Southlands Snuffys

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Chapter 7 (v.1) - Les jeunes croisés, malchance

Submitted: February 17, 2014

Reads: 672

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Submitted: February 17, 2014

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 Les jeunes croisés, malchance.

 

Deal on, deal on, my merry men all,
Deal on your cakes and your wine;
For whatever is dealt at his funeral today
Shall be dealt to-morrow at mine.

Edgeworth, 1810

 


"Be proud and brave" had said the guy’s father to him, and to all within earshot, as we waited in the lashing rain for trucks. These were to bus us on the first leg of what would prove to be a long journey to our respective final training before being deployed.  As a potential Riverine the Florida “river of grass” training area had been selected for me. With one and a half million acres of swamps, saw-grass prairies and sub-tropical jungles available to play in, it was a superb choice as a training area for those about to head for the land of the lotus eaters, Vietnam.

Our buddy’s father was indeed a "father" for not only was he our buddies father he was also by profession a preacher, and full to overflowing with ecclesiastical bullshit, as his talk was always of Christian Science, spritualism, and a tame prophet whose name now eludes me. He was more or less a throwback to the days of the African Missionaries, who had enthusiastically reveled in spreading the Lords word amongst those classed as the devil worshiping heathen, and just as it had been with my boarding schools "man-of-the-cloth"  who claimed he was constantly testing our souls to bring them "en rapport", I am sure his mind was affected in some way. 

That dude had relieved a man whom we had all held in deepest respected because of his quiet way of getting things done for any who requested his help. Any in God believer, atheist or any alternative religion received it with equal enthusiasm, and he never thumped the good book nor grated on our nerves with overstated pious claptrap the way this new guy did. Yep, it can be claimed with all certainty that our old preacher was truly a surrogate father to all, a perfect example of what a spiritual leader should be, and even better, he had survived two tours in Vietnam as a volunteer. Therefore, he was without doubt one of us, for all who stood that day for hours in the rain were also like he, volunteers.

Our new Preacher turned to address all gathered there, raised his arms and spread them wide with face lifted skyward as the rain thundered down in a heavenly torrent. With eyes glazed over in a strange manner he cried out in prayer "Lord, I beg your blessing for these young lions, let them smite our country’s enemies with swords forged in the fire of truth. Shaped on the anvil of freedom with the hammer of justice, let them be a credit to you as they fight the good fight, the Lord’s fight!”

With face aglow with the piety of the moment he looked to the heavens with arms still held wide. In a theatrical way and for effect he slowly lowered his gaze over us, expectantly waiting for the shouts of joy, or a great outpouring of crusading cheering. Even of helmets being thrown into the air and weapons fired off in one great rolling volley, in a mass fit of glorious biblical and patriotic fervor.

However, what he actually received in return for the prayer was silence, an anticlimax to what he expected. We just stood there in the torential rain like a flock of sheep in a field, staring in silent disbelief at such a weird spectacle. Being now completely soaked through to our very skin a joyous cry to heaven and firing off weapons, which we had very carefully cleaned, oiled, then placed snugly into their plastic carriers was without doubt the last thing on our minds. Although but one of many who were unimpressed and disheartened a voice eventually broke the pregnant silence by stating "Halle-fucking-lujah.”

Our preacher, indignant at our lack of enthusiasm and this lone wolfs gross disrespect for his words of encouragement, stared at us with an intense hatred. It was if he willed fire and brimstone to descend from on-high upon his antagonists. A couple of guys even looked up watching for a flaming meteor spearing earthwards, or some other God-like sign of disapproval towards our unholy behavior. A few others and I became quite mesmerized by the preacher’s pallor, in that it continually changed from a white indignation through to indigo blue, then to a delicate shade of purple, until after working its way through nearly every hue available in the spectrum settled for an impressive brick red.
Then, obviously dissatisfied with its choice resorted back to white, only to start the selection all over again. It was if his head was about to explode as he struggled with his temper and choice of color, like a confused giant chameleon trapped in a kaleidoscope.

Having barely recovered some form of dignity he turned quickly, nodded to his son in a final farewell and quietly said "God be with you". The preachers tormenting lone wolf spoke again, this time in a very loud voice so as all could hear "Yeah? He just might be, but sure as fuck you won’t!” Knowing the preacher was to be excused tours and keen to press the point home. Fists clenched in a red-mist fury and without looking back, the preacher stalked off in a stiff walk. Obviously furious at his new found nemesis and knowing we were all desperate to start laughing.

