A Psalm

How can I face the morning Lord?

Much of my night was without sleep, and my body feels wracked by the ravages of my enemies.

I fend off their blows but they always keep coming and, sometimes less and sometimes more, they land.

Sometimes when I dream it is of uncertainty, and when I awake it is in dread of the light.

Many of my nights yield small rest, but I shall find my rest in you.

It was you who kept watch over me in my fitful sleep.

It was you who reassured me when I awoke that my dream was only that; a dream, and my reality is filled with you.

It is you who tells me “Don’t fear the day; I will be there with you every step of the way.

And in the middle of the day, as I grind mechanically through my duties and forget to think about you,  and when I respond to hateful hearts and cynical tongues with sin of my own,

and when I find at the end of my day that I have become no better than my oppressors, 

You forgive me and tell me that you love me, you have loved me since before time began and will love me when time ceases to be,

and you have lifted me out of the mud, much of which is of my own making, wiped me clean and said “There. I love you.  Sin no more.” 

And you do it every day.

At last evening comes.  I bathe to remove the sweat and dirt, and also wash away the soreness and tension of the day.

Bed awaits and there, in the dark and quiet, I will still the din of voices that rage between my ears.

There in the night you whisper “Here I Am,” and at last I am able to let go of the day’s troubles, 

and cease to think about tomorrow’s.

For a few hours you will cradle me in your arms and give me rest.  For some that is not enough but for me it is the staff of life, and all the promise I need to step, with you, into tomorrow.

A Boy And His Dog, Part XI

Jerry came to visit me on my next day off, and I invited him back up to our perch on the water tower.  It was mid morning when we ascended the ladder and plopped ourselves down into the lawn chairs.  Beers were quickly opened and a joint was lit.  I didn’t waste a bit of time getting to the main point.  “Jerry, I want you to know right now that I believe your story.  I may be crazy, but I don’t think you are.  How do you think all of this happened?  I mean, have you seen a doctor?  Or, well, shit, I don’t know, but do you have any idea how a kid can get licked by a dog, or I guess you say that the dog bit you.  Anyway, that’s, like, werewolf stuff, which I don’t believe is real, or at least I didn’t until now.  What do you think, man?”

“I honestly don’t know” Jerry replied.  “I’ve had this ability for so long now that I don’t think about it much.  I just take it for granted.  I really felt a personal connection to that dog in San Diego, but not like we talked to each other.  I mean, he was just a dog.  And the only urges I’ve had to commit mayhem were normal human things.  That stuff with Dutch and Charlie, that was revenge pure and simple.  What I do for the Army, and sometimes other military branches too, is because I believe that we’re the good guys.  Not perfect, mind you, but good guys nevertheless.  And what I do is intended to keep really big shit from happening if possible, so the werewolf model is not applicable at all.

As for doctors, what are they going to do?  Run some blood tests?  Take an X-ray?  I haven’t read too many medical texts but as far as I know, ‘What To Do When A Guy Turns Into A Dog’ isn’t the title of any chapters.  I’ve actually turned more to folk stories and mythology, and even then the human-to-animal thing usually doesn’t end well.  There was a guy from a little flyspeck of a town in Arizona called Lukachukai.  Well, that was the closest town.  He lived fifteen miles up a dirt road from there.  Anyway, Clifton Begay is 100% Navajo.  I asked him in a roundabout way what he would think of people being able to take on the form of animals.  Clifton just spat on the floor and said ‘Skinwalkers’, and it looked like something poisonous was in his mouth when he said it.  I didn’t go any further with him on the topic, or with anybody else for that matter.  You’re the only person on earth who knows what I do except for that priest.”

“What about that priest?  You said that you told him about it.”

“That doesn’t count, because he didn’t believe me and I didn’t push it.  He probably has forgotten about me, or thinks that I was a figment of his imagination.  Nope, you’re it.  At this point it’s just you, me an God that knows about this.”

“God!” I blurted out.  “I don’t think there’s any God in the first place, and if I did I wouldn’t like him much for doing this to me.”

“Well, I didn’t believe in God either, not when I was getting the shit beaten out of myself on a daily basis.  But you have to admit, math and science and logic and reason put together can’t explain this, but still it’s true; it’s real.  There is no mechanistic philosophy that has a way to explain ‘Once boy now dog now boy again’.  I can’t explain this, but i know it’s true.  I know, I’m repeating myself.  That’s how it’s been when I’ve tried to figure this thing out; I just keep looping over and over and come up empty.  It just is and I don’t know why it is.  But nothing natural gives me an answer, and so I have turned to the supernatural to sort this all out.  I don’t know much about God, but I know that some source of my changeability exists and it doesn’t exist in the natural world.”

Thinking this deeply about things like that boggled my brain under the best of circumstances, and starting my second beer after finishing the first Saigon bomber were not the best of circumstances.  Jerry sensed that and changed the topic, sort of.  We spent the rest of the morning talking about home in San Diego and girls of course, whom Jerry liked even if nothing could ever come of that for him, and my plans for life after the Army.  Jerry told of a few of his canine exploits, but none of them during his military experience.  Jerry figured that he would remain in the military or some sort of intelligence gathering agency.  “I’m pretty good at this” he said, and I agreed that it was most likely so.

At noon we descended from the tower and had lunch at the mess tent.  While we were eating some facsimile of a hamburger and fries I asked Jerry if he would like to stay overnight and meet some of my friends.  One of my hooch-mates had recently rotated back to the States and his bunk was temporarily unoccupied.  Jerry was hesitant to accept.

“I’m not really good with crowds” he explained.  “I never was, but my need to be careful at all times makes a group setting, especially one with alcohol present, a danger for me.  If I drop the wrong word or get too loose, bad things can happen.”

“Come on” I urged.  “If you get uncomfortable let me know, and we’ll both leave the group.”

Jerry thought about that for a bit and at length nodded his assent.  “Maybe a night out would do me good” he said.  “God knows it’s been a long enough time since I had one walking on two feet.

So it came about that we were at the Enlisted Men’s Club for my battalion that Sunday evening.  The buses had returned from Newport, and Chief and Strawberry and Big Plow and Ozzie, whom I now was less likely to hang around with, and Jerry and I had eaten dinner and were seated at a round table in the middle of the room.  I introduced Jerry to the guys and he was accepted readily into the group.  It was our habit to empty our pockets of any money that we had on us and pile it on the table.  The server would then take what was needed for the next round and we would laugh and talk and tell bullshit stories about our sexual prowess and everything else that nineteen and twenty year old men; well, boys yet really, would talk about whether in the Army or in a locker room or a dorm room anywhere in the world.

Jerry was hesitant at first to become completely engaged with the group, and never really ‘got loose’ as we would say, but I could see that he was beginning to unwind a little.  He let out several good belly laughs as the others told their stories and told one or two stories of his own that were so outlandish that everyone at the table thought they were the usual B.S, but I suspected differently.  I began to see that this sort of social interacting, what Jerry had avoided half of his life, was something that he needed.  Islands can be beautiful, pristine and serene, but islands can be lonely too.

I was pondering this when Frank Washburn and a couple of his friends entered the Club.  Frank and I were not friends at all.  He was not overly tall, maybe an inch or two more than me, but he was powerfully built.  Added to his physical gifts was an attitude that made a wolverine look like Saint Francis of Assisi.  Frank reminded me of a kid I had known in San Diego, a kid who was short and pudgy and got picked on a lot.  One year that kid started to grow up very big and very intent upon payback for every slight that he had ever suffered.  I didn’t now one thing about Frank’s childhood, but I most definitely knew that he emerged from it with a baseline attitude which could turn to rage in a heartbeat.

I crossed swords with Frank one evening when everybody was impossibly drunk and he called me out for being a hippy.  At that moment I couldn’t have told you what a hippy was; I thought it might be something like a beatnik, but I wasn’t at all sure.  I did like to wear beads and little round glasses with simple glass ‘lenses,’ because that’s what John Lennon wore on the cover of one of their albums, and I did smoke marijuana and listen to rock and roll music, but to put that into a coherent philosophy about anything would have been way past my skills.  Frank was from cowboy country though, Wyoming or Colorado or somewhere like that, and he took exception to the appearance which I had elected to present to the world.

Once sufficiently lubricated I found my limit of Frank’s sarcastic comments and told him to screw himself.  Bad move.  Frank prepared himself to beat me to a pulp and I grabbed a tubular metal bunk extender to defend myself.  I took a swing and Frank staggered backwards, falling into a defensive trench and breaking one of the bones in his forearm.  That had kept Frank off of me for a while but now the break was healed, the cast was off, and Frank was back to being his old, miserable, mean and dangerous self.

“Oh, hey, look.  The pussy’s come out from under his rock.”  Frank’s voice boomed over the speakers that were just then blasting out Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”  This situation did not make me very happy at all, and I tried to ignore it.  Ignoring it didn’t work.  One of Frank’s friends, a creole guy named Lucian who we all called ‘Lucy,’ said “Come on Frank.  The punk’s about to pee his pants.  Let’s just go and have some beers.”  Frank didn’t buy it though, and said “Shut up Lucy.  This punk’s had a beating coming and tonight he’s going to get one.”

My friends all sat rigid and stopped talking.  They knew that I could not defend myself against Frank and they knew that Frank and his two friends could probably take on all of us.  They didn’t just want to throw me to the wolves however, and the probability of several people being beaten up that night was very high.  We all sat still as statues as Frank marched over to our table, threw a glass of beer in my face and spit on me.

“Come on punk.  It’s time for your ass-kicking.  Let’s go outside so I don’t mess the place up with your sissy blood.”

Frank was leaning over the table and leering at me, no more than a foot away from my face.  I knew that I had to take my chances, and I knew that it would be merciful if I died that night.  I was seconds from pushing my chair back and rising when I felt Jerry’s hand on my knee.  At the same moment he said “I’m sorry Frank – is that your name?- but I can’t let that happen.”

Frank’s narrow, almost piggish little eyes, narrowed even further as he swung his gaze to take in the form of Jerry ,sitting next to me without any sign of perturbation.  “What did you say puke?” he growled.

“I assume your hearing is good enough to allow you to serve in the Army” Jerry replied, “so it’s a pretty good guess that your ugly, stupid ass heard exactly what I said.”

Frank was not accustomed to hearing language like this and he drew back a foot or two, his face turning beet red as his tiny little brain processed what he had just heard.

“OK punk” Frank snarled.  “When I’m done with momma’s boy here I’m going to murder you next.”

“You’re not going to murder anyone” Jerry stated calmly, “and in fact, if you will just shut your filthy, ignorant pie hole and walk out of here right now, and never run your mouth to one of the soldiers here – he waved his hand at me and my friends – again, I will allow you to go about your business and do whatever else you like to do.  But if you can’t do that, we have a problem.”

