally yelled at him.

His eyes glazed, George stood up and walked toward the door. The .45 hung at his side. "Where did I go wrong? I've been here so long I forgot Mickey was a ------- mouse."

Looking around at the thick smoke and burning buildings, he stepped outside the bunker.

"I think I'm gonna go home now. I've been here too long."

Letting the .45 drop at his side, he ran off into the night.

"Goddammit!" I yelled to Dormally. "Look what you did. If anything happens to him it's gonna be your ass!"

"---- him! He's better off splittin'."

I grabbed Dormally's collar. I felt like putting my foot in his mouth.

After holding him for a few seconds, I pushed him away. He offered no resistance.

"We're going to have to get Jimmie and the rest of the guys out of the hootch."

"You go. I've already done my good deed. I'm not leaving this ----in' bunker!"

"The hell with you then!"

Picking up the .45, I pushed it in my belt then ran toward the hootch.

Reaching the door I pressed my face against the screen. It was still filled with smoke. I couldn't see a foot past the door.

Coughing, I cleared my throat then yelled inside. "Hey you guys, it's me, Phill. Let's get the hell outta there!"

Complete silence.

I yelled again.

"C'mon, let's go! Let's go! I've been in the bunker, it's safer!"

Still no movement.

Glancing back down at the front of the campus, the flames in the Day Room started up again. I tried calling them by name.

"Jimmie! It's me, Phill! C'mon, get outta there!"

It worked! A wall locker rattled. I called the others.

"Paul! Robin! Jeff! Ralph! Norm! Let's go!"

I could now hear movement all over the hootch.

Suddenly Paul appeared at the doorway, his face ashen. Pulling the door open for him, he charged out. Leaping over the sandbarrels, he charged straight for the bunker. After that Robin tore through. Running smack into the sandbarrels, he flipped over, head 1st. Picking himself up, he hobbled to the bunker. After him Ernie appeared, then Ralph, then Norman. Jimmie brought up the rear. Jimmie took the longest to get out because he was farthest away.

Realizing I hadn't counted bodies, I stuck my head in the doorway to listen for more movement. All I could hear was Paul's voice behind me yelling for me to run to the bunker.

"That's everybody, Phill. We're all out!"

I let the door fall on its one hinge and ran for the bunker.

Paul and Rome were waiting for me outside.

"Where'd you come from?" I asked Rome, out of breath. "I thought you were still in the front bunker."

Looking toward the Orderly Room, he didn't answer.

"C'mon dude, what's up?" I asked again.

Turning towards me, his face was blank. He looked as if every emotion in his soul had been ripped out of him.

"Charlie's got the c's on the campus. We're gonna have to get the ---- out of here."


Raising his voice, he repeated himself. "I'm telling you, they've got the coordinates on the campus!"

I looked at Paul. He shrugged his shoulders.

I looked back at Rome. Staring toward the front of the campus again, his face now appeared relaxed. He was always sure about his feelings. Being right most of the time, he had reason to be.

Pointing toward the Day Room, then at the shower house, he calmly stated. "Direct hits, Phill. Can't you see?"

"No, see what?"

"Direct hits hits! The 2 most heavily populated buildings on campus at this time of night and they got hit."

Looking at the Day Room, then at the shower house, it suddenly occurred to me what he meant. Paul saw it too. He was the 1st to speak. "-------, Rome's right!"

Turning toward the road, Rome pointed toward the perimeter. "Look at all the open space around us. You gonna tell me Charlie tags a Phantom hangar one out of a thousand tries and now he's able to hit our buildings the 1st time? The odds are too great. We're gonna have to get the ---- out of here!"

Suddenly Angus appeared. Charging at a full sprint he dove into the bunker, pushing Paul and I aside. Jimmie rushed over to grab him before he fell off the bench.

Ignoring Angus' entry, Rome said again, "We're gonna have to get outta here."

Catching his breath, Angus shouted "No! The guys at the Orderly Room....they got a call from Brigade....a Colonel there said anybody leaving the company will be charged with desertion."

"What did the CO say?" I asked.

"The CO's not here."

"Where is he?" Rome asked.

"Nobody knows. They think he's either at a meeting in Long Bihn or in the ville gettin' laid."

"Well he's not in the ville, I can vouch for that." Robin yelled out.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rome asked, looking into the bunker.

"I talked to him about that. He made some kind of promise to his wife he wouldn't screw around. I know he's not in the ville."

"Then he's at a meeting." I concluded.

"Bull----!" Rome glared at me. "At this time of night?"

"What about Top?" I yelled to Angus.

"He's gone too! They say he's at the Special Forces camp gettin toasted at the bar."

