Landing Zone Sally
by Wade Sayer
Pete Hart shared a hole with Graham. Cannon was with Hicks. The Ditty Bops split their two holes, and Borden was backing up. They left one hole unfilled, but anyone off-shift could sleep or rest there. They decided two-hour shifts would be best, and started to try to get some sleep at eight o’clock. They were tired from the early morning start and the digging fox holes. But, the anxiety of an attack kept them awake. Sergeant Maddox got them started at six PM and then disappeared. It was starless and black as pitch.
“Those god-damn flares creep me,” said Gail.
Pete answered, “Yeah, but they do give a little light.”
“Everything feels like its moving on the ground, because the light is shaking as it comes down on its little parachute.”
“Yeah, and when the flares go out, it seems darker than ever.”
“And the noise, the hissing keeps you from hearing anything that might be on the ground,” Gail whispered.
“Well, I don’t think we’re gonna have any attacks this early in the evening,” Pete said, hopefully.
“Why don’t you get some sleep. I’ll wake you at ten,” said Gail.
“I think I’ll try. You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. If we get overrun, I’ll call you.” He laughed.
“Keep your bayonet handy.” Pete smiled. And he rolled out of the hole and crawled back to the tarp they set up for sleeping.
“Who’s that,” asked Dell, in the dark.
“It’s me,” said Pete, knowing Dell would know his voice. “How’s Cannon?”
“He’s okay, just a little nervous. But who isn’t?”
“You think we’re really gonna get an attack?” asked Pete. “Maybe Maddox is just fucking with us.”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Dell. “He’s not that cruel a guy.”
“You gonna get some sleep?”
“Who can sleep? I’m listening to noises all around the base.”
“Maybe you could listen a little outside the base, see if you hear anything.”
“Not so funny. I keep thinking I hear shit on the other side of the base,” said Dell.
“Well, let’s keep them over there. All right?”
“Go to sleep, we’ve got plenty of time.”
“Hey, who’s that” someone was approaching their tarp from the rear.
“Hart, Hicks? Is that you?” it was Borden.
“Hey, Tim, over here.”
“What’s happening, Tim?” asked Dell.
“Have you seen Maddox?” he asked. “Stay out of his way. He’s getting fucked up.”
“He’s getting drunk. He’s already pretty drunk. Drinking a whole lot of whiskey or something.”
“Where is he now?” asked Dell.
“I don’t know. He got all mean and shitty with me, and then he took off. He’s wandering around loose. Someone is gonna piss him off, and there will be trouble.”
“Listen, you stay here. Dell and I will go down to the holes and warn the guys. The last thing we need is a drunk fucking with us, when there might be a gook attack.”
“Okay. If he shows up here, I’ll give you a call.”
Pete and Dell slipped the forty feet or so down to the perimeter line. “Graham.” Pete called in the total black.
“Over here,” came the call.
“Cannon.” Dell called.
When Pete found the hole, Maddox was already there.
“Mr. Hart, Fucking Mr. Hart, you’re… you’re a little early for your shift,” Maddox said.
“We heard you were headed this way. Just wanted to pass along a heads up. I guess you beat me to it.”
“You fucking Marys,” he said, “Always trying to fuck with someone. What are you gonna do if the gooks attack you for real?”
“We’re ready, sergeant. We’ll pull our share.”
“Pull our share, Jesus Christ, what the fuck does that mean?”
As Maddox stood up, there was a loud explosion on the perimeter on the other side of the camp. “Shit, they’re blowing their Claymores over there.” A series of mortar tubes fired off, and illumination flares floated above the perimeter, on all four sides of the base. “You see anything, out there? Shit, you better blow a couple of Claymores.”
“I haven’t seen anything,” said Graham.
“What the fuck? Blow a couple Claymores anyway, what the hell? Hey, Cannon, blow a couple of Claymores, why not?”
“We’re okay, Sergeant Maddox, I think I’m gonna wait ‘til we need them.”
“You fucking pussies,” he laughed, but not in any fun way. “When the shit does come down, you’re gonna be sitting here holding on to your dicks.”
Perimeter Control called out, “Hey! Keep the noise down over there. Tighten it up.”
“Oh, go fuck yourself,” called Maddox, in reply.
“Who is that?” came the reply.
Maddox stood, quietly.
In a minute, two big, burly sergeants with large flashlights were on their way down to the line. “Who’s the mouth down here?”
“You fucking guys can… can just go back where you came from. Everything is under control here,” he said, staggering a little, trying to act sober.
“Sergeant, with all respect, we want you to come with us.”
“Don’t go pushing this boys. I’ve got rank here.”
“Yeah, but you’re making a lot of noise, and you’re out of order. Come with us Sergeant, or we’ll take you with us. We got a perimeter to monitor.”
“Yeah, well, I’m gonna talk with your supervisor when we get there.”
“You can talk with the Colonel if you want to, but you’re gonna have to talk quietly.”
