Small Wars Journal

Some Sounds and Senses - Vietnam

Sat, 07/09/2016 - 6:23pm

Some Sounds and Senses - Vietnam

Keith Nightingale

Close your eyes.  Relax.  Imagine with the deeply stored memories of your mind…

The hot fetid smell of the deep green.  Walking through the soft soil turning over a century of accumulated organic matter.  Stopping for a moment, looking down and seeing hundreds of small leeches inching their way toward you.  You won’t avoid them all.  Picking them off later as their fat bloated black bodies writhe under your boot.

The incredible humid fetid and oppressive air that is your personal biosphere.

The clunk of an enemy mortar hitting the striker plate.  The second of anticipation as the round crashes through the canopy overhead-will it explode or be a dud?  Finding cover in nano seconds rather than trust to luck. 

Sensing threats even when in a deep sleep.  Someone is out there.  I know it.

The deep silence of the jungle at night inside the perimeter.  The tiny flashing phospors of a million bugs and insects as they went about their evening mating and digestion.  The deeper growl of a tiger on the hunt or the raucous squall of the Fuck You lizard.

The sudden buzz and snap of the Squelch on the radio which seems loud enough to wake the entire perimeter..  Musty 22 Acknowledge with two beeps.  Over.

Something will happen.  It always does.

The snap and whine of bullets coming into the perimeter and the showers of chewed leaves and branches raining down.  The deeper grunts of Chicom hand grenades just after the sandy snap of the pull tape.  The shrill noise of birds as they excitedly exit the area-something you cannot do.

Noting the B52 Arclight crater’s below filled with water and the wide trails of grey death where the Ranch Hand missions sprayed the canopy into submission.

The deep ochre stains dried on the helicopter floor and gluing the load ring you try to engage.  Physics at 3,000 feet with a heavy ruck is not always in your favor.

What’s on your mind as you sit on the edge of the UH1H at 3,000 feet watching the ground below as you come in on Final.  What’s on your mind as the skid touches down and slides forward as the door gunner pushes you out.  Will I see tonight?  Tomorrow is too far away.

The anxious and inquisitive looks of the women and children as you pass by the remote ville.  Where are their men?  Will they attack us?  The smell is unusual.  I know this is a bad place.

The betel stained teeth of the old lady as she spits and smiles at you.  She has seen a lot and not much good. 

The sound of the helicopter through the canopy with your ammo resupply.  Hang On.  We are coming.  Hold on.

The feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. In a sudden moment, a feeling of immense loneliness enshrouds the mind.  Then immediate reality stifles the thoughts.

The deep crump of artillery firing from afar and the mental note taking of the time until the rounds detonate.  Your rounds.  Help is on the way.  It can’t be too close.  Sometimes it is.

Artillery illumination popping overhead with the flare hissing and twisting in the wind as it is spiraling downward.

The crash of the empty illum canister as it passes through the perimeter and hisses on the damp earth next to you.  Sir.  It just missed me.

The sight of the air paddle brakes flipping out on the 500 pound bombs just above you as the close air comes to play.  The rain of mud, branches and tree limbs showering down immediately after the detonation.  Relief in many forms.   

The shaky undulating earth moving in ripples beneath you as the ArcLight goes in.  God must be taking notice.

Maneuvering through an Arclight box soon after its impact.

The eyes of your companions to the left and right.

The click of the magazine as you seat the rounds against the side of your helmet.

The obscure moving shadows to your immediate front.

The rose shaped discharge fan of the AK 47 firing directly at you.

The sudden whoosh and near simultaneous explosion of the B40 as it passes overhead.

The curious intriguing spiral of red from the Spooky working out.

The anxiety in your gut as you are assigned night ambush in bad guy country.  A cigarette is enough-C rats are too much.  When does it get light?

The extremes of hot and cold in a jungle.  How wet can I get?  Very. 

The deafening sound of the torrential pounding rain against your helmet and poncho as you put your head on your knees and wait for its passing.

A bad heat tab between you and your buddy under the poncho.   

Watching the rain steam off the shirt of the man to your front.

The smell of the shit burner.

The intriguingly captivating image of the pastel Ao Dais of the girls sitting on the back of the cyclos.

The mesmerizing sight and sound of the Philippine cowboy band that sounds better than the originals it is mimicking.  The lightly oiled brown skin of the lead girl singer.  Just close your eyes and think...

Bad beer when really cold isn’t bad.

The sight of the Short Timers chart when it is more than half full.

The sight and sound of a bullet impacting the man to your front.

The feeling of helplessness when you see the light go out in his eyes.

The casual professionalism when examining the enemy dead.

The muddy boots poking out of the lifeless draped ponchos before the Casevac arrives.

The combination of adrenalin and weapons discharge of a fire fight providing a momentary high better than any drugs available in the ville.

The dark moments when you try and suppress all of the above.

Your pride.

(With thanks to Brother Bob Edgemon)


Outlaw 09

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 8:29am

As one who has never forgotten the sounds, smells and sights from 69/70 with SF and who had to fight VA for 10 years to have PTSD and Agent Orange "accepted"......and am still fighting VA to have shoulder and hip injuries "service connected"... ...can anyone explain to me why this Iraq/AFG vet generation is having some serious PTSD issues as well as other health issues.....when the day to day military service conditions are far far better than we ever experienced.......

This is coming from a VN vet who also was in Desert Storm and Iraq 2005/2006....I have seen what they experienced, ran the same IED filled roads and trails and had the same rockets whistle in on Christmas Eve and regardless of what many of this new vet generation was not anywhere close to that which we went through in VN......

A three 107mm rocket barrage would cause major panic and yet they could not even fathom say 700-1000 rounds a day coming into your CIDG camp...for days on end when I would mention it.

I would be sitting at my desk writing reports in Warhorse when rockets would whistle in and the entire room would be in the bunkers and I am still typing away.....why I "knew" just how far away and what their direction was...automatically 35 years later....we were that well trained in VN to judge distances/directions by sound/impact....this generation was and is not....

Wonder why that is...???

BTW...try sitting down with this generation and talking about the sounds, smells and sights from say Iraq and AFG with the same intensity as VN vets is really interesting.... and yes even Iraq had them....