Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘grenade’

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 14, 2018

14 February–Fifty Years Gone

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The big, new guy first showed up at Khe Sanh jammed, along with a lot of other Marines, into a C-130 that took incoming upon approaching the combat base. Lots of Jarheads sat on the deck and men on either side of the big, new guy got hit when NVA anti-aircraft fire perforated the skin of the plane. The flight returned to Danang, but he boarded another C-130 the next morning and returned to the combat base where they kicked the big, new guy off the plane before departure.

Corporal J put him in my fire team and there he stood, telling me about the blood and the flecks of flesh on that first flight as his head shook up and down like someone with palsy.

Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jittery, he reminded me of quail, just before you bust them with a blast from your twelve-gauge. Those quail sense their impending death before they really know you are stalking them.

I put the big, new guy on first watch that night and I kept going out and to check on him.

I’d ask, “You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.”

Khe Sanh took a lot of incoming at all hours of the day and night and he was so frightened of getting killed by an enemy 152 MM round that he hit the red-mud deck face-first every time one of our F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers flew nearby. Ditto with outgoing barrages from the battery of Marine 105 MM howitzers right behind our fighting holes. Down where my own fear resides, I sensed that his fear meant trouble.

I checked on him just before hitting the rack. Ambient light gathered in the mist so I could see him. He held a fragmentation grenade in his hands.

“What’s the reason for the grenade?”

He bent his knees and hissed, “Gooks!”

I ducked, too and slammed up against the wall of the trench. I peered over the lip but didn’t see anything but the usual; concertina wire and the dark night sky and a wooden shed that I think the Airedales used to help guide airplanes in for a landing.


He whispered, “Right out there.” He used his head to motion towards the concertina barrier.

All I could see out there that might look like a man was that wooden shed.

I talked fast and hard. “There’s nothing out there.”

He spit, “Bullshit, I can see them.”

I said, “Don’t stare at stuff out there, makes you think it’s moving. Let your gaze rove.”

I heard it before I saw it. He’d pulled the pin on that grenade.

I cajoled, I ordered, I almost begged him to put the pin back in the grenade. Then I grabbed his hands and we got into a push and shove. Like I said, he was big and like most Marines who’d been in the bush for almost twelve months, I wasn’t much thicker than a cigarette.

While all of this transpired, I imagined the grenade going off and what it would do to our arms and stomachs and chests and hearts, our faces.

He finally gave up the grenade and the pin and I got the damned thing squared away and stashed in the fighting hole before I began to slap him and punch him and kick him and talk nasty about his mamma.

He wrapped his arms around me and slammed me to the ground and asked me politely to quit hitting him.

Later that night, I told Corporal J to get him out of my fire team. J told me to settle down, but I wasn’t settling down. A man as frightened as that big, new guy would cost us lives. So away he went, to Weapons Platoon to be an ammo-humper for a machine gun team.

Over a month later, we assaulted a ridge southeast of the Gray Sector at Khe Sanh. By that time, I’d moved on from a fire team leader in a rifle squad to become a radio operator in the platoon command post.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh just prior to the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Staff Sergeant A and I moved down a trench as the war hammered around us. Sallow-faced dead people littered the field. Explosions rocked the ground, throwing red dirt into the air. Everywhere you advanced, bullets snapped, guns roared, men yelled and men screamed.

Trying to stay focused on radio communications, I looked off to my right—to this day, the memory is one of my strongest—and I saw a machine gunner thumping a Marine’s head with the butt end of his M-60.

It stopped me cold in my tracks. In my mind, the Marine getting pummeled has always been that man with whom I’d wrestled over that grenade. As sure as those quail I wrote about earlier know you’re going to bust them with your shot, I knew—I know it now—it was the big, new guy getting his head bashed in.

I think all combat vets intuit this but don’t really want to talk about it, how fear can crush your throat and grab your gonads and twist you into someone you never imagined you’d become.


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Vietnam War

August 18, 2011

August in Nam

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In August, 1967 the war in Vietnam raged. In I Corps, Marines died all along the DMZ. But in Bravo Company…..rain. Floods gushing down the trenches. Rebuilding the bunkers on Hill 861. Digging drains for the trenchlines and installing fifty-five gallon oil drums with their tops and bottoms cut out. Places for the floods to charge down the hill and gouge out blood red creases in the hillside. Trying to burn the trash dump….hazardous duty. Five gallons of gas, five gallons of diesel fuel. Damp matches from the inside of your damp jungle utilities. Damp skin. Fingers ridged with white wrinkles. One match out of ten ignites. When you manage to get the fire into the dump it erupts with a searing whoosh that knocks you off your feet. Sears your eyelashes, your eyebrows. An unforeseen consequence of war.

Patrols. No enemy. Boredom. Ambushes, listening posts. No enemy. Boredom. Dig dig dig, rain rain, mud, wet feet, wet skin. No enemy. Boredom. Fearless B. dancing on top of the machine gunner’s bunker as he yells expletives at the non-existent enemy. He flaps his arms like a goony bird. We stand wet watches in the knee-deep water…at night. Marines go to sleep on watch. A court martial offense. “In the old Corps,” the old salts say, “they’d have summarily shot you in the head. As you slept. You are putting everybody in danger.” We go to sleep on watch. A slap on the helmet instead of a court martial. The harsh tap of a .45 caliber pistol barrel on the top of your helmet instead of a .45 caliber slug in your temple. Bored.

Down off the north side and along the Song Rao Quan as it cuts a deeper valley. Hints of cigarette smoke that doesn’t smell like ours. Cold c-rats as we get excited and hunt something to shoot. Anyone not on our side. Who’s out there. Nothing. Stale scent of unfamiliar tobacco…that’s all.

At night, again, reports of probes and a Marine tosses a grenade that sounds like a dull whump as it explodes in the head-high jungle grass. We go on alert as the frogs click and the crickets click and we click the safeties of our M-16s. Nothing but the moon on the south horizon and the breezes whispering over the wet sandbags that build our bunkers. The one night all  month we are not choked by fog. We whisper to the man on the next post about all the girls we laid before becoming Jarheads. We lie. Nothing. We go back to sleep.

Someone rolls a smoke grenade down the steps into the Lieutenant’s hooch. He stomps sputtering and cussing up the stairwell and gets tripped as he lurches into the foggy black of night. Yellow smoke mixes with mist. He splays on his face and gets kicked in the ass. Jungle boots retreat in the mud amid laughter. The next morning he tries to track his attackers but the steady rain has jumbled the waffle prints of the boots. We all snigger as we hide our dirty faces in our dirty dungaree jackets.

One night a patrol out through the gate on the trail to 881 South. It is so dark you can barely see the man standing next to you. Mist drips off the end of your nose, your weapon, your trousers are damp. The jingle of dog tags and the creak of web gear. The crack and snap of rounds being chambered in M-16s. Somewhere a cigarette lighter clangs. The acrid scent of Marlboros assaults your nose. The nip of it feels right on your tongue. You tote a Browning 12-gauge. Out the gate and into a bamboo thicket so dense it chokes all the air out of your lungs. Vertigo, vertigo. You don’t know what’s out in front. Death breathes a deep sigh that tingles the bones in your spine. Cobras, out there, Charlie. Death. The dredge of boots through the sloppy red mud. Out the other side into a dark less dark. Grayer than the black that invaded your soul and left you lost for the twenty-five paces you had to act brave. Back in the bamboo thicket.

Out here, no sign of Charlie. Nothing.