Southlands Snuffys

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 34 (v.1) - La Plage.

Submitted: February 01, 2016

Reads: 594

Comments: 3

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Submitted: February 01, 2016

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La Plage.

 

“ Ain’t no use in doing all that goddamn screaming son, your all fucked up, so just you have this morphine and lie there quiet until the corpsmen come and sew you back together again.”

 

Staff Sergeant to 2nd Platoon expectant casualty, VC Lake, D10 Special Zone,1967

 

 

The dawn had come up fast on a damp and gloomy morning after a night of rain at our home base. A dense, opaque mist, drifted over the old colonial boat yard covering it like a gray shroud, and droplets of moisture hung in rows on the moored Mikes and PBRs, but the mist had started to burn off quickly as an appearing broiling sun took a grip on it. It was the start of a type of day that any Arizona ranch hand would curse, but a sun-seeking vacationist in California prays for.

Everyone had abandoned the dignity of a relatively quiet breakfast and their usual early morning sarcasms by being overly talkative, goddamn yakking on and on about what they eagerly termed as “the massacre”. Their noisy claim was that a small hamlet had been attacked by our allies the ARVN, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, where they had slaughtered every man, woman, and child, then set alight not only the hamlet but also the dead. The real facts of what had gone on were mighty sketchy to say the least, for the ARVN command were keeping quiet about the affair, and so was our  higher-higher in Saigon and Da Nang.

That no comment line taken by those in authority meant the unsubstantiated story had formed a massive factual information void, so those with more vivid imaginations, and completely ignoring the military cliché that one should never place theory above fact, decided to fill the void with wild conjecture. And the more the story spread the wilder that conjecture infill became.

The original story doing the rounds was that a platoon of ARVN had entered the hamlet in the small hours, on a search and destroy mission against Viet Cong believed to be operating in their patrol area. Then during an overly violent search of the hamlet, shot all of the inhabitants and then burnt the bodies, not caring if they had been innocent or guilty of assisting the VC. It was certainly true that the ARVN had a well-known reputation for senseless brutality towards their fellow countrymen, and to deny such would have made any denier sound somewhat idiotic, but to me, having worked closely with the South Vietnamese Military the story appeared to be apocryphal, and much on the grossly weird side.

As the boating traffic on the river started to busily break up its shimmering glass like surface with their frothy bow waves, and just prior to our leaving on the latest sailing order, fact and fiction suddenly collided when the real story of “the massacre” came in over the radio net.

According to the now officially accepted version, a fighting patrol of ARVN decided to get shot-up on smack, heroin, they had found in the pack of a lone VC they had riddled, and were flying higher than a Blackbird spy plane over Hanoi when they entered a village. One of the heroin-filled ARVN, the patrol leader, a sergeant, shouted some garbled orders, then tripped over his own feet and let off a round.

That shouting and the round going off made his equally spaced-out buddies think they were under attack and start blasting off in all directions, and in doing so killed a couple of village kids, and who, not being fully awake, had stood there like cooperative targets. As for burning the village, that was true but in effect a quite normal procedure if any VC activity was suspected. It was a harsh, and in most cases unwarranted, collective punishment, for the justification of doing so by proof positive was seldom pursued.

The “massacre” title, and the burning of the bodies, had been added by overly enthusiastic numb-nuts looking to mold a little drama into what was a common enough story in a war that was steadily becoming governed by muddle.

To our own grunts, anyone getting high on drugs when out in the bush was classed as showing irresponsible, even terminal behavior. It could easily get their buddies killed, so smack-heads quite often never make it back from a patrol or operation, and in some cases it sure as hell wasn’t down to any enemy action that they didn’t.

Whichever detail you pulled normally depended on the luck of the sailing order draw, and although we felt that our boat already had her share of bad luck, we still drew a low man on the totem pole card due to the fact of having operated so often with Special Forces. For that we were now reaping the consequences.