The two sergeants took hold of Maddox’s arms, and started to walk him up the hill. He tried to pull his arms away, but they grabbed him harder. “Don’t make this worse than it already is, Sergeant. Just come along.”
Sergeant Maddox walked peaceably between the two custodians.
“What an asshole,” said Graham, after things had quieted down.
“Yeah, but he’s our asshole,” replied Hicks.
“Is he gonna be in trouble?”
“Drunks never get in trouble,” Hicks said. “They just get more drunk.”
“Do we still have our Claymore detonators?”
“Yeah, we’re good.”
Mahoney crawled up to their hole. He looked at them and said, “What the hell happened over here?”
Borden showed up too.
Hart answered, “Our good Platoon Sergeant had a little too much to drink, and decided to be a jerk. Then he decided to take on the Perimeter Control boys. Not such a good idea.”
“What’s gonna happen to him?” asked Borden.
“I’m guessing he’ll get a chance to sleep on a cot somewhere,” Dell said, “which is more than we can say.”
“He decided that we should blow our Claymores,” added Graham, “just cause someone on the other side of the base blew theirs.”
As they were talking, a soldier with a flashlight approached them. “You guys with the 235th RR?” He was a lieutenant.
“You okay here?” he asked. “Your sergeant got a little rowdy, but we’ve got him for the night. So you guys know what to do if you see or hear anything strange out there?”
“Yes, sir, we’re pretty good. We’ve got a radio and we’ve got Claymores. And we have an M49 and a dozen grenades too.”
“You got any frags?” he asked.
“Yeah, we’ve got six or seven per hole.”
“Okay, good. I’ll make rounds every couple of hours, and check on you. Some of you ought to be getting some sleep. Right?”
“Yes, sir, we will.”
The night was damp, and the breeze blew harder. The watch on the perimeter grew harder. The darkness seemed to penetrate their skin, and the flares came less and less often. At three o’clock or so, there was a noise and a response on the other side of the camp, back towards the city of Hue. No one seemed sure if anything real happened or another false alarm.
Graham and Cannon were sleeping, Pete and Dell were in the holes, getting droop eyed, but trying to watch. Then the holes to the left of them opened fire out into the night, and shot a few M49 grenades. An illumination flare burst over the wire and hissed slowly toward the ground. Pete looked, concentrated hard, but could not see anything. He was getting scared of what he couldn’t see. Dell and the others were looking intently as well. As the flare fizzed and guttered, leaving darkness, Pete thought he saw movement along the ground. He picked up the radio to call for another flare, when there was suddenly movement coming towards the wire.
He whispered into the radio, “This is hole seven, we have activity in our wire.”
Pete laid his M-16 on the sandbags and looked for motion. He started firing, short bursts at the dirt and sand outside the wire. When a new flare burst, he was sure. He saw a dozen figures fall to the ground. He called for Dell, Cannon and Graham, and he called the radio, “Hole seven, we positive activity outside the wire.” He found the detonators, and found the one for outside the wire. When he saw motion again, he blasted two Claymore mines.
Graham rolled into the hole with him. “Whad’ya see?”
“Got movement straight in front, lying on the ground, working their way towards us.”
“Roger that,” said Graham. He put his M16 on the bags and aimed at the ground by the wire. He too started short bursts of fire. As they watched, another flare burst over the wire.
“There,” Pete said.
“Yeah, I see ‘em,” said Graham. Then Dell and Cannon opened up on the wire as well.
They heard mortar tubes firing, thinking they were flares, but instead it was incoming mortar fire. Mortar rounds landed behind them, where they had left their tarp for sleeping. Then they heard more mortar rounds firing… and crashing inside the base.
Cannon set off one of his Claymore mines, flashing bright and booming in front of them.
Then, they heard a group of soldiers moving towards them from behind, low and along the ground, but moving fast. “Who called the request for help?” someone called.
“Over here,” said Pete. “We got movement right at the wires, coming this way.”
The team leader told everyone to hold fire a moment. Then he called on his radio. The next thing, a flare illuminated the area, floating above them, hissing.
Pete thought he saw movement again. By the time he moved to tell the leader, five or six soldiers were firing into the wires.
“Blow another Claymore,” the leader said. Pete and Dell each blew up a mine at the wire. And then they saw the figures, retreating back and away from the wire. They were just shadows. Eight or ten soldiers carefully aimed and fired at the retreating figures. At least a couple of them went to the ground. And then they could hear groans from out side the wire.
“All right, hold your fire,” said the leader. He walked a few paces towards the barbed wire, and listened carefully, stooping to the ground. “They moved on,” he said.
“Good work, you guys,” he said to the guys in the holes. “Keep awake. It’s not over yet.”
“Oh, shit,” said Pete.
“You can say that again,” said Graham.
Wade Sayer served as a Vietnamese linguist in the U.S. Army Security Agency from June, 1966 – June 1970, and as a linguist with the 101st Airborne Division, 2nd Brigade, in Vietnam from December 1967 to December 1969. His third novel, The Marys, is based loosely on his time in Vietnam. He has been married happily for 43 years.