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


The sun rose just before 6 that morning. At 06:20 the temperature was already up to 95 degrees. It would be another hot day.

Shouting over a loudspeaker, the Motor Pool officer yelled for us to get up and start clearing out. "I can't have 60 guys sleeping in my driving lanes."

We were all dog-tired. Some of us were able to close our eyes for 10 minutes or so every half-hour, but no one got any real sleep.

45 minutes after we got there last night the Motor Pool officer ordered the generator turned off so the light poles wouldn't give any snipers who might be hiding in the trees a target to shoot at. Without the generator, Jimmie and I stayed damp until morning. Taking off our torn shirts, we laid them on the ground. 10 minutes later, the sun's heat not only dried them, they were too hot to put back on. I had to fan mine to cool it off.

As we pulling ourselves off the pavement, a call came in over the field telephone in the Motor Pool officer's hut requesting everyone return to the campus. The caller stated the CO wanted the 1st Sergeant to conduct an identification formation outside the Orderly Room to determine who was still walking and who wasn't. Both were now back on campus.

There wasn't a single man in the crowd wearing a complete uniform. Some of the guys were in shorts and T-shirts that were covered with soot and sand. Some were only in pants, and some only in their underwear with towels or blankets draped over their shoulders.

As we neared the campus, thin but steady streams of smoke still spiralled from of the Day Room and several hootches. The odor of blood and death still flooded the air. The odor grew stronger the closer we got. Even though all of us had seen plenty of blood, having been cut and scraped a zillion times over the years, none of us ever had cuts large enough to detect the smell of blood. The smell was everywhere.

Noticing a long line of jeeps parked outside the Orderly Room, Rome suggested Jimmie, Randy, and I fall to the back of the crowd and observe the formation before joining it. Rome's sixth sense made him suspicious. Although he couldn't put his finger on what caused it, he felt something was seriously wrong.

Noticing a dark shadow falling on the side of the supply warehouse directly across from the road where the formation was to be held, we chose that spot to lay low and observe.

The unit designations painted on the rear bumpers of several jeeps indicated they were from agencies all over III CTZ. 2 of the jeeps had covered flags, indicating the Generals who owned them didn't want it recognized they were in the area. The 1st Sergeant later tried to explain away the flags being covered "because the Army didn't want V'namese spies to map the location of our Generals." But most of us had been around too long to believe that shabby lie.

As the other men collected themselves in a rudimentary formation, we stood behind the supply warehouse. Looking down the campus, it was filled with people we'd never seen before. Mostly officers, their new, starched fatigues indicated they were from Brigade, or even higher, MACV.

Mixed-in with the outside officers were a few Co A44 guys and a group of civilian journalists. Some of the journalists were carrying note pads, others had TV cameras bouncing on their shoulders. The "ABC" and "CBS" logos were easily identifiable. Standing outside what was left of the Day Rooms door, Dormally extended his arms across the opening refusing to let one of the cameramen enter. Rome was the 1st to speak.

"Something's wrong. Why would newspeople with TV cameras be roaming around?"

"There's nothing wrong with that," I told him. "they're always around right after a battle."

"No, it's something else. I can feel it."

Just then the 1st Sergeant appeared. Walking out of the Orderly Room, he carried a stack of papers. Noticing a cameraman just about to enter the Supply House, he pointed to a 1st Cav Sergeant standing nearby. The Sergeant ran over to block the door. The Supply House was partially burned from the fires in the shower house next door.

"Look at that mother----er," Rome pointed to the 1st Sergeant. "His clothes are clean and pressed. He must've just got back from the Special Forces compound."

Walking up to the formation, the 1st Sergeant snapped to attention then yelled for everyone else to do so. Continuing to talk to each other, the crowd pretty much ignored him. They were too tired to play Regular Army games.

"Look, we're here Top. What more do you want?" Bill yelled back.

"Everyone of you guys looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame." He smiled, trying to be funny. He realized he was out of line asking for them to jump to attention.

Looking down at one of the sheets of paper in his hand, he appeared uncomfortable.

"That mother----er's nervous," Rome stared at him. "Look at his hands shake."

"What's with all the news jockeys," Bill asked the 1st Sergeant.

Before he could answer, a Lieutenant [Lt] ran up and whispered something in his ear.

The Lt then walked toward the newsmen and yelled for them to come to the Orderly Room for a briefing. Snickering, the 1st Sergeant watched as they filed inside. The anxious expression on their faces anticipated a well-informed briefing. It didn't take a genius, however, to see through the Command's scam. We were all familiar with SOP in distracting the media.

"Okay Top," Bill yelled, "You guys've gotten rid of the cameras so now tell us, what's going on."

"Straighten up soldier!" The 1st Sergeant yelled back. "And that goes for every one of you!"

Everyone stopped talking and looked at him.

"Now here are the direct orders from the CO."

Reading aloud from one of the papers, the 1st Sergeant went on, "The civilians you see around the company are journalists. You are not to discuss last night's situation or any part of what happened here with them. If you are approached by one of them you are to address him as sir and inform him that you were not in the company area last night and that you have no information as to what occurred here."

Looking back to the crowd, he was met with surprised expressions.

He continued. "After leaving this formation you will proceed to any hootch and find whatever suitable clothing is available. It doesn't matter who it belongs to or what rank is on it. We all know who everyone is around here so the CO's order is that you will all put on whatever you find until you are in proper military uniform."

"So what about the VC who hit us?" Bill asked.

The crowd yelled to the 1st Sergeant to tell them.

Pausing for a moment, The 1st Sergeant looked down at the papers in his hand, then flipped through them. Pulling one from the bottom, he placed it on top. Looking back to the crowd, he asked them to get prepared for a shock.

Speaking slowly, he read from the paper.

"The best information we have at this point in time is that.....the company.....was hit last friendly forces fire."

At 1st unsure of what he said, everyone looked at each other. Their silence was ominous. When the words finally registered a second or 2 later, they all turned and stared at the 1st Sergeant. His eyes darted to the ground then back to the paper. He was obviously afraid to look anyone in the eye. A moment later the entire formation broke into a loud rage.

"Wait a minute....wait a minute...." the 1st Sergeant yelled.

Everyone paused. The shouting quieted slightly.

Trying to speak over their voices, the 1st Sergeant continued.

"We have to determine....even though the data is premature....the company was shelled by an ARVN artillery unit stationed near Long Bihn."

The roar of the formation was now impossible to contain. Had the Brigade commander made the same announcement, he too would have been booed.

Several people stormed off. In uncontrollable anger, several others threw their towels and blankets to the ground. Some dropped to their knees and pounded the pavement with their hands. A few more ran wildly towards the Arms Rooms to get their M-16's.

Yelling to 2 Orderly Room Sergeants standing nearby, The 1st Sergeant ordered them to get to the Arms Rooms and keep it locked. 2 MP's standing nearby cocked their M-16's. The 1st Sergeant ordered them to leave the area.

The news of the friendly forces unit being ARVN sent the roof off the house. Had the artillery been Korean, Australian, or even American, the anger would not have been as great. But to have been hit by the people we were sent here to help, especially when most of them were cowards and incompetents, was a blow too hard for the men to take.

Rome lowered his head to the ground. Randy thrust his fist into the side of the building. Jimmie turned his face away.

"Those asshole ARVN's can put on a big show when they're parading their tanks and 105's in downtown Saigon or Bien Hoa, but get 'em in the field and they're not worth ----!" Rome growled.

"Now they're using our own 105's to kill us!" Randy followed.

"They weren't satisfied with killing our grunts, now they're coming after the rest of us!" Jimmie turned around.

Watching the formation break up, the 1st Sergeant gave up trying to get them back. Walking back toward the Orderly Room, he waved his arms hopelessly.

"We're going to have to check the place out." I told them.

"Then we're gonna have to call a meeting of the guys," Rome stated. "We're gonna have to get to the bottom of this ARVN ----."

"Where we gonna meet?" Jimmie asked.

"I'll let you know after we've checked out our stuff in the hootch."

Leaving the warehouse, the 4 of us walked on campus.

Half-obscured by smoke, water, and frantic crowds the night before, none of us realized the rockets had done so much damage. The roofs of the microwave and landline tech's hootches were completely sunken in. The screen wire lining the windows was either torn, melted, or sagging in places. Around us were huge piles of shredded and blood-soaked clothing. The ground was littered with empty syringes, used blood bags, bandages, and tourniquets. On a pile of shrapnel-ridden wall lockers was one covered with clumps of hair attached to flesh. Body bags were being used to carry broken furniture from the hootches. Some of the guys who hadn't left last night were supervising the clean-up operations. They were being assisted by enlisted men from the 1st Cav and 6th Psyops.

Seeing the shower house in daylight was a greater shock. Its roof had caved-in a lot more since I had seen it last night. On the ground near the door was a pile of twisted pipes, broken concrete, cracked commodes and sinks. The body of the GI killed in the shower stall had been removed and the wall hosed down where he was trapped.

The cooks hootch next door was being fitted with new screen wire. Several cooks were dragging their wall lockers outside. All were drilled with shrapnel holes.

Rome and Randy's hootch was relatively untouched, suffering only minor shrapnel damage in the wood lining the walls. On the other side of the campus, the Comcenter hootch next door to mine was completely empty. Part of its roof gone, several support beams were broken in half. 2 guys died in it last night and the blood stains required that everything be removed. A group of engineers from the 20th were inside using tape measures and making notations on clipboards for reconstruction.

Approaching our hootch, the door was still laying in the same spot where I tossed it last night. Stopping just outside the doorway, I looked inside. The entire hootch looked like a dozen MP's had torn it up looking for stash. Only 2 of the 10 wall lockers were still standing. Debris and personal articles littered the floor.

Standing behind me, Jimmie tapped my shoulder. "How about us going in and getting some clothes?" he asked.

"Right. I was just checking things out."

He could tell I was apprehensive about going in.

The only way to get back to our cubicle was to clean up some of the junk blocking the aisle. Every square inch of floor was covered with something.

"This place must've been shaking like a tornado when those rockets hit for it to look like this." Jimmie mentioned.

"Either I don't remember it shaking that much or I didn't feel it."

"That's 'cause we were shaking too!"