I thought that Frank would shit his pants.  His face now turned a blotchy purple and it looked like he was about to launch himself across the table.  Jerry, on the other hand, looked like he was listening to a scholarly dissertation on population migration in Central Europe in the fifteenth century.  Frank’s friends grabbed hold of him, sensing that there was something new here, but Frank wanted nothing to do with that.  He threw their arms off of him and moved towards Jerry who simply held up his hand.

“Hold on” he said.  “If you want to make this physical it’s you and me, alone, outside.  No show for the troops.  No show for your friends or mine.  Just you and me.  If you’ve got the balls, let’s put this thing to bed alone and outside.”

Frank was fit to be tied and agreed to those terms immediately.  “Order a round” Frank said to his friends.  “I’ll be back inside in a few minutes and once we’re liquored up I’ll finish with this sawed-off piece of shit – he pointed at me – as a nightcap.”

Frank straightened up and bowed, waving his right arm in a grand and bowed sweep toward the door, inviting Jerry to step outside.  Jerry laughed and said “I wasn’t born yesterday, shitbird.  You first.”  Frank got even madder at that, probably because he had intended to sucker-punch Jerry if he had walked in front of Frank.  “Fuck you” Frank growled, and stalked out through the screen door, into the muggy Vietnam night.  Jerry followed him and the screen door closed with a bang, and with every eye in the building glued onto it.

I pretty much knew what was about to happen.  I remembered Jerry telling me about his settling of scores with Dutch and Charlie, and I hoped, just barely, that Jerry would leave Frank alive.

“OK, show’s over guys” I shouted to the room.  “Two gentlemen have gone to settle their differences and have asked for a little privacy.  I suggest we give it to them.”

The silent men in the room began to murmur, and then sat down and returned to their beers.  My friend Yancy who ran the EM Club called out “Next one’s on the house” and turned up the volume of his stereo.  In moments the room full of men had forgotten the little difference of opinion that was being settled outside and returned to drinking their beer and listing to the Doors belt out “Light My Fire.”

“Your friend’s probably dead by now” Lucy said to me.  Lucy was usually an OK guy, and what he said to me was more in the way of a factual statement than a sneer.  He had every reason to believe it.

“No, I don’t think so” I replied.  “My friend has resources.  He’s pretty good at taking care of himself.  I think Frank’s in over his head right now.  Have a drink, man.  You know, you can do better than hanging around with Frank.”

Lucy voiced his doubts as to the veracity of my opinion but grabbed one of the beers that rested on the table before us.  He was taking his first pull on the can when we heard a loud ‘Thud!’ against the back wall of the building.  Lucy jumped up but I quickly motioned for him to sit down.  “Jerry said to stay put, and Frank agreed with that.  We’ll find out soon enough what’s going on.”  Lucy sat down as instructed but was clearly uncomfortable with the whole scene.  Jerry had been cool as a cucumber.  I was obviously unperturbed, and this all ran completely counter to what Frank and his entourage had become accustomed to.

At length Jerry came back through the screen door and sat down next to me.  There was an electricity that seemed to run through him.  He just sat down, drew in a long breath, exhaled for what seemed like a full minute, and then grabbed a fresh beer and sucked down about half of it.  When he had finished swallowing his beer he looked directly at Lucy and his friend Chase and said “Your friend is behind the building.  He is hurt very badly, but none of his injuries are life threatening.  I suggest that you pick his pathetic, bleeding ass up and carry him to his bunk.  He won’t die, well, not tonight anyway, but he’ll wish he had when he wakes up.  And you should both reconsider who you want to be your friend.  Tonight I punished your Frank.  Tomorrow I or somebody else might punish you.  You can all do better than this.”

Jerry sat back in his chair and hoisted his beer again, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  Lucy and Chase rose and went outside.  Chief and Plow and Strawberry began to bombard Jerry with questions but I raised my hand and said “Why don’t we just put this thing to bed?  In fact, I think that I’ve had enough for one night and I’m ready to pack it in.  What do you say Jerry?”

Jerry drained his can of beer and nodded.  “Yeah, I guess I’m ready for some shuteye.”

Since we’d already paid up with our pile of cash, Jerry and I arose to return to my hooch while the guys stayed to finish off the evening’s entertainment.  When we arrived at my hooch I checked my bunk to be sure that Leroy the Snake wasn’t coiled up under the blanket and told Jerry to stretch out there.  I posted up in the empty bunk and proposed to use a bath towel for my blanket.  It never really got cold in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, so covers were not much of an issue.

We got snuggled in and, in the darkened hooch (because lighted hooch in Vietnam made great targets for VC mortar and rocket men) we stretched out on our bunks and began to talk.  “I remember what you told me about Charlie and Dutch.  How bad did you mess Frank up?”

“Pretty bad.  He’s a tough guy, and I had to land a couple dozen blows before he began to understand that he was in trouble.”

“Is he going to live?” I asked.  “Will they send him home because he’s unable to perform his job?”

“Yeah, he should live” Jerry answered.  “I made it a point to cut him up good, but I didn’t try to do anything that might be fatal.  If things wok out the way I planned he’ll be the sorest son of a bitch in Vietnam tomorrow, but he’ll recover.”

I thought about that for a while, and finally asked Jerry “Why is Frank such an asshole?  I mean, why does he get so much pleasure out of causing other people so much pain?  Frank does his work OK, and usually he isn’t a total shit.  Why does he get like that?”

Jerry was silent for a while, thinking of how to say exactly what was to come next.  At last he said “Frank’s a special case.  I don’t know exactly what makes him tick, but I know how he’s wound.  Frank’s a bully pure and simple.  That’s a lot like saying Franks a human; it’s easy to see.  I don’t know why he’s like that.  Maybe his Dad beat him.  Maybe he was a short, fat kid who grew up and took revenge.  Maybe he’s just evil and enjoys hurting people.  Well, actually, I know that he enjoys hurting people.  he was going to give you a beating tonight that you possibly wouldn’t have survived; at least you would have been rotated home because you would have been of no further use to the Army.  You should know as well as anyone that I have had a first rate education with bullies, and I know one when I see one and I know what they’re thinking.

Frank is a beast.  I knew that I had to avoid being hit because he has a lot of power.  Luckily, I could see his blows coming as if they were in slow motion, and I knew that he had his power from the right.  He used his right hand to throw beer on you, and I had his number from that moment.  He landed a few lefts but there was less power in them.  When his right was down I loved into his face and, most important, his liver and kidney.  After a few blows over the liver he became even slower on his feet, as I knew he would, and I began to pepper his face and head with jabs.

I made certain that my blows would cut and bleed him but not cause real, mortal, physical damage.  Every time he looks in the mirror from now on he’ll see scars to remind him that somebody smaller than him who wants to be left alone just might explode in his face and maybe kill him.  It won’t be me, but somebody might.”

I was fascinated by all of this.  “I still would like to know how he came to be like this” I said as a rhetorical question rather than directed at Jerry.  I could sense the shrug of Jerry’s shoulders in the darkness.

“I have no idea” he said.  People become bullies for as many reasons as there are people.  I’ve already mentioned a few.  Maybe he has a short pecker.  Who can say?  One thing was clear as crystal to me though.  Frank wanted to fuck you up very bad tonight, and maybe worse than that.  Why he likes dispensing pain I don’t know, but he planned to dispense it to you in spades.  Sometimes people just act out of pain, but in a very small percentage of such cases people simply act out of pure evil.  I think Frank strayed into the category of evil.  Why?  I don’t know, but he is there.  He likes pain.  He likes inflicting it.  It makes him feel good.  Frank had to be stopped.”

I thought about what Jerry had said, and I could not find fault with any of it.  The thought did occur to me however that I might have the devil to pay when Frank recovered from his beating,  and said so.  Jerry sought to reassure me on that front.

“Frank will not be bothering you  I made certain that he was fully conscious when I made it clear to him that what he was experiencing tonight was only a taste of what he could expect if he ever looked sideways at you or your friends again.  I could see his body expressing first confidence, then doubt, then fear, and finally terror as I cut him and bruised him and finally let him feel all of the pain and fear that he had exacted from his previous victims.  I told him that I would be around and he wouldn’t even know it.  And if he lifted a finger against any of you I would know and I would cut his liver out while he was still breathing and eat it before he dies.  At that moment I just may have shown him a wolf’s face, but I was distracted and I don’t exactly remember.”

I could sort of feel Jerry smiling in the dark at that moment, and I smiled too.  Frank needed a good ass whipping and I was happy that he had gotten it.  The mental picture of him looking through puffed up eyes at a canine gargoyle about to rip his throat out was quite enjoyable to me.  While I was pleasantly engaged in that thought Jerry spoke again in the darkness.

“I know that this sounds grand to you.  All of your troubles solved by superior physical and mental power.  But this is really my curse.  When I was the object of bullies, all I wanted to do was deal out pain in greater measure than the pain that was dealt out to me.  I now have the ability to do just that, but it brings no real pleasure.  Frank was an easy target.  He would wind up but I would land three blows before he could unload, and then it was not great trick to see that he missed when he did swing.  I chopped him, diced him and sliced him, and left him bleeding and cut all over.  That sounds great at first, but after a while you realize that Frank is just an injured soul like the rest of us.  He’s an asshole, but otherwise not all that different from you or me.  It’s not hard to hate Frank but remember, he’s just another broken human and we all have a little Frank in us.  Thankfully, a very little.”

At that point I laid back on my bunk and tried to sort out all that Jerry had said.  The ability to beat all of your enemies into submission sounded like a wonderful thing to me.  I mean, they had it coming, didn’t they?  Jerry seemed to be telling me that violence doesn’t solve anything, but only after he had just beaten the shit out of Frank.  But wait a minute.  He didn’t say that violence doesn’t solve anything; he just said that violence shouldn’t be the first resort.  Nor should it be celebrated.  Violence in this case was perfectly acceptable because violence by the strong was about to be visited upon the weak.

This needed further discussion, and I opened my mouth to speak but was stopped when I heard the unmistakable sound of a snore coming from my bunk.  I listened to a few more breathing cycles and decided that Jerry had indeed fallen asleep.  I wasn’t quite ready to follow him so I lit my last joint of the night.  In the guttering light of my Zippo I saw Jerry fully stretched out, peacefully still and obviously sound asleep.

Once the Zippo went out the hooch returned to darkness, except for the glow of my joint.  Images passed through my brain as I lay there; the convoy, a battered Dutch, Frank with fear in his eyes and a young woman maybe having puppies.  My friend, whom I had come to fully believe in, was different from all of what I had previously believed was possible.  He opened my mind to the possibility that what I could see was not all that there was to be seen.  I determined at that moment to dig deeper into that though the next morning when we were both awake.  There were many things here that I wanted to know.

