Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘full moon’

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

January 14, 2011

Johnny Walker Black

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Sometime around the 14th of January, 1968, I returned from R & R in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Before departing that wet and peaceful place, I had enough money left over to buy a quart of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch whiskey and a quart of Smirnoff vodka. Somehow I got them through all the military rules, paperwork and harassment and into a bunker on the line at the east end of Khe Sanh.
That night I invited Sgt D, who was leaving for home the next morning, and Sgt. P, who was leaving for home the next morning, and Corporal T, and PFCs H and M to share my spirits. We sat around talking about my trip to Kuala Lumpur and as the bottles were drained, Sgts. D and P talked about how they liked me but didn’t like me. Sgt. D said I was his conscience and he didn’t like me looking into the middle of him and Sgt. P, who was Native American, said I was okay for a blued-eyed _ _ _ _ but I was always pissing him off.
We finished off the bottles and stupidly drunk, all passed out. Later that night, we were awakened for a 100 percent full alert—a red alert, attack imminent by the North Vietnamese Army. My throat dry, my mouth tasting like oily gun metal, I stumbled out into the trench and manned my fighting hole. For once, the fog and mist were light and the full moon shone down. I could see individual sandbags, and PFCs H and M in their holes, leaning against the trench walls with their eyes closed. Corporal T came down and stood with me in my hole. He wanted to know more about Kuala Lumpur. I could see the moonlight on his big white teeth, on his big brown mustache. Every once in a while, a flare would go up and light the landscape out front even more than the moon did. Concertina, the gate through the wire, and beyond, the scarred red land. When the flares burned out, they fell to earth hanging from their tiny parachutes. You could hear the parachute mechanisms squeak as the burned-out flares swung in the moonlit sky.
I got tired of talking about Malaysia and Corporal T and I nodded off on our feet as we waited for the imminent attack we really didn’t believe was going to come. Sometime later, in the midst of my dreams about the women of Kuala Lumpur, I awoke to commotion down the trench and recognized Lt. M, the company XO, as he scuffled the red mud checking the troops’ readiness for an enemy assault.
As he approached, Corporal T awoke and whispered to me, “Who’s that?”
“Lieutenant M,”I said.
Corporal T licked his big brown mustache and nodded. He pulled out his M1911A1 .45-caliber pistol and checked to see if a round was in the chamber.
“What do you need that for?
The 105 millimeter battery behind us fired a flare into the night. It burst like a supernova and then threw wavering light on the green sandbags in the trench. A big rat scuttled across the top of the redoubt.
Corporal T smiled and his teeth caught the glint of flare light.
When Lt. M got close, Corporal T hissed, “Who’s there?”
Lt. M said, “Lieutenant M,” as he approached. You could feel the thump of his bootfall in the trench bottom as he neared.
Corporal T hissed, “What’s the password?”
Lt. M didn’t say anything. He had a bad-ass look on his face and came at us fast.

The password? I don’t remember now, but it might have been Steeler, Meatloaf, Good Grief, Winston-Salem or any other number of things that would be known only by our side.
“What’s the password?”
No reply. The squeak of the burned-out flare’s metal parts shrieked into the night.
“Halt. Halt or I’ll shoot.”
I said, “Wait a minute, shoot?”
No reply from Lt. M.
Corporal T stepped out into the trench and lifted his shooting arm and aimed right at Lt. M’s face. I said, “You know who it is, you can see him.”
“If you don’t halt I’m going to blow your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ head off.”
Lt. M stopped. The business end of that M1911A1 .45-caliber pistol was pressed against his bottom lip.
“I said,” Corporal T barked, “what is the password?”
Lt. M looked at me and said, “Hello there, R.” I nodded.
He looked at Corporal T and growled, “Steeler” or “Meatloaf” or….then he spit, “I’m putting you up on charges.”
Corporal T laughed, “For what, doing my duty?”
I stepped away and looked back at the way the moon lit up the ground out to our front—a dark muddy color. My heart pounded like the pistons on a fast moving six-by. Inside my head, my brain spun.
The next day, scuttlebutt had it that I was going up on charges. Nobody said for what, but I knew how I’d sinned. Bringing liquor to the troops, too much liquor.
But I didn’t get charged and the rumor died. And we stood lots of 100% and red alerts for the next week. Every night, but right then the enemy failed to show his face down on our end of the perimeter. We started taking turns sleeping while on watch and when the officers or non-commissioneds showed up, we would be awakened. One night we played poker till the sun came up. I don’t recall if I won or lost.
Sgts. D and P left for home the morning after the dust-up with Lt. M who rotated away from the company to the general hoorah of the men. Corporal T went on R & R to Kuala Lumpur and when he got back he complained to me that I hadn’t told him enough about the place. PFCs H and M stayed with me in the trenches until the enemy finally showed up and when he did, man-oh-man, it was quite a light show. I don’t remember flares or full moons, third-quarter moons, or new moons. I remember seventy-two days of imminent death and maiming. We didn’t lose that battle. As for me, I’m not sure whether I won or lost.