Reaching our cubicle, it was in far worse shape. The rocket that hit the hootch next door landed directly opposite us. Jimmie's reel-to-reel tape deck had fallen on the floor. Its dials were shattered and its face bent. Mine had a huge chunk of twisted shrapnel imbedded in its motor.

Collecting the rest of our damaged gear, I felt a twinge of depression finding the things I treasured most damaged beyond repair. Everything I owned was on the floor. It was either burned, soaked, or broken.

"You know, this stuff is probably put together on an assembly line at the rate of a dozen per minute. I can get another one just by walking down the road to the PX." Holding my hands up, I looked at my fingers. "It's too bad we can't get these that easily. But then we'd probably have more wars than we could deal with. Some asshole politician would start a new war everyday, knowing his troops would heal-up after every battle."

Hearing something outside Jimmie stood up. Looking 1st around the hootch he turned towards the back door. As he started to walk over, I followed.

Reaching the door we could hear voices. Someone with a deep raspy voice was barking instructions to someone else.

"C'mon sucker, pull on the ------- thing!"

Looking through the doorway, there were 4 guys bending over something that appeared to be half-buried in the drainage trench just outside the hootch.

A 6-foot deep trench ran along our side of the road. An even deeper trench was on the other side. Gang-planks were laid over the trench every 20 feet so we wouldn't have to climb in and out in order to get from the road to the hootches. During the dry season the trench was home for hundreds of rat nests. Except for their tunneling underground to the bunker, where an occasional half-eaten hamburger was tossed, the rats never gave us any trouble so we didn't give them any. During the monsoon season, however, the 4 foot wide trench filled with rain water. The rats then made their home in the bunkers.

Jimmie pushed on the door to go out. It was jammed shut. The concussion from last nights shelling pushed the entire ride side of the hootch toward the left, crushing the left door post into the door.

Pulling out his Green Beret knife, Jimmie cut a man-size hole in the screen wire covering the door. We stepped through.

On our side of the trench was a portly, balding Sergeant leaning over and looking down. His green T-shirt was soaking wet from sweat. Resting one hand on his knee, he waved the other hand to the right then to the left, indicating which way the winch driver parked on the roadside should sway his grappling hook.

Jimmie and I approached him.

"Hey, what's up, fellows?" Jimmie asked.

Straightening up, the Sergeant looked at Jimmie, his face irritated. His teeth were brown from chewing an unlit cigar. Spitting a gob of brown goo on the sand, he put his face right into Jimmie's. " 'Fellows?' C'mon bro, you can sound whiter than that!"

Bending over, the Sergeant returned his gaze to the trench.

I bent over to see what he was looking at. He turned toward me and scowled.

"What the hell are you looking at, fellow?" He asked, sarcastically.

"What are you guys doing?" I asked back.

Pointing into the trench, he yelled, "That bozo! A dud! You cherry-ass spy nerds were saved by 10 feet of dud dong." Spitting another gob of drool, he chomped on his cigar.

Jimmie's face turned ashen. I jumped back.

A 105mm rocket had bored itself several feet into the wall of the trench. 2 more men were standing in the trench looking into the smooth, cylindrical, hole. Looking up and smiling at Jimmie and me, they didn't seem to mind standing knee deep in stagnate water.

"So are you bozo's gonna stand here all day getting in our way?" The Sergeant growled.

I pulled Jimmie's arm. "Let's go, man. These engineers are busy."

"We're not engineers, bozo! We're demolitionists. With a capital D! That makes us better than engineers."

Backstepping, I apologized. "Sorry, you guys go on back to work."

"Well thank you for your permission, your highness." The Sergeant frowned.

Jimmie beat me back to the door. I followed him inside.

Watching us retreat, the Sergeant yelled at us. "And tell your dark chocolate buddy he can shove his 'fellow' crap!"

Turning back to the crane operator, he waved his hand to continue digging. After another 5 minutes or so they dug the shell out. Skillfully disarming it, the Sergeant tossed it in the back of a nearby jeep like a sack of potatoes. Pulling a few beers out of a cold chest on the back seat of another jeep, he handed one to each of his men. They were swallowed in 2 gulps. After taking a few Polaroids of the empty shell hole for their scrapbook, they climbed into their vehicles and drove off. The Sergeant was still chewing on his cigar.

Finding clean clothing, Jimmie and I changed. A moment later, Bill, Paul, and Jeff showed up.

"Geezus! Lookit all the ---- on the floor. I didn't think it was this bad!" Bill yelled, walking into his cubicle.

"Somebody's been in here!" Paul followed, walking into his cubicle. "I remember seeing my radio on the table when I beat it outta here last night. Now it's on the floor and all smashed up."

Jimmie and I looked at each other.

"You sure about this?" I asked.

"Sure I'm sure! If nothing else it's the one thing I remember seeing. I remember seeing light from the fire next door reflecting off the shiny parts."

"You know," I looked at Jimmie. "Right before I walked in I had a feeling this place looked like the MP's had been through here."

"What would they have been looking for?"

"Could be that message that got lost last week." Jeff walked up.

"They wouldn't wait til now to come looking for it, would they?" Jimmie turned.

"Today, with everybody gone, would've been the best time to do it. Nobody was here to catch 'em." Bill commented.

"Unless it was those assholes in the Orderly Room who used the occasion to come over here and smash up our ----." Paul suggested.

Jeff walked to his cubicle. I walked back to mine.

"Well one thing for sure," Bill concluded, "we're all ---- outta luck because this stuff is finished."

"No sweat!" Jeff yelled from his cubicle, "The Army's supposed to compensate us for all personal goods destroyed in combat. We'll get reimbursed."

Everybody walked into Jeff's cubicle.

"You serious about that?" I asked.

"Yeah. I saw Dormally a few minutes ago. He told me not to worry about losing anything. Said the Army will pay us back for what got *----ed up."

"Well I'm for getting in on that!" Jimmie smiled.

"We all are!" Bill raised his fist in the air.

When asking for a reimbursement application several days later we were told by the Orderly Room that they were all out of the forms. When going back a week later we were told the forms came in but were double-printed and had to be returned. Over the next few weeks we were given a variety of other excuses. On one occasion we were told a backlog of reimbursement requests already on file were "clogging up at MACV" and we'd have to wait until the backlog cleared up. Another time we were told we'd have to wait until the Battalion Commander got back from R and R. Checking with Battalion ourselves, we found out the BC wasn't on R and R. In fact, at that moment, he was supposed to be on campus in a meeting with the CO. Finally, we were told we were ineligible because the 30-day application deadline had passed.

The only people who received compensation for loss of property were those who worked in the Orderly Room and several Sergeants who were close to the 1st Sergeant. Some of them even bragged about the large compensations they received. Neither the 1st Sergeant or the CO, we learned, applied for or received loss compensation, their hootch was untouched.

After making the hootch livable again, we decided to pass on breakfast and help with cleaning up the campus. As we left the hootch the 1st Sergeant was walking down the sidewalk reminding everyone within earshot not to discuss the incident with the journalists who were just leaving the Orderly Room. Walking up to a group of guys sorting a pile of clothing, he pointed his finger toward each man to emphasize the CO's order.

"Anyone caught discussing the incident with the journalists or answering any questions will be severely reprimanded."

The message was a clear warning that the reprimand he referred to could mean being transferred to a full-time combat area where what happened last night happens every night.

As Jimmie and I began picking up pieces of clothing and personal items that had been blown out of the hootches, an intense looking journalist wearing a press card clipped to his breast pocket approached us. The card bore the CBS logo.

He didn't look to be more than 30 or so, but like most of the other younger journalists, his dark hair was cut short. Generals were known to occasionally refuse interviews to civilian journalists with long hair. Smiling politely, he said hello then asked us how we were and if we suffered any ill effects from last night's ordeal. Neither Jimmie nor I answered. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the 1st Sergeant standing only a few feet away watching us.

Although the journalists concerned expression told me he was genuinely interested in what happened, and not out to humiliate or embarrass us as the 1st Sergeant intimated, neither Jimmie or I wanted to risk the 1st Sergeant finking on us.

"You know that the press isn't your enemy don't you?" He asked us.

We didn't answer.

"And I'm not going to give you the old line about I'm just here trying to do my job. I really think people at home should know about this."

I turned to look at him. Jimmie grabbed my arm.

"You wanna be whisked away in the middle of the night like that AFRTN guy who nobody heard from again?"

He must've sensed the journalists words were getting to me and I might talk. He was right, I did want to talk to him.

I turned my back and kept working. Jimmie followed. But refusing to give up, the journalist walked around in front of us and asked us point-blank if the men on campus had been ordered not to talk to him and the other journalists. Again I turned my back to the journalist and kept working. Seeing us turn away the second time convinced the 1st Sergeant we weren't going to talk. Cracking a smile, he walked away.

After thinking a few seconds, I decided I'd 1st try to get the journalist to go into one of the hootches where I could talk to him in private. Despite my eyebrow cues he wouldn't go for it. I would have to talk to him in the open and let come what may. I decided I would start by telling him that some of the guys felt the campus was specifically targeted for the shelling. Very few people doubted that after the second strike. The direct hits were convincing proof.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching. There was. A 1st Lt from Brigade named Jennings. I recognized him as one of the investigators who assisted in the search for the flash message lost a week ago. From what I'd heard of him, he was a yes man to the core.

His stare meant there was no chance of a talking to the journalist. Now walking toward us, I pretended to act casual and engage in a friendly conversation with the journalist about something insignificant and hope the Jennings would think we were just having a harmless conversation and leave.

"Yeah, you guys have a really nice slave." I began. "I wouldn't mind doing what you do."

"Well, there are some frustrating moments to the job...." he replied. " when you can't get the true facts on a story that needs to be told."

Just as I was about to answer back, Jennings was on top of us. Standing only a foot from the journalists face, he broke in.

"Sir, this situation is not up for public exhibition. We'd appreciate your not talking to the men."

Jimmie and I stared at Jennings. His words hung in the air like a guillotine. The journalist stepped back.

"It's a free country, Lt, and this story isn't re-*stricted."

"Well sir, if you asked me your questions, I'll be glad to answer them."

Pausing to look at Jimmie and I, the journalist looked back at Jennings.

"I'm sure you can. Would you like to tell me the Army's position on last nights shelling?"