"And the XO?" I asked.

"That chicken---- panicked and tried to of the Sergeants had to tackle him. They've got him pinned on the floor of the bunker near the CO's hootch. He's screamin' his crazy head off."

"Motherrrfuuuck!" Rome yelled, pushing his fingers through his hair.

"It's a set-up! The CO sold-out to Charlie!"

"What the hell you talking about, dude?" I yelled to him, placing my hand on his chest.

"It's a set-up I tell you!"

Grabbing his shirt, I pulled him away from the doorway. "Cool it dude. You're gonna set these guys off!"

"---- it, man!" He yelled back, pulling away from me.

"He's right, Phill!" Jeff yelled, stepping outside. "We're gonna have to get out of here. There could be a ground attack any second. We should be at the perimeter."

"We've got no guns!" Angus yelled. "They can't get the Arms Room opened. The guy with the key disappeared."

"Then we'll break the ----in' door down!" Paul yelled.

"I'm for it!" Rome yelled. "Let's do it!"

Suddenly a black Major from the 1st Cav appeared. Running from the Orderly Room, he leaned on the doorpost to cough smoke from his lungs.

"Who's in charge of this bunker?" He wheezed.

"No one," I replied.

"No one, yet." Jimmie followed.

"Look," he stood up, his right hand pressing his chest. "Nobody leaves the area until it's been approved."

"Who the ---- are you?" Rome yelled at him.

"What's your rank, soldier?" The Major yelled back.

"Human, mother----er! Human ----in' being. What's yours!"

Staring at Rome, he glanced at the ground then back up to Rome.

"Are you a Lieutenant Colonel?"

Rome didn't answer.

"Well if you're not a ------- Colonel then you don't outrank me. That means you do what I say....savve?"

"What's the deal?" I jumped in, grabbing the Major by his arm.

"Who are you?" he yelled, wheeling around.

"Same as him, human being. Now what's the deal?"

"What's with you people? Is everybody around here rank shy?"

"Our uncle told us not to talk to strangers. We don't give our rank and we don't say what we do." Paul spoke out.

Turning to look at Paul, the Major put his hands on his waist. His face frustrated.

"Spies! ------- spies! The whole ------- lot!"

"We're not spies." I yelled back.

"Well look, people! I don't give a flying ---- what you do or what your rank is, you're still GI's. and somebody's gonna have to take charge. Now I was driving by when somebody trying to kill you spy assholes almost got me. So since I'm the guy with the most brass, that makes me in charge!"

"I'll take charge!" Jimmie stepped out.

"And what's your rank?"

Jimmie paused, then answered. "Let's put it this way, I'm the oldest."

Shaking his head, the Major spit on the ground.

"And how the ---- old are you?"

"I turned 21 yesterday."

"That makes you really qualified, huh?"

"I've killed 7 VC so far. You want to see my medals or something?"

The Majors frown straightened out.

Looking at each one of us, he stopped back at Jimmie.

"7, huh?"


"21, huh?"


"Okay, '21', you're in charge! Everybody stays until the All-Clear sounds. This is not a general strike. A combat analysis team is on the way."

"What about guns?" I asked.

"I repeat, this is not a general strike. We're not going to have a bunch of panicky guys running around with loaded guns."

"Yeah," Rome snipped. "Somebody might make the mistake of thinking we're over here to fight a war or something."

Ignoring Rome, the Major turned to Jimmie and returned his salute.

"You're it 21. Keep these guys in line."

Turning around, he charged off toward the Orderly Room.

"You're gonna listen to him?" Rome yelled to Jimmie.

"We're gonna wait and see." I jumped in. "He may be right. Maybe this was just a random hit."

"Hell, half the guys in their right minds have already left the ------- doesn't take a half-ounce of brains to realize when you've been set-up." Rome shouted back.

"Well, we may've been set-up like you say," Jimmie stood up to Rome. "But we've still gotta protect the company. We'll hang out here until things stabilize."

Suddenly another body flew into the bunker.

"Who're you?" Robin yelled.

It's me, Chowsey. Don't shoot!"

Staring at him for a moment, everybody started laughing. His answer broke the tension. Chowsey's real name was Charles. Because we couldn't use his real nickname, Charlie, we changed it to Chowsey. Chowsey ran the Arms Room.

"Where've you been?" Jimmie yelled at him. "Everybody's been looking for you!"

"I've been here! When I heard the 1st explosion I was near the Orderly Room bunker."

"Why didn't you let somebody know?" I asked him.

"I didn't know anybody was looking for me. Besides, I was stuck in the back."

"Why'd you leave now?" Paul asked him.