A Boy And His Dog, Part X

My weekend was one to write a story about, after the statute of limitations has expired that is, and Jerry was undoubtedly correct in deciding to wait until Sunday to give me the map.  I arose at nearly noon on that day and stumbled bleary-eyed down the stairway and through the gate, then out onto the sidewalks of Saigon.  To my amazement, Jerry was waiting for me in a taxi.  “You want a ride, man?”

“Sure” I replied.  “Why not?  I climbed into the tiny taxi in the usual way; by turning my back to the seat, sitting down, and then pivoting on my butt to put my legs in the car.  “How did you know that I would be coming out this doorway at this time?” I asked.

“I’m a good guesser” Jerry replied with a grin.

“Yeah, I can see that” I said.  We chatted about nothing in particular and when the taxi got us to Newport Jerry got out with me, carrying a small leather case.

“I thought we could have some lunch together” he said.  I agreed to that and paid the taxi, and then led the way to the Newport mess hall.  The fare there was the usual; bland but filling.  I got something that looked sort of like pot roast and then carried my tray over to a table.  I then went for some coffee while Jerry finished selecting his meal and taking a seat across the table from where I had set my tray.  I returned with two cups of coffee and began to wolf down my meal.  I always hoped that the food and coffee would smooth things down in my churning stomach and throbbing head, but they never did.  At length Jerry finished his meal and after pushing away the tray he produced the leather case that he had been carrying

Jerry opened the case and said “Here.  I’ve prepared a little something for you.  This is a map of the route that your convoy will take tomorrow, and here are sixteen sites where there are tunnels that could house snipers or rocket men.  I don’t know how many of these will be occupied, if any at all, and I don’t know what is on the other side of the road.  I just know that these points on the map are all potential targets for you escorts.

“How in the hell did you get this?” I asked in amazement.

“If I tell you I’ll have to bite you” Jerry said with a straight face that lasted only a few moments.

“So you’re telling me that you did your dog thing and found this stuff for me?”

Jerry nodded the affirmative and said “I don’t have too many people who are even close to being friends, and if I can keep your randy ass alive I guess it’s worth the effort.  I smiled and made a mental note to look up what “randy” meant, and then thanked him for the map.  Jerry assured me that I was welcome to it, and after lunch excused himself.  “I’ve got to get back to work.  You use that map well, and good luck.

Monday morning dawned upon the convoy loaded and ready to go.  The night crew had loaded the trucks and had them lined up with motors running by 0430. At 0400 I  was awakened from my cot in the mail room and struggled to get my balance.  I was only marginally successful until I had a plate of sausage and eggs and toast, and a couple of cups of strong black coffee down the hatch.  I returned my tray and then fetched my steel pot and flak jacket, and then was issued my M-14 rifle and five magazines of bullets.  I also brought the map.  I went to the lead vehicle, which was a deuce and a half, and took my place in it.  Today there would be the driver, a radioman, and me.  At 0515 we started our vehicles and fifteen minutes later the gates swung open and out we went.

The first leg of the convoy wound through the edge of Saigon and past Tan Son Nhut.  I wondered what Jerry was doing as we passed by and in my mind I saw him running on all fours and sniffing for VC snipers, and it startled me after a while to find that I was beginning to accept his story as at least possible.  When we passed a particular intersection I noted the odometer reading on the truck’s dash.  We couldn’t zero that device the way that Jerry had on his jeep, so I noted the milage and used that as my staring point.

The first two thirds of the route were not the most dangerous and I relaxed a bit, although I still kept my eyes open and frequently used the binoculars to scan the road ahead and the brush and tall grasses to either side.  Winding tributaries of the Saigon River and occasional small collections of hoots which signified a tiny farming community appeared and then fell behind us, and I wondered how this country would look if the shooting would stop so that people could just go about their lives.

We didn’t talk much in the cab of the truck.  At first the driver was a little bit chatty, mostly trying to relieve his own jitters, I suspected, but by the time we were twenty miles down the road it was all business.  We were rapidly approaching the first marked point on the map and I stared into the binoculars looking for the crumbling hooch until I thought my eyeballs must be popping out of the other end.  At last the hooch came into view.

“Tell the MPs to target two meters from the corner of that hooch” I told the radioman.  The driver and I tensed as the radioman followed my instructions, and we stayed that way until we passed it by.  A short distance ahead I pointed out the blasted tree stump.  “Watch out for the base of that stump” I said.  The word went out and all eyes were on the base of the stump until we passed it by.

“What the hell did they hire you for?” asked the driver, who was getting a little bit pissed at being wound up and then having to wind down.  “What’s your beef?” I asked.  “Would you rather somebody put an RPG up your ass?  I hope I’m wrong all the way to Cu Chi and back, but I’m just calling what I see.”

“I don’t see you seeing anything at all” said the driver, now getting a little more testy.

“Quiet, both of you” said the radioman.  “We can play together in the sandbox when we’re finished with this.  Let’s focus.”

I went back to my map and saw that the third marker was coming up.  This one was more vague:  Three large bushes in a triangular pattern thirty meters off the road.  At length I saw the bushes and also saw a small piece of broken glass that was shining not three meters away from them.  “Jerry must not have been able to see that in the dark” I thought.  I called out the target and again the MPs who were escorting us focused on that area.  This time, as we drove parallel to the site, a brush-covered lid popped open and a figure with an RPG stuck his head out and began to aim his weapon.

The MPs were ready however, and fire from three M-60 machine guns mounted on jeeps converged on the point occupied by the head of the VC.  His body and what remained of his head dropped down into the hole but the RPG, which was a longish weapon, was left sticking half out.  The lid flopped down bur was unable to close because of the RPG.  The MPs gave a cheer and quickly called for a nearby Armored cavalry unit to come and exploit this exposed hole.  A tunnel rat would soon be crawling down that hole, seeing what information he could find to bring more of the fight to the enemy.

We continued to tool on down the road however.  About a half mile further on we took fire from the other side of the road, but nobody was hit.  I saw each one of the positions that Jerry had marked out and three of them besides the first produced a sniper.  In each case heavy and accurate fire was either returned or initiated before the sniper could get his shot off.  The MPs swarmed to where the lids hid the tunnel exits and found them in no time at all, one of them spattered with blood and brains.  This was a windfall that the cavalry and infantry would greedily exploit, paying back for all of the sniper attacks that they had endured on this road.

At last we got to Cu Chi and the headquarters of the 25th Infantry.  “How did it go?” hollered a local MP who began directing us into a marshaling yard adjacent to the supply dump.  “Like a walk in the park” returned our driver, who turned to give me a thumbs up.  We all squeezed into the yard and our guys unassed their vehicles in order to help with the unloading.  The sooner the load was dropped off and one or two disabled tanks or other damaged vehicles were driven or winched onto the flatbed trucks, the sooner we could return to the relative safety, or at least familiarity, of our own base camp.

By 1400, or 2:00 PM, we were loaded and pointed south in the direction of Saigon.  I was once again in the lead vehicle and began right away to scan the sides of the road for snipers, but we had hardly gone a mile before I saw that the sides of the road were crawling with American and ARVN infantry units that were exploiting the discovered tunnels, and were following others that were found out by close to a platoon of tunnel rats, or American G.I.s of small physical stature with gigantic balls of steel who would crawl through the darkened tunnels with just a .45, seeing what information they could obtain or how much hell they could raise.  The presence of so much infantry made the drive home seem like a Sunday promenade up Highway 101 along the beach back home, and we pulled into the yard at Newport a little after three in the afternoon.

I left my truck and reported to headquarters, who thankfully had nothing for me to do, and then found one of my day shift buddies who could get away and smoke a joint with me.  I was a wreck; I hadn’t had a shower in two days and the humidity and heat of Vietnam by itself was enough to make me a sticky, stinky mess.  Add to that the sweat and strain of making the convoy run and pulling off of the trucks everything that we could by hand in order to get back to Newport as quickly as possible.  Once Tom Farrell and I had climbed up to a high spot on a freighter that was unloading cargo, we lit our joint and smoked it in peace and security.  I started shaking as the nerves in my body began to relax.

“Shit man, you going to be OK?” Tom asked.  “Maybe we should get back down on the ground and get you to the dispensary.  I don’t want to have to carry your skinny ass down those stairs”

I assured tom that I was cool, but really didn’t believe that one myself.  I was not a hero, and the first time that I heard a bullet make its fluttering whistle sound as it sped past my ear I literally crapped in my underwear.  Most people get used to this stuff to one degree or another, but it was only people who had crossed some kind of line into the margins of insanity who ever came to like it.

I did settle down however, eventually.  We chatted up on that deck, or bridge, or crow’s nest or whatever the hell they call that part of a ship, for about twenty minute, perfect targets for any sniper but enjoying the cool breeze that was to be found at that altitude.  After that Tom went back to work and I went to the mess hall, where I sat and drank coffee and waited for the buses that would bring in the night shift and take us home.  At last they arrived and I was transported back to Long Binh where a shower and change of clothes, dinner, a cold beer and a more or less soft bunk awaited me.

A Boy And His Dog, Part IX

Jerry left the Continental Hotel experiencing a feeling that he was completely unfamiliar with.  He had exposed himself to me in a way that he had not with anybody else except once.  On that occasion he had gone to a Catholic priest and told him his story.  Jerry’s household was not very religious but Jerry did feel that his condition was suggestive of some forces at work that he knew nothing about.  The priest thought that Jerry was a kid who needed psychiatric help until Jerry turned his hand into a rather large paw.  At that point the priest nearly shit in his cassock and declared that Jerry was in need of an exorcism.  Jerry didn’t know much about such things but he knew that he didn’t need any of that crap, and so he lit out from there determined that he would never show anyone that trick again unless he was 100% certain that the person would accept what he saw.

Jerry was now as close to a real relationship as he had ever been, and he was troubled by the thought of the convoy to Cu Chi.  Jerry had been given no intelligence gathering missions in that direction but had heard of the great trouble that patrols and convoys had in that zone.  On his way back to 3rd Recon he began to make a plan on how to help Jerry survive the convoy.

The distance from Saigon to Cu Chi is less than fifty miles, and the worst part of the trip was a seven mile strip just south of Cu Chi.  Jerry knew that the South Vietnamese Army patrolled that highway and set up roadblocks here and there, and he decided to approach his Vietnamese counterpart, Captain Khanh, about getting him out to that stretch of road.

Upon returning to 3rd Recon Jerry obtained clearance for a weekend of personal time and then phoned Captain Khanh.  “Captain Khanh” came the voice over the phone in the musical Vietnamese language.  Jerry identified himself in Vietnamese and expressed his wish.  “You a crazy G.I.  Beaucoup dinky-dow!” Khanh said in the odd pidgin that had developed between the Vietnamese and Americans there.  “Nothin’ but snakes and VC out there.  You wanna they kill you?  Mebbe me too?  Mebbe Khanh sok mau you, put some sense in your head.”