Jennings snickered.

"The Army's position on the shelling is that this is an in-house military situation we don't feel is open for outsiders to laugh at."

Glancing toward the ground, the journalist closed the cover on a note pad he held in his hand.

"Well what's your personal view of the situation?"

Pushing his finger into the journalists chest, Jennings raised his voice. "Why don't you just go away and leave us alone!"

His words sounded final. It was clear he was given permission to be rude if that's what it took to discourage one of the newsmen.

"Now wait a minute, Lt, I have a right to be here and ask questions."

"Yeah, well only over my dead body!"

Jennings then started to unbutton his shirt. I moved between the 2. Jimmie pulled me back. The journalist was no match for Jennings. Jennings had been a gymnast in college and his physique still showed it. Although he was only 5-nine, he kept his head shaved to the scalp. It was an old trick wrestlers used to make their heads appear smaller so their chests would look bigger.

Realizing he was no match in a scuffle with Jennings, the journalist had no choice but to show his greater intelligence and walk away. I had lost my chance. But I promised myself that no matter what happened, or how long it took, I would one day tell the story. For now, all I could do was bury my frustration and wait it out.

Realizing Jimmie or I would have talked to the journalist had he not shown up, Jennings clung to us until the journalist had climbed into his jeep and was driving off down the road.

Standing just outside the bunker near the Orderly Room, a Catholic chaplain sprinkled holy water on a heap of burned wood piled in front of him. The wood, I guessed, was meant to be symbolic of the burned-out hootches.

Kneeling beside the chaplain were 2 landline techs pressing their palms together in prayer. Both were devout Roman Catholics who went to church every Sunday confessing their sins. It was particularly surprising seeing these 2 guys taking communion because they were known to frequent the brothels in the ville. One of the guys, Danny, was from Steelton, Pennsylvania. His having sex with V'namese women was okay with his wife because Asians weren't considered real human beings to them, or at least not on their level. I often wondered how many inferior species she spent the night with at home while he was over here.

The other tech, Rodney, wasn't too much different. Every week he received a cake from his mom. Saturated in rum, it didn't take more than 3 slices to get him to stagger. In his family alcoholism was permitted as an acceptable vice. In every one his mom's letters, she encouraged him to "freely imbibe." Drinking was okay as long as he kept his promise to his mom not to kill anyone. He kept that promise. It was easy. Only 17% of the men in V'nam ever had to pull a trigger in combat.

After blessing the company and the souls of the men who died last night, the chaplain set-up a make-shift confessional inside the bunker. A runner from the Orderly Room walked from hootch to hootch to notify everyone that the chaplain was available to talk to anybody who might be afraid another attack tonight would send them to the big PX.

Jimmie and I went back to cleaning up the grounds. Since a lot of guys walked around barefooted at night we had to make sure we got most of the splinters. Several minutes after getting started, the deuce-and-a-half used to transport our maids drove up. The driver was a 30-one year old Staff Sergeant named Larson. Larson's regular job was microwave operations. For a cut of the maid fee he handled their transportation and work problems. Although he was said to know and perform his technical job well, most people on campus thought of him as a jerk who wasn't all there. His recent appointment to the Sergeant promotion board made the corporals being considered for promotion nervous about answering his bizarre questions. The black enlisted men were even more nervous. Because Larson was one of the senior NCO's who intimidated blacks, every black corporal opted to turn down promotion and wait until they got back stateside. To be rejected by a review board was sometimes counted against a candidate the next time he went before one.

Backing the truck on campus just outside the rear bunker, the maids flipped open the canvas awning. Except for the maid who worked in the microwave hootch, the others laughed so hard the instant they saw the destruction around the campus, some even had to hold their stomachs. Hearing them squeal several enlisted men standing nearby went into a rage. Picking up bottles, cans, and broken 2-by-4s, they began throwing them at the truck, injuring one of the maids. Hearing the fracas, the 1st Sergeant and chaplain ran down the sidewalk. Yelling to Larson as he approached, the 1st Sergeant ordered him to get back into the truck and get the maids off campus. At 1st confused by the reaction of the maids and the enlisted charging for the truck, Larson jumped back in and sped off campus scarring the newly-paved road with deep tire burns.

Because it was apparent to everyone that it wouldn't be wise to bring the women on campus the day after we were shelled by their brothers and husbands, no one felt it was necessary to tell Larson. He should have used common sense.

When Larson finally made it back to campus, he was severely reprimanded by the 1st Sergeant. Although no written disciplinary action was taken in this case, he was given a DR (disciplinary report) several days later when the CO found out he took Polaroids of the demolished hootches to the hospital and showed them to the guys who were injured. A month later he was re-assigned to another unit. He spent the rest of his tour supervising a small microwave station sitting on top of a sand dune near Cambodia. The closest women, drugs, beer, and PX was fifty miles away.

It was about noon when Dormally came into the hootch to inform us a truck was loading up with a group of guys going to the main hospital in Long Bihn to see the guys who were wounded. Jimmie and I were laying on our backs. Jimmie was still coughing smoke from his lungs.

When we got to the truck some of the guys who just came back told us Armand had been in surgery several times since 3 o'clock this morning. Instead of removing the rest of Armand's leg, his doctors decided to removed an inch at a time as it became necessary. They apparently wanted to save as much as possible to clamp a plastic leg onto.

Armand was one of the few underaged GI's who slipped by the age clerk on his training post. He enlisted with his parents permission at 17. He turned 18 over here. When guys his age found out about the age rule they had the option of returning back to the states, but because they'd be right back after passing 19 1/2, they chose to stay instead of going through the long processing lines again.

Armand wore a perpetual ear-to-ear grin and had a brand new insult for everyone who crossed his path. He often left me wondering what devious plots he was hatching inside his mind when I'd see him walking alone through the campus smiling to himself. Because of his perpetual smile and pronounced ears, I always teased him for resembling a black Alfred E. Newman.

Most of us expected Armand to be depressed when we arrived at his ward but he was just the opposite. Smiling his same wide grin he was laying in his bed scheduling dates with several of the nurses for after the war. He told us not to feel sorry about his losing a leg. He said, "I don't mind one damn bit because now I've got a ticket out of the 'Nam. But if you want to feel sorry, be sorry that I'll be seeing all your girlfriends before you will!"

The beds in Armand's ward were filled with injured GI's. Mostly infantry grunts, several were guys who intentionally let themselves get wounded by sticking one of their arms or legs in the line of fire. They all felt that dying in V'nam was no longer worth a heroes burial in Arlington. A recent Pentagon bulletin reported that Arlington was filling up so fast only top medals winners would be admitted from now on.

While Jimmie and the other guys talked to Armand, I walked around the ward to talk to some of the other patients. Laying in the end bunk furthest from Armand was a young black sergeant from the Virgin Islands.

Introducing myself, I learned he was 20 years old and with the 11th Brigade. He was admitted 2 days ago with multiple breaks in both legs. He was hurt when he fell a hundred and 20 feet from the chopper that was extracting him and his platoon by cable. The platoon had just finished sweeping the perimeter around Long Bihn. The cable became disengaged when he was about 10 feet from the chopper.

Showing me the wounds in his ankles resulting from the fall, both of his heel bones had been splintered and his knee cavities had been compressed forcing the tops of both bones through the skin. His knee caps were crushed.

My 1st reaction was to question how the cable got unhooked. He told me that he had been having running problems with a white Sergeant 1st Class in his company. The SFC, he said, was guiding the cable when he fell.

He told me that he and the Sergeant hadn't gotten along since they disagreed during a conversation about the legality of the American government drafting residents of its territories and requiring them to serve in combat zones. He, like Armand, also expressed a sigh of deep relief that he was now going home. The pain, he said, had been sedated. The damage to his ankles and knees would eventually heal. and he would learn to walk again but with the lengthy rehabilitation, he'd be able to leave 'Nam and never have to return.

Although none of the other guys who had questionable wounds admitted to letting themselves get shot, or allowing themselves to be the victims of accidents, I could tell by the sneaking smile they flashed me when the nurses weren't looking that they were glad to be going home soon. None of them had wounds as serious as Armand's, but they were all serious enough to get out of 'Nam.

On the ride back to the campus, some of the guys talked about the bombing last night. The puzzle most of us shared was why some people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and why others, like us, weren't. Some of us tried to find logic in why some guys died or got injured and why others didn't. 3 guys sitting on a cot in Armand's hootch had just finished smoking a jay when the rocket that landed at the end of Armand's cot crashed through the roof. When they heard the rocket hit the hootch next door all 3 had barreled under the same cot. The guy laying in the middle caught a piece of shrapnel straight through the heart. The shrapnel had passed through the mattress directly above them. The other 2 men weren't even scratched, they said the guy who bought the farm was the last one to light his jay on the same match. I found it hard to accept superstition as the reason why some guys died and others lived. Besides, the superstition about being the third guy on a match was from another war.

The experience made me think about why shortimers were always extremely cautious during their final weeks. I was getting short myself. Realizing I couldn't tie my mind up with worrying about what to do or what not to do, where to go or where not to go, I came to the conclusion that nature in itself was random and there was no way of knowing when or how any of us were going to die. I decided that whatever was going to happen would happen. I decided that for the next 5 months I still had to go to work everyday and do my job.

After arriving back on campus, the rest of the day was uneventful. The guys who lived in the microwave and 1st Comcenter hootch were moved into other hootches. The shower room was cleaned out and wooden beams erected to support what was left of its roof. Jimmie and I hadn't eaten all day, even though the 1st Cav mess hall remained open 24 hours to feed the crews who worked around the clock to re-establish our power and the rest of our facilities. Our stomachs were still lined with the smoke we swallowed last night. It would take another day of drinking water and milk to clean us out.

At 18:45 the Comcenter truck pulled onto campus. It'd been just over 20-4 hours since Robert and some of the other guys had been back. Because most of the guys on campus were still shaken by the incident, the CO canceled shift change, leaving the guys already there to pull double duty.

Robert was the 1st to leap off the truck. I walked over to greet him. He seemed happy to see us.

"I'm glad you weren't here," I told him, shaking his hand. "This place was chaos city."

Looking past me, he seemed to have something else on his mind.

"I heard Rome is having a meeting of the guys, which hootch is he in?"