"I heard some guy in the doorway talking about shooting me 'cause I wasn't at the Arms Room to unlock the M-16's. But I wasn't gone, I just couldn't get out."

"How'd you get out then?" Paul asked.

"I yelled out that I was a medic. You shoulda seen the asses spread. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea."

"What'd you do then?" Paul asked.

"The instant they let me out, I split."

"Okay, so we're back at square one!" Rome stated, turning to Jimmie.

"Yeah, so we still stay." Jimmie asserted.

Pausing for a moment, Rome stared at Jimmie, then acquiesced. "Okay. We stay."

I could feel the tension around the bunker dissipate. Up to now everyone on campus, whether they liked Rome or not, listened to him.

"But what about the rockets?" Robin yelled out. "There could be more comin' in."

"Wasn't no rocket." Chowsey yelled out. "Those were satchel charges!"

"Satchel charges? You're out of your ------- mind! How the hell could Charlie hide a satchel charge in the Day Room or shower house?" Rome yelled back.

"One of the mama-sahn's must've hid 'em!"

"Yeah," Paul stated. "Any mama-sahn could've left a grenade or some kinda time bomb ready to blow."

"You guys are having nightmares." Rome asserted. "All of our mama-sahns have been checked and re-checked....."

"Yeah, checked by some ----head." Paul interjected.

Before Rome could make another reply a voice from the rear of the bunker yelled out, "I'll tell all you something....I'll listen to you argue about it tomorrow. Right now I'm getting the hell out of here!"

It was Ernie. Jumping off the bench he tore out of the bunker.

Watching Ernie run off down the road, Jimmie yelled out. "Nobody leaves here! We're all staying until the CO gets back!"

It was too late. Ernie was out of earshot.

"I'll tell you something, Jimmie," Rome pointed to him. "Somebody ought to decide to abandon this campus because if those weren't satchel charges, Charlie's got the coordinates for sure. And....."

Suddenly the All-Clear siren blasted, drowning Rome out.

Everyone looked toward the Orderly Room. The Condition Red flag was being brought down from the flag pole and the yellow Caution flag hoisted up.

Stepping outside the Orderly Room room doorway, the 1st Cav Major cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled, "Okay, it's all over! Everyone back to the hootches!"

"That's it!" Jimmie pointed to Rome. "It's all over."

"It's not all over," Rome replied. "Charlie's got the c's on the campus. An hour from now he's going to learn he's scored direct hits and he'll start hitting us again."

Looking into Rome's eyes, Jimmie didn't answer.

I grabbed Jimmie's arm. Moving toward our hootch, I pulled him.

Rome gave me an expression as if I betrayed him by siding with Jimmie.

"Et tu Phille'?" Rome looked at me.

"It's over, dude. Let's go to bed." I answered.

Just then one of the microwave Sergeants ran down the center sidewalk.

"Everyone back to their hootches. We don't want anybody in the way!"

"In the way of what?" Robin asked.

"We've got some wounded. We need to get them out without having to get through a crowd of people."

"Well, we're leaving." Jimmie informed him. "We're going to bed."

Running to the door of each hootch, the Sergeant yelled inside, "If anybody is wounded in there come out to the sidewalk!"

"You'd better add if they can still walk, asshole." Rome shouted to him.

Glancing at Rome, the Sergeant yelled again. "Yeah, if you're wounded and can walk come out to the sidewalk. If you can't walk come out and let us know."

"What a dumb ----." Rome mumbled, shaking his head.

Pausing in front of our hootch, Jimmie and I looked toward the bunker near the Orderly Room. As it emptied we noted the large number of people filing out.

"That bunker was only built for fifteen. There must've been 40 guys in there." Jimmie remarked.

"There's no way 100-and-50 guys could've fit in four bunkers." I agreed.

Right behind us, Rome noticed it too. "Unless the CO was thinking half of us would get killed."

Jimmie and I ignored his comment.

As we watched a group of 1st Cav officers direct people back to their hootches, a hint of control was being restored. But far from indicating complete restoration, the sky above the campus was still red from the flames burning inside the Day Room and shower house.

Emergency vehicles flashing their lights and blaring their sirens began arriving from the base hospital. Racing inside the smoke-filled hootches looking for anyone wounded, medics shouted for the wounded to yell out where they were. Discovering a wounded body crammed under a cot or laying unconscious behind a sandbarrel, a medic could be heard yelling, "I got one over here!"

Using blankets for make-shift stretchers, campus personnel began carrying the guys who couldn't walk out to the sidewalk as medics placed huge canisters of medical equipment and OD-green body bags every ten feet or so. Yelling the same command repeatedly, another group of medics shouted from loudspeakers for the wounded to come out to the center sidewalk. The medics took their job seriously and they did it professionally.

