Thurman P. Woodfork

THE IN-BETWEENERS

I was neither a grunt nor an REMF, but somewhere in between. I should explain; I was an Air Force radar repairman stationed on an Army Special Forces A Team camp. That has provided me with some interesting memories. Every now and then, when I think of those long ago times, I relive the unexpressed anxiety when days slipped by and friends out on patrol didn’t return on schedule.

To me the hours seemed to slow to a crawl as the time passed. Then, one morning would reveal that they had returned in the night while we slept, and the world was whole again. There was a breath of relief, silent thanks, and a weight lifted from the soul. All unexpressed, hidden in a smiling joke.

There was the nagging belief, or superstition, that a display of too much affection or friendship would somehow conjure up a jinx. Real affection was therefore not overtly displayed. It may have been foolish, but that’s how I felt.

There is the enduring memory of the youngster who went on patrol when he wasn’t scheduled to go because he wasn’t “being paid to sit around camp playing Liar’s Dice with a bunch of Zoomie Legs.” He became separated from the others during an ambush, and they were unable to find him immediately.

I never saw him again, but when he was found a few days later, we were told that his body had been mutilated. He was full of good spirits when he left, so I prefer to remember him as I last saw him, smiling and happy. Lord knows he earned his pay that day.

I sometimes thought that the people back Stateside were very fortunate. We ‘In-Betweeners’ not only watched our friends depart from ‘home,’ we had a much better idea of what they were doing – and what was being done to them – while we waited for their return.

Another time, I remember the voices from the radio as a sister camp was desperately resisting being overrun, and the angry, frustrated anguish as our men, unable to assist, listened as their friends fought and died. Courageous men do weep, bitterly and unashamedly.

Curiously, I remember little of the times when we were attacked: the fiery stream of red tracers hosing down from above the flares, accompanied by a burping roar as Spooky circled invisibly overhead; helicopter gunships darting like vengeful, death-dealing fireflies; mortars exploding, machine guns and rifles rattling.

The most vivid memory is not of an attack on the camp, but of one on the village right next to us. The worst part was when it was over and we went to aid the villagers. How do you comfort a burned, bleeding child when you cannot even speak his language?

But, oddly enough, the memories of more peaceful times are much clearer. I suppose my mind prefers to recall the periods sitting on the sandbags watching the muted, dancing flashes from distant conflicts off on the horizon than replaying the episodes that were, as they say, up close and personal.

It is, I suppose, a defense mechanism. If you don’t remember the more stressful times, there is less guilt felt in having survived them relatively unscathed.

Author’s Note: At the time I was writing the above anecdote, David Alexander, who was a U.S. Army Platoon Leader in the Nam in roughly the same time frame I was there, was also writing a poem titled “Last Night.” The lost soldier mentioned in the two accounts was not the same man, however.

This is a companion piece to “Last Night” - ©Copyright July 30, 2003 by David R. Alexander