Chapter 36: Femme de Guerre

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

Reads: 605

Femme de Guerre.

"Goddamn it, that round near tore my fucking head off! Remind me to kick the crap out of that replacement, the stupid fucker!"

1st platoon Corporal having a reminder as to his own mortality, negligently discharged round,

Ca Mau Province, South Vietnam, 1967.


Everyone started a mission with the belief that it would go well, they had to, for what else was there other than a dark brooding depression over the future, or possible lack of any. It was what the “CP”, command post, bullshit pep talks were all about, designed to get the grunts battle motivated, keying them up to a fever pitch against the enemy, and take their minds off the maiming and dying part of it all. Well, all that hot air may have motivated some, but most just looked at the speaker with poker-faces, their minds switched off to the verbal junk as they concentrated on the more important, which was how to stay alive during the coming action.

But fear and nervousness when in military service is a very understandable thing, especially so in time of war. However, it can help to steady that wild euphoria which comes when firing a weapon in anger at the enemy during a fire-fight, a euphoric feeling of invincibility that can make some people take crazy chances with their lives, therefore neither nervousness nor fear should be overly suppressed.

Unlike the excitement when in training for helicopter assault operations, fear and nervousness was quite common in grunts waiting to emplane as part of a chalk that was taking the fight to Charlie. They had good reason to be, for Vietnam War era helicopters were not as fast and agile as their modern day counterparts, thus making them more susceptible to downing by ground-fire.

However, they were fairly robust and tough birds, and relatively easy to maintain when in combat areas. Unfortunately, the chances of them being shot-down by Charlie was proving to be mighty high going by the growing loss numbers as the gooks quickly learned how to deal with such airborne assaults. That made helicopters an unpopular means of transport for the average bush-beast who didn't want to leave the ground for uncertainty in the air, as he much preferred the fairly guaranteed safety of his own feet to get him to where he was going.

That attitude also manifested itself on the Mike boats when they were transporting grunts and had to moor-up for the night. Those land grunts just couldn't wait to get off the boats and hooch-up in the scrub or jungle where they felt safer.


Inside a military helicopter the noise can be quite deafening, and the one we were riding in heading away from our usual stomping ground, the D10 Special Zone, was no different. That helicopter ride in the troop transporting slick was just as bumpy, nauseating, and noisy as any old worn-out fun ride would be, as the bird did some real fancy contour flying and weaving around to avoid any possible ground fire from Chuck.

The bird pilots crazy skidding, zigzag flying was in response to the three commonest in-flight shoot-downs for helicopters during the war, which were by head-on gunfire, in the hover at an LZ, or when in straight and level flight, so as we punched deeper into Charlie’s infiltrated area the pilot was taking no chances so walked on the pedals mighty hard.

Unlike that movie inspired bullshit about “inflight music” no such entertainment existed as there was only a limited amount of inflight head-coms available. Anyway, claims of door-gunners listening to the rock bands whilst blowing the crap out of a target, or bird pilots singing along to their favorite songs when going into a hot LZ is just romanticized war fiction. For the mundane truth of it all was that everything in the military operated to a disciplined pre-set drill, just as it still does today.

Only the pilot, co-pilot, door gunner/gunners, and a chalk commander if present had access to inflight coms, therefore if you wanted any conversation to hide your own nervousness it had to be done by shouting at the top of your voice with helmet off. Not that wearing your “steel pot” made you any safer from ground fire, for they were in no way whatsoever ballistics proof.

Out of the many thousands of grunts fighting in the boonie there was a few dudes who claimed that if they sat on their helmet when in flight it saved their balls from being blown off. Sure, possibly a few were dumb enough to believe that it would. But for all practical purposes it was a useless, even uncomfortable gesture, for if by chance a round from a gook heavy machine-gun, or large caliber anti-aircraft gun, came through the wafer thin helicopter skin directly beneath their ball-sack it would just keep on going, slicing through everything in its path. That included a perched upon makeshift helmet seat and the ball -sack on it, and even if by unbelievable chance it didn't penetrate the “seat”, then the high velocity impact energy transfer would likely shatter the sitter's pelvis.

Among our chalk on the bird was a replacement fresh in from MCRD San Diego who hailed from Plano, Texas. An overly tall, raw-boned sort of kid who occasionally practiced a comical looking boot camp “war face”, and kept babbling on at the top of his voice about not going to college even though his superb school grades made it an easy admission, a bore the hell out of everyone bitching point.

His nervousness was glaringly obvious, so there was no difference between us there. Unfortunately for me he wouldn't just shut his pie-hole and try to enjoy the uninteresting blurred scenery scooting past, and let me alone in silence to being both scared and feeling a little sick from the aroma of unwashed bodies and mildew.