A fleet of choppers began arriving from the airbase. Crisscrossing the sky just above the fires leaping from the rooftops, their bright white searchlights blazed down on the shower house and Day Room. In the distance the roar of the F-4 Phantoms on the airbase were winding up for an emergency take-off.

A small convoy of jeeps screeched to a halt just outside the road near the Orderly Room. Quickly jumping out, a group of Combat Analysis Team officers wearing freshly starched fatigues and yellow "CAT" arm bands scattered from the shower house to the Day Room and back to the shower house again. Pausing every few moments to scratch a note or 2 on their clipboards, they sifted through debris in both buildings to search for bomb fragments. Piecing together whatever they could find would tell them how Charlie was able to slam home runs into the campus.

Walking into our hootch, Jimmie and I went straight to our cubicle.

It didn't take long for the CAT team to net several prize finds. Words of their discoveries sent electric shocks throughout the campus. Hootch after hootch was notified by a runner that the fragments found were determined to have been 105-mm rockets.

"105's hit us!" Jimmie stared at me. "How the hell did Charlie get hold of a 105?"

"I don't know man. I thought we were the only ones who used those over here."

We were. The 105-mm Howitzer was a portable, well-tooled piece of artillery. It's rocket was both light and accurate. It was silent in flight and the bulk of its payload was devoted to explosive rather than propellent.

As each hootch was notified, a loud roar followed. Storming out into the center of campus, the hootches emptied. With Rome taking the lead, they marched to the Orderly Room.

"We want to know what you've got!" They demanded, blocking the doorway.

They were immediately ordered back to their hootches by the 1st Cav Major.

"Look people, we're doing everything we can to find out what's going on. You're just impeding our investigation!"

"Well we've got a right to know where Charlie got an American 105!" Rome shouted back. Several men behind him yelled, "Right on!"

"Okay, okay. We know how you feel." He yelled back, holding his hands in the air.

Just then a CAT officer ran out of the Orderly Room and handed the Major a note. Reading it, the Major informed the crowd what it said.

"According to this note we're now positive the shells were definitely 105's. The rocket fragments are unmistakable. We've found a half-melted piece of metal with tiny patches of our OD paint on it."

"Is that it?" Rome asked.

"We also know the rockets were fired by a rig and not by a homemade launcher. We have reason to suspect Charlie either captured a rig intact or pieced one together from several broken ones. The Cav is sending patrols out right now to search for it."

"And that puts an end to any speculation about your maids bringing satchel charges into the company." The CAT officer followed.

Just then the airbase sirens began winding down.

"That's a relief," The Major smiled. "Those ------- things were driving me crazy."

"So what's next?" Rome asked.

Before the Major could answer, a chopper crossing above veered off toward the perimeter. Noticing it, the Major yelled to the CAT officer to find out what was happening. Running into the Orderly Room, he came right back out with another note in his hand. Giving it to the Major, it too was read out loud.

"This is from one of the chopper pilots. 'Contact on perimeter. Rocket launcher found.'"

Except for Rome, the crowd around the Major leaped and shouted. Running back to their hootches, they informed the other people still inside.

Remaining with Rome, Randy smiled at him. "C'mon dude, aren't you glad? They found the rig!"

Staring at the Major, Rome frowned.

"That was too easy man. We've never found a launcher that quick."

"Maybe that's because we've never had so many men looking for one." The Major frowned back.

"I don't believe it." Rome threw up his hands. "A 105's got at least a ten-mile range. Why would Charlie drag it this close?"

"Maybe he wanted to make sure he hit the buildings and not the road." The Major answered.

"I still don't believe it!"

"Well you probably wouldn't believe there were UFO's if one landed on your head." The Major snapped back. Turning around, he and the CAT officer walked back to the Orderly Room.

Rome and Randy walked back to their hootch. Jimmie and I walked back to ours.

Seeing flares being shot up from the perimeter, Jimmie and I looked out the back window. A dozen choppers cruising the perimeter converged on one spot. From our distance their bright white search lights looked like huge legs the choppers seemed to walk on.

The last ambulance departing the company was now speeding down the gravel road toward the Base Hospital. Because it's siren and red emergency light were off, the medics waiting for it to arrive would know its cargo was not seriously wounded. The wounded were always evacuated in line of their medical priority. The guys who panicked were always the last to be med-evac'ed. Where the Army failed in military accomplishment, they succeeded in orderliness.