“It’s OK Khanh.  I know what I’m doing.  You get me close to that stretch and i’ll get you some dead VC.”

“You drive a hard bargain, dinky dow G.I.  OK, Khanh help you.  You gotta address so I write letter to you momma-san, or girl friend?  Oh, Khanh forget.  You too damn crazy to have girl friend.”

Jerry laughed and thanked Khanh, and said that he’d be ready at dark, about 7:00 or 1900 military time, and then spent the next few hours in the research rooms leaning all that he could about the road to Cu Chi.

When the time came to move out Jerry was seated in a jeep next to Captain Khanh.  this would be an operation run completely under the radar, with neither the American or South Vietnamese militaries aware of its taking place.  The jeep’s headlights were reduced to thin slits which permitted only the most limited view of the road immediately in front of them.  There was almost no movement along this road at night, and Jerry and Khanh were counting on there being nobody looking for one unescorted jeep to be traveling into the lion’s maw on this particular evening.  The two intelligence operatives barely spoke to each other for the duration of the trip, as if the whisper of their voices would give them away when the hum of the jeep’s engine would not.

At last they arrived at the beginning of the most deadly stretch of the highway and Jerry tapped Khanh”s knee.  The Vietnamese officer pulled over to the side of the road and gladly shut off the engine.  Jerry stepped out of the open side of the jeep and disappeared into the gloom.  At about twenty feet from the jeep Jerry stopped and slipped off his clothes.  Then, in only a second or two, the human form melted and became that of a beagle.

Jerry chose the beagle because it had as many scent receptors in its nose as did a German shepherd, but as a smaller dog he would make even less noise and draw less attention.  Zero attention, in fact, is what Jerry was aiming at.  Additionally, the beagle can detect airborne scents as well as those attached to objects, which gave Jerry the ability to run along parallel to the road sniffing the air for the scent of humans or explosives while employing his keen eyesight to avoid branches and twigs that could give away his presence.

Jerry trotted along for the better part of a mile when he caught his first strong human scent.  Following that scent carefully he came to a spot where it was strongest, and here he could detect gunpowder and food smells too.  Jerry knew he had found his first covered tunnel, out of which a sniper could emerge to do his work and then disappear.  Underneath that tunnel lid was a virtual underground city with kitchens, hospital, armory and barracks.

Jerry ambled carefully back to the road, where he regained his human form and quickly built a small pile of rocks by the side of the pavement.  He then returned to the form of a beagle and scanned the scene of the tunnel from the road.  He could see the crumbled corner of a hooch, a rural house, that had once stood only a yard or two from the tunnel opening.   During the day that structure could be easily seen from the road, and Jerry made a mental note of that.

Jerry then moved on, adding four more miles of reconnaissance and fifteen more tunnel openings.  With a memory that bordered on total recall he noted some feature close to each tunnel that would be identifiable from the road and then ran back along the shoulder of the road until he could see Khanh sitting in the jeep.  The tired beagle slipped into the brush on the side of the road and found his clothing.  In a moment he was once again Jerry Warnock, who dressed and returned to the jeep.

“Khanh wonder you dead!” he whispered as Jerry slipped into his seat.  “We get out of here now?”

“No” Jerry replied.  “Drive a few miles up the road slowly, and I’ll tell you when to stop.”

“Dinky-dow, numba huckin’ ten G.I. get us both killed” the sweating Khanh said, but he began to move forward at about five miles per hour until Jerry’s eyes, which were changed into those of an Afghan hound for the occasion, detected his little rock pile on the road.  Jerry patted Khanh’s knee and he stopped.  Jerry checked the odometer, which they had zeroed at the beginning of their drive, and noted the miles and tenths.  He jotted down that number and the estimated distance to the crumbled hooch, and then signaled Khanh to continue.

After a little more than an hour Jerry signaled for Khanh to turn around and return to Tan Son Nhut.  “Now Khanh think mebbe we don’t die.  You still dinky-dow like hell, but Khanh like you again.”  Jerry smiled and punched Khanh gently on the shoulder.  Khanh turned the jeep around and began rolling as quietly as possible down the highway towards a hot cup of coffee, probably with a splash of Irish whiskey in it, a soft bed, and the unlikely result of being alive after this escapade.  They passed through an ARVN roadblock two miles north of the camp and drove up to the mother pool, from which they had ‘requisitioned’ the jeep.

“Thanks a lot, my friend” Jerry told Khanh.  “I own you a favor anytime you need it.”

“You kill beaucoup VC bastards”  Khanh replied.  “That thanks enough.”

Jerry walked across the ARVN camp, exchanging pleasantries with the nervous guards in their own tongue, and then passed into the American area.  The U.S. soldiers were accustomed to seeing this odd, solitary intelligence operative come and go at all hours of the day or night and paid little attention to him.

Jerry had the option of bunking in a barracks or a small hooch, and the hooch is where he chose to bed down.  He now headed straight to that hooch and pulled a map of the road that he and Khanh had just traversed out of a drawer.  Jerry made X’s at the various mile markers which he had just plotted, and in the corner of the map he listed in order the distance of each tunnel from the road and the closest landmark.  One was the hooch ruins, two was a six foot high tree stump that had probably been blasted by a howitzer shell, and so on.

When Jerry finished that task he walked over to the mess hall, had a modest breakfast, returned to his hooch and showered and then lay down to get a little sleep.  He thought about whether to give the map to me that day or wait until I was on my way back to Newport.  Just as Jerry began to drift off to sleep he decided that I was likely to lose the map in my wild weekend, and that Sunday was his best bet.  Jerry said a little prayer to the God he believed in in spite of the strangeness of his life and fell into a deep and contented sleep.

A Boy And His Dog, Part VIII

“See you guys later!”  I said as I waved at my friends.  We had ridden the bus from Long Binh to Newport Army Terminal, where they were going to begin their twelve hour shift.  I was to be driven into Saigon by Lieutenant Colonel Burke’s driver, whom I didn’t really know well.  They all threw me the clenched-fist ‘tighten up’ salute as we pulled away from the port headquarters, and soon we rolled through the gate and onto the highway that took us the rest of the way into Saigon.

It was a pleasant ride, in its own way.  Travel on Saigon’s streets and roads observed one very strict rule:  Size matters.  Five ton trucks yielded right of way to ten ton trucks.  Two and a half ton trucks (deuce and a half’s) yielded to five ton and so on down to the level of pedestrian.  Nobody broke this rule, with the result that out of this recipe for disaster arose an orderliness that made the chaos relatively accident free.

We chugged into Saigon and I sat back in my seat, enjoying the coolness of the morning, the smells from the sidewalk phō stands, and the rays of early morning sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees and the diesel and gas fumes from a million vehicles without a single emissions control devise among the lot of them.  It was very hard to believe that at any stop a kid could roll a grenade into my jeep, and I spent most of my time trying not to think about that.

The driver let me off in front of Saigon Port, from where I walked to Hai Bà Trung Street and purchased a ‘deck’ of twenty Saigon bombers.  Then I flagged a taxi and squeezed in for a ride to the Capital Apartments.  The Capital was a large five-story building where civilian contractors with the U.S. Government did actually rent rooms on a monthly basis.  There was a bar on the roof and frequently military officers of a higher rank and other contractors would go there and rent rooms for the night, which included the female residents of those rooms who also worked at the roof-top bar.  In spite of its expense, my friends and I preferred the Capital to all other places in Saigon, and it was there that I obtained my room for the next two nights and ascended to the roof top, where I could sip coffee or a soda and relax with a book until lunch time.  I had scheduled to meet Jerry at the Continental Hotel Restaurant.

Jerry was already waiting at a table when I got there, and he rose to shake my hand in the normal way, rather than our ‘tighten up’ greeting,  when I walked up.  “Hey, good to see you” he said.  “Pull up a chair.  Have a drink?” he asked.

“I’ll take a Bam bah” I said, using the G.I. slang for the Vietnamese national beer.  The waiter approached our table to give me a menu and Jerry said “Hai ba mi ba” in perfect Vietnamese.  The waiter was surprised but he was a professional.  He gave a short bow and disappeared to get our beers.

“Where did you learn Vietnamese?” I asked, probably clearing up the question of who was the stupidest soldier in Vietnam.

“Here” he simply said.  “I have a real facility with languages.  Ich kann den ganzen Tag lang zu Deutch sprechen.”  I just looked at Jerry, boggling.  “I’ve been in Germany a time or two.  In fact, I’m going back there within the next two months.  The real high stakes in the Cold War are in central Europe, not Vietnam.  This is a side show, and Eisenhower’s dominoes, which were real enough when he spoke of them, are pretty much a moot point now.  The Cong just want to finish kicking out the foreigners and make Vietnam one country again, and they don’t care if the foreigners are us or the French or the Chinese or the Russians.

Sure, they’re Reds” Jerry continues, “but they don’t want to export anything except Beer 33” – he raised his nearly empty bottle of beer – “rice and some seafood, if they can get their farming and fishing activities back on their feet after the war is over.  The Vietnamese don’t really like the Cambodians, and they don’t care much one way or the other about the Laotians, and those two countries feel much the same way about Vietnam.  This stupid war will grind on for a few more years because nobody had the balls or brains to just end it, but the real clash of civilizations is still in central Europe.  Russia is the biggest threat to the West, as we are to them, and that’s where my skills will come in most handily.”

The waiter returned with our beers and we ordered our meal.  As the waiter departed I picked up the conversation again.  “I want to tell you about your skills.  You were absolutely right about the attack on Long Bnh.  We were ready for it and handed the Cong an ass-whuppin’.  That’s why I’m here today.  My Colonel was in one hell of a good mood and gave me a pass to be here legally, which for me is a first.”

“Well, actually the brass didn’t believe your Colonel.  I guess he fucked up big time somewhere; maybe he got some general’s daughter pregnant, or maybe his wife.  Anyway, he’s got a cloud over his head and the big boys were inclined to ignore him.  Some of the lower ranking g-2’s at Long Binh talked with the security guys there and a few of them were ready to put a plan in place whether the brass wanted to or not.  They could have put Charlie in a world of hurt if they would have been more ready, and some Captains, Majors and Lieutenant Colonels are looking good now while some Colonels and generals are pointing their fingers – the ones they had stuck up their asses while the shit was hitting the fan – at each other.  Your Colonel, by the way, shined up his credentials just a little bit.  I’ve heard his name mentioned now and then, and I had never heard it before.”

