For a few days, some of the Marines in my company, including me, were sent to a hill on the perimeter at Chu Lai to watch over an infantry company’s equipment while they were in the hills chasing North Vietnamese ghosts.
There weren’t many of us–just enough for two Marines to man each of the smaller bunkers near the foot of the hill.
Rice paddies surrounded the hill. When night came, the hum of mosquitoes sounded like waves of alien flying saucers, then the rest of the night was a battle against the bloodsuckers.
Several Marines scrambled into the largest bunker at the top of the hill—a two-story model with iron boiler plate for a roof. They thought they would be able to escape the bloodsuckers in there. But as fast as they went in, they came out screaming. The bunker was full of rats and as the first Marine put his boots on the floor, the rats started climbing his legs.
During my watch between midnight and four, I heard a rustling noise near the wire. There would be long stretches of silence (if you don’t count the sound of distant firefights and flares), then another rustling as if someone were crawling up the hill. I couldn’t see anything and thought it might be a small animal.
When my watch ended, I had to visit the latrine. It was a screened, plywood box with a four-hole plywood bench inside. It was black as ink in there. Under the bench were four half-empty, fifty-five gallon metal drums with several inches of diesel fuel in each one. In the mornings, the drums would be dragged out from under the plywood bench and set on fire. When day came, hundreds of columns of black smoke would drift lazily into the morning sky over Chu Lai.
I had cramps—what I call green apple trot. I leaned my weapon just out of reach against the three-foot high plywood wall in front of me and sat. Above the plywood was a screened in open space that allowed air to flow through. There was a tin roof. On both sides was a line of tents where the grunts (infantry) kept their gear and slept.
That’s when the grenades started to go off. I glanced to the left to see a shadowy figure running along the line of tents tossing a grenade through each opening. I reached for my weapon as a wave of cramps doubled me over. I thought I was dead.
No one died on that hill that night. The tents were empty because the grunts were in the hills and we were in the smaller bunkers near the concertina wire. I was closer than anyone in my unit but was fortunate the latrine was ignored.
How many events like this does it take to acquire Post Traumatic Stress? What happened to you? What do you remember?
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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