A voice from the front of the hootch yelled for everyone inside to come out for another briefing. Standing just outside the rear bunker, the 1st Cav Major informed everyone the attack was over. The CAT Lieutenant stood at his side. Several medics near the shower house were sprinkling anti-bacterial powder on the puddles of blood near the door. Shaken from cans that looked like kitchen cleanser, the powder had a nauseous odor.

"You guys must've done something Charlie didn't like." The Major told us. "But you came through it just fine. Out of the 5 rockets that hit you've only sustained one death and thirteen wounded. Those are good numbers for this kind of attack."

"What about Charlie?" someone yelled. "Did any of the choppers find any VC?"

"No, we're sorry to report no enemy captures."

"What about the rig?" Rome asked.

"Rusted and old, but operable."

"Is anybody checking to verify it was the one used on us?"

The CAT Lieutenant, he shook his head. "No, that hasn't been verified yet. But I'm sure someone is looking into it."

"What about a ground attack?" Another guy asked.

"The Cav has reported no ground activity. It looks like this was just an isolated incident."

"What about getting power back on?" Someone yelled.

"The engineers are coming over to work on it.

"What about the CO?" Another person asked.

"We're trying to locate him right now. In the meantime we'll be placing someone in charge."

"I hope not the ----in' XO!" Rome yelled.

"No, he's been sedated and is tied-up in a straight-jacket."

"What's gonna happen to him?" Ernie asked.

"When he recovers he's going to have a lot of explaining to do."

"He'll probably get sent home." Rome commented.

"Yes, he probably will."

Suddenly Boyd fell to the ground. Surprised, everyone looked down at him, their mouths hanging open. Shaking and kicking wildly, Boyd screamed, "I'm crazy....I'm panicking....send me home....send me home!"

Realizing it was just another one of his weird jokes, everyone laughed. Paul and Robin pulled him to his feet.

"Okay everybody, fun's over." The Major yelled, quieting the crowd. "The attack is over. I think all of you should go back to bed and get some sleep. We've got clean up teams coming in to straighten things out. By the time you get up tomorrow morning you won't even know what happened."

"Are they gonna bring in a new shower house and Day Room?" Rome shouted.

"Those'll be the only 2 reminders. Now go back to your hootches and get some sleep."

Dispersing, everyone filed back to their hootches, most of which were still dark from the loss of power.

Everyone was sitting in Ernie's cubicle when Jimmie and I walked back inside the hootch. A flashlight standing on its end was aimed at the ceiling.

"That was a bitch!" Robin sighed.

"What took you snails so long to get out?" I asked, drying off.

"It wasn't that long." Paul answered. "You just got out faster. You know how quick you jungle bunnies move."

Jimmie tossed a pillow at him.

"Anybody check out the Day Room?" I asked.

"Yeah, I went in." Jeff answered. "Everybody can be damn glad they didn't show a movie tonight. 100 guys would've been crispy critters right now."

"God must've been looking out for us tonight!" Jeff crossed his heart.

"Yeah, but he wasn't looking out for the guys taking a shower." Jeff followed. "And who was it who said cleanliness is next to godliness."

"That wasn't funny." Jimmie scolded.

"Sorry 'bout that."

"What d'you guys think about what Rome said?" I asked.

"I think one day he's gonna get himself in trouble. Spouting off at that Major in front of everybody wasn't real smart." Ernie answered.

"But I'm talking about what he said, not when he said it. What do you think about Charlie getting a 105 rig?"

"Seems likely," Jimmie answered. "He gets hold of everything else. I wouldn't be surprised if the Atomic Energy Commission sold him a hydrogen bomb."

"Well I don't know about you guys," Ernie broke in. "But I'm tired. You guys are going to have to clear out."

"Yeah," I agreed, standing up. "It's time to call it quits."

Walking to our cubicle, Jimmie and I sat on our cots.

"You gonna get undressed?" he asked.

"No, I think I'm going to keep my clothes on. Were going to have to use a bush across the road until the toilets get repaired."

Taking my wristwatch off, I laid it on the table next to my cot. Perspiration mixed with smoke soot collecting under the band caused it to burn. I placed my eyeglasses next to it.

Laying back on my cot, I looked up at the shrapnel holes in the roof. Using Jimmie's flashlight, I could see smoke passing through holes.

"At least we've got roof ventilation now."

Jimmie didn't answer. He was already asleep.

Placing one hand on my throat and the other on my balls, I closed my eyes. I still wasn't totally convinced a ground attack wouldn't follow our being shelled. Listening to the medics and CAT team shout orders to one another as I fell asleep, their voices seemed to fade away like the volume dial on a radio slowly being turned down.

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