I went to sleep at 11:00 p.m. and woke to dark listening to the crickets, noisy sentries that say all was well. It wasn’t raining and there was no thunder or lightning. However, staring at the glowing red numbers on the clock radio reminded of the rainy days I spent on O.P. 39 in 1966. There’s a picture on my Website. It’s about two-thirds of the way down the page. The thirty-nine meant the elevation above sea level.
I have no idea what triggered that particular memory. No one shot at me. No mortar rounds or rockets hit the hill. The fighting was taking place miles away. Maybe it was those red numbers on the clock radio. On the other hand, O.P. 39 offered a lesson on how fragile life was. Such lessons taught most of us veterans not to take life for granted.
There were two of us from the 1st Tank Battalion there. We were working a radio relay during a major offensive north of Chu-Lai. It rained most of the time. There were other units involved in that operation so there were other radio operators. The radios were on folding tables in a tent near my shelter half. There was also an artillery unit that fired support for the grunts fighting in the hills.
Outside that tent was a metal-lattice tower with a bunch of antennas on top. My watch started around six. I woke early when I rolled off the air mattress to flounder in several inches of water. It had rained hard all night and flooded the spot where I had pitched my shelter-half. I’d picked a spot surrounded by boulders that offered protection from incoming fire. That spot may have been safer than most, but it was in a slight depression.
After I stripped off the soaked clothing, changed into something dry, then slipped into my poncho, I heated up a can of C-Rations, ate, and afterwards brushed my teeth. While this was going on, thunder rumbled and lightning strikes blossomed around the hill. Soon, I was on my way to the radio tent to stand watch. I was going to start early.
If I had been ten minutes earlier, I would have been killed. The Marine I was replacing died moments before I arrived. Lightning hit the antenna array, went into his body through the headset and cooked him. The medics were carrying his corpse out of the tent when I arrived.
There was no time to be shocked or ponder why him and not me. Regardless of the fact that the rain, thunder and lightning were still around, I had a job to do. I powered up my radio jeep and used the set behind the front seats. I grounded the radio, turned the speaker loud and did not use the headset.
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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