“That’s good” I said.  “Colonel Bannock has never been a ball buster, although he can hand out a shit detail with the best of them.  My friends at Headquarters Company say that he’s perked up since the attack and is OK to be around.  He’s supposed to rotate home in three months, unless they extend his tour.  I can’t imagine that; I’m getting out of the Army the second that I can, if I survive that long.:

“Why wouldn’t you survive it?” Jerry asked.  “You don’t pull particularly hazardous duty do you?”

“Not generally” I said.  “But I’ve got lead position on a supply convoy to CuChi this Monday.  I did such a good job of sniffing out the last attack that the Colonel wants me to try my hand at locating snipers before they can put an RPG into us.”  I made a face at Jerry at this point.  “Thanks a lot for making me a hero.”  Jerry chuckled for a moment and said “Into every life some rain must fall. I’ve never done much in that area.  Lots of tunnels there, no?”

“Lots of tunnels there, yes” I replied.  “The little bastards pop up, take a shot, and then disappear.  Colonel Bannock thinks I’m Sherlock Holmes now, or maybe Geronimo, and I can see things that other people miss.  So I’m going to be sitting in the lead truck doing my ‘magic’ on Monday.  Probably get my ass blown sky high!”

Jerry frowned a little at that and scratched his jaw.  We fell silent as Jerry mulled the thought, a silence that was broken by the return of the waiter with our lunch.  “Give me a day to think about that” Jerry said, and we turned our attention to our plates of very American looking food.

As we ate Jerry asked me what I thought about his story, and it surprised me that I had forgotten all about the whole dog-boy thing.  The real life bullets and bombs had easily trumped the fantastic story which Jerry had told me, and I honestly hadn’t given it much thought.  “I don’t know” I told him.  “I don’t think you’re crazy, but it is still a hard thing to swallow without seeing this happen with my own two eyes.  Tell me again why you don’t want to just do that and end the matter.”

“Well, I want you to trust me” Jerry replied.  “I know it doesn’t seem to make a world of difference to you, but I want to feel that you know me, know that I’m a reliable friend, and that if I tell you something, even something as wild and whacky as the story that I’ve told you, that you believe it is true just because it’s me who says that it is.  I’ve lived quite a few years without a friend, and if I do succeed in finding one now I want it to be on that kind of foundation  I believe that you are worth having as a friend because you stepped up for me when I was at the most vulnerable time of my life, and potentially at some cost to yourself.  I’m looking for that level of friendship, and this is the way that I feel is best to achieve it.  If it is achievable at all, that is.

If it turns out that you can’t believe my story I won’t hold that against you.  I can’t swear that I would believe it either.  I will shake your hand and wish you well.  I have lived my entire life without a genuine friend and I’m not saying that to influence you one way or the other.  I really will be OK on my own.  That sort of comes with the territory when, as far as you know, you’re the only person on the planet that can do something as bizarre as I can, and will get you pretty much labelled as insane or worse if you reveal it.  If this is just too much of a creep show for you that’s OK, but if you think there’s any way that you can run with me on this I will be very grateful indeed.  The rest is up to you.”

I hadn’t even tasted the steak and potato that lay on the plate in front of me, and I now picked up my fork and knife and began to saw on the piece of expertly cooked meat.  I was used to the well-aged water buffalo, or whatever it was, that they fed us in the mess hall, and forgot how a real steak could taste.  I sliced off a piece, rolled it over with my fork as I inspected the level of doneness, and then put it into my mouth.  Ecstasy!  My attention for the moment was entirely on the steak.  Baked potato and green beans followed the piece of meat down my gullet as I pondered what to say next.

 

There was no doubt that Jerry had changed 180 degrees from what he had been, and it wasn’t because he had grown into a six foot four inch bruiser who could kick Muhammad Ali’s butt.  He also knew things that most people couldn’t have known about goings on in my unit unless he had been there, and nobody had seen him there.  Not as a human, at least.  And then there was the dog hair on my fatigues.  It was obvious that something here was truly different and I had to come to some sort of decision.  I gnawed on my lunch, rolling these thoughts around in my head while Jerry sat across the table from me placidly chewing and swallowing his food, giving me free reign to add it up and come to my own conclusion.

At length I put down my fork, caught the waiter’s eye, and asked for a shot of bourbon whiskey.  Distilled spirits were seldom my first choice but this was an unusual day, and I didn’t think that lighting a joint amongst the officers and high-ranking civilians who were enjoying their lunch around us would be the most clever thing to do.  When the shot came I took a sip and then looked directly at Jerry.

“Man, you’ve given me a hard proposition to handle.  I’ve told you that I think you are not crazy.  In fact, I guess I can say that I know you’re not, at least as far as you can know anything.  You’ve given me a story that nobody could believe without seeing it, but in every way you act as if it is true and that it would be perfectly rational for me to believe it too. I have to admit that I don’t have any other friends who can turn into dogs, and so this places me in a very interesting situation.  I’m still having trouble getting over the last hump, so will you be patient and give me a little more time?  I’d love a little more proof, too, but I can sort of understand your point about that.”

Jerry took the napkin and wiped his hands and lips and said “I can’t really ask for more than that.  I expected you would say that you can’t handle it at all.  Sure, I’ll let you think about it some more, and maybe I’ll give you a little more evidence to help you.  I’ll think about that for a while.

Anyway, it’s time for me to shove off.  I’ve got a few things to get done this weekend.  I’ll get back to you Sunday night if I can, or Monday morning at the latest.  Where are you staying in town?”

“At the Capital Apartments.  Why don’t you come and get a room with me? ”

“No, I don’t really fit there.  I’m pretty careful not to party too much, in case I start to run my mouth and say things that I shouldn’t, and sex is definitely not for me.”

“Oh, you’re a cherry!  Well come on man, I’ll get it popped for you.”

“No, it’s not like that.  I’m not being a prude, and I would like sex as much as the next guy.  Problem is, I don’t know what would come of it.  That next guy doesn’t run the risk of getting someone pregnant and the girl having a litter instead of a baby.  I don’t think that would happen, but I don’t  know it wouldn’t.  That can really mess with your head.”

I just stared at Jerry for a half a minute and then broke out laughing.  “Yeah, I guess that would slow me down pretty good.  Holy shit, man, I never thought of that.  Wow!  This just screws with my head more and more.”

“Tell me about it” Jerry said.  “It’s been screwing with mine for a good many years now. I’ll pick up the check if you’ll cover the table.”

“Cover the table?  What does that mean?”

“The tip, man.  I’ll pay for the meal if you’ll cover the tip.  It’s usually 10% of the check.”

“Really?  I’ve never heard of that!”

“Yeah.  It wasn’t expected at the Two J’s hamburger stand on University Avenue, but that’s what grown-ups do in the rest of the world” he said with a laugh.

“Screw you” I said, laughing also.  “I’ll pay 15%.”

We shook hands and Jerry hurried out of the restaurant.  I sat back down and ordered one last beer, and paid for it when it appeared on my table.  It was getting on towards 1:30 and the sun was beginning to bake Saigon, but I was comfortable in the covered outside dining area.  Large fans were stirring up the hot, humid air and I could look off toward the River while I nursed my beer.  Jerry had told me the craziest story anyone possibly could, but he seemed to be as normal as anyone could be, and in fact more normal than most of my friends at Long Binh.  I really liked the guy, and his sanity, when compared with my own, seemed to make him a very believable person.  I wanted to believe him but there was a strand of skepticism that I couldn’t shake.  “Oh well” I thought, “I’ll give it more time.  I’ve got other things to do now.”

So I arose and stepped out into the throng on Tu Doe Street and walked the short distance back to where my contact for buying weed and performing other, rather irregular currency transactions, managed his business.  Papa San could have been a VC for all I knew, or for all I cared for that matter.  I had very little investment in this war by this time, and so long as Charlie wasn’t shooting at me I had no intention of shooting at him.  I had nine months to go until the end of an almost two year tour, and if Charlie and I could work out some sort of modus vivendi, that was just fine with me.

My business with Pop concluded, I decided to walk back to the Capital Apartments.  There was a tailor along the route who was making me a blinding white suit with a Nehru jacket, an outfit made popular by the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.  The style was hugely popular back in the United States, as far as I could tell from outdated newspapers and magazines that I occasionally found from back there, and I was certain that a suit tailored to my six feet tall, one hundred and thirty two pound frame would make me the coolest stud imaginable when I got home, and irresistible to Elizabeth Sola, Jennifer Franklin and Carmen Martinez; three beauties from my neighborhood with whom I exchanged letters and expected to bowl over with my unmatched coolness upon my return.  It was just my luck that the Nehru style was not only passé when I returned home but was in fact a joke by the time I put my sandaled foot on the sidewalks of my San Diego and returned to normal life, as resistible and uncool as I ever had been.

After leaving the tailor shop I walked another half mile to the Mi Mi Flamboyant Bar on Le Lei Street.  Mai Lee worked there and I wanted to stop in and give her some money.  My relationship with Mai Lee began one night when we had slid into Saigon for an evening’s debauchery and ended up at the Mi Mi.

This bar, like the Capital Apartments, was a place where patrons were usually a lot higher on the food chain that us, and fatigues with E-5 stripes and below were rarely seen there.  Because of our ‘irregular financial activities’ with Papa San we had the money to hold our own there and on one night I took a shine to Mai Lee.  The drill was that you bought the bar girl a ‘Saigon Tea,’ a glass of colored water.  When you had paid enough for the worthless stuff, you had the girl for the evening.  I was pretty well lit up before we even entered the Mi Mi and Mai Lee was a beautiful girl.  At first she was nice, thanked me for the tea, and went back to her Colonels and Majors and civilian contractors, but I was persistent.  After dropping about $200 my point was made and I was placed on the back of a motorcycle and told that the driver would take me to Mai Lee’s house.

I didn’t know the driver from Ho Chi Minh.  He could have been Vo Nguyen Giap, the Commanding General of all communist Vietnamese forces, and I wouldn’t have known the difference.  I was at least as likely to get my throat cut in a dark alley as brought live to Mai Lee’s house, but somehow I got there.  I gave the driver a few piasters and we mounted the steps together.  The driver explained a few details to an old woman who lived there, and she invited me in.  I entered and sat on a stool, looking for Mai Lee.  She wasn’t home yet.  While I sat there the picture of what was to happen became clear to me.

Grandmother and two small children had been in the one bed, and a small pallet lay on the floor on the other side of the room.  There were only two rooms and a tiny bathroom in the apartment and Grandmother began dragging the small pallet to the other room, preparing to give up the larger and more comfortable bed to Mai Lee for her work that evening.

I was not anything like a moral shining star then.  The list of shaky activities that I had been a part of in Vietnam is a story that I would take no delight in telling.  While I was seated on that stool however, a cold beam of light sliced through my drunken haze and showed me exactly what I was participating in.  This beautiful young woman had two children, and was forced to sell herself to support her aged mother and kids.

