Richard D. Preston
ODYSSEY: ‘NAM 66 – 67
We moved slowly and tediously like rats in a maze the only thing is that the rats smelled better than us. The weight of our gear and the sense of being in a rain pelted sweltering green limbo were almost more than we could stand. Tempers were flaring and genuine fatigue was starting to set in. God help Charley if the little bastard picks today to try and piss us off and God help us because half of us might sleep through the action. I believe half of what I hear and only one third of what I see when it comes to scuttlebutt and the jungle, both are deceiving as hell. I could be wrong and I suppose my compass could be so waterlogged that even it can’t tell north from south anymore. But I believe we’re heading north and that alone is enough to make the hair on my neck stand straight out even in this downpour. Phubai never seemed so far away and a cold beer seemed like a pipe dream at this point. I guess maybe that there may be some Vietcong movement we’re not supposed to be aware of. What a surprise that will be! Fucking lifers.
Into the day we marched, sweeping every bit of open ground and scrub filled jungle between Danang and Hanoi, or so it seemed. Just as I was starting to get back into my what the fuck attitude someone decided to shit on my parade. Pop, pop went the weasel and a whole shit load of soggy assed Marines hit the deck slipping and sliding into the mucky assed flora and fauna. Spa-loosh and whoom went the explosions sending water and mud high into the air around us. If we could have crawled into our own assholes and hid we would have, but that was not the option. Whoomp. Whoomp whoomp and chuck sent three more mortar rounds into the air and they sounded like Satan whistling “nearer my God to thee”. All we could do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst to happen. Watery Shit and sticks whizzed on by and I swear a waterboo sailed over our heads as the whole world seemed to be blowing up. I know the Cong are hard up for ammo but how they stuffed a one-ton water buffalo into a mortar tube baffled the shit outta me. Maybe they stuffed the mortar tube into…never mind, it must be the fear and the fatigue working overtime. It wasn’t bad enough that the rain gods were frowning on us, now the god of war was pissed off at us too. Isn’t it just amazing how life just up and shits in the face of the downtrodden.
Eternity passed and I was starting to like the taste of adrenalin that was choking the hell out of me. Not to mention I would have to change my skivvies after this was over, unless of course Charley got lucky and decided to wash and dry my ass with a direct hit. Then I guess the fact that I and half the other grunts around me who shit their pants in the surprise melee would give new meaning to air-dried laundry. Gee thanks for the surprise you lifer, direction changing, bastards. Was it the Marine Corps birthday or something or did you just want to see if you could outdo yourselves with a few fireworks to top last year’s celebration?
The popping of mortars stopped but the cries of the wounded didn’t. Casualties were numerous and the moaning was enhanced in the smoke filled damp air. It was like watching an old horror movie. The rain poured down with a swirling white vapor rising just off the ground. Demons were lurking in the woods waiting to leap once again on the unsuspecting prey. The bodies of the victims wrapped in bloodied makeshift bandages looked like mummies. Then there were the dead lifeless bodies lying there twisted and ravaged by the beasts of the sky. Un-fucking-believable in its own right and those who were survivors once again were standing in the middle of a living nightmare.
Somehow, someway choppers would have to be flown in to pick up our dead. We made our way cautiously to the edge of the clearing like scalded limping dogs and set up our perimeter. The light was fading fast and once again we started digging in soggy ground with shovels made for trolls. This added to the nightmarish illusion of gravediggers preparing for the aftermath. I hated this country with a passion but I loved my Brothers and they were worth fighting and dying for. Yet the sting of death never goes away; no matter how hard you try to push it down, it jumps up and bites you on the ass. We lay in the darkness and wondered if tomorrow will be the day our number is punched and we become the stars of the horror show called Vietnam. We are all on edge, soaked to the bone, dog tired, and needing to catch some serious Z’s. The watch was set and those of us who weren’t on the first watch slipped quickly into a fitful sleep. The mind never really shuts down and the day’s events play over and over again like a broken record. And the beat goes on.
In the distance just beyond the drumming of rain, choppers can be heard thumping in the thick air. Flying in like giant Locust’s to swallow the dead and carry them away forever. Eerie combinations of sounds so early in the morning, coupled with the smell of death and c-rats. Bodies lined up with stretcher-bearers at the ready to load our lifeless cargo aboard. Green smoke rises slowly into the air as it fights the rain to rise higher and higher. Whoomp, whoomp, whoomp and the choppers land just long enough to obtain their cargo. As quickly as they came to us, they left us, leaving us with a feeling of emptiness and loss. None of us want freedom through death and unfortunately the sound of helicopters will always be associated with the dead. We stand there in what seems to be a full force hurricane, water and debris flying around us violently as they lift off. We stand there mesmerized as the choppers distance themselves from us and we wonder about the family whose son is coming home unexpectedly in a flag draped box. Life sucks and then you die so it seems. The whining beat of the choppers fade, whoomp, whoomp, whom, whoo, wh, w, and with it our hopes also fade.
The rain pours down continually upon us. Tears from heaven falling? No I don’t think so!
It must be sweat from the devil’s back.
©Copyright August 2004 by Richard D. Preston