2/503d VIETNAM Newsletter / Nov.-Dec. 2018 – Issue 83

By Gary Prisk, “Cap” (Col. Ret.), CO C/D/2/503, RVN

Rice Paddies North of Landing Zone English

Morning brought three cloverleaf patrols and Leech Dick inspecting the speed bump on his hog. In time, a tracer would have grazed his pecker and shattered his radio. The veterans at the American Legion Hall would laugh on cue, demanding a picture to verify the account.

“Captain, Uncle’s on the hook.”

“Charlie Six, this is Five Yankee.” Uncle was stretching a serious tone, a cautious base with precise enunciation, casting pictures in a magic lantern.

“Hello, Uncle. Why don’t you steal a slick and bring out some of the good times?”

“Here’s a good time, Stud. One of your medics got word to the Old Man that you’ve got seventy-eight cases of advanced jungle rot.”

Well, big fuckin’ deal, Hardin thought. How about the ass rot, the foot fungus, the boils, the dysentery, and the memory rot? Hell, I have to wipe the back of my hand before I can wipe my ass.

So fuckin’ what?

“My medic did that?” Either Doc Taylor or Doc Cosmo was a whore. “Any of the rest of these assholes talkin’ to you?” Hardin was goin’ to butt-stomp the quisling bastard into a fucking whisper for creating this backwash.

“Extraction in thirty minutes, you’re in near the beach north of the Tigers. Saltwater and sun should dry things out.” A stitch of caution came clumping in Uncle’s voice.

“That vill’s been hot before,” Hardin said.
“Starblazer’s got the gunship lead. Intell says it’s cold.”

Rear-echelon foreplay between the Tiger Mountains and the mouth of the An Lao River. Staff weans were stalking the company at a leisurely pace. The landing zone was one village north of the old woman’s hootch.

“Does anybody at higher-higher know about this insertion?” A silence extended itself into some off-mike grumbling as Uncle waited for his RTOs to handle an artillery request.

“No, this is my operation. Be on a pickup zone in thirty minutes.”

Hardin gave Stubbs a nod. “Find Doc Taylor.”

Packing a face you could never quite remember, his face bound by wire-rimmed sunglasses, and his cock at grips with a foe, Doc Taylor ambled through his day. He did not care a wit about the war, or what Hardin wanted.

“What’s happenin,’ Chuckles?” With a slight pause Hardin smiled. Only a slow dog would hand a handle like Chuckles on his company commander.

Hardin nodded through the steam off his coffee, centered his stare on his latest love child, and said with a grin, “You hippie fuck. Tell me a story about jungle rot.”

“Seventy-nine cases: boils so deep we’re usin’ Tampax to plug the holes.”

“You told Uncle we had seventy-eight cases.”

“Yeah, well, you’re supposed to know better. Some of the dudes have it pretty bad, need to dry out. I slid a note to the resupply pilot.”

“You bought the boys a beach party, Doc: South China Sea, white sand, surf.”

“Far out.” Hardin was thankful that Taylor had cheek and angry that Taylor had not given him a heads-up.

* * *

The northern slopes of the Tiger Mountains lay muted in dust. The rice paddies were dry. Lost in the boredom of yet another chopper ride, the pagoda’s white spire caught his eye.

Listening for the bell, he noted the location of the night ambush, and the kill zone that took Andy’s leg.

With outposts in place, joyful dolts, deeming the day to be the best day ever, dug foxholes in the scrub grass near the fringe of the beach. Sandbags blossomed, as if the whole affair was so obvious. Staring with unfocused eyes, Hardin could barely see the surf.

Curious to know how a three-month man named Norman Ballick had been chosen to replace Tennessee, Amps warned that Norman required remedial wiring to treat his conspicuous wandering. Amps asked Fish to shoot the man so that Packrat could take the radio.

That’s when Fish laughed and told Amps that Packrat didn’t now a handset from a hand-job, and that Amps should go fuck himself.

Stubbs liked Norman Ballick because he was nearly underfoot and never spoke. He was a studious sort, the type of GI who found significance in any decision, then agonized over the difference. Incremental analysis was his cup-of-joe — taking words as he might from a broad basket, then gauging them with a caliper so fine his conclusions brought zits to his forehead.

Armed with the most valiant disregard for logic, he would be crazy within a week, uncertainty badgering even his well-founded conclusions.

At length, the thing being done, Hardin decided to mess with the professor. “Tell the platoon to get fifty percent of the studs into the pool, Bull-lock.”

Reacting with indignation, Ballick began working a finger into his ear and looking at a map of the new area of operations. His body leaned backward until he adjusted his feet and assumed a brace. He was so stiff an AK round would blow him right out of his boots.

