David R. “Poppa” Alexander

NIGHT TRAIN

In late of 1967, I was given a break. I was told that I had been in the bush long enough to be able to transfer to base camp. I was ready, to get some of the good living at base camp in An Khe. My Colonel told me that they had an opening in Special Services if I wanted it.

It took me all of 2 seconds to accept, hell handing out ping-pong balls and a bed to sleep in at night, cold beer, hot showers and clean cloths. Lead me to it.

I went in on a chopper, and landed at the Golf Course (An Khe air field) and smiled all the way to Division HQ.

Upon arrival I reported to the Assistant Division Commander, a bird Colonel; strange how I never suspected a thing. He told me to go down the hall and report to S-2, which I did. Upon getting to S-2 I had this uneasy feeling, why S-2? Oh well handing out ping-pong balls and swim trunks was OK with me.

I was told that I should get a shower, clean cloths and would be escorted to a place to sleep and then to the Officers Club. I did these in a kinda reverse order but got them done anyway. Next morning I was awakened by a Sergeant Major and told that I was to report back to S-2. Now I was a little suspicious, S-2, ping-pong balls?

Because I had a Top Secret Crypto security clearance and had attended the Jungle Operations School in Panama I would be in Special Services OK but not with ping-pong balls. I was to be assigned to Special Services as an American Advisor to allied troops. Now I was getting the picture.

I won’t go into specific missions but several missions were to make a certain village mayor or chief “friendly”. They always were when we left. I worked with Australian’s, Turks, Korean’s, South Vietnamese (ARVN) and others always with an interrupter except when with the Australians and sometimes I could have used one when with them. I would go with usually a squad size element and the missions would vary like I said but the person we were to convince to be friendly always was when we left.

After a couple of months of this duty, with little or no break I was tired and awfully sleepy on night while in the middle of the jungle and waiting for choppers to pick us up after one of these missions I was able to get some sleep.

No sooner had I lay my head down and was asleep than a strange noise could be heard a train whistle, yes a train whistle. I sit up and the head light of the train hit me right in the eyes. Now a train in the middle of the jungle with no rails is strange right? The light was so bright that we were fully exposed, we all just watched as this train came right by us.
As it did I could see the engineer and the fireman plain as day, but they weren’t ordinary they were half skeleton, flesh hanging off of them and ragged uniforms they paid us no mind and kept on moving slowly by.

Behind the engine was a passenger car and at every window was one of my men that had been killed, looking at me, they too were half skeleton with flesh hanging from different parts of their bodies.

I was scared, really scared. The last car had a platform and on the platform was the biggest shock of all. My friend and mentor 1st Lt. Ervin “Jake” Burns was standing on the platform waving a lantern…

I yelled and screamed for the train to stop but it kept moving slowly along.

Suddenly, from nowhere comes, “Wake up Lt. Wake up. It’s daylight, time to go.”

It was a dream a strange dream and I have had the same dream many times sense then, always with “Jake” standing on the last platform.

The dream is a dream the story is true.

NIGHT TRAIN

Tired, wet and hungry,
Just a place to lie down and rest;
Finally a small dry spot in the jungle
Taking turns with watch.

I taking one of the first watches;
Finally relief and asleep: before I realize it
From nowhere there is a light, a strong light
And a noise I hadn’t heard in nearly a year.

I rise up and look around and through the jungle comes a train
Yes a train, a steam engine with rail cars behind
I’m startled and can’t believe the sight.
As I sit up and stare in disbelief it comes closer and closer.

Looking around we are all not only startled but scared
A train in the middle of the jungle?
As it comes closer I can see the engineer and the fireman
Tattered clothing and nothing but skeletons.

My senses are alive and alert, but this is a train from nowhere
As the train moves past there are two passenger cars attached.
In each window there is a skeleton, a skeleton of a man I have lost.
Tears flow, I yell, but I cannot stop the train.

And finally as it passes on the last car
On the deck at the very end of the train
My friend and mentor, a mere skeleton,
But it is, it is “JAKE”

“Wake up Lieutenant” its daylight.
I am startled, scared and drained of emotion.
Yes it was a dream, a dream of all those that died
The ones that were entrusted to me.

I have let them down;
I have not done my job well enough.
When again I’m reminded of those words of one of the dead
“You did your best Lieutenant, my dying isn’t your fault”.

This maybe, but that dream isn’t one that I only had in the jungle
It is a dream that comes again and again.
A night train going nowhere
Filled with my brothers that have gone on to wait for us all.