All boats crews had a slight feeling of trepidation after receiving a sailing order, a genuine concern of what was to come, but that was tempered by the exhilaration of being cut-lose when their boats mooring lines were cast-off. Our latest sailing order had unbreakable restrictions written in, and that type always gave a crew cause for some agitation. Sailing orders could at times be quite liberating, with full autonomy being granted to a boats skipper, whilst others, like the one we were leaving on, tied him to a ridged schedule that had to be followed to the exact letter.

The gist of the order was simple enough, in that our boat would rendezvous with a SOG team on a beach in a bay, and whatever happened, the pickup could not under any circumstances be abandoned, unless either the SOG team did not show within the time frame arranged, or the enemy was waiting on the beach. It was that last part which really worried me, for it smacked of intelligence being unreasonably withheld for some reason or other.

Nothing of any great consequence had been reported anywhere near the part of the coast mentioned in our orders, other than two unknown sea-going junks way out on the ocean, and hugging the horizon. One motorized and moving fast, the other under full sail and just dawdling along on a light wind. Both had low freeboard which suggested they were fully laden, their holds packed to capacity, and probably with weapons and supplies for Charlie.

Even with the known vulnerability that came with such vessels sailing past a heavily watched coast, and the possibility of great violence being done to them, their crews would have been celebrating their luck at the perceived stupidity of our coastal forces leaving such a boundless vacant ocean to ply upon. Unfortunately for them, what they didn’t know was that the junks had been spotted, observed, logged, and reported to the Vietnamese Navy who had dispatched a Nasty Class motor gunboat to intercept them, and like the seagoing predator she was would eventually pounce on her prey, sinking both without neither fuss nor the favor of compassion.

Leaving the shelter of the estuary, we sailed along through calm, shallow coastal waters; the coastline itself was some six klicks from us, and looked no more than an uneven long thick line of smudged color in the heat haze. We were heading to a preselected point where we would wait offshore until the sunset faded. Then, like smugglers of old, upon the twilight, we would start moving inshore to find a little bay with its silvery sand beach, and be there as darkness fully set in. So far out it I didn’t even bother to look for the bays beach as it would be quite indistinct, just a faint speck of off-white between the blue of the ocean and the loom of the land.

There was a sunshine filled sky still free of rain clouds, and I hoped it would remain that way. For the weather always seemed to be made up of rain then sunshine, sunshine then rain, either one or the other, just as when the fighting stopped so had the dying, and when the dying resumed so had the fighting.

I had occasionally scanned the horizon for anything more than the reported junks with heavy submarine issue binoculars. Those I had traded for with a1st ANGLICO gunny using a bottle of Royal Navy rum, gifted to me by that very same Navy. The Marine Corps as a whole were on prohibition; even our goddamn ration cards had been modified to reflect the no-booze policy inflicted upon the snuffys by superior authority. It was typical mean-assed bullshit from those whose balls would never get squeezed in the combat vice. Therefore, if you had the urge to unbuckle the spirit from the daily trials and tribulations of dancing a death tango with Chuck by supping on a little “fuck-it fluid”, the only way a Marine could get any was to black market buy it, or barter for it.

The black market made Saigon and Da Nang kind of pseudo open trade zones, and I sure mean open, for no one made any attempt to hide their “business”. Both cities had the feel of  being boom towns where vehicles, weapons, gear, all types of supplies, and at times even the grunts themselves went up for sale. Hell, a REMF, rear echelon mutherfucker, would trade with old scratch himself for a prime war souvenir, and if you just happened to be a fucked-up bush-beast desperate for a quick return to the world on the freedom bird, then an early DEROS could be traded for if you had enough of the required wherewithal to seal a deal.

Waiting offshore in sweltering heat from bright sunshine, and the idleness of just drifting along over glittering water listening to the sound of lapping wavelets blipping and gurgling under a hulls hard chine, generated a relaxed vacation like atmosphere on the boat. Then, just as the sun began to disappear and we prepared for our run inshore and adding to that lazy atmosphere, in the distance a small sloop flying an unthreatening South Vietnamese flag came spanking along under a head of sail. She sure made a pretty sight that little craft, especially as the red of the setting sun gave a color of burnished copper to her sails.