"I think they're meeting in his hootch. He's not back from wherever he went, but he should be back soon."

"Then let's head over. There's a lot to talk about."

His serious tone spelled trouble. I took a deep breath hoping they weren't going to talk about something as bad as making a hit on the CO. I'd never been invited to a meeting with these guys before, Robert's direct invitation meant they wanted me in on whatever plan they were hatching.

When we got to Rome's hootch Randy was standing at the front door. Constantly looking in one direction then the other made it obvious that he was standing guard to see who might be watching, or approaching. Opening the door for us, he didn't speak. Giving Robert a short, recognizable nod, and Robert nodding back, seemed to indicate they were signaling a pre-arranged code.

Except for the same red flashlight they had on last night, the rest of the hootch was dark. This was strange because power had been restored several hours ago.

Inside, Jay-Jay, Robin, Daryl, Angus, Bill, Ray, and Flip were already there. Flip's arm was bandaged from his wrist to his shoulder. He told us the doctor who stitched him up ok'd his smoking a few jays if the medication fell short of completely killing the pain. He was the only one smoking.

Everyone was sprawled-out on both cots and a K-Mart air bag couch Jay-Jay's brother sent him for Christmas. Jimmie was standing at the back door. Not more than 10 minutes ago, he told me he was going to the shower room to take a leak. He probably wasn't told I'd be invited to the meeting.

I smiled, nodding to each one. They smiled back.

Suddenly, the overhead lights were switched on. It was Randy. Walking back to the cubicle he informed the group that Rome would be late. Noticing him walk toward the cubicle, Jimmie joined us. Randy turned on his record player.

"Let's keep the conversation light until Rome gets here." Randy stated.

Everyone nodded. Robert began.

"We processed a record number of messages yesterday. A little over 1500. But when we got the call about the campus getting hit everyone wanted to pull the M-16's out and go waste some ARVN's."

"Yeah", added Jerry, "if that asshole Jones hadn't stopped us, there would have been a hundred fewer ARVN's to ---- up the war this morning."

"That weirdo is out of his mind." Jeff noted, spinning a finger at his temple.

Noticing several of them flash their eyes at me, as if they were unsure of why I was there, I got the impression their small talk was just for my benefit.

Suddenly Jeff stood up and looked out the window. Turning back toward the cubicle, he winked an eye and pointed his thumb toward the window, giving us the message someone was tiptoeing around outside. Sitting back down, he continued the conversation. "I've been wondering about the dud that missed us."

"What d'you mean?" I asked.

"How come we got the dud and the other hootches got live rockets?"

Everyone got silent again.

"Fate?" Jimmie answered.

"Either that or it wasn't a dud." Rome walked in.

Surprised by his sudden arrival, everyone turned around.

"Looks like Mr. Metaphysical is here," Jeff smiled, winking and pointing toward the window.

Rome glanced toward the window and nodded.

"What d'you mean it wasn't a dud?" Robert asked Rome.

"Like I said, maybe it wasn't a dud. Maybe it was a live one." he repeated.

"And I suppose all the others were duds, huh?" Jeff teased.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Then Armand and all the other dudes who got zapped are alive and well."

"Something like that."

"I've heard some weird ---- from you Rome, but now I think you're flipping your gourd."

"No I'm not. I mean it. I'm talking separate realities."

"This is a joke you're setting up, right?" Robert smiled, then looked suspiciously toward the front door. Noticing Robert, Jimmie quickly glanced toward the back door.

"No, separate realities." Rome repeated.

Rome turned to me. "You were there when the dud hit, right?"


"To you the rocket was a dud. But to the guys who died next door the dud blew up."

Following his lead, I took it a step further.

"And to them the rocket that hit their hootch was a dud....?"

"Right!" he smiled.

"Then how do you explain Armand laying in the hospital?" Jeff asked.

"The Armand in your reality got wounded. The Armand in his own reality didn't."

"What about to your reality?"

"He got wounded in mine too."

"How's that?"

"Because I'm part of your reality and you're part of mine."

"Then how do you explain all of us having the same reality?"

"We don't. All of us are just a part of each others reality."

"So that means none of us will ever get killed?" Jeff laughed.

"Only the people in our reality."

"You're talking weird ---- dude, and you can't prove a single, ----ing word."

"And you can't disprove it."

"Well what about history, is Julius Caesar dead?"

"Yeah, to us. He's part of our reality that we call the past."

"So if I wanted to I can bring him back alive?"

Robert suddenly got up and walked to the front door. Right after him, Jimmie got up and walked to the back door.

Glancing out of the corner of his eye 1st to Robert, then to Jimmie, Rome answered Jeff's question.

"Nope, your own concept of the past won't let you."

"Then he's dead in his reality?"

"Yeah, one way or another."

"Which way?"

"Either he saw himself die from the 30 stab wounds or he saw himself grow old."

"But what about the guys who saw him die?"

"They saw him die because they believed nobody could survive that many knives. Caesar died, but only in their realities."

"So you're saying if we really believe we're gonna make it, in our reality we won't our realities?"

"Yeah. Sounds simple doesn't it?"

"So what did you mean about Caesar growing old?"

"That's the hard part. It's a real bitch trying to shake the concept of aging. Our concept of the past keeps getting in the way."

Jeff laughed. "Man, you sure are floating in the stratosphere. But I'm going test your theory when...."

Rome broke him off. "I'll tell you what, you make that your personal science project and get back to me when you've got results."

Waving his tongue and rolling his eyes, Jeff wiggled his fingers above his head. "Time-space continuum, cosmological infinity, hocus pocus...."

Everyone laughed.

Robert walked back to the cubicle. Jimmie took another look outside the door then came back also.

"Okay, nobody's around. We can lay low on the philosophy crap and get down to business." Robert broke in.

Randy got up and changed the record. The Beatle's "Abbey Road" album began playing.

Surprised by the abrupt end to the conversation, I mentioned it to Jimmie. "That was getting interesting, is it over?"

Appearing a little annoyed by my naive question, Jimmie rolled his eyes toward me. "None of that was for real. It was just for the benefit of anybody outside trying to listen in. If anybody was out there they'd have lost interest by now."

I didn't expect Jimmie's reaction or answer. I looked over at Rome. He appeared to be patiently waiting for Jimmie and I to finish. When it was apparent we were done he looked around the cubicle, then spoke. Methodical, his voice was monotone.

"Okay, we're all here so we'll begin now."

Looking at Ray, he waved his hand toward him. "You're number one. Let's hear what you've learned."

Rome took charge like he did at the comcenter. The group reacted like a well-oiled machine. Ray pulled a notepad from his left breast pocket. Flipping open the cover, he read from it.

"1st hit, 10:32 pm. Rocket identified as U.S. ordinance at 11:03 pm, give or take a minute or 2."

"Who identified it?" Rome asked.

"A Cav Major. Hanover, James T., soul brother."

"Go on." Rome motioned.

"He determined that after examining a fragment. Silver tipped, OD body. Serial numbers still visible on back. In fact, he burned his hand picking it up."

I remembered back to last night when the Major approached us just before we left the campus. His right hand was bandaged. He must've burned it on the hot fragment.

"Determination?" Rome asked.

"From what I can surmise, he seriously believed Charlie was behind the attack."

Rome looked at Daryl.

"You had the 105 assignment, what'd you come up with?"

Daryl moved forward on the cot. Everyone's attention turned towards him.

"Only American artillery could've been that accurate. 2 weapons...."

"Wait a minute," Jeff interrupted. "Did you write notes on this?"

Daryl looked him in the eye. "I don't need no stinkin' notes, dude."

"Go on, report." Rome waved.

"2 weapons type. One, the M101 Howitzer. Fires 8 rounds per min for 30 seconds or 3 rounds per min sustained. Barrel life 20,000 rounds. Rounds weigh about 30 pounds. The M101 was officially replaced because it was too heavy to use over here, but there are still a little over 500 scattered around."

"Source of info?" Jeff asked.

"Their biggest user, 82nd Airborne Division. They've got a string of light infantry brigades all over the country using them. A Captain stationed in Long Bihn says we've been transferring them over to the ARVN's for the past few years. He specifically mentioned the 18th ARVN Division. Make a note of that, it's important."

"Go on." Rome motioned.

"Like I was saying, the M101 is too heavy to use over here, it weighs about 5,000 pounds. The rating says it takes about eight guys to operate it but 3 can handle it easily."

"That limits the number of people involved." Angus broke in.

Daryl continued, "Several company's built them but production stopped sometime in 1953. Just over 10 thousand were made. I'm working on the names of the companies."

"Not important." Rome told him. "What about the second cannon?"

"M102 Light Howitzer. It's used by all the airborne and airmobile divisions, both American and ARVN. Mostly by us though.

"They're normally towed but can be transported by Chinook. It entered service in 1966. Caliber is 105-mm and weighs about a thousand pounds lighter than the M101. Its elevation is rated from -5 to +75 degrees and just like the M101, 3 guys can handle it."

"What about the rounds?" Rome asked.

"Finless. Both of them fire high explosive plastic, white phosphorous, anti-tank, anti-personnel, illuminating, smoke, chemical, and leaflets. The M102 can fire 10 rounds per minute for the 1st 3 minutes and 3 rounds per minute in the sustained fire mode."

"What's sustained mean?" Jimmie asked.

"They can rock and roll all night long."

"What about the range?" Rome asked.

Daryl pulled out his slide rule. "Let's see," he mumbled to himself, "regular ammo is rated at about 16,500 yards....that comes to a little over nine miles."

A wide smile flashed across Robert's face, stamping one of his feet and slapping his hands. "Good, that gives us a radius to work on!"

Everyone smiled.

"What if we could get hold of a radar readout from the airbase? You think you could do a reverse plot and pin-point the origin down to somewhere specific?" Rome asked.

Daryl smiled. "I couldn't do it on my own, I don't know the formulas. But if I could get to the computer at Long Bihn, I could use it to interpolate the numbers in no time."

"When are you scheduled to work there again?" Rome asked.

"Not for another month."

"That's too long, we'll have to get you in there sooner."

"There's no problem with me getting in, I've got permanent clearance. The problem is in getting me outta here."