Late in the day and hours behind their promised arrival time the trucks eventually rolled in and we were told to pile aboard them. We did so accompanied by much inane and pointless screaming from the training staff as to which truck each of us were assigned. This was the final sort-out as to each individual’s specialization.

Throughout my time in military service the understanding as to why an NCO had to bellow all the time eluded me, for in the vast majority of cases a firm and clear command would have sufficed. Doing so would have ensured a smooth transition from order to action, and there of. When in training at Norfolk,VA on a short but welcomed break from Parris Island, and during a particularly searing episode, our trainer screamed at us for a full ten hours, without it seemed barely stopping to replenish the air in his lungs, our resident joker  had asked of him “ Gunny! If someone stamped on an NCOs’ ball-sack when wearing parade boots, intentionally or otherwise, would the receiving NCO emit the same bellowing incoherent racket as he does when giving instruction?” That question cost our joker a killing twenty klick run, and a visit to the stockade. However, quite miraculously, it also resulted in the Gunny reducing his voice volume to a decibel level we were capable of understanding.

Due to the screamed words of the training staff, which at times sounded meaningless as they became distorted by the sheer volume of the shouting, people started clambering onto trucks that were going nowhere near their final training destinations. This prompted even more confusion as those bodies found to be on the wrong trucks were unceremoniously ejected from them.

As with all military actions sanity finally won through, with everyone and everything being in their, or its, rightful place. In my truck, and also heading for Florida, were the preacher’s son and the lone wolf. Sitting at the trucks tail-gate I had a panoramic view over the camp where it sat in a low valley below the main entrance. In a far corner of the saturated parade square, I could see a solitary figure standing in the torrential rain with his arm raised in a form of salute, it was the preacher. As the long convoy tore out of the camp in a great blue cloud of exhaust fumes, only one arm amongst us raised in reply to the his salute. No, not his sons, it was mine. For at that fleeting moment I truly had felt sorry for him.

Then the lone wolf howled again. This time standing up on the truck bed and shouting at the top of his voice at the preacher, who was now receding fast from our view. "Hey! You! Holy joe! If we are young lions doing the lords work how come he always pisses on us? Explain that!" So our lone wolf had taken in some words of the prayer after all. With eyes fixed straight ahead, thus studiously avoiding having to look back towards his father, the preachers’ son answered the lone wolf’s question, “The lord moves in mysterious ways, or so I have been told over and over again!”

..............................................................
 


In a dark mood we had headed over to the Club early in the afternoon, it was always quiet about that time of the day with few drinkers at the bar or tables. We had just finished our weekly compulsory physical fitness, part of our acclimatisation schedule, during which we had lost one of our guys. He had fallen over a log and broke his neck, and thus became our first, but not our last, fatal casualty.

We had been out on the last part of the schedule which was the fitness run. Running at speed through semi-jungle down a track following another crew who were doing the same thing as we, when running around a blind bend in the track there was, plum in the centre of it, a medium to large sized log. It was just laying there peacefully across the track, as if some logger or other had just plain forgot to take it with him. Our pace setter, and the first two guys following him, successfully navigated the obstacle by jumping over it, but the third guy in line tripped, fell, and broke his neck, simple as that. As one of the guys put it "No fucking pain, just all fucking gain". He was right of course; being shot or blown into bits by exploding ordnance would in all probability have been worse, and mightily more painful!

So this Club visit was to be his wake, his soldier’s farewell, and paid for by him. We had raided his pants pockets and footlocker for his dollars, an agreement we had with each other if one of us, or more, were either killed or seriously wounded. The thinking at the time being in that best your buddies got it, and gave you a great send-off, rather than some medico, or local helper, out with intent to do robbery on the fallen.

On hearing of our friends unlucky demise Tante Bee set the first round up for free, as she walked past one of the customers slapped her hard on the ass. Quick as a flash, she turned and punched him hard on the jaw, and then ran off giggling like a young girl chasing butterflies in a flower meadow. I must say that I and the rest of the crew were mightily impressed with the socked guy’s ability to absorb such a crashing blow, for he did not spill one drop of his drink, even though he spun on the bar stool like a kids top!

A guy from another Task Force walked in and shouted over "What a bar full of sad faced fucking heroes! How about a wet-one to salute a fallen brother?", and with that he joined us. He had heard the news on the Radio Net chatter as our Task Force were operating out of his sector. Then some more guys arrived from the same Task Force as the first guy. Before we knew what was happening the place was packed to bursting point with people. And our dead friend’s dollars and MPC, military payment currency, had vanished into Bee’s cash box faster than summer rain falling on hot roof shingles.