“Fifty percent?” He asked, promoting an impossible tone with a wrinkled brow.

“The last RTO who stood around me pickin’ his ass got shot.” He sank into a full squat, questioning Hardin’s order. “Here’s the way combat works, Bulllock. You do what I tell ya, or I kick your ass. Now, fifty percent in the pool.”

“Yes sir.” Hardin tapped on the RTO’s map, causing Ballick to wait for a question. Relieved, as if a problem had been solved, he stared at the bottom of his foxhole.

“Everything you see on that map belongs to Chuck. His favorite targets are GIs carryin’ radios, that’s you, and GIs readin’ maps, that’s also you.” Ballick laid his map in the sand, looking for a reason to pick it up.

* * *

Cap Prisk (C), with a couple of his men in Chuck’s territory, keepin’ low.

At 1523 hours, after seven hours of busting dry brush, the point squad mounted a bald, thirtyfoot plateau, overlooking rice paddies on three sides.

“Tag, stop the parade. Lima’s got a busted ruck.”

“This place don’t feel good, Captain.” Amps had started chewing tobacco.

The company dug in contrary to habit. First Platoon took the northern sector at the finger end of the plateau facing the An Lao River.

Sitting against the trunk of a palm tree on the western rim of the plateau, talking with the Missouri contingent of Second Platoon, scanning the rice paddy, Hardin spotted the field where Andy lost his leg. As he said good-bye again, the image of the dog handler’s outstretched arm appeared on the face of the palm grove, the man’s hand cinched around the leash.

It was Stubbs’ stories that kept this image fresh.

Jerking the leash from the handler’s fist, as if separating him from his dead scout dog might somehow wake him, Hardin found himself dragging Dig-it’s body, all the while listening to Shadow sing “The Shadow of Your Smile.” When the muffled concussion of a buried 105mm artillery shell pushed across the plateau, he ran toward the billowing dust. Jungle boots never weighed so much.

Packrat lay shredded in the bottom of the shell crater, charred with black powder. Reynolds stood without moving, stunned, his frame covered with scraps of his friend. As if awakened he began screaming into the depression, “Oh, God! Oh, God!” gasping and throwing his rage.

Doc Taylor threw a piece of bone fragment into the air. Packrat didn’t notice. He was a lacerated tangle of meat, blood, torn limbs, and blackened flesh. Two medics worked to stop his death – morphine, tourniquets and a poncho.

Stubbs pushed GIs away from the crater – booby traps came in pairs. “Get back to your positions, goddammit!” He yelled again, this time pushing LeCotte and Boyle.

Reynolds placed a cigarette between Packrat’s charred lips and said good-bye. The cigarette waited for him to look away, then fell into the confusion. As if miming the explosion, Reynolds threw his hands into the air. Talking, he lingered near the crater.

“He’s fucked, ain’t he, Doc?”

“Shut up, Reynolds,” Stubbs said, continuing to clear GIs from around the crater.

When the medics pulled Packrate out of the hole, his lifeless body gliding on a poncho, Grumpy screamed and threw his arms into the air. Grump had been standing between Packrat and Reynolds negotiating radio watch schedules. When the booby trap exploded Packrat set sail, flying, waving his limbs and throwing his boots, his helmet arcing from his head.

Struck by the odor of blood, Hardin confronted Stubbs, his voice quietly strained. “Stubbs, if you know I’m makin’ a mistake, ya gotta do somethin’ about it.”

Stubbs lit a cigarette and waited for the smoke to clear his mouth before he spoke. “God damn you, Captain. Shit is gonna get dealt our way and you ain’t gonna stop that. We’re all gonna die. Just that some of us jokers will still be walkin’ when it’s over.”

“Give me a cigarette, Stubbs.” Stubbs gave Hardin the finger and walked away.

* * *

GARY PRISK didn’t research the Vietnam War, he lived it. His six years of active duty as a regular army infantry officer took him through Vietnam as an army paratrooper and ranger as well as to Germany and a teaching stint at the University of California, Davis. Though he became a successful businessman, contractor, and home builder in 1970, with some side trips into teaching college classes in finance, he served in the early 1990s helping coordinate deployment to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. Gary holds degrees in engineering and finance from the University of Washington. He has been married since 1966 and he and his wife settled on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1972. He began writing in 1988 and is currently working on two high action novels, both about aspects of WWII.

* * *

“Take a full-immersion dip into the hellhole of 1960’s Vietnam. Crawl inside the head of Lt. Edward Hardin and walk the tightrope between sanity and the surreal reality that surround and envelop him. Live with the never ending tension of waiting for the one little mistake that will end it all for you or the men you have sworn to get through today…and the next day…”

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