The Misfortune Teller
You Can't Do A Wrong Thing The Right Way
Based on comment to Bracing Views blog
Thanks for chipping in, Don. I know precisely how Mr Hastie felt. Anyone who has heard the angry bumble-bee go whizzing by a few inches from the ear realizes that just an inch or two in the other direction and a hot metal slug would have gone in one eye, through the brain, and out the back of the skull, leaving a puddle of chipped-bone, blood, and grey-matter all over the place next to the dead young American guy on the ground who never wanted to visit Vietnam in the first place.
I served in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent from July of 1970 through the end of January 1972, about the same time as Mike Hastie whom I don't believe I ever met. Sometime in 1971, while languishing at ATSB Solid Anchor (deep in IV Corps, about two kilometers from the sounthernmost tip of the country), I decided to go for a little exercise run out to the end of our corrugated-metal airstrip and back. Not a very bright idea, actually, because when I turned around out at the end of the runway, I would find myself all alone and exposed, not far from the jungle folliage which had started recovering since the last time we poisoned it with a shit-load of crop defoliant, probably Agent Orange. Sure enough, just as I turned around for the return part of my jog, I heard what sounded like an angry bumble-bee go whizzing past my head. This caused me to accelerate, breaking into a flat-out sprint. Part-way back along the airstrip this Vietnamese guy pulled up alongside and started matching me, stride for stride. Then it became a face-saving contest, since I couldn't let this skinny, underfed little Asian guy beat me in what had clearly become an impromptu race. So I accelerated again and -- about twenty yards away from "Nam Can International Airport" (the sandbag bunker that marked the beginning of the base) -- my Vietnamese companion just quit, wheezing for breath, leaving me the "winner" in more ways than one. I never did that again.
On another occasion during my fourteen months at Solid Anchor, some Vietnamese (or possibly even, Cambodians) in the surrounding countryside decided to start dropping mortar rounds into our little base complex. Each of us Navy "advisers" had a "battle station" assigned to us in case of "enemy attack." This meant that I, as the base interpreter/translator, had to go out onto some boats tied up at a pontoon in the middle of the Son Cua Lon River where I would stand by with a radio to call in air support in the event of the base getting overrun by unfriedly native farmers and fishermen. I had no training in operating any radios and wouldn't know whom to call if I did, but as we used to say in Uncle Sam's Canoe Club: "I go where they send me. I do what they tell me to do."
So on the night in question, when we heard a few explosions and the base alarms started going off, I grabbed my helmet, flak jacket, M-16 rifle (along with bandoleer of ammunition) and headed out towards the pontoon anchorage in the middle of the river for whatever might await me there. Then, nothing happened. Everything got quiet. Bored, tired, and not knowing what to do in any event, I placed my rifle and other gear on top of an ammunition box and went below decks to catch a little nap.
I woke up shortly when I heard a few explosions and more blaring alarms. I ran up the ladder to get back on deck but discovered — by tripping over the ammunition box — that someone had moved it. I’ll never forget watching my M-16 rifle disappear over the side and down into the swirling muddly salt-water flowing by the boat. Then I noticed the Vietnamese crewmen frantically trying to unmoor (i.e., “untie”) us so we could get underway. I looked downstream and saw these splashes, one after another, “walking” their way down the center of the river right towards us. From the direction of the moving splashes and the distance and timing between each successive one, I could just picture some unfriendly person (whom I did not personally know) out in the darkness carefully calibrating his mortar sights, readjusting after every shot, and clearly meaning to drop one of those little explosive bastards right on the little boat with me standing on it, unarmed, and not having a clue what to do next. I could see that the Vietnamese crewmen could not get us underway in time, so I roughly estimated that in about two more splashes I would either have to jump overboard into the river, or simply accept my likely death or dismemberment.
Then, suddenly, everything stopped. Quiet once again replaced all the noise and frenetic activity. I returned to my little “hootch” (i.e., barracks) back on base, only without my M-16 rifle. I felt too embarassed to tell anyone that I had lost it. I never had any use for the damn thing anyway, having only received one week of weapons training with the Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, before heading off to Monterey for eight months of language training at DLI. So, better for everyone if I didn’t go around discharging the thing at anything that moved, in any direction whatsoever. I never discovered the identity of those Vietnamese (or Cambodian) persons who tried to discourage me from occupying their country and making such a stinking, sandbagged slum out of so much of it. But I forgave them and I hope they have forgiven me. I left as soon as anyone would let me. I tried to do as little harm possible. And I have never gone back.
But still the memories linger . . .