Small Wars Journal

When I Close My Eyes I See…

When I Close My Eyes I See…

Keith Nightingale

Files of Grunt walking through the deep green….the rice paddies…the sand dune broken plain…the rough scree and pine branches of impossibly steep hills…the dusty deserted all too silent city streets….the plowed ground and poppy fields of the mud village just within rifle range...always moving forward

Helicopters, dust, swirling colored smoke sucked through the blades

Innocent eyes listening to my orders, eager to follow

Tired eyes knowing what they mean, resigned to whatever the outcome

Them. Trust.  Am I worthy?

The white contrails of the Copperhead heading toward the left window, Building Two, Second floor

The biting straps of the ruck impressed on the skin after it is shed

The small glint on the tip of the front sight aligned with the shadowed figure to the front

The first gush of juice from the fruit can as the P38 pierces

The ochre stain of the C ration spoon as it is licked clean

My fingers around the black plastic forward hand grip…back to business

The limp figure that wanted to kill me.  Now so small and inconsequential.  Where did he get it?

The flapping ponchos on the KIA’s as the helicopter comes in to recover them

The perimeter at first light

The perimeter at last light

All the junk the morning after

Flies circling the bodies in the craters in front of me

The sixth sense that says Stop--Listen

The sudden muzzle flash to my front

The crosses-- in the marble garden telling our story

The marble crosses--Why I serve

The blinding light and heat as the evening’s excess charges are burned

The quick flash of heat and light from the ball of C4 under my C ration coffee cup

The fading light in his eyes

The look in the eye of the replacement during his first fire fight 

The dial of the radio with an earpiece listening to Vinny broadcast a Dodger-Giant game on AFVN

The AFVN image of President Johnson saying he would not accept his party’s nomination for the Presidency

The melted tar from the PRC 25 battery being swabbed across the leak in my air mattress

The miniscule red bubbles seeping out of the edge of the plastic wrapper on the sucking chest wound

The great gouts of blue smoke from the rear of the tank as it crashes through the green

The contrails of wispy smoke from the hot .50 cal as it is wiped down

The brownish black smoke and stink from the shit burner

The incredible cleanness of the uniforms and equipment of the replacements

The look in their eyes

The later oneness of the troops and the terrain they pass…time dissolves differences…almost the same

The sight of the shaking ant mound in the tree above me

The wildly rotating green sparks at the tip of the blades of the helicopter through the NVG’s

Reaching into the box and the joy or sorrow when seeing the menu item selected

The undulating ground in the triple canopy from the B52 strike

The incredibly iridescent green of the curled bamboo viper less than three feet from my face

The unique bright flash from the AK 47 pointing toward me

The bright flash when I hit his grenade vest

The look in the eye of the FO as he screamed- “Danger Close. Down.” as the rounds come overhead

The momentarily revealed light through the canopy as the boxes of ammo, rations, and water course through the upper branches

Whisping dust contrails and the deathly silence of the street in Falluja, disturbed only by floating bits of paper, plastic, and dust with a distant whining of dogs

The sudden explosions, flames, dust and noise at Desert One

The small contrails of foot-raised dust from the Pine barrens on the border

The incredible joy in the face of the children

The watchful wondering gaze of the old folks who have seen so much

The beautiful swirling red cone from the distant Spooky

The distant black mountain that is our objective

The unbelievably deep pools of the black-brown eyes masked by the cobalt blue gauze

The last anxious light of life of the man that was and is a soldier

The deep brown exhaust of the bore evacuator

The bulgur wheat sticking to the side of the iced 33 Beer glass

The discernible but steadily diminishing sight of the artillery round leaving the muzzle

The squishing mud oozing from the boots of the man in front of me

My prune textured fingers

The hot vapor trails from the helicopters as they stand by to load

The endless line of Grunts hunched by their rucksacks patiently waiting to load as the red dirt swirls around them, coating the rivulets of sweat coursing down their exposed skin

Same scene.  Different uniforms.  Different times.  All the same.

The white encrustation outlining the ruck straps after the fatigue shirt dries

The tiny flecks of white tissue residue coating my dog tag chain

The reddish black snagged smile of the old woman squatting by the black market product pallet

The billowing pink and yellow ao dais swirling behind the cyclos

The soft features of femininity—wherever

The innocence of children-wherever

The wavering greenish-yellow flares overhead and the dancing shadows to my front

The incredible force of a monsoon rain pouring through the trees

The all penetrating Crachin foggy rain on the slopes of the A Shau

My soldiers…they do not fear the storm…they are the storm

So many storms…so many places

The several white bones protruding through the laterite

The incredibly sweet small pineapples

The last eight magazines in my rucksack

The purple smoke billowing from the ammo box full of secure codes dropped through the canopy

The first sight of the gunships when they were so desperately needed

The thick heat density currents flowing from the verdant iridescent green paddies…How do they work in it?

The furtive swirl of black hair lost in the bush in front

The soaked but readable monster paperback when absolutely nothing is happening

The glistening moisture from the high speed hard pack just encountered—less than 15 minutes ago—the tiny evaporative bubbles are still forming

The incredible oven heat of the red ball overhead diffused by the almost impenetrable loess-like dust

The first sight of the LRRPs running toward me and the waiting helicopter between the coursing green tracers

The slowly firing and twisting A1E as it makes a circle around me—help is here!

My soldiers’ look of utter exhaustion but willing spirit

Soldiers in all colors and all uniforms

Grateful eyes of grateful people

The long open swath of Omaha Beach at low tide and the eyes of the listeners who suddenly Get It.

The school children walking through Omaha’s marble garden

My wife standing in the parking lot as our bus departs for the airplane

The silver metal caskets palletized under the wing of the aircraft

God gave me another day

The end of the runway as the plane lifts off

My wife and children standing in the parking lot when the bus returns us from the plane

So many runways.  So many tarmacs.


I see it in a Uniform

I see a unique and a good thing.