Where was the father?  Was he the motorcycle driver?  Was he a Vietnamese Army or Air Force officer who had been killed in action?  Unexpectedly, this bothered me greatly, and by the time Mai Lee showed up I indicated to her that her family would sleep on the bed and she could sleep with them there too.  I took a cushion and thin sheet and made a bed for myself in a corner of the tiled floor.

Mai Lee and her family were flabbergasted.  At first they had no idea what to make of this crazy G.I., but at length elected to take the gift.  I awoke early the next morning and, rather stiff as a result of sleeping on the hard tile floor, flagged a cycalo back to the port, where I made up a spellbinding and entirely bullshit story about my conquest the night before.  Ever after, whenever I was in Saigon, I would stop into the Mi Mi Flamboyant    Bar and sit for a spell with Mai Lee, buy her a Saigon Tea or two, slip her fifty dollars American or whatever I could spare, and then go my way.  I hope that in some way I made a difference in her life.

On this day Mai Lee wasn’t at work, so I made my way back to the Capital Apartments.  Any twinge of conscience or moderation that I had felt with Mai Lee was not to be seen here at the Capital and soon the party was roaring on, and I found my comfortable place right in the middle of it.

 

A Boy And His Dog, Part VII

I paid my visit to Colonel Bannock’s office on my next day off, wondering what such a visit would have in store for me.  Once again I pushed open the screened wooden door and walked into the battalion headquarters, and once again I made eye contact with Vince.  This time it was me who raised my hands in the ‘what’s up’ signal, and Vince just shrugged his shoulders.  I pulled my focus back to the task at hand.  Most of my past interactions with the Colonel had usually resulted in a chewing out or something really unpleasant, such as pulling the metal drums out from under the latrine seats and burning off the rank contents therein with diesel fuel.  I began to prepare my mind to parry whatever thrust the Colonel might make, but the bottle of bourbon he had given to me threw me off balance.  At length I decided that I would just have to go inside the wolf’s lair and think on my feet.

I knocked on the Colonel’s door and “Come in” was the command from inside, and that is what I did.  The Colonel was seated behind his desk as usual but there was clearly an absence of the air of dishevelment and disinterest that had existed there two weeks ago.  The eyes were missing their redness, and a sort of comfortable cheerfulness had replaced the despair that had previously been all over the Colonel’s face.

“Come in, Durden.  Come in” he beamed, and motioned for me to take a chair.  I saluted first and he remembered protocol and snapped a salute back in return.  I took a seat in the indicated chair and waited for the Colonel to get to the reason for this appointment.  The wait wasn’t very long.

“Durden, that was one excellent piece of soldiering that you did in spotting that VC observer.  G-2 tells me that if the Cong would have attacked before we reconfigured our defensive stance we could have had a much rougher night of it last week.  We were weak on the 289th’s perimeter and Charlie could see that when he put together the view from both sides of the wire.  Because of your warning we were prepared over there and had reserves in place.  We could have lost a lot of men, and some prisoners too.  Instead, we gave them a proper ass-whipping and took a couple of prisoners of our own.

We don’t hand out medals for what you did Durden and we try not to give medals to shitbirds anyway, and you are my prize battalion shitbird.  But if there was any way that I could do it I would pin a medal on your chest myself, even though I know that you’d trade it in at the first whorehouse you came across in Saigon.  But one thing I do want to know Durden.  How did you manage to act like a soldier on that one day?”

The Colonel had accurately assessed my interest in medals and the Army in general, and I was not offended by his statement in the least.  Many of us were sick of the military and the war in Vietnam and did our best to divorce ourselves from the reality that we lived in.  As much as it was possible I did try to ignore the fact that I WAS in the Army, and that I WAS in a war in Vietnam.  My reputation proceeded from the skill that I demonstrated in living, in my mind at least, somewhere other than in the sandbagged hooch that was,  in fact, my current address.

“I can’t really say what happened” I told the Colonel.  “Earlier in the day I was just looking out over the Delta and thinking about how I never really see anyone out there, and then later I looked up and saw somebody.  That seemed odd to me and I remember watching him walk slowly in front of our wire with his water buffalo and I thought how strange that was.  There was no rice paddy, nothing to plow, and I guess all I can say is that it ‘felt’ weird to me.  Something inside my head told me that you should know about it.”  I wondered how the Colonel would have handled it if I had said instead ‘A guy who says that he can turn into a dog told me to tell you about it.’

“Well, it doesn’t matter much how and why.  What matters is that you nailed it and a lot of their guys are dead instead of a lot of our guys,  I believe that good work should be rewarded, and I tried to get you a weekend at Vung Tao.  That’s a no-go, so instead I got you a weekend pass to Saigon.  I already know that you sneak in there all the time anyway, but on this weekend at least you can drop the cat and mouse game with the MP’s.  How does that sound to you?”

I was momentarily speechless.  I knew that the company leaders were award of what we called ‘sliding into Saigon,’ but I had no idea that word of it had passed all the way up to Colonel Bannock.  ‘Watch your step’ I thought to myself.  ‘You just may be able to push these guys too far.’  “I don’t know what you’re speaking of Sir” I bullshitted with the straightest face possible.  “But I certainly appreciate the pass.  When is it going to be effective?”

“This coming weekend.  I’ve already made arrangements with Top Sarge.  You’ll ride in with the work crew on Friday morning and a jeep will take you to wherever you want to go in Saigon.  Be back at the port by 5:00 PM Sunday and then it’s back to normal.”

I snapped off a reasonably correct salute and said “Thank you, Sir.  Is there anything that I can get for you while I’m there?”  The Colonel smiled and said “No, thank you Durden.  I’m fully capable of supplying my own vices.”  He returned my salute and I turned to go.

“Just a moment, Durden” the Colonel said.  I turned and saw the Colonel staring almost through me, lips pursed and fingertips of both hands forming a tent again on the desk in front of him.  After a pause his vision focused back on me and he said “There is something that you can do for me after all.  Take your steel pot and flak jacket with you on Friday and store them in the mail room.  On Monday we’re running a convoy out to Cu Chi and I know that we’re going to take fire as usual from the gophers along the way.”  Gophers is what we called snipers who would pop up from holes in the ground and squeeze off a few shots or maybe fire a rocket propelled grenade at our convoys, sometimes scoring a hit that would leave a G.I. dead or wounded, or a truck and its cargo in flames.

“It’s a long shot, but you saw something that made a difference here.  Maybe it was luck or maybe it was something else.  Either way, I’m going to roll the dice and put you on that convoy.  You’ll be in the lead truck – sorry about that – and there will be a radioman in the truck with you.  Your job will be t keep your eyes open and report anything, do you hear me?  Anything at all that you see.  Do you understand, Durden?”

I understood, all right.  I understood that we took fire all of the time when we went on these convoys.  I understood that I usually didn’t have to go on these convoys, and I understood that the lead vehicle, unlike the point man on a foot patrol, was the favorite target for the Viet Cong.  If the lead vehicle became a flaming wreck it took a little while for the convoy tailing behind it to get sorted out, which provided much better target opportunities for snipers who might be scattered all over the countryside.

“Yes Sir” I replied weakly.  “Will there be anything else Sir?”

“No Durden.  Have fun in Saigon and try not to get your throat cut or the clap.  There’s no telling which could be worse, and good luck on the convoy.  I promise you, if you can see anything that cuts down enemy interference on this convoy I won’t keep piling on more duties.  Do whatever you can this time and then it’ll be back to normal.”

“Yes Sir” I said and saluted again.  Colonel Bannock returned the salute and I exited the office, weekend pass in hand.  I walked over and showed the pass to
Vince and he just starred at it in amazement.

“Things just keep getting stranger here!” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, for one thing the Colonel comes into his office at 0700 sharp now, right after mess.  He comes out of his office all the time, checking reports with the XO (Executive Officer), tonnage and personnel reports with Captain Munk and Lieutenant Carlucci, and he even goes over the morning report with me.  He’s been a different guy since we got hit. Maybe he just likes combat; I don’t know.  Anyway, it’s kind of groovy that he’s involved in the battalion, but it’s also kind of a pain in the ass.”

“Well, as long as it gets me a weekend pass into Saigon I’m alright with whatever’s behind it.  Say, I need to have Larry out in the comm0 bunker get me in touch with a friend in Tan Son Nhut.  Can you get me authorization to go in there? ”

“Sure.  I’ll get Lieutenant Carlucci to sign a pass.  Come back after lunch and pick it up.”

I agree to that and then went off to piddle away the time until I could pick up my authorization to use the radio.  Army regulations forbid ordinary troops hanging around in the communications bunker, where any number of sensitive things could be overheard.  At last I was handed the signed piece of paper and entered the bunker.

“Hey Larry” I said upon entering through the airtight door.  Larry jumped a little, and I think he had been taking a nap.

“Oh, hey Glenn” he responded.  “You know they don’t allow you in here.”

“Relax man.  I have a pass.”  I showed Larry Zorner the pass, and he did relax.  I would frequently, on very hot days, seek refuge in the air conditioned coolness of the commo bunker.  Larry was an alright guy, and if he felt lucky on any given day he would let me hunker down in that coolness and listen to We Five or Cream or Arthur Brown on the record turntable that he kept among the electronics in the bunker.  Usually, however, he would boot me out rather than run the risk of getting busted and finding himself reassigned to unloading creosote-soaked telephone poles from the blistering hot hold of a freighter at the port.

“Oh, that’s OK.  What do you want?”

“I’d like for you to get a message to a friend.  His name is Jerry Warnock and he’s at 3rd Recon at Tan Son Nhut.  Do you think you can do that?”

“Piece of cake.  What do you want to tell him?”

I wrote out a message telling Jerry where I would be next Friday morning.  Larry worked his magic and contacted comm for 3rd Recon.  They said that they would dispatch a messenger to Jerry and return shortly with a reply.  At that point Larry and I slipped out of the bunker and withdrew to the shaded hillside behind our battalion, where we smoked a joint and argued over whether the National Football League or the American Football League was better, which side of the U.S. Civil War had the best argument, whether blondes were better than brunettes (although how two shy nerds like us would know one way or the other is anybody’s guess) and anything else that we could think of.

Shortly, we returned to the commo bunker and listened to some new record that Larry had procured by a band named Velvet Underground.  No reply to Larry’s message had been received yet so we grooved to Lou Reed and Niko, listening to them and the others through the streams of radio chatter.  At last, halfway through “Junkie John”, the call from 3rd Recon came through.  I was amazed at how a mildly stoned Larry could be wailing along, singing the lyrics to the song that he had already memorized, and still pick up the voice of the 3rd’s radioman.

“Message delivered, 91st.  Anything else I can do for you?”

