Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Simple Joys of War...

It was a long ago Christmas. 1970 Vietnam to be exact. We were 18,000 miles from home and secluded in a bunker high atop Khe Sahn, just a few miles from the demilitarized zone and North Vietnam. We were Military Police leading convoys up and down QL1, the main "highway" west to east. It was only a lane and a half wide dirt road through mountains and valleys and elephant grass. At some points we were curling round a mountain pass with a 150 foot drop on one side and a sheer cliff upwards on the other.

We had no armored vehicles, no Humvees, nothing but an open jeep mounted with a machine gun. We didn't call them IED's but simply mines. Ambushes were commonplace; they usually hit the middle of the convoy trapping half on that narrow dirt road. We would have to go back to the truck that had been hit and push it off the cliff so we could continue. It was pretty tricky duty.

This day, in our sand bagged bunker, the incoming was non-stop while Charlie was trying to take out the airfield behind us. Every so often a short round would land near us and shake us to hell and back. The sandbags would tremble and dust would cover us from head to toe. We had built it solidly but a direct hit would have sent us all to the promised land.

The concussions were so constant that the ringing in our ears never stopped. We would wrap our arms around our chests so that the innards wouldn't shake out. But, like GI's and Cops and Firemen, when you're in a situation like that, you use humor to get you through. You laugh or cry but you have to choose one.

The names I will use are to protect the guilty, because none of us were innocent then. The gentleman I am referring to, Standish we'll call him, slept on a pillow full of marijuana. Everywhere he went, his pillow went, too. We didn't care as long as he took care of business, and he did. Never smoked it on duty as far as I knew.

So, with the calamity around us, with the walls shaking to beat hell, Standish decides to fill his pipe. Dust all around now mixing with the smoke we all started to catch a contact high. Then, of course, the pipe started moving around the bunker. There were 6 of us and only two had ever tried the stuff and one of those wasn't me. Up until then I was a straight arrow patriot.

Well, it wasn't long before the giggles started; the pot from the Golden Triangle was some very potent stuff I discovered. Then the giggles turned to hilarious laughter as the explosions continued. Booom! Boooom! Dust everywhere to the point we couldn't even see each other. But, boy, that pipe continued around.

Pretty soon we began to rate the explosions on a scale of 1-10. Whaammm! Uh, 7, no shit, that was only a 6! Laughing and choking and rolling on the dirt floor. It hurts we're laughing so hard. Boooom! Oh, shit, that was a definite 8, Jesus! That was waaay too close! Bullshit, man, I give it a 4, you're a wuss! The metal roof is shaking, the sandbags are shifting and we're 6 crazy people on a raft filled with pot. I think we just bilocated, all of us as a group!

We had constructed a toilet in the elephant grass about 50 yards from our bunker. It was a milk carton with a toilet seat we had stolen from the Cam Rahn airport. It was the only toilet seat in Khe Sahn. Through the dust and the smoke and the shaking roars, Bricker says he's got to go. Of course, we all stopped laughing long enough to look at him like an idiot. Ah, fuck, he says, I can't do it here!

Gathering himself as we started laughing at him, he low crawled out the hole into the night. It was silent for a few moments, Charlie deciding to take a coffee break, I guess, and then came a huge explosion that knocked us all to the floor. Fuckin' A! That was a 10 for sure, yelled Standish. Oronsky seconded that and we all lay there stunned but still giggling.

A scream like a banshee ripped through the night and we thought Bricker was a goner. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't stop laughing, though! All of a sudden, through the hole comes Bricker, low crawling like a madman. His head was high, his neck outstretched, tendons taught and he had a deathly grimace on his face. His eyes were wide and he was covered with dirt, chunks of it sticking in his hair. There was even a shaft of elephant grass caught behind his ear and he was making these grunty little sounds with a growl that seemed to start deep in his throat. Spittle filled the corners of his mouth while tears ran rivers down his face.

Of course, we all stopped laughing for a moment; were far beyond sober but we took turns holding him till he calmed. We could find no injuries, no obvious trauma so we laid him down on his cot. He told us, voice shaking, just as he got 20 yards or so from our 'men's room', it took a direct hit, blowing the only toilet seat in Khe Sahn to hell. Ah, shit, I said, pass the pipe, we'll have to dig a trench like everyone else.

And that's how you survive war...

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