Hot and soggy, mugged by the humidity of the east and the south, Betty and I finally retreated to the dry mid-July heat of Idaho. Freshly draped with an ebullient demeanor, I relished in the shock and surprise instilled in me by the interviews of my Bravo Company comrades’ memories of the siege of Khe Sanh. While in San Antonio doing the interviews, we stayed inside, and only occasionally went out into the broil of our mid-day dunking by el sol. Haze and light, surly clouds buffeted the harsh sunlight. The kind of July that takes my memory back to 1967-1968.
Forty-three years ago, about this time in July, Bravo Company was off of Hill 881 South and down on the perimeter of the main Khe Sanh combat base. We might have been standing watch, or running patrols, playing Back Alley Bridge, filling sandbags, or running an ambush
One particular steamy July night I recall: Me on point, dark, dark, dark, the night sounds muffled by what . . . fear? . . . or just my edgy impressions because the sky was black as the heart of enmity that makes men who don’t know anything about each other kill, kill, kill. Dark, hot, muggy, the air so heavy with wet it jammed up in our lungs and sagged to the bottom of our thoraxes. Me on point, slow, slow, out the west gate and the windswept end of the airstrip, a wall of jungle grass, down a beaten-down game trail, or was it a trail where killers walked—probably both, and lucky for me with my M-16 on full automatic, barrel pointed dead ahead into the black of night, no one waited to surprise me. Slipping and sliding down the slopes to the Bru rice paddies below. Crossing the paddies, my boots buried in the muck, the sweet scent of fertilizer made from human feces, the sweet smell of it, like blood that dries on a dead man’s chest. The soggy rice fields, their young rice shoots just visible above the sheen of night light that banged off the low-hanging mist and reflected from the damp of the paddy muck. The scent in my head, hammering, hammering, my sweating hands gripping my rifle.
Up a slope and through a thick copse of tall trees, the thorns of unnamed bushes clutching at my dungarees, then a road. I knew that road, having tromped up and down it on patrol, more than once or twice. We sat back a dozen yards, and laid an ambush. It was early morning dark time when we settled in. I wonder if I went to sleep, if any of us stayed awake. Charlie could have moved a convoy down that road for all I know. I have no memory of it. What I do remember was suddenly looking around in the early light just before dawn broke. The squad leader shrugged. He did not wear his helmet. His curly hair stood up in the backlight of morning.
In San Antonio we rose early, too, and set up interview rooms and visited and politicked and filmed interviews, and I hope made the bulk of a movie. Compared to the sultry weather outside, it was cold in the interview room, and we shivered as we asked the men questions, filmed them. Their eloquence, better than college professors. Their ability to remember details forty-two years old. Their ability to process the memories into some kind of meaning—what it stood for, this harrowing time, this time of death and destruction, these men, “Doc” Cicala, Mike McCauley, Lloyd “Short Round” Scudder, Ron Rees, Frank McCauley, Michael E. O’Hara, Peter Weiss, Lt. Colonel Ken Pipes (USMC Retired), Steve Wiese.
The reunion itself was low-key, a time for remembering, laughing, talking among comrades new and old. And a sad time, too. Remembering who didn’t come back from Vietnam, or who didn’t come back after the last reunion.
The food was scrumptious in San Antonio, spicy bar-b-que and gourmet Mexican food, Mariachis on the Riverwalk. It is an old town, as American standards go, and the architecture is beautifully Spanish, and mid-19th century German in many cases, and mixed in with the modernity of glass and slick tall buildings.
Betty and I are pondering our next moves. We are, as of this weekend, upgrading our blogsite and website. Finishing a trailer to post on the website. Making plans to go to Washington, DC, to conduct research for the film, collect old photos, collect film clips.
We are pondering more interviews on the way there.
We are getting a lot of help from Dave Beyerlein in Bend, Oregon. Dave was a Grunt with Alpha 1/9 in Vietnam. If you need help with website ideas, development, implementation, contact Dave at:
leadlinkdave at gmail dot com