“Not that I can think of,” replied Larry.  Thanks for your help.  Tighten up.  Over”

“Tighten up yourself” came the crackling reply.  “Over and out.”

“Deal’s done” said Larry.  We slapped hands and I slipped out of the cool darkness of the comm bunker and back into the harsh sunlight of another hot and humid Vietnam day.  I walked a half mile to the Long Binh NCO Club where I drank beer and ate salty snacks while I read some history book that I had obtained from a bookmobile service that the Army ran on Long Binh Post.  We were a pretty big place, and some refinements reminiscent of home could be had there.  At length I walked back to the battalion area in time to receive my friends who were returning from the port, and the party started all over agains.

 

A Boy And His Dog, PartVI

Colonel Bannock had not been smoking weed when I entered his office to tell him of what Jerry had pointed out to me on the tower.  The red eyes that I had noticed were the result of a sleepless night and no small amount of bourbon.  The Colonel was not in a happy place just then, and mail call the day before did nothing to improve his state of mind.  Once again there was no letter from home, and Bannock had good reason to fear that once a letter came it might not be one that he would enjoy reading.  Bannock had made “full bird colonel” at the relatively young age of 39 and had every reason to expect that a promotion to brigadier general would be in his near, if not immediate, future.  That was before the New Year’s Eve party at Ft. Lewis in 1967.

Bannock’s wife Carole was a pretty and bright girl who married her high school sweetheart when he graduated from West Point in 1948.  Carole’s father had been away from his family for much of World War II in the Pacific, and then returned to work for the Santa Fe railroad, which kept him away from his family for extended lengths of time.  This trained Carole to accept the absences of the husband and father from the family dynamic, and so her early years with Arthur were exciting, and she loved that she was now free to order her nest and her life pretty much the way she wanted to, and when Julia and Clyde Bannock were born in rapid succession she now had the children’s lives to pour herself into.

Arthur Bannock was in Korea when Julia was born, and he soon achieved the rank of Captain through acts of valor and obvious intelligence, leading first a platoon and then a company and, during a concerted drive by Chinese and North Korean forces towards Seoul, temporarily leading a battalion when its commander was killed.  The Communist drive towards Seoul was stopped north of that city and Bannock’s battalion was in the thick of the fighting.  The Korean War ended shortly thereafter and by the time Captain Bannock was rotated back to the United States and his family, the rank of Major was in the works.

Soon-to-be Major Bannock was happy to be home, and Clyde was one of the results of that happiness.  The Bannock family’s quarters , first at Fort Bragg, and then Fort Irwin, and then Fort Benning, was always a warm and comfortable place, with the barbecue grill frequently going in the back yard as other officers and their families gravitated to this happy couple, and when the Bannocks were not entertaining, they were very likely being entertained, frequently in the company of people whom it was good to know in order to secure promotion.

This life began to weigh on Carole however.  As she moved from the bloom of youth into the maturity of motherhood, and as her children grew and first Julia and then little Clyde left the nest to begin school, Carole began to tire of this merry-go-round, and longed for a house that she could live in and grow old in for the rest of her life, a husband who came home every day at five o’clock in the afternoon, the luxury of choosing friends for their friendship rather than their utility and a career for her husband that didn’t include the possibility of being shot or blown up on some foreign battlefield who’s name she couldn’t even pronounce.

At first Carole could fake it, but at length she just got tired of the act and began to withdraw, evading the social scene whenever she could and indulging in too much alcohol to deaden the pain when avoidance was impossible.  Arthur couldn’t understand Carole’s behavior and hoped that she would “snap out of it.”  He loved Carole and his kids and the Army, pretty much in equal measure, and while he genuinely cared for Carole he couldn’t understand why she was not as committed to his career as he was.

The rank of Lieutenant Colonel came along in due time and, by 1963, after a series of very successful exercises in areas as diverse as the winter mountains of Alaska, the summer desert heat in California and the always steaming jungle of Panama, Arthur was made adjutant to the general commanding Fort Lewis in Washington State.  This resulted in another move for Carole and the family and very shortly after that promotion to Colonel.

By this time Carole couldn’t care less whether Arthur was promoted to President or busted to private.  She had grown to hate the Army and the nomad life that it generated for her and Arthur.  The promotion to Colonel was approved in late December of 1965 and the New Year’s Eve party at Fort Headquarters was going to be his personal celebration and coming out as a full bird colonel, one step away from a general’s star.

“This is going to be a big deal Carole” Arthur said on the night of the party.  “All of the brass will be there.  We’ll be able to finally get where we’ve wanted to go.”

“No.  You’ll get where you want to go” Carole replied.  “None of this is about me or the children.  If you were going to announce your retirement and intent to take a position at the bank or something like that I would go, and with a brass band playing.  We’ve been through all of this before.  I’m tired of the moving.  I’m tired of the ladder you’re climbing.  I’m tired of being the ‘little woman’ and I’m tired of sharing you with the Army.  You keep talking like this is an ‘us’ thing but it isn’t.  It’s a ‘you’ thing, and now I just wish that you would leave me out of it.”

Arthur was incensed by this, not that it was the first time that he had heard it, and uncharacteristically fired back.  “You knew that I intended an Army career when you married me.  I’ve never acted in any way that was inconsistent with what I offered you from day one.  Now you want to change the contract and chuck everything that I have worked for into the dumpster because you think you’re better than this; better than all of the other wives and families of officers here at Lewis.  I’d like to know how in hell you think that’s fair?”

Carole’s blood was hot by the time Arthur finished that outburst and replied without pausing one moment to count the cost.  “I had no idea what this would be like on day one.  I was a little girl with a fantasy, and that fantasy has turned into a nightmare.  We aren’t a goddamn contract; we’re a married couple with two children and I have played my part as best I could while you ran all over the world playing G.I. Joe and polishing the generals’ shoes.  The kids and I have played our parts, lived our lonely lives, running to meet you at the airport and then counting the days until you’re gone again.  I think the Army is your marriage and we’re your career, or else just some damned project to get accomplished before you move on to the next challenge.  I’m tired of being ‘the little woman’ and helping you schmooze to the next level.”  Carole paused for a moment to draw a breath and then gave her last shot.  “And I don’t want to go to your fucking party.”

Arthur had no idea what to say.  A good part of what Carole had just said to him was unfair, if not completely untrue.  He had been clear from the beginning that he intended a military career, but he also tried to be a good father and husband when he was home.  Neither Arthur nor Carole understood that what in later years would be diagnosed as depression was dogging Carole’s life, and that the stresses which were inherent in a military life, which were not entirely absent from non-military lives as well, were being magnified and coming to torment Carole, and now, through her, Arthur.  Arthur didn’t understand any of that and, gritting his teeth so as not to explode, said “you’re coming to the party.  We’ll discuss this later.”

Carole was seething but said nothing.  She walked over to the liquor cabinet and extracted a bottle of Arthur’s bourbon, poured herself a shot which she tossed back in a single gulp, poured another and repeated the process.  She then returned the bottle to its place and turned and snapped off a salute.  “Yes Sir!” she simply said.

The drive to the ornate old headquarters building was a silent one.  Arthur’s mind was divided by his fight with Carole and his intention to continue his cultivation of the people who could grease the way to his general’s star.  The war in a little corner of Asia was looking to grow into something that a man could use to catapult a career to another level, and if he could somehow secure a star before going there, which he most certainly intended to do, then a second star could more easily be obtained in a shorter time than usual.  Wars were good for such things if you were an infantry officer.

Arthur determined to take some time off and get things right with Carole though.  He really did still love his wife, and even through the filters of his ambition he could see that she was hurting.  They just needed to get through this night and he would see to it that things would get better.  Arriving at the parking lot he pulled into a space and turned off the ignition.  Arthur put his hand over Carole’s and said “We’re going to work this out.  We’re going to make it better.”  Carole didn’t answer.  She just slid her hand out from under his and exited the car.

Arthur heaved a deep sigh and joined his wife who was already walking across the gravel of the parking lot towards the headquarters.  There seemed to be nothing to say as they approached the broad steps that led up to the big double front doors.  Sharply dressed doormen opened those portals and the music of an eight piece swing band poured over them.  Arthur felt no pleasure in hearing it and it was uncertain if Carole heard it at all.  The doormen saluted and Arthur reflexively returned their salutes.

Inside, Arthur attempted to be attentive to his wife.  He led Carole to a table for eight with only one other couple seated there; a major and his date, by the look of their ringless fingers, and asked her if she wanted anything.  Carole nodded her assent and said simply “whiskey.”  That was not Carole’s usual drink and it was confusing to Arthur, but he wanted everything to go smoothly and so he went and ordered two whiskey and sodas.  Upon returning Carole took the drink and downed it in two gulps.  She turned to Arthur and said “This time, just bring whiskey.”

Arthur didn’t like that.  He had commanded under fire; faced wave after wave of Chinese and Korean soldiers under a hail of small arms, machine gun and artillery fire, and he knew how to cover, move and parry.  But this was territory that he didn’t understand and it left him feeling unsteady and indecisive.  “OK, but then hold off for a while.  This stuff will catch up to you quickly.”  Carole nodded and he went to obtain her second whiskey.

Carole drank this one more slowly and Arthur began to relax just a bit.  At length he spied the Commander of the Fourth Infantry Division and asked Carole to join him in paying his respects.  Carole agreed sullenly and arose, just a bit shakily after her four whiskeys, and walked with Arthur to where the General and his wife were standing.  Carole didn’t say much as introductions were made and after a short, mostly silent period of playing the wife she excused herself and returned to the table.  Arthur was speaking of the likelihood of the U.S. becoming more deeply enmeshed in that splendid little war in Vietnam and hardly noticed her departure.

Upon arriving at the table Carole sat down and stared at the dancing couples and swirling conversation, but didn’t really see them or hear anything after a little while.  As Arthur continued to talk up his fitness to lead a brigade in the war against the ragged Communist rebels in that little country, Carole turned her attention to the handsome Major who was seated a few chairs distant.  He had brown, curly hair, what there was of it, and he wore his uniform with an easy, less starchy manner than many of the other officers who were present

The Major was giving his full attention to his date, and this observation both pleased and annoyed Carole.  She was pleased because it reminded her of when Arthur paid such attention to her, although it is questionable how much Arthur ever really did.  It was annoying for Carole though because she assumed that once this dashing Major made his conquest he would probably either forget about her or marry her, thereby throwing her into the same sort of mess that Carole felt like she was living in now.  In a moment, without really thinking about it, she moved over to the chair next to the Major and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Excuse me Major, but would you be so kind as to get me a shot of bourbon, straight up?”  The major was surprised but remembered that this attractive lady was the wife of a Colonel, and readily agreed to do so.  After he arose and began to walk towards the bar Carole turned her attention to the Major’s date, a prettyish girl who looked to be several years younger than the Major.

