Robert W. Flournoy

MEMORY

From the unit’s night defensive position, the artillery FO would have his direct support fire base fire H&I rounds throughout the night, at preset times, onto steam bed intersections, hill tops, valley centers, or simply into dense jungle; anywhere that he thought VC, or NVA might be. Stay on their ass, never let ‘em sleep, and maybe get lucky and hit something. The sound of that incoming was just a back ground noise to him that he barely heard in his subconscious, so used to it had he become, nor did the troops around him even blink when projectiles impacted around their position.

On the morning of March 25, 1972, Alpha Company of the 2d battalion, 8th Air Cavalry, rose up from the misty jungle floor at first light, rucked up, and moved out, northwest toward Cambodia. The FO was with them, already plotting defensive targets to be called in if needed, should contact with the enemy be made. It was the second day of their planned 14 day mission, and the heat would top 100 degrees by 10 A.M., just as it did everyday. The company would be on its’ feet, moving silently, diligently, until the sun set 12 hours later. He would repeat the H&I targeting every night, for the remainder of the mission.

Four days later, Alpha Company had moved 1.2 kilometers in a reasonably straight line, slowly, ever so slowly into the endless jungle. They then made a right angle turn through the same rugged country, moving 1.5 more kilometers in the next four days. On the fourth day of that second leg of the triangle they were forming, a horrible stench, and intense buzzing sound arose out of the jungle around them. The line of men filed slowly through the rotting corpses of seven fully uniformed NVA soldiers, killed eight nights before by one of the FO’s random strikes, in this case a full battery of six rounds that had caught this enemy squad completely by surprise. There had been no survivors, or the dead would have been concealed. A few of these men had died slowly, as evidenced by some of their body positions, leaning against trees, with attempts at bandaging. They were without communications gear, so their passing would go unnoticed by their own army, and their families would never know what happened to them. Numb to it at first, and for years after, this image would eventually haunt the then 24 year old lieutenant decades later. He knew that these men had died because of a routine, almost casual radio message that he had sent out in the middle of a night that was like a hundred others in his war; a routine request to fire six 105 mm howitzer rounds at 2 o’clock in the morning at this specified grid. A spot on a map, nothing more, at the time. Mostly, he would remember the smell.