After the discomforting heat of the day, the closing nights salt sea air was cool and refreshing as our boat cautiously moved inshore. The rhythmical rumbling of her motors and sound of rushing water along the hull was strangely reassuring, and a little time later, surrounded by a fog of eye-smarting bluish diesel fumes, with the motors revolutions dropped to idle, we glided slowly into the lagoon-shaped bay towards the beach. However, as I peered at my chosen landing spot in the low moonlight I could hardly tell the difference between the white of surf and a strip of sand that showed faintly.

All the time my mind kept reflecting back to the last few words in our sailing order, the enemy on the beach part, and I became haunted by an imagined specter of Chuck watching us approaching out of the darkness, primed and ready to close a trap, and send machine-gun rounds whipping towards us through bamboo and beach scrub.

But a sudden clear flash of reality overcame my minds objections about attempting the landing when an enormous rock suddenly manifested out of the gloom directly in front, and with a swift helm correction I barely managed to avoid it. That unexpected rock meant there was an obvious discrepancy in the chart I was using, and that brought me back to the immediate task of concentrating on not making a fatal decision, one which could have the Mike listed on the loss register as “missing in foreign waters”.

Beaching a Mike boat required clarity of mind, and to achieve clarity required the control of anxiety, which in turn meant deserting the thoughts of what if. However, I was not the only one with a mind full of what ifs; for everyone was on intense alert as the “fucker factor” was much stronger than ever felt before, it seemed to be screaming at us to realize someone was there.

That particular “fucker factor” feeling was a brewing sense of doom, of pending ill-luck concerning trouble ahead. It was building up with an unstoppable momentum, and we would feel it until the precise moment a monsoon of crap descended upon our heads when the shit finally hit the fan.

For quite a time I had come to realize that our instructor on Mike boats, an old barnacle encrusted Navy Chief Petty Officer at Norfolk, had been bull’s-eye accurate, all the way down to its last nut, bolt, and weld, when he said that a Mike boat was no more than a big steel coffin. But what he omitted to tell was, that when our Mike would be out cruising waters owned by the land of the lotus eaters, she would be crewed by what any psychiatrist would diagnose as goddamned paranoids, and who were well aware that if they got killed it wouldn’t matter a fucking thing to the “big picture”, for the war would just keep rolling along without them.

At slack water on a calm night any beach can be still, but that one was just a little on the overly quiet side for normal as our Mike Lifted on an unexpected swell that unhelpfully surged her forward to ground her deep into the sand with a gritty hiss. We were like flotsam deposited by the will of the sea onto a primeval shore, and shortly after the diesels were stopped for us to wait for the SOG team in silence.

Normally our boat would have been half in the ocean and half on the shore, so I had not intended that her stern and bow be so firmly imbedded, for our boats motors would struggle in dragging off her weighty bulk, and if so required, it would take time to rig a kedge anchor to help the motors out by winching. As an added irritant from now being more part of the land than first intended, we were soon pestered and bitten by our old antagonists the mosquitos.

It may seem strange to some, but whenever our boat passed a river village, or a group of fishermen, no one seemed to be the least bit interested in her. Most likely because the green painted oddity of a boat had a crew whose attire made them look more like a happy band of waterborne adventurers rather than people who lived by, and were bound to, a rigid military oath. But Charlie didn’t quite see us in the same light, all he could see were more imperialist Yankees to kill or maim, which guaranteed he would in normality open fire on us at the very instant we showed.

And just to prove that last point there was no prior warning of any kind when Charlie decided it was time to pour a bucket full of crap over us, but the gooks seldom gave a warning when it came to opening small action firefights. A soft cough, like someone gently clearing their throat, and a mortar shell suddenly exploded nearby in the shallows. A large spout of leaping water then cordite tasting spray so full of sand it fell quickly, like dirty rain. The blast from the detonation had knocked the breath out of me and made my ears ring.

