William C. Moore


“LIGHTS ON” ( A Short Story )

A day in late July, 1969

Republic of South Vietnam

The C.O. was only three days late in keeping his promise to rotate me back to the permanent Signal Site at Camp Crockett, Nha Trang, Republic of South Vietnam.  I had been assigned as N.C.O.I.C. of a small signal site called “West Nha Trang,” 22 miles in-land from the coast.  I and three operators manned and maintained the command control and artillery circuits for a Headquarters and Headquarters Company of a Korean White Horse Battalion. The seemingly endless days of subsisting on C-ration stews, rice and kim-shee, of burning our own excrement , and of eating the dust stirred up by the chopper comings and goings were history, I thought to myself, as I bumped down the hill in our 5-ton truck for the last time.

When I reported to the Company Orderly Room, the clerk promptly whisked me into Top’s office where I was genuinely welcomed by him back to the main garrison at Camp Crockett.  He introduced me to my newly-arrived-in-country Platoon Sergeant who looked mighty sharp in his starched jungle fatigues and spit-shined airborne boots.  I don’t think I made too good a first impression on him, however, since I was still wearing my usual uniform of the day which consisted of dusty jungle boots, Korean Tiger Marine Fatigue pants, no shirt, flak jacket, and steel pot.  I was very militarily informed by my new boss to get “squared away” and to report for the 1900 to 0700 hour’s shift at the Commo Site the next evening.

I reluctantly turned in my M-16, that had been my constant companion for the past six months, at the company Arms Room and trundled over to the wooden and screen barracks which I would call home for the next three months.  I was to bunk in a two-man room with another E-5 named Pete (his last name escapes me) who was three days short.  The bunk beds in our room had the new 5-inch thick mattresses that were now being issued to the support troops and the thought of a quick nap before chow was awfully tempting, but right now the luxury of a hot shower took precedence.  As I flip-flopped to the shower room building, I wondered what culinary treat awaited me at the Mess hall.  I didn’t give the mama-san cleaning the shower room a second thought as I lathered and rinsed over and over until some of the accumulated red dust finally started oozing from my pores.  After showering, I dusted off my boots and dressed in my least wrinkled set of jungle fatigues and made a beeline for the Mess hall.

The “brothers” in the mess line were greeting each other by “dapping” and it amazes me to this day how they remembered the sequence of this hand-shaking ritual that, by the way, varied from unit to unit throughout the country.  I stood almost in awe of this spectacle as I shuffled toward my first “A” ration meal in along time.  I must admit that the long awaited meal of gristly Salisbury steak, watery instant mashed potatoes, canned green beans, stale sheet cake, warm cherry bug juice, and rubbery Jell-o tasted pretty good when compared to my recent fare on the hill.  I didn’t even take the time to pick out the flour bugs, which were baked into the bread.  I figured, “What the hell, they’re dead, well-cooked, and a little extra protein wouldn’t hurt."  As I was leaving the mess hall, I passed the First Cook and thanked him for the excellent dinner.  Just as I reached the door his thunderous retort to my compliment caused every head in the mess hall to turn our way.  As I remember it went something like this -- “Yo Sarge, I got 28 and a wake-up and I don’t need no #%$* from you."

I strolled over to the newly constructed company concrete basketball court and watched a while as the teams enjoyed a spirited, but not too well played game.  The court lights came on just as I was leaving and I thought, “Man, these guys back here have really got it made."  The rest of the evening was spent writing a letter home to Mom letting her know that I was back in the relative safety of our main garrison and listening to Pete ramble on as to his plans back in the “World” after he E.T.S.’d.  It had been a long day and the 2200 hr. curfew came none too soon for me.  I X’d off another day on my naked lady short-timer calendar, eased into my bunk onto that beautiful mattress, and quickly dropped into a deep and comfortable sleep.

It struck me as being very odd that a shining white milk delivery truck was passing by right in the middle of our annual 4th of July parade in Chester, Pennsylvania.  It really seemed out of place sandwiched between a blaring, strutting high school band and the Mayor’s red, white, and blue decorated float.  Even stranger still, why was it bucking and backfiring through the exhaust like that?  “That booming and belching of smoke is ruining the whole parade," I thought.  I was still trying to figure out the reason behind this eerie happening when I was jostled out of my dream by Pete who was yelling, “Incoming!”.  The answer to my puzzling dream immediately clicked into my now wide-awake brain.  Mortars were raining in on the company area and I had incorporated their booming into my dream.  Things were happening fast now as Pete and I dove for the floor dragging our mattresses on top of us.  We knew not to run for the bunkers while they were coming in and I had a helpless feeling realizing that our cover here was no real protection from the shrapnel that was thwack-thwacking into the planking of the wooden walls and zing-zinging through the screening which ran from waist high to ceiling.  Some twenty or so rounds later the shelling stopped and we scurried from the building and ran to the arms room where the armorer was already passing out weapons and ammo for defense against a possible ground attack, which never materialized.

After the situation calmed down a bit, everyone realized what had happened.  Two G.I.’s had suffered serious shrapnel wounds (they tried for the bunkers during the attack) most probably caused by the fact that the departing basketball players had left the court lights on and Charlie had used that light source to zero in on our company area.  I never heard of any disciplinary action being taken on the soldiers to blame.  This was just another unfortunate event during the course of a regrettable and unnecessary war, recorded by some long-forgotten officer on his After Action Report that is probably buried in the archives, wherever such things are kept.  And, God bless you, Pete, wherever you are.  It don’t mean nuthin’, man.        

THE END        

W. C. Moore, Oct 1997

 Glossary of terms and abbreviations used in this story

 C.O. ---   Commanding Officer

 N.C.O.I.C.   ---   Non-commissioned Officer in Charge

 Kim-chee   ---   Crushed red pepper and cabbage ( a Korean dish )

 Top   ---   Company 1st Sergeant

 E-5   ---   Army rank of Buck Sergeant or Specialist 5th Class

 Bug juice   ---   Kool-aid

 28 and a wake-up   ---   29 days left in country combat zone

 E.T.S.   ---   Estimated time of separation from military service 

 Charlie   ---   Viet Cong soldier or North Vietnamese Regular

 Dapping   ---   A hand shake greeting ritual done by black soldiers in Vietnam.

Mama-san   ---   Female indigenous personnel hired by the military to do chores on the Base.

The “World”  ---  Back home, the U.S.A.        

1st Signal Brigade
United States Army
Republic of Viet Nam
Updated 10/26/2003

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