A bush-beast sitting opposite the cherry had that dead fish eyed look from living under the terrors of near constant combat. Such strain on the nerves caused pressure build-up, and too many gory death duels with Chuck didn't help any to lessen that pressure. The bush-beast stared straight ahead, constantly licked his lips, and with two minute spacing shouted, “fuck this crap man-fuck this goddamn crap!” 

He looked and sounded mighty close to having burnout and would need careful watching. The main thing with guys who were teetering right on the edge of sanity, laboring under the burden of retaining mental equilibrium, was to look at anyone other than them, and show neither emotion at nor reaction to any weird behavior. Anything, even the simplest of normal gestures, could set them off on a course that crossed the event horizon to self-destruction, for those poor souls were like a primed grenade looking for a victim.

When in Da Nang I met a guy on medical recuperation leave who said he had been the sole survivor from a slick downed by a burnout. Seems someone started giggling on the bird, at what doesn't matter, but a burnout candidate thought it was due to something about him. It just took a glance at him by another member of the chalk to make the guy suddenly spray a full clip from a Stoner 63 around inside the bird. Whether he meant to or not, the wildly fired 5.56mm rounds blew both the pilot and the co-pilots brains out through the Plexiglas windshield. The burnout then screamed in manic hysteria as the bird whistled to destruction.

So I kept it tight lipped, zipped, and looked at, and listened to, the Texas cherry’s boring repartee about life in old fun loving Plano. It was better being slowly bored to death than quickly smashed to pulp due to a guy having his clusterfucked-up nerves snapped.

By the time the troop transporting slick had safely reached its destination “LZ”, landing zone and our chalk had deplaned, the lip licking guy had quieted down, but still retained “the look”, also known as “the thousand yards stare”. Unfortunately for me, the Texas cherry had moved on from his home town antics to his whole up-to-date life story, of which I had the complete and detailed goddamn history, including the part where his brother had been “kool-aid”, killed in action, back in ’63, the year Kennedy sent him to Vietnam before he too was killed .

Four years on after that unfortunate family event the Texan volunteered for the Marine Corps, and already he was boasting about his intention to request a 150 day extension to his tour before even two weeks into it. Claimed he wanted to get vengeance for his dead brother, to kill a few gooks even if it meant he himself went out in a wild blaze of glory.

I had heard that type of bullshit a few times before from others, the keep far away from dangerous numb-nut type who could easily get you killed without even trying. They always seemed to be thick as shit those self-styled hard asses, the gook slayers extraordinaire, who were convinced Charlie would be a real easy revenge hit.

Those dumb-asses actually believed all that  “nothing but poor farmers” crap so eagerly pumped out by the back in the world media, and the anti-war activists, who of course wouldn't be meeting any of their “ Viet Cong poor farmers” out in the boonie. Sure, nearly all the Vietnamese farmers were poor, most hardly had two piasters to rub together, but if they picked up a rifle and went to war they were no longer poor farmers but poor enemy combatants.

Well I thought; just wait till our war faced Texan came up against his first VC or NVA rock-hard “poor farmer”. Now there would be a guy half his size and weight, who most likely had never gone to grade school, or any other school for that matter other than life’s school, combat skilled and vicious, and someone who would be more than willing to send him off to glory with a quick succession of orangey-red muzzle flashes.

The Texans life story was not that much different from thousands of others. The guy had barely turned eighteen, and until boarding a crazy painted pink civilian airliner, and headed for what the grunts called "the asshole of the Orient", the Southland of Vietnam, hadn't traveled any great distance from home before boot camp. In addition,as with the majority of the American people before the war started, he had no goddamn idea where Vietnam was let alone even existed.

Had I not been concentrating on trying to keep my cold-can C ration breakfast down, “beans and dicks”, beans and wieners in a grease spangled so claimed tomato sauce, it would have been more constructive to have said that he should forget what his life had been before. Told him to stow it away in the back of the mind, for it took place back in a world he was no longer part of.

When out in the shit, back in the world memories became a distraction, a possible life threatening hindrance when trying to stay alive, and that it was much better to concentrate on the reality of the moment and fuck the past. Anyway, no one can change any of that worn out old baggage so why go humping it around everywhere in war, constantly grunting under its load as if it were a goddamn overloaded ruck.

I also neither needed nor wanted any new buddies, and it had been said at Parris that a Marine when out doing his duty has no buddies, only has fellow Marines, and it was a case of Semper–Fi and fuck everyone else. Even having one buddy was perhaps one too many if it didn't pay to have any, but what did pay was learning to be selfish when it came to surviving during a fire-fight, as taught at boot camp by our training gunny, who said that having buddies put a fighting Marine at great risk.