"Wait a minute!" Jimmie jumped in. "Before we take this any further, maybe we should 1st figure out just how the hell we're going to get a radar readout from the airbase. Even if we could get one, it would take at least a month to cultivate a controller working in the tower to give us last night's copy....that's if they even save 'em."

Nobody spoke. It didn't seem like these guys could be dissuaded by a snag, no matter how complex it was. Then Boyd spoke.

"Why don't we just drive up to the control tower tonight, pull a gun on them and take it?"

"Stop kidding around! That place is sealed up like Fort Knox!" Bill told him.

"I don't know," Randy smiled. "There're ways of doing anything. I think we should focus on getting Daryl out of here 1st, that sounds like the hardest part to me."

"I agree," Rome followed. "The Air Force guys hate being over here as much as we do."

"So getting back to Daryl, all we have to do is come up with a way to buy him some time." Randy went on.

"Well, we can do what we always do," Jay-Jay suggested. "We can fake a message requesting Daryl be sent somewhere for a day."

"Would a day be long enough?" Rome asked Daryl.

"More than enough. But I'm not so sure this is a good time to get a dummy message sent in. The Comcenter's still under a lot of heat for the flash that got lost last week. Brigade's watchin' us like a hawk."

"Then we've got to get the message sent in some other way."

Rome looked at me. "What about it, Phill? Can you get somebody on your radio to send you a fake message?"

My eyes widened. At a loss for words, I couldn't answer.

"C'mon, you're in this with us, dude." Robert nudged my knee. "We need you. You're the only RTT man we can trust."

"Well, we can't use the teletype," I thought out loud. "Anybody can pick it up and read it. We'd have to do it in Morse then scramble the tones so the ASA doesn't catch on too quick."

"Can you link your KL-7 to run off Morse?" Randy asked.

I nodded my head. "I've never tried it. It would mean changing a few wires to confuse the KL, but yeah, I think it can be done."

Rome turned to Daryl. "Then Phill's gonna need a new KL-7 board, one with different settings so he doesn't have to change his daily code back and forth. Can you rig up one for him?"

"I'll have it signed, sealed, and waiting for him tomorrow morning."

Rome turned back to me. "Who do you think you can get to send the message to you?"

I rubbed my chin. There were several guys I knew I could ask, but no one I felt safe in trusting.

"What about that guy in Song Be?" Robert asked. "He owes you a favor, doesn't he?"

My eyes got wide.

Randy smiled at me.

"We told you when you got here we knew everything about you."

"But nobody knew about Song...."

I started to tell him I was the only one who knew about the Song Be incident, but he broke me off.

"We found out about it when the new CO down there sent in a recommendation on you to Brigade. The General rejected it. He said you were only doing your job."

Surprised, and a little upset at how much they knew and hadn't told me, I stood up. My immediate feeling was to leave, but something told me to stay. Everyone stared at me.

"How come nobody told me?"

Rome looked around the cubicle then back at me.

"You're the only one here who enlisted. Nobody wanted to break your heart."

Grabbing my wrist, Robert motioned for me to sit down. I did.

"So why're you guys telling me now, is it because you want me to work for you?"

"No," Robert looked me in the eye, "We're telling you now because we want you to work for yourself. You were here last night too. We knew you wouldn't do anything you might think would've gone against the Army unless you knew the Army was working against you."

"Are you trying to use some of your college psychology on me? It's kind of obvious you guys've had all this worked out already!"

"No, we're not using psychology. We're talking retribution. If we don't find out what happened, and don't let the Army know we found out, what happened last night could happen again. Besides, almost everybody in this cubicle has been turned down for a medal at one time or another. Don't think you're a hero."

"No sweat! I'll get Song Be to send the message."

Robert smiled.

"Then let's go on," Rome told Robert. "We've got other things to consider."

"One last point," Daryl concluded, "both cannons were developed at Rock Island Arsenal."

"Real important point!" Robin teased.

Everyone laughed. Rome broke it up.

"Good going, Dare. Keep that memory of yours warm, we may need it again."

Daryl saluted.

Rome turned to Bill.

"You had the CO and the 1st Sergeant, Bill. What did you find out?"

"I don't think the CO was aware of the hit."

"Substantiate." Jeff asked.

"Because of his response when he re-entered the company."

"What time was that?" Robin asked.

"The guys in the Orderly Room are the only ones who know for sure and they're not saying specifically. They know everyone on campus is pissed because the CO and the 1st Sergeant weren't here. They're trying to make Brownie points by covering up for them."

"And you can be damn sure they're letting the CO know they're covering for him." Jeff added.

Everyone nodded their head.

"All we know for sure is that the CO didn't reenter the campus until well after the second hit." Bill continued.

"Define 'well after'? Rome asked.

"During daylight hours."

"Then I want you to get sunrise times for today."


"And the 1st Sergeant?" Angus asked.

"A little bit after the CO came back......oh yeah, he was sober."

"He's not a heavy drinker is he?" Flip asked.

"Not usually. It's just that rumors placed him in the Special Forces club getting drunk."

"That's another area you can help us out on, Phill." Rome turned to me. "You've must know somebody there you can tap for confirmation."

I nodded. "I interface with their RTT unit. I ll take care of it tomorrow."

"How'd the CO act when he got back?" Ray asked Bill.

"He had a big smile on his face. Let me quote you what his 1st words were, " looks like I'll be giving out a lot of Purple Hearts"."

"Source of information?" Angus asked.

"Doormat. Sometimes he's too stupid to realize what he repeats. I believe he quoted the CO verbatim."

"Then we'll accept it like that." Rome concluded. "Any discussion on that point?"

"I think we can take the CO's reaction and what he said both ways," Angus interjected.

"You trying to defend him?" Bill asked.

"No, I'm just playing devils advocate."

"Then make your point." Rome told him.

"If the CO knew the company was set-up, he would've been expected to say something that would make it look like he thought the hit was enemy fire. Saying he was going to have to give out a lot of Purple Hearts couldn't be taken any other way."

"Now it sounds like you're saying he knew about the hit. Flip asserted.

"No, I'm also saying that if he's innocent he would also say the same thing."

"What d'you mean by that?" Boyd asked.

"Bloody Cupids can only be given when injuries are sustained by enemy fire, they can't be given when friendly-fire blood is drawn. If he thought Charlie hit us he would've naturally thought about giving out Cupids. But if he knew the ARVN's hit us he would've known Cupids couldn't be issued."

"He's right about that!" Bill agreed. "I also found out Brigade informed the CO not to even bother submitting any recommendations for Purple Hearts."

"----! If I had a nickel for every GI who didn't get a Cupid he deserved, I could buy Dow Chemical and fight this war from an office in Beverly Hills." Randy stated.

"I thought Cupids were given for injuries received during any act of war?" Robert asked.

"No, MACV's real specific about their policy of handing them out for enemy fire only. It dates back to the early part of the war when senior officers were awarding each other Cupids for tripping over a vine and bruising their knees."

"Okay, any more on the CO?" Rome asked Bill.

"One more factor. If he didn't know we were set-up, then what he said would've fallen into his character."

"I agree and disagree." Jeff followed.

"Explain." Rome pointed to him.

"Look, we all know the CO. He's not the type to be able to handle the kind of heavy intelligence info it would've taken to deal with a planned hit on his own company. ----! He's not even cleared for some of the stuff we handle at the Comcenter. I don't think he's even been in the place more than 2 or 3 times!"

"What about the RTT rig?" Rome looked at me. "Is he on your confidential list?"

My list was Secret. To say who was on or not on my list would've been tantamount to reading an "Eyes Only" message to them. Thinking quick, I answered it indirectly. "No."

Rome motioned to Bill to finish his report, but Robert suddenly jumped in.

"This is no time for bull----, Phill." He looked at me. "I know you RTT guys, you were trained to answer questions in riddles."

I began to perspire.

"What d'you mean?" I looked him in the eye, pretending to be dumb.

"Tell us straight, did you mean no because the CO wasn't on your list, or no because you aren't going to tell us?"

I paused. Robert was sharp, but it was my fault. I'd told him too much about RTT. Enough for him to use it against me.

"I'm being sincere about this," I looked at Rome. "My answer is no."

Staring me in the eye, I could tell Rome recognized I didn't state specifically, No, the CO is not on my list. All I did was repeat what I said before.

Looking back at Robert, his glance away told me he saw right through me. Rome, however, either didn't care or chose not to challenge.

Seeing Robert frown after Rome turned away, I realized I'd have to repair my friendship with him after the meeting.

Pointing to Bill, Rome motioned him to go on with his observations.

"The CO just doesn't fit the psych background of somebody who knew about the hit. He's a politician, not a soldier. and everybody I talked to got the same impression. The CO is more on an ego trip than anything else. He seemed glad to be commanding a company that finally got a taste of the war. He didn't seem to be worried about somebody thinking he knew the hit was planned."

"I agree," Jeff added. "I heard the same thing. If anything, it was a change in his boring routine and a chance to be the center of attention."

"Then the most we can surmise is that he didn't know, but whoever got him and the 1st Sergeant off campus may have done it intentionally because they didn't want either of them to get wasted."

"And as best as I can confirm," Bill continued. "the 1st Sergeant was on the Special Forces compound sucking beers. It was his night off and everything seems legit on that score. and the CO was either in Long Bihn or parts unknown."

Rome turned to Ray. "Okay Ray, you had the hit. What've you got?"

Ray slid forward on the cot.

"We weren't the only ones hit....."

I noticed everyone rustle. They were obviously surprised to hear this.

"Hold it down, let me finish. It wasn't a solitary hit. Along with us, the AFRTN is saying several other areas got zapped last night. They said a U.S. infantry platoon caught one or 2 rockets and 2 villages got several. They're claiming there was a country-wide VC plot to call in emergency artillery strikes on Allied positions all over South Vietnam. The only 3 that occurred though, were here in III Corps."

"Did they give any specifics about any of the other hits?" Rome asked.

"Not about the villages, but they released the name of one of the grunts in the platoon who caught some shrapnel, some dude named Mullen. The radio said he was an enlisted man and his platoon was bivouacked in the boonies when the shells hit."

"Had they requested any artillery support near their c's?" Flip asked.

"None requested and none expected. Just like us, the strike hit them by surprise. I heard from a friend in the Cav who said a lot more of them would've been wasted if they hadn't been in their foxholes at the time."