What a bitter turn of luck, for the only way to avoid the possibility of being destroyed was to instantly pull back off the beach. But with her bow and stern now firmly held by the sand, we couldn’t do a damn thing until the turning tide gave the boat sufficient buoyancy. All that left in the way of choices was to find targets to engage, of which there were none in sight.

The mortar kept on firing uncoordinated spaced shots into the bay, and the main worry over the firing was that one of those rounds would rip through the stern deck and disable the steering, or wreck the motors. I flung myself to one side and bruised my ribs as a shell soared directly over the deck with a weird humming sound, possibly due to a damaged flight fin, and exploded on the beach. If the gooks manning the mortar had altered their trajectory by a degree or two then the high explosive round would have smashed directly onto the boat where I had stood, then another shell exploded nearby and yet another followed quickly.

We had been attacked by a single mortar quite a few times, but never without there being either a prelude or a follow-up with machine-gun or rifle fire, so it was a little disconcerting there being none. On the other hand, our little steel fort on the beach with its few defenders could fight off perhaps one or two forward assaults, but like with the Alamo, there could be no retreat, so eventually we would be fucked. Anyway, a good mortar team could stay well out of reach and just blast us into the sand.

Understandably, and just like any other grunts caught up in an unexpected firefight, our boats gunners were desperate to open fire and return the gesture to Charlie, they wanted to be unselfish and share with the gooks what they were feeling, but still there were no targets to engage, no muzzle flash to use as a marker, there was absolutely nothing of the enemy, just that low cough from a mortar tube firing before another shell exploded.  

Skippering a boat in wartime and trying to disentangle from an engagement can force you to be either reserved and cautious or bold and reckless; whichever it will be depends on the boats situation, and what the enemy is actually doing to you at the time. Two large waterspouts rose, one on each side of the boat, and we had been bracketed, making it only a matter of time before a well-placed mortar round ended all speculation over what to do. The time had come to be bold and reckless, for even if they were firing blindly, that mortar crew could easily cripple the Mike, all it would take was one lucky shot and once again, we would be fucked.

Not daring to wait any longer for the SOG guys or the floodtide to lift the boat any higher at the stern, I decided we should go. As clumps of sun dried, coarse beach grass and scrub bushes ran almost to the water’s edge our radio guy came up with a great idea, in that it would make the perfect fuel for makeshift smoke cover, so he fired a flare into it.

Just as I fired-up the motors,a small figure emerged through the now slowly drifting smoke which made the shape look almost deformed. It appeared to be a SOG montagnard, and one of the crew, a good shot, covered him with an aimed rifle, ready to kill the figure with one round. Blurred, shadowy shapes moved on either side of him, but it never pays to act hastily and go blasting off at shadows. Just as well, for those shadows were the SOG team, fierce-looking men who showed no sign of weariness, or offered even one word of repentance for being late, and in silence they clambered aboard.

Reversing with motors roaring and mufflers blaring, props pinging and zinging from biting into the sand packed water, our Mike slowly started to shake off the land. The mortar continued its firing, this time with vigor, round after round dropped all over the beach and into the surf. Our forward .50 gunners started spraying fire to their front through the smoke, covering our withdrawal from the beach, and with our motors racing so hard I thought they might jump clear off their beds our Mike finally roared away.

I had given up trying to shout above the din of the mufflers for the gunners to cease firing, and eventually having finally run out of ready-ammo, and with their arms aching from the recoil of the twin .50 calibers, they were forced to stop. Only three things were now moving, our boat, the ocean, and wisps of smoke from sizzling gun oil on hot machine-gun breeches. That sustained gunfire at nothing had at least restored to them some sense of honor.

But at what price is honor when you can hear your enemy laughing at you? For once out of the mortars range, and having cut the motors to check them out as they had taken such a hammering when coming off the beach, I let the boat drift awhile. Then everyone heard what sounded like scornful laughter coming offshore on a light nighttime breeze.

Our own loud laughter retaliated when one of the SOG guys quipped with, “I hope that laughing don’t mean the zipper heads are running away with an idea they are good with a mortar, considering they didn’t hit a fucking thing!”

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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