Our Gunny hadn't meant that you became a “Cheap Charlie”, a guy who was mean with his money, or would not share what he had with the other guys. No, absolutely not, what the Gunny meant was, that if you saw a buddy go down then your natural reaction would be to run and help, and many a dead Marine got that way by not keeping his head, staying where he was and giving covering fire to the guys who were far better trained to help any wounded, those being the corpsmen.

The reality message he was conveying was that duty required a snuffy to fight hard beside his fellow Marines, and if one needed help at his side then so be it, for a Marine never deserts a brother Marine in peril. But never to run any distance when under fire to help out, for two, or even more, wounded or dead Marines could only assist the enemy. Anyway, just like Charlie, a Marine snuffys primary responsibility was always towards his squad or platoon as a whole, and not any particular individual within it, other than perhaps the radio guy, for he was the guy everyone relied on for any lifesaving when in-contact transmissions.

On top of all that, in truth no one in the chalk gave a fuck about the Texans before Corps life, or that his brother had been killed, hell, in war like everywhere else people get goddamned killed near constantly, so the more important for the chalk was that they wouldn't be. In fact, I suppose it would have been more helpful if they had warned him that being so tall he was at an immediate disadvantage, for Charlie loved nothing more than killing the overly tall guys first.

Allegedly it was something about it forming part of their military psychology, like ugly people hating the beautiful because they themselves were not beautiful, but at the same time secretly admiring that beauty. So he had better learn to go everywhere using the infantry crouch fucking rapid when in the boonie, or Charlie would be taking his little frustrations out on him.

Stand tall, shoulders back, chest out, go marching around in the boonie like a poster Marine on a billboard, and chance receiving a swift round to the skull, or sucker shot in the guts to lure some dumb asshole out to help and receive the same. The lower he could get to mother earth when fighting in jungle the longer he would possibly live. Oversized guys trying to move quietly in jungle was like having a goddamn giraffe come elephant in the ranks, and that put everyone in their squad or platoon at risk.

However, those who were long and tall had one great advantage over shorter guys when it came to moving through elephant grass or reed beds simply because they could see above them, so they came in mighty handy as point-man in that type of terrain. Needless to say, that normally meant they became first target for Charlie, so tended not to last any great length of time unless they were quick, for who could possibly resist firing at a helmeted head bobbing about above a sea of elephant grass or reeds. The Texan was already marked down for that job, even if he didn't know it at the time, for if he had glanced at the platoon leader, our chalk commander, it could be read as so in his eyes.

When taking the Riverine course in Florida, our SEAL trainer had said that no amount of time spent out on a firing range, or sitting on your ass in a course lecture room, can properly teach combat survival, all that he could be expected to teach was the theory. For to properly learn such an important military art can only be done by going out into the shit, and set about getting your own practical experience.

Veteran bush-beasts having such experience knew that no matter how hard they tried to pass on the way of it to a cherry, only a fraction of the information would manage to get glued to the cherries brain, the rest just passed them on by. For just as it was with the Texan their heads were still full of back in the world crap, and that irritated the hell out of the bush-beasts.

So, the Texan needed some rapid self-taught “stay alive” lessons when rounds started to fly. Included among those would have been how to duck and weave like a goddamn featherweight boxer at the zing of that first round, and just like Charlie, to sit or squat to reduce his profile when in concealment.

He also needed to learn how to fire his weapon from either shoulder as if it were the most natural thing for him to do, reduce his reaction time by only looking over the weapons foresight during arc sweeping for the enemy, repeatedly change his magazine for a full one even if it wasn't quite empty, and fill spare magazines at every given chance, but with one round less than full capacity to avoid a spring compression blockage.

There were quite easily a thousand or more staying alive things a cherry needed to learn, but above everything else was the "Code of the grunt", the unwritten combat rules the snuffys lived, and died by. For even the dying had to follow the code, and had a chapter all to themselves. The main rule for them was to die quickly and quietly so as not to put the living at risk.


On a twin squad four day fighting patrol, a night of drizzly rain turned into a morning of drizzly rain, then as midday came along the sun found us wading ankle deep in sticky muddy slime. Then the sun started to bake us, for the heavy jungle canopy trapped the suns heat, broiling brains as if we were being roasted in a Vietnamese version of a Dutch oven, and by the late afternoon everyone was suffering from thirst and the onset of leach bite sores and sweat induced body rot. Our patrol was quickly running out of water, and some were also showing the early signs of dehydration. Had the corpsman not treated them quickly it would have soon turned into dizziness, uncontrollable vomiting, and disorientation.