"Did they get both salvos?" Rome asked.

"No, and that's the strange part. They only got hit once. Sometime after 2 am."

"That's weird!" Flip commented. Everyone agreed.

"I know," Ray continued. "That hit seemed kind of strange to me too. MACV's got a security lid clamped on all artillery strikes that took place between 6 last night and 6 this morning, but I don't think it relates to us."

"Why not?" I asked.

Everyone turned to look at me. I got the feeling they didn't expect me to have any questions.

"Like I said," he answered. "That unit got hit only once, not twice like us. They couldn't have been on the target list like we were. We got hit with eight rounds, all of them falling within 20 feet of each other. Our hit was a planned, coordinated strike, directed at us. The round or rounds that hit the infantry company were disjointed. There was no pattern so it couldn't have been an H and I strike."

"What about the ARVN unit itself?" Angus asked.

"This is where it gets complicated and suspicious. The information office at MACV issued a statement to the press that the ARVN's were given faulty coordinates from 3 VC spies who tapped into their radio frequencies."

Rome stood up. Boyd, Flip, and Jay-Jay followed.

"What???" Rome yelled. "VC spies?"

"That's bull----!" Flip shouted.

"Cool it down!" Robert stood up. "We're getting too loud."

Rome sat back down. The others followed.

"You sure about that?" He looked at Ray.

"Yeah. The AFRTN is going to broadcast that sometime tonight."

"Wait a minute!" Daryl jumped up. "Wasn't there a story in the "Stars and Stripes" last month about VC spies using American radios or something like that?"

"Yeah, I remember that article," Robert confirmed. "It was on the front page, I think."

"We'll need it." Rome pointed to Daryl.

"There's a stack of old "Stars and Stripes" in a box in the NCO Club." Flip recalled.

"Let's get it!" Rome looked at him.

Jumping up, Flip dashed from the cubicle. Just as he was about to push the back door open he spun around and came back.

"We'd better send somebody white. If I go in there the rednecks are gonna get suspicious."

Daryl stood up. "He's right! I'll go."

While Daryl ran to get the newspapers, Randy flipped "Abbey Road" over.

"What happened to the spies?" I asked Ray.

"MACV said 2 were arrested and awaiting trial. They're still looking for a third guy, the one they think masterminded the strikes."

"Who's holding them?" Rome asked.

"The ARVN's. They've got 'em in Long Bihn somewhere."

"Not LBJ?" I asked.

"No. If they put 'em with Americans they'd be dead in 5 minutes."

"Well the ARVN's will probably kill 'em themselves just to shut 'em up." Boyd commented.

"If they even exist." Rome interjected.

Suddenly Daryl appeared. He was out of breath.

"All I could find was the 1st page. It's says on the bottom there's supposed to be more on the back page, but I couldn't find the rest of the paper."

"Then read us what you've got." Randy told him.

Daryl read it.

"I was right about seeing this article about a month ago. The date on it is Wednesday, 14 January. The title says, "N. Viet Radiomen Break U.S. Codes"

"Saigon - Communist radio operators speaking fluent English recently sent a message to an Allied fire support center calling for artillery to pound another Allied position, U.S. military sources disclosed, Monday. The ruse failed, the sources said, but an extensive campaign is now under way in the provinces surrounding Saigon to counter code-breaking operations by the enemy. These security-tightening efforts followed the discovery 3 weeks ago of an underground enemy communications center where English-speaking North V'namese soldiers had intercepted and broken codes on hundreds of Allied radio communications, the sources said. Troopers from the 25th infantry Division uncovered the communications center and captured 12 enemy soldiers, killing another one, during an operation about 35 miles north of Saigon. The enemy soldiers, who speak fluent English, are still being interrogated, according to the sources. Their bunker contained what the sources described as "crude" radio receivers, including modified Sony radios, captured American equipment, radios of Chinese Communist manufacture and homemade sets. More that 1,400 separate radio transmissions written out in longhand in English were found, according to the sources. Every place a homemade or illegal code was used, they had penciled in the coordinates," said the sources. They had bro-----."

"Is that it?" Robert asked.

"Yeah, it looks like the last word was "broken" but that's where the page ends."

"That's enough." Rome thanked Daryl then turned to Boyd.

"You and Allan are good friends, and his brother is with the 25th. He must've either been in on that deal or knows some of the guys who were. Can you get with him and have his brother confirm this article?"

"I'll do it right now. Allan's in the hootch cleaning up his cubicle."

Boyd left.

"Well if that article is true, and we can assume it is, then MACV is right." Jimmie suggested.

"I don't know," Robert challenged him. "I think all we can assume is that an ARVN unit did get a call from somebody, but it could've come from anybody."

"But you're pre-supposing that the hit happened the way MACV says it did. The hit could've been something entirely different and MACV is using the VC radio bunker the 25th found in January to cover up our getting hit." Rome stated.

"Then if that's true, anybody could've known about that article and used it to cover a hit on us." Flip followed.

"What you're leading up to is a possibility that the hit was intentional, right?" Robert looked at Rome.

"That's what I said last night and I still believe it today. We all know that H and I hits are tight-knit, just like ours was. If you don't believe me look at the blast areas. Not one round missed a structure! and the 1st hit blows away the 2 most populated buildings on campus."

Before anyone could comment Boyd came back with Allan.

"I brought Al back with me because I want you to hear this straight from him."

"Boyd said you guys wanted to know about the radio lab my brother found."

"Was he actually there when they found it?" Rome asked.

"He was there alright. He took some pictures of the whole set-up, but when he got them back from the PX and they were all bleached out."

"Probably those assholes at MI again, screening our photo's!" Angus commented.

"That's routine, we should all be used to that by now." Rome told him.

Raising the "Stars and Stripes" article up, Rome showed it to Allan. Allan grinned while glancing over it.

"Yeah, I've seen this. My brother sent our mom about a dozen copies. But what's this got to do with us."

"MACV said the ARVN's that hit us got a phony call over the radio." Randy told him.

That's not what I heard. I heard they got the call over a field phone and it was verified."

"Where'd you hear that?" Rome shouted.

"My brother. He called me at the Comcenter today when he heard we got hit. He thought I bought the farm. He said a platoon from the 25th had to drive out to an ARVN artillery battery a few miles southwest of here to order them to shut down."

"When was this and why'd they send a whole platoon?" Randy asked.

"My brother said it was about 3 this morning. He said they sent a platoon because they were supposed to check all the ARVN's to see if any of them were VC."

"How do we know that was the same battery who hit us?" Jimmie asked.

"I guess we don't. My brother just said the ARVN unit was operating about 6 miles outside the perimeter and they had to go out to order them to shut down.....oh yeah, he said the ARVN's were scheduled to fire another salvo about 6 this morning."

"That's just great!" Jay-Jay angrily roared. "This place was filled with people running around at 6 this morning. More than a hundred more guys could've been wasted!"

"So how does he know for sure the ARVN's didn't get their order to fire over the radio?" Rome went on.

"I asked my brother about that. The ARVN's didn't have one."

"Then why didn't the platoon just call the ARVN's over the field phone?"

"The ARVN's didn't have a phone either."

"But you said they got a call over a field phone."

"That was before they went remote. The call came into their base camp in Long Bihn, then they trucked their rig to the spot where they fired from. They already had the coordinates when they got there."

Everyone looked at each other.

"That would mean the ARVN's had to plot the distances themselves." Flip stated.

"We need to get somebody who knows about artillery strikes." Randy stated.

"The best people for that would be somebody from the 6th. The Psyops guys work with artillery teams all the time." I told them.

"You know any?" Robert asked.

"Yeah, when I got here I had to sleep in the holdover barrack next door to theirs for over a month. They talked about coordinating artillery strikes all the time."

"Can you trust them?"

"I can bring somebody over. You guys can make like you're just casually interested in artillery strikes. You don't have to tell him any more."

"Go for it then!" Rome waved to me.

I got up and headed out the front door. As I closed the door behind me, I could hear someone behind me pushing it open again. Turning around, it was Robert.

"I'm going with you."

"Going, or being sent." I asked, walking toward the Psyops compound.

He smiled. "You're not getting paranoid are you?"

"No, it's just that this is the 1st time you guys have ever invited me in on one of your little pow-wows."

"You would've been invited sooner if you weren't all-Army. You've gotta loosen up."

"And start smoking with you dudes?"

"Hey, nobody minds that you don't smoke, but you'd probably get invited to a lot more meetings if you did."

I shook my head. "No way! If I get blown away over here it's not going to be because I was loaded and couldn't react."

"There's a lot of guys who were smoking last night who didn't get blown away."

"I wasn't suggesting that people got wasted just because they were smoking, I meant it the way I said it."

"But this is the last chance you're gonna get to smoke some of the primo blend they grow over here. and you'll never see prices like these in the states."

"Even if the price dropped from 5 to 2 dollars a kilo, I still wouldn't buy it. When some of these guys get back home they're going to have a hard time staying on their feet, and some of them are not going to know why. I just want to keep my head clear over here. I'm giving myself a chance to make it when I get home."

Robert let it go at that. I could tell by the disbelieving smile on his face that he probably thought I was a jar head. I dismissed his grin. He was probably going to be one of the lucky ones who would make it in spite of all the dope he smoked. He had a masters degree in art and a teaching job at the University of Wisconsin waiting for him. Most of the other guys, like me, were going to have to slug it out trying to find work.

Arriving at the Psyops compound, we walked into their hootch. Several guys were sitting around on a cot smoking jays and discussing the text of a leaflet they were composing for an aerial drop over an unfriendly village. On a footlocker in front of them was an assortment of tentative ideas written in Vietnamese. Most Psyops officers were required to have a working knowledge of Vietnamese.

The guy I was looking for was named Gedgaudas. Everyone called him Groucho because of his thick dark mustache and black framed eyeglasses. He was sitting on the end of the cot with a bush hat pulled down over his eyebrows. I met Groucho the day I arrived. We'd been casual friends ever since, getting together for a burger now and then when he came back from a field assignment. During Bob Hope's Christmas USO tour stop in Long Bihn he asked me to arrange a chopper flight for him and several of his friends. Using the RTT rig I radioed a VIP request into the Military Airlift Command at Ton Son Nhut stating a bomb squad team needed an emergency flight into Long Bihn to disarm a 200 pound bomb

that had accidentally fallen from a Phantom over the ice cube plant. The RTT guy on the other end replied that because of Bob Hope's USO stop in Long Bihn he'd been getting requests from all over III CTZ for "emergency" transport. But because he liked my lie, he'd send one over. It arrived right on schedule. A few days later Groucho told me the chopper pilots stayed and watched the show too. I had a lot of respect for him. He had a Masters Degree in Psychology and was planning on converting it to Psychiatry when he got home and into medical school.

