Thurman P. Woodfork
JUST ANOTHER NIGHT IN THE ‘NAM
It was hot and humid, and in the wee hours of the night, with Nui Ba Dinh brooding against the stars. Too hot for comfort, too far from home, too uncertain of what the next few hours might bring. The camp was asleep and as quiet as it ever got. Only the ever-present, distant rumble of somebody getting the hell blasted out of themselves out of sight over the horizon intruded on the quiet darkness. I wondered if Charlie was near, slipping ever closer through the shadows, watching the sleeping camp. “Just another night in the ‘Nam,” I thought, eyeing the M-79 grenade launcher hanging above the screened porch opening.
From where I sat on the Team House porch, I could see down a narrow corridor into the dimly red-lit commo bunker. I knew somebody was in there, but he wasn’t visible at the moment. I was also sitting almost in a direct line with my machinegun position, which was a few yards behind the commo bunker. I sighed unconsciously, taking a deep breath, and suddenly became aware again of the camp’s distinctive aroma. “Damn,” I thought to myself, “I guess you can get used to just about anything.”
Almost one a.m. – five more hours to go as Sergeant of the Guard. As I squinted at my watch, a slight noise announced the arrival of the CIDG interpreter who would accompany me on my hourly check of the perimeter. The screen door swung open and he entered the porch smiling, his teeth showing white in the dark oval of his face. He looked wide awake. “What’s he got to be so cheerful about at one o’clock in the morning in Vietnam?” I thought grumpily as I got up.
My thought was shattered by a loud, metallic explosion accompanied by a flash of light as the mess hall roof erupted, flinging chunks of metal and wood into the air. What the hell! The entire camp was wide awake and active now as men raced to defensive positions, calling out to each other. I had activated the alarm, the switch was on a post close to where I had been sitting, but there was hardly a need for it. The interpreter almost magically vanished as I ran for the barracks and my gear, on a circular route to my machinegun bunker. Amazing how quickly one can transition from grumpy boredom to nerve-tingling alertness.
Shortly after I reached my defensive position, the cause of the bombardment was discovered. Somebody on a nearby fire base had gotten the coordinates garbled for a fire mission and sent a few rounds our way by mistake. Fortunately, we had suffered no casualties, only some damage to a couple of roofs; no harm, no foul. But a lot of heartfelt curses.
I was soon back on the Team House porch as the camp returned to apparent slumber. I looked at my watch – almost two a.m. – four more hours to go. It was still hot and humid. Nui Ba Dinh loomed massively in the always faintly menacing darkness, an almost living presence. I think I’d have only been mildly surprised had I heard it suddenly inhale. I wondered if Charlie had witnessed our false alarm and decided it would be a great idea to launch an attack once the camp had relaxed its guard and settled down again.
I stretched, sighed, wiped sweat from my neck and scratched myself absently. I had kept my gear with me. The muted thunder of detonations rumbled off in the distance. Somebody was still getting hit for real. I sighed again; just another night in the ‘Nam.
©Copyright May 17, 2010 by Thurman P. Woodfork
Graphic from Photograph ©Copyright 1969 by Thurman P. Woodfork