The experienced bush-beasts were more greasy sweat soaked and physically fucked than the cherry replacements, and it sure wasn't due to them being less fit. They were so because their rucks carried far more gear, more of everything, including ammo, water, and rations. For those who were battle hardened knew that a cherry tended to have little sense when it came to water discipline, and would also bailout the contents of his ruck when the going got steadily tougher. He would also bail any spare belted or boxed ammo, claymore mines, or M79 ”blooper” rounds, as they were all heavy mothers to go humping  around.

However, any cherry doing so risked the wrath of his squad or platoon, who would kick the crap out of them for bailing out spare ammo, for doing so meant they would be literally playing around with lives. No one particularly cared if a cherry suffered from starvation or thirst, but ditching ammo was a whole different ball of wax as it violated the "Code of the grunt".

By the time we had reached our given patrol area it was getting dark, and darkness was the supreme danger time when out in jungle terrain on a fighting patrol. The shadows fluctuated and moved with moonlight and cloud, and if a wind was blowing it was easy to get spooked by any wind produced night noises. Back in ’67 there was none of the night vision gear that modern-day grunts rely on, other than “starlight” sniper scopes, so a “point man” sensitive to subtle changes in the atmosphere of the jungle and good night vision skills was always required.

At around midnight, in thinning cover and bright moonlight, exhausted, hungry, and horribly thirsty, we stumbled upon a “red ball”, one of Charlie’s fast supply trails that ran alongside a little jungle brook, and suddenly a faint rustling and low whisper was heard which meant we had made first contact with Charlie, most likely trail watchers. A few M16 rifle rounds snapped as a recce by fire, and in return a flurry of fire-fly like flashes, and the zap and zing of returning fire, then we fanned out and formed a defensive line. A small, black clad figure caught me by surprise as it suddenly broke cover and ran, at the same time firing a tinny-sounding shot at me before disappearing into dense bamboo.

A grunt situated in brush on my right fired a late burst of  M16 rifle fire at the point where the running figure had entered the stand of bamboo, half a rifle magazine later and I heard a high-pitched scream. His firing triggered a mad moment of rattling gunfire from the other guys, burning up precious ammo at nothing for any result as gook fire didn't come back at them.

The gunfire had lasted less than six seconds but at least didn't do anything to complete the compromising of the patrol, for the trail watchers would be high-tailing it back to report our existence. So we had to move out almost immediately for Charlie had an innovative tactic that we wished to avoid, it was the rolling ambush.

The gooks would ambush “light”, hitting a patrol or column with only one unit then quickly withdraw, and then a much larger group of several units would move into position elsewhere and ambush “heavy”, catching not only those originally ambushed again but any supporting forces dispatched to help them.

All the patrols canteens were being hurriedly filled at the brook, the fusty, buggy water would get double dosed with purification tablets, but it would still have a disgusting taste as if it had come straight out of a helicopter pilot’s piss-tube. Weapons, mags and their ammo were all quickly but carefully cleaned as everyone dreaded having any type of weapon blockage during a fire-fight. All the spare mags were emptied, cleaned, refilled, and then stuffed into spare boot socks to cut down on movement noise.

The guy who fired that late burst and I went looking for the source of the heard scream; it was an easy find, for we just followed a heavy blood trail. Blood looks black in moonlight, and that trail seemed as if it had been painted on the ground by a broad brush, and fifty meters into the bamboo there was a corpse curled up in a fetal position in a mass of semi-congealed blood. It looked as if the abdomen, the kidneys, and the liver had been badly torn up by the rounds, so death would have been relatively quick, although probably mighty painful.

The figure was tiny, much smaller than I thought it would be, even though the dead always look smaller than when in life. A chi com SKS carbine lying beside it actually looked enormous compared to the corpse, and at first the little figure seemed to be a child until a closer inspection showed it to be a woman.

Now that did shock me and I suffered a pang of compassion, for lying there was the first woman VC fighter I had come across, until then I had only heard they existed. But what surprised me was the reaction to the corpse by the grunt with me in what for him should have been a moment of mixed emotions towards the dead woman.

As he picked up the SKS carbine my thought was that he would just draw the bolt and throw the now rendered useless weapon away. But no, after removing the bolt he pulled a bayonet from its scabbard on the corpse and fixed it to the weapon before suddenly plunging it bayonet down into the ground. He then hung the dead woman’s conical hat upon the butt of the carbine, and walked away without a word spoken.

And there was the truth of it; the Texans great plan for taking bloody revenge on the gooks was just so much bullshit, a cherry’s nervous attempt at bravado and nothing more. The cherry from Plano,Texas had completed the evolution from recruit maggot to Marine snuffy by killing a woman combatant, and in turn earned at least some credit by saluting that combatant with a soldiers universal gesture of respect towards a fallen enemy.

Submitted: April 27, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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