Looking up just as I stepped into the cubicle, he smiled and introduced me to the new guys I didn't know. I introduced Robert.

Motioning for him to follow me outside, he got up right away and excused himself from the group. When we got outside I explained what I needed from him. On our way back to Rome's hootch, we talked about the USO show.

"Abbey Road" was ending when we walked back into the hootch. When we reached the cubicle, Jay-Jay was putting on John Klemmer's "Blowin' Gold". Passing over the 1st 3 tracks, he seated the needle on "Hey Jude."

Seeing Robert and I enter with someone he didn't recognize, Rome waved his hand for Flip to put away the jay he just lit. Noticing Flip brush the tip on the frame of the cot, Groucho zipped inside the cubicle and yanked it from Flip's hand. Flip didn't contest.

Taking a deep drag to get the sparks lit again, Groucho sat down between Boyd and Jimmie. Both grunted and mumbled as they moved aside making it obvious they felt imposed upon.

Having gotten the fire going again, Groucho leaned back on the cot. Completely relaxed, he was ready to get down to business.

"So what d'you boys want from the Psyops department?" He asked, examining the lit end of the jay.

"You guys can smoke around Groucho," I told them. "He spends 20 days a month in the field. The 1st thing the natives do when he walks into the jungle is hand him some of their best stash."

Flip's eyes grew. A wide smile spread across his face. "Groucho, huh?"

"Yeah, I hate being called Lt Gedgaudas. It sounds too Hungarian."

Pointing to everyone in the cubicle one at a time, I introduced them to Groucho. He nodded to each one.

Leaning back against the plywood wall, Rome appeared to accept Groucho. Rome's acceptance made the other guys relax.

"We need to know about artillery strikes. Before, during, and after."

"This have anything to do with this burg getting frosted last night?" Groucho asked.

Jay-Jay looked at me, one of his eyebrows raised.

"Hey Phill, this dude is really bright. Any more at home like him?"

I frowned. Groucho smiled.

"Hey, I'm just trying to get you guys to be up front with me. I know what you're going through. I've seen a dozen of these cases since I've been here."

"You mean the ARVN's have blown up American units before?" Flip asked, surprised.

"And we've blown up about 6 dozen of theirs." Groucho calmly replied. "The story's always the same, just like the radio said about you guys tonight."

"We haven't heard it yet. We've been in here talking." I told him.

"Then I'll repeat it for you. MACV is saying VC intelligence operatives infiltrated ARVN communications. They said the VC got hold of your coordinates and told the ARVN's there was suspected VC traffic in this area. Then the ARVN's followed a routine unconfirmed H and I plan and ordered periodic shelling of your coordinates. It seems as though the gooks were gonna frost this burg of yours again about 6 o'clock this morning."

Rome slid forward on the cot. His expression changed from intent to puzzled. "You just said a word I need to ask about."

Groucho leaned back against the wall.

"Class is in session, hit me."

"Unconfirmed. Does that mean the ARVN's simply fire where they're told to fire?" Rome asked.

"Yeah, but that's not how it's supposed to work."

"How is it supposed to work?"

Groucho leaned forward again, taking another drag.

"You want it by the book or the way it's usually done over here?"

"Over here."

Sliding forward a little more on the cot, Groucho dropped the half-smoked jay on the floor and crushed it with his foot. Flip made a sudden move to retrieve it but Groucho raised his palm, halting him.

"C'mon bro, I'm sure there's more where that one came from."

Flip smiled and sat back.

Interlocking his fingers, Groucho's expression turned serious. Everyone looked intently at him.

"Okay, here it is. Artillery strikes are arranged by military intelligence. A call goes out to Divisional. Divisional notifies Brigade. Brigade notifies Battalion. and Battalion notifies the battery. That must've happened last night...."

"Why?" Robert asked.

"Because, chain of command has to be maintained. If Battalion thinks up its own strikes, then they could conflict with something Brigade or Division is planning. Simple enough?"

Robert nodded.

"When Battalion orders a strike, they usually send in a 2 or three man team of forward observers. Their job is to confirm the target was successfully hit or missed. If the unit gets hit right on target, they're supposed to report which way Charlie splits so an S and D can be sent out to waste 'em. If the artillery strike misses, then they're supposed to radio how many degrees the artillery battery should adjust the azimuth or elevation on their cannons.

"After Charlie splits, or dies on the vine, the observers are supposed to go into the location and determine what levels of command ranks operated out of the facility, whether it contained a hospital, weapons storehouse, and POW cages. MI also has to know if the structures were fixed or portable, whether they were erected above or under ground, and if it looked like new construction was under way.

"Observers also search the camp to find out what quantities and types of foodstuffs were left behind, and what kinds of uniforms were worn. If they find any dead bodies that were stripped, that would indicate the bodies were NVA. The VC are under current orders to retrieve all NVA uniforms."

"Why's that?" Randy asked.

"One, the North is in a pinch and they can't afford to buy any more from Mao (Tse Tung). and 2, they don't want us to know what kinds of troops are in the area. Last week we found three Red Chinese bodies in II Corps. Everybody died in the shelling so the bodies didn't get striped. I would say there were no forward observers in your case though." Looking down at the floor, Groucho paused.

"So?" Rome asked.

Groucho looked up again. "So that means the door is wide open for speculation."

"Meaning?" Boyd asked.

"Well, for one thing, it means that even if the ARVN's didn't think to 1st check-out the coordinates to make sure one of their own grunt companies wasn't in the area, they didn't even bother to check with MACV to make sure us, the Aussies, or the Koreans didn't have an S and D team on the ground.

"Have you ever heard of that happening before?"

"Not around here, or any other fixed base. The only time anybody launches a blind hit is when central operations okays it."

"Where's central operations for the ARVN company who hit us?"

"Xuan Loc."

Everyone looked at me.

"What about that, Phill." Rome asked.

"I can't see how Xuan Loc would've approved a hit anywhere near here. From what I learned when I was there, all artillery fired into the perimeter of any base camp came from inside the base, not outside. In fact, us getting hit last night was the reason why that policy was made."

"Kinda like sticking a gun barrel in your mouth so you don't shoot yourself in the nose." Groucho smiled, nodding his head.

"Then we have to assume Xuan Loc didn't know about it." Jay-Jay concluded. "Because they would've realized immediately we were right on top of the strike area and canceled the H and I."

"Especially since we have patrols out there every night." Bill followed.

"What about American liaisons. Wasn't there supposed to be an American with the ARVN artillery unit?" Robert asked Groucho.

"There used to be, but about 6 months ago MACV ordered all American liaisons to be pulled out of ARVN field units. You can thank Mr. Nixon for that. The Vietnamization Program means we've gotta let the ARVN's run as many combat operations as we can turn over to them, and Phase One pulls out the guys who used to supervise them."

"What about the maps we use over here to plot coordinates, aren't they coded so American areas are indicated?" Rome asked.

"Generally no, we don't want the VC to pick one up and use it against us. But that's one of the things I meant about the door being open for speculation. One, how did the VC determine your coordinates. and 2, this base has got the busiest airport in the world and (has) been around for years. It's kinda strange it didn't occur to the guys who planned your hit that they were firing in the direction of the airbase."

"Another thing," Ray added. "wouldn't the numbers on those coordinates have been completely different than any other numeric sequences an artillery company has ever received? The proof of that is the fact we've never bit hit before."

"That's a real good point." Groucho agreed.

"Going back to what you said about the airbase," I broke in, remembering the picture Sergeant Smith showed me on the plane when I came over. "What I don't understand is why the ARVN's would fire across the airbase's flight path. Even they should've known a rocket could hit a Phantom or a freedom bird coming in or taking off." I added.

"I thought about that too!" Boyd followed. "It sure would be nice if we could get a readout on the airbase radars from last night. They must've picked up the 105's coming across the flight path."

"If they did, that might tell you guys exactly where the rockets were fired from. Then it'd be real simple plotting out a reverse trajectory." Groucho answered.

Rome jumped forward. "You say it would be easy. Could you do it?"

"It's part of my job. Psyops has to do it all the time when we analyze Charlie's hits."

"What about the formulas?" Daryl asked.

Pointing a finger at his temple, Groucho answered, "All up in here, dude."

"You don't need a computer?"

"Nope, all I need is a slide rule."

Smiling, Daryl pulled his slide rule out of his pocket and twirled it in the air.

"That's only half of it." Groucho noted. "Now we need the numbers."

"And that goes back to what I said earlier," Jimmie jumped in, "1st we've got to get hold of somebody who works in the Air Force control tower."

Reaching into his shirt pocket, Rome pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Daryl.

"What do you make out of this?"

Daryl's eyes widened as they ran down the sheet.

"Holy ----! This is a radar readout!"

Groucho got up and walked over to Daryl. Reading the numbers listed in three rows running down the page, he looked over at Rome.

"This is stamped Top Secret. Where'd you get it?"

"If I told you it wouldn't be a secret anymore, would it?"

"This is great ----, Rome!" Daryl grinned.

"Can the 2 of you interpolate those numbers?" Rome looked at Groucho.

"Give us a couple of minutes."

Flip slid over and Groucho sat down next to Daryl.

Handing Groucho his slide rule, Daryl read off the numbers while Groucho computed them. Calculating the figures as if he was born with a slide rule, Groucho hands moved like precision instruments. Everyone watched intently.

"Looks like you're off the hook." Rome smiled at me. "Daryl doesn't need to get outta here now."

"While you guys were talking, I was making plans in the back of my mind." I told him.

He put his hand on my shoulder. "Don't sweat it, dude. The biggest thing you've done was prove to everybody they could count on you. That's more important than anything else."

I nodded.

After a few moments Groucho and Daryl were done. Looking at each other, they smiled. Turning to Rome, Daryl gave us their results.