The wake was now going full swing with Bee singing joyfully as the cash just kept on rolling in. Being French, she obviously had a great liking for old French songs and sang them with a Parisian accent. She had a phenomenal singing voice which was easily heard above the din of the Club. Regardless of how noisy it became you could not miss out on Tante Bee when she was banging away with her gums. In the past, someone had compared her tone to that of a fairground busker, shouting through a megaphone.

That was an accurate description for sure. We all believed that if it came to a noise producing contest between our boats motors going at full throttle, with mufflers removed, and Bee, she would win hands down. All the Clubs regulars regarded her as another Édith Piaf, but even louder. Although turning a little “Matronly” with the passage of time she must have been a beauty in her younger years, but absolutely in every way a singer. However, even in later life, just like Piaf, she carried her age with grace and surprisingly well.

The minder ejected a couple of guys out of the rear door as they had been making rude comments about Bee’s choice of song. However, they just ran around the building to the front entrance and walked in again. The minder did not notice as he was after another guy who had aimed lewd gestures and suggestions at the barmaids. Otherwise, things were incredibly orderly, for once.

When eventually caught, the chased guy made the barmaids and Bee laugh when he protested at being roughly manhandled, and about to be thrown out, by claiming, "The Medical Officer has checked me over. He diagnosed that I have battle fatigue and should be excused when I do naughty things". It was an outrageous claim for he was an FNG, fucking new guy, and hadn’t even fired one round in anger since his arrival in Nam, four days before!  He promised to keep his pants firmly harnessed up, and in such a condition as not to give further offence. After that he was allowed to stay.

As the afternoon wielded its way into night the place was rocking, more people had turned up, thus spilling the party out into the open. The local cops and the Shore Patrol suddenly appeared on the pretence of maintaining peace and harmony amongst the revellers but were in fact supping beer just as fast as a full bottle could replace one that was empty.

A baby grand in the back of a Rio truck, along with a few other instruments, was banging out dance music in competition to the bars resident piano player. The baby grand badly needed tuning but no one seemed to care. As soon as one tune ended, the little band went straight into another number. Even the spooky gray guy had turned up and was dancing with Bee in a close sensual embrace; he looked over at me and gave me a knowing smile, which looked more like a deaths head grimace actually. At least this time he was dressed up in black, which made a nice change, and now looked more like the grim reaper out on the town rather than his messenger.

No one at the time knew who the bandsmen were, or where they had come from. But as it turned out, they had driven over from another Riverine base after someone from the police station called asking for a piano. So they hauled theirs out, loaded it into a Rio and headed over. Unlike what would probably happen in modern times, there was absolutely no fighting, arguing or any falling over piss-headed obnoxious drunks regurgitating their evening meal in public. Everyone was just having a fabulous time saying goodbye to our buddy, even though the majority had never heard of him before walking into the place.

What had started as a planned few drinks of farewell had miraculously evolved into a near carnival .Finally, like in all good things in life it came to and end. The next morning’s dawn saw a Medico Slick arrive to take our friend on the long journey home; a medico jeep took him in a zipper-bag and with due respect placed him in the Slick. Under a gray sky and the pre-rain of a looming tropical storm, we watched until the copter was just a speck to the eye and wondered who would possibly be next, and then headed over to the boat yard in pondering silence to paint over our boat’s latest battle scars, for one death can never stop a war. Long before the close of day our boat would be off the slip blocks and launched into the side canal ready for our next trip out into the unknown.

Come the late afternoon, with the Zippo moored to the yard pier all ready to go, it was over to the bar for beer and sandwiches. Bee was not out of bed when we walked in but her minder was around. He went behind the bar and retrieved an envelope she had left for us; in it were our buddy’s dollars, MPC, and quite a few extra to boot. In fact the extra was all of the bars takings from the “Wake”.

The hard heart of the businesswoman actually contained a soft centre after all. We forwarded the bar takings along with his personal gear to his pop the preacher, including a framed photograph. It was of Tante Bee flanked on either side by us, all formed up on our Zippos weather deck. Centre stage, and looking magnificent in a plain black conservative dress was Bee, and we, flanking her left and right, were looking very dapper in freshly issued fatigues which we had borrowed for the occasion, instead of our normal shorts and sandals, or greasy motor oil stained coveralls. The lone wolf looked at me with sad eyes and said “ That sure is one fucked-up way to board a Freedom Bird back to the World. Yep, the lord sure moved in a mysterious way. This time! “

On an ordinary spring morning in Pennsylvania USA, an ordinary Marine who had been killed extraordinarily by a log in the Southland of Vietnam, was laid to rest by ordinary people, in an ordinary cemetery.

 


© Copyright 2017 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.

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