“Do you like him?” Carole asked bluntly.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do” replied the girl, somewhat surprised by the frankness of Carole’s question.

Well, get ready for a cage if you marry him.  Every man in here is licking somebody’s boots in order to climb the ladder, and the guy at the top of the ladder’s tongue is still black from all of the boots that he licked to get where he is.  You want some advice honey? Go find yourself a teacher or a carpenter or a fireman, or maybe a lawyer.  Well no, forget the lawyer.  But you can do better than any of these.”

The girl’s face turned a little red and she replied “Actually, I don’t want any advice.  Not from you anyway.  I’ll give you some though.  Maybe you had better stop sucking down the booze and mind your own damned business.”

Carole laughed for the first time that evening, and it was a genuine laugh.  The delightful trill of her laughter and the warm smile and twinkle in her eye surprised her partner across the table, and threw her off guard.  The young woman was tempted to smile back when Carole’s laughter was bitten off and a voice as hard as granite said “You can shine me on if you’d like, but you remember that I warned you this night of what you have waiting for you.  He isn’t worth it honey.  None of them are.”

At that moment the Major returned with Carole’s drink, which she thanked him for and tossed back in one gulp.  She then leaned forward to thank him properly by putting a kiss right in the middle of the flabbergasted Major’s face.  Carole giggled again and arose, even more unsteady on her feet by now, and wobbled back to her seat.  The Major turned bright red with embarrassment while the girl turned a matching color with fury.  “You’ll thank me later, honey” Carole said to the young woman, and returned to gazing sightlessly at the throng of merrymakers.
The throng was not similarly sightless however.  Arthur and the Major General Commanding were both looking in the direction of the table when Carole placed her drunk, wet liplock on the startled Major.  “What in the hell does your wife think she’s doing, Colonel?”  asked the General.

“I have no idea Sir” Arthur replied.  “She’s never done anything like this before.  She’s been drinking a little more than usual and I think that and the heat in here have just gotten to her.”

“Well, I would appreciate if if you would remove your drunk wife from the table with my daughter and her friend.  I would expect a little more restrained behavior from the wife of any of my officers.

Arthur didn’t even consider pointing out that he wasn’t one of the General’s officers.  He was not unaware however that there was little chance that he would ever become one.  “I’ll take care of this Sir.  Right away.”  He walked through the crowd, trying to be as invisible as possible, and rejoined Carole at the table.  “I think it’s time to go home dear.”  he said as calmly and patiently as he could.

“It was time to go home before we came.” Carole replied, looking upon her husband with a sweetness usually reserved for mothers looking at their newborn babes.

“Excuse us, I’m sorry for the scene” Arthur said to the Major and the General’s daughter.

“Oh, it’s alright” said Carole.  “He really enjoyed it and she learned something, whether she wants to believe it or not.”

Carole rose up but caught her foot on the leg of the table.  Her balance wasn’t nearly what it should be and it was only Arthur’s grip that prevented her from planting her pretty face right into the hardwood floor.  “Oopsydaisy” she giggled as she regained her feet.  “We mustn’t make a scene, must we?”  Carole continued to giggle as Arthur led her back through the big double doors and out into the cold night air.  It had begun to rain, as it usually does in Washington State, and Carole protested “Oh, I forgot my wrap!”

“Forget it” growled Arthur.  “We’ll get a new one.  And maybe a little cold water in your face will sober you up.”  Carole giggled again as Arthur led her to their car, unlocked the door and sat her in the seat in a less than gentle manner.

“My, my, my.  An officer and a gentleman!” she mocked.

Arthur went to the driver’s side and fired the car up.  He was too angry and embarrassed to say anything, and the quiet suited Carole just fine.  So fine, in fact, that she shortly fell asleep.  When they got home Arthur went inside and got a blanket off of the spare bed.  He took it out and covered his inelegantly snoring wife and left here there to sleep it off.

“What’s up with Mom?” asked Julie.  The kids were surprised to see them home so early.

“She didn’t feel well and wants to be left where she is” Arthur lied.  “I’ll go back out in a couple of hours and see if she wants to come in.  Why don’t you two go off to bed now?”  Both Julia and Clyde knew that things weren’t right between their parents and sensed that now wasn’t a time to protest.

“OK Dad” they said as they turned off the TV and retreated to their rooms.

Arthur sat down in the chair that had just been occupied by his son and reviewed the damage incurred that evening.  Word of the incident would get around in no time at all.  “An officer that can’t keep his house in order can’t keep a brigade of infantrymen in order either” was what would be passing from lips to ears all over the fort, and indeed had already began to spread.  While his children crept uneasily into their beds and his inebriated wife snorted in the front seat of their car his career was going down in flames like the Hindenburg.  His mind raged at the idea but only in one corner of it.  In the rest of Arthur’s mind there reigned the odd calm that comes when you know that you are about to die and there’s not one damned thing that you can do about it.

And so Colonel Bannock, rising star in the U.S. Army, came to be the commanding officer of a supply battalion tasked with running five companies of men who unloaded ships at a port on the Saigon River and convoyed some of that material out to real Army units whenever they requested it.  This command should rightly have been that of a lieutenant colonel and Arthur knew that it amounted to rubbing salt into his wound.

Carole had begun to receive treatment from medical and psychological specialists back in the U.S. and Arthur had begun to seek advice from counselors and chaplains as well.  It was clear that his Army career was over and so he planned to retire as soon as this tour was finished.  Maybe he and Carole could regain something of what they had once enjoyed; he would certainly give it his best shot.

And so it was that after an evening of medicating his pain a knock on the door and a command of “Come in” produced one of the most irreverent and annoying goldbricks that he had ever had the misfortune of commanding.  The scowl and red eyes came from a large reservoir of pain rather than the use of the powerful marijuana that was so familiar to his current visitor.

A few minutes after I left to return to my perch on the water tower,  Colonel Bannock walked out of his office to the communications bunker which was positioned behind the supply room and next to the covered area which housed an outdoor kitchen clean up area, and I, the eagle-eyed watch dog on the water tower, simply missed his going.  The commo bunker was thickly padded with sandbags many layers deep and it would take a very lucky shot with a very large rocket to put it out of action.  Our higher headquarters was in Saigon almost twenty miles away across the Delta, and it was to that headquarters that Colonel Bannock placed his first all.  The radioman transmitted the Colonel’s description of what I had told him, and while he waited for a reply he studied a map of our portion of the perimeter along with that of adjacent units.  After a short while a message crackled back over the radio saying “Acknowledge receipt of report.  Message passed on to G-2.  Suggest report to local G-2.”  G-2 was short for Army Intelligence, and a report to local G-2 was exactly what Colonel Bannock had in mind to do next.

Post G-2, as it turned out, was no more than a three hundred yard walk up and over the low hill behind us, through a thin stand of trees.  The Colonel rolled up his maps and began to walk aggressively up the hill, through the trees and right past my friend Lee McCastle, an African American sergeant from Washington D.C., who was smoking a joint and reading ‘Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman.  Lee was a giant who pumped iron, studied martial arts, and read poetry in his spare time.  Lee was startled by the sudden appearance of the Old Man and almost stuck his joint into his eye while fumbling to make a salute.

But the Colonel was not interested in Lee or Lee’s joint.  Lee told me later that he wasn’t even sure that the Colonel even saw him.  Colonel Bannock was formulating his theories and mentally moving pieces on a board, trying to anticipate what it could mean without stating in any absolute terms what that might be.  His old infantry juices were flowing again and Arthur Bannock felt, in the smallest of ways, like he was whole again.

Long Binh G-2 ws a very plush operation, the benefit one got from being on one of the largest posts in the country.  It rested in the USARV building which, as I have already pointed out, had many very luxurious amenities that were not available to 99.9% of the grunts in Vietnam.  Colonel Bannock didn’t care about any of that today.  He opened the G-2 door and addressed the Spec 5 that was seated behind a desk in the small room.

“Colonel Bannock.  I believe that you were notified that I was coming.”

Indeed, both a radio message from Saigon and a land-line call from our battalion commo had alerted G-2 of the Colonels mission.  The Spec 5 said “One moment Sir,” and got up and disappeared through the door to the right of his desk.  A moment later he returned, followed by Captain Perkins of Long Binh G-2.

“Good afternoon Colonel” he said, snapping a salute.  “I hear that you have something to show me.”

“I do indeed” Colonel Bannock replied while returning the salute.  “Where can I show you this?”

“In this room” the Captain replied, and they both disappeared into a room with a large table in the middle, a desk to one side, and maps and photos on every wall.

Colonel Bannock rolled out his own map and reported the exact route that the Vietnamese “boy” and his water buffalo had taken, possible weak points in the perimeter, and how they might look from either side of the fence, and several different angles from which an attack might be launched from, most likely to least likely.  He also pointed out what defensive measures he would set in motion to best react to any of the above it it were up to him to do so.  Captain Perkins questioned him closely on the details of the possible spy’s path but Colonel Bannock could only tell him what I had related.

“Is this soldier of yours a credible source Colonel?”

“No, he isn’t.  In fact he’s one of the biggest shitbirds in my unit.  That’s why I believe him.  I’m surprised that he noticed anything at all.  The fact that he did notice it and came to tell me about it places this event out of the ordinary.  I admit that it’s pretty shaky evidence to base  a defensive strategy on, but if I might be so bold, I would suggest that the defensive deployment in this sector be on heightened alert, especially in the period of from one to three weeks.  If an attack is planned it will take a week to organize it, and in three weeks anything that they observed today is likely to be changed.

The Captain stood still and thought about that, and then wheeled and walked over to a tall locker.  He pulled out seven large rolls of paper and sifted through them until he found the one that he was looking for.  Unrolled, it turned out to be a recent aerial photo of the camp perimeter in our sector that largely reflected the reality that existed on the ground at that moment.  The Captain then pressed a button on the intercom and spoke into it.  Soon a Lieutenant Colonel and a Master Sergeant came into the room and the four of them poured over the photos and maps, placing X’s and O’s on the map in the same manner as a football coach might, and then erasing and moving those symbols from one spot to another.

After an hour the Colonel was thanked for his information and told that arrangements would be made on the off chance that this was good intelligence.  Colonel Bannock reaffirmed that the source was sketchy but that the threat seemed real, returned salutes, and then marched back down the hill to his office.  The rest of the day he went about his duties with an uncommon light heartedness, and after a dinner which he shared with company and platoon commanders in the officer’s mess he returned to his quarters.  Sitting before a fan with a cold beer on his desk he wrote the most tender letter that he had sent to Carole in a very long time.  He told her that his tour was ending soon and nothing could induce him to stay in the Army.  He wanted to be with his family more than anything in the world.  He had written these things before but this time he meant it.  He hoped that she would be able to see that.