"We place the 105 rig about 6.3 miles north by northeast of us....give or take a few dozen yards."

Everyone applauded. Rome looked at Allan.

"That means the rig my brother's friends shut down last night wasn't the same one." Allan shot in. "He said that unit was southwest of here.

"It seems we do have a mystery, don't we?" Groucho smiled.

"You said we, does that mean you're in this with us?" I looked at him.

"All the ----ing way! My hootch is only fifty feet from yours. Whoever was after you guys could've frosted my ass too!"

Everyone applauded and cheered. Rome pointed to Ray.

"We're gonna need you and Early again. Is he up to it?"

"If it's a hunt, he's up to it."

"Then tell him to come by about 20-three hundred tonight when you get back to the hootch."

"We gonna need any special gear?" Ray asked.

"Just what you took last time out."

Ray eyes sparkled. I could tell he was looking forward to Rome's assignment. Puzzled about what that assignment could be, I looked at Robert. He shot a quick glance back. Raising his eyebrows up and down, I got the message to stay cool. He'd probably tell me about it later.

"You know," Bill waved his hand, "listening to you guys talk about the coordinates being called into the ARVN's got me wondering about something."

"What's that?" Rome asked.

"Why would the VC spies want to hit us anyway? We're just a small signal company. They wouldn't have had anything to gain by wasting us. There's got to be better and bigger target priorities they could've gone after."

"Yeah," Bill agreed. "Any spy with the brains to read maps, plot coordinates, get the callsigns of the ARVN's base camp, bypass American and ARVN intelligence, and do everything in a way the ARVN's wouldn't think of confirming the coordinates could've gone after Tri's headquarters, MACV, or even the Presidential Palace."

Rome nodded with a smile. "That's good. I like that!"

"They could've gone after the Cav barracks too!" Flip added. "We all know Charlie hates the Cav. and lately the Cav's been kicking Charlie's ass all up and down III Corps."

"And what about those 2 villages?" Boyd questioned. "Why waste good ammo on a couple of dinky villages?"

"That confirms it even more." Bill shrugged his shoulders.

"And if the spies were smart enough to do all that," Jay-Jay continued, "why'd they let themselves get caught. I'm beginning to think the ARVN's just rounded up anybody they could find to pin the rap on."

Rome nodded.

"Well I think we have to rule out that the VC did it to get us pissed-off at the ARVN's. It's no secret most GI's don't like ARVN's anyway. and that's an established fact all over Vietnam." Robert commented.

"Then it all comes down to basics," Randy sighed, "Rome was right. Whether is was friendly or enemy fire, this burg should've been closed down after the 1st hit because if it was Charlie who hit us, like that Cav Major said, then all Charlie had to do was aim his rocket tubes in the same direction next time and lob a few more eggs in here anytime he felt like it. and if it was friendly fire, there's no way the Army could've notified every artillery unit in III Corps and get them to shut down their batteries before we got hit the second time."

Looking around the cubicle, Groucho ended the conversation. "I think everybody's going to have to accept that either way, Charlie won last night."

"How's that?" I asked.

"Because whether he threw one rocket on Bien Hoa or three, he's never hit us more than once during any given night. The narrow-minded people in charge of your company last night let themselves get conditioned to that pattern. They obviously felt the 1st hit was a lucky shot, a one-time deal. and that's too bad 'cause 2 more guys would not've been killed...."

"5 more guys," Rome broke in. "Three more died in the hospital today."

"Well 5 more guys could've still been alive if not for stupidity. You'd think Field-Grade's would know the 1st mistake of fighting a successful war was never taking the enemy for granted. We can analyze, predict, and assume. But when we're dealing with erratic people like Charlie, we've got to be ready all the time. and when we get fooled it's not because Charlie was smarter than we were, it's because we were stupid and we let ourselves get caught with our pants down."

After a few moments of silence, Rome stood up.

"I think that's all we can cover tonight so let's get some sleep because we've got a couple more things to check out tomorrow."

As everyone filed out of the cubicle, Rome reminded Ray to have Early come over.

Robin, Jeff, Allan, Robert, Jimmie, and I walked over to our hootch. Leaning over the sandbarrels in a huddle were our other hootch mates, Ralph, Norm, and Lincoln. Even George decided to be sociable tonight and join the group. He seldom showed interest or emotion in anything. Seeing him, it was evident that even the guys on the outer fringes felt strongly about last nights bombing. I strolled over. As I walked up the three of them turned toward me and applauded.

"Hey Phill," Ralph looked at me, "so you're the dude who got all these chicken----s to come out from under their cots last night."

"And twice, too!" Jimmie patted me on the back. "He got out 1st both times and came back to get us!"

"Ha! Phill got out 1st because he heard somebody was handing out welfare checks in the bunker." Paul smiled.

Everyone laughed.

Ralph took off his hat and slapped Paul on the head with it.

"I'm black too and I was the last one out, dickhead." Jimmie told him. "So you know that's not true. Anyway, you guys were on the other side of the hootch. Me and Phill were also a lot closer to that last bomb that blew up next door."

"Yeah, and we were closer to the one that dudded." I added.

"----! That's what bothers me. What if that sucker didn't dud." Lincoln shook his head.

"That shrapnel would've fried us, and Phill's complexion would've looked a lot more like the black side of his ancestry." Jimmie laughed.

While everyone laughed at Jimmie's remark, Flip walked over from Rome's hootch. A big smile on his face, he obviously carried good news about something.

"Well dudes, we're getting revenge. I just heard over the AFRTN that Henry Kissinger. is having problems with Xuan Thuy in Paris so Nixon resuming the thunderstrikes."

"------- right!" Jeff yelled.

Everybody else joined his cheer. Even George applauded.

"Alright, let's start getting some of those suckers back for what they did to us!"

"Wait a minute," I yelled to everybody. "I thought you dudes were supposed to be anti-war. Now it sounds like you want to keep the war going."

"Yeah man, I want to see it go on just long enough to get them back for what they did to our company." Angus shouted.

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe if we weren't here then maybe it wouldn't have happened to us in the 1st place." I told him. pointing to the demolished buildings around us.

"I'm not talking about that! I'm talking about since we're here, and since what happened did happen, we've got to carry this thing through and get them mothers back."

"Phill's right!" Boyd jumped in. "We should just get the hell out of this burg and leave what we lost. We're just going to wind up losing a lot more."

"Yeah, well what about those mama-sahns this morning?" Flip contested. "You gonna let them get away with laughing at us?"

"What the hell d'you wanna do about it?"

"We should fire the bitches and do our own laundry."

"I'll tell you what I'd like to do," Angus shouted. "I'd like to drop a couple of 2-hundred pounders on top of their heads and see if they laugh about that!"

I looked around the group as they cheered the bombing resumption. Most of these guys had been against the war and the killing. Their reaction now was completely different. Last night had made a big change in them.

We talked for several more hours before turning in. Although we were all nervous about sleeping in the hootch, we had to accept that pulling our mattresses out on the sand wouldn't be safer, just grittier.

Robert and I were the last to start for the door. I had intentionally waited for everyone else to leave so I could pull him aside. He started for the hootch before I did. As he stepped away from the sandbarrel I grabbed his wrist.

"Wait a minute, dude. We've still got something to resolve."

"Oh yeah, what's that?"

"Ray and Early. You stopped me from asking about them when we were at the meeting."

1st looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was within earshot, he beckoned me with his finger to walk with him to Scar's Park. When we got there he began.

"It has to do with how they got Brisbane. They didn't just find him, like they said, they accidentally killed his mother when they were out looking for some VC who kidnapped and raped their mama-sahns twelve-year old daughter."

I was both surprised and impressed.

Remembering back to this morning when Larson brought the truckload of maids on campus, I recalled the only maid who didn't laugh was the one who worked in the microwave hootch.

"Why was her daughter kidnapped?"

"The maids brother was a VC. He and 2 of his friends grabbed the girl to punish his sister for working for us."

"When did this happen?"

"Three days before Ray and Early came back with Bris."

"What happened?"

"Ray, Early, and a couple of grunts from the 11th went out and investigated the kidnapping. It took 'em about 4 days to track 'em to a hideout they had in a tunnel on radiation red a few kilometers from here."

"Was the girl okay?"

"She was alright but the brother's friends raped her when he was out getting food. They shot him when he got back."

"How'd Ray and Early get her away from them?"

"They promised 'em money. When the 2 of them came out of the tunnel to pick it up, Ray blasted 'em. Early cut off their dicks and put 'em in a cigar box."

"What for?"

"He gave 'em to the maid when they brought her daughter back. The maid left the dicks on the doorsteps of the VC's families. It's the way the Vietnamese

handle criminals. It's too bad we don't do the same to creeps like Sirhan Sirhan and Charles Manson back home. Our crime rate would probably drop overnight."

"But it didn't stop those VC creeps." I pointed out.

"That's only because they were enemy soldiers, they thought they could get away with it. There's no place for criminals to get sanctuary in America, except maybe in the courtroom."

"So what're Ray and Early going to do tomorrow?"

"They're going to get the information we need, one way or another."

Standing up, I started back to campus. Robert caught up.

"You guys never cease to amaze me." I told him.

"Hey dude, we've got to adapt over here. It's either that, or die on the vine."

On the walk back I asked him why Rome never tried to get a commission. As an officer he would have been a highly respected and competent leader. Robert told me that on one occasion Rome had. When Rome was drafted he didn't want a commission so he intentionally failed the OCS exam, scoring only 95. 110 was needed. But after he arrived in 'Nam and discovered the large number of bozo's in leadership positions, he took the test again. He even agreed to sign-on for an additional year and come back to 'Nam after completing OCS.

When he finished the test he was told by his examiner he scored 127. But just after he left the testing room the examiner was called to the telephone. During the phone call Rome noticed the examiner frequently look up at him, giving him the distinct impression the conversation was about him. Immediately after finishing with his caller the examiner hung up the phone and without hesitation informed Rome that "he had graded the test incorrectly." He said Rome's actual score was 107, 3 points short. When Rome got back to campus he wasn't surprised to find out the Orderly Room already knew about his low score. That left little doubt the CO or 1st Sergeant had called the examiner to order a failing score. Rome never took the test again.

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