Crimson Heart

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
CAUTION -- Adult language. NOTE -- This is an addendum to my previous story 'Combat Rainbow', and it would be best to read that one first.

Submitted: June 17, 2015

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Submitted: June 17, 2015

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NOTICE -- I never feel comfortable telling this story. Oh, it's the truth. It really happened, yet it seems vaguely sleazy for me to be the one to tell it. I am afraid that people might think that I'm bragging or making myself out to be a hero. At the very least, I'm afraid that readers will presume I am fishing for compliments or pity. Believe me, that is not my intent.

I have read many fictional tales of combat. Some are masterfully written, with all the grit and pathos of the real thing. Even so, those stories ring hollow with me, and I chomp at the bit to tell what it is really like being under enemy fire. So, still leery of people misjudging my motivation, I am going to let it all hang out, telling it the way it was.

**********

It was late in the afternoon on a summer's day in 1967. I was standing on the fantail of the ship, as far aft as one could be. I had unbuttoned the top half my shirt and was flapping it back and forth in an effort to fan myself. We were in the tropics, and I was seeking comfort from the oppressive heat. Navy ships, the smaller ones anyway, weren't fitted with air conditioning back then.

We were cruising lazily off the coast of North Vietnam during the war. It had been a quiet and boring day. I was enjoying the view, blissfully unaware that the ship was being tracked through the gunsights of enemy artillery. It was an ambush, and the Vietnamese were patiently waiting for us to draw nigh. I can imagine they were thinking thoughts of an easy kill, fantasies of sweet victory, a glorious tale to one day pass on to their grandchildren, and, I hasten to add, they fuckin' near got their wish.

It was a complete surprise when the shit hit the fan. Out of the blue, a three-shell artillery salvo splashed down off the starboard bow. Almost in unison, the sailors standing about the deck pointed wildly and exclaimed, "Mother Fucker, man!"

The enemy had not scored a direct hit, but don't let that fool you. Given the long range involved, several miles in fact, and the inherent unknowns of the effect of wind direction and velocity on the projectiles, the shots were well within the cone of error. We weren't dealing with some desk top game boys, those dudes were professional gunners, and we knew we were in for a real fight.

Out on the open sea like that, it was literally a case of: You can run, but you can't hide. And you can bet your sweet ass we made a run for it. We ran like a cockroach when someone flips on the front porch light. There's just one thing, though. Navy destroyers are not cockroaches. Navy destroyers bite back, and that is what damn near got me killed that day.

The ship was caught unawares but not unprepared. The gun mounts were already trained towards the shore. They were manned, and there was ammunition in the ready racks. It was called relaxed battle stations. The situation caused stains on ships services because the gun crews weren't available for regular day-to-day duties, but, in a combat zone, everybody had to pull some extra weight.

The after turret on the ship was a dual, 5"/38 gun mount. As I made my dash for the engine room, I was running under the cannon barrels when they fired a full salvo, both barrels at once. The backwash from the muzzle blast blew me sideways and nearly knocked me flat, leaving me scurrying along the deck on my hands and tippy toes, like a crab, before I could get back on my feet.

The worst part was the pain. Without hearing protection, the blast was as bad as sledgehammers on my ears. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate the pain to have been at least a 12. While I do not know if my eardrums were ruptured per se, I can assure you they were stretched beyond anything they have experienced before or since. Once I had regained my footing and was running upright, I felt fluid dribbling out of my ears. I didn't know if it was blood, and I was too afraid to find out. I wiped the stuff away with my fingers and cleaned my fingers on the seat of my pants.

As bad as it was, I had other fish to fry. Glowing powder residue had speckled my dungaree shirt, burning hundreds of pinholes in the cloth. The smoke from the shirt was getting up my nose and stinging my eyes. I was frantically brushing the stuff away off my front and shoulders, but I was unable to reach my back. It couldn't be helped. If it had gotten bad enough, I would have rolled on the deck to smother the embers.

Then, I smelled hair burning. Holy shit! I slapped at my head. The cinders burned my scalp and the palms of my hands. Where was my cap? Dammit, what happened to my friggin' baseball cap? I know it shouldn't have mattered, but I'm telling it like it was, and sometimes stupid little things like that occupy a mind under stress.

When I reached the engine room hatch, I was at the end of a line of sailors trying to squeeze through a small scuttle. By then, the ship was making a high-speed, radical turn to port. It was heeling so far over that the deck was like an inclined plane. Spray from the waves was washing over the deck making it slippery, like walking on ice. I was clinging on to something for dear life. I knew that it was neither the time nor the place to be a man overboard.

After the initial blast, I was virtually deaf. Even so, every shot of the ship's guns was another exercise in pain, and I could feel the concussions rippling through my chest cavity like bass drums at a monster rock concert. Take my word for it, six cannons firing one round each every eight seconds or thereabouts adds up to a lot of pain.

Then too, there was the smell. The air was thick with spent powder, worse than any Los Angeles smog. It was almost as hard to see through the stuff as it was to breathe it, and that doesn't even include the smoke still wafting about my singed shirt and hair.

Eventually, I made my way through the scuttle into the engine room and closed the opening behind me. The total elapsed time between the shit hitting the fan and my manning my battle station was roughly two minutes, but it consumed at least a half hour's worth of heartbeats.

Copyright © 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.


© Copyright 2020 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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